Etosha trip reports and accommodation advice

Baby elephants at Rietfontein watering hole (October 2020)

For us, the best thing about visiting Etosha is that each trip is different. It’s like one of those “Choose You Own Adventure” books playing out in real time. It’s fascinating, fun, and thrilling. But different climates and seasons result in different animal behaviors and can impact what you are able to see.

My last blog post was all about tips for making the most of your trip to Etosha. Trip reports and some advice on picking accommodation below!

When: Late December (summer)
Stayed: Gondwana Safari Lodge (because we didn’t know better)
Saw: Some lions snoozing under trees along the road driving to the main drag from Gemsbokvlakte, and lots of zebra/antelope. No elephant or rhino. Went on a Gondwana game drive and saw a lion with a zebra kill.
Over-all impressions: If you stay outside of the park, it’s harder to get in as the gates open (there is a line) and you have to be careful to ensure you leave before the gates close. There was a good amount of rain by this point so the watering holes were less populated. 

This dude had the meat sweats
Hazy skies and grass during the rainy season

When: Mid-July (winter)
Stayed: Okaukuejo
Saw:  At the Okaukuejo watering hole: lots of elephant, rhino, and lions nightly. Driving around: lots of fat and happy zebra/antelope and secretary birds, several hyena at dusk/dawn around Nebrowni, one elephant and two rhino. Monitor lizard on the Salvadora/Sueda loop.
Over-all impressions: After a solid rainy season ending in April/May, the grass is too tall to easily spot snoozing predators or anything else low-lying. Watering holes started to become populated around mid-day.

Plain zebra and tall grass in the afternoon sun
Springbok!
We saw so many secretary birds on this trip

When: Mid-October (spring)
Stayed: Okaukuejo and Namutoni
Saw: Rhino, elephants, zebra, giraffe, bustards, and antelope galore. Lions in the morning near Nebrowni, a leopard resting in the cave at Ngobib. Spotted hyenas by Nebrowni, Klein Namutoni and Chudop. All the herbivores congregate at watering holes. Snakes and banded mongooses at Namutoni watering hole.
Over-all impressions: Best animal sightings yet. Literally hundreds of elephants at watering holes. Amazing sightings took almost zero effort on our part. Watering hole at Namutoni is nothing special.

OMG
Watering hole buddies
Animals galore: elephant, giraffe, zebra, and springbok

There is a glut of accommodation around Etosha, and it can be hard to decide where to stay. To make a choice, first you have to pick your #1 priority. The table below will help you to work through your options.

If your #1 goal is to……Then you should…… Keeping in mind that…
Have a fancy, indulgent lodging experienceStay outside the parkThe NWR lodging in the park doesn’t suck. It’s just not fancy and the food isn’t amazing.
See Etosha on a shoe-string budgetCamp outside the parkCampsites outside the park are probably less expensive than those in the park.
See all the animalsStay inside the parkThrough NWR you can book night and early morning game drives, plus there’s the watering holes at night at the rest camps.
Have fancy lodging and still see all the animals including big cats (and you have an unlimited budget)Stay at OngumaWe haven’t been there but it’s supposedly the best place to stay in/near Etosha.
Have a pleasant camping experienceCamp outside the parkJust about any campsite outside of the park gates will be a better experience than camping at the NWR facilities.
Save some money and still see animalsCamp inside the parkCamping inside the park can be crowded, noisy, and messy.
Go to Etosha during the high season at the last minuteStay outside the park, or camp inside the parkChances are NWR facilities will be fully booked unless you want to camp

From Windhoek, the closest gate is the Andersson Gate, which is about a 4-hour drive. Okaukuejo is the closest rest camp to Andersson, which is convenient since the watering hole is amazing and we can arrive on a Friday afternoon and still have time for a short game drive before the gates close. For these reasons Okaukuejo is also the busiest rest camp and is most likely to be fully booked. The vibe there is much more frenetic than at Namutoni, for instance.

We are heading back to Etosha again next month, and I’m already so excited! You never know what lies ahead, and that is the best part.

Tips for visiting Etosha National Park

Classic Etosha: springbok and zebra

First of all let me say that WordPress has been a huge pain in the butt lately and I have no idea if this post is going to publish the way I want it to. Text keeps disappearing, photos reorder themselves, and it’s general choas. I’ve spent 30 minutes trying to fix the photo captions and I’m giving up. Maybe they’re trying to get me to start paying to use their platform. HA.

