Tassia Lodge – Laikipia; July 10 -12

Tassia Lodge is situated in the North of Kenya in the Laikipia area, on the 60,000-acre Lekurruki community ranch. It is partly owned by the Mokogodo Masai, in a symbiotic relationship between community and conservation. Tassia is less about animals and more about the local community, which is something we liked. It is also different from other camps and lodges in that its excursions are on foot, which we like as well. Finally, it’s at a lower elevation (about 3400 ft / 1100 m), which means higher temperatures; it allows the “rooms” to be open. It’s very nice and results in some unexpected visitors :- )

Laikipia is the area of the Mokogodo tribe. These people were hunters and gatherers who lived in caves, but in the first half of the 20th century decided to convert to herding livestock and adopt the way of life, language, and traditions of the Masai. The last tribe member to left his cave in the late 1980-ies. They adopted all Masai traditions, except the one of female genital mutilation (which has also pretty much disappeared from the Masai traditions now). They do have one tradition that is reminiscent of their hunter and gatherer history: when a boy is 8 years old, he is expected to have acquired 3 skills that will allow him to survive in the wilderness: find water, find food, and make fire, and he will have to show that he masters these skills by being dropped, alone, in a place in the wilderness. To find water he needs to walk in a certain pattern to find animal tracks and follow the tracks to water, food can be animals or nuts/fruits of plants and fire is made with a piece of hardwood and a specific softwood stick and dried cow dung or “elephant chewing gum” (see earlier post) as a starter.

Our guide (Asaya) was extremely knowledgeable and we had great conversations about tribal life, present-day Kenya and learned his life story. It once more reminded us how much in our lives depends on luck and how much talent there is here that hopefully will get more opportunities in future generations.

Our hosts, Martin and Antonia are 4th-generation white Kenyans. It was very interesting to learn about the way in which they work with the local community in the area on changing some of their habits to help conserve nature while improving their lives. Traditionally, their goal is to have as much livestock as possible; one could think of this as the equivalent of having money in the bank for us. Frequent draughts make this very difficult as some of the livestock dies and it competes with wildlife for the scarce resources. Martin and Antonia are working with them to transition to a model in which they have less, higher quality livestock that can be used as a source of income, receive income from the tourist industry, and have access to basic financial services. It’s not an easy process, but progress is being made.

While at the Tassia lodge, we visited the cave where the last Mokogodo cave dweller lived, a traditional blacksmith and a local “village”. We did one walking safari looking for animals and one to learn about some of the many uses of plants and trees by the Masai tribe.

This was one of the most interesting and enjoyable visits for us and we would have liked to spend an extra day.

The pictures that follow are about each of these experiences.

The lodge common area




Our “room”




Visitors: we had a wild cat, a “dassie” and a snake enter our room; the wild cat and the dassie were too quick to leave for a picture, but the snake dwelled around (it was not a venomous one).


This is a dassie, but not the one that came into our room; they are funny animals that -quite surprisingly- evolved from the same roots as the elephants!


Making fire in the cave of the last Mokogodo cave dweller



Preparing the hole in the hardwood


Put some sand in the hole and make friction with a softwood stick


Now it’s hot enough to cause the dried cow dung to catch fire



Add a few twigs and we have a fire


Traditional Blacksmith

You have to belong to a specific clan to be trained as a blacksmith. They make Spears and arrow points (now only used in traditional ceremonies) as well as ornaments that men and women wear.


The local village

People usually live in a village for a few years and then move to a new location. This village was about to be abandoned and our guide told us that it looked more dilapidated than a newer village. The people that live here are clearly very poor; no running water or electricity. Their livestock is their main source of food and as well as their currency. The woman make some handicrafts that they sell to tourists.

A family lives in this home; really just used for sleeping and to store some belongings; no natural or artificial light


Inside: bed for the adults





Masai Olympics

We weren’t much worse at bow and arrow than the Masai “warriors”, but they did better at shot put and javelin…


Game walks


“Giraffe antelopes” are plenty here


 

Guinea Fowl looks different here


These ants close their underground nest for the rain and manage to stay dry that way. They also get food as far as 1 km away.


