Last year I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the bush for the first time when I visited Botswana. This year, my colleague and travel buddy Mary-Anne, decided to discover Namibia, with all its vast, isolated and endless landscapes.
Before landing in Windhoek, Mary-Anne couldn’t stop uttering, “Ohhh you are going to love Namibia.” The road trip from the airport was the best possible welcome, providing a sense of what was to come.
We flew to Kulala Desert Lodge in a Wilderness Air Caravan, where my fear of flying in small planes returned. The pilots, however, are most professional and assured me I was in good hands. The sight of the desert’s iconic inselbergs and red dunes seen from the air made me giddy with excitement. Sossusvlei loomed large, and I was in awe, (I had never seen dunes that high before). I realised that I didn’t need Mary-Anne to tell me how I much I would love this amazing country – I was already entranced. Our stay in camp was simply astonishing, from the exceptional service to informative drives with our guide. I was particularly fascinated by the fairy circles that are found here. To this day, the fairy circles – and their formation – remain a mystery.
The next morning was focused on tackling a walk up one of the most famous sand dunes in Sossusvlei. I had to prepare myself mentally for “Big Daddy” – the tallest dune in the area at 325 metres, mind you!
We passed Dune 45 (claimed to be the most photographed dune in Africa) and spotted some oryx crossing the desolate landscape, a great way to start an amazing morning. As we reached the starting point I heard our guide asking, “Who is ready to start climbing?”
With the words, “No mountain’s too high” ringing in my head, my mind told me I could conquer the dune. As I came closer, I quickly realised that it was going to be a tough workout. I opted for the dune overlooking Deadvlei (Big Daddy) and started walking slowly. The views from the top, ok halfway (I’d like to think I was halfway), were remarkable, and running down was exhilarating.
I was especially excited to take my own version of an image for the 2019 Wilderness Safaris Photographic Competition – inspired by an iconic shot of this same scene. I just loved the way the white clay and the dead camelthorn tree were depicted in the photograph, and had to try capture it for myself. Our afternoon was spent at Sesriem Canyon, where we saw a horned adder, which was camouflaged in the sand. Carved by the ephemeral Tshauchab River, Sesriem Canyon is some 30 metres deep, and roughly one kilometre long – and well worth a visit.
Our next stop was Serra Cafema, which was a truly humbling experience. I was able to witness the wonderful partnership that Wilderness Safaris has with neighbouring communities in Namibia. The opportunity to visit a nearby Himba community was one I have been looking forward to ever since I started working at Wilderness Safaris. Our guides Stanley and Ballack did a sterling job preparing us for the village visit, even teaching us to say hello (moro moro), and sharing interesting facts about the Himba’s nomadic lifestyle, traditions and culture.
I was especially captivated when the Himba ladies at the village enquired about our lives – this experience touched me, in that we weren’t just tourists coming to their little village, they too were interested in the people who had come to visit them. I learned a lot about the women’s use of ochre paste (otjize) in their hair, which they use as protection against the sun, and adorn themselves with intricate leather headwear. What an experience.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast was our last stop, and a location that is particularly breathtaking because you are in the middle of a remote desert – not a place you’d expect to see a herd of elephants drinking at a waterhole. And yet here they were! I wanted to say that the highlight of my trip was visiting the Skeleton Coast and seeing the shipwreck remains and noisy colonies of Cape fur seals. However, it was my interaction with Emsie, who is currently running a research project on brown hyaena that impacted me the most. After chatting to Emsie, I had a drastic change of perception for this species, and thoroughly enjoyed her very interesting and interactive presentation. The next day, I joined Emsie to see these remarkable, rare animals at one of the dens she is monitoring for her study. We quietly watched the three young hyaena cubs for some time, and I was in awe!
Surreal is the only word that comes to mind to adequately sum up his this life-changing experience.
Written by Wendy Ngcobo
Post by Wilderness Safaris