“I want to take a photo of the next warthog sign,” I declared from the back seat, startling the driver.
“For the blog,” I explained.
“Ah. OK,” nodded hubby, probably hoping that there wasn’t another warthog sign.
Poor dear. The requests he has to put up with…
I should go back a bit and explain.
In December last year, we headed up to Namibia to visit family in Windhoek for the festive season. This time around, instead of buying boxes and boxes of Christmas presents to exchange amongst each other, hubby and I, as well as mom-in-law and sister-in-law, decided to give ourselves a Christmas present instead, in the form of a two-day visit to the Erindi Private Game Reserve in north-central Namibia. This marvellous reserve, whose name means ‘The Place of Water’ in the local Herero language, covers 71,000 hectares of wilderness, which apparently makes it the largest private game reserve in southern Africa.
Erindi is situated in the middle of the bush, within a lopsided triangle formed by the small towns of Okahandja (known as the Garden Town of Namibia and situated just next to the main road [the B2] between the capital city of Windhoek and Swakopmund on the coast), Otjiwarongo (in the middle of farming country, northwards along the main road [the B1] to the Etosha National Park), and Omaruru (a small town closer to the coast, and rapidly gaining a reputation for attracting artists and assorted creative folks).
I love these town names, don’t you? They sound so exotic. These three are all Herero names:
Okahandja, for instance, means The Place Where Two Rivers Flow Into Each Other To Form One Wide One, whereas Otjiwarongo is The Pleasant Place or The Place Where Fat Cattle Graze. Omaruru is derived from the phrase Omaere omaruru meaning Bitter Curd, which refers to the taste of the milk produced by cattle that have eaten a particular bush that grows around the town. Interesting, ne?
We set off from Windhoek after a leisurely breakfast, driving northwards. By late morning, we had passed Okahandja, and were on the B1 en route to Otjiwarongo, and beyond.
I always find it quite amusing that there are various ‘wildlife warning signs’ (a triangle in white, with red borders) along Namibia’s roads. The reason for these signs is that farms, many of which include vast private game reserves, line Namibia’s main roads. You can usually tell whether it is a game farm, because the fences are higher and more elaborate; sometimes there are even double fences, and sometimes they are electrified. Normal fences, in contrast, tend to consist of a few strands of barbed wire, as they do not have to hold back elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, buffaloes, or kudus…
There is also usually quite a wide road reserve, or road verge, between the road and the adjoining fenced-in private land. This verge tends to be overgrown with long grass… and, because “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side”, a surprising number of wild animals have no hesitation to leap over, or even through (or burrow under, for that matter) fences in order to reach that particularly tasty mouthful of grass on the far side of the road.
Kudu in particular are known for this nomadic restlessness. They are also, rather alarmingly, known for changing direction very rapidly, and literally leaping in front of or onto rapidly moving vehicles. So it is quite fitting for the warning sign for game to resemble a leaping kudu!
One of the hazards of driving along Namibia’s roads is that one does, from time to time, encounter such adventurous Kudu. If you do in fact manage to spot one next to the road, which is no mean feat as, despite their size, they are well-camouflaged among bushes and in the dappled shade beneath acacia trees, it is highly advisable that you slow down quite markedly… just in case Daddy abruptly realises that Mommy and Toddler and Little Baby are on the other side of the road and that NOW would be the best time to re-join them!
Do NOT expect them to wait their turn patiently next to the road, looking left and right, and left and right again, before crossing when it is safe. They’re just as likely to wait until you are mere metres away, and even to look right at you, before flinging themselves onto the bonnet of your car. As males weigh between 190 and 270 kg, and females between 120 and 210 kg, you can imagine the dramatic impact this has.
Along this road, however, a much smaller animal was illustrated on one of these triangles. As you saw in the first photo at the top.
Warthogs (or Phacochoerus africanus) are not the prettiest of pigs; unlike Miss Milly May’s Young-Uns, they are not pink and snuffly and cute. Nope, quite the contrary: they are tough-looking chaps, with long bristles on their backs, and upward curving tusks on either side of their snout. “The common name comes from the four large wart-like protrusions found on the head of the warthog, which serve the purpose of defence when males fight as well as a fat reserve.” (Wikipedia)
Warthogs have the amusing habit of sticking their tail straight up in the air when they trot through the grass. It’s probably a ‘follow-me’ sign to help others in the sounder (according to the Wikipedia, that is what groups of warthogs are called) to follow them through dense vegetation. They are omnivorous, eating whatever is in season, which includes grasses, roots, berries and other fruits, bark, fungi, eggs and even carrion. They use both their snout and their feet to dig, and when feeding, they often kneel down by bending their front knees.
