31 July 2007


i awoke on a king sized, rock-hard bed under a synthetic leopard print bedspread, glanced over at the leopard print curtains, and considered a bath in the giant, sunken tub. mt. etjo is an aging safari lodge lodged pretty firmly in the 70's. my room was dubbed "the bachelor pad" on sight. the setup of the place is somewhere between a wildlife park and a disney attraction. right across the lawn, with a little electric fence between us, was a large watering hole teaming with activity. a group of hippos were in residence, along with countless antelope, enormous storks, and baboon. if the water wasn't enough to lure them all to stay within comfortable viewing range of the lodge, salt licks and bales of hay sealed the deal. one can wake up, grab a coffee, and pull up a chair to watch the morning's goings on.

in the afternoon tea and cake is served. next to the flamingos.

the main draw to the lodge are the (dirt cheap) safari drives, where extensive wildlife sightings are guaranteed. while many of the animals on site were once native to the area, they are long since hunted out and the current ones brought in from other locations. elephant, giraffe, zebs, black rhino, white rhino -- they're all there. finding wildlife at mt. etjo is more like finding a needle in a pincushion than a haystack. (don't get me wrong -- it's great if your goal is to set eyes on them, though not exactly 100% natural.) the larger animals even get attention from vets when necessary.

the other main attraction offered by the lodge is a nightly lion feeding. the lions are kept in separate part of the park from the rest of the game, and while they do have space to roam, they are not exactly in a natural habitat. every night, tourists stashed safely in a hide, a skinned carcass of some animal or other (zebra, kudu, etc.) is put out for them to eat -- chained to the spot in front of the hide so they don't do something silly like drag their dinner out of view.

i opted it out of this activity for several reasons, primarily because the unnatural spectacle of the whole arrangement didn't sit quite right with me. RH and CM attended, and after hearing their vivid reports of the sounds and smells of the event, i was not sorry to have missed it.

in the morning we packed up and headed out of mt. etjo for our last full day in namibia. the road which had housed so many dangers two nights before seemed innocent in the daylight. we were driving to see the nearby dinosaur footprints. george, our naturalist friend from the namib desert, had discussed our route and plans with us before we left the swakupmund area. we had mentioned the footprints to him, to which he offhandedly remarked "once you've seen one set of dinosaur footprints you've seen them all." "but we've never seen any," i immediately replied. so off we went, a fitting last stop after all that searching for old things, these in a different age bracket entirely. as george has warned us, they were indeed small, circled in white paint lest you breeze past them. but they were a lovely sight. you could almost imagine being the first person to stumble upon them and the excitement at realizing what it was you had found.

we drove on to windhoek, namibia's capital (population 200,000, to put it in perspective.) it felt like an odd little jolt to be in a city -- even a small one -- after being out in all that openness. somehow time had folded in on itself, and i had been enveloped in those great expanses and experiences of those 3 short weeks. it was almost time to leave.


in the afternoon, having bid adieu to CM in windhoek in the morning, RH and i flew back to cape town. we headed straight to kirstenbosch upon arrival, where i had the aforementioned meeting with ernst van jaarsveld. ernst separated welwitchia facts from fiction for me --and informed me about two other OLTW to add to my list: a leadwood tree in namibia and elephant's foot on the eastern cape, both safely over my 2,000 year minimum age.

looks like i'm going to have to come back.

No comments: