The “Great White Place”

Etosha National Park, Namibia

After breakfast, the Land Rover transported me back to the farmhouse where the Yaris was waiting for me. One of the enterprising Namibians had given it a wash and was patiently awaiting my arrival. “It looks nice,” I said, giving him a $10 Namibian dollar note. “It should stay clean for at least the next 2 minutes.”

Even that might have been a push. Once back on the wretched gravel roads, the dust kicked up and caked the car in a thick layer. My drive this morning was supposed to take 5 hours; more importantly, according to my map, nearly half of it would take place on tar roads.

Oh, tar roads, how I’ve missed thee. You are so smooth. You allow me to drive above 60 kilometers per hour. You do not overheat my car nor violently throw me into the shoulder. Your rocks do not crack my windshield; your hills do not bottom out my vehicle; your lack of dust allows me to open my windows and breathe the fresh air.

Who would have thought it was possible to develop such a longing for a paved surface? Try a week in Namibia in a hatchback.

My final destination in this country was Etosha National Park, the “Great White Place” that takes its name from the vast white and greenish Etosha Pan. The park is one of the foremost wildlife destinations — not just in this country, but in all of Southern Africa.

For the first time this trip, my arrival was actually earlier than estimated (Bless you, Tar). I’m staying at Andersson’s Camp, a lodge just outside of the park’s gate that opened last year. Sustainability is the name of the game here — 80% of the building materials were from recycled sources. My favorite part of the place was my private outdoor shower, which was about as close to nature as one could get.

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The entire camp was surrounded by an electric fence, which was both comforting and unnerving at the same time. On my bedside sat an air horn. “For an emergency,” the manager stated.

I’d not expected much going into the park at 1 p.m. — the sun was blazing and most of the wildlife would be hiding in the shade — but given my limited time here, thought I’d give it a try anyway.

Essentially, Etosha is a self-drive park meaning you pay at the gate and then cruise around. The one rule, stay in your car at all times. One minute through the gate it became clear why: there were animals everywhere. They grazed on the plains, walked around on the road and drank from the water holes, of which there were dozens sign-posted throughout the park.

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Despite the time of day, the water holes were buzzing with red hartebeest, gemsbok, springbok and this awesome wildebeest.

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But by far, the Burchell’s zebra had the best representation. Everywhere you turned, there were dozens of them — young, old, big, small — slurping down water while carefully watching the horizon for predators.

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There were so many that they even ended up in my side-view mirror. Excuse me, Zebra, could you please get out of my way? I’m trying to back up out of this parking space. Geez.

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Back at the camp, it was completely dead. One of the manager’s kids ran around screaming with his toy truck. How peaceful. “Is there anyone else staying here?” I asked her. “Not right now, it’s all yours,” she replied.

Dinner overlooked the camp’s own water hole. About midway through my stuffed chicken entrée, a tremendous male lion meandered down for a drink, making for an entertaining meal.

On the way back to my tent, the roars of lions could be heard in the not so far distance. This was life in the bush. And after brushing my teeth and double-checking the location of the emergency air horn, it was time for bed.

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