?Move very slowly,? our guide whispers over the thumping noise our hearts are making. There are two female lions sitting about ten feet away from our Land Cruiser. They yawn, lick their paws, and then lazily perk up their ears at the crackling of a twig nearby. The older lioness turns and looks over at us with a bored expression and I hold my breath, knowing she could easily pounce on our open-air safari vehicle. Welcome to Africa.
For as long as I can remember I?ve been fascinated with Africa, so when I was invited on a last-minute safari in Namibia I barely blinked before squealing an enthusiastic ?Yes!? At the time, I didn?t care that I had no idea where in Africa Namibia was located. ?That?s where Angelina and Brad had Shiloh,? one of my friends reminded me. Ah, right.
Brangelina's History of the World aside, Namibia doesn't conform to typical imagery about Africa: it isn't the wild and dangerous Africa of AIDS, famine, devastation in Darfur, or South African tribal tension. German colonization in 1884 left the area with just a single tribe and it wasn't until 1990 that Namibia gained independence from South Africa, shedding its previous moniker, South West Africa. Being the third least-populated country in the world and lacking tribe diversity undoubtedly contributed to keeping Namibia out of the international spotlight -- at least until Brangelina?s temporary relocation there, which caused tourism to hit a new record high.
It is, then, thanks both to history and Brangelina that I am driving through a storybook African landscape dotted with Acacia trees and waterholes, as cartoon-like animals roam all around me and a warm breeze blows my hair back.
As evening approaches, we pull into our first camp on the Waterberg Plateau. It?s apparent this won?t be typical camping out. This is ?Glam-ping out.? Imagine a reasonably sized camp tent dosed with steroids until your sleeping quarters are bigger than most New York City apartments. Add a queen-sized bed complete with down comforter and 600-thread-count sheets, a private open-air shower under a jungle canopy, and your own personal ?throne? (a full-sized portable toilet in an adjoining tent) so that you don?t have to go far from your tent at night.
Our ?Glamp-ing? dinner, set on a long, white-clothed table in the jungle under the stars, starts with pate and red wine. No one asks what kind of meat the pate is made from because it could be anything. So far with &Beyond, our tour operator, we had eaten six different safari animals: springbok, zebra, crocodile, kudu, oryx, and ostrich.
The next afternoon, we are looking at animals instead of dining on them. As we drive through the gates of Etosha National Park, a zebra wanders across the road. To our right, two giraffes carefully munch away at treetop leaves.
The deeper we venture into the park the thicker animals get. Springbok leap in front of our car, 40 or 50 holding up traffic. Oryx swish their tails at flies, their long pointed horns shooting up like swords. Warthogs run by as wildebeests buck and muscle their way around the grasslands. Zebras become common and boring as we long to find the big five. It?s not until the next day that we spot a massive, slow-moving elephant heading toward a waterhole. Then that evening we watch five large cats in the distance hunting stealthily.
After three days on safari in Etosha, we get a rush of a different kind when we fly two private Cessna planes to the deep orange Southern Sossusvlei Dunes. Below us, a dirt strip in the middle of a massive field filled with antelope and ostrich marks our landing. At the last minute I see a springbok dive off the side of the runway with lightening speed, our wheels just missing his back.
?Is it always this hairy of a landing?? I ask our pilot.
He laughs. ?This is nothing. Try flying a food drop into the Congo. Now that is something to be nervous about.?