It’s finally time, Friday morning I make my way to  O R Tambo International get my boarding pass, go through immigration and find out my boarding gate is basically in Lanseria airport that’s how far it was on the opposite side of the airport! Only to get to the boarding gate my flight is delayed 30 mins – a great start to the holiday.

An obligatory waiting to board passport/ticket photo.

Good flight and nice in-house service had read and some roasted couscous salad. Arrived in Namibia the staff were really friendly and accommodating this time around. A stark contrast from the previous trip swift through with Skye in 2016. Customs was a breeze no major issues and off into the crowded, chaotic and warm terminal

Hello Namibia!

Having no data/sim/airtime I couldn’t get hold of Francois of course not having data, kind taxi driver let me make a quick phone call and said “enjoy your stay in Namibia we’re not like the unfriendly South Africans!” Made me laugh and I suppose he’s quite right. Gave him $20 and met Francois a few minutes later outside the terminal.

Here where he points out that in December 2016 he was bitten by a Black Mamba whilst trying to remove it from a potentially disastrous situation outside the airport. Thankfully he survived and made a full recovery.

We headed to the local cafe I got a sim, airtime and let everyone know I’d eventually made it to Namibia. Back at Francois place we loaded all our equipment in his new bakkie, along with a Black Mamba that was destined for the Swakopmund snake park (remember this fact).
We headed out for Swakopmund a good 4 hour plus drive which with all the stops we’d be expecting would most likely turn out to be a 5 1/2 – 6 hour drive. The roads were relatively busy being . Friday afternoon and the sun was baking – forgot how late the sun sets in Namibia in the Summer months.

After a long drive with little to no reptile activity we arrived in Swakopmund, we struggled to find the place we were staying at, almost broke into someone else flat – Sorry! It was now 11:45pm nowhere was open and had to settle for KFC being vegetarian this is not ideal as hash browns and chips hardly sound like a well-balanced meal, or of a coming home late from a drunken night out.
Regardless we finished our meal and eventually found our accommodation, I always dread unpacking bags, cars, rooms basically everything. We unpack most of our belongings and leave the bag with the Black Mamba for last just to be safe.
OR so I thought, I carefully pick up the bag by the secured cable tied end to feel the horrifying feeling of an empty cotton bag…

 

The cotton bag that once housed a +2.5m Black Mamba was EMPTY!

 

Now having been in transit by this point for almost 13 hours this wasn’t quite my idea of fun. Francois and I gingerly search the vehicle, behind seats, under the dashboard EVERYWHERE you can think. With a hint of laughter and within typical Afrikaans fashion, Francois say “Oh F*KIT!” the missing Black Mamba is quietly and calmly curled up beneath the seat where I had been sitting for the last 6 hours – LOVELY!
I leave it up to Francois and we soon had a grumpy Black Mamba flapping around on the pavement at now 00:42am in Swakopmund. We quickly SECURE the snake – sort out our sleeping arrangements and call it a night.

Francois’s new bakkie outside our accommodation in Swakopmund for the next few day.

18/11/2017 

After the previous day’s excitement much to my dismay, I was up early around 6am.  I took a walk around town and could only find a Caltex service station about 2km away that was open.  Desperate for a good cup of tea I bought a few things and of course this Namibian yoghurt flavoured drink I’d enjoyed on our previous trip in 2016.I took

I’ve missed this goodness!

After getting back, rustle up some tea and biscuits start prepping some batteries/memory cards for the day ahead. Francois rises from his beauty sleep around 8am he had driven the entire night before so I let it slide. We made our way to Village Cafe for Breakfast a quaint little cafe that seems to be a popular spot for a Saturday morning breakfast run. Had some more tea and a quick breakfast some form of roosterkoek or thereof I didn’t really know. Francois fueled up with a rather large enamel cup of coffee and we set off.

The outside of Village Cafe – well worth a visit.

We heading west out of town towards Walvis Bay where we found a spot amongst some dollar bushes and scratched around for a good few hours chasing after Reticulated Desert Lizards (Meroles reticulatus). I really think Francois must have thought at this point what has he gotten himself in for the next 10 days with a crazy tourist. But we caught in excess of 15 specimens simply because photographing these would mean we’d lose at least 80% of them.

Francois photographing one of the Reticulated Desert Lizards.

As common as they are, still beautiful lizards. Meroles reticulatus

Bradfield’s Day Gecko – Rhoptropus bradfieldi.

Welcome to Swakopmund

We ventured behind the massive dunes where the tourists slide down on sheets of cardboard and sandboards and it’s almost like entering another world dunes and dunes as far as the eye can see. Although with strong winds certain areas of the dunes are littered with trash, from tin cans, plastic bottles and newspaper which gets blown in from Swakopmund.