We saw a few Kudu’s


The “Ant Lion” builds this funnel as a trap for other ants and eats them. He’s super-fast (hence the fuzzy picture) and has big jaws, but it still took some 10 tries before this poor and was done…



Termites don’t survive in daylight, so they make these tunnels to get around…






Plants, trees and their use

We did one walk just to learn about ways in which the Masai use plants, trees and their fruits in their daily lives. We were amazed about the many equivalents to our industrialized tools and medications they use. This is not an exhaustive list of everything we saw, but it should give you a feel.

These nasty thorns of the young Acacia tree make excellent toothpicks


And needles…


Remember this plant from a previous post? Mother-in-law tongue or elephants chewing gum. It has more uses…


The fibers of the long leaves are used, together with the needle from the Acacia tree, as a thread for sewing…


And the chewed-out fiber that is spit out by elephants is an excellent fire started if dried cow dung is not around


The stalks of the plant are also used for a funny game, in which they throw sliced segments of the stalks over quite a long distance and very accurately.



A toothbrush


The inside of this fruit is used as soap; it even foams…


These leaves are super-soft and strong and are used as tissues


These leaves are just the opposite, they have a very coarse surface and is used as sandpaper


These little balls stick to your pants and shoes during walks through the bush (they call them sticky balls for a reason) and even stick to your hands when you try to remove them; very annoying


But the Masai use them to make a sieve…


These tiny fruits have (small) tasty and nutritious nuts inside


The juices of this plant are used to treat malaria


Women who are breastfeeding use the fruit of this bush



Landscapes




Walking Wild; July 8-10

The morning of July 8 we left the Lewa Wilderness camp on foot for a 2.5 day walk to our next our next camp, the Tassia Lodge in Laikipia, about 45 km NE of Lewa. Our guide for this walk was Kitonga. Our walk did not follow roads or even tracks, except for tracks created by animals. We walked across planes, up and down hills (not really mountains) and across streams, and on the way encountered many wild animals, including rhinos, elephants, buffalos, various kinds of antelopes, and more.

It was our understanding that our luggage would go ahead of us by camel, but other than that we had expected a fairly basic form of camping on our stops each day. So, it was a surprise to see a caravan of 9 camels and 6 people, carrying gear, water, and food for a quite elaborate camp. It felt a bit “over the top”, but I guess it benefits the community by providing jobs and income.

Very interesting were the conversations with Kitonga, in which we learned about the history and traditions of the Masai tribe. The Masai is one of the 42 tribes in Kenya, and with about 1 million people they’re a little over 2% of its population. They came to this region (now partly in Kenya and partly in Tanzania) from the north (Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan) about 500 years ago, as a nomadic tribe that was mostly living from herding livestock. They have a tradition of engaging in fights with other tribes over land and livestock, so they are a tribe of warriors. Although the raiding of other tribes to steal livestock is mostly a thing of the past, many traditions that grew from this live on until today.

Between age 15 and 18 men need to become warriors. To become a warrior, they have to be circumcised. This happens during a large public, multi-day ceremony. The circumcision is done in public, without anesthesia and the boy is not allowed to show any emotion, not even blink during the process. If they do, they fail and -with that- also embarrass their family. Once a warrior, men are responsible for protecting the tribe and its possessions and -in the past- participate in the fights with other tribes and livestock raids. All the men we talked to about this, had gone through the circumcision.

In the past, there was also a “circumcision” ceremony for women, but this now seems to have all but disappeared.

As in most African tribes, men are allowed to have multiple women and -in the past might end up with large numbers of children (the largest number we heard was 4 wives and 40 children). The rationale that was given to us was that so many men died in wars and fights with other tribes that this was a necessity.

While many traditions live on, things are also changing. For example, Kitunga told us that he doesn’t want to have multiple wives or large numbers of children and that he does not require his sons to go through the circumcision. Still, most people still feel part of their tribe before they feel part of the country, which -after all- was an artificial creation by European nations.

