Namibia: A Paradise you should never be asked to leave

ASC Safari Guru recently spent some time in Namibia where she managed to take in all sorts of interesting sights. The following are excerpts from her travel diary.

13 May 2013

Once again I packed my bags for yet another African adventure, it was a Monday afternoon as I sat at Cape Town airport waiting for my flight to Namibia, my husband begrudgingly let me go – poor guy, especially as Namibia is on his wish list too!!

It was an easy flight up to Windhoek from Cape Town and since Windhoek is 1 hour behind south Africa I re- set my phone clock so that I’d be on time for all things Namibian.

I was joined by 3 other agents from the UK. Caroline, Albie and Aggie were my travel partners for the next 8 days.. By the end of the trip I was speaking with an English accent!! Fun n games I tell you …and if my husband asks it was all VERY hard work.

Liesl and the ladies...
Liesl (far left) and the ladies…

Finally we arrived at our boutique hotel – Olive Grove Exclusive in Windhoek.

It’s not easy to wow 4 agents but they managed to get it right, often a city hotel is a hotel and a room is a room but Olive Grove Exclusive has managed to conjure up some magic with its decor and mixture of textures. Think big marble boulder with the flat top polished as a table, big comfy leather couches in the lounge, huge emotive fabulous Himba portraits adorning the wall. Each room has been decorated with its own unique theme depicting Namibia, it’s a great start to any Namibian stay. The hotel is the inspiration of photographer Micky Hoyle. Not a designer by trade but a man with a great eye for colour, textures and original light fixtures!

14 May 2013

Early wake up call (which set the tone for the rest of the trip!) After my shower I discovered that although they got so many things right here they’d skimped on large towels and good hair dryers. So I had to use my bath towel as my hair towel and the hand towel to dry my ample body! And then the cheapo hair dryer had no power. urrrggh. I really don’t understand a 5 star place that doesn’t follow through to the smaller details. It’s still a nice place, don’t get me wrong, I was just being precious.

Here is my rundown of the 10 properties we saw that day!

Next door to Olive Grove Exclusive is Olive Grove Guesthouse, same owner as OG Exclusive. OG Guesthouse is another perfectly great base for your Windhoek stay, rooms are charming and have everything you need, run with German efficiency and Namibian hospitality. Perfect combination!

Then we popped into The Elegant Guesthouse, small and friendly. No great shakes but perfectly acceptable.

Then it was over to the Grande Dame of Windhoek – Hotel Heinitzberg, run by mother and son team with super-efficient and actually a much nicer hotel than I had in my mind, the rooms are beautifully appointed and the dining area literally has an aerial view of Windhoek a pleasant surprise for an old Windhoek institution. The restaurant is apparently very good and often hosts Namibia’s businessmen and politicians.

hotel_heinitzburg
Hotel Heinitzberg

It was a race to Eros Airport where we met up with Ziggy our pilot for our fly-across-Namibia trip. Packing up our luggage into the small Cessna 210 was no mean feat and Ziggy certainly has a knack when it comes to packing big bags into small spaces!

On departing Windhoek, our first stop was Okanjumo. As we landed I spotted cheetah and very proudly announced it too (trying to impress my travel buddies), only to embarrassingly realise that this is where they have a huge cat rehabilitation centre with mainly cheetahs and leopards – duh. AfriCat is an incredible initiative where they not only rehabilitate injured or orphaned cats but where they release them back into the wild.

It takes us two hours to zip around and site inspect the property. First stop is The Villa which is based within their nature reserve where they have their predators and other game. It is the only accommodation that is within the reserve and needs to be booked on an exclusive use basis. There’s an impressive swimming pool and outside area. The 2 suites on either side of the main area have a great view of the watering hole. The other rooms around the back don’t have the views but they’re still spacious and lovely.

Shana the new manager gets us back into the vehicle saying she has a surprise for us! We tear off through the reserve and into the plains region where we were lucky enough to see the release of their new zebra and impala – an exciting experience to be with the staff during such a momentous occasion.

impala_namibia
The first tentative steps.

Bush Lodge has a large open lounge area with a TV with live feeds of the reserve. (You can log onto this via the Internet too) These TVs are standard issue in all the lodge’s main areas.

