Tag Archives: Namibia

Monkeying Around

Chacma Baboon
Status:  Non-threatened, but may become so

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This largest species of monkey has a distinctive dog-like head.  It’s fascinating to observe their behaviour.  They live in large troops and have a complex, rigid social structure with a matriarchal lineage and plenty of inter-troop movement by males seeking social dominance.  Female ranking within the troop is inherited through the mother and remains relatively fixed, while male ranking is often in flux, especially when the dominant male is replaced. Chacmas are unusual among baboons in that friendships form not with members of the same sex but with unrelated adult males and females.

With a highly organised defence system, the only predator that seriously affects them is the leopard, which will try to pick them off at night, whilst they are roosting in trees or cliffs.  They sleep in large groups and have a distinct synchronized morning dispersal system.  Dispersal will be initiated by a single individual, and at least five followers must be recruited for a successful dispersal initiation.   

A20A5EA4-956B-4A8F-8B8C-8529D907D487Orphaned baboons whose mothers have disappeared or died are adopted and cared for by both mals and females,  sleeping close to the infant, grooming and carrying it and protecting it from harassment by other members of the troop.

Vervet monkey
Status:  Least Concern (but numbers diminishing)

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The vervet is probably the world’s most numerous monkey and inhabits the savannah and woodland, spending most of its time on the ground.  The vervet’s light grey coat, black face and white forehead band are distinctive – as are the male’s garish blue genitals.

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Vervets live in troops averaging about 25 animals and are found only around the narrow belts of woodland beside the Orange and Kunene rivers, and in the lush areas of Mahango and the Caprivi Strip.  They stay in the same troop for life.

Usually, the female Vervet monkeys do not have a lot of mates. Throughout their life, they have a small number of mates; males on the other hand have several mates during their lifetimes. Though, there is not a lot known about how the Vervet monkey reproduces. It is known that usually a female will give birth once a year to one young.  Most females love to actively take a huge amount of time raising the babies.

Vervets are active during the day and roost in trees at night. They eat mainly fruit and vegetables. 

We saw them in Mahongo and Chobe parks, but the baboons were far more photogenic.

Lesser Bushbaby
Status:  Widespread – Non-Threatened

4F65C4F7-593F-439C-9B62-C9A42F28E125I’m thinking from the looks on these guys’ faces, they have just seen the male vervet monkey’s sapphire jewels for the first time!  

The lesser galago, also called the lesser bush baby, is one of the smallest primates, about the size of a squirrel. Their plaintive cries and cute appearance may account for the name “bush baby.” They have night vision goggles for eyes and large, delicate ears that can track insect prey in the dark. Despite their small size, the bush baby produces loud, shrill cries surprisingly like those of a human baby.

Aside from these baby-like cries, they make croaking, chattering, and clucking sounds or shrill whistles in case of danger.  They are almost impossible to see except for possibly a glimpse of two red eyes peering down from a treetop at night, but we didn’t see them by day or night.   

Best,

Jan

 

A Dazzle

Status:  Vulnerable

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Zebras have very different temperaments to horses. They’re far more aggressive and a lot more dangerous. Adorable as they are, ebras have been known to kick each other to death, they will viciously bite any human that comes too close, and there are even many accounts of zebras killing lions.

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All this only made the zebra more desirable to colonials who wanted to display their power and wealth.

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Jumping an obstacle: riding a zebra in East Africa, about 1900, Carpenter, Frank G., 1855-1924

 

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Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild, with his famed zebra carriage, which he frequently drove through London

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I had never heard of the “mountain zebra” (Equus zebra) which is the most common zebra of southwest Africa, meaning they have adapted well to the mountains, heat and drought of the region.  The Hartmann’s Mountain Zebras are good climbers and live in hot, dry, rocky, mountainous and hilly habitats. They prefer slopes and plateaus as high as 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above sea level, although they do migrate lower during winter. Their preferred diet is tufted grass, but in times of shortage, they browse, eating bark, twigs, leaves, buds, fruit, and roots.  We saw them on a hilltop in southern Namibia.