Moving on.

One of our favorite things to do in Namibia is to go to Etosha National Park. We’ve been enough times now we basically know what we’re doing (Kind of? Maybe? We haven’t seen a cheetah yet so who knows.) There’s a massive amount of info on the internet about visiting Etosha, but I think I actually have some meaningful contributions to make!

I’m not going to tell you where to go to find the big cats or where the elephants like to hang out because frankly I have no clue. Each time we’ve gone they’ve all be somewhere different and Etosha is almost the size of New Hampshire so there is some wiggle room.

Spotted hyena in the morning

Here are our tips for making the most out of your trip to Etosha:

Get out the gate as soon as it opens. 
Yes, sometimes that’s quite early and yes sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed. But most of our favorite sightings have been early in the morning, and the light is great for photos. Similarly…

Black-backed jackal family near Okaukuejo
The Etosha morning commute

Exit the park right before the gates close
More great photography lighting and the animals are finally coming out of their shaded hidey holes. Pack a cooler with some beverages, find a watering hole, turn the car off, have a sundowner and just watch the animals emerge. 

Pack your meals to go.  
Or at least pack enough nourishing food to sustain you between meals if you get up early and plan on eating breakfast around 9 at your rest camp. On our most recent evening at Okaukuejo we made sandwiches for dinner while sitting alongside the Okaukuejo watering hole because we only had one night there and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss an amazing sighting to go eat a mediocre expensive pork schnitzel at the restaurant. Some of our favorite meals-to-go: cold quiche, hard boiled eggs, hummus and pre-sliced veg, cold pizza, and of course sandwich fixings.

Bring lots of game drive snacks. 
I’m talking cookies, popcorn, gummy bears, chips, biltong, apples, granola bars, and more cookies. Everyone has their kryptonite snacks; bring those. Things that will make everyone forget their sore butts from enduring bumpy roads, keep whiny children and grownups from losing it, and generally make things more enjoyable. 

Bring a way to make coffee and large to-go mugs.
If you stay at an NWR facility there will be a water kettle; we bring ground coffee, a french press, and thermoses, and we are good to go.

Have everyone go to the bathroom whenever the opportunity presents itself. 
Toilets are few and far between. The LAST thing you want to hear when you’ve found the perfect watering hole, turned off the car, and cracked open a beverage is, “Mommy, Daddy, I REALLY have to poop.” Trust me.

Share information with other tourists whenever you can.  
If we hadn’t told a truck full of Namibians where we had our lion and rhino sightings, they never would have told us about their leopard sighting. And we never would have seen a leopard. Relatedly…

We never would have spotted this beauty without a tip-off and good binoculars

If you’re staying somewhere new and you don’t know where to go to find the big game, ask or look in the sightings book. 
If you can find a game driver they might help you, or maybe not, who knows, they can be proprietary about their info. Every NWR reception has a sightings book; take a look and go to those watering holes.

Buy a map (or several) before you start driving around the park. 
M gets one in the back seat, we have one in the front seat. They also function as an animal guide, which is helpful when you see things like the bird below, which is a puffed out male kori bustard.

Pay at once for as many consecutive days as you’ll be in the park.
You can pay for as many consecutive days as you want, and this will save you time each day. You don’t need to fill out the paperwork or go back in to pay, and sometimes the queues can be terrible.

Don’t get jealous when other people see things that you didn’t
There’s ALWAYS that guy that brags about how he saw a lion take down a zebra, but when you ask where exactly he saw this, he won’t/doesn’t want to give you a straight answer. It’s stupid. People are territorial about their sightings and it’s childish. But that’s life.

Lower your tire pressure, keep your vehicle in 4WD-high, and don’t drive too quickly.
The dirt roads in Etosha aren’t great, verging on really bad. We lower our tire pressure to 1.5 bar and take it slow and steady. After all how else will you see animals. The first time we went we saw a flipped over rented vehicle, probably some tourist who didn’t know how to properly drive on gravel roads. Don’t be that tourist.

Bring binoculars.
Good ones. This is not the time to figure out that your binoculars actually suck.

Take the advice on travel blogs with a grain of salt.
Most of them are written by tourists who went to Etosha for two days during the dry season, happened to get lucky with their sightings and now think they know everything. Have zero expectations: the only things you are truly guaranteed to see are zebra and springbok. Don’t waste your time researching where to find animals at Etosha on the internet because, speaking from experience, it never pans out. Instead look in the sightings book or ask.