Main camp is going through a major renovation. All the garden rooms are going to be closed by the end of the year and a main lodge area and more rooms are going to be built overlooking the open plains of the reserve. The rooms are huge and you open your eyes to the beautiful plains. Only plains game here too, no predators. So the zebra, impala, oryx and other antelope are all (safely) in seventh heaven!

Although The Villa was impressive, Plains Camp was my favourite, although the English girls thought it was a little too modern and preferred the style of Bush Camp.

We walked through the AfriCat Centre and were given the hard sell on the need for donations to keep the centre alive!

We returned to the aircraft where poor Ziggy had had to repack the hold! Next stop was a quick refuel before arriving at Onguma, a private concessions just outside Etosha.

Eric, our ranger, collected us from the landing strip and took us to the Tented Camp where we would be staying that night. After a quick light lunch (I had the game wrap which was divine!!! The others had a salad) it was off to see the other lodges and drive through the impressive 36 000 ha private concession. Out of the 5 different camps, my favourite was Tented Camp and The Fort, Treetop was also lovely but Tented Camp was better. Sadly we didn’t get to see Bush or Ayoba because we ran out of daylight hours!!!!

The Fort has a Moroccan theme and overlooks a waterhole and the pans. It is a dreamy spot! As the sun sets the building transforms and becomes alive with colour… candlelight and lanterns creating a beautifully romantic atmosphere. They are doing a soft ‘refurb’ as I type, and the new manager Juan seems very fired up and oozes passion for his new place. Don’t blame him!

Tented Camp (where we spent the night) has a beautiful large lounge area with a small plunge pool which was a tad chilly for my 5 toes! Only English Aggie was willing to take a dip. The tents are lovely with a beautiful big 4 poster bed, large bathroom and everything you need for a very comfortable night in the African bush.

The perfect conclusion to our stay was seeing 2 of the laziest lions sleeping it off under the tree. We laughed as we watched them literally having to drag themselves to the water hole with their big FULL bellies! All this right in front of the lodge, you really don’t need to go too far to enjoy the wildlife at Onguma.

lion_namibia
In NO hurry…

15 May

Another (standard procedure) early morning wake up call, followed by a detailed demonstration on how to make the perfect toasted bacon sarmie… we were off to explore the Etosha National Park and the famous Etosha Pans – it was another pinch me moment! The gates to Etosha are just 20 mins drive from Onguma and within no time we were exploring Etosha with our expert guide Erica from Onguma.

The reserve is vast but you will most likely pass other vehicles as it is a national park. Although Onguma has its own wildlife, including rhino, it would be completely ridiculous not to explore the great Etosha National Park.

Although we only had a morning to explore the park we still drew up an impressive list of sightings – black faced impala (endemic to Namibia), spotted hyena, giraffe with babies scampering across the plains, zebra, gnu and a breeding herd of elephants. Considering our luck with the lions the day before and seeing the ellie’s, we didn’t do too badly! Remember that you can only really see buffalo in the Caprivi so don’t expect to see them here as they are disease carriers and the Namibian authorities prefer to keep them far away from the National Parks.

After a coffee break and our bacon toasties we looked around the Etosha history centre where they showcase how the reserve has shrunk from the original 90 000 square kilometres to around 22 000 square kilometers That’s a huge amount of lost land. There are large private concessions around Etosha but there are still fences between them all, apparently negotiations with private land owners and government are under way but final resolutions may not be in the near future. We learnt however that some animals are capable of digging under the fences!

We looked at another property outside Etosha called Mushara and were pleasantly surprised and impressed. Mushara is a predominantly female run lodge with 3 different camps: Lodge, Bush and Outpost Camps, all with their own entrances and all run independently of one another. It is only 25 minutes from Etosha and the pricing is great value for money. Although this is a dinner, bed and breakfast package, they don’t have safari activities at the lodge itself but have vehicles for game drives into Etosha.

Lodge offers a variety of sophisticated room options from their entry level standard rooms all the way too their private villas and family suites. It is elegant with attention to detail, a substantial lounge area and a large pool.