D8D4D640-3C11-47C8-9959-068ACA759D1DThere are lots of propositions for the eternal question of how zebras got their stripes, but the previously unrecorded ability of zebras to erect their black stripes was discovered by comparing the temperatures of living zebras to a zebra’s hide. The latter got hotter than the former by as much as 16°C/29°F. The suggestion is that the raising of black hairs transfers heat from the skin to the hair surface.

There is no denying the zebra is dazzling, so it is not surprising a group of them has been classified as a “dazzle.”  Each animal, but even more so in numbers, look like a piece of modern art.  These are some of the savannah zebras we saw in Etosha.

They look even better as the sun goes down.

Best,

Jan

Camp Kwondo

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We had a short drive today, further into the Caprivi Strip.   We stopped early at Camp Kwondo, our accommodation on the Kwondo River.  Our rooms were tents – sort of – thatched roof, wooden floor and canvas walls.  Good thing for the mosquito netting – I didn’t hear any mosquitoes but the only thing between me and a scorpion at the foot of my bed in the morning was the net.

 

There were lovely seating arrangements on decks at the edge of the water and we had time to relax and watch and listen to the abundant bird life.

 

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Hadada Ibis

 

 

 

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Paradise Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

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Red-eyed Bulbul

 

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A pair of Ruppell’s Robins

 

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A Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

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This afternoon we visited a “living museum” so common in Namibia.   The visit answered a lot of my questions about the way of life here.  First we went into a compound and learned how the Bantu people used to live in pre-colonial times.  Their food staple was millet and it was ground to a fine flour.

 

 

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Clay formed by the termites in their hills was used to line the storage container for the millet.

 

 

 

An ingenious device was used to mimic the hippo’s sounds.  The hippo would be eaten at ceremonies such as weddings:

Traditional music and dances with a shaman were performed:

The second part of the visit was to the modern village.  This village has about 300 inhabitants and each compound has a fenced courtyard with the huts of a single clan – children, their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, with each family or couple having their own sleeping quarters.   There are segregated bathroom areas with shower hookups.  Kitchens are partially open air for ventilation and food is cooked over a fire in a communal kitchen.   The government provides a water hand pump for each compound.  School is mandatory and there is a school in each village. In this village, the children walk 2.5 kilometres each way to go to school.  There was one vehicle in the compound.

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Income is earned in a variety of ways – many chop trees on their land and sell firewood for about $1 a bundle.

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We were slated for a boat ride here but as we walked back to the lodge after our tour, lightning streaked the sky and the clap of nearby thunder accompanied us so the ride was cancelled.  Instead we had a rare chance to relax and enjoy the surroundings. We watched flocks of egrets fly up the river at the end of their day.  

 

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The cancelled boat ride had a silver lining.  We were so happy to learn that both Chobe to the east and Mahongo to the west received rain.  It is hoped that eventually the building cumulus clouds will reach Etosha.

 

Best,

Jan

 

 

The Caprivi Strip

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As we learned in Gibralter earlier this year, sometimes a weird bit of geography – the long, thin extension of Namibia that stretches out between Angola and Botswana through to Zambia and Zimbabwe – is formed when competing governments are horse-trading land.  This happened here in Namibia, too – over what became known as the “Caprivi Strip” (recently renamed the Zambezi region).  However, history makes some sense of it.

 

 

Leo von Caprivi (pictured right) was the German politician who succeeded Bismarck as chancellor in 1890.   He struck a deal with Britain, trading the islands of Zanzibar for Heligoland, a group of islands just northwest of Hamburg.  The Germans stipulated that they wanted this little strip of land all the way down in southern Africa because it leads to the Zambezi River which they thought would give them access to the Indian Ocean.  Were they fooled!  Either they didn’t look at a map or visit the area or even consult with anyone local, because a little thing now called Victoria Falls make the Zambezi River completely unnavigable.   Bismarck huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its entire “trousers for a button.”

Whether a strip, or a button, the Caprizi strip makes a nice path for tourists to the Falls.

