Mashura Outpost Lodge was wonderful but the highlight was our game drive through Etosha National Park. A quick diversion, Namibia seems to be composed of at least two very different geological structures, sometimes butting up against the other so that you can move very quickly in the space of a couple of hundred metres from a red sandstone region with red desert sand and hills to a white limestone area whose rocks and boulders are white and whose sand is as soft, fine and white as talcum powder. Our first couple of days in Okinjima was in sandstone countryside with red and yellow sands and termite mounds. As we drove to Mushara, about half of whose 5 hour drive was over corrugated and dusty gravel roads the country changed to limestone and that remained as the prevailing geology of Mushara and the Etosha park.
There are no paved roads in Etosha, as a consequence the roads are covered with the fine talcum dust of the limestone which forms dense plumes of choking dust that billow behind a car and makes driving perilous since following vehicles can't see the car ahead and when passed by cars coming in the opposite direction you can see the lead car but you have no way of knowing if there are others following behind lost in the dust clouds. It goes without saying that car windows have to be kept closed as breathing is difficult in the dust, but there is one remarkable feature of the dust that seems very out of place in the heat of Etosha. As the dust billows up all the trees and bushes on the sides of the roads are permanently coated in a thick white coating that remains until the rainy season and looks absolutely like hoar frost. So as you drive the whole landscape appears to be deep in frost while the outside thermometer in the car reads 39C.
Because it's the dry season the water holes, some artificial and some natural springs, are the only source of water for the animals in the park. There are water holes scattered throughout the 23,000 square kilometres of parkland and many of them are within reach or sight of the roads that run throughout Etosha. They are are a remarkable way of seeing animal hierarchies in operation and as there is a great diversity of animals in the park, predators, all the big cats represented as well as hyenas and prey in large numbers from giraffes, warthogs and zebra through many varieties of antelope. We have never seen so many different species of animal in large numbers as we did on this trip all of them scattered throughout the landscape around the water holes while the top of the pecking order, the elephants drink and wallow while everyone else waits. Then the lions drink, lie down, relax and watch everyone else suffer in the heat until the lions get bored with being the neighbourhood bullies and leave and then everyone else gets their turn. We, as everyone else does, heeded the signs not to leave your car.
Left Mashura and spent the day driving through the park from waterhole to waterhole and seeing all the masses of animals waiting to drink and watching them playing out the dramas that varied from hole to hole depending on the makeup of the animal populations present. We took about 7 hours crossing the park and then on to Ongava Lodge, one of the higher-end lodges of this trip. Very nice place, very nice accommodations and restaurant but we were there for only one night as a convenient departure point near the park gates on the other side of the park from Masdhura as we launched off to Doro Nawas Lodge in Damaraland. One very interesting feature of Ongava was a water hole maintained by the Lodge with a concealed passage about 100 metres long to a hide next to the water hole where it was possible to watch animals at the water from a distance of about 10 or 15 metres. The Lodge and its restaurant are at the top of a treeless and very rocky hill and the restaurant's dining veranda overlooks the water hole which is lit at night. We did not have time to use the blind, left early next morning for a very long day's drive to Doro Nawas Lodge, but as we ate our dinner watched three rhinos at the water hole who then left to make room for a couple of young male lions; theatre in the round.
Left early the next morning and about an hour into our drive paved roads ran out and in a service station on the edge of the gravel we lowered our tire pressure on all tires to 2.2 and filled up. Properly inflated tires on corrugated gravel are a recipe for flat tires and we won't re-inflate them until the last stretch near Windhoek when we once again hit paved roads. Somehow or other lost our map reading skills deserted us and what was booked as a 5 to 6 hour drive ended up taking 9 hours and were only saved by my little Bad Elf portable gps and an app on the iPhone that I had bought before the trip called Tracks4Africa. Our gps in the car had no record of our destination in its database and our map had it in entirely the wrong place about 75K away from its actual location. However Tracks4Africa rode to the rescue, had its location in its database and in a cloud of dust in the setting sun, we arrived after a very long, dusty and very bumpy day of driving.
More to come in the next chapter.