Part 6: Namibia

On our third day, we decided to opt for a special drive: the Cheetah Walk. This was the only drive where we had a different guide. Going into this, we thought that we’d go for a stroll on a road with a cheetah. We were a tad mistaken. The cheetah walk meant tracking the cheetah with a radio collar. Then we leave the jeep to hike to where the cheetah is. Then we hang out and follow the cheetah if he or she decides to go places. Craziness! As a rule, you never left the vehicle. So this was a completely new experience for us!

On the way to cheetah territory, we happened across another lion, Duku. He was hanging out in the long grass. It was incredible to see how he blended in so well! We took some photos of him but then he wandered off behind a tree. Didn’t like all the attention!
Duku. Blends in so well with the grass!

Duku. Blends in so well with the grass!

So we kept driving on. Our guide used an antennae to narrow down where the cheetah was hanging out. When we got sufficiently close to her, he parked the vehicle off road and we all got out. As soon as we put our feet in the bush, a lion roar rang out in the distance. We asked, “How far away is that?” Our guide reassured us that it was 3 km away. And he told us that a roaring lion is not a hungry lion!
Then he gave us the ground rules. We had to follow behind him single file in silence. If he held up his gun, we had to stop and pay close attention to him. The cardinal rule of the bush is don’t run. If you see a lion, stand your ground. If you see a rhino, run behind a tree. They won’t charge through things that they can’t see through! Never found out what to do about elephants…
So we began our silent march into the bush. Our guide had the antennae in one hand and a gun in the other! It was crazy to have our feet on the ground. I was a bit nervous about snakes and spiders over fears of poison/venom. But it was a nice walk.  At one point, we heard the roars again and our guide raised his gun. He listened and then lowered it. We wandered on.
Eventually, we spotted the cheetah and her two cubs lying in the middle of a wooded area. She was a success story from the Cheetah Conservation Fund. I had done my first marketing project in business school for the CCF so it was super neat to see one of their animals who had been rehabilitated. Apparently, no one had known she was pregnant when she came to Erindi so it was a bit of surprise when she had two cubs. They were nine months old and seemingly well.
It was incredible just watching these three creatures lying about. They began licking each other, grooming each other before they began to hunt. Our guide said it had been about two days since they had eaten so it was time. The two cubs got a bit rambunctious and wanted their mother to get food. It was hilarious as they wrestled and scampered all over!
Impatient cubs

Impatient cubs

Then it was time to hunt. The  mother stood up and began strolling off, searching for food. Cheetahs have to conserve energy so they do this walk 100 yards, lie down for awhile, get up and wander some more, then lie down again. They can only run for short periods of time so they don’t waste the energy. And we followed behind. Yes, we went hunting with the cheetahs.
At one point, our guide told us to crouch down since the cheetah seemed to see something. We were tall and bright colored so we would definitely be a hinderance. So we crouched. It was sheer will that I didn’t freak out about the giant millipedes just hanging out all around us. I prayed that none of them would crawl on my foot. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. At one point, we ended up crouching over an active termite nest. It was really neat watching these tiny insects pulling twigs and leaves into holes.
After about an hour of following the cheetahs, it became clear that we weren’t going to help their cause. So we decided to call it a day and let them go off without noisy game scaring humans. We wandered back to the jeep to go back to the lodge. On the way, we found an elephant who was just sleeping on a tree. He had his head resting against this tree. Incredible!
Sleepy elephant
When we got back to the lodge, my friend asked: “How far were those lions?” Our guide admitted: “1 km.” 1 km!
That’s all for now!

Part 5: Namibia

We set off for our afternoon drive. Just outside the gates of the lodge, there was a small colony of meerkats. Three of them. They were so adorable. They came out to check out the truck. At different points, all three of them ended up underneath the parked truck, which was a bit nerve-wracking. One of them had been hand reared so he was very comfortable with humans. He rubbed himself against the tire of the truck. Then he started to dig where the truck was dripping water. So cute. The rangers were trying to catch them to bring them back into the conservation area set aside for them. They explained that there weren’t enough meerkats for them to survive by themselves.

Meerkat rubbing himself against the truck tire

Meerkat rubbing himself against the truck tire

Then we were off to see the rhinos. They can’t put tracking collars on the rhinos since poachers can use the frequency to hunt them. Horrible. So we had to hope that we could find one of them at a favorite haunt. As we were driving by another watering hole, my friend shouted, “There he is.” She had turned around and had seen this incredible brown colored beast grazing. It was a black rhino covered in mud. We kept our distance from him (all the guides knew the comfort level of all the animals). But the rhino decided to trot off into the bush. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a rhino in the wild. I fear that this might be something that I tell my grandchildren about. I hope I’m wrong but I fear that the economics aren’t good in favor of the rhino.

