A Cheetah Tree without Cheetahs
As we crossed Namibia in a rickety old overlanding truck we finally arrived in Etosha to begin the first of many game drives. We quickly learned that within minutes of entering the pan we were almost overwhelmed by the amount of animals at the watering hole, simply exploding with wildlife. Zebras, Springboks, Warthogs, Ostriches and the list goes on and so amazing to see this many animals in one location. We had traveled over 2000 miles overland through vast and barren lands of Namibia to finally arrive in Okaukuejo. Every mile, every bump every flat tire and hours of endless dirt roads was worth it to stand in the mist of all that Africa had to offer.
Of course, no adventure is complete without random jackels and roaring lions when night falls, but by the time we reached Etosha we had already camped out 13 nights in the African bush, canoed rivers, met the Himba, sandboarded the dunes, watched the universe pulsate in the night skies while camping under the stars in Spitzkoppe but, tonight, we would eat dinner as jackels walked among us and we would sleep with the silhouettes of wild animals passing our canvas tents. Lions roaring in the distance as elephants and rhinos slowly came to the watering hole that night. Within hours, we counted 37 elephants, 4 rhinos and several herds of zebras came during the night to drink from the water source. As we watched, it was as if time stood still. The rhinos danced a very ungraceful ballet for territorial rights before entering the waters edge. The snorts and grunts of wildlife filled the cold night air as we all lay low to the ground bundled in sleeping bags and blankets to stay warm while watching the late night show. We must have stayed up almost all night. Like little children waiting for Santa we were to excited about being in Etosha to return to our campsite for fear we would miss something remarkable. We were in Africa, there was no time to sleep.
We finally decided to return to our tents around 4 AM after the watering hole had been quiet for about an hour, we rose from our hideout behind a small rock wall and gathered our belongings and returned to the protection of our canvas tents. Crawling in to catch at least a few hours sleep before the early morning game drive to watch the sunrise over the Savannah. During those few hours, jackels helped themselves to all the things left outside, including your shoes if you forgot and left them behind. Not to mention there is nothing more intimidating than seeing the shadow of a jackel cast upon your tent wall by a campfire and knowing what is between the jackal and you is a very thin piece of canvas. Not to mention, the armed camp guard is asleep at the post. But this is Africa, like Noel, our guide said on day 1, “Welcome to Africa, where it’s 10% safe”. I assure you, that night, I was beginning to wonder if we even had the 10%.
We rose before daybreak, seemingly a few minutes after we decided to return to our tents and likely so, it was still dark outside. Breaking down the tents and boarding the overlanding truck we set out to drive into the depths of the Etosha Pan to watch the sunrise over the Savannah. One of the most remarkable things about traveling in Africa is the enormity of all things, the sun rose above the horizon as a bright orange ball of fire bringing the breath of a new day in a matter of minutes. As we continued onward towards the center of the Pan we passed many herds of zebras and antelopes then our truck stops abruptly in the middle of the road and our guide starts yelling “look, look, you see don’t you…..”it’s the cheetah tree”. The overlanding truck might as well have flipped on its side as everyone in the truck shifted to the side of the truck the tree was on to see cheetahs. We had traveled over 2500 miles by now, a cheetah would certainly be a find. Then laughing, our guides says, “so sorry, today, the Cheetah tree is without Cheetahs…. Let’s Go!”
excerpts “Overlanding Africa 2008”