Day 20: Himba visit and Ellies!!
Man am I behind on my blogging. Sorry – days are just so busy with things to do! Now that we are nearing the end of our vacation I’m feeling more like soaking it all up and less like blogging about what we’ve already done! But, I promised myself I’d try to write at least one day today so here we go:
We had an early start today as we had a LOT of ground to cover and many activities packed into a single day. We had a quick breakfast and jammed ourselves into the truck for our steep descent to the Kiboko truck.
As we drove through the countryside, we began to see more signs of civilization; most notably animals, especially cows, in the road. Misheck was good a timing their crossings but it was pretty nerve wracking to see them in the middle of the road so often, with us bearing down on them at 100km/hr! We made sure the kids were belted up tight, and I tried not to think about all the safety reasons we’ve replaced lap belts with shoulder belts!
By this point, Grant’s back is really messed up from all the bumps and long periods of sitting still. He spent a lot of the day sitting up front with Misheck where it’s a little less bumpy.
We stopped along the road to visit some Damara ladies and buy some traditional dolls. If you buy a doll, you can take all the photos you want – so we all bought a doll! These are the ladies who wear the modified Victorian dresses that make them look more like cows. We wandered from stall to stall for a little while looking at dolls and gemstones for sale and took lots of photos of the kids especially. There was one little girl of about four or five who shyly took Jessica’s hand and would not let go for anything. She was such a serious little thing and hardly ever cracked a smile. When it came time for us to leave, though, her mom had to call her away and she ran to her father sobbing her little heart out that Jessica was leaving! So sad!
We stopped very briefly at a lodge to order lunch and pay. We were booked for a Himba tribe visit at 10am and we were running late. Took awhile to get the Italians back in board; they’d used the five minute stop for a wardrobe change! We rushed to the Himba village and Misheck drove back to town to collect our takeaway lunches and fuel up.
This village – unlike the bushmen we’d seen earlier – was an actual working village where people lived full time. However, most of the people that lived there had been orphaned children and/or were young mothers with nowhere to go. The women and most of the children still wore the traditional dress. The women had elaborate hairdos with mud caked in their hair and something attached to the end to make it look like lions’ tails. They were bare from the waist up, but never took off their ankle bracelets as the ankles are considered to be erotic/private the way we consider breasts to be private. Once they hit puberty, they never again bathe with water. They rub their skin with ochre paste and use a smoke bath to kill germs. One lady demonstrated for us how she bathed every morning.
The village was roughly arranged in a circle around a central corral for the village goats. The young girls of about twelve were in charge of taking the goats out for the day. I’m not sure how secure the corral was given that I saw several goats sneak out the side! It appeared that women were responsible for most of the daily work in the village: carrying wood, cooking, fetching water, etc. Men mostly sat in the shade. Presumably they are in charge of the hunting and any cattle? There were chickens and dogs running around freely and children and babies tumbling everywhere in the dust. The dogs especially were in pretty poor shape and the kids weren’t that much better off.
The bigger kids generally looked after the smaller ones, but it wasn’t unusual to see a child of about three or four wandering around with one kid’s shoe and one adult sized flip flop on falling over and bleeding and crying. Nobody would even look up and the child would mainly be left to fend for itself. Hopefully, he or she would have enough sense (or luck) not to fall into the open cooking fires! Many of the children had umbilical hernias from improperly tied umbilical cords; some of them were extremely pronounced. One poor little guy was running around with a VERY sore looking infection from a recent circumcision. All the parents in our group were decidedly uncomfortable with the state of the kids in this village!
Jess wasn’t feeling well halfway through the village tour so Grant took her back to the school to rest.
We saw the inside of the grass roofed huts where a family or two would all sleep on cow hides directly on the floor; it seemed impossible that they would all fit in such a small space! The small cooking/bathing fire was making it so smoky in there that none of us could breathe. The men use carved wooden pillows to prop their heads off the ground. They explained that this kept both ears free to hear what was approaching – especially useful out in the bush. Women and children don’t rate a pillow, it seems! We were also told that as adults, the witch doctor would knock out their bottom two teeth – I didn’t manage to hear the reason for this!
Many of the women with babies were very young – just 15 or 16. When we asked how old they married, we were typically told that “she has a boyfriend, he is away.” This makeshift village really bothered me, actually. It is one thing to observe a people in their traditional setting who are beginning to blend their traditional ways with “western” ones. This is what I expected to see. I had imagined it would be much like we saw in Thailand with traditional style homes and teenagers running around taking pictures on cell phones. What I DIDN’T expect was that the women of the tribe were expected to strictly adhere to traditional values and dress, while the men were free to choose the lives they wanted. The men were walking around in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, while the women looked like something out of National Geographic. The men didn’t feel the need to marry and provide for these women and babies (as their culture would traditionally dictate) yet they insist that women continue to behave and dress in a manner that prevents them from obtaining employment and supporting themselves. One hell of a double standard. The guide showing us around admitted that these women, although many were reasonably educated in the village school, had trouble supporting themselves because of their traditional dress. There were a very few women who had been away to boarding school and had adopted more western style, but there weren’t many. The rest were relegated to being a tourist attraction; raising their babies on the handouts of tourists while their “boyfriends” went on their merry way. It sincerely pissed me off.