Bush Lodge offers a great tented experience with tents big enough for a family of 4 (although in my opinion more for smaller kids) within the family tents. They have a play area for kids, a large round swimming pool all tied together with a splash of fun and creativity.

Outpost being the super elegant most luxurious lodge of them all, has a fabulous lounge and dining area. I envy the interior decorator … it is obvious that she had a wonderful time creating the look and feel of these 3 very different lodges.

Mushara Lodge
Mushara Lodge

Back into the aircraft and it’s off to Ongava. Arriving a little later than expected the ‘tour operator’ in us quickly sprang into action – choosing to rather have a look at Anderson’s Camp before going to on to the lodge, desperate save time to make sure we see it all! We tour operators definitely move fast on these educational style trips, and Namibia, even though it’s a vast spread out country, was no exception. 10 lodges in 1 day!

Anderson’s is the Ongava Game Reserve’s entry level camp and Wilderness Safaris’ adventure level experience. The whole lodge has been designed and constructed with eco-friendly infrastructure and materials. It’s a good solid lodge with an interesting slant on design. Perhaps not my idea of style but it fits perfectly into the experience you are going to get here. It has a sizeable waterhole in front of the breezy lounge where all the animals come to drink.

Then off we raced to our lodge, Ongava Lodge where we learnt that the lodge was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary – an impressive milestone. Sadly, that was where excitement ended for me…. It actually looked 20 years old and in desperate need for some TLC. I was surprised and disappointed to discover that all our meals were buffet meals and that the staff were unenthusiastic… and tired too. Compared to all the other lodges I visited during the past 8 days this was my least favourite. Sad considering that I was SO looking forward to my stay there.

The rooms have all been built too close together and the outside balcony area and “outside” shower were not at all private considering people walked past the front of your room! Even the basin area is in front of the room with a window for all and sundry to see you! My suggestion is to request the front row rooms which don’t have access pathways in front of them- more privacy!

Although Abraham our guide was marginally interesting, the passion and pride we experienced at the other lodges just wasn’t there.

When we walked up to Little Ongava we were told that we couldn’t see a room and could only look at the main lounge area. Once again I was overwhelmed with disappointment.

Truly, it would seem that the only redeeming quality of this lodge is the game viewing. Watching the animals coming and going from the waterhole was wonderful – rhinos galore! Giraffe and waterbuck (although the waterbuck are not endemic to the area which seemed a little unnatural… for a Wilderness Safaris property).

landrover_namibia
Ol’ faithful.

I did like the look and feel of Tented Camp and Adolf who showed us around was lovely. Tented Camp gives you exactly what you are expecting, a tented experience ie: your expectations aren’t disappointed.

I left Ongava feeling sad.

16 May

Another early morning! And we were off to the airstrip and collected by Neels from Mondjila. A 30 minute drive from Anderson’s gate (Etosha National Park) and we arrived at his working farm where he farms sheep and cattle. Neels and some of his workers personally built all the tents and infrastructure at this lovely tented camp overlooking a beautiful valley below. The tents are basic but the en-suite facilities are comfortable and clean. The absolute highlight of your stay here are the charming hosts, Neels and his wife Leonie. Expect real people with good wholesome meals and just being around them for the short time we had lifted all our spirits. Their passion and beautiful human spirit will make you feel as if you are falling into the open arms of long lost friends.

It’s superbly priced so if you want a simple, honest place and want to save on budget, then go to Mondjila. You will love it!

Back to serious stuff… off we went again with our pilot, Ziggy and his trusty Cessna. It was a grueling 1,5 hour flight to Okahiringo River Camp. The flight itself was worth a thousand words and flying above the countryside and mountainous terrain was something only dreams could conjure up. We arrived and were met by the super enthusiastic co-owner Peter (his partners are 2 wonderfully charismatic Italian ladies) who bundled us into his pick-up van and we were off to the lodge. The idea that day was to have lunch here and then move onto his Elephant Lodge… But by the time we got to the beautiful oasis we really didn’t want to move and luckily Peter was happy to let us stay for the night. So after a superbly efficient juggling act we were there for the night.

Close your eyes and breathe.

Picture this. Rocky red mountains and desert sand all around you and suddenly you have a burst of colour and life with the Kunene River running through the region. It’s real life magic and a place that will move your heart and soul.

