Category Namibia

mole rat

These are really bad photos, but I was chasing this animal around a large ‘garden’ in Gobabis, eastern Namibia, at night with no flash, just light from the house. And he moved fast.

But it’s the story of having seen it at all. I was very lucky. The people I was staying with, who live here, have never seen one. They live exclusively underground, so no idea what this fellow was doing above.

One of my email circles is a group of 3, and the subject of the mole rat has come up a bunch of times, really. One of us is a zoologist, and I’m keen on anything interesting, and the third is only very mildly interested in flora/fauna, and in particular he hates when the mole rat comes up, because he thinks they’re gross.

Here’s a picture from the web of a Naked Mole Rat, from its zone in Ethiopia/Somalia

As it turns out, my encounter was with a Damaraland mole rat.

Here I first see it, its moving fast!

I chase it

Senses me (it’s blind)

It stops, wheels around, and attacks:

Snapping at me

This teeth are very strange, they grow outside the mouth

For something only about 4″ long, it was fantastically angry

From wiki

Damaraland mole-rats live in networks of tunnels, which they dig with their front teeth. The tunnels are 65 to 75 mm (2.6 to 3.0 in) in diameter, and may stretch for up to 1 km (0.62 mi) below the ground. They have no connection to the surface, although their presence can be inferred from dome-shaped molehills of excavated earth pushed up to the surface. As a result, the tunnels develop their own microclimate containing warm, moist air, with low oxygen levels.

For more Damaraland mole rat

road trip, back country namibia

The first ride in the Prado, a 2960K route to see a friend in southern Namibia, with a stop in Windhoek on the way back

Had to do this

Apologies for the truck shots, but you know how that goes, a new toy

So beautiful.

A small immaculate town

It’s hot. Shade in an abandoned gas station

Not sure

Silent. I saw 2 cars in 2 days

Like this for 1000K

Termite mounds dug out by anteaters

Then finally the dunes start. The Namib is the oldest desert in the world, 55 to 80 million years old. The 2nd oldest desert is where we just came from, the Kalahari

gnu 3

Open with 2 gnus

OK. Some stuff on Namibia other than natural history. All of this could be inaccurate or wrong:

1. Government. Here’s another article from The Namibian newspaper. This is the story. It’s completely beyond belief. The private sector is as bad. When it comes to money, Namibia is the Wild West, but from everything I’ve heard, better than most. The BMW dealership is huge and the first stop for fast money, nearly all black. The current thing is Range Rovers. It is probably no exaggeration to say, if you can get in on it, you do, or are.

2. Food

It’s meat. Sometimes they don’t even disclose what meat. Boring, but not quite as depressingly boring on the road as meat eating in South America. They’re big BBQ lovers, but without the creativity of the Americans

3. Namibia is the first and only entry on the list of countries I could live in. It’s largely a desert, not unlike the picture above, so you have to like that. There are no people here, I love that. The capital, Windhoek, feels like a big community, you know where everything is. Racially it’s peaceful. The same land redistribution laws are happening, and no white can get new land ownership anymore, Namibian or not, but you get the feeling that it’ll all work out (by comparison, very few think that things will work out in South Africa).

4.I had a friend here who I peppered with questions about the different ethnicities, or tribes. The Himba live in the extreme northwest where access is harder. Not many people venture to see them. I didn’t. Picture from the web

The Herero are incredible. Here’s lady, with the defining hat at a store in Windhoek

And another, on the right. More in the next post

The Ovambo are mighty (almost half the population) and the most westernized. Like South Africa (and I’m sure every country coming up), with the women it’s all about the hair and is fantastic. And they don’t want to talk about it beyond accepting a short complement. The anecdote here is that as young boys, brothers learned the hard way not to comment on their sister’s hair

The Nama are slightly disrespected as not as bright or hard working by the other tribes, yet accepted obviously as brothers and sisters. Being black is the thing, in a country with a colonial legacy

Then there are the “boers”. This is what blacks call whites with all the worst attributes of the least enlightened whites, as they see it, not necessarily these guys. I have seen some whites treat blacks like shit

And regular hard working originals

They learned to live off a difficult land. Here he’s showing me making table salt from raw salt he got from the coast

My apologies for all that being superficial. I’ll try harder.

5. Wifi (free) and cell phone coverage was excellent, considering the size and population

6. Cost. Namibia is expensive. Tourism, because the country is so easy in nearly every respect, is growing fast and everything is priced as if it’s a tight market. Some more competition in all areas would be good.

