safari theme park
A month after returning home, we are still debating how much (or how little) we enjoyed our visit to Etosha. Namibia’s premier game park, Etosha is mind-numbingly vast and hosts an impressive array of wildlife. We had some incredible sightings – lions, a leopard, and dozens of new, colorful birds D was thrilled to photograph. Yet, we also spent a lot of time in the car just driving past monotonous terrain without seeing much of anything. It was the only place on our two-week itinerary where we spent three nights, and by the time we left we wished we had stayed only two even though the visit was clearly worthwhile.
The facilities in Etosha are more suitable to an amusement park than a wilderness camp. There is a pool, an entire village of two-story villas, an immense buffet restaurant, a convenience store, and even a post office. This tourist settlement is organized around a massive watering hole that is ringed by wire-topped fencing and equipped with stadium lights and multi-tiered seating that enables guests to observe the wildlife without ever venturing far from the air-conditioned comforts of their rooms. Without a doubt, Kenya has spoiled us, for this is a far cry from the way we like to safari.
At no point was this more evident than during a one-sided conversation with another guest into which we inadvertently stumbled. It had been raining in Etosha – though we had not seen any evidence of it in the desert oases we had visited during the preceding week, January falls during Namibia’s rainy season. We must have given the impression of being the kind of sensible people who would sympathize with the unsolicited views of an unhappy guest, for this gentleman waylaid us during a birding walk to lament the advent of the rains. The increase in precipitation translated to more abundant vegetation and pools of water, which meant the animals did not feel the need to congregate en masse around the man-made watering holes. A travesty this, exclaimed our distressed interlocutor.
The foregoing may give the impression that we did not enjoy our time in Etosha, but that could not be farther from the truth. The thing we love most about going on safari is that no matter how often you go – even if you return to the same place over and over – you’re bound to see something new, different, and amazing every time. Nature contains an inexhaustible bounty of wonders, and it is these new experiences that form the kind of memories that stand the test of time. And we certainly saw plenty during our three days in Etosha to ensure that it left a positive impression on our memories.
There was the aforementioned leopard, which had been resting in the shade but decided to get up and go for a stroll shortly after we pulled up. Then there was the pair of Egyptian geese, squatting unawares in a massive sociable weaver nest while a huge green snake coiled itself around the branch that supported them. And there was the pair of blue cranes – the national bird of South Africa, but a rarity in Namibia; they had two recently hatched chicks of whom they were very protective, so much so that one of the cranes spent ten minutes chasing a Egyptian goose that had strayed too close.
Even the watering hole proved its worth. A thunderstorm in the distance lit up the landscape and when D went out to photograph the lightning he saw four rhinos slurping water loudly, standing just a stone’s throw away. We saw lions and elephants, numerous giraffes and zebras, and plenty of antelopes on the plains. And then there was the pair of green-winged pytilias – gorgeous, flighty, little birds D had been trying to photograph for six months, ever since he glimpsed one out of the corner of his eye in Kigali – who put on a veritable show for us.
In short, Etosha is definitely worth visiting, and don’t let us tell you otherwise. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you go.