Okonjima Valley is the home of the AfriCat Foundation Headquarters, a private wildlife conservation reserve. This non-profit reserve focuses on preservation of cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, and other wildlife that have been displaced by predators and commercial farming. While the numbers of these animals are dwindling due to loss of natural habitat, the AfriCat Foundation works as an educational center for local farmers and communities and a rehabilitation center for displaced and injured animals. During our visit to Namibia we stayed at Okonjima Plains Camp, which was absolutely beautiful. One morning we toured the AfriCat headquarters and then a guide took us out into the bush to track cheetah by foot. After seeing leopards and cheetahs around the Foundation, we took our afternoon game drive through the Okonjima Valley seeing some of the most beautiful green rolling grasslands sprinkled with giant rust colored ant hills. When it came time for us to stop for our sunset break we came around a corner and there was a large group of giraffes. Counting at least ten adults and twelve juveniles, we chose that as our rest stop and quietly settled into the “giraffe party”. It was such a treat to be able to sit with these graceful animals, watching the little ones nurse while their moms stretched tall to pull leaves from the trees with their long tongues. They acted cautious when they first saw us so we kept at a comfortable distance so they could carry on with what they were doing. Second to elephants, giraffes are my favorite African animal. Just for that moment, life could not be any better for me than to sit quietly in the calm of the Namibian grassland, drinking a glass of wine, and watching giraffes in their natural habitat. As the sun went down it was time for us to go back to the lodge and although I was sad to leave these wonderful creatures, I knew I would always have the memory of this special experience.
I love to visit wineries, whether it be in my own neighborhood of San Diego or in Temecula, Santa Barbara, Napa Valley, Mexico, and South Africa. For my birthday last year I was surprised with a trip to Malibu Wine Safaris in the Santa Monica mountains of California. This was a special treat for me because it mixed two of my favorite things, wine and animals! We took the “Explorer Giraffe Safari” which included a tour in an open safari-style jeep through Saddlerock Ranch and Vineyard, a stop to visit and feed the ranch’s various animals, and a tasting of 6 different wines from local vineyards served along with crackers and spreads. The wineries are beautifully situated in the hills of Malibu with views of the valley below. The best part of the tour was spending time with Stanley the Giraffe. Stanley is a retired Hollywood star who has been seen in commercials and movies. He sure loved the lettuce I fed him and posed for pictures with me like a true star. Other animals include zebras, emus, lamas, bison, camels, and alpacas. I highly recommend Malibu Wine Safaris as it is a great experience. The wines are quite good and the animals are even better. There are many different tours available including brunch, lunch, and small to large family groups. Make reservations in advance because the tours have limited space and fill up fast.