7. Safety

Safe, laid back. You wouldn’t wander off unwisely in Windhoek into the Katatura district, but that’s no different to any city on earth.

gnu 2

Here are some Gnus blocking our way. It rained at little overnight ahead of the big rains coming

A watering hole and we’re in luck. A giraffe. Later I decide it’s my favourite animal here

Then 2. They’re semi nervous. Almost skittish

Then a third. It was amazing

Some cool video

Later we came across some more wandering through scrub

Haha, happy times. The world record giraffe is 19′

This is the Plain’s Zebra. The ones we saw in Maltahohe were Mountain Zebra, which have a shiner coat and narrower stripes

Excuse the tourist chat in the video

This was a rare daytime sight. The Honey Badger

From Wiki

As with other mustelids of relatively large size, such as wolverines and badgers, honey badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. They have been known to savagely and fearlessly attack almost any kind of animal when escape is impossible, reportedly even repelling much larger predators such as lions. Bee stings, porcupine quills, and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin. If horses, cattle, or Cape Buffalos intrude upon a ratel’s burrow, it will attack them. They are virtually tireless in combat and can wear out much larger animals in physical confrontations.

Then a Cheetah and 2 cubs, untie shade under that tree, about 75′ away. You can’t see them here


We went on safari for 2 half days, then set off back to Windhoek. It’s super hot, about 38C. We’re not at our record yet of 40C from both India and Australia, but we will be soon.

Web didn’t need a Camelback in India because there was bottled water at road side frequently. But we do here because there is nothing roadside ever. It makes lunch harder. But the problem is the Camelback cuts down the jacket ventilation by a lot, so I’m feeling the heat more. I’m about to strap it to the duffle, the only downside being having to get off the bike to drink.

Here’s a Namibian rest stop in the shade. It’s unlikely we’ll see these any further north. Namibia is easy. In many ways it’s the easiest country we’ve ever toured in

Ok, so here’s a biggee:

About 150K south of Namutoni we stopped at this very small lake. It’s one of only 2 year-round bodies of fresh water in Namibia. The other is a few miles away, below in the post. Incredible.

Lake Otjikoto

So, the story.Namibia, despite being a dry and hot place without a great deal to support it, is teeming with life. There are tons of the usual stuff, but only one freshwater fish outside of the north and south border rivers. So one endemic fish only in the huge interior.

But it gets weirder. It’s the below, predictably a Cichlid. Tilapia guanasa.

It comes from this shitty little sinkhole, Lake Ginuas. A collapsed karst system. Now introduced to a few other places because it’s obviously critically endangered by the ridiculous solo entirety of its habitat. Toe expand it’s habitat, it was introduced to lake Otjikoto, which we visited

So how did it get here?

That’s the problem. The collapse happened millions of years after any changes to typography by erosion or connections to any river system. Plus there’s a clear 500 miles of almost desert around it. And it has no close relatives, it’s not a subspecies. It’s a one-off.

Here are schools of the big at the surface. Click to enlarge

There’s an old German pumping station above the Lake. It looks like it’s been 50 years since it last operated

Later that night I slept in a huge room in an otherwise beaten up lodge with doves flying over my head. There was a nest at the peak of the interior

The movie

gnu 1

Kind of a random order post.

I remember when I was very young there was a cartoon on TV or maybe in print that featured a Gnu that was very dim and the brunt of the other animal’s jokes. The Gnu is actually a Wildebeest. The funny thing is how small they are. About the size of a pony, maybe a little bigger. Here’s one, at Etosha

We’re headed here, the entry to one of the world’s great parks, the Namutomi Gate at Etosha Park

Etosha Park in northern Namibia. It surrounds this vast pan, 4760 square kilometres

The edge of the pan looks like this

It’s one of the largest features in southern Africa

Here’s the route from Windhoek, about 600 K’s.

And here’s how we set off, 2 days to the park. Orange, for the first time

Long, mostly straight, hot as hell

Overnight in Otjiwarongo

This looks like an African picture, I thought at the time

And into the Park

Gazelles all over the place at the lodge

The walk to my door

And packs of Mongoose everywhere. They hang out in groups of a dozen or so. They have a really weird walk/trot. The body is frozen horizontally and the little legs do this mechanical scurry underneath

The next day we’re into the park early. Motorcycles not allowed, obviously, as there are lions, leopards and cheetahs to eat you, Canadians first, because we’re the best looking, if you slow down or get off.

That’s why the park is famous. Africa’s wildlife is well represented here, with the exception of hippos and croc’s, because there’s no water outside of the waterholes.

