Olive Exclusive in the Tatler 101 Best Hotels 2013
As the year draws to an end, Namibia is already making New Year headlines in the travel press. The ever inquisitive Tatler Magazine has added Windhoek's Olive Exclusive to their 2013 101 Best Hotels under the heading of 'Too Cool for School' which we think is a good thing. If you are planning a trip to Africa's most pigeonhole defying destination, then treat yourself to a night or two at one of the continents coolest small hotels.
Etendeka Mountain Camp
After a complete upgrade throughout one of Namibia's original tented camps, we have some great new images to share. The Etendeka concession offers visitors 50,000 hectares of pristine wilderness. This is a superb location for walking and the guides in camp are always keen to explore their environment on foot. Flora and fauna here are diverse and you might find yourself discussing the tracks of a nocturnal predator or enjoying the antics of the highly competitive zebra stallions.
The camp itself is rather unique in the lengths that have been taken to ensure a small carbon footprint. Spring water is bottled at source in the camp, food is cooked in solar ovens or over the evening campfire and bucket showers are enjoyed under the Namibia stars. Enjoy the new images here.
Packham's Okonjima Pangolin
It’s a wide world and we only have a lifetime to see just a little of it. So what is it that makes us want to return to a few places again and again, what can be so special when all the other treasures beckon ?
For me its about intimacy and its altogether richer rewards. If you visit a place enough you will begin to develop an intuitive sense of what its about, what makes it tick, where its real secrets are hidden , you will be able to savour its flavour, get beneath its skin, . . you will feel in tune with that part of the world, you may even develop a notion of being a transient part of it. This is why I am constantly yearning to return to, to be back in Namibia. It’s like a magnet whose draw I cannot resist and I am never disappointed.
Sat up on the escarpment looking out over the bush in the late afternoon, a bush shrike is cackling below and giraffes waft slowly between the tangle of trees, a troupe of Baboons pick over the sand and a herd of Impala are in the finals of the world tail-twitching competition. The rocks are beginning to soak up the oranging light as flights of starlings and weavers roll their flocks over the shimmering silver grasses towards a distant roost. Soon the stars will hang from the crown of the tree that has been shading me from the fading heat and the sky drains to the darkness of a deep blue. Then it will cool, the nightjars will wait in the road for our headlights which also paint rubies into the eyes of oryx and all the other things that scurry and steal through the secret veil of the night.
Safari days and nights in Namibia are always a thrill and given the vast range of species and the extraordinary diversity of habitats there is always some thing new to see. I have been to the AfriCat Foundations fabulous Okonjima Lodge many times and enjoyed amazing encounters with the carnivores they strive to conserve. Cheetahs , Leopards , Hyena and Wild Dogs are all part of their programme to successfully re-wild a huge area of badly damaged ranch land and seeing and photographing them is never difficult. But there is one animal that in all my visits to the African continent I had never seen . . . the enigmatic Pangolin.
As a child it was the weird creatures which really captured my imagination. Lions , Leopards , Elephants and Rhinos were obviously cool but didn't muster the credibility of Giant Anteaters , Armadillos and most awesome of all . . . the Pangolin. A mammal with scales, a mammal which rolls into an impregnable ball! So on my lifetime list of things I'd really, really like to see the Pangolin was in pole position.
After my first few trips to Namibia I had watched Porcupines at night and cuddled an Elephant shrew . . . but no Pangolin. My closest near encounter came on a freezing early morning after a long night following Hyenas. We had given up and set off back to the lodge huddled under blankets when the car in front stopped, we stopped . . . why? No explanation came, no call on the radio, just a frustrating hiatus while we waited shivering and cursing. Then we were off and whilst unpacking back at base I asked what the stop had been about, 'Oh , we found a pangolin in the road'. And I had missed it.
And so it went on, until it became an obsession. I would say to every guide I met 'any chance of a pangolin', 'a pangolin would be nice' or 'my mammal grail would be the Pangolin'. Thus when I returned recently to AfriCat I casually mentioned to my great buddy Tristan Boehme that I'd still not caught up with my all time most wanted animal. They were around he confided, but difficult, he had seen one or two in fifteen years and visitors to Okonjima saw them around once in three years on average. Maybe. However, he happened to mention my craving to Wayne Hanssen, AfriCats founder, and he in turn put out a Pangolin APB to all staff, guides, rangers, security, even the cooks and cleaners - if anyone even smelled a Pangolin they must give Tristan a shout.
We were just waiting for our dessert course two nights later when we were scrambled from the table and flew into the Land Rover and withTristan at the wheel we sped into the cool night air. A report of a Pangolin had come from the far side of the property, at least a 20km drive away and sat bouncing in the back I was thinking that it was bound to have shuffled off into the night by the time we arrived despite our drivers careful but urgent trajectory! It seemed to take forever, and ever, but eventually we arrived. Two security guards were stood either side of a dusty track and in the middle of it was a large brown ball, a PANGOLIN!
In truth I hardly remember the first five minutes. Apparently I was saying 'yes' repeatedly and smiling insanely whist peering, smelling and then cuddling the embarrassed animal. It was huge, so much larger than I'd ever imagined an African Ground Pangolin would be. It was so utterly brilliant. Its scaly surface etched with a patina of a tough life lived, worn, gnarled, scratched and chipped scales. But still effective as an armour as there was no chance of a peep at its deeply hidden head, the extremely broad tail wound tightly over the inward stretched limbs, it flinched a little but was otherwise still and silent. After a rash of trophy snaps I finally calmed down and got my proper camera out, placed the Pangolin in the middle of the road, de-grassed a few irritating stems, lit it with a torch in a pool of soft light and lay down alongside the vehicle. Everyone was quiet as we waited for this wonderful creature to unfurl. And we waited, and waited. Then by deviously shifting its centre of gravity without opening at all it twisted away making a mechanical gravelly crunching sound. It repeated this manoeuvre several times over about five minutes before suddenly unwinding and making a surprisingly rapid bid for the shadowy bush. I leapt up and retrieved my reluctant star and we agreed to give one more go and then let him go. So I settled down again and whilst crickets chirruped and a distant Hyena wailed, I waited. Then, so, so slowly the fossilised ball cracked open and a tiny wet eye glistened in the beam, then a nose, twitching as I held my breath undecided as to press the shutter now or wait to see if he would show me a little more of his soft interior. I fired - better to have something rather than nothing, always grab a banker, never trust the future. And here is my Pangolin portrait, the one and only picture I got, and he's peeping!
I got up, dusted myself off, and placed the Pangolin in the grass beneath a bush. We waited for it to slope off and then drove off in a state of bewildered elation. A fifty year fantasy had been fulfilled, it seemed like a bizarre dream, unreal, surreal. It was gone midnight when we got back to the lodge and I fell into a deep dreamless sleep. When I awoke I had the faint whiff of a wonderful thing on my hands. Thank you Namibia . . . I shall be back!
Chris Packham, AfriCat Patron
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