Bill Passmore previously travelled with Mahlatini to Botswana in March 2011. En route back to Ireland he stayed with friends Deryck and Ann Braun in Johannesburg. Having loved his holiday so much, he shared with them how desperately he wanted to return to Africa but where to try next? Bill suggested Namibia and the couple expressed their desire to join him on his next adventure. On Bills return to Ireland he contacted Greg to assist him in organising this special trip. Just over a year later Bill arrived in Windhoek. Standing at passport control there were two very familiar faces in front of him in the queue. Bill, Ann and Deryck were about to embark on an exploration of the incredibly beautiful country of Namibia. This is their story.
The first leg of our journey was to Desert Rhino Camp which lies in the 450 000-hectare Palmwag Concession. This region is marked for its tranquil, minimalist beauty, its arid-adapted wildlife and the largest free roaming black rhino population in Africa.
That first morning, we left for Desert Rhino Camp from Eros Airport in downtown Windhoek. Our pilot Andy was also a very skilled guide and gave us a great briefing on what we would see. The flight would take about an hour and 45 minutes and he strongly recommended that we visited the bathroom before we took off!
All we saw en route was 2, or maybe 3 remote settlements, which demonstrates just how isolated Desert Rhino Camp is. The views of the mountainous terrain and especially the geological formations were stunning but were only a forerunner of what was to come.
On the rocky ride to the camp with our guide, Raymond, we saw some mountain zebra along with oryx and springbok. Agnes, the camp manager, met us and we were escorted to our ‘tents which were so luxurious that they would put some hotel accommodation in the so-called ‘developed world to shame!
Following afternoon tea we were off on our first sundowner drive. The terrain had very little vegetation except in ‘oases-like areas and the ground was rocky, leading to bumpy rides. The ‘African Massages inNamibiaare different toBotswanas – your back gets much more of a pummelling inNamibia!
The desert-adapted vegetation is fascinating. The Shepherds Tree, with its bright white trunk and wide spread to provide shelter for shepherds (from the sun – not the rain!), was quite commonplace and Euphorbia plants were everywhere. Raymond told us about a self-drive safari group who had used a dead Euphorbia plant as kindling for a barbeque – of the 26 people in the group, 25 died from a combination of the toxic fumes and from eating the meat that had been exposed to the toxins. The one member of the group who survived hadnt participated in the barbeque because he hadnt felt well beforehand.
Then there were the weird-looking Welwitschia plants which look dead but some have been carbon dated to being around 1500 years old.
Most sunsets in Africa are spectacular and I cant remember whether this one was particularly dramatic but, in any event, the Windhoek lager was excellent and it goes without saying that the scenery was dramatic.
Over dinner Raymond told us about the plans for the following day – to find a black rhino. The three trackers from the Save the Rhino Trust joined us for dinner and explained how they would head off about half an hour before us and if they located a rhino they would contact us by radio. They said that it would be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack! We were told not to wear any deodorants or perfumes as the rhinos sense of smell was very acute. If we got to track a rhino on foot we would have to walk in single file with about a metre between us. Rhinos have very poor sight so that way we would just appear as a single blur and wouldnt seem so much of a threat. The animals hearing is also very acute and we were told not to talk.
After about an hour and a half on the ‘road (if you could call it that!), Raymond got the call. The trackers had found recent rhino ‘spoor (footprints). He put his foot to the floor and we caught up with the trackers some minutes later. The rhino had gone between two mountains and it was agreed that we should drive around to the back of the mountain to the right and then cut across to the gap. We had a very exhilarating African massage as Raymond booted it over a very rocky road. The end result, however, was well worth it!
We jumped out of the vehicle and walked in single file towards a small hill to the left of the valley. The walk was over very loose rocks and we had one or two ‘stumbles on the way and didnt maintain the single file too well. Arriving at the top, we saw the rhino standing maybe 120/150 metres below us. He wasnt looking in our direction but as soon as he heard the ‘click from my camera he looked up and decided to move on. He didnt hit the rhinos maximum speed of 100 metres in 7 seconds but it wasnt long before he was disappearing into the vast expanse of the Damaraland desert. We had been warned there was only a 50/50 chance of seeing a rhino, so we were very pleased with the results of our morning.
As we enjoyed our picnic lunch under the shade of the only tree for miles, the trackers told us they were able to tell, just from his spoor, which particular rhino they were tracking, even before they saw him. The one we had seen was ‘Getaway, a 35-year-old male. There were only about 30 rhinos in the trackers area and the trackers had names for most of them. Getaway was known to be very skittish, hence the name. Another was called ‘Dont Worry because he was very laid back! The trackers were presently worried about an elderly female who was pregnant. They were concerned that she couldnt sustain her baby. We were fascinated to know how they could possibly see any spoor on the hard, rocky ground and they explained that they also looked for stones disturbed by 1500kg rhinos.
The guides showed us the very extensive and detailed reports they had to submit to the Rhino Trust head office and told us they were very pleased to see ‘Getaway because the last sighting of him was back in 2011 and he had only been seen five times in 2010.
The next day we headed off in a different direction but unfortunately there was a strong wind which was not conducive to tracking so after about three hours we packed it in and found a suitable picnic lunch spot to enjoy the superb spread.
On each sundowner drive Raymond took us in different directions and this time he had left the best wine till the last! For whatever reason, the scenery and especially the lighting were breathtaking. We saw mountain zebra grazing with some kudu and then it was back to base for our final dinner at Desert Rhino Camp.
After dinner, when Agnes accompanied Deryck and Ann to their tent, she spotted four eyes, possibly 100/150 metres away, staring at the main camp building. Whoever the eyes belonged to had been watching us having our dinner! The following morning she walked over to where the ‘eyes had been and came back to tell us that she could see from the spoor that they ‘belonged to a couple of lions!
Sadly it was time to say our goodbyes to the wonderful people at Desert Rhino Camp and head off to the dunes of Sossusvlei.