Also very interesting were the conversations about the present-day political situation and colonialism in the country. The country was a British colony from 1885 until its independence in 1963. Similar as in other countries, the colonial power obtained large areas of land from the native population in ways that are legal by western standards, but of doubtful morality given the large cultural gap between the colonial rulers and the native population. While many British left the country after its independence, much of the land ended up in the hands of the new rulers of the country, including the Kenyatta family. The country has gone through long periods during which no democratic elections were held, but since 2013 it has a new constitution and had 2 democratic elections since that time. We’ve heard contrasting views on the effectiveness of the new government. Some see them as part of a corrupt elite, some see signs of hope that the current president (a son of the founding president of the country) has the desire to leave a positive legacy and really move the country forward.

This is probably more text than most of you want to read, while there is a lot more to write about the country, its people and the evolution it’s going through, I’ll leave it with this and show some pictures of our walk in the wild: the camps, the caravan that carried the equipment and supplies and the things (animals and more) we encountered along the way.

The caravan



On the last day, we just needed a single camel, that walked with us, to carry our luggage


The camps have everything….

Our “tent”, really just a fancy mosquito net. It’s nice because it does heat up during the day (and the nights are not cold here)



“long drop” toilet


Shower (water was heated on a wood fire)


kitchen


dining area


amazing meals


fireplace


Along the way

The first day we walked through the Lewa wildlife reserve and encountered many animals. The second day we mostly walked through areas with spread-out local communities, and the 3rd (short) day it was a mixture.

I’ll group related pictures together.

Animals

This bird was singing very nicely


The (very hard) droppings of a hyena; one wonders if they suffer from hemorrhoids…


Endless numbers of giraffes


And dik-dik’s



We counted 11 white rhinos


Buffalos, including some large males


An occasional elephant


In popular lingo. these are “giraffe antelopes”, because of their long necks. It allows them to reach the juicy leaves other antelopes can’t reach and survive without water for long periods of time


A baboon congregation


The impalas are more skittish outside the reserve


This one fell prey to a leopard (see the typical mark of a leopard bite on his neck)


Our Masai co-walker decided that this was too much fresh meat to just leave to the vultures…


…who were waiting to finish it…


birds




An “owlet”




Masai communities

The Masai live in very spread-out communities on -for the most part- communal land where their livestock grades. There are also small plots of land that are used for agriculture. They use the meat, milk, maize, vegetables, and fruit for own consumption. In addition, cows are used as a dowry to pay the family of a man’s future wife and are sometimes sold for money if that is needed to purchase goods.

They live in simple houses, without electricity, and in many cases without running water (the owners of the Lewa Conservancy have provided running water to the communities of their employees). Traditionally houses are built of cow manure, supported by a wood structure and have thatched roofs, but these days some have (ugly) corrugated tin roofs. Others are built from local stone, mostly also with corrugated tin roofs.

People mostly move around on foot; a few people own a motorcycle and cars are even more scarce (we spotted one during our walk).

Also, the Masai who work as guides and are well-educated and highly knowledgeable live in these communities.



The only medical facility provides maternity and basic outpatient services; the nearest hospital is 50 km away (on unpaved roads)



This school looks quite nice


Small-scale farming


More things from along the way

As I put this post together, I realize how much we saw and learned during this walk. Here are a few more interesting or fun things.

Wild figs


Beautiful landscapes




Giraffe artwork


Butterfly’s fighting over who gets to eat the elephant dung…


Dangerous river crossings


This plant is called “mother-in-law’s tongue”


For a reason….


But elephants love its juices and chew on it, so it’s also called “elephant chewing gum”. They spit it out when they’re done, and the Masai say that the dried-up remains are great for lighting fire….


We said goodbye to the supporting team (and just one of the camels); it was an amazing journey!

Lewa Conservancy – July 4-7

We had an early (09:15 am) flight from the small domestic airport in Nairobi to the Lewa airstrip. Lewa is in central Kenya (Nairobi is more southern), and while it is close to the equator, it is on a high plane, (about 1500 m) so the temperatures are always moderate with highs not exceeding ~30 Celsius and lows not below ~12 Celsius. On our flight, we could see a lot of fertile farmland in the country, with often large farms and areas and greenhouses. Export of flowers and other agricultural products are important for the Kenyan economy.

