Monday, 24 February 2014

Okutala: rest of my stay

Okutala: rest of my stay

I really can’t say enough good things about this place. You really do get treated like family and it is a lot of fun. Going to be hard to leave and really wish I could stay longer! 

One of the most relaxing nights was the sleep out on the deck of the lodge overlooking the water hole. Beautiful clear night listening to the eland -never did see them, looking at the stars . Did see a large flock of flamingos fly over on their way to Etosha. Was joined by Garfield the cat. PJ ( guide) telling us stories of his past guiding jobs while sitting around the fire.   

The other sleep out was up at the top of the mountain where we watch the sun sets. Amazing view down the valley, stunning sunsets enjoyed with some champagne. 

Another lovely night just didn’t really end up getting much sleep for some reason. 

Okutala really tries to have a wide range of activities to chose from. It was really nice having everything as an option. Odd in a way that I didn’t have to do anything if I didn’t want to. Did pick the pool over feeding the big cats a time or two. 

I mentioned earlier that we tracked a radio collard goat the one afternoon. No the goat isn’t normally radio collard though after spending 45 mins trying to find the goat herd I think it would be a good idea! A couple of the other guests had never used the tracking equipement so PJ caught one of the goats and let it loose for us to track. We did alright until we ended up in the scrub which was not pleasant since it is all thick accai trees with massive thorns. We were trying to get clues from PJ and we did end up figuring it out that the goat wasn’t loose but down at the Rhino house. And Latoya had brought out afternoon cool drinks and cake down there for us.  

And I know I already mentioned the full day of driving around the property checking the 23 water holes. That was one of the best days. One air jeep with Nel driving. Saw lots of different wildlife : kudu, heartbeests, springbox, wildebeest and best of all 8 giraffes.

Also spread out lots of monkey oranges that most animals enjoy eating. 

Spent lunch hour at one of the bigger waterholes that is more like an above ground pool complete with fish at the bottom. And went for a nice refreshing swim there. The lodge cooks are awesome and had packed up each a super cute little lunch box. 

We finished by stopping by both of the “ghost” lodges. The “ghost “ lodges are 2 different lodges that were completely finished but were abandoned before they were ever actually opened ( accountant ran off with all the money). The baboons have destroyed a lot of the roof but Okutala have plans to re-do them and open them again. Both are in gorgeous areas with water holes in front of the lodges and are part way up the hills so have excellent views.

I did get a bit sun brunt today but so worth it! 

Okutala : Elephants

One big difference between Okutala and Harnas is that Okutala have the big animals like giraffes and elephants. The 3 yearling giraffes are fun to bottle feed. Bottle feeding a 2 m tall animals - you have to stand on a platform. And watching a giraffe run - looks like it’s running in slow motion. During the day they just wander around the yard. They actually just got released 2 weeks after I left. Hoping they are doing well. 

The elephants we didn’t do a lot with but Dr. Simone is a elephant specialist did take us down there a few times. She loves her elephants and could talk about them all day. She did give us a 2 hour intro to elephants which was super interesting. All of this way done while sitting about the elephant area up on a platform so we could still watch them. 

There are 4 young elephants ranging from 1.5 yrs to 3.5yrs. This is not the ideal situation at all. I had never really thought about it but elephants are very very close family animals. When there is a situation of to many elephants and some need to be culled it is generally the adults who get culled. This is the situation that happened.  Baby elephants are easier to transport and care for. But in the long run bad since the baby elephants don’t have anyone to discipline them. When they become teenagers big troubles tend to start. They have been recorded accounts about herds of teenaged elephants actually going around killing rhinos just cause since they didn’t have any older elephants. ( top alpha elephant is always the oldest one and they stay alpha until they die). As soon as an older, elephant is put in with the teenagers , all of that stopped. 

So Dr. Simone is looking for an older elephant to solve future problems.  There is an older female and her own son on the property and she is radio collard but she is very wild and shy after being next to her friend that was shot and killed when it was still a hunting lodge. They are hoping that they may be able to release the 4 baby elephants with her if they can’t find a different older female. 

