The tallest dunes, the oldest plants, a wealth of wildlife, a bucketload of adventures — it’s no surprise Namibia is your top country. Not been? What are you waiting for?
Etosha had been magical for elephants. In this vast national park, l’d watched a herd play boisterously at Okaukuejo waterhole, just a short walk from my chalet.
And, while driving the park’s easily navigable roads, l’d come across a big white bull, his skin temporarily bleached after a dust-bath in the pan’s salty clay soil. But now I was off to look for a more elusive kind of animal.
I drove west to Damaraland, easily one of Namibia’s most scenic regions. Outside the window lay an untamed wilderness of boulder-strewn plains and massive sandstone outcrops. It seemed empty, lifeless. But remarkably this region sustains a small but wide-ranging population of desert-adapted elephant able to survive the harshness of this sun-blistered, almost waterless land.
Herds are frequently seen around Damaraland’s Aba-Huab riverbed – which is nearly always dry – and at the Aba-Huab’s charming community-run campsite I noticed piles of dung. “Yesterday,” came the reply when 1 asked how fresh it was. The elephants, which can smell water, have even been known to destroy the camp’s reed shower-blocks in search for sustenance.
Even so, I still felt hugely privileged when a family of eight decided to visit while 1 was there. I watched from the sandy stoop outside my tent as they ambled up the riverbed to a clump of gnarled camelthorn trees. Tinged rich ochre by the Damaraland sand, they stretched their trunks to pluck a few mouthfuls of crunchy dry leaves from the unforgiving thorns. Mesmerised I watched as they slowly, very slowly, moved away up the red-hued valley. Their brows looked furrowed, perhaps concentrating on where they were heading next – another bunch of lonely trees, the next place to drink.
Damaraland is a timeless place that exudes wildness and utter peace. Watching these incredible elephants made me realise that some environments are so uncompromising that they transform those who inhabit them – and leave a lasting impression on those, like me, just passing through to another of Namibia’s landscapes, to another adventure.
Because whether it’s wildlife, scenery, culture or more pulse-raising activities, Namibia offers visitors whatever sort of trip they may be seeking – which might explain why Wanderlust readers voted it their Top Country. Although those astonishing eles probably do have quite a lot to do with it…