I’m as excited as a child seeing the ocean for the first time. ‘Look, the pan is full of water!’ I shriek. ‘Don’t be daft,’ my companion says, ‘it’s just a mirage.’
Although we’ve been to Etosha National Park in northern Namibia more than a dozen times between the months of May and July, we’ve never before seen the pan full of water.
I know there’s been lots of rain this year and I’m buoyant at the idea of this lifetime first for us. It’s one thing to see Fisher’s Pan near Namutoni in the far east with water, but the huge salt pan that is at the park’s heart has always been dry, caked and dusty by the time we get here in winter, which is the dry season.
So now we’re driving along the pan road towards the Okerfontein waterhole, debating the whole way whether or not what we’re seeing is an optical illusion. Certainly, the pan appears full of water, but we’ve been tricked by Etosha’s mirages before. Armed with binos, I still insist it’s water. Mr Realism disagrees, swearing it’s a fantasy I can’t make real just because I want it to be.
Five pelicans take off and circle before flying away, and three dabchicks bob on the surface. These are water birds, aren’t they? They wouldn’t be bobbing around on dry sand. Then there’s a distant flush of pink that turns out on closer inspection to be a flock of lesser flamingos.
Full marks to me; it is indeed water! And a ‘lifer’ too (you’ll understand if you’re a birder). Even though a few months from now the pan will be a dustbowl once more, this strange sight of zebras grazing among long grass and acacia trees, against a backdrop of what looks for all the world like an endless ocean, is something we can store away in our visual memory banks and come back to enjoy whenever we want to.
More about Etosha
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