Namibia is an unbelievable country. It's incredibly expansive and has a population density of about 3 people per square kilometer, making it one of the world's least populated countries. It has straight gravel roads and big skies for miles and miles. We felt like a lot of it reminded us of eastern Utah, but bigger and more expansive.
After an overnight stop at a lodge campground, we made our way to Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. This was one of the places on my must-see list. Giant red dunes as far as you could see. And, Deadvlei, a white clay pan with dead camel thorn trees, made especially famous by Instagram. Looking past the busloads of tourists (which really wasn't that many, but felt like a lot because you could drive for hours without seeing another car), it was one of our favorites places. We drove ourselves to the end of the road in fairly deep sand, airing down even more from our gravel road settings. Then we climbed the spine of a giant dune named Big Daddy Dune and then sank into the white clay pan of Deadvlei. The contradiction in colors and texture was like nowhere else I've ever seen.
Since this was one of the spots that we got out and did some hiking, we were able to see how prepared, or truly unprepared, people were for this kind of activity. The four of us each had a 1L reusable water bottle filled to the top. Most people we passed had a fraction of that in a single-use plastic bottle. It was disappointing to see. Luckily this is where our Guzzle H2O Stream shined. It was extremely hot that day, so once we got back to our campground, we "guzzled", or ran water through our Guzzle H2O Stream, multiple times while hanging out under the shade of a large tree.
Since starting our camping trip earlier in the week, this was the first day we had enough downtime to find wifi (at the campground's restaurant) to catch up on emails and world news. While we normally try to keep digital use to a minimum while camping, it wasn't the time to do so because the Coronavirus was making more and more headlines and starting to hit Southern Africa.
Still aware, but not panicked, about the Cornovirus, we continued our adventure north. We realized we could pick up a day in Botswana if we left Sossusvlei early the next morning and headed straight to Walvis Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. The Namibian coastline is infamous and is most often known as the Skeleton Coast. We were out to see the flamingos of Walvis Bay and then decide how far up the Skeleton Coast we wanted to journey.
In the end, we decided to only spend a night on the coast, south of the official Skeleton Coast Park. We found an oceanfront campground and settled in for our coolest night of the trip. We actually had to use our sleeping bags! This campsite also had the nicest ablutions block we had during our trip and included an indoor mini kitchen with a fridge, shower, bathroom, and patio. This was the first campground we stayed at that didn't have a pool, but its oceanside location made up for that. It was quite cool and foggy, conditions which plague Namibia's Skeleton Coast much of the time.
We set out in dense fog early the next morning intending to make it to Etosha National Park, which we were anxious to see. The Etosha salt pan is so large it can be seen from space and the area surrounding it is home to many animal species. We had made reservations for two nights at the Okaukuejo Campsite, which is famous for its floodlit water hole. It did not disappoint! Okaukuejo is a rest camp in Etosha National Park that has a range of housing options from "chalets" to campsites along with a set of pools, a restaurant, and a convenience/camp store. The water hole overlook sits right at the edge of camp and has benches and even some bleacher-like seats for people to sit and watch the animals. It is a real-life nature tv channel!
Zebra and springbok were drinking from the water hole when we arrived in the heat of the midday sun. Animals would come and go with different groups. It was amazing. What we were waiting for was nighttime though! I had read that at night, rhinos are the stars. We made our way over to the water hole just after dark, and sure enough, a little after 8 pm as if on cue, the rhinos walked into the light. We spent over an hour watching five rhinos drink water and eat the surrounding plants. It was one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. In Etosha, they have both black rhinos and white rhinos. Of course, we forgot to look up the difference before we headed over to watch so we aren't sure which we saw. (The names are not based on their color but on the shape of their lips and nose).
We woke up early the next morning and went on a game drive. It's the routine of a self-drive safari trip...wake up early, pack up, and get on your way as soon as the camp gates open. In Namibia, it was at 7:00 am. At Kruger, on the other side of Africa, it was 5:30 or 6:00 am. We had some up-close giraffe and zebra encounters, but could not find any lions or elephants. I think we were all amazed at the number of animals and the landscape but were perhaps a touch disappointed in not seeing any of the "big 5" on our game drives. That is until we were at the water hole again that evening and saw a lone rhino. Then we heard a lion roar. And then, just like the night before, cue the animals! This time it was a lion and lioness. They sauntered over to the water hole, drank for a bit, and then wandered off into the dark. They were amazing! And so much bigger than we thought they would be. It was magical.
We came back to the truck on an animal sighting high, excited for the next day's morning drive through the eastern end of Etosha, towards northern Botswana. Little did we know that our trip was about to take a drastic turn toward the south. Stay tuned for the story of our race to the border!