There is nothing like the adventure of cruising slowly through the African bush looking for creatures after dark. You never know what you may find or even if you will find anything at all. It all depends on the persistence and experience of your ranger. Earlier this year we were fortunate enough to have two fantastic rangers at MalaMala Main Lodge in South Africa and at Okonjima Plains Camp in Namibia who treated us to some amazing after dark sights. Many African animals and birds are only seen during the night as they are nocturnal. I really wanted to see a honey badger and a pangolin but we were not lucky enough to find those animals on either night. I did get to see a group of bush babies huddled in a tree, a chameleon, a few brown hyenas, a twelve-foot-long African rock python, owls, lion, leopard, cheetahs, and lots of porcupines. It was amazing how our guide could steer the jeep with one hand, while scanning the darkness holding a flashlight in the other and then spot bush babies in a tree so far away. The ranger was then able to find us a tiny green chameleon camouflaged in the leaves of a tree. What an exciting addition to our day safari experience to see these animals in their natural settings at night.
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 hike anywhere. Almost every weekend my friends and I plan a day hike somewhere in Southern California. One of my hiking highlights this year was in Sossusvlei, Namibia. It was extremely windy and hot that day, making the trip more difficult, but I am so glad I fought through the elements and saw the unbelievable beauty of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Dune 45 is the only dune that visitors are allowed to climb. I made it to the top and what a beautiful view I had. Then I headed over to hike to Deadvlei. Not that far of a hike but the heat was grueling. Deadvlei is an amazing act of nature. Nestled inside the red dunes is a small clay valley resembling a giant sugar cookie, supporting dead camel thorn trees estimated to be almost 1,000 years old. I didn’t see much wildlife in this area except for a few groups or Oryx feeding on sparse tufts of grass growing in the sand. Thankfully, I missed the large white spiders of the dunes that I was warned of! If you are lucky enough to travel here, make sure to arrive early before the heat gets too intense, use sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring lots of water. You can drive your car to Dune 45 but unless you have 4-wheel drive, you must take transportation to the Deadvlei area after paying a small fee to the vendor. A definite Bucket List event!