We saw a couple of  Wedge Snouted Desert Lizard but our tired calves stood no chance in getting to them before they burrow into the soft sand. We’d see many more of these over the next few days and would get a chance to photograph them eventually.

Covered in sand and with the dunes reaching inhospitable temperatures we decided to make our way back in town, grab some lunch back at our accommodation, clean out the vast amount of fine orange sand from my shoes, hair and camera equipment.

We discuss plans and decide to head out towards a small cluster of buildings (town is pushing it) called Wlotzkasbaken. Here the landscape changes drastically with the presence of large black smooth rocks emerge from the barren landscape of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. I’d visited this area previously and was excited to share with Francois a few interesting geckos found here.

These black rocks are ridiculous and the surface temperature is almost too hot to touch during the heat of the day but countless Bradfields’ Namib Day Gecko’s can be seen shooting around them but getting a hand on them is another story altogether.

Marais Gecko – Pachydactylus maraisi Typical habitat

We carried on scratching around the smaller rocks for another species of gecko I’d seen on my previous trip and was keen to find again to perhaps get some better images (the constant struggle of never being quite satisfied with your images). Not long after we found a few Marais Geckos a recently described gecko of only a few years and known only from a small patch along the coastline. Another sad reminder how much rubbish and debris builds up in the deserts close to town. The smaller dried bushes are covered in plastic, paper and cans not all that noticeable from a distance but up close rather disturbing.

Heading back to the vehicle I spotted a small gecko dart into a crevice and we spent a considerable amount of time extracting it carefully without losing its tail or squashing our fingers in the crack as I thought a little Common Namib Day gecko. We saw another 3 or 4 but with the heat were far less excited to try and get hands on them.

Common Namib Day Gecko – Rhoptropus afer

An exquisite coloured Horned Adder – Bitis caudalis

After finishing up in Wlotzkasbaken we headed into town where we met up with the infamous local Tommy Collard. A friend of Francois who is somewhat of a local snake legend and who’d I’d met the previous year. We chatted briefly and headed out of town towards some gravel plains for a little scratch around and herp talk. Tommy soon spotted a large Horned Adder but it made its down a rodent burrow before we could make good eyes on it.

We continued to walk amongst the dollar bushes walked past a small dollar bush and found an exquisite peach coloured Horned adder. Initially, I thought it was a discarded fruit peel!

 

Tommy has a wealth of knowledge on the desert and it’s quite refreshing to hear so much about a habitat I’m not all that familiar with from a locals perspective. Francois and I snapped a few more photos of the Horned Adder before it got tired of us messing with it and started to bury itself into the sand.Having not seen much else I caught another Desert Lizard and snapped a few images.

Another Reticulated Desert Lizard – Meroles reticulatus

Leaving the outskirts of town we head back to town, parted ways with Tommy, had a quick 30min camera gear clean off and shower. We made out way to the waterfront area which reminded me a little of Cape Town a little touristy but nice and after a long day in the dunes it was a welcomed relief.

Landed up in the Brewer & Butcher, which by all accounts for someone who is a vegetarian and doesn’t drink didn’t seem like a good plan. A typical upmarket craft brewery serving, bespoke burgers, beers and steaks I was assured a hot spot for the locals too. I was pleasantly surprised had a good meal and Francois had a draft or two. Waiting on it to get darker so we can explore the outskirts of town for some animals moving after dark we made the most of air conditioning. If you find yourself in Swakopmund and feel like dining out with a view this is a great option – the pricing was on great too.

Brewer & Butcher

We left the Brewer & Butcher and fueled up having done 571km since we left Windhoek the previous day. At 8:55 pm I filled up with $589 diesel and we set off again to the outskirts of town moving inland away from the coast. We saw very little and was surprisingly cool at 597km – 21:54 pm Francois spotted a Common Giant Gecko which I promptly jumped out and attempted to grab, not before it latched onto my hand and remained on my hand for some time after. We headed back home and didn’t see any further reptiles getting back to our accommodation around 11:30pm.

19/11/2017

We left Swakopmund went headed up towards Cape Cross to photograph a few geckos, we had a good few hours and managed a few nice photos of someday geckos and a common giant gecko.

Namib Giant Gecko

Marais Gecko

Habitat towards Cape Cross. Strangely void of much reptile life.

We headed towards Cape Cross and made a few stops along the way looking for reptiles but it was far too hot. At the Cape Cross National Park, we were greeted by an extremely rude cashier at the office which put a real damper on my mood so I decided to avoid it all together.

