Namibian Safari and Four Wheeling

February 17, 2009

My safari bus was waiting as soon as I stepped off the ship. The safari bus reminded me of an airport shuttle with off roading tires.  It held 14 people and was taking us to Etosha National Park in Northern Namibia.



Namibia was a refreshing place to visit after Morocco. It was a German colony until 1990 so it is fairly westernized and most people speak some English. The towns were cleaner and fresher than Morocco. A friend on the ship said it best when she compared its mood to Canada. It’s a quiet sparsely inhabited place where you can witness the beauty of nature.


Namibia is about the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined but has less people than Houston. In fact, there are more cattle than people here. I had conversations with friendly locals outside of their shops and people tried to sell us crafts on the streets. When they got too pushy, security came and pulled them away. I was not adrenaline filled and watching for pickpockets like in Barcelona and Morocco.


Our Safari shuttle drove nine hours to the north. It was gorgeous to drive through and contained the largest sand dunes in the world. Mountains of glowing sand guarded both sides of the road. The occasional bridges we crossed had only rivers of sand beneath them. I have never seen anything so desolate, yet still strikingly beautiful. 

Our view into the Namib Desert

Our view into the Namib Desert






The dead, sandy peaks slowly turned shades of green as we continued north. Our guides pointed out different landmarks and identified the few species of animals we saw. The most noteworthy was a family of Baboons sitting on a roadside fencepost.


As night approached the desert turned into a savannah. Small vegetation covered the ground along with a few scattered trees. The landscape looked lush and alive. Our guides informed us it rained 2.5 inches the past few days, the most rain they have had in ten years. A different group that traveled south told us their guide had never seen rain until she was eight years old!



We reached Ethosha several hours after nightfall. Etosha is a world renowned national park. It is the biggest in Africa and second largest in the world. It looked like I was going into Jurassic Park as the huge wooden gates creaked open to let us through. The chatter of unknown animals built my anticipation.


Lightning had been threatening our bus, and the rain finally hit as we got in. The timing could not have been worse. We prayed for it to stop as we drove twenty more minutes to our campsite. There was such no luck; we were forced to set up our tents in the middle of the dark, wet African night.


I quickly staked my tent in prime real estate. I made sure I was on a hill, far from the growing puddles. I only had one pair of shoes, so with my guides blessing, I wandered barefoot. Then we worked on a fire to cook our food.


It was a very primal feeling scampering around barefoot, creating fire while slopping wet in Africa. Every step I took was carefully guided by my flashlight. The bugs were stunningly nonexistent, probably because of the rain. The only animal life visible was tennis ball sized beetles, birdlike moths, and bats.  



Our fire raged through the rain after some hard work. The guides prepared a feast of mincemeat, a colorful salad, squash, and pasta. The ship had warned us we could only eat foods that were peeled, boiled, or cooked. None of the salad or the squash met these criteria. We didn’t care though, it was midnight and we hadn’t eaten since 3 pm. We paced around waiting for our dinner like starved lions.


The meal was spectacular and worth every disease I probably got. My friends and I sat around after dinner, watching the watering hole and drinking beers. I didn’t end up going to bed until 3:30 am.


 I heard strange noises outside my tent when I finally tried to go to sleep. The noises sounded like screeches a baboon would make. I decided something needed to be done as I heard them clanging through our belongings. I went outside and 8 pairs of yellow eyes darted towards me. They were Jackals, the raccoons of Africa. Jackals look like foxes with big ears. I started yelling near the safety of my tent door and they scattered.


The next morning our guide woke us up at 6 am so we could get an early start. We ate a delicious egg breakfast and took off into the wild. Within five minutes of leaving, we saw a herd of zebras. These strange horses played (maybe fought) with each other only a stone’s throw away from us. We oogled the animals and fought for top camera positions.


Reluctantly we moved on and moments later saw our first herd of gazelle. Our guide rolled her eyes as we repeated the chaos of the Zebra scene. There were gazelles everywhere in this park. By the end, we barely gave them more than a glance. Their sizes ranged from as small as foxes to as big as cows.


