After an incredibly stressful morning, we finally arrived at the gates to our campsite. I was thrilled to discover the campsite was far enough away from the local town to be safe from anyone wandering around and that it was enclosed behind a large fence, a guard beside the entrance. I normally love immersing myself with local cultures but here I just didn't feel safe. There was something haunting about the glazed look in the eyes of the beggars this morning and something terribly sad and hopeless about the children that chased after our car under the instruction of an older man that made me uneasy. I know - I decided to visit Africa, a country that in places is troubled, but still unexpected 'culture shock' (I suppose that's what it is?) can be very real.
The strange thing is, I've been to Africa 3 times before and never had 'culture shock'. I visited orphanages in Zambia and even encountered a child beggar but never felt like I did here. This was my first time in Africa on a self-drive itinerary and knowing that it's just me and my partner in a car, 2 very inexperienced travellers, makes me feel vulnerable.
I felt very emotional as well because on some level I felt selfish. I was fearing for my camera and other material things whilst children were forced to beg and I was too afraid to even acknowledge them. I felt helpless for their situation and somehow ashamed. Also, I don't like to upset people and if someone asks me for things, I'm terrible at saying 'no' so it's easier for me to run away.
So there is my reasoning behind my emotions at that moment in time. I'm only human after all and can get upset by things on the road.
Our campsite was perched upon the edge of a dam, a massive expanse of blue water that carried with it a very strong breeze. Our campsite was very spacious and came with its own private toilet and shower as well as cooking area and numerous plug sockets. We decided to head to the restaurant and catch-up on some work - it can be hard working remotely if most campsites don't have WiFi! I relished the lack of WiFi as it allowed me time to switch-off, however it can be useful to have every now and then to make sure everything's still running smoothly with work.
It was relaxing at the restaurant, sitting out on the deck beside the dam. It was however incredibly windy and I had to wrap up to keep warm. As I caught up with emails, I quickly noticed that we were attracting the attention of some local residents. I counted up to 4 cats hanging around, trotting over to us and mewing persistently. They seemed nice enough and most of them didn't mind being stroked.
For those of you who don't know - I'm a massive cat lover. Like seriously. I need to be dragged away from cats. Invite me round to your house and you have a cat, you know exactly who I will gravitate towards.
So I was more than happy to welcome all these cats around me. One of them particularly caught my eye. It was a very fluffy female but interestingly she had a hole in one of her ears. I assumed it must have been from a fight with another cat.
Can you spot the cat in this photo?
We worked until the evening and the light was fading. We decided to order some dinner. A quick glance at the menu had me salivating. A trio of game steaks? Oh, yes please! Of course, my new furry buddies were also excited by my dinner option and I found myself surrounded. How could I resist? I gave them all a little piece.
The cats at the restaurant all seemed well-fed. I guess they were used to begging at the guests' feet and I'm sure there are plenty of people like me who enjoy feeding cats from the table. Plus I'm sure they get plenty of leftovers and clean up spillages.
To me it wasn't overly surprising that there were so many cats milling around the restaurant. Food and cats go well together. What I wasn't expecting however was the quantity I was about to find within our camping spot.
We drove back to our camping spot, literally a couple of minutes away. It's actually laughable that we chose to drive to the restaurant but hey, some of us are rather lazy. As we pulled into our spot, we caught an animal in our beams, it's eyes glowing neon green in our headlights. I knew at once it was a cat.
We got out of the car and I immediately approached the cat who was meowing excitedly and trotting over, waving her fluffy tail in the air in greeting. As I looked closely at the animal, I wondered how strange it was that this cat looked like a pedigree. She was white with a smoky grey face and had grey paws and a tail - not to mention she was incredibly fluffy. She looked incredibly similar to my parent's cat back home who is a 'Ragdoll' breed. Weird.
As I cooed back to her, an answering cry sounded from the bushes. I turned my head and out strolled another cat. This cat was a grey tabby with a white underbelly. Now this really was turning into my kind of campsite and as I stroked the duo I realised I was soon joined by a third. The third cat also looked like a Ragdoll but instead of having smoky grey features, she had a deep brown face and paws. I was seriously surrounded now.
A fourth cat actually emerged, but I didn't get a picture of this little guy. She was all-black with striking green eyes. I was able to give her a quick stroke but she soon retreated, her belly swollen with kittens.
After sitting with the cats for a few minutes, we decided to call it a day and get ready for bed. It had been a long day and we were both rather exhausted.
I had expected to go straight to bed after my shower but as I got out and my partner went in, I noticed one of the cats sitting by the trees. It was one of the 'Ragdoll' cats - the white one with the black paws. But what caught my attention was three small creatures moving around her. At first I thought they were mice or a large rodents - the darkness was tainting my vision slightly. Then it hit me. Were those kittens?
Of course, I reached for my camera but at the same time I didn't want to startle her so I sat on the step by the bathroom with the hope of watching her kittens from a distance. The mamma cat had other ideas. As soon as she noticed me, she trotted over, mewing excitedly in greeting. Her kittens, startled by her sudden movements, vanished into the bushes.
I spoke to her softly and stroked her fur, alarmed to feel each individual rib clearly beneath her thick pelt. She was scarily thin. She purred back at me and in between purrs let out a strange cooing noise. It didn't take me long to figure out what she was doing. She was calling her kittens over! She kept looking over her shoulder to see if they were coming, calling them again when she saw they hadn't moved.
Eventually I saw a ball of fluff trot across the sand, its little eyes glowing in the darkness. A second bundle was behind it but both of them looked cautious and several times stopped as if debating whether or not to turn back. At last they made it to their mother and crouched underneath her belly. The third kitten was making its way towards us now, clearly the more timid of the three.
