As we turn the corner to the half way mark in our summer season, I find myself eager to get to my desk each morning. Why you ask? Simple. There is always a stack of guest evaluations waiting for me, and as I sip my coffee, I get the distinct pleasure of living vicariously through all the great adventures. From Alaska to Argentina, Austria to Zion, the one thing each trip has in common is the glowing reports our adventurous guests can’t wait to share.
Just to give you a bit of insight on what I am talking about, here is a taste of what I read today:
The Sanderson Family joined us on a Galapagos/Peru Adventure and had this to say:
Awesome Adventure for the whole family-start to end! Exploring, learning, interactions, sights and just unplugging together. Great time TOGETHER!
Shelia from WI shared this feedback from her Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park Trip:
Pampered, had lots of fun with all the activities, great food, great guides, great travel companions.
Marian and Nick shared this from yet another National Park Adventure:
The trip exceeded all of our expectations. Fun! Fun! Fun! Our guides Pat and Seth Made the trip! They were Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, prompt and on time, god humored and kind, always ready with a helping hand and a smile. They were the engine that motored us through.
Genta from PA had this to say about her Brittany and Normandy Bike Trip:
The trip was relaxing and exciting at the same time. I never worried about anything because our awesome guide Veronique took care of everything, paying attention to fun little details.
Paul from PA had this to say about his African Safari to Kenya:
The ALA Kenyan safari was the journey of a life time. From the brutality of watching two male lions eat a zebra to the tenderness of a baby elephant suckling on its mother, we experienced it all. However, the true treasure of Africa is the people, the warmth and kindness shown to us by the Kenyan people provided us with memories and friendships that will last forever.
Honestly I could go on and on. I have dozens of similar evaluations, but I can’t possibly share them all. This should give you the basic idea of what we here at Austin-Lehman Adventures are all about: fun, exciting, relaxing, challenging and, oh yes, pampered vacations around the world.
We look forward to hearing what you might have to say after your adventure…
I get asked all the time, almost daily actually “Where is your favorite adventure?” My answer is quite often “canned” - “Why, the last place I visited” or, maybe, “the next place I go.” We all know that these answers serve little purpose. Folks ask me for advice because, let’s face it, I’m blessed to have seen a big chunk of the world (actually in reality just the tip of the iceberg, but I keep working at it.) As I get older, I reflect back on my travels and adventures and really try to think of what or where was my favorite adventure? That answer recently came to me, and everything just seems to make more sense now. It was just a few weeks ago… Kasey (my lovely daughter) and I were zip lining across the tree tops in the shadow of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. We were laughing like kids again. Actually, she was laughing at me, but the fact is we were indeed laughing. Next it was off to the beaches of Manual Antonio for a break and a few hours of surf lessons (come to think of it, this is really when the laughing hit an all-time high.) It was on this recent adventure to across Costa Rica that I came to realize it isn’t so much where I travel, but with whom I travel.
I am convinced the best part of travel is the memories we create, and the best part about these memories is who we create them with. There is nothing better than to share my passion for travel with someone who I not only love, but whose company I enjoy. Personally, for me, it gets even better. I am fortunate enough to work in the adventure travel business. Better yet, I am blessed to work in this great (a bit crazy at times) industry with my wife and children. In the last 12 months I have had the chance to travel across Europe with my wife Carol (talk about memories… who could forget the rug salesmen in Morocco… I know I would like to,) spend 3 weeks on safari in Namibia with my son Andy (making too many new friends to count,) and most recently, as I mentioned, exploring Costa Rica with Kasey my daughter.
So in this case, where is my favorite adventure? Easy, Costa Rica! Pura Vida (Plenty of Life) as the Costa Ricans say. It is no doubt a beautiful country, with the friendliest and warmest “locals” you can imagine. The adventures are endless, whether it’s rafting the Pacuare River, kayaking the canals in Tortuguero National Park or just relaxing on the beaches of Manual Antonio, Costa Rica has it all and welcomes travelers like no other country on the planet. The only question that remains is simple... who are you bringing with you??
I can't quite explain the feeling of opening Travel + Leisure Magazine and seeing Austin-Lehman ranked the World's Best Adventure Outfitter For Families, but I can tell you it feels pretty darn good. We have always strived to provide the absolute best family adventures, but to see that we received a 98.11 from past guests is truly humbling. The news couldn't have come at a better time, we just wrapped up our 2013 schedule of departures and 2013 is shaping up to be another incredible year. We've added adult and family adventures to some incredible destinations. On top of all that we are wrapping up our 2013 catalog, which should be rolling out mid-September.