I actually ended up hearing the intro to elephants talk twice but it was just as the second time. Charlotte, Livia and I got to help hide all of the elephant food around their paddock. Dr Simone is trying to teach them how to find food for themselves. And it makes their day more interesting for them. So we hid lots of monkey oranges, flakes of hay, seedpods, apples. 

We did get to spend the afternoon on an elephant “walk” which is more of an elephant observation at close range. We took one of the elephants outside of the paddock and let her do what ever she wanted too. Very impressive to see her break tree branches with ease and just to chill wandering from bush to bush munching on leaves. All of this within 5-10 feet range. And what was nice was that the gate to her paddock was left open so she has the choice to go back whenever she wants too.

Very cool experience.

Oh and yes these 4 still get milk but it’s easier since it is only in a bucket that they drink from and not bottles. 

Okutala African Quest=amazing expierence!

Sitting here on the deck of the lodge , last person still awake. Watching a big thunderstorm roll into the valley. The breeze is beautiful and cool which is a lovely change to the 60% humidity we had yesterday when we were leaving for Etosha. 

Now just hoping the roof doesn’t start to leak on my bed. This is the only problem with thatched roofs. Apparently they leak once a year at the start of wet season and then the grass bind again and don’t leak anymore. 

As my FB status said today: 

One open air jeep - check
2 good friends( Livia and Charlotte) - check
1 cool guide-check
World's 8th largest park(Etosha National Park) - check
Amazing views of amazing animals and landscapes-check
And one crazy African thunderstorm- check

Equals priceless memories that will last a lifetime! — with Livia Debora Rüegsegger.

I got back from our super quick trip to Etosha mid afternoon today and it was a great quick trip! 

Travelling in an open aired vehicle was pretty fun. Was a little nervous with the predicted rain and camping but hey that’s part of the adventure! The amount of stuff we had packed into that truck for only 24 hours was pretty impressive but were very comfy and very well fed. Livia, Charlotte and I with Nel as guide set off just before lunch. It had already rained once at Okutala but we left in the sunshine. 

It is awesome that Okutala is only 40 km from Etosha, so a quick drive and we were there. I honestly didn’t have really high expectations of what we would see because the week before they saw nothing. With all the rain Etosha has gotten lately the animals don’t have to come to the waterholes and most are on the far east side of the park. And considering the amount of animals I saw on the G adventure trip would be hard to beat. 

The original plan was to head straight for far east side of the park which is where Nel thought most of the animals would be. Also all of the flamingos which I was really hoping to see out on the salt pan. I saw a large flock fly over when Tamara, PJ and I slept out on the deck the other night. Pretty cool. 

Five minutes into the park and we have already seen 2 lions. Nel did get a heads up from one of the other trucks passing us. The lions weren’t the closest, about 200-300 m off the road under some bushes. The girls were pretty happy with seeing them anyways. And then a few minutes later, we spotted a male elephant attempting to hide behind a tree. It wasn’t working well. Lol He was a ninja elephant as PJ would call him. He needs to work on his ninja skills. 

This trip was looking good! 

We were going to have a quick stop at Ok.... And then keep going. I did convince Nel to do a quick stop at the water hole just to see if anything was there. I didn’t think much would be being lunch time on a hot afternoon. This is the same waterhole that we slept at on the G adventures tour and where the lions made a kill. Well our quick stop turned into having our lunch there because as we walk up so do close to 100 zebras. I had to laugh since I pretty much have identical pictures from my earlier trip- same waterhole, maybe same zebras. They did have a few very cute little foals as well. The lunches were packed in cute little  lunch boxes, super yummy as well. 

With seeing all of these animals right off the bat, we made the decision to stick close by and not drive all the way to the east side. Nel hadn’t realized I had already been to the park but he did go to a few different places. 

We headed out to the Ghost forest which I am drawing a blank on the name of the trees but are similar to the bayobab trees. Looks like someone ripped out the trees and put them back in upside down. There aren’t many left because during one draught the elephants started eating them. 

