December 10, 2013

Kalahari Safari Memories

BY Linda Worthington

Blazing bright sunlight and cool, dim rooms; rust red sand and snowy white sheets; sun-seared grasses and gourmet meals: such are the fascinating paradoxes of a safari in Namibia!

When my husband Tom and I decided to return to Africa, we chose Namibia, for our 1999 destination and Joof Lamprecht as Professional Hunter. We had read articles about Joof and also by him and were favorably impressed by both. At the SCI Convention in 1997, we met with Joof and his wife, Marina at their Hunters Namibia booth. Together, they own the Rooikraal Ranch outside of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

We made preliminary arrangements and, when we again met with them at the 1998 Convention, we finalized our plans. We booked our flights through Steve Turner of Gracy Travel, in San Antonio, Texas.

We are met at the airport in Windhoek by the Lamprechts. We are driven through golden grasslands, past herds of kudu and passing parades of ostrich and giraffe, to the ranch.

Tom’s weapon is a pre ’64 Winchester model 70 in .338 Winchester Magnum, using 250 grain Nosler partition bullets. Joof highly recommends this combination for hunting the area. When sighting in, Tom finds that it shoots an amazing 3 inches higher at this altitude – 5,000 feet – than at the same distance at home in Maryland, at 1600 feet!

In the course of his hunting Tom takes two jackals, thus ridding the area of much-scorned predators of baby animals and, at Joof’s request, also culls two old oryx bulls, sparing them slow death and providing meat for the Lodge and the staff. In addition, he culls an ancient kudu with a broken horn, who is unable to compete for the favors of the cows and who has been driven out of the herd.

At every turn we add to our list of animals seen, with wart hogs, meercats, duiker, springbok, spring hare, eland, blesbok, hartebeest, impala and Burchell’s zebra. The journal that I keep is filling fast, with new wonders. In the late afternoon the second day, just as the light is fading, while stalking a particularly elusive trophy oryx, Joof’s keen eyes spot a big Hartmann’s mountain zebra stallion on the rocky top of a small hill. Tom takes him with a well placed shot and he is loaded into the Toyota Land Cruiser, faithful workhorse of the ranch.

Early in the morning of our third day, Johnny, the eagle eyed tracker, spots an excellent red hartebeest bull at a distance. After a good stalk, Tom takes him cleanly and we admire this exotic trophy, with his long narrow face and black markings and his back-curving horns. He is an exceptional specimen of his species and Tom is very pleased.

I am able to accompany Tom each day, to photograph the hunts and the countryside. The hunting involves some long hikes, but the terrain is quite flat and soft and much easier to navigate than our rolling rocky countryside at home. We are usually joined by Gina, the yellow Labrador, who is the Tracking Dog, in case of a wounded animal She is not needed in that role, but she loves the hunt, riding with her elbows on the rollbar, nose into the wind.

In the afternoon of our 4th day Tom and Joof stalk a grand oryx bull which had eluded them during the morning hunt. Amazingly, they have found him again, traveling with his cows and, after a careful stalk, Tom takes him with a long, difficult shot. He is a wonderful trophy and dinner is a celebration of the hunter and his fine prize, with Tom wearing his red suspenders, his icon of success!

The next morning we drive into the hills behind the ranch, a beautiful area of rock cliffs and little valleys, deep soft grass and dusky green thornbush. Kudu bulls and their cows watch us from the heights and glum hyrax sun themselves on boulders. Herds of eland and oryx are everywhere and giraffe loom among the branches of the trees. During the evening hunt, Tom is presented with a fine old blesbok bull, stalked and taken just as the last light is fading: another festive dinner!

Driving the tracks that interlace the many miles of Joof’s vast, privately owned area, we see so many animals and birds that each day we are dazzled and delighted. This area is known as camel thorn Kalahari, being in the Kalahari desert, but thickly populated with acacia trees and many low thorn bushes, all designed to thrive in this environment and offering a rich variety of foods to the wild inhabitants. The soil is red sand and gravel, covered with tall, soft grass and there are rocky hills and distant mountains. It is beautiful and varied and surprising – not at all the flat, dry wasteland that the word desert evokes in our minds.

