What you see above is the sign welcoming visitors to Etosha National Park. Dry and desert-like now, the Etosha region flowed with water about 4,500-5,000 years ago. All that remains is a vast, white pan. Heather and i visited Etosha for the second time in Novmember, 2015. In this post I introduce the land itself and some of the trees and plants. Etosha is reminiscent of a lunar landscape, a harsh beauty, a story of trees, plants, grasses, all manner of insects, reptiles, mammals and birds adapted to living in the desert. I will do several posts about Etosha because of its variety, its muted beauty, and the detail of hidden life become visible at the places where water is pooled.
We did a self-drive tour entering from the Andersson Gate and traveling as far as Halali Camp, visiting 13 waterholes along the way. Only a small portion of Etosha’s 4731 km (2,939 sq miles) is open for human visitors. Welcome to the journey.
All along the way are waterholes which with its own name. The waterholes attract the animals and birds especially during the dry season. The water comes from rainfall and a few are fed from underground springs. On rare occasions when there is copious rainfall, flooding from Ekuma and Oshigambo rivers flows into Etosha.
A unique feature of Etosha is the white pan. It is what is left of the very large lake which existed here thousands of years ago. The crumbly white substance is composed of clay, salts, calcium, and sulphate. The word “Etosha” means a huge, white expanse – a sun shimmering emptiness within which clouds glide.
There are at least 696 plant species in Etosha of which 127 are grasses. When you look at a horizon such as this you are seeing all kinds of grasses and small bushes and countless hidden life – small mammals, insects, reptiles. Etosha is not lifeless – it is full of life which you might miss if you just drive by without paying attention. Can you find the crow here? You can be sure he is paying attention – reading every detail of the field as though it were a menu.
Click on “Etosha Panoramic” then click on the link which appears below to view what it’s like to stand and let your gaze wander as far as it can go and still the horizon seems to go on forever. All is limitless, solitary, silent, save for the sound of the wind (and a few camera clicks and zooms)
This tree is named “umbrella thorn” – one of many kinds of acacias in Namibia. It appears in countless photographs of the African plains. For the animals, such as the springbok in the foreground, the umbrella tree is more of a parasol. On very hot afternoons you will see a crowd of springbok standing under these trees sharing the shade.
Dried thorn bush – think of what fierce protection this bush grows for itself and below inspect the closeup of thorns such as these that got stuck in the sole of my shoe.
The Mopane tree is so named for the caterpillars which cocoon themselves in its branches. Mopane worms are considered a delicacy in Namibia. Sort of like barbecued crunchies. In Etosha, Mopane trees abound near Halali Camp. You can conclude that there is water underground where you see these trees growing.
If you get up close, the leaves of the Mopane are easily recognizable. Each leaf resembles a pair of green wings.
Here is a little grove of Mopane trees. Can you identify the animal under the tree in the back on the left?
This tree is a mystery. I consulted guides to Namibian trees both books and on-line. It may be a worm-cure albizia. In days gone by the bark from this tree was made into a remedy for tapeworm. Its seeds are high in protein and are important to the plant eaters of Etosha. If you recognize this tree, let me know if I am correct or not.
Here is another view of this tree fanning out under the sky
And I think this is the same tree displaying its pods.
trumpet thorn – this brief video shows the flowers of the trumpet thorn blowing in the wind. Just watching them put me in touch with how delicate the blossoms were, and how brave they were – facing the wind to share their seeds – trembling with the hope of life. Click on trumpet thorn, then on the link which appears.
There are beautiful rock structures in the Halali Camp area.
Here is a close up of this rock. Look at the horizontal striations in the stones and imagine them filled with water as they were long ago. Extreme pressure and heat “squeezed” the water out – the striations are also the “memory of water.”
Nestled in a little hollow of this stone I found this russet bushwillow pod. At least I think that’s what it is?
Did humans ever live on the Etosha plains? Yes, the earliest of peoples, hunters and gathers, the Hai//om. I read a book while I was in Etosha entitled Etosha:
Hai//om Heartland by Reinhard Friederich who was born in the Etosha area and grew up with the Hai//om who are associated with the Bushmen groups. The Hai//om were evicted (1950) from the park on trumped up charges that they were causing the game to go extinct. These people lived in harmony with the environment for thousands of years. These people suffer and continue to suiffer the fate of indigenous peoples all over the world who have been ousted from their homelands by conquering colonizers.
We took with us a little piece of the Etosha pan. When I arranged it in this pinch pot, I thought to myself, this resembles the continent of Africa. My next post will be entitled “Lunching on Leaves and Grasses.” Stay tuned! And watch this closing video of The Memory of Water.
memory of water- watch the video of wind moving light and shadow over stone. I call it The Memory of Water. The water you hear in the video is from the nearby water hole.