Black rhino

Black rhino

Also, my friend taught me an important lesson: look to your left and right and behind you when on safari. You will catch some amazing things. That’s how she found the rhino.

After our incredible rhino sighting, we drove up to another small mountain/large hill. Over in the distance, we could see a very nasty thunderstorm coming across the park. It was super exciting to see the dark clouds rolling in and see the rain in the distance. Lightening would occasionally strike, sometimes three times at once! There we heard stories about how they once found the leopard there. The trick with the leopard is to walk away slowly, ignoring it, but you never turn your back. That’s how you survive. Not exactly the most reassuring thing to hear!

Then it was time to return to base camp and deal with the storm. As we descended the rocky outcropping, our friend spotted little eyes from a hole. Another aardwolf! I think it was new for the rangers too! These tiny black eyes and big ears peaked from the hole. So cute. We continued our descent. It started to rain a bit as we began to return to the lodge.

In the midst of it, we stumbled upon Goldie again, sitting in the middle of an open area, no cover from the thunderstorm. He was a little bit more alert this time but not by much. We drove around him, caught some magnificent yawns. Then it was time to face the storm. We all got prepped, positioned our blankets and scarves.

Goldie hanging out before the thunderstorm

Goldie hanging out before the thunderstorm

A taste of the roads during the storm

A taste of the roads during the storm

Then the storm came upon us. It was a doozy. It rained so hard that the drops stung when they hit us. My fiancé and I used our hats as shields to block the rain hitting our faces. It actually worked rather well. Then the rain became less painful. That’s when we noticed that all the roads were now effectively rivers. This was the desert, so there wasn’t a lot of water beforehand….For the first time in my life, I was really concerned the jeep was going to stall and we were going to have to be rescued from the bush. But Mrs. Jones kept her reputation. Uly and Mrs. Jones got us home safe and sound. It was really remarkable!

I got my first African thunderstorm. Woohoo!

That’s all for now!

 

Part 4: Namibia

On our second day, our morning drive was initially filled with birds. We had companions in the jeep who were bona fide birdwatchers. We slowed down a little bit and took a longer time to look at the birds. At one point, we came across storks wading in a pond early in the morning. It was simply magnificent watching them. So idyllic.

After a few hours of birding, it became all about big cats. One of the rangers managed to track down two lionesses hidden in the bush. It was the most incredible experience. Uly would just plow through bushes and past trees so we could get to them. The two of them were just lying under a shady tree. They are generally cranky and, like Stompy, also they charge the trucks occasionally. They did growl a few times at us, which made my heart race. Thankfully, nothing more happened. One of the lionesses was named “Yoda”. Apparently, many of the animals were named after Star Wars characters, which is pretty cool.

Then we got word that the male lion of the pair was spotted. So we drove to find him. Like the other two lionesses, he was lying underneath a tree. He barely acknowledged us. So sleepy. But he was huge! His paws were enormous.

Then we got word that cheetahs were spotted. So we were off further into the bush to find them. It was incredible how the terrain changed so much. We’d go from bushes and trees with beige soil to just bushes with red soil, and so on. It felt that traveling five minutes in any direction would change the landscape. So neat.

We came across the two cheetahs, also lazing about in the shade. I had heard that big cats spend a lot of time resting about. I fell in love with these cheetahs. They are such beautiful animals. One of them kept rolling in the opposite direction from the camera. Shy!

Cheetah!

Cheetah!

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent lounging on the deck of the restaurant facing the watering hole. The temperature was perfect; I was shaded and curled up with my best book. During that time, I listened to the hippos making their grunts. They even walked out of the water during the hottest time and grazed on land. It was amazing to watch a small herd of hippos wander about, bobbing their heads as they walked.

Wild dogs!

Wild dogs!

And then I finally saw the wild dogs. I was lazily reading when I had this feeling. I grabbed my binoculars and looked to see a whole pack of wild dogs hanging out on a small rocky outcropping. There were at least a dozen of them. Then they wandered across the plains and disappeared into the bush. I counted fourteen of them. A while later, I saw them running back from the bush back to the outcropping. It was so neat to see these relations of our dogs.

That’s all for now! We’ll talk about our afternoon drive tomorrow!