Jess perked up enough after a while in the shade and came back just in time to see the last of the market. The ladies had laid out blankets full of poorly crafted beaded jewelry and some rough carvings. I had really wanted to buy one of their necklaces, but everything on offer looked a bit shabby. I bought a small bracelet for Jess and moved on. Paid way too much but it felt like a good thing to leave money in this village!
We hit the road again on a mission to make it to Etosha for an afternoon game drive. We ate our cold toasted sandwiches on the truck as Misheck drove on towards Etosha. As exhausted as we already were, everyone was pretty excited about the upcoming game drive.
Immediately upon entering the park, we spotted a herd of elephants. Everyone was confused as to why Misheck wasn’t stopping to take photos, but he explained once we arrived at the gate that he would check us in while we all went to the waterhole to watch the ellies. Well, Jess was NOT waiting around for another Misheck speech – she was OFF like a shot doing a weirdly excited little speed walk towards the waterhole; chanting “ellies ellies ellies ellies” the whole way. She pulled up short at the waterhole thinking she would be the only one there. To her surprise an entire group of people were seated around the waterhole viewing area! A huge cloud of dust billowed around her as she ground to a halt and she went scarlet with embarrassment when everyone turned to look. Poor kid!
She soon forgot her embarrassment, however, in the excitement of our first up close look at elephants. Ellies everywhere! I can’t even estimate how many photos I took just at that waterhole! It was an amazing fifteen or twenty minutes (maybe more? I lost track of time!) or so of Ellie heaven before Misheck peeled us away to begin our game drive.
We were pretty lucky with our game drive. We saw some black rhino almost immediately which is amazing given how endangered they are. Etosha is the place to see them, though, apparently! We saw some lions off in the distance laying down and grooming themselves. We couldn’t get a very good look as they were quite far away and you aren’t allowed to drive off the roads in the game park. We took a few shots of them and moved on.
We saw another big herd of elephant,
Giraffe, Hartebeest, Impala, zebra, Wildebeest – I’ve lost track of everything now – it kinda blends together after days of game drives!
We stopped mid afternoon for a very quick break and ended up stuck too long waiting for stragglers to get back on the truck. Misheck said that everyone was laughing at him when he told them where he was headed and how little time we had to get to the opposite side of the park! Park gates close strictly at sundown. We eventually rolled out of the park and into our lodge with six minutes to spare before they closed the gates!! Well done Misheck!
This was the first lodge that we weren’t very pleased with. Up until now, all our accommodations had been very nice; some of them extremely exceptional and memorable places to stay. This one was shabby and had a weird bathroom where nothing was square and everything was a size too small. Grant’s knees hit the wall when he sat in the toilet! They had a mosquito net over our bed, but none for Jessica over the mattress they’d thrown on the floor for her. As we’d already had a couple of bites on the way in, we set up the mosquito net I’d bought in Calgary as a back-up. (Yes, mom is feeling a bit smug about packing her own!)
We met the group for a boring and bland dinner buffet and then, on Misheck’s advice, headed straight for the waterhole “just at the end of camp.” I knew Jess and Grant were tired and wanted to go to bed, so I figured I would head down with them and then go back to the room for tripod and extra jacket if required. Not ideal. It was a LONG long way to the waterhole!
The waterhole was ideally set up – well floodlit with a raised seating area for viewing. When we got there, there was a black rhino drinking. No way was I running all the way back for my tripod OR my jacket. I decided to shoot handheld shots with my short lens and run back later. Jess became increasingly annoyed because her camera wouldn’t take the night shot she was looking for, and mom wasn’t up to a whispered crash course in night photography conducted in pitch black! Meanwhile, a mom and baby rhino had moved in. Definitely not leaving to get a tripod now! Going to have to take my chances with handheld now.
Grant and Jess stayed ten or fifteen more minutes and left to go crash. I don’t know how long I stayed there (and froze!) Four rhinos in total visited, with the occasional jackal and spotted hyena darting in and out; braving mock charges and snorts from mommy and daddy rhino. A spring hare visited as well. Finally, I pried my frozen fingers off my camera and headed back down the cold path to our lodge. I was a bit worried about the honey badgers that lurk on the path and overturn all the garbage cans, and I heard some in the bushes but none made an actual appearance.
I got back to the room late to a sleeping family and had a hot shower in the weirdly shaped and small shower to warm up. Early early start in the morning – but I couldn’t get to sleep!! It had been such an exciting day!