We get many times so focused on the hunt that we tend to forget that there is much more than that when we travel. Hunting is a big part of each trip but we should try to find some time to discover new cultures or places.
This story is about that. My dad travelled during his honeymoon to Namibia and rode all over the country on a rented car. To celebrate his 40th year wedding anniversary he decided to organize a similar trip but now with the whole family.
Namibia is a beautiful country with 824.000 sqkm, larger than France but with only 2 million habitants, which can offer you a wide range of wilderness activities. At the same time, although it is not on its best economical situation, it is pretty safe to travel around the country, and it has plenty of infrastructures for tourists. This leads to a high demand, and things need to be booked specially during their high season, (winter time, our summer) with plenty of time in advance. We had problems to book for so many people (8 people) so be sure to plan accordingly.
Although hunting was not in the plans, I know myself and in order to don’t suffer of anxiety during the photography game drives that were planned, I decided to go a few days earlier with my wife to do some hunting.
It is the beginning of August, and the current situation is critical. The country is suffering the worst drought in history, and some places haven’t seeing a drop of water since October 2018. Although in most places there is access to underground water so animals can drink, the lack of rain hasn’t allow any grass to grow, and the little grass that it did, is all gone by this time of the year eaten by livestock. The situation is critical, and animals are starving to death. Farmers defenseless do not have many options but trying to buy food from south Africa to feed the animals, killing the animals before they starve, or moving them to other farms. The problem is that because of this, meat and game prices are as low as they have ever been, making it for a very unsustainable situation.
Under this frame, we reached to Otijwa Game Lodge located a couple hours drive north from Windhoek. A hunting farm with around 10.000 hectares run by a family of hunters, the Barnard, which was introduced to us by a Spanish agent Pedro Alarcon, from La Pedriza. A paradisiac location with plenty of cover and water, but that it has been hit hard as every other farm, but that with a lot of effort from the property owners, it still counts with good numbers of animals.
My wife and myself arrive with high hopes but our bows don’t make it with us. With only three days of hunting ahead of us, I was lucky to have packed my traditional bow with a few arrows on my normal luggage, that allowed us to be hunting the following morning. With the limitations a traditional bow has, that you need to be under 15 meters for an effective shot, we decide to go and hunt from a blind.
Hunting from a ground blind is a game of patience, something that I am really bad at. I am used to making things happen, and being confined for many hours in a small space is something I am not used to, but the truth is that it is significantly the most efficient way of hunting in Africa.
After a few close encounters, on the morning of our second day I got the opportunity I was waiting for. A nice warthog comes in and finally gets into effective shooting range, offering me a great shot at no much more than 10 meters. That primal instinct of pulling the string of a wooden bow and seeing that arrow instinctively hitting its mark is a very special feeling, plus everyone knows how much spaniards like warthogs.
Victoria, my wife, is ready for action and her face changes when at lunch time a guy appears with the lost bow case, with both her compound bow and mine. We take a few quick shots to check everything is still is ok and get back to the blind immediately. It is her turn now.
After a couple hours only some impala females had came in, but suddenly a nice old warthog sow with a broken tusk shows up. Schalk which is in the blind with us quickly gives Vic the green light, it was a perfect animal to take. Vic as in a text book, makes a perfect call and waits for the animal to relax a little, lets it be completely broadside and drops it on its tracks with a perfect arrow. Her first animal in Africa and I am glad to be there with her.
When you are having fun things pass way too quick, and we were suddenly on our third and last day. With my compound back in camp, I wake up early to do what I like the most, spot and stalk. I only have one morning to make things happen, and with such a dry country I need to make the most out of the opportunities.
The morning begins mostly spooking game. African antelopes senses combined with herds that typically have at least a half dozen animals, makes it very hard for us to surprise anything. You can never loose the faith though, and suddenly I see coming through a creek the tips of an impala ram. Without hesitation I draw the bow back and get ready. The ram appears of what I guess is around 30 meters, I place the pin of my sight behind its shoulder and let the arrow fly. The impala rans less than a hundred meters before dropping down on sight.
I am celebrating the triumph with William, our local tracker, when back in the distance I spot a nice springbok ram. Opportunities need to be taken when they appear, so before tracking the impala I decide to put a stalk on to the ram which is feeding unaware of what just happened moments ago. The silence of the bow is magical.
