The beauty of a vacation to Namibia undoubtedly lies within the wide, open spaces – and if there was just one word that conjures up this breathtakingly beautiful country – it is just that – space. But, wildlife too, even if that seems surprising to some.
I am not talking about Etosha pans (whilst it is beautiful, it is also crowded and commercial), so no – we preferred to keep to the Caprivi strip, where you have magnificent wildlife roaming the Bwabatwa National Park (a park that was created in 2007 and is 6274 square kilometres).
During one of my nights stays at Nambwa, I listened to the lions calling, whilst the hippo were grunting in the river below and a giant eagle owl was hooting away in the Marula tree next to my tent and my thoughts very quickly strayed to how privileged and truly happy I was feeling at that precise moment.
Life simply doesn’t get better than this! The next morning I took a boat trip down the Kwandwe River, seeing the most fabulous birdlife – including the goliath heron and many kingfishers as well as watching a mass of white fronted bee eaters nesting on the river bank whilst I witnessed the perfect sunrise.
That evening, we took a game drive through the utterly diverse vegetation, with savannah and riparian forest, studded with some of Africa’s largest and most impressive trees – the sausage tree, the camel thorn, the marula, the leadwood and the sycamore fig.
We came to Horseshoe pan, where we watched a number of elephants coming to wallow and we stood and immersed ourselves in Africa – the only people here, glass of wine in hand, good company with the most knowledgeable guide you can imagine, with whom we chatted endlessly until finally watching the most beautiful sunset.
It was truly hard to imagine how life could get any better than this…. In the Mahango National Park, again we saw incredible (and rare) roan and sable antelope and we saw dozens of fish eagles, all emitting their haunting cry.
With the most beautiful wetland areas one can imagine, this park is equally good for birders and wildlife enthusiasts alike – with fabulous herds of elephant in the winter months and probably the most concentrated fish eagle population in Namibia.
It has superb baobab trees and one of the oldest in Namibia – dating back 1300 years. Being close to the Popa Falls, this is a fabulous spot to go boating, fishing and bird watching. Surrounded by this beauty but always being conscious of the local culture in the area – which is still very rural and agricultural, with the local people living in their grass and daube huts – and everything being so incredibly clean and orderly.
On our truly wonderful trip, we also took the opportunity to spend time with the last vestige of the San people. With only just over 100 in this particular spot, we were privileged to spend time with them, in a non-voyeuristic manner – as they simply get on with life whilst we spent some time with their children, teaching them songs and dances.
These people are still largely subsistence hunters, foraging for their food on a daily basis from the forest next to them. The government does give them a ration each month for some maize meal, but nothing else.
These proud, gentle, beautiful people are quite rightly proud of their heritage and keen to preserve it, (they are the world’s most ancient race, verified in a recent DNA test) and being hunter gatherers, one can still observe their hunting methods, to their education (educating in the main by folklore and stories).
One can observe how they use herbal medicine to cure most of their ills and we had the privilege of witnessing a trance dance one evening – a dance which is in fact a healing dance, when one of their members is ill. They whirl away, lost in an opiate induced dance, encouraged by the others, with rhythmic singing, clapping and dancing, watching the magic work deep within.
If you decide to go then please do take the opportunity to spend at least a few days with these extraordinary and wonderful people and please purchase some of the jewellery they have made, from ostrich shells, seeds and stone – as these go towards purchasing blankets for the winter months.
Namibia’s beauty also lies in her deserts – the Namib Desert allegedly being the oldest desert in the world and take to the sky in a hot air balloon over the rich, red fine sand dunes at dawn, when the colours all change and look for the tiniest imprint of life – from the shovel snouted lizard to the tiny dots of hoof prints imparted by springbok or the larger majestic oryx antelope.
And then one of the most privileged activities one can imagine – go tracking for black rhino on foot (we are losing 3 a day in Africa to poaching), in the Damaraland region and pinch yourself when you spend time with them (we were so lucky, seeing two sets of mother and calf) and simply thanking the universe that we can still see them in their natural environments and not in a zoo!
And then the piece de resistance? Spending time with a desert lion researcher, Dr Flip Stander, a conservation scientist and probably Africa’s greatest authority on the African lion.
To spend time with this mine of information is a privilege bar none, but to then have the chance to see and spend time with a lioness or cubs, or even both, is stratospheric – because this is Namibia. This is not other African countries where it is much easier to see predators at every turn and corner.
And so this – is why you should go to Namibia. Not to expect to see your wildlife delivered to you on a plate – but to work for it and then be rewarded for the time and effort that you have instilled. And when you do see it – it will feel like it’s for the very first time. The thrill and excitement will course through your veins. And this will be the occasion you will always remember. Forever.
Picture of flight over Skeleton Coast by courtesy Skeleton Coast Safaris