Breathtakingly beautiful.
Breathtakingly beautiful.

I have a little life story here. Many years ago I lost my cousin to a river rafting accident when she and a group of her friends went rafting down the Kunene. This was my first visit to the area and so the sight of the river and the utter tranquility and beauty of it all moved me to tears. If you could choose where your last breath will be taken, this is where it should be. A simple slice of paradise on earth. Here you will breathe deeper and find a sense of calm amongst the chaos we call life. Put this on your bucket list. You have to see it for yourself, the best photographer couldn’t do the place the justice it deserves.

Our tents were all positioned up on the mountainside with a large bedrooms and inside and outside showers. Do yourself a favour, have an outside shower! You have the rushing Kunene down below as your night time lullaby and above you the most incredible blanket of stars all this while you are taking a hot shower. Could life get any better I ask you with tears in my eyes!

Anyway I digress, we gathered our cameras and waited for our intrepid guide, Harry to take us to meet the local Himba tribe. I had butterflies in my belly as I really don’t like that voyeuristic feeling when going to a village, but there was such an OMG aspect to it too! How many people can say they have been to a Himba village after all?

You always hear the rumours from all sources that the local tribesmen and women always charge for photos – well here the lodges all contribute a village fee so there is no fussing about money for photographs and there is a mutual agreement – the lodges bring their guests and the members of the tribe engage and allow photos to be taken. Harry is very gentle and kindly acts as translator for us and them. So we were officially communicating!

The village comprised mainly of women and children with the men popping in for visits every so often. The women and the children look after the livestock, fetch the water and literally keep everything working in the village. (note to self, must come back in my second life as male lion or male Himba….. Seems like a good one) It was a very interesting. I learnt that the Himba women stop bathing once they reach their first cycle and then use the red powder from the stone mixed with animal fat to rub all over themselves, this is also a fantastic sunscreen.

An elderly Himba lady sits contemplatively.
An elderly Himba lady sits contemplatively.

Someone on the trip with us mentioned that apparently there is a reality TV series where a group of blondie-bimbo types stay at one of the Himba villages, survivor style. I give them a few hours. A Himba Village ain’t no country club people!

I enjoyed my time at the village, took some classic photos but think I was happier to leave. I always imagine a car full of people stopping outside my house while I am cooking and just getting on with life and having them barge in with flashes and cameras Hollywood style….

The question was asked why they don’t go up to one of the local towns and become more western and the reply we got was, this was their life. They don’t know anything better. If you ask me posing for cameras, rubbing on the red mud and keeping your hair in elaborate braids most certainly pays the bills- especially now during the dry years…

Having said all that, River Lodge is superbly remote and I would really recommend flying there otherwise it’s a fairly lengthy road trip.

Back at the lodge we had dinner around their communal table – simple but tasty food, and what better way to end off any meal but with homemade ice-cream! In that heat I felt like a kid again!

We made arrangements with Peter to lead us through a yoga session at 5:30 the following morning and after gin and tonics and dinner my eyes could barely stay open…. I went to bed with the flowing Kunene River rocking me gently to sleep.

17 May

It was a super EARLY morning wake up. So early in fact that we needed torches to find our way down to the main area, but there was Peter, as promised, ready for our yoga session! It was truly spectacular starting off the session under the stars and ending it at sunrise.

It’s a magical place and a magical lodge. In fact it’s so beautiful out there your eyes keep going back to see more and to double check that it is real. Find the time, find the money. Go there.

Reunited with the aircraft, it was off to the Okahiringo Elephant Camp in Purros, part of the Kaokaland. Here you land between the mountains and have the chance to see the Dessert Elephant and if you are lucky, lion too. We saw giraffe and had lunch with the ever gracious and elegant Graziella, Peters Italian partner and the eye for detail and style. I am immediately intoxicated by the beauty of the lodge, it’s location and the space it surrounds. The rooms all have their own private ‘sala’ where you can just lie back and watch the world pass you by or stay in your spacious rooms with large beds and views that go on forever! It’s another one of those places where you think you are in a dream, pinch me moment.