Very exciting and busy times for all of us here at ALA, but no matter how much is going on... I want YOU to know that we are truly here to make your travel experience everything you dreamed of and more. If you ever have a question, idea or a suggestion about how we can make traveling easier, smarter or better; feel free to give us a call at 800.575.1540 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
From all of us here at Austin-Lehman Adventures thank you for making us #1, we do what we do for all of you!
Austin-Lehman Adventures is proud to announce through a strategic acquisition, Go South Adventures is joining the Austin-Lehman family. Troy Glennon, founder of Go South Adventures will be the new Director of Latin American Sales. For the last decade plus, Troy has traveled extensively throughout Central and South America. His insider knowledge and regional contacts are sure to help increase and expand our presence in Central and South America.
More about Troy and Go South Adventures:
For over 10 years, Troy Glennon has led Go South Adventures in creating “Trip of a Lifetime”, small group adventures to Latin America. Troy has experienced South America from both sides of travel, as a solo adventurer and as a group tour leader in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. He studied in Mexico and has a degree in Spanish Literature and Culture from the University of Washington. He has traveled extensively throughout Central and South America, and returns regularly to update and expand his knowledge of new and classic Latin American destinations. His passion, observations and experiences gained from exploring Latin America are evident in each adventure offered by Go South Adventures. “Joining the team at Austin Lehman Adventures has presented a terrific opportunity to expand new Latin American experiences into Austin Lehman's industry leading catalog of adventure tours.”
All of us here at Austin-Lehman couldn't be happier about adding Troy and Go South Adventures to our family.
More to come,
I just had to share some of the amazing responses we've had from our latest newsletter. All of the congratulations and thank you's have made all of us at ALA really proud to share our love for adventure with all of you. Our recent ranking of #2 in the world for top tour operator by Travel + Leisure was 100% based on feedback and scoring by past travelers. Don't forget that YOU are why we do what we do and strive to do it so well.
Here are some of the fantastic responses we got last night!
"Well, if it's any help, you've made a fan out of my family. In fact, we're eyeing the Yellowstone Family trip for next summer... Any way we can request "our" guides again? (James, Pat & John) When we decide on dates and such I'll be sure to let you know- and then I'm thinking I will extend the invitation to friends & readers to join us. (Just how many people do you put on those tours, anyway?) Also waiting-anxiously- to hear about the Ireland tour. Congrats on being #2- though AL is #1 in our book!" - Jody
"Always, you guys are awesome. I recommend your services to everybody that is planning some traveling.Again congratulations and keep up the good work!" - Vesna
"CONGRATULATIONS!! THATS AWESOME GUYS!!! Hope to travel with you somewhere soon" - Stephanie
"Soooo happy for you. You deserve it!" - Holly
"Congratulations- very well deserved!" - Judy
"Well deserved to both you and Carol. Excellence all around!" - Christine
"This is, most decidedly, YOUR YEAR. congratulations!" Judie and Paul
So once again thank you to everyone who has supported ALA, we wouldn't be where we are today without you! Who knows, with diligent effort, a little luck, and your ongoing support we may just reach #1 in 2013!
Just thought this was a “cool share”…
We tracked this endangered Black Rhino with a team from the World Wildlife Foundation and the Save the Rhino Trust…. A great way to get your heart going at sunrise….. this is a free range Black Rhino, once we found him (from a distance) we worked with the Save the Rhino folks to document his size and details. They record and track hundreds of Rhinos, Namibia is the only place on the planet where this beast is thriving. They don’t release numbers (fear of poaching) but they hope to be in the 2000 range by 2030. The horns can be worth over 100,000 US…. They (Namibia) are actually exporting Rhinos back onto public land, it is estimated that upwards of 2 Black Rhino are killed a day in South Africa (numbers are slowing due to scarcity of the animal).. its been two years since one has been killed in Namibia. This is a direct benefit of the good work the Conservancies are doing, empowering the locals to protect wildlife to enhance tourism.
Just think this is pretty dang cool…. And in case you are wondering, yes the rumors are true and Black (compared to white) Rhinos are deadly and very aggressive…
The last day in the field was a bit uneventful by Namibia standards, but still epic none the less.
