Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In which Virtue is Rewarded

My first dawn within Etosha found me sitting by the watering hole adjacent to the Halali rest camp. Four springbok were drinking and grazing, with bouts of play-fighting – they lock horns, and try to force each other back. All four were extremely wary, huge ears all a-turning and a-twitch.

Young buck drinking at dawn

We left camp after breakfast, intending to stay out in the bush all day – inside Etosha, park rules say tourists must stay in the vehicle cab when outside the rest camps, except for a handful of toilets in “safe areas”. Our morning drive was fairly uneventful- just a few wildebeest, ostrich, assorted antelope. After lunch (makeshift picnic of biltong and biscuits), the viewing got a little more interesting – some giraffe (surreal, graceful, occasionally hilarious). Exploring a very quiet track in poor condition (lots of bumps and large puddles), we found two tourists peering beneath a rather sickly looking hire car. We pulled up immediately; Mrs P swung up onto the roof of the cab to watch for lions, elephants, etc. (not so easy, in the dense scrub along that track), while I hopped down to examine the “patient”.

Quickly diagnosing the hapless machine as “too sick to tow”, we noted its latitude and longitude, and - our cab being only a two-seater - opened the tailgate and offered the Spartan comfort of our pickup’s bed to the stranded Germans (an anxious mother and her teenage son). Abandoning our game viewing, we drove them straight to the Okaukuejo rest camp, this being the closest place from which they could call for assistance, and also our destination for that evening. A little disappointed at having had to cut our drive short, we rested by the pool with cold drinks, before consulting the animal sightings book at reception (filled in by other visitors), then took the north road from the camp (a road we wouldn’t have been travelling that day, if we hadn’t been doing our Samaritan act).

Lion at sunset near Okaukejo

A few kilometres out, we were buzzed by a Cessna performing the most unorthodox pre-landing circuits I’ve seen outside an air show. Just after this, a South African in a big jeep heading south flashed us down: lions ahead! Smiles and thanks, and off we went; in fact, we had already spotted a few jeeps pulled over up ahead. The area was very open – grassland – and soon we spotted leonine heads raised above the grass blades. Three lionesses lay together on our left, while a single male was off to our right. Searching with her big lense (500mm telephoto), Mrs P soon found another male lion some way off behind the lionesses. None of the animals were particularly close – the lionesses, which were nearest, were at least 30M off – but, even at that distance, they were beautiful, menacing, fascinating animals.

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