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

Welcome home, Artie

Our newest family member!

Well, we are apparently 100% incapable of taking our own advice.

I don’t know how many people in the Foreign Service we’ve advised not to get a dog. There are a multitude of reasons. Transporting your dog is, by far, the most difficult part of changing posts. Not to mention finding a good vet, discovering what unique challenges that post will pose for your dog (Maybe your post will ban walking outside. Seriously. It could happen.), figuring out what to do when you’re used to a yard and now you have an apartment, finding someplace to board your dog or someone to watch him/her… the list goes on. And god help you if you get assigned a post that bans your dog’s breed. Or if you get assigned a post that you can’t take a dog to. Having a dog in the Foreign Service is NOT easy. In fact, this blog was partially born out of the difficulty of having a dog in this lifestyle: to show that it can be done and to hopefully provide some helpful info on how to make it work.

So, what did we do? 

We got another dog.

And it makes my heart so, so, so happy.

Surveying the greenery, which she was probably seeing for the first time ever

The thing is, and sadly it took losing Athena for me to realize this, when your dog is a member of your family, all that hardship and struggle is worth it. Our house doesn’t feel like home without a dog running around. It might be expensive, inconvenient, or a pain in the butt, but the tail wags, those snuggles, and all that unconditional love in return is just so darn worth it.

If those things don’t make it worth it for you? Then you shouldn’t get a dog.

We adopted Artemis, AKA Artie, from the Windhoek SPCA and she is such a sweetheart. She doesn’t freak out when M comes running towards her, she sleeps in her crate at night, she loves playing and fetching, and she comes running as soon as we call for her. She also forages in the garbage, pees on our nice rugs, has zero interest in sitting or heeling, and is picky about her treats. But these are things we can fix (mostly) so I’m not stressed about it.

Life is good again, my friends. We still miss Athena, but the pain isn’t as raw. My heart is buoyed by little Artie running around, eager to love us, knowing that we’ve given her the best thing yet: a family to call her own.

We love you, Artie!

A weekend at Erindi

A huge elephant by the Camp Elephant watering hole

One of our best friends from Muscat came to visit us, and we decided to go check out Erindi Private Game Reserve. Just about everyone in Windhoek told us Erindi is absolutely amazing, and (spoiler alert) they were right!

There are two lodging options: Camp Elephant or Old Trader’s Lodge. At Camp Elephant, you can either tent camp or stay in a self-catering chalet. No matter which option you choose, I don’t think you can go wrong. The camping looks seriously nice: there are private flush toilets and showers, a refrigerator, hot water, grassy areas for your tent (grass!), picnic tables, and a kitchen sink. Coming from Oman where there was literally nothing if you didn’t bring it with you, the camping there is hardly even camping, other than the fact that you have to sleep in a tent.

Self-catering chalets

We booked the self-catering chalets since we weren’t sure if we’d have our camping gear or not. The chalets all border a watering hole and have two bedrooms, a bathroom, air conditioning, and a well-equipped kitchen with a microwave, toaster, and a two-burner stove. Then outside there’s a picnic table and two (two!) braai areas. It was awesome.

The front of the chalet, with a view of the watering hole and two braai spots

Watering hole and chalets at dusk

I can’t tell you much about Old Trader’s Lodge because Camp Elephant guests are “strictly forbidden from visiting Old Trader’s Lodge at all.” I’m guessing it’s fancy? I have no idea. I’m also curious about what must have happened to institute this ridiculous policy.

We visited Erindi on Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to do a glamping Thanksgiving. We cooked all the food, except the turkey, on Wednesday and Thursday. We got the braai going as soon as we arrived, heated up everything else, and had a humongous feast. In hindsight, the fact that we thought we needed to bring additional food for Saturday night is laughable. We went home without having cooked some of the food we brought, and we never even had a chance to make s’mores. Oh well. Worse things have surely happened.

Thanksgiving desserts!

Sausages on the braai

On Saturday morning, E and I went on an early morning game drive while Nate stayed behind with M and slept in. The game drive was…. alright, I guess? It certainly wasn’t my favorite. There were a bunch of loud hungover people that arrived late, drank throughout the entire thing, wanted to wake up the lions, asked if you could hunt rhinoceros, watched youtube videos and video-chatted during the game drive, and asked the driver if he had more drinks. And the driver seemed hell-bent on driving through the tightest of spaces in an enormous safari vehicle. I sat in the middle to avoid getting swiped by thorny branches. He spent probably 10 minutes trying to drive over a tree. But we saw a male and female lion resting and then a cheetah family out on a hunt, so that was cool.

