In pursuit of the elusive Namibian kangaroo

The sun had long ago set, it was probably nearly 9 pm.  Usually, we try not to drive at night because headlights, even brights, will only do so much when an antelope the size of a refrigerator decides his road-crossing must be done in front of your speeding car But my flight got in late in the afternoon, and it’s three hours to get back to the farm.  Staying in Windhoek wasn’t an option either; Jay and I both prefer the farm to the big city, especially when there are cats waiting for you.

The one good thing about driving at night is, although the wildlife is oblivious to mortality, they are active, and for the most part, it’s a whole other set of creatures than we normally get to see during the day.  There’s the owls and night jars that hang out on the road and the jackals and rabbits that fling themselves into the road.  On rare occasions, a porcupine or honey badger might waddle by.  But this particular night held something in store that I never knew existed.

We had just come to the neighbors’ farm, only another 5 minutes to go, and the headlights captured movement ahead of us on the left.  My eyes focused in on it; a small, reddish-brown furry thing, about the size of a big squirrel, with a long, black-tipped tail.  And then it raised itself onto its lengthy hind legs and hopped away.

“Huh”, I said in my tired, travel-dulled state of mind, “I didn’t know Namibia had kangaroos”.

“Yeah”, answered Jay, “it’s a springhase (said shpring-HA-zeh).  I don’t know what they’re called in English”.

“Oh.  What’s a springhase?”

“It’s a rabbit.  It just jumps on its hind legs.”

And there you go.  I may not have seen an aardwolf, a desert lion, or a lechwe, but I have at least heard of them.  Never, in my 6 years of traveling to, through, or living in this country, had I ever heard of a springhase.  There was a brand new mammal in my world.

The next day I looked it up in my animal books, but found nothing.  It didn’t help having only it’s German name but none of the pictures looked like what I saw.  So I turned to the trusty internet and googled “springhase”.  And there I learned, sensibly, that their English name is spring hare.  But in the nonsensible world of naming animals, they aren’t actually a hare.  They’re a rodent.  But a very special one, as they are the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae.  Which may be why I’ve never heard of them.

the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae
the only living genus and species of the family Pedetidae

If you haven’t already yet googled it yourself after buckling to curiosity, here’s a link to a site with some good pictures of the spring hare.  I want you all to know though, that being the authentic blogger that I am, I went out that night, camera in hand, in an attempt to get my own photo of this unusual animal.  Jay and Sniffeldog came too.

As we had never seen one on our farm, we drove back to the neighbors hoping they’d still be there.  Jay hauled out the giant spotlight for more precise lighting and we called the neighbors to let them know that the weird flashing out front was just us trying to get a picture of their jumping rodents.

Each time eyeballs appeared in the distance, Jay zoomed forward and I snapped a photo.  Here’s the winner from that chaotic series:

Which may just be a normal rabbit.  Eventually we reached the end of the field and only thick bush lay ahead, which I had learned from my extensive internet research, was unsuitable spring hare habitat.  So we turned around and headed for home, hoping for another glimpse.

When we saw more eyeballs, I leapt out of the car, determined to get a better picture.  I landed, however, directly in a short, unseen thorn bush and got stuck while Jay sped ahead to keep them in sight.  So while I was bumbling about with the bush, Jay got our object of pursuit directly in the spotlight as they slowly hopped away.  By the time I freed myself and caught up to them, this was the best I could get:

If you look really close you can see the long tail.

So this authentic blogger and abysmal photographer is getting on with life in Namibia and wondering what other bizarre creatures are lurking in those bushes, waiting for fortuitous discovery.

I blame England

I sweat.  I sit up straight.  I focus so intently my eyeballs dry out.  I scan the 2-foot-high grass, lining each side of the road-with-no-shoulder, for the wildlife-with-no-sense-of-timing.  I remember the man we gave a ride to last year after a kudu kamikazied his semi-truck.

Am I on the right side of the road?

I check the engine temperature.  I turn off the radio because I think I hear something dragging under the car.  I move into the oncoming traffic lane to pass the jalopy going 40 km/h on the 2 lane, 120 km/h road.  I think of the near-weekly newspaper headline: Family killed in head-on collision.

Should the tires be wobbling so much? 

It begins to rain.  I turn on the blinker.

Dammit blinker!

I turn off the blinker, and turn on the wipers.

Am I driving too fast?  Is the parking brake still on?

It begins to pour.  I turn on the super-speed wipers.  I slow down.  I peer through the river cascading down the windshield.  Suddenly, a warthog darts across the road followed by four wartlets.  I brake with as much force as possible without sending the car careening through the bush.

Dammit warthog!

I return to bolt-upright position, eyes wide, and continue on.

Ten minutes later, the rain has stopped, I’m in town and wondering that I make it anywhere at all navigating the most dangerous part of all Namibia: the roads.

Namibian road signs

First off, whoever’s idea it was to have different countries drive on different sides of the road should be excommunicated from Earth.  They can take the person who made different outlets for every continent with them.  This was a terribly stupid, not to mention dangerous, idea.  Tourism is big in Namibia, and as there are no passenger trains, all of those tourists drive.  So, unless those tourists are from the UK, or a country that the UK managed to convince of their left-side driving idea, they are solid contenders for driving on the wrong side of the road and creating havoc.

I’ve done it, and it was rather terrifying.  I fumbled frantically with the stick shift, also new to me, trying to reverse and/or get myself out of the path of the oncoming, honking car.  (I believe that he felt the honking was necessary to inform me of my mistake that I hadn’t noticed, and to help keep everyone calm.)  Then, after acclimation to left-side driving, I returned to the States, and terrified everyone over there.  To offset these grievances, I consistently amuse folks in both countries when I attempt to get in on the wrong side of the car, regardless of whether I’m passenger or driver.  I do it all the time, to this very day.  There’s really no playing it off.

Drive on the left...avoid the oblivious people...ignore the billboard suggesting a drink...

These days, although I have not what one would call “mastered” the stick, or the driving side, I at least appear to be someone who has (until I try to get in on the passenger side again).  And so, I earned myself a simple assignment: follow Jay into town in the car as he drives a friend’s car so the friend can pick it up.

Simple; and yet not ten minutes into the expedition, I drive full on into a ditch.  Actually three ditches.  That sounds like a hard thing to do but, to my credit, the ditches were not always there.  See, around here we have these seasonal rivers created by the torrential rains mentioned earlier.  The purebred Namibian driver, i.e. Jay, can drive full speed down a dirt road and somehow always know where those rivers have flowed and thus, avoid their subsequent trenches.  The falsely confident imported driver, i.e. me, turns a corner by the first neighbor’s house and hits three of them consecutively.

I managed not to flatten the tires but I bent something called the tire rod.  This left me with an upside-down steering wheel, even less steering on a car with no power steering, and a constant, horrendous squealing for the next hour into town.  No matter how many times I got out of the car to look, I could not see what was causing the squealing.  But I did entertain (or worry, I couldn’t tell) the many road construction workers.  I waved as if all was well while praying the tires would not explode and that Jay would, one day, trust me again with his car. 

Of course, he did, this past Monday, granting me the solo adventure with the dry eyeballs, the downpour, and the wartlets.  I made it to my destination and back without breaking anything, hitting anyone, or forgetting the parking brake.  Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to do it without the anxiety, too.  And without running a circle around the car, looking for the driver’s side.