A Desert Safari?
Like many people, my first thoughts when I hear the word ‘safari’ drift to the more iconic African animals: majestic lions roaring atop towering boulders, elephants walking head to tail across the savanna, lean cheetahs prowling through long grass, and all of it against a backdrop of acacias and baobab trees.
That kind of safari is certainly possible in Namibia. As you can see from my photographic safari in Etosha, there’s all of the above and more.
When I heard we’d be going on something called a ‘living desert safari’ during our visit to beautiful Swakopmund, I’ll confess to being more than a little dubious.
I’d grown up in the NSW Outback. My back yard was red earth and cats eyes, and duststorms were a reason to run outside despite my Mum’s protestations.
So… yeah, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea of spending a morning out in the desert chasing whatever it is there was to see there.
How wrong I was.
A Living Desert Safari
From the moment our gregarious guide and host, Chris jumped out of the car and began to exchange good-natured banter with our group, I was sold on the idea.
I figured even if there wasn’t much to see out in the Dorob National Park’s towering dunes, at least I’d be entertained by the back and forth between South African Chris and American Don.
After a brief introduction to the desert and the day ahead, we were given a remarkably interesting run-down of what makes the desert in Dorob National Park so unique. With the morning mists coming in off the frigid Atlantic, the dunes are actually considerably more alive than they might appear at first glance.
I couldn’t possibly do Chris’ colourful metaphor for the desert’s ecosystem justice. There was a lot of talk about muesli and customers and buffets, but it all made sense.
You quickly started seeing the desert not as some barren, lifeless thing to be driven by or walked through, but as something every bit as alive as the savanna plains of Etosha.
It’s all just a matter of scale.
Chasing the Little Five
The Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, and cape buffalo) might not have been in evidence, nor were the official Little Five (ant lion, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, rhinoceros beetle, and buffalo weaver), but there was certainly a safari to be had.
Like a madman possessed of boundless energy and the kind of enthusiasm that only true passion can muster, Chris would fling himself from our vehicle at the slightest sign of something happening out in the dunes.
If I’d been amazed by how our driver could spot serval cats and mongooses out on the Serengeti, then colour me gobsmacked at how Chris managed to spy tiny lizards and insects against the constantly shifting sands.
We got to spend time with a whole range of animals, and all of them shown to us in a way that was informative and entertaining without being unpleasant for the animals.
In the Presence of a Local Hero
You see, Chris doesn’t just run tours out into the Dorob National Park – he’s a huge part of why it exists.
Passionate about the area and seeing the damage that rampant ATVing and littering had been doing to it, Chris and others who share his passion petitioned long and hard for something to be done about it.
It took a long time and a lot of work, but the Dorob National Park now lies just outside of Swakopmund and the formerly constant buzz of ATVs zooming all over the dunes and hardpan has been replaced instead with the kind of utter serenity that exists only in the places we haven’t ruined with our constant presence.
Speaking of Serenity
Once the informative part of our day was over, we were given a quick drive over the dunes.
When we weren’t enjoying roller coaster thrills taking steep drops or sharp turns, we were standing atop these colossal, ever-moving dunes and being amazed by the fact such things can exist so close to a fierce ocean.
Glad to be Proven Wrong
In what is becoming a regular occurence in my life and something you’d think I’d have learned from by now, my first impressions were once again way off base.
Like my misguided belief that climbing the Great Wall of China was somehow missable and cliched, I was way off base about what exactly the Living Desert Safari entailed.
Not only was the desert far more alive than I’d have ever imagined, but Chris’ passion for his work was infectious. I left not only entertained and with a stockpile of photos, but with (dare I say it) a greater understanding of and appreciation for the desert.
Have you ever had a desert experience that you’d like to share?
Or, more broadly, have you ever been completely disproven about your original opinion of an activity or place?