The morning kicked off with a sunrise game drive just outside Etosha National Park. The game refuge holds just about every species one would hope to see on an African Safari, all but the elephant. With Etosha National Park so close and it being the prime elephant habitat it is hard to keep them on site.
This morning we were treated, as we have been every morning, to a spectacular African sunrise. Returning back to the lodge, we enjoyed breakfast overlooking the local watering hole and its frequent visitors. As Etosha is 6 hours on a "tar road" north of Windhoek, we knew we had to head out.
Tonight we celebrated with our new friends at "Joes" a local favorite steak house with about every species of game on the menu. Conversations were lively and camaraderie ran deep. We started planning our next get together before dessert hit the table. Ideas were plenty, but I will save the details for another day. Hugs, more hugs and a few more hugs wrapped up the evening. Andy and I said our good byes and headed to our guest house to pack.
I am pecking this out on my Blackberry at 35000 feet as we head back to Johannesburg. There really isn't a lot more to say. Namibia, will steal your heart. Great people, good times and adventures aplenty await.
I am looking forward to next time. Perhaps you can join me?
Dan Austin, Director
As I get set for today's update I realize I probably under sold last night’s camp at Otjibumbunde. We camped at the future site of a JV Lodge. Our hosts were the owner of the lodge, leaders from the conservancy and the builder. We enjoyed roast lamb and fine wines well into the night.
A more spectacular setting would be hard to picture. A spring in the vast valley below keeps things green. From our vantage point we could see uninterrupted wilderness beauty for miles and miles. Wildlife were unaware (or at least seemed to be) of our presence.
Over breakfast we reviewed the blueprints for the project and then heard a heartwarming presentation (translated from Himba) about just how much this project means to the local villages. The prospect of jobs and opportunities has all beaming with pride.
We sat and "chatted" for a few hours and even that seemed short. With more hugs and pictures we reluctantly had to say good bye and continue our adventure.
What is becoming increasingly clearer to me is the magnitude of the positive impact these JV's within the conservancies have. As we continue north, I am already thinking how I can get more involved and help support such a great sustainable program, even further thinking ahead how to expand the footprint.
So we continue North to the region commonly just referred to as "Etosha". Etosha National Park, (huge saline desert) first gained conservation status in 1907 and has been proclaimed a game reserve by the German Governor Lindequist. Depending on the season there can be large quantities of wildlife that congregate at the many watering holes. It is not uncommon to see a half dozen species, encroaching on a head count into the hundreds at one hole.
We arrived at Ongava Lodge situated on the park boundaries and on its own private game reserve to the "buzz" of a Lion spotting. Festus our Herrera guide suggested we "check in later" and get right after them. We needed no convincing, we all quickly jumped into the open game drive vehicles and headed out. We didn't stop at the giraffes or wildebeest; we were on a mission. It didn't take long with Festus listening to a little chatter to find our lions. A pride of 6 young (a little over a year) were just ahead playfully lounging in the setting sun and finishing the evening meal provided by mom. We watch and snap a thousand photos and it is well past dark before we return to the lodge.
The Lodge is a beautiful property in heart of the true African wilderness (or at least on the edge). We are quickly shown to our secluded room just feet from a watering hole. We receive a safety briefing (no sitting on porch after dark and wait for armed escorts to and from dinner). By day all is good, by night extra caution is encouraged. I am fine with that, Andy would make a fine meal for a pride of lions or leopard and I promised to bring him back in tact.
We dined on an open patio overlooking a "lit" water hole. We struggled with keeping our attention on the meal and more conversation as rhinos, giraffes, oryx, hyenas and others all stopped by for a night cap.
We have one more day to go and then the trek home. I am already missing my new friends and traveling companions. But most of all I am missing Namibia and all is rugged beauty (people and landscapes) and as I said we still have a day to go.
Set out this morning deeper into the bush. Elephants, Giraffe are becoming common place. Today we are focused more on learning about the conservancies, its product and people. We visit a camp owned by locals (wait until you see the pictures) and continue west. In a lot of ways this area looks a lot like the American Southwest, except bigger (and with a few elephants) arid, plateaus, valleys and springs. You can drive the dirt trails from dawn to dusk without seeing another vehicle or any sign of civilization.