Springbok for days

Whew. Well that’s more than I expected to write. In the next post I’ll cover our Etosha trip reports and go over some advice on how to pick where to stay!

This baby giraffe just couldn’t handle the morning traffic

Back to Swakopmund

Swakopmund sunset

One of our favorite places in Namibia is Swakopmund, an odd and eclectic town along the coast in the Erongo region. It has fantastic restaurants (the bar in Namibia is quite low), good shopping, and lots of things to do. It’s where most of Namibia goes to get away. It’s about 4 hours from Windhoek, depending on how many slow-moving semis you get stuck behind.

Initially, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Namibia was in Walvis Bay, the town next to Swakopmund. The entire Erongo region was put on lock-down on May 28, basically two weeks after the initial lock-down had been lifted (which had been put in place in the second half of March). Then the Erongo lockdown was lifted, but by then Windhoek was also in a lockdown. Then, on September 17, the State of Emergency expired, COVID-19 was magically gone from Namibia, and all lockdowns were over.

Many businesses in Erongo haven’t recovered from the COVID-19 lockdown, and I don’t know if they ever will

We went to Swakopmund as soon as we could. M got to go to the Snake Park and the aquarium, Nate went fishing, I went shopping, and we all chased guinea fowl, slept in, played on the beach and ate ourselves silly. It was delightful.

The Snake Park’s Very Dangerous Wall: black mambas, cape cobras and a puff adder
A Namaqua chameleon enjoying a worm snack

We went back to the best pizza restaurant in Namibia, Gabriele’s Pizza, and one of our favorite German restaurants, the Brauhaus. I was reminded why I don’t like eating oysters at The Tug: they don’t cut the muscle away from the shell. I once asked about this and was told “That’s why you have the little fork.” Um ok. Sadly the Jetty hasn’t reopened yet and hopefully it’s not gone for good.

Delicious pizza at Gabriele’s
The Jetty restaurant is, surprise surprise, at the end of the jetty

The Strand Hotel, which has the best views in town, was having a really great special so we stayed there. It’s hard to beat the convenience of having a restaurant with its own microbrewery and fantastic oysters downstairs. HOWEVER. Breakfast was an utter mess. No one was wearing a mask actually covering their nose and mouth, the tables were too close together, and the head chef was standing over the (uncovered) pancakes with no mask on, talking to everyone. We kept our masks on when we weren’t actively eating or drinking, and tried to eat foods that were covered, prepared fresh, or behind a plastic barrier. The first morning was terrible and the second morning we went down earlier when there were less people. Even then, we sat inthe most out-of-the-way table available, but when people came and sat next to us, we got up and left. Normally we would have sat outside but it was freezing cold and windy.

Lesson learned: next time don’t eat the free breakfast. 

Oysters at Brewer & Butcher

It’s nice to have the freedom to travel wherever we want around Namibia again. Tourism to more crowded places (which sounds like an oxymoron in Namibia) in the time of COVID-19 is tricky, but possible. You just have to make more calculated choices. Swakopmund: we’ll be back; the Strand: nope.

I love this little blue house so much
One of many buildings in Swakopmund with German-inspired architecture.

Things that are bringing me joy right now

After some of my recent blog posts, you might think that things here are all doom and gloom. But they aren’t! There are some bright spots.

I love nothing more than a good list. So here’s what’s making me happy these days, in no particular order:

  • Cooking dinner. Really. Working from home gifts me an extra hour at least to make dinner. That means I can have a glass of wine, listen to a LP and leisurely spend some quality time in the kitchen by myself. And these days, my weekday dinner game is on fire.

    My favorite corner of our house

  • Listening to audio books. Specifically Calypso, written/read by David Sedaris. Wow is this book hilarious. The essays “The Perfect Fit” and “I’m Still Standing” particularly were my favorites. It’s poignant, funny and just awesome, exactly what you’d expect from David Sedaris. Other good ones include Children of Blood and Bone, The Song of Achilles, Bad Blood, and Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.
  • When Artie poops right by a house where a dog is barking at her. I don’t pick it up. One good turn deserves another. There’s this one house where there are three dogs that just go ape-shit every time we walk by. I wish she’d drop a big one there but she hasn’t yet.
  • Emptying out the vacuum cleaner canister. There are few things that make me feel more accomplished than getting visual confirmation of all the cleaning I’ve just done. It’s an obsession.
  • My “wine cellar.” I could call it our wine cellar, but I’m the one who, a) picked out all the wine, b) cares about it, and c) drinks most of it (Nate prefers beer). With our last lockdown, the sale of alcohol was prohibited. I wasn’t about to go through another lockdown rationing wine, hesitant to give it to friends in need lest I run out. So we currently have more than 150 bottles of wine in the garage. It’s glorious.

