We just returned from a 2 week Namibian safari that was truly a chance of a life time. My husband and I got to witness some of the most arousing and poignant scenes of Africa. This was my husband’s first time on the African continent and something that he was looking forward to. Although it was my 4th time, It was my first time to go on a real safari!
Might I just add before I go any further–that one of the MOST AMAZING things about going to Namibia and spending time in the desert was the night sky. Sans light and air pollution as well as very little moisture, you can see stars like you never imagined! As if the tapestry of shining southern constellations isn’t enough, you also get to see the Milky Way galaxy itself. You can readily discern the swirls of our galaxy and see distinct features like the Orion Arm as well as the central Bulge.
Being away from western civilization and a speedy internet connection (if any, at all) gave me the time to indulge in meaningful reflection and to be present in the moment…fully captivated by all of my senses….fully immersed in nature.
We flew to Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. This city is surprisingly progressive, has well-paved roads, modern buildings and a clean, downtown with lots of curio shops, a mall and even a few European-style restaurants. We stayed at the gorgeous Hilton for a couple of nights!
We arrived in Windhoek early in the morning with the freezing chill still hitting hard as we got off the plane (28 degrees F). Namibia can be so cold in the morning…brrr; yet once mid-morning hits, you feel the intense desert heat. The sun rays, like daggers, pierce through your flesh with an intensity I had never felt before. The arid desert landscape reminded me of Phoenix, Arizona.
Our two days in Windhoek went by quickly. We visited the lovely Botanical gardens just walking distance from the center of town. The botanical garden is a must-see for plant-lovers or anyone interested in gaining more knowledge about desert plants—and it is FREE, so totally worth it! This garden features several green houses and a trail through a parched desert that abounds with cactus, acacia trees, bottle trees and other-worldly looking succulents. We saw many lizards scurrying over rocks.
In the afternoon of our second day, we started our “Sense of Africa” tour. A shuttle picked us up and drove us into the orange sherbet sunset, westward. In the late evening, we arrived on the Atlantic coast and stayed the night in the town of Swakopmund.
My husband and I decided to take a small boat excursion out in the ocean near Walvis Bay. As the ship left the dock we were greeted by giant pelicans, flying overhead and then landing on the side-rails of our boat. It wasn’t long before a couple seals began swimming nearby and then, spontaneously flopped onto the boat deck. The seal even hopped right onto a seat and became affectionate with one of the men on our boat tour.
Walvis bay is a fantastic place for viewing sea life. We saw countless dolphins and seals frolicking in the harbor. The boat even took us to the edge of a sandbar where we saw seals galore! There is nothing quite like viewing animals in their natural habitat.They are such happy creatures with pure puppy-like sweetness exuding from them!
In the afternoon, we had a chance to walk along the beautiful coast and also visit the Swakopmund Aquarium—costs about $5 for two people. The aquarium is small but very cool with lots of weirdly shaped fish as well as sharks, and sting rays.
Our safari guide was an older white Namibian woman—born and raised in Namibia. Our tour group was small. It consisted of a Swiss couple, a chain-smoking German couple, a stereotypical Italian man, a 20-something French woman, a 20-something German woman and a 72 year old German man sans wife. We were the only Americans; and for that matter, the only Americans we encountered on our trip! The Germans on our tour spoke very little English so it was fitting that my husband happens to speak near-fluent German. Our tours were given in German and English :). Everyone on our tour was a traveler at heart and eager to go on the safari at Etosha National Park.
We spent a long portion of our day driving from Swakopmund to the Damaraland region. For a while we even drove along the Skeleton Coast and got to see shipwrecks that are characteristic features of this coastline.
Next we drove east-bound, through the dessert. The desert landscape unfurled before us in red-sandy terra cotta with splashes of purple and sage mixing in the distant hills. The sky was pure blue and stood out in stark contrast to the orangey rock formations and red dirt.
