IT took a long time for me to bow to perceived wisdom surrounding footwear on the truck and take the plunge into flip-flops.
Childhood memories of uncomfortable plastic versions, stumbling up cliff faces and over rocks on family holidays had ruled them out as a viable option.
And so, while the majority of my fellow passengers slipped their feet into them as soon the truck rolled to a halt, my feet were being surrounded by a pair of sandals that had already done plenty of duty at home and on my last few trips to the USA.
Called upon to do plenty of work once my other pair of sturdier shoes had been given an outer casing of Moroccan mud and confined to a lengthy spell at the foot of our locker, the sandals gave sterling service down the west coast of Africa – even if a tendency to rub meant the top strap was never done up and provided a tell-tale slapping noise which rather foretold my arrival.
But, having already come unstitched at the front, the right sandal suffered terminal damage when pretty much all of one side separated itself from the base, creating an awkward shamble home through the streets of Swakopmund.
With my sandals consigned to the bin – to prevent any temptation to soldier on with them patched up – it was out to the shops of Swakopmund and Windhoek in search of a replacement pair.
Instead, all that was found was that Namibians appear to have pretty small feet.
That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the complete absence of size 12 (and even size 11) sandals without the need to spend a ridiculous amount of money and explains why my last resort was a sports shop that actually stocked a couple of flip-flops for the larger-footed gentleman.
Not just any flip-flops. These were, unnecessarily garish, Havaianas*. The flip-flop of the connoisseur (or so we are informed by veteran wearers of thongs, jandals or whatever other Antipodean crime against the English language they use to describe them).
And very comfortable they have become, once a couple of early blisters had died down and the art of walking any distance (particularly downhill, still a bit of a problem) had been mastered.
My feet were even beginning to mould themselves into the base – right up to the point when a cheetah ate one of them.
In fairness, we had been warned the cheetah liked flip-flops. But when you are about to go through a gate into an enclosure housing three fully-grown cheetahs, you tend to hear the bits about them scratching you and what to do when one of them decides to lick your feet than worrying about the fate of your footwear.
But just as the video function on my new camera was being put to the test, the subject of the lens wandered out of shot and reappeared right on my foot.
Getting your foot licked by a cheetah is one thing – they have quite rough tongues to go with pretty coarse fur – getting told to remove your foot (not that easy when a cheetah’s paw is on it) from your flip-flop so it can chew it is another.
Retrieved from its mouth, it remains wearable and, if anyone asks why there is a sizeable chunk out of my flip-flop just below my right little toe, think being chewed by a big cat is infinitely cooler than some of the other footwear-based calamities which have beset the group.
So my newly-customised Havaianas have still been propelling my feet through northern Namibia and into Botswana, where the wildlife has taken centre stage (right up to our current pitstop in Maun, where beer on tap and sitting round the pool has rather claimed top billing for those of us who did not head into the Okavango Delta**).
A couple of friendly meerkats at the entrance to our scenic camp for the night amid the rock formations of Spitzkoppe (in newly-mended mosquito tent) set the trend, although they were the last ones we could actually pick up ahead of some much bigger creatures in the days ahead.
Picking up was certainly out of the question as we got up close to my furry foot fetish friend and two other females who live in the grounds of the owners’ house at the Camp Otjitotongwe Cheetah Camp.
Any reluctance we may have had in approaching the three animals as they purred away – mixed with a surprising bird-like chirping – was soon overcome as they came to us, played with the family dogs or simply led down and let us stroke them for the obligatory pictures.
If they got bored – we certainly did not – they simply got up and walked away or headed up a tree to await their reward of a great hunk of meat each, devoured in the full glare of our cameras.
Also waiting for their food were the rather less friendly cheetahs who live behind some fairly secure fences – at least, that’s what we liked to believe, considering how close to them we were camping – and peering down from the back of a truck was about close enough for us as we watched them fight over the spoils as it was thrown out.
We were back on familiar ground for our next wildlife encounter as our journey northwards out of Namibia carried us back into Etosha National Park.
Our first afternoon game drive was relatively quiet (countless springboks and more zebra barely register a second look now), while a late arrival at the campsite watering hole after cook duty coincided with a lion’s departure and was more notable for me walking through a thorn bush (creating scratches which may or may not be attributed to a cheetah) and the watching masses searching for new ways to scare off any animals considering a quick drink, although one rhino seemed totally unfazed by it all.
But we had plenty of wow moments in our lengthy drive to the park exit the next day, single rhinos and elephants being totally overshadowed by two male lions walking alongside and in front of the truck, followed (not literally) by a herd of nine elephants that included three little ones – right as my new camera revealed exactly how long it takes to go from three bars of power to flat.
And so, our truly memorable stays in Namibia – sandwiched either side of our trip to South Africa – reached a spectacular climax as we headed to the Botswana border.
It’s been grand, but there is a feeling of wanting to press on north and really get moving again.
* Think that’s the first time had to look down at my feet to check a spelling.
** Sadly, the need to stay in communication with the real world for a couple of days ruled out my trip, but the move has paid off and will be rewarded with a flight over the Delta tomorrow.