You can also visit the local Himba village and our guide mentioned something about going into his village and meeting the Herero Tribe too which would make for a very interesting contrast considering they have these hugely elaborate dresses with a large head dresses and up to 5 skirt layers (but if it gets too hot they are allowed to wear just 3!).

namibia_herero_tribe
Members of the Himba tribe.

Me in my ski-pants and vest couldn’t fathom wearing any more than I already had on. I have new respect for you incredible ladies of Africa, I am in awe of you.

After our delicious lunch it was back into our plane and off to another mystical land of wonder and eye popping beauty. On arrival at Purros, our enigmatic and fabulous guide Frederick collected us for a whirlwind tour of the area. We are now in Damaraland territory, a very popular destination for all who visit Namibia (alas civilization is always somewhere on the horizon isn’t it.) It was a bit of a culture shock to see so many people after being so isolated and enjoying the peace of one’s own mind!

Our first stop with Frederick (great laugh, huge smile – ask for him, you will love his company) is Twylfontein which is a UNESCO heritage site because of the rock art and engravings they have, one of the biggest collections in Africa dating back between 2-6000 years. So if you have any walking difficulty or aren’t too steady on your feet then this wouldn’t work for you. You climb up and around rocks to see the art and steep inclines always means steep declines! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s where you can see the famous rock painting – The Lion.

We then went on to the Burnt Mountain and the Organ Pipes, both natural rock formations in the area. We got a long geological explanations…. but I wasn’t paying much attention, sorry.

It was then a mad scramble for Mowani, our lodge for the night. We had to race to keep ahead of the sunset as boy you don’t want to miss this one! Mowani Lodge is built around incredible granite boulders and the rooms and the are in the form of boulders too so as to fit into the surroundings.

We got there in the nick of time and scampered up the pathway to the viewing site, a huge boulder overlooking the entire valley and one of the most sublime sunsets Namibia has to offer! I am starting to run out of adjectives but needless to say with a cocktail in one hand and my camera in the other I truly could not have been happier. I actually had to put my drink down all the time to take a gazzillion photos which I do hope have captured the sheer beauty of this place.

namibia_sunset
The perfect sunset.

We got to our rooms after dark and left again before sunrise…..you see…..it is hard work. We all had just enough time to shower, have dinner and then fall into bed utterly exhausted. Another fine day of experiences and sensory overload. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

18 May

Another early morning wake up was followed by a quick walk around the property. Always ask for a room with a view. It’s not that much more expensive and well worth the wow moment when you open up your eyes. Also be sure to always sleep with just the netting down as it’s spectacular watching the world wake up from your bed. Live life.

Mowani like many of the other lodges in Namibia have a great culture of promoting their staff. Frederick our superbly able guide moved himself through the ranks from dish washing to guiding, and the lodge staff all had a great sense of pride in what they do as well as a sense of community.

Frederick took us on a nature drive and we finally got to see the Desert Elephants again, this times with the incredible fire red mountains as a back drop. Some of my favourite photos were taken here.

A quick aside before I ramble on…The day before we saw a guy standing on top of the Burnt Mountains (supposedly a protected rock art site!) and later we saw two bright white Swedish tourists going for a stroll through the reserve. Had it not been for Frederick’s quick reactions (shouting at the top of his lungs) those tourists may have been another fatal statistic with the media blaming the elephant which would end up getting shot. Tourists of the world. When in Africa respect nature and the rules and Africa will respect you.

Note on Desert Elephants: They have longer legs than the African elephant and an extra vertebrae on their necks, they look like elegant ballerinas with those long legs….albeit large ones.

 

Desert Elephants travel great distances for food daily.
Desert Elephants travel great distances for food daily.

Then for a complete change of pace, weather and a mild culture shock we flew to Swakopmund, a small coastal town known for its German-ness and oodles of adventure activities. What I loved about going to Swakopmund was the complete change of scenery, from red boulders and desert heat to mist and ocean.

We are taken to Swakopmund Guesthouse – perfectly central, beautifully decorated with large rooms, wifi, cellphone connection and even a TV – not that I have missed it much!

That afternoon we went quad biking across the Swakopmund dunes. We were well bundled up in our winter woollies and although our hands turned blue, we all summoned our inner child and had an absolute blast. We did stop for a bit to take in the beauty of the dunes before tearing off again. Happy days.