Part 3: Namibia

We went out on our first drive at Erindi. It was absolutely incredible. It was a bit of an adjustment since we had to wake up rather early for the 6:30 drive. We quickly ate some food at 6:00am, watched the sunrise up over the watering hole at 6:15, and were ready in the jeep by 6:30. The idea was to enjoy the cool morning before the heat really took over in the afternoon.

Sunrise or Sunset over the watering hole

Sunrise or Sunset over the watering hole

We had the absolutely best guide and friend, Uly. We spent almost drive with him, save one, and he really made our trip. That first morning, he asked us what we wanted to see. I suggested that we check out the elephants. And so we were off. We left the secured electrified fence area and entered into the bush itself. It was a bit chilly since the sun had just peaked up behind the mountains. The first thing I remember in the bush was a horned skull, bleached white in the sand. A beautiful reminder that we were in the wilderness.
We were going to find the elephants by tracking device. Some of the animals have tracking devices at Erindi. Now I’ve heard there are some circles that consider this cheating but I think it’s silly to make the distinction. First of all, the guides still have to use their amazing tracking abilities to find the beasts even when we have the tracking system. Second, it doesn’t always work. Rain and cloud cover played havoc with it.
As we drove out to the area known for elephants, we came across zebras. They didn’t let us get to close to them but I didn’t care. They were incredible to see in action – mostly running away. We did get to see some baby zebras! So cute! Uly and Pena, the guides, pointed out a termite hill that had a den for ardwolves, a hyena relative. We saw these little ears e out of the hole. Incredible. We also passed giraffes, sticking out above the trees. It was one of the most amazing sights.
Zebras!

Zebras!

Then we got to see an elephant. My friend had warned me that they sometimes just appear from nowhere. It’s surprising since you’d think they are so large that it would be hard to miss, but it was rather easy. So all of a sudden, there was a giant creature munching away at some trees. We spent several minutes just watching him.
And then we met Stompy. We knew things were going to be good when Uly commented, “He’s a very naughty boy. He likes to chase the vehicles.” I could feel my heart pick up speed. We could get chased? And then we got closer to Stompy so we were actually perpendicular to him. But Uly spoke to him, urged calm. It was wonderfully terrifying to be 10 feet away from an elephant known for chasing the trucks. (Note: Stompy means cigarette butt in Afrikaans but it’s an appropriate name). We went past him with no incident.
Stompy

Stompy

Then we proceeded to watch two elephants, a medium-sized one and a small elephant named “Tough Guy” goof off. Tough Guy kept trying to sneak up on the larger elephant. And as they roughhoused, they were knocking trees and bushes over. Absolutely incredible. There were several other elephants in the area, including a small calf. A group of the elephants just wandered past the car. The calf got stuck on the wrong side of the road and ran a bit panicked behind us. It was so adorable.
What an amazing first drive!
We went back to the camp area. It’s a strange period between drives. We had about 8 hours between drives. The next one was at 4:30. So we ate second breakfast (a full English breakfast), napped, read, lounged around for several hours. We took a little walk to the San People village that was currently uninhabited. The San People are a nomadic tribe who were elsewhere during the time we were at Erindi. But it was cool to check out the village that had huts and various antelope skulls marking the area.
That afternoon, we were going to find the lions. As soon as we head out in the truck, it began to rain a little bit. We were there during the rainy season. We saw all sorts of animals: impalas, more giraffes, springboks, oh my! Some of the lions also had tracking devices but the rain played havoc with them. We ended up going up a kopi, a rocky hill or small mountain, and had this amazing view of Erindi. The world is so wide there. The rains came in earnest so we decided to go back since the animals would be taking shelter. We did see some thoroughly soaked ostriches by the side of the road. Totally worth the rain.
At dinner, I got to try Oryx meat, a magnificent antelope. I had it rare. It was amazing.
One thing I will note: the bugs are huge there. Yes, I don’t love spiders and insects but I can handle them normally. At Erindi, the beetles the size of my hand! Then there were these millipedes that were an inch thick and six inches (or more) long. Eeeew. They were everywhere. When we got back to our room at night, we had to develop a plan. We’d open the door really fast and then kill everything that came in. It worked.
That’s all for now!

