Dreams coming true

After having 'worked' for the Weakleys, it was time for our final activity in Namibia. We wanted to leave with a BANG! It would be a very expensive trip (for us), but since we had saved some money by working for the Weakleys, we had sufficiently increased our budget surplus to be able to afford this. 

There is one animal we had been searching for in Namibia. We have seen spotted and striped (although briefly) hyenas in Kenya, but there is a type of hyena that does not live in East Africa, the brown hyena. This hyena, very well adapted to the desert, can be seen almost all around Namibia. Along the coast, on the beaches and in the dunes of the desert. We had been unlucky so far, but there was one last trump card we knew we still had to play, Okonjima. 

Okonjima is a game reserve that is home to Africat, a trust that is founded to research and protect some of the larger carnivores in Namibia. Among them are the brown hyena and the leopards. Since we had not seen brown hyenas and leopards are always on our wish list, we had decided to make this our final highlight in Namibia. The lodge is very expensive though and so are the activities. We had booked a campsite, but the communication prior to our arrival was not the best. Reviews of the campsite on iOverlander were not great either. We were very skeptical and actually almost didn't want to go. We are SO happy that we did go. 

This trip was worth every cent for us. At our arrival, we were greeted with a home made iced tea. The main area of the lodge was large and some of the best we had seen during our trip. The main lodge area is where most activities start and where they can be booked. This turned out to be our home for the next two days. 

We arrived at Okonjima around 3 PM and the first activity would start around 4 PM. We had something to drink and enjoyed a snack. We have become VERY picky when it comes to arranged game drives. Having been on many game drives before, we have learned much from the guides, both when it comes to animals and when it comes to guiding. We can quickly identify great guides from decent guides and decent guides from plain drivers. Add to that our specific wishes (BROWN HYENA) and we were very quickly known by the entire guiding team. 

Upon arrival, we were asked which activity we wanted to attend. We told the main server we wanted to see the brown hyena, and he immediately called for the head guide. When we told the head guide we wanted to see the brown hyena we immediately received the famous 'Oof, that will be tough. There is never a guarantee, it is always 50/50'. We explained our situation and our experience and that we full well know there is no guarantee when it comes to wildlife. At the same time, we are REALLY spoilt and lucky. Every animal we wanted to see, has so far been a success. We told them we trust in their capabilities and we also wondered that if they are good at their research, wouldn't they know their habits and dens?

All the guides really tried to push us to do the leopard tracking that evening, telling us that the chances for seeing the brown hyena would be best in the morning. We realized that they just wanted to fill up their cars for the leopard tracking and they tried to avoid sending an almost empty car to the hyenas just for us. Despite knowing this, we also got really excited with the opportunity to get close to a leopard, so we agreed. We met our guide and asked which car would be ours. We made sure to be first at the car and put our stuff on the front seat. If we are in a full car, we at least want to have good photography spots. 

The leopard tracking was more than worth it. Just like the lion tracking we had once done in Ol Pejeta, Kenya, the guide used a tracker to locate a specific leopardess. Every time he stopped to check the location, the beeps were louder, proving we were heading in the right direction. When we were close, we suddenly spotted Maji, the leopardess. She is one of the shyest collared leopards, and she immediately ran off. No good pictures (Jeroen messed up the focus), but we had seen her. We left her and went looking for another leopardess. 

Vamos was a little more difficult to find and when we found her, we quickly realized why. Our guide had to go off-road, driving through thick bushes and thorns to get to her. This is the type of off-road that is forbidden in most parks and the type that we would NEVER do with Gigi. While we were wondering how many punctured tires they get on average weekly, we suddenly spotted a kill in the tree. Vamos was lying not far from it and there was only one thing for us to do. Wait until she got up that tree. 

She soon did, and she gave us a real show. Going up the tree, eating from the kill and staring into our eyes from time to time. Fortunatly, we had an American lady who is a part-time commentator. She felt the need to comment on literally EVERYTHING. We had already noticed this earlier, when she replied to everything the guide said, even trying to 'correct' him about wildlife. The typical American ignorance was unbearable and we tried to quietly inform her to decrease the volume. Everyone in the car was obviously just an extra in the movie about her life as she felt the need to tell everyone everything, in the way only Americans know. Just to paint the picture, imagine a car with 9 people, of which 8 are either completely quiet or whispering, enjoying a beautiful sighting, and one person making a video with her own, loud commentary. 'She is now getting up the tree. She is now eating. Can you hear that, you can just hear the bones crushing. She is still eating. Look at that, a cheetah up the tree eating'. Yes, she literally said a cheetah up the tree, on a leopard tracking. Without the commentary, we apparently would not have known what was happening around us. Our memory about Okonjima would not be complete without this 'lady', but one paragraph is more than enough. 