Chobe River landscape, view from Caprivi Strip on Namibia Botswana border, Africa. Chobe National Park, famous wildlilfe reserve and upscale travel destination.

Looking at this pastoral, lovely countryside, it is hard to imagine that civil war raged here in the 1990’s as a local rebel group, the Caprivi Liberation Army, tried to secede from Namibia.  Life in Africa is complicated, and it is unclear whether this war was the result of side-taking during the war in nearby Congo or a carryover from the Angolan war and the seeds of socialism left by the likes of Che Guevera.

Brendan van Son is a travel blogger more intrepid than I.  Riding his motorbike across Africa, he describes his afternoon on the Caprivi Strip this way:

While driving through Bwabwata National Park, I see a herd
of elephants browsing through the shrubs in the distance.  I
stop, pull out my camera gear and photograph the scene in
awe.  As I pack up my equipment, I hear shuffling behind me.
I twist my head to see a large male elephant walking briskly
towards me.  I race to my scooter and jump on. I’ve left her
running just in case something were to come up; elephants,
zebra, antelope and even lions that can be found along the
strip.  I twist the throttle and toss my head over my shoulder
to see the big elephant is now chasing me down the highway
at full speed.  I’ve learned a couple things today.  My scooter
can outrun a male elephant – though just barely.  I drive off
again laughing hysterically.  Oh, the adventures I have!

I’d say he was lucky that elephant wasn’t an ostrich or a leopard, or he might have been in real trouble!

 The abundant rivers and water make this a green, lovely and productive agricultural area and we we saw small, traditional villages.

Mahango

We drove here on paved Hwy B8 then turned south on asphalt.  Eventually we  veered east again and drove along a sand path.  Every lodge we have come to has involved a road so rough you were sure you were going to sketchy accommdoations, and then you marvel at the beautiful lodge and wonder how it can possibly be provisioned.  This time,  we arrived at a beautiful jungly lodge on the Okahongo River.  We sat on the deck over the River and almost immediately spotted the eyes of hippos in the river and the lodge posts this sign because sometimes the hippos come up at night and eat all of the vegetation on the property.

We went on a stunning game drive this afternoon in the beautiful riverside Mahango Park.  Skulls of the animals in the park were on display at the entrance and we were to see many of the living versions.

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Puffs of clouds hung on the sky and there were beautiful vistas at every turn and we saw a magnificent Baobob tree (for context one of our group stood in front of it).

Mammals and a Reptile

We saw lots of animals, many of them new to us, some of them the most spectular in Africa:

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– The Nam Buffalo (known as “Cape Buffalo” to South Africans).  

 

– Hippos, including a mother and child:

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– the Crocodile

 

We saw many of the ugly cute Warthogs along the water.

We saw new ungulates, in order, the Common Antelope, Roan, Tsetseba and Sable:

We saw Baboons and the Mervet Monkey.  The baby had a little nursing then went into the shrubs to play.

Giraffes, Zebras and Elephants also appeared.  We are in Elephant territory now.

Birds

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– Violet-Breasted Roller

 

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– Little Bee Eater

 

 

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– Swainson’s Spurfowl

 

 

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– The enormous Spare-winged Goose

 

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– Goliath Heron (the largest heron in Africa (see how it dwarfs the ordinary heron next photo)

 

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– Grey Heron

 

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– Egret

 

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– Cape Vulture

 

 

 

 

This morning we had seen the Hammer Cock Bird, here we saw its enormous nest which is the nest for life of a pair of Hammer Cock Birds, and we saw the Jesus Bird.

African Sky

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A lightning storm hung over the sky – it was raining somewhere!

 

 

Our drive ended with a spectacular sunset.

Best,

Jan
PS. No hippos at the lodge overnight!

Etosha II

Our second day at amazing Etosha was equally fruitful.  Overlying everything was the extreme dryness and near-dead shrubbery, but there was still a wide variety of animals and birds in the Park.   

The Birds of Etosha

We saw an amazing array of winged creatures.