    Divided into boxes of red, white, rose, white bubbly and rose bubbly. I ran out of wine boxes so I used an empty camping gear box.

  • Dinnertime. We light candles, set the table and spend at least 30 minutes together, chitchatting. We listen to an LP, M tells us about the monsters he’s trained (he genuinely believes he is a monster trainer, and we’ve learned the hard way not to joke about it) and we tell stories or have a dinnertime poetry slam. M is surprisingly good at putting together fairly long rhyming poems on the fly. We talk about the gods (yes, plural) and more monsters, and we negotiate how many more bites he has to take before he gets dessert. It might not sound like much, but I do enjoy it.

    When we can’t go to restaurants, we create one at home

  • Care packages. A friend from Muscat recently sent us a box full of Trader Joes goodies and I almost cried. And the other day I was talking to my mom and I mentioned how much M has been drawing lately, and then two weeks later we got a care package full of sketchbooks and new markers.
  • Scouting out all the strange/ostentatious houses in our neighborhood. We live in a fancy part of Windhoek. This was actually one of the strangest things about our first Foreign Service tour: our house was in the rich neighborhood. This was not something I was used to. We can’t afford that shit. But most embassy housing is in the nicest neighborhoods because they are generally the safest. So I enjoy wandering the neighborhood, looking at the ridiculous houses and wondering how people have enough money to build houses like that. Or why exactly they’d want a house like that.

    Where did they get the money to build this?!

    What the heck?

  • Not wearing socks. Winter in Namibia is COLD. Surprisingly so. And despite being technically from Wisconsin, I am a child of the tropics. I grew up wearing flip-flops and my feet don’t like socks. They make my toenails, no matter how short they are, uncomfortable and they smell awful.  Hurray for summer (spring doesn’t exist here) and a happy sock-free existence.
  • Playing Gloomhaven. The box is enormous and super-heavy and the game costs nearly $100. But we bought it with Amazon gift cards, anticipating a day when we wouldn’t be able to leave the house much and it’d would be just the two of us. Let me tell you, Gloomhaven is SO WORTH IT. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure game with each round being completely different from the last. We each play two characters and at this point I am emotionally attached to mine (I named them Samantha the Scoundrel and Isaspella the Orchid Spellweaver). We set the game up on Saturday afternoons and play as many rounds as we can before putting it all way on Sunday night. It takes up the entire dinner table.
  • Planning future trips. We still have two R&Rs to take in the next 22 months, plus a lot of travel in Namibia that we want to do. Figuring out itineraries, the best places to stay, etc is my happy place.

Wow, that’s more than I expected, honestly.

The State of Emergency in Namibia has been lifted and things here are heading back towards “normal,” not because it’s epidemiologically warranted but because there’s no more public or political will for restrictions. Things were starting to improve but then they loosened all the restrictions at once and this past week kids went back to school. I hope there won’t be an increase in cases and that things were under control enough beforehand for it to not be a complete disaster, but we’ll see. In the meantime we wear our masks, take calculated risks and try to make the most of it. We are glad we can finally leave Windhoek again!

Highlights of our first year in Namibia

One of our first sunsets in Windhoek

It’s hard to believe that we have already spent a year here in Namibia. Even harder to believe is how much the world has changed since we first arrived. It’s so insane, it’s almost funny.

Despite all the heartache and uncertainty, there have been some really great moments. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite things from our last turn around the sun in Namibia:

  • Our house: This is the first time in the Foreign Service that our house has truly felt like home. It’s not as big as our last house, and the space is much more usable and I love it. We’ve also reached “peak kitchen” with this house; I will never live in another house with a kitchen this big or with this much storage. Sure the range is electric rather than gas, but I honestly don’t even care because everything else is so great. This entire house has so much built-in storage it’s amazing. And it has a GARAGE!

    Once you accept the bars on the windows, it’s a delightful place to be. My favorite spot is the corner of windows on the left.

    The patio space off the living room. We spend a LOT of time out here!

