Lions, giraffes, warthogs, oh my!

Etosha National Park, Namibia

“How are you?” I asked my waitress at breakfast this morning. It was 5:30 a.m. and still dark out. “Tired,” she replied.

“What time did you wake up?” She said 4 a.m. “We needed to prepare breakfast.” Considering that no one else was in the dining room, it made me feel a bit guilty about requesting such an early start. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ve got to get to the park.”

At least that was the plan.

I’d hoped to be at the gate at 6:15 a.m. right when it opened in order to secure a prime early-morning viewing spot. Turning onto the main road, an encouraging sign, there was only one car in front of me. Score!

As the minutes ticked by, the cars and buses started to pile up behind me. All of a sudden, a tap on my window. It was a bus driver. “You have a flat tire,” he curtly said. “Flat tire? What are you talking about?” I replied. “Your tire. In the back. It’s flat. Better get that fixed before going into the park.”

Opening my door, there was no way — not right now. But, sure enough, driver-side back tire. Completely dead. “You have got to be freaking kidding me,” I muttered to myself, pulling off onto the side of the road.

Why Toyota Yaris? Why do this to me now? One of the gate security guards must have seen the smoke coming out of my ears and offered to help. Meanwhile, I’d already started wondering if my brother’s helpful flat tire mantra (“Left loose, right tight”) might be reversed in a country where they drove on the opposite side of the street. No idea.

I’m not much use when it comes to cars but was able to pull out the spare as well as the set of tools. “Where’s the jack?” the security guard asked me. That was a good question. Where was the jack? Fifteen minutes later, having thoroughly torn apart the car and cursed to myself multiple times, there was no jack.

You have got to be kidding me, Budget.

“I’ll call my friend,” the guard said. “Please, call your friend, let’s just get this fixed,” I replied. Shortly thereafter, my car savior arrived with some random jack that he had been able to locate. It was not the right size nor did it fit well under the car but by this point I’d just stepped back and assumed the role of ardent cheerleader.

Cars goes up. Wheel comes off. New wheel pops on. Car returns to ground. $40 Namibian dollars comes out of my wallet and I’m in the park by 7 a.m.

Not a terrible setback but a frustrating one no less. It certainly could have been worse — perhaps a flat, and no jack, while driving through Etosha, with wildlife and signs that warn: “STAY IN VEHICLE AT ALL TIMES.”

The park was nothing short of amazing. Nearly everywhere you turned their were animals. Zebras trekking by the hundreds to the water hole. Springbok grazing with giraffes meandering in the distance. Warthogs snorting and stuffing their faces with grass. The sheer number was matched only by the diversity of wildlife.

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Seeing animals in the wild was thrilling. There was something about witnessing them in their natural environment — one with no fences or feeding times — that offered a real connection.

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Perhaps the best spot of the day was a pride of lions. They were easy to locate given the safari traffic jam on the gravel roads. Still, from a distance, one got a sense of their size and strength. A half dozen cubs played around while three males lazed away the warm morning. Off in the distance, wildebeest, zebra and springbok nervously focused their attention in our direction.

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It was starting to get hot and the animals were hibernating for the afternoon, so after lunch at Halali, a rest area in the park, it was back to the camp to chill out.

Here’s to hoping the Toyota makes it to Windhoek tomorrow with no spare tire.

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Comments

  1. Pictures are amazing!

    And ‘righty tighty lefty loosy’ works for EVERYTHING!!!!

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