This afternoon, we loaded up on rice and sugar and drove a dozen rough KM to a traditional Himba village along a spring in a little slice of paradise. We were greeted warmly (note to self when shaking hands with Himba women, be prepared to get the red okra die on everything). Kids of course are the same around the world; take pictures, share pictures, laugh, and repeat.
After learning a bit from our guide and translator, we were entertained with impromptu dance and song. Yes I even managed to dance with the Himb a ladies (I think I may now have a 2nd wife).
We said our goodbyes to the Himba's and headed further into the bush. Tonight, camping African style high on a hill overlooking a beautiful spring valley. Dinner is served with white linen settings, an amazing chef and more new friends.
Life in Africa is a strange and wide sweep of diversity. In a village of sod huts one minute, then a cold beverage served up on a silver platter as the sun sets shortly down the road.
Camp was set up on the site of a future conservancy JV Lodge. The owner and builder were our hosts for dinner. Lamb over a fire for hours, makes for a great dining experience. Leaders from the local Conservancy joined us well into the night.
I have mentioned how much I love Namibia?? I am already planning my next trip and I am excited to learn how to get more involved with the conservancies.
When you wake up each day with a game drive (ok smiling faces and good coffee first) is pretty tough to have a bad day. Today was no exception. After a few days In Africa you start getting into a rhythm, perhaps its the same rhythm the locals are blessed with.
We eagerly headed out early this morning. Our goal, the endangered Black Rhino. Our
trackers headed out first and we had one more cup and followed closely behind.
It took all of 30 minutes to come upon one of the WWF tracking team patiently waiting in the road. Still sun barely peeking above the horizon, he points 500 yards away to 2 more trackers and Jeff slightly above the springs. "He is there" he proclaims. 5 minute safety and rules talk and we head out. 15 minutes later all you could here is snapping shutters.
Our trackers took notes and taking pictures and logging details. They whisper details, they know this fellow "Don't worry" and estimated at 30 years old. We have a 15 minute time limit as to not disturb him.
Namibia seems to have Rhino poaching on the run, there has only been one confirmed kill in the last few years, as opposed to upwards of 2 a day in South Africa.
We press on, endless wildlife sights, each on special. We stop at "v zyl's gat ", (picture small spring in SW canyon) a true oasis in this arid land. A dip for all and then we continue on towards the distant plateaus.
Early afternoon we arrive at Grootberg Lodge perched on the rim of the Etendeka Plateau over looking the Klip River Valley. 12 rock and thatch huts will be home.
Quickly freshening up we head out "on top" for another game drive. The plains game on top were a abundant. The light amazing and the conversations stimulating.
We returned to the lodge for yet another fine meal and then were treated with guests and conversation for hours regarding the "pros and cons" of the conservancy program. Grootberg Lodge we learn was the first JV lodge/ community project and I had the true pleasure of dining and chatting with it's champion Maxi (NACSO Executive Director).
After dinner we had a robust conversation to what "we" can do to help (why we are here), but first we need to heart the challenges. In a nut shell #1 of course and as always is unfortunately funding as it often is with any project. Then we drill down to things like compensating farmers for elephants damaging crops and lions eating goats, things we don't often consider.
One thing struck me as a parallel, many of the issues are quite similar to our re introduction of wolves in Yellowstone and the ongoing conflict with local ranchers, so maybe we are not all that different after all.
Just an FYI, we calculated we are in the 5000 photo arena, with 4 days to go!!
Tonight we are headed in to the bush for a night of camping.
More to come. I have I mentioned how much I love and respect Namibia and its people?
So I sent off my "daily report" a bit early last night. I left off the best part, dinner African style! As we rallied for dinner our local guide Allen asked us to join him for a short walk under the stars to "look for scorpions". a little odd, but we were all game. Apparently "scorpion" is code for a walk to a traditional African fireside dinner, complete with a choir from the local village. The village elders joined us and shared eagerly how working with the conservancies has so positively impacted all in the village, what a great way to spend and evening.
Wake up call at 5:00 AM for a walk to a nearby hill and catch the sunrise. Little did we expect to crest the hill and first hear the singing (African welcome song) and then right on top of the hill was a fabulous breakfast spread. Coffee, baked goods and a little bacon and eggs, breakfast has never tasted so good! We leave as we came to beautiful African song and continued our hike to a local village. Judging by the number of goats, cows and chickens, this was an affluent village of huts and shacks.