Dinner was with our Namibian ground handler and go-to-guy for anything Namibian, Leander Borg. He took us out to the local Brauhaus where we feasted on German food and told him all about our experiences and impressions so far.

Out on the dunes!
Out on the dunes!

19 May

No surprise that we were woken early again but by then my body clock was now well trained and so it was effortless. We went on a desert adventure into the dunes with the charismatic, superbly entertaining and knowledgeable Chris from Living Dessert Tours. Chris brought the dunes alive and taught us all about the wonders that lie beneath the sand as he introduces us to a colourful gecko that he casually digs up. We got a lecture on conservation and learnt all about the mess that the locals have made of the dunes with their 4x4s and quad bikes creating tracks all over Namibia that will never be erased. Yes a pang of guilt overcame me and I never confess… But at least our quad bike route was based in a zoned area and we had all followed a set path, which according to Chris is at least better than 5 years ago.

We had the most entertaining trip with Chris over the dunes and saw skink, side winder and horned adder (YES 2 SNAKES) and watched him feed a chameleon a worm. Seeing that tongue unravel and grab the worm was truly fabulous! If you are going to do anything in Swakopmund make sure it’s this desert experience with Chris!!! He’ll open your eyes and bring a seemingly static mountain of sand alive.

Then it was a quick drive to the airport for a quick touch down at Sossusvlei. Sadly we didn’t have enough time to go dune walking as alas again….we were running out of precious time! We did pop into Sossusvlei Desert Lodge with its cool signature elegance, its own telescope and star gazing bed. The lodge has been awarded the dark skies award. All the rooms are air-conditioned. To be totally honest with you I just loved the simple but beautiful design of this lovely &Beyond lodge, it may be a little too much for some but if you are looking for all the mod-cons and to stay cool during the hot summer days then this is a great choice!

You can do great activities like different game drive experiences, walking trails, hot air ballooning (at an additional charge) quad biking (our new swear word), climbing either big daddy or little daddy dunes which are apparently higher and better than Dune 45. I am just repeating what I was told…

Before the sun slipped away from us we scrambled back to the airstrip for a scenic 10 minute hop to Wolwedans. What awaited us was some of the most incredible scenery God has painted for us. The ruby red sand between yellow grasses with gorgeous waves of mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and in your own little world out here – so far away from pretty much everything although everything that you need is RIGHT there!

Internet access is only available at the “base camp” where all the self-drivers leave their vehicles and home to the Namibian Culinary School as well as where the staff and pilots stay. So if you are DESPERATE, like some of my fellow travellers, to be connected then this is where you get your fix.

Tranquility is...
Tranquility is…

Aaaah…. waking up to the sunrise or watching the sunset from your room or the communal lounge facilities – it doesn’t really matter where you decide to sit and watch the world awake (or go to sleep) – this is where you will be inspired to write a book, paint a masterpiece or just become human again. In our lives in this age we are constantly blasted by information and our stress levels are way past normal, and so if you need to revive your senses and re-fill that empty cup, this is where you’lll have the opportunity to do it. If you do nothing else but watch the sunrise and set you’ll be having a pinch me moment!

The Wolwedans collection of properties is yet another bucket list location.

Wolwedans (Named after the ardwolf found in the region) has 4 different lodges/camps. Dunes Lodge, Dunes camp, Boulders and Private Camp. Their names speak for themselves and we are fortunate to be hosted here for 2 nights – the first night at Dunes Camp and the second at Dunes Lodge.

Dunes Camp has huge beautiful tents overlooking the plains and the mountainside, youlll have Oryx and zebra as your neighbours. Although there are cheetah and leopard around, don’t count on seeing them. If you do, be happy.

We did see bat eared fox, aardwolf and the ‘Impala’ of the area – the beautifully painted Oryx. We saw weaver nests that were built on branches not strong enough to hold their heavy load, giraffe and hyena ….just take it all in and say you have lived a good life after being here.

The Namibian Oryx.
The Namibian Oryx.

Our first night was spent at Wolwedans Dune Camp. We only made it to camp late in the evening when it was already dark and were quickly shuttled to our rooms. My immediate impression was WOW, am I really staying here tonight – another pinch me moment (I am black and blue from all the pinch me moments!).