The Lewa Conservancy is a 93,000 acres private wildlife conservancy that includes a lodge (Lewa Wilderness) and a small farm. It started as a farm back in 1921 and since the 1970-yes has gradually turned into its current form and size. The lodge has 9 cottages and we stayed in one of them. The owners themselves live in the main house of the lodge.

Birdseye view of the camp (taken during our walking safari)

The main house

Our cottage

Many of the people working at the lodge, including the manager (Karamushu) are from the Masai tribe and dress in its traditional red colors. While they are well-educated and very much integrated into the modern world, they are proud of their heritage and maintain many of their traditions. It was a joy to interact with them and learn about their culture and way of living.

As compared to safari camps we stayed in before, Lewa has a larger number of activities, including wildlife drives, horse and camelback safaris, a biplane, farm visit, and local village visits. There’s also a pool and tennis courts. The atmosphere is nice and informal and the food (sourced from their own farm) is light and healthy – the way we like it.

Another difference is that water is less scarce and -as a result of later than usual rain this year- the grass was high and green.

During our stay, we did wildlife drives, a walking safari, a horse-back safari and a biplane ride. We also rode the camels and visited the farm. Rather than giving a day-by-day description of our activities, I’ll write a bit about each of these and (mostly) show some pictures.

Safari Drives

Many of the “usual suspects”

There are between 150 and 200 rhinos in the conservancy, close to 15% of the number of rhinos in the country

This lion…

Seemed interested in the zebra on the left…

But her playful cub interfered with the hunt….

And in the end, she lost interest (notice her nonchalant pose in the back)

Looking quite innocent….


Birds

This is the heaviest bird in the world that can actually fly (it reaches several kgs in weight)

An eagle on the nest with a chick.

On horseback

You get close to the animals, but taking pictures is a bit of a challenge…

Walking safari

The walking safari at Lewa was a great experience. Not only was it a “real” 2.5 hrs. hike through rough and hilly terrain and hop-scotch across a stream, but our Masai guides got us close to animals, including 3 white rhinos. They did tell us that white rhinos generally are not dangerous and walk away. Black rhinos, on the other hand, are very dangerous, so it’s important to be able to tell the difference, since different from what one might think, white and black rhinos have the same color. White rhinos, however, have a wide mouth (they are grass eaters) and black rhinos a smaller round mouth (they eat leaves). Their backs are also different (straight vs. round).

A large buffalo herd

Close to the rhinos (we’re still smiling)

An elephant at more of a distance

Another eagle…

With our 2 Masai guides

Night drive

During the night drive, a spotter uses a red-light beam to spot the eyes of night animals. You don’t have as good of a view as during the daylight drives and depend on the spotter to locate animals. Since it’s dark, taking photos doesn’t really work of course, but we spotted a lion running after some zebras with one of the zebra’s making loud noises. A little later 3 hyenas followed, probably hoping that the lion would kill a zebra and they could join the meal. We don’t know how the story ended. Here is the lonely photo from the night drive on which one might recognize a hyena…

Biplane ride

The lodge has a replica of a 1921 biplane that will take 2 people (and a pilot) for a half hour flight. It’s an absolutely spectacular experience, since you fly through narrow valleys, a few meters above the field, and make very sharp turns in which the plane rolls over more than 90 degrees. The landscape is amazing and there are animals to be seen. Just taking pictures is a challenge, since the speed is high, the cockpit open, and the distances are small, so it’s not possible to come even close to sharing the thrill of this experience, but here are a few photos we managed to take.

No wild animals this time; just cows…

A farm

A rhino

Elephants

And even a lonely giraffe

After the biplane ride, we were surprised with a wonderful lunch on the savannah and a camel ride back to the camp. In the camp, we visited the “factory” where wool from the sheep is turned into beautiful carpets, all by hand. All carpets in the camp come from here, but more importantly, this is a source of income for the (mainly) female workers here, as carpets are sold to tourists and stores.