As they don’t seem to be too concerned about fences, being quite capable of burrowing underneath them, you will often encounter them on the side of the road – if the grass is dense, you probably won’t even see them. This can be a problem if they decide to cross the road, like the proverbial chicken… although they only weigh between 50 and 150 kg, you definitely don’t want to collide with one at 100 km/h.
So now you know.
Quite some kilometres further, after we had persuaded a police roadblock that we had come in peace – and that we had indeed paid our cross-border road-use permit at Noordoewer in the deep south (driving a car with a South African number plate in Namibia means that you are more likely to be stopped at police roadblocks), a large billboard announced the turn-off to our destination.
Abruptly, the road surface changed from tar (relatively smooth, barring some unexpected potholes and rough patches) to packed red sand. Quite a colour! A few bumps further, we realised that our pumped-up tyres were far too hard for this kind of surface. Time to deflate them a little, using a handy tyre-pressure gauge.
A long 40 km further, our previously clean-ish white car now covered in a film of fine red sand, we approached the main gate of the reserve. The colourful Namibian flag with its blue, red and green stripes, and the yellow sun in the blue corner, was fluttering on the right. A security guard checked our names on his clipboard, and opened the large gate for us. He handed us a useful little map of the reserve and instructed us to drive slowly.
Here is a link to a map of Erindi itself: Map of Erindi.
The roads in the reserve were all gravel, but mostly in fairly good condition. As we were driving a sedan rather than an off-road vehicle, though, we took it quite slowly, obeying the 30 to 50 km/h speed limit, lest we have any unfortunate encounters with protruding rocks or sudden potholes. Apart from that, there was another reason to drive slowly. My kind hubby stopped in front of the sign so that I could snap it for you:
Elephants! Oh! I hadn’t realised they kept elephants on the reserve! As it was, despite peering into the dense bush on either side of the road, we did not see any elephants, as we followed the 24 km of squiggles and curves of the approach road to the Old Traders’ Lodge, which would be our base for the next two nights. Perhaps it was just as well. I’m not sure what we would’ve done if a herd had suddenly appeared on the road, marching determinedly towards us! Rapidly reversed, I think!
It was already half past 12h00, by the time that we entered the gate to the walled-in camp, and found shady parking outside the main buildings. We followed the signs to the Reception, where we checked in and received the keys to our two rooms. We had been assigned two rooms in adjoining chalets, overlooking a large waterhole that was floodlit during the night.
As it happened to be lunch-time already – and as we were quite ravenous and parched after our long and dusty trip from Windhoek – we postponed the unpacking of the car until after lunch. A sensible decision, I thought. This was confirmed when we arrived at the beautiful, spacious restaurant, with its rustic wooden beams and thatched roof. Friendly staff showed us to our table, and we soon took our place in the lunch buffet queue, clutching our plates and peering curiously into the various bowls and containers.
Ahh…. a sigh of deep contentment…
The restaurant at Erindi is definitely a place to avoid if you are on a diet. Don’t come here if your New Year’s Resolution is to eat less and to lose weight. Rather postpone your trip until after you have shed the extra kilos and until you are so hungry you could eat an oryx (a large antelope). And if you can’t postpone the trip, then please consider postponing your diet… or you will struggle, reallllly reallllly struggle, to resist the temptation of filling your plate with the most delicious, nutritious, well-prepared, tasty food you can imagine.
I certainly couldn’t. I had my first taste of oryx meat. It was excellent, is all I can say.
On our way back to the car, we studied the daily programme. It looked like quite a full one: Breakfast from 06h00 to 10h00, interrupted by the morning game drive between 06h30 and 09h30 (Oh! that meant we had to get up really early to have breakfast at 06h00!). Lunch was served between 12h30 and 14h30, followed – no doubt – by a relaxing siesta in our air-conditioned rooms or in the cool shade of the outside patio overlooking the waterhole. Cakes and tea were on offer between 15h45 and 17h00, merging nicely into the afternoon and evening game drive from 16h30 to 19h30. Ah, it felt good to be spoilt.
In addition to the game drives and meals, which were all included in the price (veeery nice!), you could also go on a bushman art walk, a wild leopard walk, a bush walk, or a private game drive, and inquire about a leopard project drive and an animal capture experience. As appealing as these sounded – particularly the first three! walking in the wild with an experienced and knowledgeable guide?! simply awesome! – they were all beyond our price range, even more so as there were four of us.
By means of a useful trolley on wheels, a helpful staff member ferried all our stuff from the car to our sleeping quarters. It was a scorching hot day, and we were keen to get out of the sun as quickly as possible. We promptly collapsed on the soft and inviting beds for a much-needed siesta, under the delightfully cool breeze of the air-conditioner.
Aah… such luxury.