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We had seen the Social Weaver’s giant, sagging nests, but here was the (anti-social?) Weaver’s compact little indoor-outdoor nest.

 

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The Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk kept his eye on the landscape from a treetop.

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the beautifully marked Northern Black Korhaan stuck to the ground.

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The Double-Banded Courser settled below the surface where the ground was cooler.

 

 

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A pair of Tawny Eagles kept watch together for 360 degree coverage.

 

 

 

 

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An elegant Heron shared the water in a waterhole.

 

 

 

 

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The delicate White-Tailed Shrike stayed on the grass at one of the Park’s resorts.

 

 

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Two Egyptian Geese swam into the reeds of one waterhole.

 

 

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And the country’s largest flying bird, the Kori Bustard, readied for takeoff.

Honey Badger

This tenacious creature did not get its name for its sweetness.  Once he makes his mind up, he will not let go.

Here, he is digging for small rodents and large insects.  Expending the least possible amount of energy, he digs and then reaches deeper and deeper into the burrow.

The Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk typically stays close since its diet is similar and he is waiting for the spoils.  The Badger is not amused.

But the Goshawk will not be intimidated.

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More Ungulates

Some of the many ungulates we have already seen were here.  Repeats are only to capture unique behaviour, including:

A pair of little Steenbok with those oil-painting ears, who mate for life;

A Kudu browsing and a family at a waterhole;

The Oryx, who stand well into the water at the waterhole, a galloping Oryx and an Oryx with a wonky horn, possibly bent in a jousting match;

But we saw a lot of new animals, too, including:

The elegant Impala, easy to identify by the 1-1-1 on their rear;

The majestic Blue Wildebeest;

And the tiny Dik Diks.

Miscellany

A wide assortment of animals were seen in the Park:

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A cheetah in the wild, seen from afar;

 

 

 

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A Black-backed Jackal, always on the prowl at the fringes;


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And the ferocious Mongoose, whom I love because it kills snakes.  It is said that if a Mongoose tries to attack a Black Mamba and is bitten, its digestive system is such that he can immediately eliminate the poison and get right back into the fight.

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A stalwart little Ground Squirrel held his position, guarding his clan in the burrow next to him.

 

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Later, just outside the Park, we ate dinner overlooking the lodge’s waterhole and saw a spotted hyena –

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and a Common Duiker.

Clustered Species

We saw some groupings of a variety of species clustered around a water source, but not by the thousands as in the past because of the drought.  The Park supplies the animals with water, they do not go thirsty.   But the shrubbery and trees most of the animals need to eat are dead or dying, so the animals are hungry.  Many have moved on outside the Park.  When there is a rain, it is hoped most will return.  Still, there were plenty for us to see.

Sunset over Etosha

As the sun went down, we had to say farewell to Etosha, this magical and amazing Namibian treasure.

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Best,

Jan

Great White Place – Etosha

The Etosha Pan

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One day a village was raided and everyone but the
women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about
the death of her family she cried until her tears
formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up
nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

                                                         – San origin legend about the Pan

Part of the Kalahari Basin, the massive salt-clay floor was formed around 1000 million years ago of a lake fed by the Kunene River. Thousands of years ago, the course of the river changed and the lake dried up leaving a large dusty depression of salt clay with water springs along its edges.  With so little fresh water available, these springs and watering holes attract large concentrations of wildlife and birds, including 114 mammal species and 340 bird species that have been recorded in the vast park of 22,270 square kilometres.

There is much more to the park than the pan, and nothing can survive on it, although if it fills with water, the flamingos and pelicans will flock to it by the thousands.  This happened in 2013, and the last one prior to 2013 was in 1930.  And this year there’s the drought.  The vast pan has its own stark beauty, though.

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We drove to the Anderson gate of Etosha National Park and entered one of the most important reserves and game sanctuaries in all of Africa. Etosha is particularly famous for its black rhinos and we looked for them to the east just after the Anderson Gate.  