Farm visit

The farm provides most of the food for the camp (the owners, the workers, and the guests). It has a herd of cows, sheep, and goats, chicken and we even noticed a pig. It also grows a large variety of fruits and vegetables, all without the use of pesticides. It’s not large or highly automated (for example, the animals are milked by hand), and focused on providing food to the camp community. The freshness and tastiness of the food in the camp were indeed unparalleled!

Feed for the livestock

Bees

Lots of different vegetables

Bananas (just one of the many fruits; specifically the mangos were amazing)

Our time at Lewa was fabulous; the variety of activities in the camp is beyond what we’ve experienced in other camps and the atmosphere has a good balance between personal attention and the kind of informal environment we like.

Nairobi – July 4 and 5

July 4, for the most part, was a travel day. We were picked up from the hotel after breakfast for the ride to the airport. The flight from Johannesburg to Nairobi is a little over 4 hours, but with an hour of time difference, we landed there around 5 pm. During the ride to the hotel, we experienced for the first time that traffic in Nairobi is problematic: it took us close to 1.5 hrs. to travel 17.5 km.

Nairobi is a sprawling city of about 5 million people (seen from the air in the picture below). It made us think of Pune (India), a city in India that we visited frequently for work in the past: a hodge-podge of modern and old without much discernable structure and with unbelievable traffic jams. It did leave us wondering why auto-rickshaws haven’t made it to this part of the world.

We stayed at the Fairview Hotel. It was built in 1931 and it has the kind of charm we associate with those days. The rooms look a little tired, but it makes up for that with a nice atmosphere, a great poolside dining area with excellent live music and a brasserie that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris.

We had a nice and very enjoyable and relaxed dinner at the poolside restaurant.

On July 5, we were picked up from the hotel after breakfast by Jackson, our driver for the day. Our plan was to visit the local crafts market (Shuka), which has many stores with high quality locally produced goods, and the “Kazuri” beads and pottery factory in the morning, have lunch at the Karen Blixen café, and visit the Karen Blixen house and museum, and the Kenyan National Museum in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know that we’d spend a lot of time in Nairobi’s horrendous traffic jam and we didn’t make it to the National Museum.

The stores in the crafts market had many nice things for sale but, with luggage weight restrictions in mind, we limited ourselves to an elegant scarf/tie for Anat and a painting (on canvas, so it could be rolled).

The “Kazuri” beads and pottery factory creates hand-crafted ceramic jewelry designed by local artists, out of a special local clay. It employs several hundred (mostly) woman. Jewelry is exported to many countries and it was funny to see that the Netherlands is their largest export market. Some of the designs are quite beautiful, and Anat bought a bracelet and a necklace.

Karen Blixen is the Danish woman who wrote the book “Out of Africa”, after which the movie was made, she lived in Nairobi and we visited the house where she lived, which has been turned into a museum.

Back in the hotel, we looked at reviews of several local restaurants but decided to be lazy and try the brasserie in the hotel. It turned out to be a good choice. The food was great and the atmosphere nice and we concluded that if we had traveled by taxi to a place like this we would have been very happy :- )

All in all, our day in Nairobi left us thinking that it would have been nice to have more time there.

Johannesburg – July 2

After breakfast we were picked up by our guide for the day to show us around in Johannesburg. Like the other cities in Africa we’ve visited over the past weeks, Johannesburg is a place with sharp contrasts. On one side there are the affluent neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and large properties, protected by electrified walls and fences, on the other extreme shanty towns with minimal or no infrastructure and many people without jobs. It is said that there are more private security guards in the country than policemen.

Our hotel was in Sandton, which is the new business and shopping center of the city. It happens that I was here in 1969 (my ex-parents-in-law lived in Sandton) and besides a few old school buildings, the place is completely unrecognizable.

From Sandton, we drove through some of the affluent neighborhoods, including past the large house where Nelson Mandela lived in the latter part of his live (later we’d visit the little house where he lived as a young man). Since there are high walls, there actually isn’t that much to see.