  • Oysters along the coast: Yes, you can also get oysters in Windhoek, but there’s something about the sea air and the sound of the waves when you’re eating oysters along the coast that just makes them that much more enjoyable. I had no idea that oysters were a thing in Namibia. It’s glorious.

    So delicious and so inexpensive.

  • Visits to Etosha National Park: Whether it’s seeing lions out the car window, rhinos crossing the road in front of us, or elephants at the watering hole at sunset, Etosha never disappoints. I will never forget the first time we saw lions in Etosha. We were driving along a quiet dirt road and I said “Go slowly, this looks like the perfect spot for lions.” Then, I kid you not, one minute later I saw a lion snoozing under a tree. I literally screamed. It was so incredible.

    Just another day at Etosha.

  • The sundowner game drive at Gocheganas: If there’s anything better than drinking gin and tonics with white rhinos, giraffes, and wildebeest, with the sun setting over the mountains in the background, I honestly don’t know what it could possibly be. We did our first Gocheganas sundowner game drive about a week after arriving. It was our first “holy shit wow” moment in Namibia. We did the same drive a few months later with our first visitor and it was just as incredible. More so, even, since we were sharing it with one of our best friends.

    Just some G&T with the rhinos and giraffes

  • Sammy the giraffe at Omaruru Game Lodge: The style of conservation at this lodge is a little different from other places in Namibia and the wild animals are somewhat…. tame. You can feed apples to the elephants on game drives and you can pet Sammy the giraffe. Whether or not you agree with this strategy, I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of fun and M absolutely loved it.

    Elephants mobbing the game drive truck at Omaruru Game Lodge

  • The birds in Namibia: I’ve always enjoyed watching birds, but before moving to Namibia I’d never gone out of my way to take a picture of one. (Except for maybe a bald eagle here or there). The birds here are amazing. Colorful, interesting, noisy, enormous, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible. And I have some decent photos of them.

    A hornbill eating an armored bush cricket at Mt. Etjo

  • Learning how to braai: I had no idea that grilling could be such a cultural phenomenon. But it is! And it’s awesome.  A traditional braai is done with wood; you get the fire going in a box-thing and then you rake the coals under the grate, the height of which is usually adjustable. Plus most braais have a hook for your potjie (pronounced “POY-key;” it’s essentially a spherical cast iron pot with legs). When we get our braai going we usually cook a lot of food because it’s more labor intensive than grilling in a Weber. We have several potjie pots of varying sizes and we’re always on the lookout for new recipes.

    We started out a small cast iron potjie pot, which worked well for camping when it was just the three of us

    Then as we started camping with friends we upgraded to a larger enameled cast iron potjie pot. It’s so pretty!

  • Camping at Spitzkoppe: Spitzkoppe was the first place we camped in Namibia, and it’s the only place we’ve camped at more than once. It’s stunningly beautiful and so much fun to explore. The campsites are more minimalist than most other campsites, with no running water, electricity, tables or shade, but it’s just the best.

    Tents at the base of Spitzkoppe

    The arch at Spitzkoppe

I could keep going. But these are the things that are unique to Namibia or that I found surprising/unexpected. We’ve done a ton during our first year here, but it also feels like so much was cancelled, rescheduled or cut short. I’m just glad we have another two years to keep exploring!

A spotted hyena and a wary springbok at Etosha

Life lately (or Welcome to the Shit Show!)

I have so much to blog about. So many feelings, emotions, thoughts, random crap I want to capture for posterity. But getting it all out in written form has been a first rate chore. And you know what. I DON’T NEED MORE CHORES RIGHT NOW. So here is my ineloquent (ha who am I kidding, I’ve never been eloquent) word vomit.

Things here are a real mess.

A few weeks ago we sent our housekeeper home a few hours after she arrived because she kept coughing. Um no thank you.

After she left I wiped down everything she could have possibly touched with Lysol spray, and we carried about our daily business. By which I mean Nate and I kept working and M watched television all day.

A few days later, two to be exact, M got a fever and our housekeeper called to tell us she was hospitalized, needed supplemental oxygen and had been swabbed for COVID. Well FUCK.

We immediately starting quarantining ourselves. At that point the president had announced a lockdown for Windhoek and we couldn’t go anywhere anyways. The biggest issue was that we couldn’t walk Artie and she went crazy with energy/resentment and felt the need to pee everywhere.

Luckily our housekeeper got her test results back eventually and she was negative. Whew.