A Crash of Black Rhinos
Status:  Critically Endangered (but numbers increasing)

Their name comes from the Greek, rhino meaning nose and ceros meaning horn.   The name group name, a “Crash” of Rhinos, only enhances their coolness.  Everything about them says, I am ugly.  I am nasty.  Deal with it.

In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was the first organization to launch an international effort to save black rhinos from extinction.  Large scale poaching and land clearance comprised for the almost disappearance of the species.  They were too late for the Central-West Black Rhino subspecies, which has been completely wiped off the planet.

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The Black Rhino species as a whole has seen its population decline by approximately 97.6% since 1960.  Its original distribution comprised the entire African continent south of the Sahara except for the Congo Basin. Currently the Black Rhino’s distribution is very fragmented, with about 96% of the wild Black Rhinos in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.  As of December 2010, there are about 1,920 Southwestern Black Rhinos.

It is interesting that an animal that looks so dangerous, and can be, of course, with two formidable horns which grow as much as 3 inches (8 centimeters) a year, are herbivores. Black Rhinos are browsers and get their nutrition from eating trees, bushes, branches and fruits, they show a preference for acacia. They eat an average of 52 lb (23.6 kg) of food a day.  They only use their horns for defence.

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I don’t suppose the term “crash” comes up all that often, because the Rhinoceros are mostly solitary.  The only social unit is the mother and her calf, and this fact, along with this image, makes them endearing, even adorable. Males are solitary until it’s time to mate. Temporary associations are sometimes formed but they do not last long.  Huh.

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Here is an animal whose “camouflage” is black; who came here for water, and the lake dried up thousands of years ago leaving a white salt plain.  I thought this would be a better place for the white rhino, but it isn’t white, either (just a mixup in translation way back when).  But the black rhino here is coated in a layer of white salt dust, and while evolution may not have left it with white skin, it seems the black rhino and the Etosha pan today are sympatico.

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We saw two black rhinos from afar and this is the best possible shot, but it does show the paradox of the name, Black Rhino.

 

 

 

We spent a day and a half in the park with one of those days from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Our excellent guide, Tuhafeni from Wild Dog Safari, popped up the roof and opened the windows and away we went.  The evidence of the drought was distressing and there weren’t the masses of thousands of animals at any given waterhole, but it was still absolutely amazing and we saw more than we could have dreamed for.  

Queen of the Savannah, King of the Beasts, Pride of Africa
Status:  Vulnerable (habitat loss)

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55163A60-31D1-4813-B1AA-EF692BAD388AThere are so many misassumptions and fun facts about the beautiful, elegant lion.   It is the female who is head of a pride of usually about 15 lions.  The females do the hunting, the male defends the territory.  Although the male eats first, the queen will have female “favourites” who get the most and best meat after the male, so the cubs of the pride may cosy up with the favourites over their own mother.

8AA0E76A-867F-4A4B-8365-2C78D9FCE815Lions do not live in the jungle, they live on savannahs, like the land surrounding the Etosha pan..

The lion was once found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe But is now only in Africa save for one park in India.

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A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.

 

 

 

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The mating process is quick, we barely noticed!

 

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A lion can run for short distances at 80 kph.

 

 

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A lion may sleep up to 20 hours a day, which is how we found them, although we were lucky, we waited – they woke up!

 

This was only Day 1 in the park!

Best,

Jan

 

Think Pink!

Solitaire

Solitaire, as its name suggests, is one of those out of the way places that never wanted to be popular.  Nothing more than four corners in the middle of the desert at the junction of C14 and C19, the major roads in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, it has a gas station, a general store and, perhaps most importantly, the only tire repair shop between Windhoek and Walvis Bay.  That Percy Cross, a burly Scot looking for tranquility, decided to stop here, bake apple pie and rename himself “Moose McGregor” seems highly improbable, but that’s exactly what he did.

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And he made the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted, still served straight out of the oven.