Electrified fences are the norm in this part of town


We drove up a mountain to get a panoramic view of the city

From there we drove to Soweto, which stands for South-West Township. In the time of the apartheid regime this was one of the neighborhoods (called “townships”) that was built to house the black people that worked in the gold mines. They were forced to live here, often separated from their families, who were forced to live in their “homeland” villages. While the neighborhood now has an infrastructure with paved roads, water and electricity, it still is very crowded (it is estimated that close to 40% of Johannesburgs 5 million people lives here).

There are areas where the small houses are still mostly in their original state

Areas where most houses have been improved

…and even areas where people have built large new houses (using several of the original plots of land).

As you can see, the private properties, whether small or big, generally are clean and well-maintained. This cannot be said of the public lands.

But there are also attempts to make the neighborhood more fun, like these sculptures that represent the hand movements that are used by cab drivers and their prospective passengers to communicate.

We visited the monument dedicated to a student demonstration that took place in 1976 to protest the forced introduction of Afrikaans as the primary language in school. One of the students, Hector Peterson, was killed during the demonstration and became a martyr of the struggle to end the apartheid regime.

We visited the house where Nelson Mandela lived when he was a young man and drove past the large new house (on the same street, but hidden behind a wall), that belongs to Bishop Tutu, who is old and ailing and spends most of his time in Cape Town. Quite interesting that these two Nobel Peace Price winners lived on the same street!

Finally, we had coffee in a pretty cool café in the neighborhood, housed in a structure of converted containers; it wouldn’t be out of place in San Francisco :- )

On the wall outside the coffee shop

After our Soweto visit we drove past some of the shanty town areas. As in other cities, this is where many people who come to the city in search of a better life end up living. They may come from the country side or from other countries in Africa. It’s not only Europe that has an immigration problem.

After this we visited the Apartheids Museum, which offers a detailed chronology of the history that lead to apartheid, the various resistance movements, and the final abolishment of apartheid in 1990. The 2.5 hours we had allocated for this visit turned out to be too short, so we had to move through some sections more quickly than we would have liked.

Back in the hotel, we went into the enormous shopping mall that is accessible directly from the hotel, to pick up a replacement for my stolen phone. We also found an appropriately named falafel place, that we of course had to try :- )

In the evening we met with our friends Tetyana and Peter, who we also saw the day we first arrived in Johannesburg. We had a wonderful time as we ended our very interesting visit to Johannesburg.

Etosha National Park – July 1

We got up early to go on a morning drive through the Etosha park with Petrus (our guide) and Bertus.

The wild drive in Etosha is a different experience from this in the private game reserves where we stayed earlier. Etosha is open to the public and visitors can drive their own vehicles. It has wider gravel roads as opposed to the narrow sand roads in the private reserves and there are more and sometimes larger vehicles. Wildlife is not found by finding and following tracks, listening to calls from animals and using the intimate knowledge and sharp senses of guides and trackers. Instead, there are a number of waterholes where wildlife can often be found, and wildlife can also be spotted from the road.

While it’s not as exciting and fun as the drives in the private game reserves, we did see and follow a black rhino from close by, another pair of mating ostriches (we’re starting to wonder about these animals :- ) many giraffes, zebras and the largest (Elands) and smallest (Dik Dik) antelopes, and several in between (oryx, kudu, and impala). All in all, a very nice morning!

The smallest antelope (Dik Dik), was a bit shy

And the largest one (eland)

Oryx

Impalas have a black stripe on their nose here

Kudu

The Black Rhino

This male ostrich had 3 females interested…..

Lots of giraffes

They seem to have two styles of drinking

These were at the Lodge to say goodbye

We returned from the drive to the lodge at noon and had lunch, after which we left for the airstrip and flew to Windhoek’s international airport.

There we had to say goodbye to Bertus. We had a fabulous time traveling with him and had come to respect him not only as a great pilot and knowledgeable guide but also as a true “mensch”. It was an experience that will always stay with us.

From Windhoek, we flow (on a regular commercial flight) to Johannesburg, where we were awaited by a driver who took us to the DaVinci hotel in Sandton (the “new center” of Johannesburg), where we’d stay for 2 nights.

