Gobabis, Namibia - Michael Dykstra

Gobabis, Namibia: Safari with Leonard

Their teeth were ground down; they can't compete in the wild anymore

Their teeth were ground down; they can't compete in the wild anymore

I decided that I can’t possibly post enough on Instagram to show you everything that I’m up to here, because it’s too labor intensive and I’m too busy enjoying life here (and being productive :P) to commit the time. Therefore, I want to focus on this blog, which I can use to tell you the stories I experience and showcase the pictures that I capture. It will also be longer lasting and something that can looked back at years from now, in a way that Instagram posts probably aren’t.

I’ll eventually post from all the places I’ve been, but since you’ve already seen most of my Durban and Cape Town pictures I’m going to start with Namibia for now.

Namibia. What a magical country. A group of us based in Gaborone, Botswana for the year hopped in Tank, my 2006 Mazda Demio, and made a real road trip out of it. We took the Ghanzi road through Botswana, which is well known here for its desolation even in this already very sparsely populated country. I think that remoteness has a new meaning after doing this drive. All the towns we saw were small, with the exception of Kang, where we drove into town looking for gas. Based on all the stares we received, I’m pretty sure that not too many white people venture there and we were the talk of the town within minutes. After Kang there was a 120 mile stretch where we didn’t even see a small town. The road directly to the border was also incredibly sparse. You’ll see that desolation is a theme of this trip.

A Typical Namibian Road

A typical Namibian road

At the border we learned that there was a bleb in the side-wall of my front left tire. It probably happened when I hit a significant bump ~5 hours before, plus the scorching heat of the Khalahari desert. Fortunately it lasted until with got to Gobabis, a border town in Namibia where I have a good friend working. Luck was on our side this day.

Leonard is truly an inspirational person. We met in Boston at the Global Health Delivery Intensive, where I immediately wanted to get to know him better because of the ease of visiting with our proximity. He runs a district hospital in this town in eastern Namibia. To give you a sense of the place, the population density is less than 1 person per km- even lower than the average for the country, 2.9 people/km^2, which is already the 5th most sparse in the world after Greenland, Falkland Islands, Mongolia, and Western Sahara. But he’s been able to do a lot of incredible work there, including a checklist that has dramatically improved maternal and fetal outcomes. He’s a general physician in the broadest possible sense- he’s able to conduct anesthesia, do surgery (obstetric and general),  deliver babies, see medical patients in clinic, and run the hospital from maintenance issues to ordering medications. Meeting up with him on this trip was certainly a huge highlight and made everything much more special.

Leonard Kabongo, who I'm very grateful to call my friend :)

Now to the more photo aspect- Leonard took us to the Harnas Wildlife Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of animals who were either maimed in some way or were released from zoos and no longer fit for the wild. They’re kept in large enclosures and fed every day with donkey meat. All the animals you’ll see below require about 21 donkeys per day for feeding. They have contracts with local farmers for that supply- as you can imagine it would be too many for them to raise on their own.

On the ride in we saw a small herd of eland- these members of the antelope family become absolutely massive. They can weigh over a ton and stand up to 1.7m tall at the shoulder.

Eland

Adult Eland munching the sparse grass

Adult Eland munching the sparse grass

In the main lodge area, they have a lot of things to see, including birds, mongoose, and warthog. The little pack of mongoose was so cute to watch.

Around the Lodge

Banded Mongoose

Banded Mongoose

Baboons are intense creatures, and you can see a lot of similarities between them and humans. Their eyes appear very intelligent, and some of their poses mimic ours very closely. At one point, there was a squabble between one older baboon and a baby over some food, so both sides got quite upset with one another, as you’ll see.

Baboons

Just look how human this guy looks. He's sitting like he's had a long day and is ready to relax

Just look how human this guy looks. He's sitting like he's had a long day and is ready to relax

Vervet monkeys- super cute little creatures, though they can apparently be aggressive as well. There was one monkey who had to be separated from the others because he was so violent. If you get too close to the cage you’ll see why. They all looked confused or offended when I didn’t have any food to give them (they’d been fed minutes before by our guide).

Vervet Monkeys

I can't tell if he was surprised to see me or by how tasty the cornmeal was

I can't tell if he was surprised to see me or by how tasty the cornmeal was

The red cat, also known as Caracal, was so beautiful. They’re clearly powerful creatures; can jump 2+ meters into the air and take down prey much larger than themselves. Yet this guy was also acting like a little domestic cat, rubbing his head on polls and purring. When they threw him the donkey heart it became apparent why he should be feared though. It’s also a little unnerving to realize that if house cats behave a lot like wild cats, if they lie in wait for you then pounce, they’re probably actually trying to kill you.

Caracal (Karakul)

Caracal joyously rubbing his face on anything he can. So cute.

Caracal joyously rubbing his face on anything he can. So cute.

There are 13 lions at Harnas- they’ve recused themselves from breeding them since there’s apparently some legal issues they didn’t want to get into. There was a wide spectrum among these lions- some were very docile while others made me very happy about the fence between us.

Lions of Harnas

One consistent theme of the day- if wild cats are similar to domestic ones, the same is true of wild dogs. They were my favorite animal as a kid, for whatever reason- I guess I loved their coloration and the communal aspect of their existence. When they were thrown donkey meat, one dog would pick up a piece of meat and run away with it, only to be followed by 5 other dogs, while 5 other pieces of meat would lay on the ground until another brave soul would come initiate the fight for it.

Wild Dogs

Gotta run before the others catch up

Gotta run before the others catch up

Cheetahs- these incredible animals are endangered, and Namibia is a stronghold for their survival. Over 20 live in this reserve alone. Watching them grab food and sprint away with it was quite amazing.

These cheetahs know where to come for food!

These cheetahs know where to come for food!

Leopards are such unique and gorgeous creatures. They appear so burly compared to the cheetah. They can’t run as fast, but their ability to climb trees and sheer strength make them as formidable a predator as any in the wild. Since its their hunting time, being out in the bush late at night would be terrifying; they would have no problem taking down the most fit human.

I love how he's stepping through the ash and kicking up white dust

I love how he's stepping through the ash and kicking up white dust

Next, we went to Windhoek, where I learned a lot about the history of Namibia, including the key role of Cuba in its independence. More on that later :)

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