As I’m writing this the president of Namibia is giving an address, undoubtedly announcing that Windhoek’s restrictions aren’t being lifted, as case numbers continue to rise and the situation deteriorates further. The funny thing is that there are a number of mitigation measures in place which SHOULD have prevented/decreased the spread of COVID-19. Like mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, hand hygiene, limiting of gatherings, etc. HA. I suppose maybe it would have worked if people were actually following the rules. It seems like most people here are relatively fatalistic about the whole thing and figure they’re going to get it anyway so why should they try to delay it.

Um, because hospitals will be overcrowded, there’s no vaccine yet, and the longer you can put off getting COVID-19 the more we’ll know about it and the safer you’ll be???

And then there’s other people  that think it’s all because of 5G or some scam by the government of Namibia to get money from the WHO. That’s just laughable.

I can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve left the house in the past 15 days, other than to walk the dog. Every time I’m struck by the number of people without masks, pushing their way into someone else’s space. I want to shout “Don’t you know there’s a pandemic you goddamn idiot? Are you trying to kill your grandma?”

Exactly three weeks ago, I was at E.A.T., a little place that sells coffee, prepared food and some other stuff, basically Society Fair in Windhoek, by a gas station. I was buying sandwiches for our camping road trip that afternoon. Some jerk without a mask pushed me out of the way at the cashier to ask about his coffee order. I looked around and realized everyone was crowded by the cashier waiting for their coffee, no masks like the entitled assholes that they were.

I got home and announced that I didn’t think we should go to E.A.T. anymore until people get more serious about disease prevention. Then the lockdown was proclaimed and it was a moot point.

I’ve heard some people say “We have to learn to live with this disease.” Yes that’s true. We do. But does that mean we throw all caution to the wind and pretend it’s not there?

Ugh.

Every day I’m grateful that we took advantage of the time between lockdowns. That I went to the bookstore and bought M literally bags full of activity and sticker books. That I splurged on a new Dutch oven at the Le Creuset store, knowing I’d be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the months to come (omg it was so totally worth it). That we let things get disorganized and messy at home while we went off camping and exploring. That I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies for a game night we hosted and froze half the dough. That I ordered a bunch of two-player board games on Amazon a month ago.

I remember thinking “When we’re stuck at home during the next lockdown, I’ll won’t regret a minute of this.” And it’s true. I’ve always felt that it’s important to go and do all the things while you can, and this pandemic has really reinforced that. Go visit that new city, go explore, if you see something you really want BUY IT (within reason of course), go to that fancy restaurant.

Live your best life now goddamnit. You never know when things will change.

Six months with Artie

Artie surveying Lake Oanob.

How has it only been six months since we adopted Artie? She’s such a natural fit for our family, it’s like she’s always been here.

After Athena died, it took us a few months to realize we wanted another dog. So back in February I reached out to a friend who works at the SPCA, asking if she could suggest any dogs that would fit our criteria (less than 40 lbs, youngish but not a puppy, good with kids) and she sent a short list. We went to the SPCA on a Friday afternoon and Artie, at that point her name was Keily, was not a dog I would have even noticed had her name not been on the list. But she seemed friendly and relaxed, and we took her into a little garden area to spend some off-leash time with her. She didn’t mind M and when I bent down and called her over she came running with her tail wagging. Which is more than you’ll get from lots of other dogs.

Nate and I looked at each other and were like “She’ll do.”

Often running, always happy

The next day we went back, signed the papers, got her microchipped and the rest is history.

Her easy-going, happy, playful personality and natural recall make her an all-around fun dog. She’s a great camping companion; she keeps an eye on M, goes exploring with him and she’s happy to snuggle up by the campfire at night. When we holler for her and shake a bag of treats she runs back so quickly you hardly realize she’d wandered off. And she does a GREAT job of keeping rock hyraxes, birds and all other wildlife away from the campsite.

Giving me a heart attack at Spitzkoppe (photo by B. Johnson)

She’s so amiable we’ve been lazy about training her. She knows “sit,” but that’s about it. We’ve decided to train her while we’re on lockdown for the next few weeks (months?), and she’s making fast progress. She still pees in the house from time to time but we’re working on that.

More exploring at Spitzkoppe

Artie is also officially a garbage dog. You can take the dog off the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the dog. She will leave kibble in her bowl for hours and turn her nose up at treats. But if she finds a chicken bone or anything even remotely edible outside, she’ll eat it before you even realized it was there. And may the gods help you if you leave the trash sitting by the door and don’t immediately take it to the bin outside.

