Namibia - Many days
First chance I've had to catch up the blog for over a week. We have been driving every other day for 5 or 6 hours a day and when not driving, access to wifi and the web has been spotty at best so am very far behind what's happening in the rest of the world and have been unable to update the blog. I think that's a win-win for me and you.
Okonjima Camp, our first couple of days, was a good re-introduction to getting up before dawn for safari game drives to see what wild life was roaming the area. The camp and the money generated by the hotel on the property as well as from money raised through the international fund-raising efforts of the AfriCats Foundation is dedicated to taking care of orphaned animals, cheetah in particular, and re-introducing them to the wild. Big cats are vermin to many farmers in Namibia as they kill cattle which is raised on farms throughout the country. Famers shoot leopards and cheetah and when they then find orphaned cubs, they call AfriCats to pick them up, giving as their excuse that they stumbled on them and believed the mother to have been killed. They are fed and reared and when old enough, released into the huge property that AfriCats owns with the hope that they will adapt, learn their craft and become self-sufficient hunters. It does not always succeed and there are a number of cheetah who could not make the transition and who are permanent residents of the Foundation which continues to feed and provide care for them.
I understand and applaud their goals and yet there is a part of me that remains ambivalent. The Foundation is a large one with a huge property and many staff and supporting infrastructure and as far as we could tell there were only 6 animals on the property that were successfully operating as wild cheetah with another number who were being taken care of since they could not make the transition. I don't know if there has been a long successful history of re-introduction and the present 6 are only the latest examples of a good working model or if they represent the apex of achievement; I'd like to dig into this a little one our return. It does seems an enormous investment in time, talent and treasure for a limited outcome. I understand that the whole structure provides work and livelihoods for many people and that that benefits the local economy. Additionally, the Foundation does stress its educational work in making sure that coming generations of Namibian kids grow up with the idea that cheetah and big cats in general are important to preserve. They feel that they are presenting an important counter argument to a position held by the parents of the kids that they are trying to reach. All good work I'm sure, but there are still many unanswered questions for V and I that we need to get more comfortable with on our return.
Our trip to Mushara Outpost, our next stop was, unbeknownst to us and with a couple of exceptions, the last paved roads we have seen since. The speed limit on Namibian highways is 120K and we were warned by the car rental people not to exceed it. It goes without saying that I did and the road being relatively lightly traveled, I was cruising along in the low 130's when I was passed by a white Mercedes traveling at least 30K faster than we were. We were surprised at its speed but did not take particular notice of it, when about 5K further on I saw the ominous sign of a uniform on the side of the road waving us over. V's first question was, "Should we make a run for it, they'll never catch us". However, pull over I did and the officer asked the traditional question, "Do you know how fast you were going?" To which I gave the traditional answer, "Just around the speed limit I think". When he said that he had clocked us at 131K we both asked why he had pulled us over and not the white Mercedes that had raced by us, he looked at me, turned around and said, pointing, "Do you mean the one over there with the other officer?".
The fine for that speed, as he showed me in his manual, was $1500 Namibian or about $175 Canadian, the fine for the Mercedes was $5000 Namibian. However, both of the police were very pleasant and when they had built up the tension a little, telling us that we would have to drive out of our way to a local police station and wait to go through the process of paying the fine, they said that they would let it drop. We had been warned not to pay police bribes if we were stopped for any reason so I was convinced that letting it drop was shorthand for "you can pay me instead of going to all the trouble of going to the police station" but didn't want to ask outright what he wanted us to pay him so I kept trying to find the right words to use and V kept kicking me quietly and trying to drag me away. As it turned out they really were very nice and were trying to find a way to let me know that it was finished and we could leave, a point understood by V but not by your humble correspondent who charged around the china shop knocking over everything that got in the way. As V let me know when we got back in the car, we were only seconds away from the officer repenting of his decision and reaching for his book to write the citation. Everyone wanted me to stop talking and smile gratefully while I determinedly plowed on desperately trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Needless to say I put the car on cruise control at 117K and sedately completed our trip.
Our destination after Okonjima was Mushara Outpost, one of three Mushara properties about 5k outside the gates of Etosha National Park. Etosha is huge, originally 88,000 square kilometres in size and now, for reasons I do not know, reduced to a "mere" 23,000 square kilometres in extent. Mushara is by far the nicest place that we have stayed on the trip to date, a wonderful, elegant, old-Africa ambiance with each room an individual house built on stilts, and all the rooms scattered around the treed private grounds. At my next opportunity I'll add another chapter.