We pull in the road to El Dorado and it opens up into a parking area in front of a large and really nice looking building. Soft yellow lighting and nice landscaping. What have we found here?
We park Belinda and stroll through the front doors into a kind of swanky foyer and a bar area. There are pictures of cheetahs and a sign that says El Dorado Cheetah Conservancy. Huh, look at that. Also a lot of pictures of poaching atrocities.
There’s a woman behind the bar with a mini fro and dark freckles who eyes us up on entry and asks, “How can I help you guys?”, “We’re looking for a camp”, “Yep, we’ve got lots of camps. Are you in a truck?”, “Yes we are”, “Ok, well take your pick around the side. It’s 660”, “Perfect”, reach in our pockets and pile bills on the table. “Well, almost perfect”, I’m counting things up and we’ve only got 580 and change. “Ahhh you don’t happen to have Friday discounts?”, she smiles, “How much have you got?”, “580 and some coins..?” She takes a second and looks us in the eyes. “You can put this change in the cheetah conservancy tin and I’ll give you a discount, how about that?”, “Alright! Thank you so much. We’ll scrounge around the truck and see what we can find too”, “It’s fine, it’s fine. Just out on your left, pull in and take whichever spot you’d like.”
We drive into the camping area and there is barely anyone in here. Maybe two other camps, but the place is so spread out we basically get a massive area to ourselves. It’s sweet too, maybe our best set up yet. Right next to a fence out to the wilderness, a nice stone braai, and hook-ups for water and electricity.
We step out of the truck still pumped from our day in Etosha. Animals everywhere. Incredible. Get things set up and start a fire. “What is that sound?”, “There’s a dog chewing a bone over here.” Then comes another sound but way crazier. It’s a guttural roar that splits the darkness. “What the hell is that?”, “Seriously. What makes that fucking sound?”, “Must be close. And huge”, “Can’t be the cheetahs”, “No way. Much bigger than cheetahs.” We wait in silence but it doesn’t happen again. “Well I don’t know about you guys, but I’m freaked the hell out”, “Yeah jeeezuz, this fence better be strong”, “Maybe a drink will take the edge off.”
This gin we found is excellent. Slightly citrusy and num num nummery
We get the braai stoked and put together a dinner highlight reel of all our camp leftovers. The stew is still amazing from a few days ago. Springbok skewers and some lamb still too. It works out great. We finally run out of the green sauce from Fairview. Love that stuff
We kick back with drinks and take it in. Pleasant night. I like how cool it gets in the evenings, perfect comfy hoody weather. “Wow, that moon is bright”, “Is the blood moon actually happening this morning? We should get up for it”, “Whoa is that a cloud?”, “No, thaaaaat looks like an eclipse”, “There’s an eclipse?”, “So is Mars in alignment with the moon or something? Is that why there’s a blood moon happening?”, “It sure looks like it”, “Lunar eclipse? Tonight?”
And so a completely unexpected total lunar eclipse of a blood moon happens right before our eyes.
Namibia was already the front runner for best star viewing I’ve ever seen. When the moon goes dark the number of visible stars is absolutely insane. The Milky Way looks like a rainbow all the way across the sky. Horizon to horizon. Crazy. It pops out like a black light just hit it. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Peter rushes to get his camera set up on the tripod and captures some night sky magic
“Well this blows Joshua Tree out of the water”, “They don’t have cheetahs in J-Tree?”, “The stars you doof”, “I know, I know.”
“Raaaaarrrrrrggggkkkkkaaaaarrggggg!!” comes that terrifying sound again. “What is this, fucking Jurassic Park?!”, “Ok, that sounds closer now”, “I think it’s a T-rex. There’s definitely a T-rex in here”, “They only raise cheetahs to feed their T-rex”, “What the hell is that?”, “Let’s go check it out”, “Are you serious?”, “Yeah, he’s serious”, “Let me get a roadie.”
We mix some gins, grab our knives, and make our way towards the direction the sound came from. We hear it again and everyone startles to a stop. “What the hell?”, I realize we’re all still in whisper mode, “Why are we still whispering?”, “What?”, “We’ve been whispering all day watching animals. We’re still whispering. Why?”, “Yeah we don’t need to”, “What?”, “We don’t need to whisper any more”, “Then why are you whispering?”, “Damnit”, “Hey, there’s a car coming.”
Oh yeah, there are car lights blinking through the trees down the road. Guess we’ll wait and see who it is.
A sweet white off-road fitted truck comes up to the front building and a stocky older guy gets out. He immediately comes over to say hi. He’s an off-duty policeman setting up road blocks for poachers. “Yep, terrible problem. And they’ve got two rhinos in here so we put them on the rounds”, “There are two rhinos here?”, “Uh-huhn, 2 rhinos, 4 cheetahs, caracals, hyenas, 3 lions… and the owner’s wife” he winks at us and guffaws. “So is that roaring sound the lions then?”, “No, no” <…dramatic pause…> “That’s the owner’s wife”, he slaps his knee and now we’re the ones roaring.
“Yep. You can hear the lion’s roar from up to 5 miles away”, “Five miles?!”, “Oh yeah. Feel free to walk around. You might see them. Careful though, that’s an electric fence.” The burly ol’ copper goes inside and we can hear the uproar of him meeting up with a friend inside. Another funny character.
We take a walk around the complex in an effort to spot the lions at night. There’s a super nice outdoor lounge area and another bar. Nice chalets too and a pool. This is a bad ass place we’ve stumbled on. We poke around but don’t know if there are actually people in the chalets or what and feel awkward sneaking around with our gins in the dark.
We head back to camp with the occasional roar to freak us out every once in a while. “How is that so loud?”, “That’s totally lion sex though, right? It has to be”, “It sounds crazy close now. Just waiting for it to come around the corner.” In perfect sitcom timing we hear the laughing of a hyena from another direction and then some other unidentifiable sound. “Great. That’s great. We’re surrounded.”
We chill by the fire under the magnificent stars with another round listening to all the whacky sounds. Peter wins fart chair roulette. What a killer day. Etosha definitely exceeded expectations already and we’ve still got another day to drive through the majority of it. Namibia is quickly becoming one of my favorite places. A variety of stunning landscapes, the exotic meats, the incredibly friendly people, a plethora of wild animals. It’s got everything.
Time to wind things down in prep for another early start. We’ve seen the sunrise every day since we got the truck.
“Guys check this out!” while getting his bunk ready Jamie has found a secret compartment. ‘Oh sweet! Now we have a place to hide our drugs when we cross into Botswana!”