But no dog is perfect and these are flaws we can live with. If the past six months are any indication, the next decade with Artie is going be great. We love you, Artie Fartie!

Our girl Artie

Here we go again

The sign outside M’s school

Before we get started, I have no idea what’s happening with the formatting here… but I don’t care enough to fix it right now. Just imagine that there are in fact paragraph breaks.
At first it seemed like Namibia had done such a great job of nipping the COVID pandemic in the bud. There was an early lockdown, the borders were basically closed, and a number of other mitigation measures were put in place.
But in the second half of May, after a 45-day window of no new cases, cases started being reported again. At first it was just in returning quarantined Namibians and permanent residents. Then some truck drivers coming from neighboring countries tested positive.
Then some people escaped quarantine and oops they tested positive and spread the disease.
Then parts of the Erongo Region– the towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund– were locked down.
Oh, but guess what? There are five roads leading out of Walvis and Swakop (three paved roads, two dirt roads) and there were only police checkpoints on the three paved roads. The people in that area were free to come and, most importantly, LEAVE, using the unpaved dirt roads.
And so here we are. Every region in Namibia is reporting cases of COVID-19 and there is rampant community spread in many cities, including Windhoek.
The situation in Windhoek has been deteriorating for weeks now. On Wednesday afternoon a new lock-down was finally announced. This time there’s even an 8 pm curfew.
To be honest, it’s hitting me harder than I thought it would. Part of it is frustration with the fact that the lockdown didn’t happen sooner, which could have literally saved lives; part of it is that this is lock-down Round 2. We already did this once. If everyone had done their part and followed the rules, we wouldn’t be here again.
We are busier at work now than ever, and our nanny/housekeeper is no longer coming to our house. M had a short 4 weeks of in-person school back in July, which stopped on August 4 when it was clear the situation in Windhoek was going to hell. So he’s stuck at home with parents who hardly have time for him during the day, bored and watching too much tv. Luckily I did some shopping while the restrictions were loosened and we have a stockpile of a wide variety of books for him. And his new Kindle just arrived in the mail. Parents of the year, right here.
Every time I cough or M spikes a fever, I wonder if we have it. Where we could have gotten it. Who we could have given it to. Who they could spread it to. What the outcomes might be.
We are glad we travelled and explored while we could. Maybe now that we’re not going anywhere I’ll finally have some time to write about some of it.

Camping hand washing station

For now, I am frustrated, saddened and disheartened. But I’m ok really.
We will take care of projects around the house. I’ll have more time for painting and writing, being creative. We will play lots of Gloomhaven. We’ll try out some new recipes. And some new wines.
I’ll get through this. We will all get through this.

How are you doing?

A Red Southern Bishop at Avis Dam. The wildlife in Namibia is interesting even though we can’t go anywhere, so here are some photos of some of the most commonly-seen animals around Windhoek!

No, really. How are you doing?

I hope you’re at least doing alright. The world is a crazy place right now, and this is a hard time.

We are okay / doing the best we can / muddling through / taking it day by day.

Some days are better than others. I’d say I’m better now than I was in the earlier days of our lockdown, mostly because I’ve figured out how to manage myself more effectively.*

I feel like I’m getting the hang of the whole working remotely thing. It’s all about accepting the imperfect/less-than-ideal and just going with the flow. We set up M’s art station next to my standing desk and sometimes he’ll sit down there and say he has work to do. Also I am totally at peace with his screen time amount. We both still have a lot of work to do and if watching Disney+ or playing a game on his kindle keeps him occupied while we’re both on calls, that’s just fine.

Lovebirds in the neighborhood

We spend most of the our weekends outside in our yard, watching movies, cooking more-time-consuming-than-normal food, or playing Gloomhaven.

I’ve enjoyed having time to dust off some cookbooks and try new dishes, or to finally cook the things in my NYT Cooking recipe box. Here are some of our favorite new recipes:

Gloomhaven is an awesome board game that we got last year when we had several Amazon gift cards lying around. We first tried to play it shortly after arriving in Windhoek when we were jet lagged and tired. It was such an extraordinarily confusing experience, we put it back in the cupboard and didn’t even think about playing it again until now. We figured that we’d have the time to finally sort through everything and we were right! It’s really fun, interesting, and it’s nice to currently have four days (we are at the end of a four-day holiday weekend) to work our way through it. There are like 95 different scenarios, and each scenario is its own game. They all build off each other, but you can just play one scenario and then put everything away; you don’t have to play the entire thing all at once.