Skeleton Coast; Kunene Camp – June 30

After breakfast, we headed out by Landrover to learn about the way of life of the nomadic Himba people and visit a family. We started out by observing a few settlements from a distance. Each settlement typically houses one family (3 generations) and consists of a few huts. Men can have children with more than one woman and each woman will have a hut for herself and her children, while men do not have a fixed “home” and may sleep in the field or with one of the women.

The main economic activity of the Himba’s is raising cattle (cows, sheep, and goat). They have settlements in multiple locations and move between these (on foot), mostly depending on availability of water and grass. The size of the herds is quite large (I estimate at least 100 animals per family). Since they can’t sell these animals, they are mostly a source of food (meat and dairy), a means of exchange against other foods (like corn) and to pay for a bride (usually in cows).

It is estimated that about 20,000 people still live this nomadic lifestyle. They are generally analphabetic and have no way to communicate with the outside world other than occasional contacts with tourists, but since they only speak their local Himba language those interactions are extremely limited, but enough for the young generation to be drawn to the towns and cities. Their lack of education makes life there very difficult, but it’s still expected that this nomadic lifestyle will disappear in the next ~20 years.

Here are some pictures of the settlements and the beautiful landscape in the area:

Next, we went to visit a Himba family that Bertus knows. The Himba women like to cover themselves in a red substance they make from fine-ground “Ocher” stones and lamb fat. They use the same substance hair extensions (from animal hair?) to create elaborate hairdo’s. These stones are not available in the Kunene region and Bertus had brought some for them from Leylandsdrift, giving him a good reason for a visit.

One of the women showed us how she makes the “make-up” and even applied some of it to Anat’s face. Anat also had a good time with the kids, who were apparently not used to receiving this kind of attention and seemed to have a good time.

Fun with the kids

How to make the red “make-up”

Making porridge from corn (a staple food)

This was not so easy to remove

Our way back to the camp from the Himba people brought some more amazing views and an incredibly steep decline with the Landrover.

We drove down this mountain (our tracks are visible)

Next was a boat ride on the Kunene river, with -again- beautiful views and a picnic on the Angolan side.

A marihuana patch on the Angolan side of the river

We took this man from the Angolan to the Namibian side (people are allowed to enter up to 6 kilometers on each side)

Swimming in this river is not a good idea….

Picnic in Angola

After the boat trip and a quick lunch, we drove to the airstrip for the flight to our next destination: the “Mushara Outpost” lodge at the east side of the Etosha National Park, which is a large wild park that was established during the German colonial time.

We made a brief refilling stop at Ondangwa, the administrative capital of the Oshana region. It has a small but brand-new international airport (because the president was born here?)., but on this Sunday afternoon we were the only plane on the airport and we couldn’t get a cup of coffee, as the café had closed before its official closing time.

During the trip, we flew over the vast elevated plane of northern Namibia, initially mostly bushland, then gradually changing to farmland, showing that, at least in the Oshana region, small farmers do get an opportunity.

Towards the end of the trip, we flew over the large Etosha National Park, with at its center a huge (120 km long) salt pan. This was once a large lake, fed by the Kunene River, but tectonic plate movements over about ten million years caused the river to reverse direction. Despite that, it was a large lake about 16,000 years ago, when Southern Africa had a wet climate, but today it is mostly dry. The area surrounding the pan is dense mopane woodland (this is where the Mopane worms are found), that hosts diverse wildlife.

Here are some pictures from the trip:

This landscape looks like an abstract painting

A Himba village from above

Lots of (small) farms

Almost all farmland

A typical farm; note the mixture of “modern” structures and traditional huts

The Etosha Salt Pan

We landed at the airstrip for the Mushara Outpost around 5 pm and were driven to the Lodge where we would stay by Petrus, the guide who would accompany us the next morning.

The lodge had a similar set-up to the Sabi-Sabi, Ngala and King’s Pool camps we visited earlier, but with a few more tents and a larger common area. We were the only guests this evening and had a nice dinner together with Bertus.