The next morning, Nate and E went on a game drive while I stayed behind with M. Their guide was awesome, super-knowledgeable about everything, and took them to see lots of lions (including cubs!). Plus there was the added bonus of no obnoxious passengers. So I guess the game drive tours at Erindi are a total and complete crapshoot.

Another option at Erindi is to do self-drive game drives. You have to stay on the road, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see any lions or large predators unless they literally cross the road right in front of you, but you’ll see lots of other neat stuff. We saw a lot of zebras, springbok, oryx, and giraffes. Plus some clusters of elephants and rhinos.

Since moving here I’ve discovered that I get carsick on the bumpy dirt roads (great timing, huh?) so Nate drove the first half and then I took over. I felt slightly better behind the wheel, but I need to buy some kind of medicine for next time.

The amount of wildlife visible from the chalets is awesome. Hippos and crocodiles live in the watering hole, and there’s no shortage of wildebeest, springbok, elephants and warthogs, plus a huge variety of birds. There are also scorpions and bat-sixed moths. A palm-sized scorpion wandered towards our picnic table while we were playing a board game outside after M went to bed. I shouted “Holy shit, a scorpion!!!” and I’ve never seen grown adults jump so quickly on top of a table.

Erindi makes for a nice weekend getaway, or a great first stop on a further-flung camping trip. There’s a surprisingly large well-stocked shop next to the reception with pretty much everything you could need if you forget something, including ice and firewood. That said, I started a list of things to make sure we bring next time: pool towels, tin foil, binoculars, extra dish towels, a silicon spatula, and a kitchen sponge.

Erindi, we’ll be back!

Update: We’ve since returned to Erindi and our second account was about the same. Guided game drives are a still complete crapshoot (even more so than last time) and the facilities are still amazing.

Snapshots: Petroglyphs in Musandam

Can you spot all the petroglyphs?

There’s not a ton of cool stuff to do near Khasab without a boat or a 4WD vehicle. These petroglyphs, however, are very easy to get to, even in a sedan, and are only a 15 minute drive from Khasab! Drive to the coastal town of Qadah and then take the main drag through town into the wadi. The approximate location of the petroglphys is in Google Maps as “rock carving”, but as you’re driving in they are on the left in an area that is overrun by goats. There are several different rocks with petroglyphs on them, and climb on the rocks and boulders around the area to spot even more. We lucked out because a tour came through and the guide pointed out a bunch that otherwise we might not have noticed. M loved running around pointing out all the camels and horses on the rocks!

A hunter riding a horse with a bow and arrow

Camels?

More camels? Or horses? Who knows.

Another hunter riding a horse, next to a goat enclosure

A handprint!

Driving around Dhofar: camels and cyclone damage

Camels everywhere!

While we were driving around Dhofar and Salalah, I was struck by three things: how green it was, the extraordinary number of camels everywhere, and the amount of remaining damage from Cyclone Mekunu.  I was prepared for, but still surprised by, the first two, but I was shocked by latter.

Waze tried to make us take this road

We drove down some roads that probably shouldn’t have been open, and Waze tried to take us over a bridge that had been completely washed out.

Close-up of the photo above. See how the bridge is washed out?

Cyclone Mekunu struck Oman (and Yemen) in May earlier in the year, and apparently dumped over 10 inches of rain in Salalah in one day, and more than 24 inches over a 4-day period. It was the biggest natural disaster that Oman’s seen in some time, and the water rushing down the mountains caused a lot of damage. I guess I thought that they would have made all the repairs and so forth by now, but it was only 3 months ago.

I’m surprised this road wasn’t closed.

Also, I don’t think it’s possible to write about a trip to Salalah without mentioning the camels. They are everywhere. In the traffic circles, the highways, the hillsides, the ruins, you name it. I read that during the khareef the camels come down off the mountains and into the plains closer to the coast to escape the biting flies.  Whatever the reason, there are camels all over the place and they give zero shits if they are in your way. They will literally walk out into the middle of a freeway without a care in the world. It definitely makes for interesting driving!

Camels in the road

Camels don’t care

We tried to drive down this road, but we gave up (and got yelled at by the camel herder)

“WTF are you guys doing here”

Ruins and a camel

I tried to convince M this was a two-headed camel. He didn’t believe me. He’s no fun.

More camels

That one’s a non-conformist.