Moose’s tranquility went out the window, but as one of the beloved characters of this land, we think he wasn’t disappointed.  Solitaire, too, belies its true identity – nothing like the reclusive, disinterested place one might assume from its name, it has become the best kind of neighbour.   The two farms that make up Solitaire, the businesses, and other area land holdings, are now part of the 45,000-acre Solitaire Land Trust, focussing on habitat preservation and conservation for the area’s wildlife.  Solitaire’s own fame has grown since it became the focus of the eponymous Dutch novel about author Ton van der Lee’s stay here.  Sadly, Percy Cross died in 2014 at the age of 58.  Solitaire is a diamond in the rough, and we think Percy was too.

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Revivified after our pie and fuel tank refilled, we crossed the canyon of the Kuiseb River right on the Tropic of Capricorn to make our way to Moon Valley.

Since I am a Capricorn, I was interested.

Tropic of Capricorn

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The Tropic of Capricorn is the dividing line between the Southern Temperate Zone to the south and the tropics to the north. It is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be seen directly overhead.  (The Northern Hemisphere equivalent of the Tropic of Capricorn is the Tropic of Cancer).   When this line of latitude was named in the last centuries BCE, the Sun was in the constellation Capricornus (Latin for goat horn) at the December solstice, the time each year that the Sun reaches its zenith at this latitude. The word “tropic” itself comes from the Greek “trope (τροπή)”, meaning to turn or change direction, referring to the fact that the Sun appears to “turn back” at the solstices.   

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The line’s position is not fixed, but constantly changes because of a slight wobble in the Earth’s longitudinal alignment relative to its orbit around the Sun.  The line also crosses the Andes in Argentina and Chile.

Moon Valley

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We drove through what was once a mountain range.  Erosion has reduced the Moon Valley to rolling, low-lying hills, and a lunar-like landscape of a thousand colours.  For the past two million years, the Swakop River and its many tributaries flowed through this valley, giving it life and shape.

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The landscape had become so harsh it seemed it could no longer sustain life.  There was the beauty of the vast, open sky, but after passing through Moon Valley, the harsh environment seemed to carry on forever.

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But as we neared the coast, a line of mist appeared on the horizon and a covering of mossy green lichens coated the sand.  Unique in the world, there are over 100 types of lichen in this desert.  This area is also the source for those tiny air plants that are sold everywhere – plants that don’t attach themselves to anything and require only a misting of moisture for water.

We finally arrived at the coast and pulled into the former British colonial naval port town of Walvis Bay.  We drove toward the lagoon, where I began watching hopefully for pink.

Flamingo
Status:  Vulnerable

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We passed by a massive sea salt production facility and began to understand that this was why flamingos were here, and we got answers to a few other questions, too.   The algae and crustaceans they eat thrive in high saline or alkaline conditions.  According to Curiosity.com, flamingos make themselves at home on some of the most toxic, caustic bodies of water in the world. The water they prefer is often flesh-strippingly alkaline, and the ground that surrounds the shores absorbs those harmful properties. The scaly skin on their legs is tough enough to handle it, but their softer flesh is a little more at risk.  That’s why they sleep standing up.

Speaking of standing up, two scientists actually did an experiment with (already) dead flamingos and found that the joints in flamingos’ legs lock, allowing them to stand securely on one leg without losing their balance or using their muscles to stand.  Even dead, they remain standing when one leg is in the locked position.

Lesser and greater flamingos flock in large numbers to pools along the Namib Desert coast, particularly around Walvis Bay. They’re excellent fliers, and have been known to migrate up to 500 km overnight in search of proliferations of algae and crustaceans.  We must have seen over a thousand of them, along with a handful of pelicans and some plovers.  There were lots of colourful jellyfish here, too.

The greater and lesser flamingos are best distinguished by their colouration. Greater flamingos are white to light pink, and their beaks are whitish with a black tip. Lesser flamingos are a deeper pink – often reddish – colour, with dark-red beaks. Flamingo feeding is endearing, if not somewhat comical, worthy of two very short YT videos.

After a walk on the promenade along the mansion-lined lagoon, we continued on for a short drive on paved road to the former German colonial town of Swakopmund for two nights.

Best,

Jan