Animals in the Wild – our trip to Namibia. By Henri Senn
Cassie has always loved animals, not only horses, every summer there is at least one trip to a wildlife park, zoo, rare breeds farm, etc etc. So she has long had a dream to visit Africa to see animals in the wild. At last this summer her dream became a reality with a two week trip to Namibia.
After a night in Windhoek to recover from the flight – no time difference so no jet lag, which was a huge bonus – we set off by light aircraft to the first of 6 different lodges. Nothing like a relaxing holiday after a hard working year at school, and believe me this was NOTHING like a relaxing holiday!! 5.30am wake up calls were the norm, to get out and about to see the game before they all retired to what shade there was in the desert to keep out of the mid-day sun. As well as seeing the “big 5” (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and cheetah) we were treated to a huge range of animals and birds, from the magnificent African Fish Eagle and comical Guinea Fowl (referred to by one guide as government chickens, presumably due to their habit of running round in circles following each other for no good reason!) to sleepy black backed jackal and ground squirrel.
One day we saw so many Oryx that our guide started calling them dinner – only to return to our lodge that evening to discover that the main course was indeed oryx steak, and delicious too.
At Etosha, which is the main game park in Namibia, Cassie was really looking forward to seeing lions. Our guide reckoned there was about a 50/50 chance of finding them, so we set off excitedly (and sleepily) at an ungodly hour of the morning on a full day game drive in search. We found zebra, a huge heard of around 300 of them, lots of oryx, giraffe, springbok, impala, ostrich, elephant, one black rhino, magnificent kudu with their spiral horns, …… but in the 11 dusty, bumpy (virtually every road is dirt track) hot, windy hours we spent in the jeep, not one single glimpse of a lion. Returning to the tented camp, exhausted, we fought for the shower – and as soon as Cassie was getting dry and I was under it a call came from outside - “Lions at the waterhole”. Yes, they waited til we couldn’t rush out to see them before appearing. Ready for dinner we were accompanied to the main lounge area by a gun carrying guide (the gun was only loaded with flares, not sure how effective that would have been if one of the lions wanted a piece of human for dinner) Sitting in the open, with no fence between us and the waterhole and surrounding bush, we ate dinner to the accompaniment of lions roaring only 20 or so metres away, but unable to see them as it was dark. All night they sang to us, with only canvas between safety and becoming a midnight snack! But the next day, finally, we found a lion. His whole family had disappeared, but he, a magnificent male, spent the whole day snoozing by the side of the road. Not only did we see him, but we saw him a little too closely for my liking!!!
A visit to the Caprivi Strip was high on my wish list, as while virtually the whole of Namibia is desert (one area had no rain for the last 2 years, the normal annual rainfall being 200mm) at least there you can find water in the form of a large river. We were keen to go on the boat trip to see hippo that the lodge offered, so one afternoon we were shown down to the river bank by our guide, to a tiny ancient motorboat – just about room for 5 people – and off we set. Suddenly on the opposite bank there was a rustling and crashing and three large hippos appeared, charged down the bank and threw themselves into the river. Gulp. I know just how dangerous hippo can be. “Um, are they likely to come over to this side of the river?” I asked. The guide didn’t seem worried at all, and we waited to get a photo when one popped his nose out of the water before continuing. He then pointed out a very large croc sunning itself on the bank, before turning the boat back towards the lodge. On the way back he started telling us that at least one person is killed by crocs every year in the area, and that last year hippos overturned a boat and killed the boatman. So reassuring!!
Our last stop of the trip was at a leopard and cheetah rehabilitation centre. After tracking radio-collared leopard by jeep the first afternoon, very successfully, we spent about 20 minutes watching a mother and her very cute but naughty 3 month old cub, we were set for cheetah tracking the next morning – on foot. The three cheetah we were looking for had been hand-reared, BUT had been living wild for the last 6 months, catching their own prey, and all we had to protect us was a guide with a large stick! Once again we got rather closer than was possibly wise, especially when one of the three turned and headed straight for us – I rapidly positioned myself behind a very juicy looking Belgian!! The guide had pointed out as we set off that there were leopard in the area too, and while they had never met one on foot, yet, if we did we should remember not to run, or to look it in the eye. And he added, after all, they can only eat one of us, the rest will be safe!!!
No holiday is complete without finding horses to ride. So one evening we went off to do a “sundowner” ride, Cassie was given a very sweet, very lazy horse called Nugget. My mount, Luke, was anything but sweet and lazy. He liked to do giraffe impersonations, with his head stuck up in the air as high as he could get it, while dancing sideways. He would settle down and relax, and then, with no warning, start misbehaving once again. I fully expected to find myself galloping back towards the stables with total brake failure sooner or later! As the sun was starting to set we all dismounted and were offered a very welcome large glass of wine (to soothe the nerves in my case) before setting off back to the stables again in the gloom of the evening. It got darker and darker, and finally all that was visible was the backside of the horse in front. Suddenly to our alarm a large grey creature appeared very close on our left out of the darkness. We managed not to scream before realising it was a horse, and we had arrived back at the stables. We were both very glad to be back on terra firma in one piece,
So that is just a brief glimpse of what we got up to on our summer holiday. Bosco also enjoyed his break, relaxing in the field and eating as much grass as he could. We returned to find him fatter, and very happy back in his work – happy meaning fast!!! But he really is so good, on day 2 of him being back in work we videoed our Handy Horse entries, and anyone who has watched them would be hard pressed to believe we were riding a very keen, fresh horse full of the joys of summer! It was an amazing trip, but it’s good to be back with Bosco.
Henri & Cassie, August 2013