Ben our host for the visit was a sharp looking man and a wealth of local knowledge. He literally beamed as he introduced is to he extensive family. We arrived at Rhino Camp deep in the conservancy in time for sun downers around the fire. Rob from Wilderness and Jeff from Save the Rhino Trust joined us and shared stories of the success of the program. Namibia continues to set the bar for wildlife conservancy, in fact is only place on the planet with growing numbers of endangered Black Rhino. The decline in numbers are staggering, from hundreds of thousands in the late 80's to an estimated 2500 world wide. We are in the heart of Rhino Country and couldn't be more pleased.
Back to the fire after dinner and more stories (funny how a fire brings that out in all). Festus our local guide asked us to step away from the fire to enjoy the night skies. Once again we learned more about how special Namibia is at some many levels. Namibia is reported to have the best star gazing in the southern hemisphere and I sure wouldn't dispute this.
Off to bed, 5:00 AM comes early and the infamous Black Rhino await. The trackers head out before us to "cut the tracks" and a grand day awaits. Sleep comes easy in the camps, long days and only the Sounds of the Savanna make sleep deep and pleasant.
Typing this on my Blackberry over good coffee and a rising sun. Everyone is excited and anxious, we are about to head out to see an endangered species the vast majority in the world will never get the opportunity to see.
Got to go, got the "load up call"
Arrived back in Windhoek early evening, just in time to catch up with our new traveling companions for the week.
It was actually quite a treat to put faces to "emails". Some of these folks I have known for many years and actually never met. A fascinating group, Representatives from World Wildlife Foundation (both Namibia based and stateside), an old friend from Natural Habitat (a premier tour operator), Investment bankers, looking to learn a bit more about the conservancies and of course our new friends from Wilderness Safaris.
After introductions and dinner we returned to the comfort of Maison Ambre Guest House.
Seems like the sun shines bright every morning in Namibia and today was no exception. Shortly after breakfast we all left for a 1.5 flight to Damaraland in a Cessna Caravan.
Going to be an amazing 6 days. This group of like minded travelers were all hand picked to add a wide range of skill sets and contacts to the mix. Our goal as I understand it (we know more as the story unfolds) is to bring fresh new light to not only Namibia, but the good work the country is doing with local conservancy groups. This is truly an "educational" tour for me!
As I learn more, I will break down what exactly is a conservancy and how they directly benefit the "locals". For now, its sit back and enjoy the flight, northwest over the Erongo Mountains. We land at the Damaraland air strip and shuttle to the lodge for lunch.
Leeana our host (and camp manager) joined us for lunch and shared with great pride her 17 years of working at the lodge. The Damaraland Conservancy was one of the first in Namibia. She went on to explain the partnership with Wilderness Safaris and how she and the locals look at the lodge as their own. How in partnership they work to Train and Educate the staff and support all in the village. She boasted of having a pension and medical benefits. In return the village leases the land for the lodge and enforces the game laws to insure wildlife for all to enjoy.
In short a conservancy is a partnership between, in this case Wilderness Safaris and the village. Wilderness builds the lodge, trains the villagers, manages the camp in a 60/40 partnership. The community puts up the land. The land is leased to the conservancy in 10 year leases. She clearly understands at articulates well the symbiotic relationship between the lodge and village. She laughs when she explains her now 8 year daughter has the bed she did not. She shared she did not get shoes until she was in her teens, but now smiles and states her children will always have shoes.
She reminisces as a teen barefoot and hearding goats and all she really wanted was a job. A dream realized when 17 years ago she joined Wilderness.
She beams as she tells the stories of "climbing the ranks" and laughs as she proclaims "I will never have to heard goats again". "Now we can afford to hire a goat herder".
She goes on to point out she was the first black manager since independence. She tells us of an exchange program where she was invited to US to work in a Ramada Inn.
Proceeds from the lodge (the Conservancy) supports many aspects of the community. Including game guards, vehicles, schools, pensions for the elderly, health care and so much more. Leanna expects Wilderness will turn the entire lodge over to the community within the next 20 years. She held our attention well into the afternoon.
But in addition to learning about conservancies, we are here to see game and Its early afternoon and the game awaits... We headed down to the river bottom, the perfect habitat for the desert elephant. In route we saw plenty of planes game:oryx, springbuck to name a few.
