Day 278: The Lions Were In A Meeting…

Sat. 18th May 2013

Is there something you'd like to raise?…the elephants were having a love-in and the rhino was doing an Eeyore and standing all by himself looking forlorn. We’ve just had an amazing day with the animals. Our long-term average has been around 70 photos per day but since getting to Namibia, this has been more like 200 and, today, we manage over 300. Today just turned out to be one of those days where there was so much to enjoy, to see and to photograph.

Its a new day...It is the big cats we want to see today. We are still very excited about yesterday’s sights but, as ever, we want more. There is a debate as to whether to do the early morning game drive with a Park Ranger from the lodge or to stick to Janis with Zenzo as our guide. Zenzo assured us that there was no difference in departure time or likelihood of spotting animals (and applied a little bit of moral blackmail which we weren’t so keen on) and so we decided to stick with Janis.

African Fish EagleAs we head out of the lodge at 6:15 we find out that the lodge drive left at 5:30, so we are still wondering if we did the right thing. All is quiet as we leave camp. We got up early to be on this drive but it seems that the animals are having a lie in. Even the first water hole is deserted apart from an African Fish Eagle sitting imperiously in a tree contemplating the start of the day. We splashed out on the National Park guidebook which helpfully includes both bird and animal spotting guides.

Spotted HyenaWe press on, driving further into the park and catch this hyena having an early morning drink of water. Later on we see more springbok, oryx, kudus, zebra and even some wildebeast (I never knew that gnu and wildebeast were the same thing!). We just pass a jackal when Zenzo stops and does a 3 point turn. We are surprised to be going back for a jackal but as we go racing past him its clear that there is another purpose. Zenzo has received a message that a lion was spotted back where we were 15 minutes ago and so we go haring back. Nina (with the campers) is parked on the side of the road but they tell us that we just missed the lions (and even show us the pictures that we missed to rub salt in the wound).

Vanessa has Bastien under controlDisappointed, we head on and reach the salt pan at the centre of the park. Etosha means Great White Place and is named after the salt pans. It reminds us of the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia but feels a little smaller and is less dramatic in the photos. Still it was a chance to show the others how to take trick perspective photos and we took this nice little picture of Vanessa and Bastien.

Syncronised zebrasBlack Rhino having a lunch time snoozeThere are definitely no animals here and so we head on back into the bush. We pass by more water holes which are now bursting with animals including these zebras who seem to be having a synchronised drinking competition. But still no lions, let alone a leopard and it is time to return for lunch. Zenzo suggests that the lions must be having a meeting. It is amazing to see so many animals at the water holes and on the plains – we would dearly have loved to see a lion though.

Lets go this way!In the afternoon, we head off again. Liz says that the chap in the shop said that he had heard that there is a good chance of sighting lions where we are heading. It sounds a bit like clutching at straws to me. My scepticism seems to be vindicated as even at our destination water hole there are only the usual suspects. With what I believe to be the last throw of the dice, we head on a little further. And suddenly we stop. There! Its a lion! Just sitting under a tree about 100m away from us.

I wonder what's on the menu tonight?Zenzo, who spotted it first, then says “OK, can you see the other two lions?” Sure enough, there are two pairs of ears sticking up from behind the grass near to the first lion. “What about the other lion lying under that far tree about 300m away?” Oh, yes! We’re getting quite excited now. Actually, we are some way beyond quite excited. Our cameras are clicking away but are handicapped by the distance (the amount of zoom we have) and the light as the sun is going down. I am now really missing my SLR.

7 lions hereWhat would you like? Zebra? Springbok?Then, something magical happens. Fifteen minutes to rank up with my time viewing Machu Picchu. The fading light seems to be a signal – it must be a hunting night tonight. One lion became 3 lions, became 4 lions, became 7 lions, became 15 lions. One by one, they stand up, stretch, have a pee and then take a few steps – closer to the road and us! There is still a lot of sitting around and sniffing the air but the line (lion line) stretches out all the time coming closer to the road. One is even kind enough to cross the road and then lie down in the verge and pose for photos. We are 10m from this lion, which must be hungry if it is about to go on a hunt, with the windows in the truck wide open. David Attenborough, eat your heart out!

Oh, I suppose I had better get going!By now, the sun is within touching distance of the horizon. The gates to our lodge are locked at sunset  which is in 15 minutes at 5:30. We have to tear ourselves away (or we might be on the menu tonight). It took us nearly 2 hours to get here but we were going a lot slower then as we barrel along the road at breakneck speed. We must be propelled by a mixture of excitement at seeing the lions along with fear of being locked out. As it turns out, we just make it by 5:30 and are the last people into the lodge grounds before the gates shut.

Elephants at duskBut we haven’t finished yet… It is a glorious sunset and the sky is glowing all sorts of vivid shades of orange and red. Our usual routine of showers and the blog will have to wait – we have to go to the water hole in the lodge to see who is there. We find three elephants standing in a semi-circle with trunks interlocked. Set against the vivid sky they are another unmissable picture. I’m so engrossed in the elephants that I almost miss the Black Rhino standing on the other side of the water hole – looking for all the world like Eeyore gazing at his own reflection.

Thank you, Etosha. You have been a wonderful place to visitThere is even one final treat in store for us. Returning to the water hole after supper, all at first seems quiet and there is absolutely nothing there – fortunately, the hole is floodlight which provides enough light to see by. Then, half a dozen lions, in single file, slip out of the bushes and down to the water hole for a quick drink. Even with the lights, it is much too dark for photos but the spectacle is incredible. What a day!

Zenzo was right. The lions must have been in a meeting. And we were able to see them just as they were leaving. They even posed for us. Janet is pleased that I am now able to see some of the things that so enthused her when she went on safari with her parents as a teenager. How do you think I feel?

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