The desert terrain in Namibia is covered in red sandy earth and further sprinkled with milky quartz as far as the eye can see. This arid terrain offers an astonishing treasure house of precious rocks and gems. Among these are citrine, rose quartz, topaz, amethyst, aquamarine and carnelian. There are also generous deposits of precious metals like copper, uranium, iron and mining areas are found in several regions. Oil is also found in Namibia. If I was a rich investor, I would no doubt invest here!
While in Damaraland we got to walk through a petrified forest, see ancient sandstone engravings and also visit a traditional Damara village. We came across many Welwitschia plants; some of which are the oldest living plants on earth (they can live up to 2000 years).
Perhaps the most intensely magical and surreal experiences I found were in Etosha National Park! Etosha is a world-famous wildlife reserve situated in the northern, central section of Namibia and covers 22 thousand square kilometers (roughly half the size of Switzerland). Imagine endless savanna and shrubby plains that stretch far out into the distance.There are dusty parched forests densely packed with every variety of acacia. Despite the dry, almost unexpected texture of the landscape, there is wildlife variety like no other place!
Our safari guide brought us to several water holes. Like children on Christmas, we patiently waited for the animals to arrive. Sometimes we would wait for 30-40 minutes before any animals made their appearance. Like clockwork, the animals slowly but surely made their way to the watering hole. The animals strode in from all directions. In the distance we would first see subtle movement. We watched as the zebras made their way in. It wasn’t long before giraffes could be seen—their tall necks surpassing the trees and shrubby savanna. One or two warthog babies would scuddle in and dip their thirsty tongue in the small pool. We saw many different bird species skimming over the water hole. Secretary birds, Pied crows, Guinea fowl, Gray- Go-away birds, and Lilac Breasted Roller’s were just a few to behold. A herd of elephants made their way to the hole. There is nothing cuter than a baby elephant coming to the water hole with its mama and dad.
What makes the water hole so very special—a quintessential feature of the African Savannah—is that you can see an astounding array of wildlife in their natural habitat. This is especially noticeable during the dry season!
There is something so pure and innocent about seeing animals come out from no-where to satisfy their most basic survival needs. I am reminded of how vulnerable they are to the whims of nature, to climate change and to poachers.I was appalled to learn that the Black Rhino is a critically endangered species. Our safari guide informed us that JUST IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS OVER 80 BLACK RHINOCEROS HAVE BEEN POACHED in ETOSHA ALONE. THERE ARE ONLY 300-400 in ETOSHA park. Apparently there is a HUGE demand in Asian countries (especially China) for Rhinoceros horn.
The Rhino horn is crushed up into a powder and then used inTraditional Chinese Medicine as an aphrodisiac, to HELP ACHIEVE SEXUAL STAMINA IN MALES and it is also used for fevers, typhoid, rheumatism, gout, headaches, hallucinations, poisoning and demonic possession. The facts tell a different story though. Rhinoceros horn is made of keratin (like your fingernails) and has not been shown to have any unique properties that address any of these ailments. THIS MEANS THAT THESE ENDANGERED ANIMALS ARE BEING KILLED SO THAT SOMEONE CAN GET OFF ON THE PLACEBO EFFECT! It is sickly irrational when you think about it!
We stayed at several lodges around the Etosha park and thoroughly enjoyed our time. The meals were delicious (with South African Braai (BBQ) being the one exception—too undercooked for our tastes and neither of us enjoy the wild game meats that were offered at the BBQ’s). There were plenty of beautiful pools and lovely gardens to explore but our time was consumed by going on safari trips into the park.
If I could, I would move to Etosha and become a wildlife advocate. I was totally unaware of how fast these animals are going extinct. We were told that going on Safari and bringing money into the country of Namibia helps preserve the park and the animals as the park provides many sustainable jobs for Namibians. There are Namibians who are employed just to keep an eye on the park and watch for suspicious activity (since poaching is all to common here).
Our trip was AMAZING! I can’t wait to go back someday!