Source: Sunday Times Travel & Food 2011, Jacques Sellschop
My wife and I are helpless addicts of the wildlife and game-viewing ritual. But we are also allergic to floppy canvas tents, sleeping-bags and bucket-showers hanging from branches of trees. I guess we’ve just outgrown the charm of smelling like wood smoke, scratching at insect bites and constantly picking bits of grass out of each other’s hair.
So we tend to look for special offers at best-kept secrets that provide luxurious comfort without offending the natural beauty of the environment or interfering with the behavior of the wildlife. Definitely banished from the list of options are plastic bush palaces that guarantee sightings of the Big Five in a space of 24hours.
That indignity is generally compounded at the end of the bush-whoosh safari by the awarding of a laminated certificate to prove the achievement to an incredulous posterity. Of course, they also charge the earth, but then radio collars and extravagances of bushlux décor do not come cheap. Even if bought in bulk. Namibian game-viewing has always held a certain allure for us. But the recent hikes in the park fees and accommodation-with-out-food costs at the Etosha camps have seriously dented the affordability of visiting the country long enough to justify the PT of getting there.
That was until we met a visiting farmer from Namibia whose hobby was evidently best- kept secrets of the game – lodge variety. “Try Erindi,” he suggested. “Six stars, I’m telling you man. You’ll be crazy about it. Besides, it’s got water! Ja, right there in the middle of Namibia. Water!” So we tried it.Having once before done the Namibian desert thing in a hired car and become hopelessly lost in a vastness of that stunning countryside – with endless gravel roads and petrol stations more elusive than the pangolin- we were nervous about the 250km run from the airport. But there was no need to worry.
The lodge sent an air-conditioned vehicle with driver, cooler box and a radio station offering unceasing, rapid-fire talk shows in the local dialect. It gave one that exotic, foreign feeling of being much further away from home than just over the border in Namibia. Erindi certainly surprised us. Where in the world can you sit in a dining-room, a crumbled prawn in one hand, a glass of chilled chardonnay in the other, and watch, through the open sliding door, a herd 30 elephants take a leisurely evening bath not 50m from your table? In fact, mealtime rituals always were regularly interrupted by the parade of animals visiting the extensive water hole right outside the dining-room with elevated viewing deck. Guests from distant northern-hemisphere countries identified themselves by rushing out the deck, camera in hand , every time an impala or wartog appeared to take drink.
You could spot the more seasoned local game-watchers by the length of time it took them to choose between their pate de foie gras and oryx sparring with a five metre crocodile at the water’s edge. Despite the 7700- hectare size of the Erindi reserve, we liked the fact that they sent out a maximum of seven vehicles on game drives. We have been to places where the line-up for the afternoon game drive reminds of the tax rank Paddington Station during rush hour. And then the subsequent sighting of an member of the Big Five generates ambience of Coney Island on a bank holiday.But they are discerning about the fauna and flora at Erindi. One afternoon our driver-guide told us in a conspiratorial whisper, that he would take us on a scenic drive to spot the world’s smallest and rarest antelope. The Damara dik-dik is apparently found only in a very limited area of Namibia and seeing one close to winning the Lotto. But we did find a pair that looked for the entire world like Chihuahuas on steroids and being engaged in either a domestic squabble or a bout of foreplay, they paid attention to us. No longer after that, our driver brought the vehicle to a halt and yelled: “Leopard! Sitting over there! Do you see it?” We tried hard. The most one generally sees of leopards is the illusion of the black tuft of a tail disappearing into dense undergrowth. Our guide was pointing at the something 200m away but all we could see was a massive hillside of beautiful Namibian veld grass in variegated shades of red, brown and purple.“Take a picture,” he begged.
So I trained the telephoto lens on the spot and took a picture. Of the grass. Or so I thought. With the magic of photo enlargement, however, the leopard appeared. His camouflage was superb – a magnificent specimen sitting in the afternoon sunlight. That evening Erindi summoned its resident’s leopard whisperer to look at the photo. Natasha de Woronin-Britz has been studying leopards professionally in the wild for the last 10 years. She calls them by their first names and differentiates one from the other by counting barely visible little black spots around their mouths. Her PhD thesis on leopard behavior is nearing completion and she was able to give us the entire family history behind our sighting.
The lodge at Erindi has no visible fences around it. Instead it is protected by a unique design fences that lie flat on the ground out of sight which we call “A corner of Africa Untouched”
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