Part 2: Namibia

The flight to Windhoek was short and mostly uneventful. Some flights required a bus to take you to the plane. As we were settling in our seats, another bus load of people came in. After about five minutes, an announcement came on “Please check your tickets. If you are going to Zimbabwe, you are on the wrong flight.”  So that happened. Several people quickly collected their belongings and exited the flight. Eek!
After 1.5 hours, we were finally done with flying. One of the landing cards required us to fill out if we had been to an Ebola affected countries. US and Spain were mentioned. But we were waved through.
We met a representative of Erindi at the gate. We were on African soil (outside of the airport). Simply magnificent. Namibia has more arid terrain. It actually reminded me a bit of Cusco. It’s not barren; there were lots of shrubs and small trees. Almost as soon as we left the airport, we saw our first wild creatures. Baboons! They were walking by the side of the road. But apparently, our driver and other Namibians hate them. The baboons are troublesome and cause a lot of mischief if they get inside cars and homes.
The first 2/3 of the trip were on paved roads. We drove in the outskirts of Windhoek; it looked like a small city. Then we were out in the countryside, staring at the mountains and the storms in the distance. It’s amazing to see a rain storm far away from you. You can see the rain but you are dry. It happens every so often here in Chicago but it happened a lot there.
There wasn’t a lot of big towns between Windhoek and Erindi. We passed through some small towns, saw some farms to the right and left. And then, we got to the unpaved portion of the trip. But that’s when things got interesting. As soon as we got off the main road, we started to see some of the wild life. We saw these warthogs and their wartlings. They pick up their tails very daintly and then run like anything. We saw these guinea fowl who ran panicked all over the road, sometimes veering into the road.
And then we saw the giraffes. Hanging out on the other side of a fence, four giraffes munched away at trees. Our driver stopped the car and we sort of all sprang out to take photos. (Mind you, one never leaves the vehicle when out in the bush. But there were fences around us). Three of them ran off, which was spectacular. You aint seen anything like a giraffe galloping off. One seemed braver than the rest and sort of gazed at us gazing at him. Absolutely magical.
First Giraffe
After another forty-five minutes, we finally go to the gates of Erindi. As soon as we got through the gates, we saw some storks hanging out on the side of the road. Our driver immediately went off-road so we could get closer. It was crazy. Until that moment, I had never been off-road before in a vehicle.
We got to Erindi finally. 46 hours. We got our keys and got to our rooms. They were amazing. They were large with views of a tiny watering hole. We had a TV, large bed (with ample mosquito netting), and a full bathroom. It was rather luxurious for us. We went to the restaurant to check out the large watering hole. In it, we could see hippos and alligators. And we could hear the hippos grunting at each other. Across the watering hole, we could see a flat area with various trees and bushes with mountains in the distance. I quickly decided that my time would be spent here, gazing out into the bush, when we weren’t sleeping or on safari.
Our watering hole friend

Our watering hole friend

I was ready for the safari to begin.
That’s all!

Part 1: Namibia

After many weeks of anticipation… I’m going to talk about our amazing African Safari. Yes, back in January, my fiance and I went with two of our friends to Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.

It was one of the best things that I’ve done. Seriously. I can’t think about much else these days but going back and going on safari again. So for the next couple of weeks, I going to talk about our wondrous adventures there and hope that maybe one of you Readers will be inspired to go.
Because it’s a thing that can be done. And there is no time like the present. And seeing an elephant in the wild is one of the best things.
So off we go!
The first step was getting to Namibia, which is on the Southwest coast of Africa. It required three flights to get there; it took about 46 hours including our layovers. We flew to London with a 12 hour layover, flew to Johannesburg, SA with a 5 hour layover. And then a 1.5 hour flight to Windhoek, Namibia. Then we had a 3 hour car ride to Erindi, mostly on unpaved roads. It was worth every second of it. Misadventures and all.
We were lucky that we were able to leave Chicago in our first leg. Predictions of a few inches of snow were wrong; there was a mini-blizzard going on outside. We knew there was trouble when ground crew were taking photos of their plane being de-iced at our gate. And it wasn’t our plane. To give BA tremendous credit, they were extremely forthright about the delays. They told us step by step what was wrong and how long it might take to fix it. So after a delayed crew, a mechanical issue, two plane de-icings, we took off three hours late. We were relieved to go. All the later flights to London were cancelled.
So instead of 12 hours, we had 9 hours. So what did we do? Naturally, we went to the British Library and the British Museum. For those of you keeping track, we went to the British Museum four times in two and half weeks.
We first went to the British Library since we were keen to see “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.” It traced the development of terror and gothic literature through the ages.The curators identified that The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole as the first Gothic novel. Horace Walpole applied the term Gothic in the subtitle to his story “A Gothic Story.” The story involves elements that we associate with Gothic stories: supernatural and “unnatural love.”
The exhibition went on to explore various eras of Gothic literature including the Northanger Horrids. In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, one character is obsessed with reading gothic novels. Several were mentioned but not in a particularly good light. The books have known become known as the Northanger Horrids.
One thing that I found super interesting was how the setting of Gothic novels changed. The first Gothic novels were located in the countryside. But over decades, the focus changed to the city, reflecting anxieties and changing demographics. Never thought about it. Overall, a neat exhibition.
Then we decided to take a short tour of the British Museum. We decided to check out some of the objects that we didn’t really know very well. Scott had never seen the Easter Island sculpture so we made a beeline for that. Then I was keen to look at the Mesoamerican collection. It’s very small; it’s all in one room. But they have some splendid pieces including a turquoise covered snake. I had seen pictures of it in the gift shop for years but I realized that I had never seen it in person. It’s huge!
Turquoise Snake