Once at the river bottom it didn't disappoint. It didn't take long to pick up "sign" in the soft sand. Then the first two, a small bull and newborn. Then we "cuit the traoil" of a dozen or so. We shot ahead and waiting as the herd approached our jeep allowing amazing shots in the setting sun.
Back to "camp", a hearty dinner and good conversation around the campfire awaits.
I should note, the camp is typical in over the top luxury as only Wilderness can pull it off!
Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings,
Dan here from Namibia, I just wanted to share some fun facts about Namibia...
Namibia is now an independent democracy ruled by a multi party parliament, in the past it under German, British and most recently South African rule. Gaining independence in 1990
Namibia is the 5th largest country in Africa. A country of stunning contrasts, with two vast deserts; the Namib and its red sand and the Kalahari in the eastern interior (a sparsely vegetated savanna.
The Namib Desert which runs along the entire Atlantic Coastline of Namibia is the oldest desert in the world.
Namibia is one of if not the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Just over 2 million people inhabit a country larger then Great Britain and France combined.
Namibia was the first country in the world to incorporate the protection of the environment into its constitution.
English is the "official" language, however Afrikaans is the most widely spoken and understood.
Oshiwambo Greetings (50% of native Namibians speak Oshiwambo;
How are you?- Oshili ngaipi?
I am fine, how are you?-Onawaongeipi?
How are you?- Hoe gaan dit?
I am fine and how are you?- Dit gaan goed en jy?
I hope one day you can practice your Oshiwambo,
Headed back into the dunes, this time looking for "little" critters in
Dorob NP. Namibia's newest National Park, founded 2010.
Our guide Chris is an expert on the reptiles and insects of the region. Chris is blessed with infectious energy, passion and in depth knowledge of the area and its inhabitants.
This part of Namibia saw 3mm of rain last year. A little less then normal, but plenty to "feed" the life on the desert.
We spent hours trekking and trying to keep up as Chris spotted tell tail signs that produced amazing encounters with the "locals"
Chameleon, gecko, perenguays adder (sidewinder), shovel snouted lizard, fitzemans burrowing skink and that's just a few. Frankly on our own we would have easily missed all. Further validating why a local guide is key. Chris and his company Living Desert Adventures is a must do (again).
We wrapped up with a little 4x4 wrangling across the dunes, bringing out the adrenaline junkie in all of us.
Time to head back east, this time overland back to Windhoek (350 km) and meeting up with our group of adventurers to head next North to Damaraland.
But first an overnight in Windhoek and a bit of exploring Namibia's Capital (about 280,000 residents).
I could really get used to waking up by the ocean (not really practical living in Montana).
We left at dawn to shuttle south to Walvis Bay where we met up with Jeannie our kayak guide. On the water early to beat any potential mid day winds was fine with us.
As we drove to our launch site, we just knew we were on track for a great day. The sun was making what we understand to be a rare appearance along the coast. We passed lots of birds (all of which Jeannie would tell is all about and the occasional jackal.
As we got closer to our "put in" we started seeing huge seal colonies. Jeannie assured us, no need to stop for pictures now as we would get right in the middle of them by water. Since they have no known predators in these parts approaching be sea, it was easy to understand the logic of being able to get close.
What we didn't realize as we paddled up was that to the hundreds of young seal pups, we were a great source of curiosity and amusement. We quickly found ourselves surround by thousands of playful seals. They acted like any "pup" and would follow us and "chew" on anything placed in the water. Including my hand and Andy's GO-Pro camera (Andy should have some great shots)
We literally paddled and played with the seals for hours. When paddling hard they would take it as a challenge and race the kayak. When you stopped, they would surround the kayak and bark for attention. Occasionally one would get comfortable enough for a "belly rub". Yes, they sure reminded us of canine pups, just in mass quantity.
Reluctantly we paddled back to the jeep and headed back to town.
Another "treat" for a Montanan is a beach side grill, today was just going to be a dang good day!!
This PM was again free (something we are not used too) and we took advantage of the time to clean camera gear and just "chill" on the beach.
Today was a good day, experiencing this with my son has made it one of my favorite family adventure vacations I have done so far.
A rare east wind kicked up over night, squashing our sunrise balloon ride over the dunes. (good excuse to come back). Sunrise over the dunes from camp is a spectacular site. The wind stirring the rich golden grasses and the "red" sands make a contrast too good not to shoot and shoot. Why coffee, bacon and eggs taste so much better out here I have no idea, trust it does.