Artie the Explorer!

I have never in my life been so grateful to have a dog. Artie has been a lifeline for all of us lately. Her persistent optimism, playfulness and happy demeanor give us all something to look forward to and she helps keep us busy. And she is M’s only non-adult companion right now. It’s hilarious watching them run around chasing each other. She is a saint.

So, yeah. That’s how we’re doing. Not great, not bad, basically fair-to-middling.

*This is basically through focusing on things that I can control and having “good” habits like reading books, walking Artie, making the bed, doing yoga, etc. Then I track it all. It helps me feel more intentional and productive.

Dassies, or rock hyraxes. The elephants’ closest relative!

Something not COVID-19

A rainbow over a Windhoek hillside

I started writing this blog post and before I knew it, I had written several paragraphs about COVID-19. (That is now a separate blog post) And that is not what I want to write about. It’s clearly what’s on my mind, but there are other things in the world besides COVID-19 and those are the things I want to focus on.

Deep exhale. Anyway.

About a month ago, before Namibia reported the first cases of COVID-19, our  friends hosted a precision rifle shooting competition on their farm. That particular weekend happened to coincide with several days of massive downpours. The road to the farm crosses several dry riverbeds, and when we drove out on Friday evening, those riverbeds were no longer dry. In fact, one of them was actually a river. With rapids. We put our bakkie in 4WD and took it slowly. On a normal day, the drive takes an hour. This time it took us an hour and a half. Needless to say, we were very happy the drive was finished once we finally reached the farmhouse.

Farmland full of mud, flowers, green branches, and puddles

We brought Artie with us to the farm and my god did she love the farm dog life. She’s such a pack animal. She loved having children falling all over her, exploring the property, and swimming in the river; she preferred to eat her dog food with our friends’ dog, rather than eating alone; and she ran behind the bakkie for several kilometers like a champ. Maybe she was a farm dog before the SPCA picked her up off the streets. Who knows.

Surveying the territory

Something else we learned about that weekend is the koringkrieke or the amoured bush cricket. Good grief, is this insect gnarly. First, they are enormous. Like, if there’s one in the road you can actually see it. Its body is the size of my thumb; add the legs and it’s about the size of my palm.  Second: they bite. They’re omnivorous cannibals. Seriously. Lastly, they are everywhere. Like, in disgusting quantities. I saw one in a small bush, and then I looked closer and realized there were actually at least 14 of them. So gross. I should do a blog post on the insects we’ve encountered in Namibia. There have been some good ones!

A disgusting armored bush cricket

Another common southern African insect: the harmless but creepy chilongo

The rainy season here is almost over. I love how happy people get here when it rains. In Oman, almost everyone feared rain. Schools closed, everything flooded and life ground to a halt. Heck, I was almost in a terrible car accident because drivers there don’t know how to handle wet roads. But here in Namibia, after one of the worst droughts in history, rain is cause for joy and celebration. I’m just glad it brings some moisture to the air. It’s amazing seeing how much the terrain has changed since we arrived last September versus now. The hillside across from our house is green, we have plants that we thought were dead growing in our yard, and there are wild flowers blossoming. Oh, and the rain makes the termite mounds sprout the most delicious wild mushrooms!

The farm dam is full! It’s been empty for a year or more.

Flowers!!! Grass!!!

I can’t believe I almost forgot to mention this type of wild mushroom, called the omajova (pronounced oma-YO-va). They grow out of the base of termite mounds and they are enormous. Like, one can weight more than a pound. We went on a game drive one weekend and our game guide harvested some for us to take home, and then we stopped and bought more from some guys selling them by the road. I did my best to bargain, but they weren’t willing to budge and we paid about 20 USD for four enormous mushrooms. Now that I write that, it doesn’t sound exorbitant, but at the time it stung a little. The texture and flavor of these mushrooms is truly out of this world. They are so darn tasty.

Omajovas growing on the base of a termite mound

The most phallic mushrooms you’ll ever see.

Peeled, after a night in the fridge to bloom.

Autumn is in the air here in Windhoek. It’s chilly when we wake up in the mornings and all the air conditioners in our house are turned off. On Easter evening I took Artie for a walk, and the ground was slick with rain and fallen dried leaves. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out and enjoy the warm weather a little more before it gets actually cold. Fingers crossed!

Artie on a fall-is evening walk