Small Bushmen and Big Cats

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Namibia  ,
Saturday, November 18, 2006

He Said:

Heading into the northern Namibian heartland we drove to visit a tribe of San Bushmen. Prior to this trip Katie and I had the impression that there were still isolated pockets of people in Africa that lived by traditional ways and ancient customs. The San were supposed to be one of these groups. Well...when we arrived at the edge of the village we saw a number of very short adults and young kids walking around in western-style clothes (mostly knee-length shorts and t-shirts) whom began walking quickly towards their huts as soon as they saw us. One man stayed behind to greet us and let us know that the "bushwalk" would start in a few minutes. About fifteen minutes later a group of people came walking out in loincloths and other animal skin clothing some with bows, arrows and traditional axes. The women were all topless, most with small infants tied to their backs. Anyway the bushwalk was fascinating. We were led through the scrubby brush by the troupe of Bushmen and shown a huge variety of edible and medicinal plants. They showed us how to light fires by rubbing sticks together, set snares, and create jewelry from plants and ostrich eggs. I guess our arrival was a bit earlier than they expected and we caught the "actors" before they were "in costume"!

We camped near the San village and in the early evening had a traditional dance performance by the Bushmen that involved a very interesting performance of "booty shaking" which I will leave it to Katie to fully explain in her trademark way!

Early the next morning we headed further west into the province of Damaraland. After a very dusty drive all day on dirt roads we arrived at the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park. This place was founded by a family of ranchers who took it upon themselves to provide a place to relocate cheetahs who would have otherwise been shot by farmers for killing their sheep and cattle. They pay other farmers to let them capture problem cats instead of them just getting shot, and fund their operation through tourism and running a campground on their site. Now they have over twenty cats, most of which live wild in a huge fenced area, but they also have a few which are tame and live in an enclosure around their home.

Our first evening there we saw them feed the wild cheetahs, which was amazing! After driving through the enclosure for about ten minutes in the back of a truck with two garbage cans full of donkey meat, we stopped in the middle of a large field. Before we knew it, cheetahs started appearing out of the bush all around us! The two men that drove us then proceeded to get out of the truck and tow the can of meat into the center of a circle of the cats, which looked completely crazy! (see photo) It was really interesting to see how these normally solitary animals interacted together. Leave it to say there was lots of purring, growling, chirping and other sounds I didn't think that cats could make. Take a look at the short video we posted. The next afternoon we went into a nearby enclosure with the tame cats. Really neat and humbling experience! Got to pet a few cats and pose for photos up close and personal. Interestingly enough, they said if you are allergic to housecats then you will be allergic to cheetahs as well! My allegeries didn't act up though!

Cheetahs are such beautiful and majestic animals. It is a shame that in order for them to survive in the contemporary world alongside livestock ranches that they have to be put into fenced areas, but I guess its just one more price to pay to bring a nation into the modern world. We in the USA certainly don't have that great of a record either for preserving wildlife in their natural habitat. I'm just glad that these ranchers took it upon themselves to do what they could. Thanks to them, almost two-dozen cats that would otherwise be dead are alive and well.

She Said:

The night before we went to see the Bushmen, we stayed at a really nice campsite (cute bar and restaurant, nice pool, great bathrooms) about an hour away from the Bushmen village. We met a guy there about our age from New Jersey who was guiding a couple in their mid 70s (also from Jersey...we figured this out from about 20 ft away because we could hear those native Jersey accents!) around Southern Africa. Anyway, we had a nice time chatting with him and hearing all the stories about his "rugged" experiences in Africa over the last several years. He ended up coming to our campsite to hang out with our group and get a break from the Senior tour. A very tame eland (member of the antelope family about the size of a horse with straight, pointy antlers) walked up to our campsite and started poking its nose in the crates of food. Todd and I and many others in our group walked right up to it and started shooing it away like it was just a common everyday occurrence. Just then, we looked over and the rough and tough guide from New Jersey was hiding under our table. He was scared and stayed under there until the eland left the area! You can imagine the jokes we made about him once he left!

The next day we went to rough it with the Bushmen, which I was NOT looking forward to because I'm not really a fan of bush camping (which really just means no facilities, and I am a fan of showers, sinks and toilets). The village felt like it was in the middle of a desert, and the sand was really HOT to walk on. We got there around 10 am, and it was already in the 90s, and we were all sweating like crazy and trying to conserve water. I was having all sorts of thoughts, which I will share with you now in no particular order so you can understand my mindset:
-Why are we camping here in the desert when there is a really nice campsite about an hour away with a pool?
-This sucks.
-It's really hot.
-My feet are dirty.
-I wish I hadn't used all of those Olay Daily Facial Wet Wipes already, as they would really come in handy here.
-Is a women Bushmen a Bushwoman?
-The Bushwomen's boobs look like udders.
-You are going to make us do a "bushwalk" now for 2 hours? In this heat?
-Aren't there snakes and scorpions here?

Needless to say, I went on the bushwalk because it was too hot to just stay in one place and I am also a firm believer in the whole "safety in numbers" philosophy. Todd thought it was really neat watching them dig up roots and explain their different uses. I would have probably rather spent the time doing dishes or plucking my eyebrows. After the walk was over, we set up camp and spent the entire afternoon trying to stay hydrated and as still as possible in a tiny little strip of shade. Our big festivity for the evening was supposed to be a big traditional dance performance by the whole tribe around our campfire. Much to our surprise, the dancing lasted about 6 minutes, comprised almost entirely of one guy wearing a g-string style loincloth with two feathers in his butt crack shaking his booty. He had such good muscle control that the feathers actually opened and closed in a clapping motion. The rest of the tribe just stood in a line and sang the same song over and over again. And then they were gone. And that was our whole bush camping experience! Hopefully you can detect my sarcasm here...this is the only thing we have done on this entire trip over the last 4 months that I would NOT recommend!! It is better in hindsight than during the actual experience.

The next day, we were off to the cheetah reserve, which was AMAZING!!! After seeing so much big game on this trip, the only thing that could top it is to see a bunch of carnivorous cats ripping apart animal parts five feet from where you are standing. When you see them all interacting, it is a lot like watching our dog to the local dog park running around in a pack with the other dogs. And visiting the tame cheetahs was really thrilling! It is easy to get lulled into thinking that they are really just big house cats because they like to be petted, they purr, and their leg kicks like a dog when you scratch their stomach. But at any moment, they could switch into their other, more lethal personality, which definitely keeps you on the edge the whole time! Check out our pics.
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