Farting Rhino, Grumpy Lion (Etosha National Park, Namibia)
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK is twenty thousand square kilometers of wildlife viewing bliss…at least during the dry season. Otherwise, it’s "peek-a-boo, don’t see you" in the tall grass. Sightings can be few and far between. This probably explains why Halali Rest Camp was mostly deserted. We arrived in the morning, set up camp, and went on patrol.
Animals or not, Etosha is captivating, more so without the crowds. We didn’t see much that first day, but our time wasn’t spent in vain. Being there, gazing across the great Etosha Pan, drifting along the grass-lined dirt roads while attempting, yet again, to avoid getting Sparky stuck in the mud was exhilarating. The odd giraffe and straggling rhino amplified the ambiance.
That night, back at camp, we ate dinner and made our way to the floodlit waterhole to sip wine and, hopefully, meet the locals. We sat for the better part of an hour, but no one came to drink. However, Leslie and I thought we heard something from a dark corner just on the other side of the protective fence facing away from the light. Using camera flash while standing on a rock ledge, I spotted Hornee the Rhino snoozing in the grass…and heard him farting incessantly. Nothing like a rhinoceros shit cloud to fire the imagination.
We quietly alerted other folks staring fruitlessly at the waterhole and soon a small crowd was ogling Hornee under the constant strobe of camera flash. We returned early the next morning, but Hornee had moved on. Probably couldn’t stand the smell…filthy wretch.
Ever heard an owl screech? It’s one of the most bloodcurdling sounds and can easily facilitate loss of bowel control. There were a couple swooping around our campsite at night startling the bejesus out of us. I tried pinpointing their location but was forced to settle for mere glimpses and the occasional shriek. Owls are fucking fantastic. If I could come back as an animal, it would be an owl…or an elephant shrew. Close call.
We packed up and headed east through the park. Apparently, the animals had done the same. We seem to have had a knack for locating lone hyenas on leisurely strolls. This day was no different. We stalked one in the Spark for a good ten minutes before moving on. Hyenas are also fantastic. Not a doggy. Not a kitty. It’s a Hyaenidae. Looking for a unique child name? Look no further.
Besides the usual suspects (wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, etc.), we encountered two male lions not long after a zebra murder. As we approached, they were enjoying their morning snack encircled by scavengers, both jackals and Homines sapientes (plural of Homo sapiens for those with a grammar fetish). The jackals were hoping for a nibble, but Simba and his bro were not down with that shit. One left the carcass unattended momentarily only to come roaring back (literally) when two interlopers skulked in for a sample.
We sat in the car and enjoyed our own breakfast—Cheerios, as opposed to raw zebra. Less protein but still scrumptious. There is something undeniably incongruent about slurping breakfast cereal in a compact car while watching apex predators lounge beside a bloody ribcage. Not exactly Wild Kingdom, right? Still, I can’t deny the innate satisfaction derived from the experience. The tourist buses that pulled up quelled our enthusiasm, so we departed soon afterward. This was not our last encounter with lions. There was a pride of golden kitties awaiting our arrival somewhere in the Okavango Delta. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Our plan was to camp another night in Etosha, but after some high-level discussions, we concluded it was time for Operation: Botswana. On the way out I noticed an elusive owl friend chilling in a tree—a trip nicely punctuated. Feeling satisfied, we continued northeast to Rundu and found a place on the Okavango River with a lovely view of Angola for a couple nights.
It was my birthday and Leslie made it a memorable one. While I sat in our room and caught up on world events (at the time Gaddafi was ranting incoherently about Al Qaeda and psychedelic drugs), she was in town procuring a birthday cake…somehow.
The cake was surprisingly delicious. And although the card was meant for a 3-year-old, the gesture was sweet…and more apropos than I like to admit. What’s a birthday party on the Namibia/Angola border without Bombay gin and tonic water? No party at all. I’d been on the move for two years. Two birthdays came and went without fanfare. This was a nice change and certainly made me feel special.