Spitzkoppe, Palmwag and Kunene River Lodge

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We left the thriving metropolis of Swakopmond, eager to head back into the bundu’s and our comfort zone. Spitzkoppe provided some of the most breath taking views I have ever seen. Setting up camp right at the base of Spitzkoppe, climbing Sugarloaf, sleeping under the stars and drinking brandy, while taking star trek photos were some of the highlights. On the other hand, the hurricane of a wind that hit us on both nights, left us wind and dust swept on both occasions.

At Twyfelfontein we witnessed some of the oldest rock art in Africa, dating back 6 000 years, before heading to Palmwag, – the puncture capital of Namibia. The search for the desert elephants proved to be fruitless, as we spent more time on the side of the road fixing tyres! Not many animals in general either, resulted a few frustrating and tiring days.

Back on the road we headed for Ruacana Falls – one of the best birding areas in Namibia. Ruacana Falls is extremely remote and being on the Angolan border there are a number of endemic species to the area. But before we could get there, we had to endure 2 more punctures, resulting in us having no spares left and plugging our last good tyre at the one and only petrol station in Ruacana. Thanks to a fellow traveller “Frosty” and a local who helped us before we headed off for the remote birding paradise of Kunene River Lodge.

A short morning walk through Kunene River Lodge provided a few lifers, and the owner, Pete – being and avid birder – was more than happy to help us find some of the species the area is renowned for. Maps drawn with his big toe in the sand, where the only clues we had – we let our instinct take over from there. Up the river, over the waterfall towards the big fig tree and there they were – the tiny, stunning Cinderella Waxbills, or Cindy’s to the locals! An enormous feather in our caps and an immense tick for our life lists.

After a bit of research, we discovered we weren’t too far from the area in which the elusive Angola Cave Chat lives. A bird only discovered 5 years ago in Southern Africa and only seen by 377 people to date. After a chat (excuse the pun) to Pete – he just gave us a big sigh and said the birds had been acting strangely in recent visits which had been unsuccessful, and together with the fact that they live in the remote and inaccessible Zebra Mountain, the odds were heavily stacked against us. Not what we wanted to hear – but our Wild Boys constitution took over. We must apply rule number 2, “Back Yourself” and become the 378th and 379th people to see the Chat.

A brief background to the Zebra Mountains makes one understand why these birds are so difficult to find. The Zebra Mountains (named from the lines of vegetation and black rock, which result in the mountains having zebra stripes when the winter) are a 40km by 40km square mountain range with no way through – according to Pete no white, black or pink man has ever been to the middle, because if you fall and break your leg in the mountains your bones will lie there forever. In addition, there is thick dense vegetation all around the base of the mountains making them mysterious to all.

The following morning we woke at 4 am buzzing with excitement. We drove for 2.5 hours in the dark on a 2 track, the nerves were evident as we all sat and prepared to find the elusive Chat – a dream we had lived for many years. The moment was here and couldn’t allow the occasion to get the better of us. We arrived at the amazing Zebra Mountains shortly before sunrise, carefully hopped out the car, clicked our doors (to ensure that we didn’t disturb any birds that may be around) and began to execute the plan we had detailed on the journey to the mountains. When Pete began putting on shoes – I knew the significance of the moment. There was no room for error. We circled to the right, listening, scanning, all our senses on edge. After only a few minutes we heard the majestic sound we so dearly wanted and needed to hear, the call of the Angola Cave Chat – but where the hell was he!

Pete suggested we climb up the hill and sit near a vegetation line and wait from him to come to us. Willingly we trotted up the mountain, struggling to keep up the pace with Pete “the klipspringer”, who although more than double my age, leaping from rock to rock with the grace of an African Pitta. We sat backs together to ensure we covered all directions and finally Pete whispered, “There he is”! I turned around as smoothly as I possibly could and there he sat! One of the most beautiful birds I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. We were in awe. After this beaut saw us he dashed for cover, so we decided to move spots and selected what we thought was the perfect place. We staked out there for a while, and again we had the honour of witnessing an even more friendly Chat, who sat and let us take photos while he sang and danced on the rock right in front of our wide eyes and beaming smiles.

We descended the mountain carefully, before having a Sherry ceremony to celebrate the magnitude of the occasion! An occasion that none of us will ever forget and will cherish forever!

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