I didn't try to touch the kittens. It was clear they were nervous and perhaps had never been this close to a human before. I also didn't want to upset the mother. She'd made it apparent that she trusted me as she had just called her kittens right over to me. I don't know what I did to make her feel this way but I felt honoured and was not going to overstep the mark and try to cause them any upset.
Mamma cat with 2 of her kittens, resting under our car
My partner soon emerged from the shower and I was thrilled that he was just as excited as I was about the kittens. Both of us were their ooohhing and ahhhing over these little balls of fluff. Like, they were just centimetres in front of me! What made me feel most overwhelmed with emotion however was the fact that she's brought them over to meet me.
I stayed with them for a good half an hour, batting away the numerous mosquitos that were swarming over my head. I made sure to cover myself in mosquito repellant, but based on the number that were circling me, I was not feeling hopeful.
I was even fortunate enough to watch the kittens feed. Mamma cat didn't mind at all that I was sat their photographing, haha.
I was a little startled when mamma cat abruptly left. I sat only a metre away from her kittens who crouched obediently just beside our car. Like, am I meant to babysit or something? I didn't quite feel qualified to babysit but I guess that's exactly what was happening. I felt like it was a big responsibility and made sure to sit with them until at last she returned. Mamma cat arrived with another cat, the grey tabby I had seen earlier. The grey tabby lead the kittens back to the thickets where I had first seen them whilst mamma cat trotted off in another direction, presumably to hunt.
Now that I was relieved from babysitting duties, it was time to get some sleep. I was buzzing after spending time with so many cats, including a litter of 3 excitable kittens. I could still clearly see them batting at their mother's tail. It sure had been fun to observe them. However, I felt a tug in my heart. The mother cat was so thin! How could she possibly provide enough milk for her poor kittens? I was also disappointed that there were so many cats here, including a young litter and another pregnant cat. Too much breeding can never be a good thing amongst strays, especially when there didn't appear to be enough food to go around.
Can you spot the cat? This one's not as hard to find as the previous 'find the cat' image!
The view from our camping spot
It was morning and I had a plan. As expected, I was greeted by cats as soon as I descended down the ladders of our roof-top tent. It was mamma cat and the grey tabby. I guessed that the kittens must be tucked up in their den somewhere and perhaps only ventured out at night, when cats are most active.
The two cats followed me into the bathroom as I brushed my teeth and got ready to start the day. I noticed the two stood beside each other, practically plastered to each other's sides, their tails intertwined. It was cute. I had never seen cats as close as this before. I once watched a show on TV that said stray cats tend to live together in groups and that female cats often took it in turns to look after each other's kittens. I was certain that was what I had witnessed last night when mamma cat went off to hunt. It even seemed that the grey tabby was lactating even though she didn't have any kittens. Perhaps that's what happens in tight social groups like this.
We decided to walk to breakfast this morning. Yay, not as lazy as yesterday! It was embarrassing to see that the walk didn't take us more than 3 minutes to finish. I seriously dare you to find someone as lazy as me, haha.
Today I wasn't actually feeling that great. My stomach was seized by vicious cramps and an unfortunate trip to the bathroom told me that my trio of steaks last night didn't agree with me. They had been rather chewy and honestly, the restaurant didn't feel all that 'up-market'. I should have gone with a safer food option as steak is quite specialist, especially when you order it as 'blue' as I do.
Not surprisingly, I wasn't in the mood for much breakfast and half-heartedly nibbled at my scrambled egg and sausage combo. What kept me going however was my plan. I grabbed between 5 and 10 slices of salami, wrapped it in a napkin and put in in my pocket. It's an all you can eat buffet so it wasn't like I was doing anything naughty but still walking out with lots of salami would probably be seen as a bit weird.
We walked back to the camping spot and I looked around excitedly for the cats, especially the mamma cat. At first it seemed no one was around. I started calling and the grey tabby emerged from the bushes. Great - we had one cat, but I really wanted the mamma cat to appear. She was a lot skinnier than the grey and had 3 hungry mouths to feed.
I was relieved when at last she emerged. It was time to feed them!
They sure were hungry! The salami was disappearing at an alarmingly rapid rate. It also became apparent that, like we expected, the mamma cat was a lot more hungry than the grey. Whereas the tabby delicately chewed on her salami, the mamma wolfed hers down, letting out excited purrs and leaps whenever a new piece was brandished in front of her. She even latched on to the end of one of the grey's pieces and ripped it from her mouth. Feisty mamma!
It wasn't long before all the pieces had been eaten. I felt happy that we had decided to feed the cats. It just wouldn't have sat well with me had we done nothing to help them. I know, giving them one feeding wasn't exactly a long-term solution but if it took the edge off their hunger for another day, then that's a small step in the right direction. Each day gives the kittens another chance. They weren't tiny kittens so I suspected it wouldn't be too long until they were weaned and could start eating solids. They wouldn't have to reply on their mother as much at that point.
A tender moment
Such beautiful eyes
Our camping spot
After the feeding, we packed up our stuff and prepared to leave. It was with a heavy heart that we folded up our tent and loaded up the car. Not only could I not bare to leave these hopeful felines who had latched onto me, but today was our last day in Namibia. We were about to embark on our final drive to our final campsite. This day ahead of us was the last day of adventure. Although it felt like 2 weeks was the right amount of time to spend in Namibia, that did not mean I was 100% ready to go back! I wasn't ready for the adventure to end.
Whilst I stood, daunted by the idea that our trip was coming to an end, I decided to just embrace my last moments. I sat on the dusty floor, littered with desert sand and allowed my new furry friends to gather round and sit on me.