It was bigger than I expected. Although it was not the first time I had seen one, the massiveness when erect and up close took my breath away. It was both graceful and awkward in its movement and I fell in love immediately whispering as I bounced between taking pictures and just staring in awe. Being an Etosha virgin, entering another world without a guide is just plain fun and exhilarating. The first giraffe, spitting distance from your car, is the best.
Like two eager explorers we entered the gates of Etosha with binoculars and cameras at the ready. The “air con” of what was probably the first Mercedes to ever enter Etosha, kept us cool despite the 100 plus degrees outside. It was the rainy season but we were in the middle of a terrible drought. Terrible for the animals and the grasses but great for us amateur game trackers. Translation: animal sitings good in the early morning and late afternoon and at the waterholes. By giraffe number 30 or 40 their clustering style and family makeup is what makes one grab the tools to shoot with. (You are told not to get out of the car – I did once to catch this photo of a lunching family and lost Don’s camera in my excitement).
Etosha National Park is huge, really really huge. We entered knowing that it would take a minimum of two days to get through on our “self drive safari” 350 kms from East to West. With 114 mammal species in Etosha it is very common to see heard of zebras, springboks, oryx, wildebeests, black faced impalas, ostriches, antelope, elands, black rhinos, elephants and giraffes roaming the open plains together. Every sighting was thrilling but no more so then the darling mongoose standing on their hind legs like cartoon characters greeting us at the entrances to the waterholes.
But Etosha is more than just animals or as we safariers call them “game”. The topography is dramatic and totally fascinating to us two New Englanders (Especially when one of us is a botanist). At the East end of Etosha, where we had entered to national park, lies the “Salt Pan” or “Etosha Pan”, a 4,730 km lake that dried up millions of years ago. As we drove to one end of it we felt as if we were driving to some coastal paradise only to arrive and find no water. Amazing. It is massive and mind boggling – not a desert, not a field, not a sandy beach, not a lake just an endless view of … well I hope the photos capture it just a bit.
In the end though it is all about the giraffes, the elephants, the zebras and the impalas. Our favourites? The little mongoose dancing around the entrance to a watering hole; the tired jacket struggling to make his way across the open plain; the birds – omg the birds. Absolutely do not leave your binoculars and bird book home (no the app won’t work – no internet in the middle of the bush).
We end our day with Don eating Springbok, me chicken, drinking, you guessed it, more cheap wine, debating the merits of a “self-drive” vs a luxury guided game drive. Hmmmm…….