After the game drive, we went back to the lodge to have dinner. After that, we went through our beautiful pictures and then to our campsite. It was already dark and quite late. The campsite was enormous and very well equipped, even with wifi, but we did not take much time enjoying it. We had planned for the hyena tracking the next morning! Since we have a rooftop tent, our guide for the next day, John, picked us up at the campsite. 

The 'endangered species' drive, as it is called, usually consists of trying to find rhinos and maybe some brown hyenas. Since we have seen many rhinos in Kenya already, we asked John if we could focus on the hyenas. When John arrived, he immediately made us happy. He turned up in an empty game vehicle and we did not have to pick up anyone else. We were the only ones in the vehicle, so we had a private excursion. We went straight to a den which is known to have hyenas and we were lucky. Two young brown hyenas were playing around the den. The lighting was terrible though, so we just enjoyed the sights. We spent about an hour, until both had disappeared. One in the den and another in the bushes. We still had some time, so we went to see a male leopard, Mawenzi. We found this huge male leopard with a kill in the bushes and it was an absolute tanker. After having spent some time with him, we went back to the lodge. 

At the lodge we had breakfast, some small snacks for lunch and we cooled off at the pool. In the afternoon, we planned to go on another leopard tracking. We had already been extremely lucky with the hyenas and we were aching for some extra opportunities to photograph another leopard. We made the lodge area our home and around 3:30 PM we were ready to go again. This time we would leave earlier than most, as we had planned to go see a leopardess a little further away. We were not the only people in the car, but the couple that went with us, was super nice. We enjoyed our time in the car with them and together with John, we had a wonderful game drive. On the way to leopardess Lila, John wanted to check in with Neo. Neo is a male leopard with a huge territory, which overlaps a little with Lila's territory. Chances would be slim, but not impossible. To our surprise, Neo's signal was much stronger than Lila's. We drove off-road for 50 meters and there he was, chilling under a tree. We had literally driven past him without noticing. This huge boy was just lying there and after enjoying this sighting, we went for Lila. 

When we found Lila, we did not know we were in for another show. Soon after finding her, she stood up and started calling for her baby. She found a termite mount and decided to make that her view point. There she sat, in golden light, watching over the plains. The sighting could not have been more beautiful. Happy with the sighting (and of course the pictures), we went back to the lodge again. The same recipe: dinner, looking at pictures and heading to the campsite. The next morning we had the same recipe again. We went looking for the hyena den, spent some amazing time with the hyena siblings again and then tried to find another leopard. On the way to the hyenas we spotted Mawenzi again, who hadn't moved much and was still with the kill. 

That morning John was our guide again. After having spent some wonderful time with the hyenas again, this time in much better lighting conditions, we went looking for Khaleesi. She looks as royal as she sounds. Unfortunately for us, she was chilling under a tree, quite a distance from where we could get. The guides in Okonjima go out of their way to get the best sighting, including some serious offroading, but between Khaleesi and us was a ditch even John couldn't pass. We drove back to the road and as we went backwards, we heard a hissing sound we did not want to hear. One of the tires was punctured. Fortunately, John knows very well how to replace a tire and within a minute the car was up on the jack and the spare tire was out. 

What we did not expect, was Khaleesi finding a tire change interesting. When she heard the noise, she stood up and slowly made her way to us. We informed John and he told us 'just tell me if she keeps coming closer'. She did. Within two minutes, she was out of the bush and 10 meters from the car. John quickly got into the car and once again we witnessed one of the leopardesses give away a show. She strutted past us in front of the car and graciously moved away in the grass. John continued changing the tire and before we knew it, we were back at the campsite. We broke up our camp and went to the lodge for breakfast and check-out. We reviewed our time at Okonjima. 6 different leopards (4 female and 2 males), 7 leopard sightings and 2 hyena sightings, both with the same siblings. This was more that we could have hoped for and it was worth every Namibian Dollar. While we were thinking about all the beauty we had seen over breakfast, we saw some animals in the distance. We could not immediately identify them. They were too dark to be oryxes and their horns too long to be hartebeest. Jeroen rushed to the car to get the binoculars. Once back, we realized that these were the most beautiful antelopes, Sable antelopes! Jeroen rushed back to the car again to get the camera (could have been one go) and as Jeroen caught his breath for about half an hour (we really need to exercise again), Emma had the time of her life observing and photographing these beautiful animals. What a beautiful ending to such a memorable trip.

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