The bushes give me cover up to 53 meters, distance which is imposible to shorten. I get a deep breath and draw the bow back. The arrow flies straight and hits the animal hard. I can not tell exactly where the shot placement is because the animal moves a little before the arrow arrives. We start the tracking right away before the tracks would mix with other animals or the blood would dry out, and after a great tracking job by William we arrive to the ram in the moment it is expiring. Beautiful but hard moment, in which the springbok open their back white hairs with their last breath.
The last afternoon is on my wife’s hand. She starts strong by getting a guiney fawl with a prefect shot, something not easy to do since they are a super strong bird. Later in the afternoon an old sprinbok ewe comes in offering Victoria a great opportunity which she takes right away with another perfect executed shot. As we celebrate the moment, the sun sets on the background doing an incredible performance of colors and beauty, that you never get tired of seeing in Africa.
With a short but successful start of the trip, it is time to put the bows back in their case and receive the rest of my family for the road trip. The first stop starts by driving north to the Etosha National Park. It gets his name from the large Etosha pan (4,760 km2 ) which is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including several threatened and endangered species such as the black rhinoceros.
It is great to see wild animals in their environment doing their thing, but use to hunting camps I have to admit I have a hard time when several jeeps surround a lion with a couple dozen tourist taking photos. Animals are not wild anymore.
After a couple days we drive west to Damaraland. The many perennial springs in the ravines and riverbeds of Damaraland lead to a rich diversity of desert vegetation. The abundant shelter of this rocky terrain makes Damaraland & the Kaokoland to the north a unique habitat for the rare & endangered desert-adapted elephants & other animals.There are only a few hundred left of this famous desert-adapted elephants. This unique animal is able to survive in harsh dry conditions that would be devastating to any other elephant. It was a very special and unique experience to track the elephants and seeing where they life. Nature and wildlife adaptation will never stop surprising us.
At the same time we visited, that not hiked, the tallest mountain of Namibia, the Brandberg Mountain, which highest peak is 2573 meters high. This mountainous terrain is almost only habited by the small rock hyrax, which despite looking like a rabbit, they are considered to be the closest animal alive related to elephants.
We also visited some old paintings rated to be 2.000 years old made by bushman that habited that land. Places like this shows us that it is in our nature to be hunters, and to collect trophies or immortalize those memories somehow. Today we take photos or hang the trophies, but back then they painted them on the rock. It is impressive how they could survive so well in such a tough country all year round.
We keep driving west south until Swakopmund, where we visited the skeleton coast, named by all the ships that got stacked in their coast due to very swallow waters. Vessels would try getting close to the coast and would get surprised by their shallow waters, which can still be less than 20 meters in depth at over a couple hundred meters off shore.
Swakopmund is mostly a summer vacation city and has a wide variety of activities that you could do. We took advantage of our visit to go for an afternoon to do some off shore shark fishing. The skeleton coast has big number of sharks including over 100 different species. Although the best time of the year would be during the summer time when sharks are more active and they almost guarantee you to get one, you still have chances to hook one all year round.
After a few hours with Andrew, a local professional fisherman, and a few false hooks, Carlos my uncle in law is able to get a Spotted Gully Shark out after a short intense fight. Despite it is only around a 25 kg it is a very cool species to see first hand. But don’t get confuse, since some sharks fished from the shore can get up to 200 kg and fight with you for over 4 hours.
The following day we drive down nearby to Balvis Bay where we jump on a commercial sail boat to explore the bay. A bay full of live with a seal colony of over 40.000 individuals, If you add the shark, bird life and other sea life you can have an idea on how rich the waters must be to hold such large population of predators.
Our next stop is to visit the dunes nearby on a 4×4. The views where amazing. There is also a world wide known surf spot right there called Donkey Bay, with one of the longest waves in the planet. It is interesting that barely no shark attacks have ever been registered in Namibia.
We keep driving south for around 6 hours to get to Sossusvlei, located in the Namib desert to experience the authentic desert. Located close to there is Big Daddy, the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area, at about 325 meters. It is an intense hike since you are stepping in loose sand all the time, but the view is worth it. The best part though is sliding all the way down. We had the chance to enjoy viewing wild oryx and how well they can adapt to living in such harsh environments, cruise the desert in ATVs and enjoy many sunsets.
After all this stops, it was time to go home after a wonderful time not only discovering an amazing country, but sharing plenty of time with the family. There are not many places you can disconnect so well and find time to solve very un-important problems and create a few more!.
Be sure that the next time you go hunting to Namibia, to save some time to do a bit more than just hunting, and if you can, bring the family along.
Pedro De Ampuero