Baboons woke us at some dark hour this morning. Now that’s what I call room service! They spilled the coffee though. Actually they were trying to get into our bin and were clattering around and generally being irritating but eventually they gave up and it was probably our fault for putting tempting scraps in there anyway. Apart from that and some random grunts (mostly from me) the night was deafeningly quiet. And not that cold to be honest. So all well and we bounded up at 6.30. “Bounded” may be stretching it a bit though. I got up to light a fire and cook bacon only to discover that I couldn’t find the flint and steel I used to light it last night. It had completely vanished and I cast aspersions at the baboons. My previous flint and steel activities were not (just) a sad attempt at bush machismo but a result of the fact that during our incredibly organised shopping yesterday we had somehow failed to get matches. This all meant we were going to have a cold breakfast. Cheese and tomato sandwiches in fact, but hot chocolate using the water we put in the thermos last night.
Not the best start, but we were rushing to make the hike up to the plateau which you can only do with a guide, given the number of things up there that have no qualms about killing you. Angelus, the guide was a trim Namibian in his twenties with a broad smile.
He met us at the reception building along with two German couples who, we soon discovered, lacked volume control. Its funny how some people can enter a wilderness area as though going into a pub, all jolly banter and bonhomie with not the slightest empathy for the surroundings. Actually they were a friendly lot and we all got on fine but any hopes we might have had of seeing animals were dashed by the lively German conversation.
It was a steep climb through the rocks cliffs at the top of the escarpment, with sun beating down from a clear blue sky and rock dassies (hyrax) shrieking at us. We saw them later, fat and silky like marmots, dozing in the sunshine.
The cool morning quickly warmed up and Angelus told us how to tell the difference between black and white rhino from their extensive droppings. Black rhino eat small branches as well as grass and the wood goes right through, making the rhino so uncomfortable that it kicks the excrement all over the place in a rage. Its stories like that that make you question evolution. Angelus also showed us how to spot whether a male or female Eland has left a puddle of urine – the male always walks in it afterwards. There are probably any number of poor quality and scatological jokes that could be made there, but I will maintain a dignified silence.
Angelus also told us a bit of the history of the plateau that was used as a hunting ground by the Kalahari bushmen until a century ago when they were pushed out by the Herero, who in turn were kicked out by the Germans, and later fought back in what became known as the battle of Waterberg – a key point in Namibian history.
As we paused for breath on top of the plateau looking out across the Kalahari, Angelus spotted a couple of rhino no bigger than commas and a family of giraffe. He seemed to see them without even trying and it took some of us several minutes to spot them even after he had pointed them out.
On our way down he saw a slim zebra snake clinging to a rock face beside the path. “Only a little bit poisonous” he said.
But around the corner he stopped very still and a few feet away from the path was an eight foot black mamba. It quickly slid off and only he, Philippa and Tom saw it.
It was hot when we finally got to the campsite and took the tents down – in the process finding the flint and steel that I had put in a Very Clever Place. We got back on the sandy road for the drive to Etosha, filling up in Otjiwarongo. From the map I had somehow imagined a flyblown sort of place with sullen inhabitants trying to find shade by the roadside. But it was quite a handsome town really with smartly dressed schoolchildren coming home and a row of 19th century buildings lining the main street – and no rubbish anywhere, which there just never is in Namibia it seems. Outjo further on was much the same and we recharged with coffee and cake in the German Bakerei. These places seem so relaxed somehow and very easy going. An hour before sunset we reached the Etosha Safari Lodge just outside the National Park.
G&T on the terrace for us and some sort of mocktail for Tom with grenadine and fruit meant we were all very happy, watching the sun set over the bush stretching out below us.