A Cheetah Ate My Flip-Flop

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.

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Better View – One of the cheetahs opts to hunt for flip flops from on high

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.

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Nice Kitty – Keeping the flip flops well out of danger

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).

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Not Alone – Ale and I show off the damage to our footwear

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.

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Bit Tastier – A better snack than a flip flop

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**).

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Compare The Kiwi – Karla and a meerkat at Spitzkoppe. Simples

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.

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Rock n Roll – The backdrop to our camp at Spitzkoppe

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.

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No Forgetting – Just some of the animals which wandered near the truck at Etosha

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 IMG_4857considering 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.

IMG_4853We even got a honey badger, although the person who spotted it dismissed it as just a skunk.

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.

IMG_4950Right after we have taken advantage of not moving too far from the bar and pool…

* 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.

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We Ain’t Nothing But Mammals (Emergency 72)

THE opening days in Namibia have reacquainted us to some of life’s little essentials.

Showers, draught beers, meat, pavements, people having the right change, orders arriving in less than an hour, rugby on TV, even beds.

It has given us our biggest taste yet of some of Africa’s wildlife – lions, rhinos, elephants, wildebeests, giraffes by the bucketful, hyenas, zebra and any number of varieties of antelope (not just served up on a plate).

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Civilisation – Toasting the rarity of a draught beer with Matt after arriving in Swakopmund

And we have spotted large herds of a creature in its natural habitat which has largely eluded us in the first half of the journey – the overlander.

Initially, they can be spotted milling around their own territory (trucks of various hues and designs) and sticking close to their own herd, with which they have travelled for a varying degree of time (the long-distance overlanders, like us, who spend many months migrating around the continent and the more common short-termers, who are abundant in southern and eastern Africa).

Gradually, however, the different herds will congregate at a watering hole and the allure of fresh meat sees the predators in each group closing in on their next victim. Sorry, target.

038Refreshed by a few of the local offerings, members of each group will eye each other across the hunting ground, move in for the ritual mating dance and eventually move away from their respective groups and find somewhere a little more private.

Or not, depending on their group’s sleeping arrangements, which can create a long night for other members of the herd.

IMG_4372The overlanders rolled into town in large numbers as we arrived in Swakopmund with up to four trucks parked in the courtyard of our base for three nights, with others dotted around town and descending on the same watering holes.

Differing herds can usually be told apart by their dress, length of hair (or beards) and sheer excitement at having a bed for the night and a shower – the longer they have been on the road, the longer the hair, more thrown together the clothing (from whatever it is clean) and more excited at the odd luxury (which doesn’t even have to be that luxurious) after so long in bush camps.

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I-Spy List – Some of the early stars of our busy morning in Etosha

Not that we have been starved of delights and luxuries on our way down into Namibia with some spectacular settings for our camps and the attractions of Etosha National Park, which served up a series of real treats (not least the showers, for those who were in quick enough to get hot ones).

By the time we reached the showers – via a quick trip to the campsite pool for some of us – we had already been treated to a special couple of hours after clocking in for our 24-hour pass having stayed not far from the park’s boundaries.

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Evening Visitor – A rhino comes for a drinking at the watering hole near camp in Etosha

A reserve centred around a huge, dry pan, Etosha is renowned as one of the best places to spot wildlife in Southern Africa, but we had been warned it may not be the richest of pickings with the rains dispersing the animals across the park rather than concentrating them around the watering holes.

To add to that, kneeling on the seats to watch out for the wildlife was not the prescribed treatment for my infected leg – which is supposed to be raised at every opportunity, leading to some interesting improvised footrests over the last few nights – but what happened over the next couple of hours made any discomfort more than worthwhile.

We had not even made it from the front gate to book in before the wildlife started appearing.

575A kudu started things off (surprisingly large and, later investigation would reveal, very tasty), followed by a group of giraffe grazing amid the trees by the side of the road and then a lone hyena, loitering long enough on the verge for the cameras to snap and defying warnings we would be very lucky to see them.

SAM_1567And that was just the start. Our first watering hole was flanked, on one side at least, by zebra and various antelope and impala with one lone giraffe making his way down the middle of the road, but then we cast a glance at the other side of the water.

Lying there, not taking the slightest bit of notice of us, were three lionesses with a male stretched out in the long grass a hundred yards or so behind.

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Hitting The Heights – Our spectacular bush camp in the Brandberg Mountains

Just a few minutes in and we had hit one of the big five, to be followed in quick succession by jackals, ostriches, wildebeest, loads of giraffe, zebra and antelope, even a tortoise. it was almost a relief to have a slightly more barren afternoon, wildlife wise, as we made our way through the park to our base at Hilali Camp.

Showers, swim and food out of the way, it was time for more animal spotting as we headed up the path to the seating area overlooking the camp’s floodlit watering hole.

It was not the busiest of nights down by the water and rain cut short some plans to spend the night there, but a couple of hours spent watching rhinos and an elephant popping down for a drink is a not a bad way to end the day.

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Blazing Squad – Building our bonfire at our bush camp near Henties Bay

An early start the next day had us at the camp gates pretty much as they opened at sunrise and heading towards the park exit before our 24 hours ran out, which was a bit of a push as we were joined by a hyena walking down the road and, finally, a lion trotting alongside the truck as he made his way through the bush.

It could all have been a bit of an anti-climax after that, but after a lunch stop in the town of Outjo, we headed up towards the Brandberg Mountains and a bush camp in a stunning setting among the rocks in the desert which provided a spectacular view of the sunset and, for those of us who climbed out of bed to scale the rocks, sunrise.

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Revved Up – Quad biking in the dunes near Swakopmund

With time to spare before we arrived in the relative civilisation of Swakopmund, we headed out into the desert via a beautiful, if largely untended, road which we did our best to smooth out as much as possible along the way.

After lunching in the heat of the desert plateau, we plunged down towards the coast and through the Benguela Current, which blows up from the Antarctic and saw us donning long trousers over the next few days, in many cases for the first time since Morocco.

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Hair-Raising – Karla has a run in with one of the locals

A quick paddle in the suddenly very cold Atlantic, fish and chips in Henties Bay and a bush camp in a dried-up river bed – which only saw us get stuck in the sand five or six times and had us trailing behind the truck carrying the sand mats – illuminated by a huge bonfire and we were on the road for the final few miles into Swakopmund.

As the first major settlement we hit in southern Africa – to say nothing of its reputation as a backpacker mecca and activity centre – Swakopmund has taken on near mythical status over the past few weeks.

It is, for all that, a strange place. Still showing a distinct German heritage (even though they have not run the place for a century and were only really there for about 30 years), it comes across like an old English seaside resort. If it was surrounded by sand dunes, run by Africans and organised by Germans.

And over the course of three days, we did our best to savour as many of its delights as possible – especially the liquid ones and anything which might once have been spotted on a game drive but was just as cherished on a plate, to say nothing of televised rugby which surprisingly found the people from Gloucester and New Zealand turning down a meal out to catch the end of Bulls v Crusaders. One of them rather more loudly than the other.

As well as nocturnal adventures as the different overland herds became increasingly entwined, we headed out on a variety of adventures in the desert – sandboarding, quad biking or sky diving.

My personal choice was quad biking, saving careering down dunes on a board until we return on the way back north – when, hopefully, my leg will have cleared up enough to make walking back up a more palatable proposition.

And by then, there should be a new crop of overlanders gathering around the watering holes for the predators…

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