Exploring South Eastern Namibia
By: Martha Kamkuemah
There is a saying in a local language that loosely translates to, "You don't travel, you don't see". I began my 7-day tour of south eastern Namibia with stopover in the town of Gobabis. I learned there is more to this town famous for its cattle. The word Gobabis has two meanings. Gobabis is a Khoe-Khoe Gowab word. Linguistic proponents and oral traditions say that Gobabis is the corrupted version of the word khoa, meaning elephant and -bis, meaning place; a place where elephant migrating north stopped to drink the fountain water. In the mid 19th century the place was known as =/Khoandabis, meaning Elephant's Fountain. The locals also referred to the place as goba, meaning to discuss, to quarrel. It was here the Oorlam people, who had by then subdued the San people, met to discuss war strategies and resolve conflicts with surrounding tribes such as the Mbanderu. In 1845, the word Gobabis was used by a missionary settler to refer to Elephant's Fountain ("1845-1895-1995 Gobabis", P.H. van Rooyen & P. Reiner). But in fact, this place renowned for its cattle has a third Otjiherero name, Epoko, meaning cave.
My tour guide and I arrived in Gobabis via the D1793, a gravel road that connects with the B6 in Witvlei. We had left Okambara Elephant Lodge, situated 100km from Windhoek, after breakfast. Okambara is hidden away by tall grey bushes. As one approaches the lodge, you encounter an oasis-like feeling which is in stark contrast to the dry brush that greets one from the road. Okambara employs locals and internationals who communicate easily in German. I am shown to my room, which overlooks the surrounding tell bushes.
View from room
The lodge is home to many wild animals roaming the huge farm. During the cat feeding tour we were properly welcomed by the Lulu, the leopard. He showed us his teeth, as if to say, "Be careful, this is our territory".
Okambara is also home to two caracals, several cheetah, and nine elephants. We came upon two cheetahs lying under a bush. If one is not alert one can miss sightings of these cats as they blend in so well with their surroundings. Our game driver coaxed them from under the bush with their lunch. It was inspiring to observe how respectful he is about the wild animals.
The feeding tour was followed by a game drive. The tour group decided they wanted to observe the elephant that Okambara is known for. Along the way, our group saw plenty of wildebeest, oryx, steenbok, baboons, and kudus. I have often wondered where kudus live, so to speak. It is in the tall grey bushes around Okambara that kudus of all ages roam, camouflaged by their grey fur among the tall grey bushes. These magnificent antelopes scattered as soon as they saw us, jumping with such ease and agility. Or the small ones simply ran away.
The change in landscape was notable as we drove. Red sand gave way to rocky bushy terrain, which hid the antelope very well. Our search for elephant was boosted by the sighting of fresh dung and tracks. Our experienced game driver eventually cut across unchartered terrain and then we saw them - nine great beasts frolicking in a sand pit and tossing sand with their trunks! Their joy in the sand pit did not stop as we stopped to observe them.
The area also has rhino, which we were not fortunate enough to see. I learned that when animals sense the rains, they avoid the wet conditions. But when water is scarce, waterholes become the main attraction. At the end of our game drive rainclouds which had gathered ominously during the drive, poured down on our tour party. Driving back, we encountered a group of wildebeest near a waterhole, huddled together against the rain. They stirred as we approached but not enough to run. The rain was far more intimidating.
The end of rain-filled game drive signaled dinner time. The highlight of my evening was having our dinner menu recited in German and served in a setting fit for a queen.
Okambara dining hall
The next morning as we left Okambara, we crossed the boundary between the Khomas and Omaheke regions. My excitement was palpable as I realise we had now entered the region that has another of Namibia's deserts - the Kalahari.