Trivia: one of the world’s largest aquifers was discovered near here. A underground lake, 300 meters below the surface, 45 miles by 25 miles in size, under the driest country in Africa! An article I read said if tapped into, it could last Namibia 400 years. That’s lucky

There have been springbok everywhere we’ve been. They’re the common theme so far

They cool off a bit in the infrequent shade

OK, a few birds first:

This beautiful animal is the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk


And this completely crazy animal is the secretary bird, the most desirable thing to see for the birder crowd. Famous as a snake hunter. I saw 2 of them. It’s quite large, about 20″ tall. It struts powerfully, with authority, and appears very focused

Secretary bird behaviour, from Wiki

Prey is often flushed out of tall grass by the birds stomping on the surrounding vegetation. It also waits near fires, eating anything it can that is trying to escape. They can either catch prey by chasing it and striking with the bill and swallowing (usually with small prey), or stamping on prey until it is rendered stunned or unconscious enough to swallow. Larger or dangerous prey, such as venomous snakes, are instead stunned or killed by the bird jumping onto their backs, at which point they will try to snap their necks or backs

Wild, eh?

Here’s a yellow billed hornbill

Really strange looking in flight. It eats insects and finds them by turning over leaves and rocks on the ground

This is the Black Northern Korhaan

Its claim to fame is being really noisy


Here’s a huge white rhino

It would be safer without the horn. Poaching is huge here. Rather than say controversial stuff on my blog, here’s a good, if shocking, analysis of the situation in The Namibian, the paper I’ve linked to before here

read this

Off to find giraffes, tomorrow’s post



At the Botswana border. I’d hoped to get all my posts up to date but I haven’t. The last week in Namibia was very busy. It’ll be a few days more.

In the interim, here are a pair of dik-diks. They’re tiny, only about a foot high. They’re monogamous. Sadly, being so small, they’re on everyone’s meal list


We rode out from Swakopmund to Walvis Bay. It’s a strategically important very small port, and you can read about it here

Discovered by the Portuguese, it was British, then German, a war, then British again, then South African and now Namibian.

It’s a nice ride out the coast road. Swakopmund is always moderately windy, I forgot to mention. This and the mild temperature made it a great break, refreshing


Inland a bit is Dune 7, a tourist climb

People at the top

Went to check out the yacht club, wondering who would own a boat here, given the distant destinations

This is the graveyard, every club has one. The bigger of those two boats, despite the lousy photo was a 50 footer, with a nice flush deck to the structure at the stern and a beautiful sheer line, set up for heavy air. And hadn’t seen the water or maintenance for maybe 10 years

A little further along, this. Have a look at the background, in the water


The two different birds below, one smaller and pinker than the other, are the 2 African species

There are 2 more in South America (I’ve seen them both) and one sort of in Central America and the Caribbean

Here’s short walking video, which is cool

Topic change

In the paper this morning was a piece on the sale of a uranium mine from Rio Tinto to the Chinese

And the other day I rode by these two water pipelines. The big one on the left is coming from a huge desalination plant to what, when finished, will be the biggest uranium mine in the world. So with the acquisition of the competition, they now have a monopoly here

Why is this important? Because this is just a small example of the vast Chinese investment in Africa right now. Most people, the people you meet, are scared of the huge deals being done with their resources and ports.

Another change of subject

You know when you got out to get new bike gloves, all the good brands and size large are sold out? How depressing to have to buy the junk $39 gloves and wait.

So about 18 months ago, back in BC, I had to do that, buy the junk, and here they are, still going strong, a record for any glove

I started with them from BC in Myanmar because they were still fine, lol. I have a nice pair of expensive Held’s waiting for them to blow up in a pannier.

swakopmund flora

Where we went today, just 30 minutes from Swakopmund

Here’s the really excellent drive in

We broke out onto a highish plain, with badlands a mile away

And went plant hunting. Here’s the Lithops covered in the posts lower down

And a tiny little flowering plant the guide called a “desert pink” but 10 minutes of Googling plants here yielded no plant that looked like this

Here are 3 plants. Between the Aloe to the right and the thing to the left is Euphorbia damarana, one of the deadliest plants in Africa

That drop of white on an open cut would be lethal. Rhinos and Oryx for some reason eat it and are immune

Then off to our next destination

Into beautiful low outcroppings, maze-like with passages

This is the famous one

Where, coming from the opposite direction, this scene from Fury Road was shot.

After a mile or so we came to this, the most famous plant in Namibia, Welwitschia. It has a bank, a rugby team, insurance company, schools named after it. I’ve wanted to see it since I first saw it in a RHS book maybe 40 years ago. Below are several

And a mature (600-700 years old) specimen. The oldest, in Angola, is 2500 years old. The oldest close one is 1500.

They’re monotypic and only have two leaves which split as they grow

The leaves (uniquely?) have stomata on both surfaces

The woody centre with male flowers


There’s a historic botanic connection to the great Royal Society collector Hooker, and lots of interesting and typically Victorian complexities to its naming and classification.

Here it is on the Namibian coat of arms, along the bottom

We took a dried river bed out

Walking on it made a great sound