The desert elephants of Damaraland

Damaraland, Namibia

By this point, I’ve gotten used to pre-dawn wake-up calls. Most of the activity in Africa happens before 11 a.m. when the repressing heat forces all life into the shade. So, I’d actually already started getting ready when the guide stopped by my tent at 5:30 a.m.

We had a solid breakfast and then loaded into the Land Rover. In addition to me, there was a honeymooning couple from France and another solo traveler. The goal of this morning’s game drive was to track down the elusive desert elephant, an animal that has adapted to live and survive in these harsh conditions.

Finding the herd could prove fruitless, our guide explained, since these elephants don’t follow a predictable route. But we could look for clues — namely tracks and poop — and hopefully have success.

In the early morning, outside of the sun, the temperature plummeted. We bundled up with the provided fleece blankets. The breaking light across the horizon playfully illuminated the mountainous backdrop as a flock of ostriches raced across the Great Plains.

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By 10 a.m., we had found plenty of poop and loads of tracks but had yet to find our elephants. Time was running out, our guide said, as the sun began baking the Earth and the mercury started climbing. Once it got too hot, the elephants would hide in the shade. “We won’t see them,” he said.

So, onward we went. And suddenly, a sign. Lots of poop. We were onto something and the Land Rover sped off down a dry river bed. It felt like we were going around in circles as the repetitive landscape rolled by. Then, in a clearing up ahead, we saw them.

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It was a herd of about a dozen, including several babies. The truck pulled within 10 feet as we watched them gorge themselves on trees, fruits, anything within trunk’s reach.

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With our elephant fix filled, we returned to the lodge for lunch. After, it was back out for a taste of the strong cultural offerings of Damaraland, which is named for the Damara people that inhabit it.

The most important site to visit is Twyfelfontein, one of the most extensive galleries of rock art in Africa. Bushmen carved the petroglyphs into the sandstone about 6,000 years ago. Despite their age, they are in remarkably good condition today — in fact, this is Namibia’s first, and only, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The mid-afternoon heat was intolerable so we only spent about an hour walking among the carvings. On our way back, we stopped at the nearby Organ Pipes, the rock face of a river that resembles the musical instrument.

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Once back at camp, there was time to lounge at the pool for a couple of hours. A big group of German tourists invaded just before dinner. Still, the food was gourmet and the wine flowed freely.

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