The tent has been constructed on a large wooden platform with a great space for a patio area complete with loungers and a view. The tent has a huge four poster bed with comfy cushions and bedding. At the back is the bathroom with shower (only, obviously), flush toilet and his and her vanities. It has all been constructed according to “green” principals so don’t expect a torrent of water tin the shower, although I did miss it…..

By the time I was ready to go across for dinner it had started storming – an electrical storm like no other and since it hadn’t rained in the area for 2 years walking with raindrops on my head and lightning showing me the way left me with giggles like a teenage girl about to be kissed for the first time!

Dinner was a fantastic affair with 5 courses of delum-shis-ness (it’s my own word), wines from South Africa were flowing and lively discussion with the other guests – a wonderful family from Germany as excited about being in Namibia as I was. Trying to stay awake started to become embarrassing so I called it quits and went straight to bed.

After the lovely shower and lightning storm came gusty winds (apparently common during winter). When I got into the tent I thought I was about to have a Mary Poppins moment with me and the tent being swept up and away. Ear plugs were provided in case the rattling of the tent flaps got too much. But they were too uncomfortable for me and besides… I was virtually sleeping before my head hit the pillow.

20 May

By then my body clock was in tune with 5 o clock mornings and I lay back in my princess bed to watch the world come alive. I packed and was ready to face the day and waiting in the communal lounge area (where all the camera battery charging gets done), I was eager to have my camera operating again (for obvious reasons of course!!).I snapped away merrily at the scenery and the lodge details, enjoyed a gloriously hearty breakfast before setting off on the day’s journey. It was a day with a mission. We had to see the other 2 lodges that we weren’t staying at as well as see the incredible infrastructure at “base camp”.

First stop is Private Camp, a 2 bedroom exclusive use camp. Here you get your own chef and ranger and the best place to hang out with your family or friends. Sublime views, your every need attended to…and all this in Namibia. Seriously, what more do you need?! I think I recall that there is cell phone reception, but if you dare take out your phone while I am around I will feed it to the hyenas!

Then we trekked cross country to Boulders Camp which is literally on the opposite side of the reserve. Set amongst huge granite boulders this camp has a kind of magic unto itself. Sadly the camp was closed for a few days because there were no guests however I didn’t need to stretch my imagination too far to understand the wonderment of it all.

The only question mark I had about this camp was that the bathroom facilities weren’t within the tent structure. Here you walk along a wooden platform to the bathroom tent alongside the sleeping tent. More than likely a space issue but I am not a huge fan of walking outside in the middle of the night to do my business….

En-route our superbly knowledgeable ranger Lucas told us about their “adopt a fairy circle” initiative, which gives visitors the chance to donate funds to research and to further educate locals about sustainability and conservation initiatives. The Fairy Circles are something of a myth, they are circles dotted all over Namibia (which can be seen from the air) where the grass grows in a circle but nothing grows in the middle of them – just sand. The jury is out as to what causes it. Ants? Termites? Fairies? The scientists are still scratching their heads, my 4 year old daughter would just be happy to think it’s the fairies!

We drove through and around the reserve stopping every now and then for photo opportunities or to just take brain photos (those pictures you will have embedded in your memory banks forever, greater and larger than any photo could ever produce). We ended up at “base camp” where we were shown the re-cycling effort and the herb and fresh food garden – loved it. They have pigs who take care of all the camps’ waste. Eventually the pigs get donated to a community. A great way to reduce waste – instead of burning, its about feeding a community. The lodges are all run on solar and there is a huge solar plant at “base camp” complete with battery storage units and an impressive water system. It must be a massive financial commitment to implement all this but in the long run the low impact on the environment is cemented.

Eco-friendly accommodation.
Eco-friendly accommodation.

We finally got to Dunes Lodge a touch later than our expected arrival but what can you expect with 4 ladies and a ranger let loose in the NamibRand Nature Reserve. A quick tasty lunch was served and finally we were allowed time to take it all in and breath. The English ladies all ordered massages. HEAVEN??

