Single giraffe stands in the green bush with storm clouds behind

Rhinos and Wildebeests and Oryx Oh My!

It was the large piles of poop that gave us our first clue. As soon as we drove through the gates at the Namutomi entrance of Etosha National Park we saw the grassy, brown mounds and then moments later, the giraffes. Mackenzie and Quinn were riding with my parents so I had to imagine the level of squeals that were erupting in the car behind us. Three of theses beautiful animals, with their big, loving brown eyes, tall graceful bodies, and knobby knees were munching leaves by the side of the road. Did you know Giraffe’s preferred diet are the leaves off of Acacia trees with THE deadliest looking thorns? They twirl their tongue around the branch and use their top lip to pull off the leaves, taking care to slide their mouth down the branch in the direction the thorns grow, like smoothing a feather. Oh, they get those daggers in their tongues sometimes but their saliva has natural antibiotics to help heal the wound; nature always seems to think ahead. We arrived at Etosha after a grueling 5 hour drive, which also happened to be on Mackenzie’s birthday. We determined, long before we left the States, that birthdays should last a week (well, they should, shouldn’t they?). If we have to be traveling on the actual day, at least there will be a celebration to look forward to in the near future.  However, the wish for a Giraffe sighting on her day? Check.two giraffes eating leaves from acacia trees

Because of the timing and trajectory of our world travels, we came to Namibia during the rainy season (January-March are the wettest months). The downside of the rain is the increased risk for contracting Malaria and the majority of the waterholes, which have dried up during rest of the year, are full of water. Because of the abundance of water, the animals spread out across the approximate 22,000 square kilometers of the park. The upside to this time of year is that prices drop, there are less people and you get amazing skies painted with rain clouds. The shrubs and grasses in the landscape turn a radioactive, neon green against the steel, gray sky quivering in anticipation of a storm. Oddly, during our time in Etosha, we never had a day get interrupted by rain. It clearly did rain at some point during the day or night because some of the roads were muddy and barricaded by ponds. However, we never had to hunker down inside and wait out a storm. I also don’t remember being very bothered by mosquitoes and believe me, I was on high alert. They are tiny little pests, not the large ones we have in Colorado or the bird-like ones that live in New Orleans. No, these guys are microscopic but they give themselves away by their high-pitched buzz in your ear.

Etosha Salt Pan with storm in the distance
Salt Pan at Etosha

**Travelers Tip**

You can get more coverage if you use lotion repellant instead of spray. We went for the variety with 30% deet due to the risk of malaria. I couldn’t stand the thought of putting that on our faces so I used a spray I concocted from adding 30 drops of DoTerra’s Terra Shield repellant to water in a 3 oz spray bottle of the pump variety. Seems like it was a winning combination**

Poop would continue to be our clue that a large animal was nearby during our self-drive safari on day two of our Etoshan adventure. Of course you know every time I saw the mess in the road I had to sing a Wizard of Oz inspired song (only to receive big eye rolls and sighs from my husband): Follow the poooopy road, follow the poooopy road, Follow follow follow follow, follow the poooopy road. After packing a lunch and buying a booklet from the visitors’ center, complete with animal and bird identification guide and map, we headed toward our next destination. For the safety of  visitors as well as the animals, you are required to stay in your vehicle as you drive around the park. The drive from Namutomi to Okaukuejo (Oka-Kway-yo: meaning woman who has a child each year), our next rest camp, was only two hours. We did it in five. There are so many secret little meandering roads that take you out to the desolate Etosha Salt Pan and wind through lifeless plains with the dry, fossilized looking shrubs. There are also fields with soft grasses dotted with flowers and flitting birds.

As we passed through the varying terrain we caught sight of herds of the country’s beloved Spring Bok with their delicate faces and small, twisted horns.  We also saw many groups of Oryx (my favorite) joined by an adopted Wildebeest (a close second and correctly pronounced Wild-e-beast). Zebra and Giraffe were also in abundance and never failed to give us a zing of excitement when we saw them. Guided by our instinct, we took one of those secret meandering roads and while scanning the brush in the distance, I gasped when I sighted our first Rhino. I understand that zoos provide much needed education and conservation efforts to the world. However, after seeing this beautiful, rarely sighted White Rhino with his huge, sharp pointed horn enjoying his peaceful habitat, I wondered about the necessity for zoos. Rhino’s horns are shaved off when in captivity and the zoos I have visited seem to always keep them in small, barren enclosures. We learned that they are shy, solitary creatures. I am sure I will never be able to see another Rhino in captivity without thinking of this one, the Black Rhino we spotted on our night safari or the one Jacob and I got the pleasure of watching take a bath in the waterhole at our rest camp.White Rhino in the brush

We continued to roam around the park, stopping to watch the golden and teal colored Bee-Eater birds as they gracefully dipped through the air and stared in fascination at the Secretary Birds giggling at how they really do look like they are wearing the garb of politicians of the 1800s. Rolling by the fields at a slow crawl, we squinted and tried to determine if we were seeing an Ostrich or just a fluffy tree (to fool their predators in this way is clearly part of their adaptation for survival and we lovingly coined them Ostrich bushes). Soon, I spotted the poop in the road again as the skies began to darken with a storm and the shrubs popped with that magnificent green. There they were, the elephants. I read several times from other travelers in Africa that the first time you spot an elephant in the bush it is magical. Magic does not even come close to describing the energy they radiated. The air around them was electric and peaceful all at the same time. Like that deep, releasing exhale of breath as you sink into a steaming hot tub, seeing them was a feeling I didn’t know my body needed until they appeared. They were silvery white, almost ghost-like against the green trees.  I can see why so many religions honor the elephant; the way they move through the environment with deliberate steps and seem to know something otherworldly that I can only hope to just taste. Even writing this now, I can find that tingle, that goose bump, armhair-raising shiver I felt as we watched them from our cars.

We drove through the gates at Okaukuejo high from our safari experience. We checked in, found site number 14 and set up our camp; each of us chatty with stories and “what was your favorite part?” questions to ponder and discuss. The girls and their Omi crashed into beds that night while Jacob, my dad and I picked our way through the dark to the water hole, hopeful of more wildlife sightings. The light shines all night on that water hole. Why on earth any animal would choose this stadium setting to quench their thirst is beyond my comprehension. It is lit with lights as powerful as the sun and promises to reveal the location of prey to their lurking predators. Turns out, with the abundant choices of water holes in the rainy season very few animals do come to this water hole. I wonder, though, during the dry season, do all the animals share this stage together like a home base temporarily halting their game of predator and prey?  Like the ancient tribes around Taos, New Mexico when they bathed the mineral rich waters of Ojo Caliente, do the tribes of animals stop their warring while they nourish their bodies in the refreshing, healing water hole?

While we didn’t see Rhinos battling or elephants drinking, we did see the sneaky jackals and heard the raucous twittering of the social weavers in their GIANT nest in the tree above our heads (took us awhile to figure out they were birds, I was convinced they were some kind of rodents). Whispering together with my two favorite men on the bench as we expectantly watched the waterhole was a great ending to a more than magical day.

Waterhole at Namutomi at sunset
Namutomi Waterhole

5 thoughts on “Rhinos and Wildebeests and Oryx Oh My!

  1. Once again, beautifully written. Another chapter in the book you are going to publish. I thought it was Oka-Kway-yo – the woman who bears a child every year. Omi has some photos we’ll send you of those white elephants that look just like you so eloquently described.

  2. Wonderful descriptions you have written of the magic you have experienced in this African landscape! I can’t wait to hear more which we will soon be doing when we visit your parents this weekend. I love to read your posts!!

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