We enjoyed a good lunch at Cape Cross Lodge, I had some vegetarian pasta while Francois went all out with west coast oysters and some sort of fish dish.

Cape Cross Hotel – a great stop for lunch.

Heading back we went about 30km on some really bad gravel roads towards the dead sea or something but after 30kms we soon realised it wasn’t worth it and turned around.

Heading back towards Swakopmund I pursued Francois to pull into Hentties Baai where I had scratched around the previous year although found very little it was supposed to be a good spot for some nice looking Horned Adders. After Francois drove along the road I got out and I inspected a few spots and flipped a nice looking neonate Horned Adder.

The habitat of Horned Adder.

Neonate – Bitis caudalis

In typical fashion in all pristine wildlife habitats, I flipped a sheet of metal with Francois and a small Meroles darted out from underneath it. Without my struggle, I managed to catch it before it disappeared into the cluster of dollar bushes. It sat quite well and managed a few decent photos before releasing it again and then we eventually headed back to Swakopmund.

Arriving back at my accommodation we started the usual routine, cleaning camera equipment making tea and taking stock of what species we’d found that day and what our evening plans were going to be. Not forgetting to charge batteries.

Meroles suborbitalis

We went out to Walvis Bay and collected some friends of Francois to head out to look for Web Footed Geckos and Barking Geckos. Long story short we drove about 100kms got lost for hours and didn’t land up finding the shot we were supposed to find! Bit like a wild goose chase with no reasonable point. Nonetheless heading back to Swakopmund driving amongst the dunes Francois spotted a large Web-Footed Gecko on the road success! The entire night goose chase was now worth it.

Pachydactylus rangei

Monday 20/11/2017

We met up with Chantel Bosche at the local Total garage, who I’d met up the last trip and who is good friends with Francois. Fortunately, Chantel has an off day so all three of us ventured into the dunes to see what we could find. While Chantel was letting down the air in the vehicle’s tyres I walked around inspecting the dollar bushes and within minutes spotted a nice looking Peringuey’s Adder – Bitis peringueyi We had a quick photo session with it before moving on to search for more reptiles.

We didn’t find too much else, the heat was insane and the sand temperature by 1pm are intense so we decided to call it a day and head back into town. We went through to Swakop Vellies (Which are said to be some of the BEST vellies in all of Namibia) bought pair vellies and now I looked like a real tourist! But at just $549 I was well pleased.
The next major task I had was to try and locate a gem store Skye and I visited last year. She fell in love with her watermelon tourmaline she bought last year. I was appointed with the difficult task of trying to select 3/4 stones for a silversmith with a fine eye for details! After a long while trying to find the store I managed to find it not far from where I started. I now sat for 30mins selecting the best looking slices and sending multiple photos and “yes/no that one to the left, no take that bottom right one out…” I selected 3 she really wanted and bought her a little gift of a much larger and more expensive stone she really wanted but the price was a bit steep. Anyways I bundled up the stones and went back for a quick recharge at the accommodation
Later that afternoon at around 4:30pm we headed into the dunes again not far from where we had seen the beautiful orange Horned Adder yesterday. Looking into a dollar bush I spotted a MASSIVE grey Horned Adder. As luck would have it none of us had any tools on us so Francois raced back to the bakkie to get a small hook stick so we could gently lift it out and snap some photographs. It was one of the largest Horned Adder’s I’ve ever seen! We began to search more of these bushes and found a further three Horned Adders there is so much variation between these animals it’s truly astonishing.

Horned Adder – Bitis caudalis

Another big highlight was to see another Namaqua Chameleon – Namaqua Chameleon.

Namaqua Chameleon

Photographing a Horned Adder, outside of Swakopmund, Namibia. Photo: Francois Theart

Horned Adder – Bitis caudalis

Horned Adder – Bitis caudalis

Later that evening we returned to gravel plains and found countless Palmatoe Geckos, they didn’t lose their appeal after seeing 10-15 animals! Interesting to see how many of these animals were perched on top on the vegetation. An absolute highlight for me was the Carp’s Barking geckos something I was really hoping we’d find and thankfully we did – such amazing looking geckos.

While looking for geckos I walked straight into a young horned adder! Which sitting partially buried in some loose gravel on the plains with its tail waving around above its body in some sort of caudal luring and as luck would have it…my camera was about 500m away in the car and when I returned I couldn’t find the snake!

Male Carp’s Barking gecko – Ptenopus carpi

Female Carp’s Barking gecko – Ptenopus carpi

After a LONG few hours on the dunes, we headed back into town, heading to bed just before 1am. The following day we pack up and head for North Western Namibia – excited to get out of this desert and its sand!

[Part 2 coming soon]

by Tyrone

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