A shower and it was off to our final dinner in paradise. Lively dinner conversation and drinks around the fire side followed as we tried to stretch as much as physically possible out of our day! I eventually broke down and tore myself off to my comfortable bed and nothing but red sand, mountains and absolute silence to rock me to sleep. Not surprising that I slept like a baby.

21 May

I didn’t want to get out of bed and sat there as long as I could watching the sun rise. Armed with camera and my lingering thoughts I almost had a lump in my throat at the thought of leaving that place and Namibia. But alas, like my father use to say – all good things must come to an end.

We guzzled down our breakfast and were hurried onto the vehicle to take us down to the landing strip. It was a sad farewell because we knew it was not just the departure from Wolwedans but from Namibia itself. Oh, if I was younger and smarter when I was younger……BUT I had a family waiting for me at home and they were counting down the days to my arrival. I couldn’t have sent them a message to say I was staying on – could I?

I had grabbed a quick shut eye on all the other flights we had taken around Namibia but that day I did my best to absorb it all and make the day linger and last as long as I could.

But the end was final and we got to Eros Airport with just enough time to say our farewells. The English gals were off on the am flight to Johannesburg and I got to spend a bit more time in Windhoek before my afternoon flight to Cape Town. I got driven around Windhoek which felt like a small city that is itching to explode, with building and construction around every corner. A town where the legacy of the German and South African influences still run deep in architecture and street names. I bought my fair share of Namibian Biltong and later wished I’d bought MORE! I had lunch at NICE – a restaurant and chef finishing school and training academy where the students go for practical training at Wolwedans throughout the course. I had a lovely vegetable curry and typed furiously on my iPad trying to scribe everything I had seen and done.

I am now back in Cape Town and have had to hit the ground running playing catch up after being out of the office for 9 days. But my dreams are still taking me back to the Namibian landscape that has refuelled and regenerated the me I want to be. When the city gets too much I will go back again.

Thank you Namibia.

AFTERTHOUGHTS:

Its important to have the right expectations and the correct spirit to encounter an experience that will fill your soul and sometimes even move you to tears.

Namibia is not a “tick list” destination. It is a country filled with wonderment, big skies and SPACE! If your focus is on seeing game then rather go elsewhere (although you will get your fill of wildlife and see animals, this is not a one stop shop for the big 5).

As I sit on my last morning in Namibia, at Wolwedans Lodge, I look out at some of nature’s true wonders and am blessed to be here and to be alive. I feel like my battery has been regenerated and although I could sit here for days I understand that the journey has an end too.

I have experienced and seen some of the most beautiful and intoxicating sights, I have met and interacted with faraway Himba people and played with their children. I have encountered a river (The Kunene) I never expected to see and came face to face with packed away heartache and loss.

Namibia is full of beautiful moments.
Namibia is full of beautiful moments.

I have lifted up my arms to touch the stars and witnessed a colossal lightening storm to exhilarate my eyes and dance in the rain.

I have met friendly people who smile not only with their faces but with their hearts and whole being, which is something refreshing and sincere.

After 13 years of roaming around some of the most beautiful sights and sounds Africa has to offer I pause and take a deep breath here in Namibia and truly feel like I have been touched by an angel.

Going home is going to be difficult, but often leaving a place you love gives you perspective too and makes you appreciate the experience even more.

I am going home to a family I have missed but I feel like my soul now belongs to Namibia….until next time!

AN ASIDE :

Although we managed to see a great variety of locations and far-away places we only managed to do so because we were flying, 1251 nautical miles and 11,3 hours of flying time later it was a journey to end all journeys.

Its impossible to see all these locations in a short period of time without flying, and although Namibia is a huge self-drive destination the distances are far and remote. If you are driving, gear yourself up for a road trip of note where you will drive long stretches of road not seeing signs of civilization or passing by anyone for hours. It’s an epic journey and the only way to truly enjoy every moment is to embrace it all, know you are in a far-away country with limited infrastructure and enjoy each and every moment.

Pictures and Words By: Liesl Mathews. Read more about Liesl here.

If you think Liesl’s trip to Namibia sounds like the perfect holiday too, Contact Us about making your trip there a reality.

To see more pictures from Liesl’s trip, check out our Pinterest album here.

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