The animals were so foreign that I grouped anything deerlike into this “gazelle” family. Not very scientific of me, technically they were impalas, Springboks, Gemsbock, Steenbok and who knows what else. They all had horns, ranging from stubs to several foot long lances coming out of their foreheads.


A muddy gravel road guided us through the park. After the initial excitement, we didn’t see any animals for about 45 minutes.  We did not venture from the safety of our path. It didn’t matter though; the animals we saw were undisturbed by the safari cars.


There were three distinct areas of the park. First, there were flat fields dotted with short bushes. In this area nothing stood above a foot off the ground. It was stereotypical discovery channel African savannah. With nothing to obstruct your view, you could see the blurry outlines of herd animals far in the distance.


In this open savannah we saw a lion in the distance. The male lion lazily lay under a tree, ignoring our commands to attack one of the gazelle. Especially when aided with binoculars, it was exciting to see. Gazelles, Zebras, cheetahs and lions were the main animals in this part of the park.


The next area was dense with one woody thorn plant. However, instead of small thorns they had several inch long spikes. It was a harsh area and didn’t look very alive. I don’t know if anything lived there besides birds because we saw nothing. Apparently there were Rhinos around.


The last area was filled with overly large bushes.  There were a few trees that looked like the ones in the Lion King (which sadly our bus repeatedly referred to). Around here we nearly turned some Giraffes into road kill. Five of them stared at us from the middle of the path. Since they’re so tall you can easily spot them from a distance and we ended up seeing 20 or 30 of them.


Unfortunately, the rain made for subpar animal viewing, at least according to our guide. I was still thrilled with the experience. Normally the animals all congregate to watering holes to survive, however with the recent rain they could find many different areas to drink from.


Our long safari day ended with drinking more beers by the watering hole. I saw a rhino’s shape as we sat there, but we made too much commotion and scared it away. I ended up crawling into my tent after 3 am again.


We woke up at 5 am the next morning so we could get back in time to catch our ship and maybe hit the sand dunes. I was the first to have my stuff packed so I could go to a place I saw earlier and watch my last African sunrise. The orange and blue sky lit up the waking animals in the distance. I had one final look at zebras and wilderbeast running around before heading back.

Taking in the spectacular sunrise

Taking in the spectacular sunrise


 I had an amazing time and only paid $220 for the safari, food and nine hour taxi ride both ways. I had an authentic African experience by camping out in the wild. I passed out in our bus while sitting upright and slept for 4 hours straight in this uncomfortable position.


My buddy Dylan and I were determined to get back in time to go ATVing on the sand dunes. We actually were the reason we woke at 5 am so we could get back in time. We called to make reservations on the drive back. By the time we got back at 3:30 they had four wheelers waiting.

About to head out into the Namib Desert

About to head out into the Namib Desert


We had ten people in our group and we would barely get back to the ship on time, if all went according to plan. So we hurried off into the desert scenery. The dunes were far removed from the tropical savannah we were in only hours earlier.


It was kind of funny how little restrictions and safety stuff they had. We didn’t sign any liability forms; we just paid, hopped on our quads and were off. There were dangerous sand cliffs so we had to follow a guide around. Some of the girls had never ridden one before so the guides split us up. My friend Dylan and I got a private tour in the fast group.


I couldn’t have been more thrilled. He led us at a racers pace through the desert. We did jumps off the tops of dunes and slid around in the loose desert sand. We zipped to a far area where the ocean met the desert. It was a beautiful sight and I could not imagine a better way to explore the sand mountains of Namibia.


We got back to the ship with only ten minutes to spare! It was cutting it really close. We pushed the limits of sleep and time to experience as much of Namibia as possible. We saw the sunrise on African game and explored world renowned dunes on the same day. I got back to the ship and slept for 12 hours straight. This is becoming a trend and I like it.


I have no time to recover because tomorrow at eight am we begin to explore South Africa. I am climbing the famous table mountain and then rappelling down first thing in the morning. The next day I am going Great White Shark Diving and bungee jumping off the highest commercial location in the world. Then, a wine tour through the countryside and finally (hopefully) I am going to find an internet café on my last day to upload my pictures. I’m sure I will have some more good stories.






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