We passed tons of zebras , wildbeestes and springboks all with little ones. I still can’t get over how fat zebras always are. You never see a thin one. We did see our first giraffes who did a very cute pose behind some zebras. And one of the highlights was seeing the Battleier (sp)eagles. Saw close to a dozen in varying ages. Nel was beside himself with seeing all of them and super close up ( a few feet away). 

Swinging past a tiny part of the massive salt pans, one reason why Etosha is famous. I think I mention it back when I was last here, but it measures 130km long. The last time it filled up was 4 years ago. It would be pretty impressive to see, reminds me of Lake Eyre in Australia.     It was dry though did see some zebras at the spring that runs into the pan. And 3 lions! Under a bush trying to stay cool. They looked very hot and tired. 

We slowly headed back to the campsite and decided to quickly set up camp and then head back out to find more animals. This turned out to be a good plan since when we headed back out we last less then 15 minutes before the rain arrived! Remember we are driving in an open air truck..... Yup fun times! Lol Between the wind and driving, the rain actually hurt. And it was a good thing that we did head back since the rain lasted for ever. We ended up hiding in the wash up area til it ended. I was happy to see 2 other G adventure trucks there :D except we just missed seeing a rhino at the waterhole. Darn! 

Supper cooked on the fire was amazing ! Lamb chops, potatoes, corn and grilled cheese sandwiches all done on the fire. A cool sunset.

The next day was a lovely sleep in though I was first up so took my kindle down to the waterhole to read and see if anyone happened to be there. 

It was a pretty quiet day on the animal view front due to all the rain but a highlight was seeing a spotted hyena with in 5 feet. It had been hiding in a culvert and poked it’s head out when we drove past. Lots and lots of babies everywhere. 

We headed back to Okutala in time for afternoon feeding. Awesome 24 hours! 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Harnas: a wrap up.

I do realize that I am writing this close to 2 months after leaving Harnas but oh well I blame it on not having decent internet. 

Overall, I loved my time at Harnas and I would for sure go back if I had the opportunity. Not sure if I would go back for 5 weeks. But I think I would go back for another 2. And would probably do the volunteer program again and not a guest since you don’t get the hands on time with the animals if you are a guest. 

The people I met from co ordinators to other volunteers have been amazing and truly hope that we can stay in touch and catch up somewhere in the world. And a few of them have become very good friends. 

The animals , well I think I have made it pretty clear that they are insanely awesome. Don’t agree with everything that Harnas does but they are making a difference. I do really hope that Harnas doesn’t piss anyone off and gets shut down for a few things they do, do which are illegal. 

Overall I had an awesome time and really enjoyed it and very sad to leave. But will be back at some point. 

Harnas: tracking

** been fighting with my internet hence why no posts lately!**

With Owen being a member of the anti-poaching squad and having intensive training that comes with that, we did have the chance to go tracking for an afternoon with him. Very cool day and even got to see the  shy but resident giraffes. And then followed them by putting our tracking skills to use following them for the next hour or so. 

I have a high level of respect for someone like Owen who can track and figure out all the info only from looking at a track. I guess a lot of it does come down to be very observant and looking for things like depth of the track, any branches broken if so at what height.

And we got to arrive back to the truck to it having a flat tire. This truck was having issues this week- 3 flat tires and running out of fuel. 

One of the negative sides of Harnas did rear it’s ugly head while we were out there. The lack of communication on the place is annoying and in this situation could have been dangerous. Owen got a radio call asking where we were and then followed up by saying Derek ( another staff/coordinator) was out hunting game for New Year’s Eve party. But not sure where he is hunting and he’s not answering his radio. Found out a little while later he was in the same area as us! Not fun and really how hard is it to check with other staff to see what activities are happening during the day? 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Harnas: Fun times, Christmas, NYE and awesome friends

The people I have met on my African Adventure so far have been incredible. And the ones I met at Harnas were no different and in a lot of cases they were the best part of being at Harnas. I now have friends all across Europe and a fair few more in Australia. 