After breakfast we have to say our first good byes of our adventure. Its tough, the camp staff seem like old friends after just too days. We load up and head to the airstrip for a 90 minute flight in a small Cessna to Swakopmund along the skeleton coast. Flying just 1500 over the dunes really puts it in perspective how vast they really are. Then north along the coast past ship wrecks and huge seal colonies. We arrive in the German Colonial town now called Swakopmund in time for a fresh seafood lunch out on the pier. The contrast of cool coastal breeze over the dry desert is a pleasant one. Lazy afternoon of checking out the town, beaches and shops, before we crank back up the adventure tomorrow. Tune in a few days and catch up on our Namibian Safari and Adventure.
Keep checking back, there is plenty more to come from my Namibian safari!
A short 2 hour flight and we arrive in Windhoek. Capital city of Namibia. As promised Roger our guide is patiently waiting (with the welcome sign I so look forward too) just outside of customs. We load up our classic safari vehicle and head out for our 5 hour drive south (on well maintained gravel road) to "The Dunes". In route, endless antelope, orix, ostrich, wildebeest and a 7ft cobra that had a go at our jeep.
Arriving at "The Dunes" as the sun set, finding our camp was a bit of a challenge, but as day turned to night, it was the light from the fire that caught our eye. Kulala Adventure Camp would be home next two nights. Only on African safaris can you find a remote wilderness camp, so accommodating and down right luxurious. I mean really, tents with flush toilets!
Our camp for the next two nights is a cluster of a half dozen "tents" and the main dining mess tent. All tucked against a small rock out cropping at the edge of the dunes of the Namib Desert. Campfire dinner and off to bed.
Dawn came early as we headed out of camp to reach the dunes at sunrise, spectacular would be an understatement for the view! The worlds largest dunes, rich with color an character.
We made our way to Sossuvlei Pan in the heart of the dunes. Spent the morning scurrying around and taking lots of pictures. As the morning light faded so did we, as we head back to camp for lunch and a siesta.
This afternoon, a "little" work. When we travel with adventure travel companies, we are indeed working. We checked out Kuala Lodge and Little Kuala Lodge, the latter being about as luxurious of camp I have seen. Both strategically located on the edge of the Namib Naukluft National Park (the Dunes).
After afternoon "tea" we headed back to camp, its hard to tire of being met at your vehicle with a cold drink, fresh wash cloth and warm smiles.
After yet another campfire dinner, a bit of star gazing then off to bed. Tomorrow we head to the coast, I can't wait to see more of this amazing Nambia Safari.
Much more to come....
It took all of 5 minutes on the ground in South Africa to forget about the 26 hours it took to get here (the last 14 straight Atlanta to Johannesburg). You see it is blatantly obvious from your very first contact with the African people, they welcome you with open arms and a warm heart. You "glide" through customs and passport control with smiles and welcomes.
With our crazy busy stateside lives we don't notice how "short" and downright rude many have become. But here in a land where so many have so little, there is an abundance of compassion, kindness and warm, welcoming openness.
At dinner our first night in an airport hotel, our waiter shared with us growing up a Zulu in Mozambique and moving to Johannesburg 12 years ago for work. He taught us how to say thank you in Zulu "Ngiyabonga", but assured us everyone we meet will know and appreciate an "English" thank you and a smile even more.
This morning we continue on to Namibia, seems you can't have a bad day in Africa, the locals just won't have it. Beautiful people in a beautiful land. The next few weeks are sure to be sensory overload. Above all else re-charging my appreciation of simple things and reminding me to start each day with a smile.
We feel at home with "Mother Africa"
After weeks and weeks of planning and “waiting”, its finally here, time to pack and hit the airways and head south, way south to Namibia for our ultimate Safari tour. While I am not looking forward to close to 20 hours of flying, I can’t wait to touch down in Windhoek Namibia. As luck would have it, I have some great friends that just happen to be there as well.. the good folks from the Adventure Travel Trade Association and a few others are all meeting in Windhoek before our arrival. We should connect for a cold beverage if all goes well.
We will overnight in Johannesburg and continue on to Windhoek on Sunday AM. As many times as I have done this, I still get excited when I walk off the tarmac and see our guide for the next week standing at the gate with a big smile and a sign that says “Welcome Austin’s”... nothing confirms your arrival at the “right” destination as much as that simple welcome sign!
