Namibia was such an amazing experience. It was a rollercoaster of adventures which ended happily. So here is the story:
We awoke around 730 on Saturday, fresh from our week at sea, ready for our safari. We signed up for an independently planned trip to Etosha National Park in the north part of Namibia. For a 1/5 of the price of the SAS South African Safari, Britt and I decided to sign up! We were told that it would take 4 hours to get to the park and from there we would have an afternoon ride, dinner and then pitch our tents and get up early for a full day safari with a morning safari the last day.
After the debriefing, Brittany and I disembark and on our way to the buses we enjoy a short dance show by native children organized by the Christian Aids Foundation and invited to the ship by SAS. Adorable and interactive, their ages ranged from 8-14. After the show we decide to take a chance and interact with the kids, many of whom speak English, German (Germany colonized Namibia before WWI, when they were known as South West Africa, after that South Africa colonized them), Afrikaans and their native language. While Brittany tries her luck with learning some simple step, I try to learn how to say hello in a native click language. Despite the fact that I royally mess it up, the little girl seems totally amused and tells me that I am quite good at it.
Next, we head to the buses where we are greeted by the rest of our group: Mindy, Eli and Mickey G (Mickey is a one of the professors on the ship, Mindy, his wife and Eli, their 13 year old son), Alisha (a 27 year old student), Becca (one of our good friends from the ship), Kate and Sarah (twins), Kara, Britton (the sole male), Laura (another of our shipboard friends) and Erin. We also meet our tour guides, Polly and Gabriel. As the sun swelters I wonder if the long pants and shirts I brought to protect me from malaria carrying mosquitoes were a good idea (I am also taking Doxycycline).
We are off around 11 and are informed that our ride will be 500 km, which will take about 5 hours. A half hour later we stop in Swakopmund, a German vacation spot right outside of Walvis Bay. Our guides gives us 30 minutes in which to get money from the ATMs (10 Namibian dollars=1 USD, which makes it very easy) and get water at the Zupermarket. We quickly spot some Curio Shopsor tourist shops. We get our errands done as soon as humanly possible in order to shop. Since we signed up to safari the whole time it is unclear whether or not we will be able to shop at all while in Namibia. We find a non-profit shop which sells items made by local African women. It is very inexpensive and I purchase a string of ostrich egg beads for my mom and copper bracelets for Ilana and me.
Returning to the safari vehicle (it is a short bus with big windows that slide down) I settle in and watch the scenery change from desert to shrub and finally savannah in a matter of 2 hours. We stop every so often to use the restroom and purchase snacks. Alternating between my headphones and chatting with friends, I am still amazed that we are in AFRICA when I notice the clouds enlarge and darken, a foreshadowing of our night ahead. Our 4 hour bus ride quickly (or more preciously slowly) turns into an 8 hour one. The guides blame it on the weather washing away the gravel ride they usually take, but we believe the company was just deceptive about the amount of time it takes to get there, since on map a short cut could not have taken off that much time.
We arrive at dusk, seeing a few Springboks but mostly greeted by a large storm. The guide informs us that it is the rainy season (much like Miami, they have a wet and a dry season, rather than four season), bracing ourselves for what he feels in inevitable rain the next day too. Most of the group stays on the bus, while Brittany, Becca, Mickey G and I follow the guides out to put up tents because we are the only ones who have rain gear (good idea with the poncho, mom!). Eventually, I head back to the bus while the guides finish up, supplying us each with a small mattress and very clean sleeping bags in each tent. Some are very wet inside, but ours was luckily not. Trying not to get discouraged by the idea of a rained out safari, Brittany, Becca and I volunteer to help make dinner, an effort of distraction. We decide learning how to cook by two African men would be an adventure in its self and we were right. We hollowed out squash and stuffed them with corn, cooked pasta on a propane cooker and warded off other people from other groups whose guides hadnt started cooking yet and were eyeing our food. Polly and Gabriel laugh as we attempt to season our concoction. As the rain pours, we stay dry under the enclosure while the rest of the group stays in the misery of the bus. An hour or so later we beckon our group to come partake in our African feast. After scarfing down our food (it was SO good!) we run(quite literally) to our tents, our sneakers sliding in and out of the mud on our way. By some miracle, Sarah and I, manage to fall a sleep pretty quickly after exchanging a few life stories.
The tent shakes around six am, it is Polly, one of our guides inviting us for some breakfast before we take off. Our group gathers around the cereal, bread and jam exchanging stories about the lack of sleep and the drizzling rain and clouds above. I take one of my malaria pills with some hot cocoa (nestle!) while Brittany puts jam on her bread. I discover for the second time that my medicine does not agree with me and succumb to the inevitable. Mickey G reassures me that since it had been in my system for at least 30 minutes, it should still be protective. Shouldis not exactly what I want to hear, but I resolve to make the most of it. Heading onto the bus, I look out at the drizzling rain and wonder how the day will turn out. Within an hour we see more springboks than I ever thought possible and the sky begins to clear. We soon see a lone giraffe in the distance and I think to myself that things are looking up! With my dslr and telephoto lens, I had the best chance on the bus of getting good pictures which enabled me to procure a permanent window seat and even jump across the aisle(and people!) a few times with no complaints. Admiring the giraffe, I think back to AEPhi and the adventures I must be missing, but still, I saw a real lily!!!! Take that Aunt Sunnie!
