Location: Etosha National Park
I was up at 7, washed the dust and sand off me in the shower and did about a half hour of yoga then went out and had a cigarette. We had planned on a late morning and were eventually on the road around 930 and on our way to Etosha National Park in north central Namibia. We arrived at the gate, paid our entrance, had our car searched for weapons to ensure the safety of the Rhinos and the other poached animals and we were on our way. The landscape had changed dramatically from desert for thousands of miles in each direction to dry and at times green thick bush. There were more signs of life, as there were tiny settlements of natives, on our way to the park selling semi-precious stones on the side of the road, sometimes in exchange for food rather than money being that the location was so remote and food was scarce living bushmeat kill to bushmeat kill.
We started driving the washboard dirt roads through the park and for the first 40 minutes didn’t spot anything but a springbok here or there. Then finally we saw some giraffe, about 9 of them and my excitement started to grow. We even got to see one drinking at one of the water holes.
I could tell immediately that the environment was so harsh that the animals all had evolved a little different than the ones in Kruger National Park on the Eastern side of the continent. Shortly after our spotting we found, highly perched on a rocky hill our accommodation at Dolomite, the chalets were lovely, thatched roofs, plenty’s of space and a balcony that revealed the most wonderful view of the pan beneath. In the distance I could see zebra slowly making their way to the next watering hole. It was magic, and the relaxation and beers we had made my companions content and happy they were there.
The unfenced perch of the Dolomite Chalets and Cabins.
My premium Chalet, worth every penny.
I made my way down to the small infinity pool where I found about 8 young ladies, American, from a place near to where I grew up. Funny how small this planet is sometimes. I asked if they would join for a night drive that night, as it took a minimum of three and Annette and Alex were thinking of maybe just taking it easy. I went to my room, edited photos, and just enjoyed the heat of the desert and view from my room while listening to its silence. After I caught myself up I fell into a lovely valium induced sleep. Prepared myself for the coming wonderment by snorting some more valium adding another currency to the insane list of currencies used to do drugs and gleefully made my way to the restaurant where I would meet my companions. Just as the sun was setting I realized my memory card was full so a full sprint (which was quite far) back to my room and with 15 minutes to our night safari I was watching the gigabytes slowly tick away as I moved all 128 GB to a hard drive. I then sprinted back and out of breath found the driver, two police officers (that are required to join you at night) and my stellar crew. There was only one spot light in the truck, which wasn’t exactly run to my expectations (they never really are, with the tourists or the drivers) which made shooting really difficult and the best I came out of the experience was a few blurry shots of a white rhino (i think, its so hard to tell in the dark).
I did see about 7 or 8 rhino and a herd of elephants and some skittish zebra. No predators, but that’s the gamble you take when you go on safari and there was still plenty of time left. I talked Alex out of his keys and agreed to let them sleep in the following morning, it was 23:30 when we arrived back to our rooms, where I caught up writing, took a shower and set my alarm for 05:00, tucked myself into my plush bedding accompanied with some xanax and crashed out with only the moonlight and my open patio doors to lull me to sleep.
05:11 I was up and cracking. I started with a cuppa and a few smokes, did my yoga and went down to the lounge area by about 05:45. I was then told I wasn’t aloud to leave camp until 0630, so I just smoked and talked with the barman for the remainder of the time. A text came through the very weak internet from Molly, from the night before saying “I want you inside me” I answered her later with a countdown of days until I could see her again, that put a smile on my face, but only briefly since the reality of me leaving was coming fast and i had a lion, leopard and cheetah to find. I eventually climbed into the car, without my companions and drove for a couple hours, spotting a couple small jackals, giraffes, and about a zillion zebra.
I was back to the Dolomite camp by 08:30 had breakfast, and loaded the car for Alex and Annette. We were on the road to the Okaukeujo camp which was about 175 Km’s away on the dirt roads. It took us about 6 hours, and by the 4th hour we hadn’t seen much that excited us: a few springbok, giraffe, a couple of kudu and other antelope. The mood in the car was starting to seem like we had just given up, we kept on saying come on lion, come on, I would holler out the window here kitty, kitty, kitty. We stopped to looked at the carcass of a zebra, the entire inside of the ribcage had been devoured and was rotting and the sun.
Continuing further towards our camp and we saw some really active vultures circling just to the right side of the road. We stopped to see if we could see anything through the bush, that was now thick and high, so high that we couldn’t see what the vultures were after. I was lusting to witness a fresh kill so absorb the savagery of nature and predators, glorious and bloody faced. We waited, and waited, moving the car slightly forward and back, trying to get a view of whatever it was the vultures were after. A white Toyota was just in front of us, with probably the view on the kill, and since we had been following them most of the way, we showed them proper game park etiquette and didn’t pass, as they had shown us early in the same situation.
The Toyota started to pull away and as they did the passenger, a woman I later learned was on a 5 week holiday from Germany with her boyfriend, rolled down her window and pointed to the left side of the road near a small group of trees. We pulled forward and with my Maui Jims on I could immediately see the bottom of a paw in the brush, the polarized lenses making them pop much more than if I had them off. But there they were, less than ten meters from the road. We crept forward slowly, where we found two large male lions panting in the heat of the desert.
My heart raced, my window shot down, I was hanging out the door shooting with the Gopro and my canon simultaneously. The feeling of seeing a lion in the wild that close is impossible to express in words. It was fucking glorious. My heart was pumping, the brush obscured them a bit, but not quite enough that I couldn’t grab some wicked photos. It was mid day and the overheated lions could still probably close the gap before I could my head back in the car. I shot photos ill never forget. I experienced a moment that 99% of the population of the earth will not. We sat there for about 10 minutes shooting and audibly (and respectfully) expressing our awe quietly, until finally one of them rose from the shade and went from large beast to enormous monster, the brush had obscured the size of the creature. I was so shot with adrenaline that my hands started to shake and I couldn’t sit still, I spun in my chair, rambling inaudible directions for Alex to back up. Just as the words escaped my lips the second male followed and we got just about every angle we could from tooth to tail and I felt like that little part of my life was fulfilled.
The last lion I got to see in the wild was in the Kruger Park, both lioness, this was my first of the Kings of the Jungle, and they didn’t disappoint. After the initial shock of our luck, luck to find them so close to our cameras and after those wonderful killing machines walked away from our site and into the bush, the car stayed quiet for a moment and then just exploded with excitement.
The excitement lasted until I went to sleep that night, laying there the thought crossed my mind and I got angry that any person would have the need to travel so far to come and kill an animal so gorgeous, majestic and divinely brutal. I felt part of that lion in me and was reminded, the whole of your life can be summed up in the distance between you and a lion in the wild. Something I realized in Kruger Park when only a dry river bed separated me from a lioness and her cubs while we took a break at a little picnic area to have lunch.