Monday, April 25, 2016

Namibia: Hoanib Game Drive and 5 Musketeers

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Sesriem Canyon And Scenic Flight, Swakopmund Sandboarding, Walvis Bay Dune & Sea Tour, Doro Nawas Camp, Damarland Sites, Damaraland Living Village Song, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, The Skeleton Coast

Our last full day in camp was AMAZING! We had so much luck on both our game drives. Our friends from CNN were heading off to the Skeleton Coast to film for Inside Africa while Papa G gave us two incredible game drives.

On the morning drive we were joined by the NY newlyweds, Peter and Gen, for their final game drive in camp. We had gotten to know them pretty well and the night before we had to illegally leave our tents at night to trade mismatched laundry baskets (camps do your laundry).

Within the first fifteen minutes Papa G made Gen's safari dream of seeing a brown hyena. These are less-common than the spotted hyenas and they often travel solo vs. in packs. Seeing one active in the morning was supposedly very rare. We watched as he climbed down the sandy riverbank, into the woods, then over to the remains of the elephant named Papa G. The elephants were all named after camp guides and the story was Papa G (the elephant) was pushed over the dry riverbank by Charlie or Alfred (other elephants). We sat and watched him gnaw on some of the 4 month old remains. The hyena was very skittish whenever other jeeps rolled by.

Giraffes and general game were plentiful this morning, including a baby giraffe.

This is one of our favorite pictures from the trip. It was incredible to be able to sit on the top of the ridge and take in so much scenery.

All this would have made it a great day, but then we come across one of the lionesses. Quick story: there are about 70-80 desert adapted lions. The most famous are the 5 Musketeers - 5 males born approximately at the same time to 3 lionesses. We saw one of the lady lions the day before (the pregnant one) and today we came across the second one (third one died).

A few minutes later we found a cheetah. He/she had just killed a springbok and dragged it to a shady place under a shrub. We had just missed all the action - the cheetah was noticeably tired. What made the scene even more bizarre was the oryx just standing around. I guess it felt safe since the cheetah all ready had its dinner.

Yet another pretty background

Peter and Gen were taken straight to the airstrip instead of going back to camp (a Papa G signature move). We saw their plane off and went back to camp for a swim, lunch, and some downtime. Dr. Filip's research jeep was in camp so Papa G grabbed the last known location of the 5 Musketeers for our afternoon quest.

Holly and I were the only guests with Papa G on the afternoon drive and we were warned we were going far and may not see much game, or the lions. Ok with us. We were in parts of the camp area we hadn't seen yet. Our first notable encounter with wildlife was a group of elephants grazing in a grassy area by some volcanic rock mountains. We enjoyed seeing the elephants against the mountains and how it seemed to dwarf them a bit.

After a while it got to the point of "where the hell are we?". We drove around the rockiest terrain we had ever seen. The lions were last seen at maybe 12 km from camp and we were now 16 clicks out. No wildlife but amazing scenery.

We called it quits. The lions must have moved farther. Within 5 minutes of throwing in the towel, Holly sees a form under a bush and says "lion". All 5 of them were finishing up their naps. One lion was awake and started nudging the others. They started yawning and the got up one at a time.

We were both sticking our heads through the pop-up roof and had no time to grab the video camera. Dave did get some film on the DSLR. As they each passed our car they started climbing the small hill just to our left. The last lion took a moment to lie down and pose for us.

Once #5 got up we drove off a bit to try to see them over the next ridge. We caught them coming up another hill then watched them form a long line crossing a clearing.

Now for the best part - the ride home. Darkness was coming quickly and we were far from camp. This is when Papa G told us the radios don't work this far away and he's only been to this part of camp twice. At one point he got out of the car and ran ahead to look for landmarks. He felt safe since we knew we were a klick or two ahead of the lion. About ten minutes later he asked if we wanted bathroom breaks, we said no, but then he told us this was our last chance.... Eventually we made it to camp, and dinner was starting late tonight anyway! We had a fantastic dinner and enjoyed our last night in camp.
The next morning we took a quick nature walk with Papa G, then boarded our flight north up to Serra Cafema Camp on the Kunene River and Angola border.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Bataan Death March Race Report

State number 34! Here's Holly's recap of the 2016 Bataan Death March in New Mexico.

I have been intrigued/scared of this marathon for years. My friends MaryJean and Rhonda did it a few years back and it looked awesome, but also brutally difficult. I still wanted to do it and after some reassurance by MaryJean I decided to do it this year. For those that don’t know, the Bataan Death March is done every year at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It is held to honor the soldiers who were forced to do this march in the Philippines by Japanese solders during WWII. It was a brutal march with many of the soldiers not making it to the end. Those who did survive the march were then POW’s for the next three years under horrible conditions. I read the book Hell’s Guest to learn more about what these men went through and it was a very powerful read. I knew my march would be challenging, but it would be nothing compared to what they went through so I promised myself that I would do no complaining.

