Namibia and Botswana: Africa’s hidden treasures

Some guidebooks will tell you that Namibia and Botswana are Africa’s hidden secrets — with a diverse landscape that includes fascinating coastal areas like the famed Skeleton Coast, stunning mountains, the oldest rust-red desert in the world, and wilderness areas teaming with wildlife.

Upper left: The view from Dune No. 45 in Namibia’s Sesriem desert.

Some guidebooks will tell you that Namibia and Botswana are Africa’s hidden secrets — with a diverse landscape that includes fascinating coastal areas like the famed Skeleton Coast, stunning mountains, the oldest rust-red desert in the world, and wilderness areas teaming with wildlife.

But the best part of this region of Africa is what you don’t see — people. Namibia is one of the least densely populated nations in all of Africa, and Botswana is not far behind. Travellers to these countries enjoy wide open spaces spotted with small luxurious game lodges shared by a few other fortunate visitors.

Last month, Keith and Chris Meyers of Lacombe, spent three weeks exploring Namibia and Botswana on a private tour with Jenman Safaris. Although they travelled at the end of the rainy season when wildlife tends to be more dispersed across the wilderness landscape, they were able to see all of the famous “big five” as well as many other species of animals and birds. They also had the opportunity to meet two different groups of tribal people and see how they live in a part of the continent that has fewer tourists.

In nearly three weeks, the couple travelled more than 5000 km across both countries and never saw a tourist bus. “We appreciated the diversity of the landscape and people,” said Keith Meyers when explaining why they chose to visit this part of Africa. “We also enjoyed travelling to a place with fewer tourists. The lodges we stayed at were as nice as any four star hotel and there were never more than sixteen guests in total.”

One of the first highlights of the trip was a visit to the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Located on the Namibia’s Atlantic coast, this 60 square km nature preserve protects more than 100,000 Cape fur seals, one of the largest of the world’s nine fur seal species. “We had never seen anything like it before – except on National Geographic,” explained Chris.

“It was really something to see that many animals together. There were lots of little baby seals at the time we visited and it was fascinating to watch them. The sound of that many seals in one place was amazing. . . the smell. . . thank goodness there was a breeze.”

Driving through the Namib Desert was also interesting for the couple. “The Kalahari Desert covers a large part of Namibia, but it isn’t a true desert, because it receives too much rain,” said Keith.

“The Namib Desert is sandy and flat and you see the occasional ostrich as you drive through it. We travelled to a region of the Namib Naukluft National Park called Sossusvlei which is filled with enormous red sand dunes, stretching up to 300 metres high. We got out of the vehicle and climbed through the hot sand to the top of Dune 45. It was an amazing experience.”

When they reached Etosha National Park in north-western Namibia, they began to see the wildlife that has fascinated visitors to Africa for centuries. Within the borders of the park, they particularly appreciated having their own private guide, who allowed them to travel at their own pace and possessed a great deal of knowledge about the wildlife in the area.

Covering an area of more than 22,000 square km, this park is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, only one species of fish.

“In Etosha we started to wear out the camera,” said Chris. “We saw 18 different species of animals ranging from huge elephants and giraffes to tiny Dik-dik’s and scrub hares. To see them standing there in flesh and blood is awesome. Television programs just don’t cut it.”

In Namibia they also spent a morning with the San Bushmen. Introduced to the world by the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, the San people have struggled to maintain their traditional lifestyle.

Very few Bushmen continue to hunt wild game and gather roots and tubers as they have for thousands of years. Today, they are trying to preserve their culture by showing visitors their traditional way of life.

The couple also visited the Himba people, a semi-nomadic people who still maintain their traditional lifestyle. Himba women have a distinctive appearance, because they cover themselves with a mixture of butter fat, red ocher and local herbs that gives their body a smooth, reddish appearance. The mixture provides some protection against the desert sun and makes the women attractive to Himba men.

Botswana was also a highlight of their African adventure and the couple enjoyed a visit to Chobe National Park in the Northwest region of the country. The park is said to have one of the largest concentrations of wild game on the African Continent.

While in the area, they enjoyed a river cruise along the Chobe where they saw crocodiles, hippos, elephants, kudu, water monitors, and many beautiful birds. They also took the time to go on a fishing expedition along the river.

“Even though the river was quite swollen, we managed to catch a few tiger fish,” said Keith. “Tiger fish have a fearsome appearance with sharp, protruding teeth and are prized as game fish. Chris caught the biggest one.”

The small game lodges they stayed at each night were one of the best things about the entire trip. Near the end of their trip they stayed in a particularly special one called the Pom Pom Camp in Botswana. The camp is located on Pom Pom Island in the heart of the Okavango Delta and at the headwaters of the Xudum river system.

The area lies on the western boundary of the Moremi Game Reserve and you have to fly in by bush plane to reach it.

“We stayed two nights at the Pom Pom Camp and saw lots of animals,” said Chris. “The thing that makes these lodges special is the service you receive. They sang to us as we arrived into the camp and the food was outstanding. You are in an all-inclusive resort in the middle of nowhere. There’s no television and no phone, but that is part of the appeal.”

Visiting Africa has been a dream for the Lacombe couple and Namibia and Botswana did not disappoint.

“This part of Africa gives you lots of reasons to fall in love with it,” said Chris. “With wide open spaces and virtually no pollution, the stars shine even brighter over this region of the continent.”

If You Go:

• Keith and Chris Meyers travelled with Jenman Safaris (www.jenamnsafaris.com). A private guide made the trip much more enjoyable and only cost about an extra $700 per person over the cost of a group safari.

• Although wildlife is more dispersed at the end of the rainy season, there are many positive aspects to travelling during this time. There is a lot more greenery in the dessert, less tourists, and plenty of animals to observe — just not in high concentrations.

• Make sure you all have your own set of binoculars when travelling to Africa and don’t worry about having all the latest and greatest camera equipment. The Meyers pictures were taken with Canon PS1 3.2 megipexels with 10x optical zoom.

• One of Keith and Chris Meyers’ favourite lodges was the Pom Pom Camp in Botswana. You can check out the lodge online by visiting: www.pompomcamp.com.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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