Turquoise Snake

Then we spent some time in the old British Museum galleries that tried to give visitors a sense of the old Museum. The cases had pieces from the original collection like works owned by Sir John Sloane. I love how they brought together pieces from different ages and areas centered around a common theme. Also, there was a secret door in the bookcases.
I think this was a piece brought by Captain James Cook.

I think this was a piece brought by Captain James Cook.

Then it was time to return to the airport. The flight to Johannesburg was twelve hours. Africa! It was so cool to wake up on a new continent. Sadly, we had about five hours in the airport, just enough time that we couldn’t go anywhere. But we met up with our friends’ friends and had a nice breakfast.
That’s all for now! Hah! Couldn’t help to put in some literature love. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about our trip to Erindi.

 

Waiting for Godot, Red Army, Folk Festival

So to continue the theme of awesome things in Chicago, I’m going to talk about three things going on right now. You can still catch them…if you go quickly!

The first is the Court Theater production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot directed by Ron Oj Parson. It’s all African American cast, an idea that had ruminated with the director and some of the actors for years. It’s fantastic. August Wilson and Allen Gilmore as Gogo and Didi were magnificent. I’d seen August Wilson before in Seven Guitars; it was such a pleasure to see him again. Anthony Lee Irons was sublime as Lucky or Pig. (Next line is a spoiler.) I always feel such pleasure when he goes from mute silence to thinking. It’s a magnificent moment in theater.

Waiting for Godot has to be one of my favorite plays. I’ve now seen it four times, the most for any play even Shakepseare. I’ve even put together my ideal cast. Nathan Lane as Didi, August Wilson as Gogo, John Goodman as Pozzo, and Anthony Lee Irons as Lucky. This production was better than the famous Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan show from 2013. Stewart and McKellan just weren’t convincing as Didi and Gogo. Alas.

The all African American cast gave it new layered meanings. It added some more tension with the already painful sequences between Pozzo and his slave Lucky. The director aptly writes in the Director’s note, “In its “absurd” way, this play is about the waiting we all do in life—waiting for life to resolve, waiting for love, waiting for peace, waiting for heaven, waiting for an answer, waiting for freedom, waiting for justice, waiting for change…Waiting…for Godot.” Goodness, it’s so good that it hurts.

Show ends February 15th.

The second show is the recently released documentary Red Army at the Music Box. It’s about the Soviet hockey program. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I do have a fascination with Soviet Union cultural histories (or generally any cultural histories under socialist/communist regimes). Also, I do have a fondness for hockey. It focuses largely on famous hockey player Slava Fetisov, whose list of awards and medals covered the entire movie screen. It’s such a compelling story of the apparatus that supported these hockey players to become the best in the world.

You get the good and the bad. There’s a wonderful moment when the documentarian asks Slava Fetisov, “How was your first Olympics?” Fetisov’s face immediately falls. That Olympics was the famous “Miracle on Ice.” And you feel for these guys when they lost. I felt that it was an interesting critique of Soviet society. These men were playing hockey as a team for their country. Of course, Soviet society was repressive; one man wasn’t allowed to see his dying father. But teamwork was drilled into these men. Fetisov talks about his unhappiness with Soviet policies but he never chooses to defect. It’s amazing to see how much loyalty and pride he has to this day.

I don’t know how long it will be in theaters so check it out soon.

Last but not least, I just wanted to let you guys know that my favorite event in Chicago is coming up. The 55th annual University of Chicago Folk Festival is this weekend. Friday through Sunday nights, there will be incredible concerts of folk musicians from all over the country (and sometimes international). This was where I heard Irish music for the first time and learned that I really like Bluegrass. During the day on Saturday and Sunday, there are a series of workshops that cover a variety of topics from guitar theory, dance music, to Russian choral singing. The workshops are free and the concerts are affordable so consider checking them out.

That’s all for now!