Laura, my good friend who I spent 5 weeks living with and so tough to say bye too 
Tamara from Belgium who was one of the oldies and good friend and lots of fun
Stacey my twin- only spent 3 weeks with but already wearing matching clothes and saying the same things not to mention the giggle fests! 
And Dave , Stacey’s other half, who put up with us and fellow fetch ball addict!
MT my fellow horse lover and that is pretty much what we talked about. 
Victor the Alaskan and fellow traveling gypsy and protector
Livia from Switzerland and the best village mom ever and cabinmate!
The Aussies (Dom, Tim,Matt and Lili)- they were aussis need I say more?
Thomas and Erik- my german guys, fetchball fans and fellow Snoobobs and actually like working with the baboons!

Missing a few I’m sure but definitely made some life long friends who have impacted me and I will for sure catch up with somewhere sometime I am sure of it! And miss you all! xx

I was really looking forward to having my first African Christmas. It was a good christmas but probably didn’t exceed my expectations mainly due to a whole lot of waiting. Now I will say that yes I know there is African time to take into consideration but to be honest it was a just bit disorganized. Harnas staff didn’t know what was suppose to be happening. Not like this is a new holiday by any means. 

Being that Namibia is very German, it is Christmas Eve that is the big night and not Christmas day. The bushmen kids sang a few songs and did some dancing. Santa also arrived to hand of presents to everyone. Santa , Derek, was somewhat busted by the great dane dog Lexie following him around. We joked that they should have put antlers and a red nose on her . And it rained a lot! The last few days it pretty much hasn’t stopped raining. I had been saying: all I wanted for christmas was sun or even just for it to rain at night. Needless to say it has become an on going joke that I must have been very bad this past year! Lol 

Mariata did totally make our nights by having a little present for each of us- chocolates and little jewelry.

Christmas day morning was disorganized, more hungry volunteers not made happy by watching guests having coffee and snacks while nothing for us :( But this was followed by a quick church service , the christmas story read in Africanz by Derek and acted out by the kids. Followed by super yummy food. Laura ate waaaay to much and proceeded to not eat for the next 2 days. Unheard of for her! Amazing how much food she can eat! 

New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve started out a bit the same way but did get better. It was a lot of waiting around to finally eat after 10pm with not to many snacks since lunch time. Saying we were all hungry and tired was an understatement. And we slowly all got cranky. Once we were fed which was super yummy BBQ lamb and goat, lots of salads and delicious cake it was a lot of fun. Just wish we had been told the party wasn’t going to start until late so we could have had a nap and a snack. 

A really fun part of the night was getting to play with fire! Owen does some fire dancing and thought it would be really cool to have 6 other people doing it at the same time. So I got to twirl /swing a piece of plastic wire/pipe with steel wool that gets lit around for a minute. Sounds really easy- it’s not! You have to swing it super fast to get it burning and keep it burning. Got one blister from it! But got some cool pics too! 

Needless to say most of us were in bed by 12:20! Lol 

Harnas: Morning & Afternoon Tours

If you are a guest at Harnas, you have the option to take 2 tours around the property. In my mind the more exciting and interesting of the 2 tours is the morning tour. This involves seeing and feeding all of the outside big cats (lions, cheetahs and leopards)and the little cats (caracals) along with the baboons, ostriches and wild dogs. It is normally about 3 hours long and goes rain or shine, animals still need to be fed. There was more then one occaission that we did the tour in the pouring rain. It is a driving tour complete with trailer with all the meat. 

We, the volunteers, go along to actually do the feeding while the guests watch and take pictures and listen to the guide talk about each animals. I ended up helping on 5 tours. It is always fun getting to see all of the big cats getting fed since they are in an area where you need a co-ordinator to get into. But does get a bit boring hearing the same info again and again though each tour guide (Enrico, Tertius and Derek) does it slightly differently. 