Throughout the morning, the bus seems unable to idle, constantly turning off when we slow to see an animal, yet it always manages to start again when we try to proceed. Around 10 am, after only seeing one giraffe and some springbok we take a break and stop at a fortress-like restroom. Wondering what the protective difference between getting out here and in the middle of the road is, as we see no fences in sight, Brittany, Becca and I pack into the bathroom. Upon our exit, we notice Polly and Gabriel finagling with the engine, which is refusing to start. Convinced yet again that our safari will be quickly ended, we all distract ourselves by taking pictures while we hear the hum of the engine go in and out. Luckily, after 20 minutes our heroic guides manage to fix the problem and we are off. Within 10 minutes, Mindy screams to stop the car and back up, she announces that she saw spots! I quickly stand up and notice not one but THREE CHEETAHS!!!!!!!!!!!!! We are able to get wonderful pictures as they get close to the bus and even cross the road ahead of us. The mood of the safari was forever changed as we later found out that Polly and Gabe had only seen three in their WHOLE LIVES and that they are VERY rare. We were also the only bus to get to see them! Excitedly, we continue on through the park and before lunch we had seen not only those cheetahs but some up close and personal giraffes (again, I told them aephi says whats up). We stop at another camp sight where we chat with some other SAS groups, who had seen zebras but no cheetahs. Envious of their sightings we eat our meal and shop a little in a small shop (I bought a handmade bowl for 4$ and some earrings for even less-Namibia is cheap!). Determined to see zebras, we journey on. All of a sudden we see a halted safari vehicle in front of us, stopping short, our guide asks what they are looking at. Polly points at a tree in the distance and we make out the shape of a male lion beneath it. Zooming in with my camera, I am able to confirm the sighting. To think that we were actually seeing a male lion in the WILD!!!! With a clear sky ahead, I am totally thrilled. As the afternoon progresses we see ostriches, oryx, more giraffes and even ZEBRA!!! We ended up seeing two herds of zebras (including a baby!), very close to the car before the sun begins to set and we head back to camp, where we are greeted by a whole new set of animal the not so elusive drunk SASer.
Prepared for a noisy night, we head down to the watering hole for sunset while Polly and Gab cook our dinner. Brittany, Becca and I take a million pictures before what may be the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen. The pinks, oranges and purples are absolutely striking and although no animals show up for a night time drink we are fully satisfied with our day and the sunset. Returning to the campsite, we shower and eat before heading over to the pool area to escape the other VERY drunk groups. The three of us split one Hansa Draught, which was on tap and made in Namibia, figuring it would be the only time in our lives we would be able to sample Namibian beer. From there our bus-group headed up a tower to view the stars, which was also AMAZING! The sky was totally clear and we could see the milky way, oreins belt and the southern cross plus countless other constellations. Staring up at the stars (while ignoring the mammoth sized beetles around us) I am once again reminded at the amazingness of this journey and how thankful I am for the opportunity to be seeing all of these things at such a young age!
From the tower we walk back to our tents to go to sleep. The other buses were loud, but I am a heavy sleeper and armed with my ipod on high I was able to go to sleep pretty quickly. The next morning we are awoken by Pollys shaking and quickly bounce out of bed and pack up in an effort to ensure that we do not receive dock time (we needed to be back on the ship at 6 and the line can get long). I decide to leave my malaria medicine for that night in an effort to repeal the nausea (it ended up working, apparently when you take it at night it reduces some of the side effects). Sarah and I disassemble the tent, eat our breakfast and head on to the bus.
I fall in and out of sleep for literally the whole bus ride. We stop at a post office to get stamps, a gas station to use the facilities, but we refrain from stopping at a picnic stop to eat and instead eat our bagged lunches on the bus in an effort to save time. Our efforts pay off and we end up with enough time to stop in Swakopmund once more. However, this time, our guide shows us a craft area at the bottom of the hill. Brittany, Becca and I literally charge walking 10 minutes to the area in the sweltering heat. With only 20 minutes to bargain and shop we go straight to work! We quickly find out that unlike the Arab Market in Israel or Souks in Morocco, the sellers are willing to go REALLY low with their prices. It was hard to figure out what things were worth since they would rapidly knock off large percentages of the price. Armed with my remaining Namibian money (about 150 Namibian Dollars or 15 USD) I look at all the goods before figuring out what I want. The vendors call out sisteras we pass. Unlike the souks this was an open air market, with the goods displayed on blankets on the ground. This gave it a comfortable feel and I never feel unsafe (unlike morocco or even Israel) despite the rather aggressive vendors. Brittany helps me pick out an elephant hair bracelet for Ilana (5 USD), while she settles on a price for a carved bowl and giraffe mask. I move onto a carved giraffe and with no idea as to what it is worth, the man asks for 350 Namibian dollars. Normally, 35 USD for a giraffe carving of this size (roughly one and half feet) would not be obscene, but I obviously didnt have it. After some back and forth I hand him 50 Namibian and he agrees! Overjoyed I head on to some wired animals, purchasing a few for my moms jewelry. Becca purchases a funky mask and we move on, running back towards the bus. We make one more stop to see African flamingos on the beach, another reward for our speediness, before returning to the ship.
In review, I had SUCH an unforgettable experience in Namibia. From attempting to learn a click language from a young child to spotting a wild cheetah to bargaining in Swakopmound, Namibia has been my favorite port so far. The people are friendly and the country is beautiful and diverse! Our adventure, despite its negative beginning turned out to be a successful safari!