So now we're getting good at this self drive and trekking thing.
Driving through New Zealand, then the Ring Road in Iceland and now through the remote wonders of Namibia. Trekking gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda and now setting our sights on trekking rhinos on foot. It seems to me our adventures are getting more and more ambitious. I can't imagine what our next one will be! Probably tracking Martians on Mars.
We've been on several safaris before, but this time we were looking for something different and a bit more challenging. Boy did we get it.
I gotta say, this type of safari isn't for everyone. It's a trip where you must commit to the distance. You need to love being on the road for hours and hours, and then a few more hours.
I have a lot of friends who would have hated this trip. Firstly, living on the west coast, it's going to take you days just to get to your starting off point, which for us was the capital city of Windhoek in Namibia.
Namibia is a huge country. It's the size of two California's put together and the distances between the most popular sites are vast to say the least. We knew this going in but once you're driving on dirt roads, on the left side of the road, in the right side of the vehicle with a left hand manual shift, the distances seem much further than what they appear on your map.
I for one, love a good road trip and for us, this was king of road trips.
I planned this trip with the help of Dori Peterson at Cadence Travel and Wilderness Safaris.
You could try to plan an adventure like this by yourself, but I wouldn't recommend it. There are too many fine details that would be missed. We were given everything we needed to know before we even left the States.
Having said that, renting a camper truck like the ones through KEA are very popular. The majority of the vehicles on the road were these adventurous folks headed from campsite to campsite. I like a bit more glamping in my adventures.
There are few gas stations or restaurants in-between destinations, so it's a good idea that someone in your party know how to change a tire or dig yourself out of the sand.
Our first destination after our long sleep in Windhoek was to Onguma Tented Camp near the east (Von Lindquist Gate) entrance to Etosha National Park.
What was supposed to be a 6 hour drive, turned into an 8 1/2 hour drive by somehow taking a wrong turn where there were no turns to be made. We literally had one highway, the B1, and we somehow veered off it, wasting precious time at Onguma.
Part of this trip was planned just so I could stay at this very camp.
The deck faces the camp's private waterhole where you can sit, enjoy a well deserved cocktail and watch the ever changing scenery.
There are several lodges in the Ongava Game Reserve and if you get the choice stay at either Ongava Lodge, Little Ongava or Tented Camp.
We stayed at Anderssons because there was no availability at the others. After coming from our first camp, Anderssons was quite a disappointment.
Yes, this is the snob in me coming out. We heard the same expressions from other guests as well. Our accommodations here were fine and the staff was wonderful. But it didn't have half the charm or luxury that we just experienced at Onguma Tented Camp.
You may now begin to roll your eyes.
It did however have a very nice outdoor area for dining with a waterhole 50 feet away. We were greeted by a thirsty rhino both nights we were there.
Etosha, which mean "Great White Place" is the largest salt pan in Africa. This makes for a very beautiful contrasting landscape where the animals look like mirages in the distance.
As the sun is setting, a bar is set up and you are given an opportunity to stretch you legs, watch the sunset with new friends and reflect of the adventures of the day.
Our whole itinerary changed after I spoke with an expert on Namibia. (Chris Liebenburg, with Piper and Heath). He reminded me that traveling to Namibia shouldn't be about the lodges I chose to stay at (I was choosing lodges based on how cool I thought they looked on their websites) but the experiences I couldn't get anywhere else in the world. Where else was I going to get the chance to track rhino on foot?
This is where that possibility was going to happen.
This area has the largest free roaming Black Rhino population in Africa and a landscape that gives you a sense of what it would be like to roam on Mars.
After meeting our new friends Marc and Crystal who are French Travel Agents doing "site inspections" (my new dream job by the way) we had cocktails around the camp fire and speculated what our evening surprise might be. I thought I overheard that we may be in search of a hyena den. But no, something much more beautiful awaited us.
We were driven a short distance to where the rest of the camp guests were already waiting for us to join them for a bush cocktail party and dinner under the stars. Imagine the most ridiculously romantic set up from The Bachelor, where there are dozens of torches and lanterns and a giant camp fire lighting the evening sky. We were greeted by the entire staff singing welcome songs and serving cocktails on platters.
It was the perfect ending to a very long journey.
It's amazing how quickly you can come to love someone. The enthusiasm, knowledge and humor Bons shared with us. He left an indelible impression in my mind and my heart.
Check out Save The Rhino Trust for more information on conservation.
We met up with them and followed them up and over a mountain, where they believed a female and her calf may soon be approaching. After a 40 minute hike over a landscape I imagine Mars to look like, we found them. Trotting towards us in the distance. We were told to remain still and don't speak. Even though we were uphill and upwind, she still knew we were there and quickly turned in the opposite direction and ran off with her calf.
Quite a fortuitous pee stop.
Now onto another very long road trip headed south with an overnight pit stop in Swakopmund in route to Sossusvlei.
This is a good 2 days in the car so settle in and make sure your reader is charged up and you have plenty of snacks and drinks. We got very good at pulling over on the side of the road and having a quick picnic in the middle of nowhere.
Also, get ready for driving through clouds of white dust as other cars pass you by. You might as well pull over for a few minutes and let the dust literally settle.
It's charming and very welcome site to see after hours in a car and the only place to fuel up along the way. There is a gas station (all gas stations in Namibia are cash only, very important to know), a restaurant and a fantastic bakery where EVERYONE stops to get a piece of apple crumble.
It's also a great photo opportunity with some great rusted over classic cars.
We chose to stay at Sossus Dune Lodge for one reason. It's the only lodge inside the Namib Naukluft Park.
So if your goal is to be ontop of a dune at sunrise, this is the only lodge inside the park. Otherwise you will be queued up at the parks entrance gate with in line of cars.
We had mixed emotions about this lodge. It's a government owned lodge and has potential, but was ultimately a disappointment for us.
If you have the means, I would stay at Little Kuala, which has its own private entrance into the park.
Leave your shoes in the car and prepare for a surprisingly difficult early morning workout. It's much further to the top than you would expect and by the time you reach what you may consider to be the top, your lungs will be burning and your peaceful sunrise will be constantly interrupted with the sounds of coughing and people spitting.
Over all, it's quite a spectacular moment. You'll be saying, "I'm at the top of a dune in Namibia! I wonder what my friends are doing right now."
If I were ever to do this again, I would go to Dune 40 instead. It's a few minutes before Dune 45. There is a small sign marking the dune and all you have to do is park off the road, walk to the base and start trekking. When we were driving back, we noticed that there were maybe 4 people on this dune as compared to the hundred or so that were on Dune 45.
This is always a highlight when you get to soar over spectacular landscapes in a place you've never been to before.
Even better, is touching down in the middle of the desert with a herd of Oryx next to your balloon and then walking over to a formal table set up at the base of a dune for a champagne brunch.
Unless you have rented a 4x4 vehicle, you will not be able to make this trip on your own. There are 4x4 shuttles from the 2x2 parking lot, that are available to get you to Deadvlei and Big Mama Dune.
After a 20 minute trek, up and over changing sand and clay pans, you reach one of the most photographed spots in Namibia.