Thursday, June 21, 2012

Palmwag Desert Lodge

The stars last night were absolutely amazing.  There is no artificial light within 300 miles in any direction and we were treated to a fantastic celestial display.  Here in the southern sky we see unfamiliar constellations like the scorpion and the southern cross as well as the good old big dipper low on the horizon.  The milky way just glows so brightly it is hard to describe but it is almost like there is a light shining in the sky behind the galaxy...

This morning we awoke early as we had an ambitious plan to track rhino before setting off to Etosha National Park over 6 hours drive away where we hoped to reach camp by 3pm for an afternoon game drive.  We set off before dark in the freezing cold and within an hour we had the good fortune to come upon 3 rhino browsing in a valley just across from us.  The group consisted off a dominant bull rhino (named Don't Worry), his mate named Desiree, and their 2 year old calf Dave.  We approached on foot down wind to within a 100 yards and enjoyed a good view of them as they munched on the bushes.  The trackers recorded all the details including GPS coordinates, activity, direction, markings on the ears, etc...

We then set off to pick up our rental car which we had stashed at Palmwag Desert Lodge and once we cleared the veterinary gate (protecting against foot and mouth disease) we drove into the high mountains towards the Grootberg Lodge which is a 100% community owned property set on a cliff overlooking a huge valley.  We did a quick inspection and met the manager Bob as well as their guide Isaac.  Back on the road and down the mountains we headed until we had a flat tire about 5 miles out of a very remote town.  Luckily we made a quick tire change and limped into the town on a temporary tire where we were able to get the tire repaired.  I use the word town loosely because in reality there was a gas station, a store and a collection of shacks offering tire repair, cell phone repair, and a public toilet.  We were happy to get back on the road and surprised to see that the graded dirt road we had been on now changed to a tarred road all the way to Etosha park.  We rolled into the Ongava Private reserve to our wonderful tented camp in the heart of the bush.  Our tented camp has a wonderful water hole directly in front of camp and a Plethora of animals frequent the spot including springbuck, kudu, and water buck.  We met our guide, Megustos, who took us out on a late afternoon game drive. The wildlife here was so abundant and habituated to vehicles that it served as a stack contrast to the wild areas of Damaraland that we just left.  Within a few minutes we had passed lots of kudu, oryx, blue wildebeest, and more.  Soon we found a pride of lions consisting of 3 young females, 3 males, 2 mothers and one dominant male.  These lions we so tranquil and easy going compared to the desert lions which were so skittish and shy.  

We enjoyed a great sunset viewing and then set off for the classic sundowner of gin and tonics while we listened to the lions roar nearby.  Surprisingly a leopard also called out in the middle of their roars, apparently to advise its territory though usually leopards are fearful of lions.  After the sun set we turned on the spot light and started a night safari as we headed back to camp. Very suddenly we came upon 2 white lions just 10 feet from our land rover running parallel to us.  We quickly shut off the motor and the mother and large calf stopped within 30 feet of us and we enjoyed some great viewing as we used a red filter on the spot light to avoid damaging their eyes.  The female had an enormous front horn which was very impressive.  The calf was quite old, probably almost 3 years old and soon he would set off on his own and leave his mom.  He will need to challenge a dominant male to establish his territory or move off to another area.  We learned that white rhinos are much more tranquil and less aggressive than the white rhino.  Black rhinos are browsers who like thick bush and are often startled and charge because they can't tell what is approaching.  in contrast the white rhino is a grazer who likes the open plains and can more easily identify a threat so is less likely to charge.  

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