While this isn’t our first trip to Namibia and we will be revisiting some of our favorite camps, it’s the time in the Dunes and discovering the Skeleton Coast and Walvis Bay I am most looking forward to.
We will do our best to post some pictures from our adventures in Southern Africa (tech gods willing) and be sure to bring back literally thousands to share with all and relive over and over the good times to be had…
Just over a week from today I will head back to the African continent and my favorite country in the world of Namibia. I pretty much always get at least a bit excited about upcoming travels, but down right ecstatic when it comes to heading to Africa… This trip will be no exception and will highlight both new regions (Skeleton Coast and The Dunes) as well as re-visit some of my past favorites (Damaraland, Palm Fontein and Etosha NP)
There are some real special nuances of this trip that is sure to make it very special. First I will be traveling with Andy my son and it's shaping up to be one of my favorite family adventure vacations. This will be his first gig as a photographer, shooting the incredible landscapes and ever present wildlife. That’s a good start! Next up is the unique nature of the program itself and our traveling companions. We are traveling as guests of The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and our new partner Wilderness Safaris (W.S., The leading safari company in all of southern Africa). WWF and WS are looking to not only educate us, but seek our input and insight on the local village conservancies. Namibia is “ahead of the pack” in how they work with local communities to create truly sustainable tourism opportunities. The majority of the lodges are on community land and staff by locals in a partnership with WS.
I will share a lot more on the conservancies when I return and have an in depth understanding… you can count on that.
Now while this is “work”, no trip to Africa would be complete or even close without the traditional safari tour. We will spend the first few days exploring The Dunes out of Sossusvei, the largest Sand Dunes in the World! (this is a first for me). Next up we will head to the Swakopmund and the Skeleton Coast for a few days of exploring ship wrecks and kayaking with one of the largest sea lion colonies to be found anywhere in the world.
Then its fly north to start our adventure with the good folks from the WWF. We will visit conservancies and camps throughout the north. “Stalking” the elusive desert elephant along the dry river bottoms of Damaraland. (our home for the night Damaraland Camp is the oldest JV Conservancy in Namibia and our host and camp manager is one of the few women in such a high position!)
Then on to tracking black rhino (doesn’t that just sound cool?) out of our camp outside of Palmwag (my favorite camp in all of Africa). Tracking rhino as part of a JV with Wilderness and the “Save the Rhino Trust” and partnership that has clearly resulted in the largest population of the endangered black rhino anywhere on the planet.
Moving on we will be headed to Grootberg Lodge, the first 100% conservancy owned property in the country. A region rich with predators, the conservancy works with the locals to be more tolerant of the cheetahs and lions that also call this home.
Now into the “real” bush and a camping expedition at Otjimumbunde. You really haven’t experienced an African Safari until you sleep in a tent with the only thing separating you and the wilderness is a thin strip of canvas. The night comes alive with all the sounds of Africa and is sure to keep your blood pumping just a bit more than a luxury lodge. The “stories” around the camp fire by the locals will only help to set the stage.
Always a highlight we work our way to Etosha National Park and is 22, 270 sq. KM if saline desert, savanna and woodlands. An amazing 114 different species of mammals are represented in the park… watering holes will set the stage for endless hours of photography literally thousands of animals. It is about as rich of a wildlife experience as you can find. Highlights will be herds of the largest elephants on the continent (measuring 4 meters at the shoulder), one of the few “growing” populations of black rhino, the trio of “Big” cats (lion, leopard and cheetah) more antelope (Kudu, gemsbok, eland and dik dik to name a few) than one can imagine and over 300 species of birds.. (including flamingos), of course then there are the reptiles and just so much more, Etosha should be on any wildlife lovers bucket list.
As we wrap up what might be my favorite adventure vacation packages we will then spend a few days in Windhoek. Here we will introduce the group to our efforts with Wheels of Change. Andy and I will spend some time at one of the BEC’s and just get caught up with the bike crews and work on plans for our next shipment later this summer. Time allowing we will visit with some friends running cycling tours into one of the Windhoek townships.
Then unfortunately it is back up and head home… if all goes well with Andy, we will return with literally thousands of images and video to sort through and relive (and share) our adventure over and over again.
If I wasn’t excited about going before I penned this “blog” I sure am now….. in closing I share an old African Proverb “Return to an old watering hole for more than water, friends and dreams are there to meet you!”
More to come...