We flew in to El Paso on Saturday morning and made our way north to the Missile Range. We had to go through security before we could get on base, which for us only took about 5-10 minutes. Later in the day others would wait up to an hour. The expo was easy to navigate and you picked up your bib, shirt, participation certificate and dog tag medal. I tried to talk some of my other running friends into participating in this one but they couldn’t make it work with their schedules this year. I didn’t want to wait another year, as I wanted to try and hear and see some of the survivors of the march. They unfortunately aren’t getting any younger. There were 11 survivors at the march this year. That afternoon they all were giving talks on their experiences. We got to hear Oscar Leonard speak and it was amazing to hear the detail he remembered of his service. He is 96 years old!

After the talk we headed to our hotel in Las Cruces. We hit a local brewery (Bosque - which was really a taproom extension of the Albuquerque brewer), where I had my one and only beer of the day. I was guzzling water because I was worried about dehydration since we were at altitude and I would be marching through the desert with no shade. We ended up at Olive Garden for dinner, not the best choice, but it seems like Italian west of the Mississippi is a challenge.

The next morning we would make the half-hour drive to the base and would once again have to go through security. I was worried about the line of cars and they said we should arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 am. We got there at 4:30 and had a short wait so now had a long wait in the car for the march to start at 7. I was able to sleep in the car for an hour, but Dave was not able to fall back asleep. Dave is really a saint for putting up with this craziness. In hindsight, I should have just driven myself. There was no spectating for this race, only the start and the finish. We finally left the warm car and made our way to the start area for the opening ceremonies. It was quite chilly at the start, but I knew once the sun came up it would warm up quickly. The ceremony was quite moving and I cried a few times. We had a helicopter with an American flag flying out the bay fly overhead and it was quite the sight.

There are several divisions for this march. I was marching in Civilian Light. This means that I am a civilian and I was not marching with the minimum 35 lb. pack. We were the first to start followed by the Military Light and then the Civilian Heavy and Military Heavy. The survivors were at the start line and I stopped to shake several of their hands as I passed by the start. I said goodbye to Dave and then started to do my normal run/walk routine. It was difficult since this is more of a hike, so I took my time and didn’t bother to weave around people. I wanted to be respectful and eventually space would open for me to run. There were quite a few of us running and it is allowed. The course is a combination of asphalt; semi packed sand and totally unpacked sand. The sand could be quite difficult at times but not as bad as I expected. Parts were really deep and you could not run. I was afraid of rolling an ankle. The aid stations were plentiful and all were great. They had water, Gatorade, bananas and oranges. There were medical personnel to help you with blisters as well.

I was able to run the first 8 miles or so. Then we hit a deep sand area and I was forced to walk. We then hit the asphalt road again and I was able to run until mile 9. Miles 10-14 were uphill. A HUGE hill. However I did not complain. I was hiking up the hill with soldiers with huge packs on their backs and some with prosthetics. This was extremely inspiring and I just kept on going as fast as I could. Once at the top they had an aid station where you could buy hamburgers and hot dogs. I skipped that and started the fun of going downhill. It was sandy but you could make up time by running.


I was feeling good and thankfully it was not a super warm day. We then made it back closer to base and the infamous sand pit was coming up. This is a mile long stretch of deeper sand. I met another gentleman at this point and we chatted during this section so it made it go faster. Soon I was done with that and just had a few miles to go. I was able to do my run/walk again and I finished strong. The survivors were there again at the finish and I stopped to thank them again for their service. I saw Dave and we went to get some food. They had a nice set up with burgers, brats and beer. It tasted great. This was a truly wonderful event and I’m so glad I got to do it. I had fun on what is definitely the hardest course I have ever done. I’m honored to have been able to do this along side so many inspiring people and to have met the survivors of Bataan.

Dave's Comments

While Holly was running I drove 90 minutes one-way to look at rocks. Petroglyphs to be exact at the Three Rivers National Site. Over 21,000 pieces of cave art have been found here. Beautiful area with great views of the entire valley. Lots of interesting examples of cave art. Personally I enjoyed the art in Namibia better. These petroglyphs were Picassoesque, and the ones at Twyfelfontein were a little more straight-forward depictions and better preserved.


After visiting the park I made a quick stop for ice cream at McGinn's Pistachio Ranch where they have the largest statue of a pistachio in the world. Yeah, not that thrilling but the ice cream was good. I also made a very fast stop at the White Sands National Monument. Timing was tight so I only went to the first viewing area to look at white sand. Based on websites I missed the good stuff. But on a plus side, I got to see my first live road runner.


Lunch was at The Game Sports Bar where they had a decent craft beer menu. Afterwards we visited Spotted Dog, a great brewery in Nearby Mesilla.