A comfortable bed in Johannesburg was a welcome sight after a 14-hour flight from JFK. But my group was eager to board yet another flight early the next morning for an additional five hour flight to Windhoek—the capital of Namibia and the starting place for our safari. Namibia is a part of Africa I’d always wanted to visit. In the early 1960s, my late friend Arthur Jones had captured 80 Nile crocodiles—none under 11 feet—in the Caprivi strip near the Zambian border, and I wanted to see whether there were still crocs there in large numbers. There are, but more on that later.
From the airport into Windhoek, we began seeing troops of chacma baboons, greater kudu, red hartebeest, and springbok. A good sign. We settled into the Galton Guest House where we met our guides for a briefing of what was to come.
The next morning we loaded luggage into a trailer towed by one of the two Land Cruisers that would transport us about this large country for the next ten days. We headed southwest, our destination the Namib Desert and the Desert Homestead where we spent the next two nights. An African Hawk-eagle observed us from a tree and a Southern pale chanting goshawk soared on the horizon. The bird life in Namibia is exceptional.
Namibia, I should explain, sits directly above South Africa and is bordered on the west by the South Atlantic; on the east by the landlocked nation of Botswana and the eastern tip of Zimbabwe; and to the north by Angola and Zambia. The diversity of landscape is breathtaking. Some of the highest sand dunes in the world (over 1,000 feet) are in the Namib Desert created by winds off the Atlantic coast. A concentration of iron in the sand increasingly oxidizes in the older, more inland dunes giving them a beautiful pink hue.
Our host at the Desert Homestead cautioned us about the dangers of the desert. Two people had nearly lost their lives the year before having gotten lost without water—and only a short distance from camp! Only by luck had they been discovered by a rescue team. Water is precious in the desert. Thankfully, our group stayed well hydrated and experienced no problems.
We left the Desert Homestead and continued west arriving at the coastal town of Walvis Bay for lunch before following the coast north to Swakopmund. Early the next morning we explored sand dunes outside town where our guides uncovered a well camouflaged Peringuey’s viper and a horned adder—both members of the venomous genus Bitis. We located a shovel-snouted lizard, a Namaqua chameleon, and a web-footed gecko—lizard species adapted to the harsh life in and around desert dunes.
Damaraland was next. Our lodge there was almost invisible from a distance. It had been cleverly nestled amongst the giant house-sized boulders of a kopje. The entire region consists of rugged mountains, dunes, and gravel plains. Animals are surprisingly abundant. On a morning game drive, we found ourselves surrounded by desert elephants.
A large bull began making threatening gestures (ears out, trunk up), and the guides became noticeably concerned. An elephant can easily crush or overturn a vehicle and we decided to make a fast retreat to avoid an attack. The timing could not have been worse. One of the Land Cruisers would not start. Dead battery. Nervously the guides kept an eye on the bull, tied a tow rope, and we escaped a potentially bad situation.
Passing through and over some of the worst terrain imaginable (a road it was not) we arrived at a Himba village.
The Himba people live as they have for hundreds of years. Their small bomas are circular in shape with cone-shaped reed roofs and walls plastered with mud and cow dung. A remarkably cool solution to the intense desert heat.
These are nomadic people, and it was entirely possible there would be no one home after our long tortuous ride, but we were in luck: women, children, and a few young men welcomed us to their village and into their homes.
Himba wealth is measured by cattle, the wealthiest members of the tribe having numerous large herds scattered about the region. Himba women never bathe, even when water is available. Instead, they smear their bodies with animal fat mixed with pulverized red rock. It must be a worthy alternative as we detected no objectionable odor.
We spent the next two nights at Andersson’s Camp just outside Etosha National Park. A water hole off the dining area attracts a variety of wildlife—the most exciting were two young rhinoceroses. After exploring Etosha, we returned to Windhoek to join up with four more friends who would be with us for the remainder of the safari.
From Windhoek we flew to the Caprivi—a strip of land that forms a panhandle in northern Namibia. This is normally a wet area teeming with crocodiles and other wild animals, but the Caprivi had not had significant rain in two years. Our camp, Nkasa Lupala, had been built along a now dry river. In spite of the drought, we saw lots of wildlife. Within the first few minutes after arriving, one of our group discovered a venomous night adder swallowing a toad directly behind one of the parked Land Cruisers.
Nkasa Lupala is owned by an Italian family who have made every effort to leave no carbon footprint. The camp consists of tents erected on elevated platforms, and it is completely solar powered. Simone and his brother joined us for evening meals and answered our many questions. One of which was about elephant poaching. Is it a problem?
Indeed it is. But unlike some African nations, Simone told us Namibia does not have a shoot-to-kill policy. When frustrated Namibian rangers encounter elephant poachers, they chase the poachers across the border into Botswana and notify the rangers there. Why? Botswana rangers shoot to kill. This may seem like harsh treatment, but consider this: poachers are currently killing an estimated 96 elephants a day in Africa. If elephants are to avoid extinction, harsh solutions may be the only hope. Learn more about the 96 Elephants conservation movement.
After two nights at Nkasa Lupala, it was only a few hours to Chobe National Park in Botswana. There’s no way to describe Chobe Game Lodge except to say…it’s posh. Luxury accommodations are $910 a night during the high season and $500 during low season. The five-star lodge is located along the Kwando-Linyanti river system, and we explored the river by boat where we saw Nile crocodiles and watched a family of elephants bathing along the shore. We used electric powered Land Rovers for game drives, and Chobe has plenty of game—lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, hartebeest, impala, kudu, warthog, and springbok to name a few.
From Chobe we crossed the border into Zimbabwe. After settling into our hotel, some of our group took a helicopter tour of Victoria Falls, while others walked above the falls in the mist the following morning. Here the mile-wide Zambezi River drops 354 feet. It is the world’s largest sheet of falling water, roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls.
Truly an impressive sight and a perfect climax to a wonderful safari!
Click to enlarge images
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