For the most part, the tour is pretty much just feeding and listening to info about the animals. The way we feed all of the animals is pretty basic - calling the animals over to the fence and then throwing the meat over to them. Most of the animals know the drill. There are a few lions that have to be fed with a lot of space between them or they fight or steal all the meat. We do use this time to give them a quick once over to make sure they are healthy. 

If the animals don’t come over to the fence then we come back to them or make sure to come back and check them later in the day. Though also depends on the animals.Terry, a lioness, who sometimes doesn’t come over if she is feeling old and stiff. Her friend, Dewy, will come and get her piece and take it to her and then come back and get her own piece. 

Feeding the cheetahs, all 22 of them in one paddock, was interesting. The sounds a cheetah can make always sound so tiny and meek coming from such a big cat, though a very delicately built cat. They are probably my favourite big cat- so elegant. Lots of chirps and meows and only big cat that can purr. And that purr - Amazing!

The leopards was one we did have a couple demos with. Remember that the leopard is one of the Big 5 and rightfully so. Probably not one I would want to run into while walking in the bush. Insanely quick on ground or climbing and very agile. With one leopard, she would sit on a big branch in the tree to catch her meat. Normally hanging on with hind foot claws and stretch to catch with front claws. MT (Marie Therese) has some fantastic shots of this. Casu, another leopard, he would show how fast he can climb a tree to catch a piece of meat. Very quick!

Wild dogs I find to be beautiful and very interesting creatures. There are less then 4000 left and about 1500 are in captivity. Harnas has 40 of them. Always seem like happy dogs but very accurate in their hunting skills with a kill rate of 96%! Helps when you hunt as a pack which is divided into a “chasing” and “killing” groups. And they can trot along at 40km an hour for hours. With the wild dogs , they had a platform above the dogs in the enclosure to feed and watch them. 

A bit of a side note, Harnas was going to release one of the smaller packs of dogs to start tracking in January. Will be interesting to see what they learn. Also one quick job I helped with one day was removing a full zebra carcass from their enclosure. Smelled a bit and a few still oozy maggoty places but mainly dry bones. Didn’t get a lot of help from MT loading it! Lol    

** slightly disgusting topic - what the big cats eat in detail**

I will say that if you don’t like meat or handling meat this would not be the place for you. I would have thought it was fairly expected that you would see and handle large parts of donkey carcasses, we are feeding () big cats after all. I only say this because there were a few people (volunteers) who were surprised at what we fed the the cats. I didn’t find it gross , what the wild dogs are worst- whole intestines. :S That was a smell you didn’t get off your hands easily! 

Cat diets ( massive guess on weights of meat)
Caracals: donkey hearts or small piece of meat with a bone in it
Cheetahs: 1-2kg  piece normally with a bone
Lions: a rack of ribs or half a donkey head. (7 to 12kg guess)
Leopards: 3-4 kg of meat

We do feed the meat with the bones in so that they get their calcium. And they have a fasting day once a week. And launching some of that meat over a tall fence is sometimes fairly difficult. 

  ** No more gross talk ** :D 

The afternoon tour is a tour of all the animals on the farm. The tour starts with feeding the 3 tame cheetahs. They have a raised platform that they go and sit on to receive their food. They delicately take the piece of meat from a bowl that we hold for them. 

The mongooses are called and fed next. I call them mongeese- sounds better to me :D And have actually managed to get other people to start calling them that as well. hehe These are wild ones who roam around the farm. There is a special “trill” to call them which I can’t do. 

We, the volunteers don’t have much to do on the afternoon tour. Primarily, just helping feed the cheetahs, mongeese and Gumbi. Gumbi is the resident brown hyena who is ancient but also obese. Feels very odd. Hair which is kind of pig and dog combined. But does have a cool sounding “laugh”. 

Other then the animals, you do get to see the church and the plane crash site that Mariata’s husband and son were in but survived. Not sure how since it looks like a nasty one. Unfortunately, they both died a couple years later in seperate incidences ( heart attack while biking and a mosquito illness). 

Interesting tour to do once but after that pretty boring. Especially when the tour is in German or Africanz. But some of the co-ordinators are super nice and let us go after we finish feeding.