Glued to the airplane window, I gaze down at a complex maze of animal trails covering the dusty, sparsely treed landscape below. I spot a
ambling along. Then we pass over a herd of
, heads down, grazing. As we bump down, two
with long necks watch us curiously. We've just landed at a small airfield near
Etosha National Park
, in northern
, and already I'm excited and impressed by the abundance of exotic big game.
Our guide, Rio, a stocky black man with a perpetual huge smile, greets our group of four and loads us onto an open-sided
. As we drive toward
Ongava Tented Camp
, my head swivels back and forth as we pass
, zebras, a
with long, lethal horns. Engrossed in the constant procession of strange animals, I hardly notice that we're immersed in oven-like heat, almost 40°C.
Smiling African staff greets us at camp with welcome drinks and oh-so refreshing cold towelettes. Soon I'm relaxing in my 'tent,' which resembles a large hotel suite and includes a luxurious king-size bed draped with a flowing mosquito net, a desk, hot water, flush toilet and a deck. I feel like
We assemble at the elegant lodge, the social centre of the camp with a swimming pool, lounge, bar and, of course, a much-watched water hole, which draws a continuous parade of
, zebras, oryx and flocks of birds.
Rio bustles us aboard the Land Rover and we are off on a safari, following a dry, dusty riverbed. "We're getting close," says Rio pointing to huge round footprints in the dust and fresh dung the size of soccer balls. Rounding a bend, we find ourselves face to face with a herd of 11
, foraging amongst the trees and bushes. A little baby Jumbo, only two weeks old, wanders like a midget amongst the enormous tree-trunk legs of the adults.
We continue driving, our cameras clicking constantly, for Rio has an amazing knack for finding animals. An ostrich races across the sparse landscape. Zebras, a tangle of attractive black-and-white patterns, drink at a water hole next to delicate springbok and spiral-horned
. We follow three white rhinos as they forage, two huge and ponderous adults and a smaller youngster. They studiously ignore us as they munch the dry scrubby grass.
As the sun settles low in the western sky, Rio stops, pulls a fold-up table from some secret compartment in the Land Rover and sets it with a colourful tablecloth. He unloads a cooler and magically produces appetizers and drinks, introducing us to the delightful safari tradition of 'sundowners.' Sipping a South African sparkling wine, I contentedly watch the rhinos slowly moving against the backdrop of a horizon ablaze with reds and purples. The sky darkens and then, suddenly, a hideous, blood-curdling howl shatters the tranquility. It goes on and on, raising goose bumps on every inch of my body. "Just a black-backed
," says Rio nonchalantly, uncorking another bottle.
It's dark by the time we return to camp, where we are met by an escort carrying a huge shotgun. "Please don't walk about the camp after dark without me.
Otherwise, you may get eaten," he says.
We're led to the lodge for a delicious dinner of kudu steak accompanied by an excellent South African cabernet sauvignon, served by friendly staff. During dinner they dance and sing in their Nama-Damara click language. I close my eyes and think I am hearing songs from the Lion King.
Our dinner-table talk is all about the animals we've seen. Rio explains that preserving game has been difficult because
, elephants and other animals were being decimated by
. Progressive anti-poaching and conservation programs, however, are making a difference.
After dinner Rio shows us infra-red photos taken the previous night of
prowling through the camp. I watch a lioness walk toward the camera. Even on the grainy screen, I can see she is about 300 pounds of lithe, fluid motion, her muscles rippling, and the epitome of confident power. Then an American from Philadelphia excitedly describes how he had looked out his tent window the previous night and had seen the lions at the waterhole.
When I return to my tent, I stick like glue to the armed escort.
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is an environmental consultant.
Namibia has a population of 2.1 million people and a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy. Agriculture, herding, tourism and the mining industry - including mining for gem diamonds, uranium, gold, silver, and base metals - form the backbone of Namibia's economy. Given the presence of the arid Namib Desert, it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Namibia enjoys high political, economic and social stability.
Currency: one Namibian dollar (equivalent to one South African Rand) is $0.13 Canadian; one Canadian dollar is 7.6 Namibian dollars.
Electricity: Namibia uses 220 volt current; you need a 220 to 120 volt transformer and a type M plug adapter.