Perhaps the most astounding animal we see is an aardwolf, a very rare and elusive creature, usually nocturnal and almost never seen at all. We even find a chameleon, that strange and marvelous large lizard with the independently articulated eyes. The bird life of Southern Africa is legendary and here are hornbills, rollers, hoopoes, secretary birds, kori bustards, several species of falcon, fork tailed drongos, countless unidentified species and, of course, those stately ostriches. The grandest bird of all that we see is surely the Eagle Owl, with a wingspan that makes us gasp – a sight we will not forget!

The Lodge is a beautiful, rambling building of red and gray native stone with softly swelling thatched roofs, set in lawns of rich green and nestling among palms and flowering bushes. It is welcoming and lovely. Marina’s exquisite touches are everywhere, in the fine artwork and furnishings, the tiny, perfect arrangements of feathers and porcupine quills in miniature baskets, in the lush, thick towels in our bathroom and in the superb cuisine served at each day’s meals.

Breakfast is always eaten in the dining room, with a choice of eggs, any style, cereal, fruit, juices and excellent coffee or tea. We are awakened each morning with a pot of that hot coffee, welcome indeed!

Each evening at Rooikraal begins with drinks by the fire pit in the yard, followed by dinner in the formal dining room, elegantly served and accompanied by fine South African wines for those who wish to try them. Every course of every meal brings new delights and new requests for the recipes! The meat from Tom’s hunting is prepared to perfection and served with fresh vegetables, salads and spectacular desserts. Fortunately, we walk enough each day to offset these evening pleasures!

Each night of our stay there, we find soft lanterns lighting our way up the stairs to our room, which opens onto a balcony at the side of the lodge, and little snacks beside our beds. As the nights grow colder, this being winter in the southern hemisphere, there is a fire in the stone corner fireplace. The Lamprecht’s living quarters are in the central section of the lodge, separate and apart from the visitors’ quarters, but the feeling is very much of being guests in a loved and loving home.

We dress for each day’s hunting in dull greens, to blend more effectively with the dark green leaves of the thornbush and trees. We wear light hiking boots and hats and sunscreen, as even in the winter, the air is absolutely pure and the humidity is almost 0, making sunburn a real possibility.

The official language of Namibia is English, but the language on the ranch is Afrikaans, a simplified version of Dutch, developed to facilitate communication between the original settlers and the native population. As we ride on the hunt each day, we begin to understand Johnny’s calls from the back of the truck, eland to the right, kudu ahead, oryx on the left!

Tom decides to pass up the chance for a springbok and take, instead, a trophy kudu. There are many exceptional kudu in this area and the lure of this spectacular trophy is strong. On our 8th day we begin an early hunt in frigid air. After a brilliant stalk with tactics “…Worthy of Stonewall Jackson”, Tom says, utilizing air currents, light and shadow, terrain and the habits of kudu, Joof puts Tom onto a huge bull and, with one perfect shot, the kudu is down! This is the kudu of Tom’s dreams and the photos and videos that take this day reflect his delight and pride and Joof’s pleasure in a job well done by all.

With the kudu taken, the hunting is over for this safari. The trophies are exceptional, the hunts have been thrilling and the entire experience most memorable. We spend the rest of our two weeks in Namibia touring, visiting the western coast, the Namib Desert with its fabulous walking dunes, the charming resort town of Swakopmund and the lovely country around the ranch. For variety there is the sophisticated small city of Windhoek, with excellent shopping and dining available.

We have had an unforgettable safari in this place of paradoxes. We have made new friends and we have seen a part of the world that is beautiful beyond our expectations. Africa is an extraordinary continent and Namibia is a jewel in her crown.

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