Northern Namibia offers the most classical side of the African State. We are far away from the desert landscapes we could find in the central and southern regions. Mountains are smooth, vegetation is abundant (as abundant as it can get in the aridest country of Southern Africa) and animal population flourishes.
Animals were the focus of our trip in this region. We spent several days in the Etosha National Park, one of the largest national parks in the continent. The name Etosha comes from an Ndonga word meaning “Great White Place”. A good portion of the park, in fact, is occupied by the famous Etosha Pan. This large salt pan is one of the most impressive landscapes we could admire on Earth. A white, shiny crust of salt runs uninterrupted in every direction, contrasting the blue sky. It’s a white ocean on land.
Apart from its geological features, the park is also the home of hundreds of species of animals. The general lack of water in the region force animals to gather around the few freshwater sources available (both natural and artificial). We just had to park our car nearby one of these small lakes and wait some time to start seeing hordes of springboks, zebras, giraffes coming to drink and rest.
Here, we could admire for the first time the African bush elephant. This is the largest race of elephants in the world, and as a consequence, the largest animal walking on Earth. An impressive sight. The most accessible spot to see these animals is at the Okaukuejo waterhole, one of the several artificial lakes in the park. It’s a common sight to see large groups of elephants coming here to get some relief from the intense heat, “showering” and covering themselves with mud.
The black rhino is one of the highlights of our safari. This seclusive species of mammals has been brought on the verge of extinction by poaching, and the current population number in the park is kept a secret to avoid attracting illegal hunters. We were moving from one waterhole to another one, trying to spot any animal in the bushes, when a small black dot appeared on the horizon. We parked the car and waited, while the dot became bigger and bigger. A majestic, impressive adult black rhino was approaching the road, and it crossed right in front of us. It’s been an incredible sight. We will never forget the emotion of being few meters away from such a beautiful and powerful creature.
We also had the chance to admire the king of the savannah. Lions are quite common in Etosha park. They are laid-back creatures and spend most of the day lazing about in the shade. We spotted a small group of them, one male and three females, resting under a tree, eating their last prey. We must say, there were many tourists around them, and we didn’t like the behavior of several cars that kept on approaching the animals. But it was our first sight of the king of the beasts. The eyes of the female lion will be with us for many years to come.
Where to sleep
Etosha National park has plenty of accommodation inside the park itself. Most of the camps are built near waterholes that are floodlit at night, to allow nightfall sightseeings. However, we suggest staying at Ongava Lodge. This lodge is composed of several apartments connected by small paths, and rangers need to escort the guests to avoid possible encounters with wildlife. It’s more expensive than other accommodations inside the park, but it offers the possibility to have a safari inside the private Ongava Game Reserve. This is a blessed place. The privacy of the reserve allows being more in contact with the wildlife. Here, we had the chance to spot some rare white rhinoceros, smaller than their black counterparts.
In general, we think this place is worth its expensive price tag. Etosha is a frequent touristic destination, with very cheap entrance fees and few places where animals can gather. That means there is a considerable number of cars around the waterholes during the high season. The possibility to explore a private reserve is a unique opportunity that we recommend to anybody coming here.
Traveling to the Skeleton Coast, the Otjikandero Himba Orphan Village
A couple of hours from Ongava, on the road to the Skeleton Coast, we stopped to visit the Otjikandero Himba Orphan Village. This is a “showcase village” where several members of Himba culture living nearby gather to show tourists their culture and tradition.
Himbas are considered the last semi-nomadic population in Namibia. Its millenary culture is deeply intertwined with the environment. A local guide showed us the structure of their society and how this is reflected on the arrangement of the houses, explaining how the different components of the village perform different mansions that are required for the well-being of the entire population. We also entered into a house, where we learned about the preparation of otjize, a pigment prepared with butterfat and ochre pigment used by Himba to protect themselves from the harsh desert climate.
We must admit, there is an omnipresent feeling of “human zoo”, as we were invited to take pictures of people performing their daily routine jobs, and we are not sure about recommending a visit here. However, the primary purpose of the village is to attract money to maintain a local school and to help orphans belonging to nearby communities.
This has been our first Namibian panorama. An incredible country, with astonishing landscapes that we will never forget.