The next two days of our fly-in safari were spent in paradise.
After an hour and 45 minute flight in a 4 seat plane and an hour drive through some of the most beautiful, otherworldly scenery I have ever seen, we arrived at Serra Cafema Camp, a luxurious, remote lodge on the far northern border of Namibia. Serra Cafema is a lush oasis in the middle of a stunning nowhere of rugged desert mountains, steep canyons, orange sand dunes, and wide open vistas. The area is vaguely reminiscent of Death Valley in California but even more vast and remote, a Death Valley with sleek, muscular oryx posing against backdrops of sand and rock.The camp is spread out among the trees along the banks of the Kunene River, across the river from Angola. The camp makes good use of its location, with tables, chairs and plush sofas on wide, deep decks overlooking the river. Our accommodations, a chalet raised on stilts above the banks of the river, were the size of a large one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. Inside was a large bed, a seating area as big as the living room in my house, a dressing room, and a large bathroom with a shower. Glass doors ran the length of the chalet and opened fully onto a large, multilevel deck with a hammock, more sofas, and an outdoor shower.
This is not a place for game drives on bumpy tracks, but a place for long, guided walks on rocky promontories and sand dunes above the river, a leisurely gourmet lunch on a sand bar, lounging in a sofa on the deck, or floating on the river looking for crocodiles (we found several) or just watching the scenery go by. After weeks of running around to get ready for the trip, plus the hectic schedule since we had arrived, I finally came to a full stop. Our two days in paradise were not enough. I could have stayed longer, basking in the luxury, beauty and serenity. We left reluctantly. In consolation, our pilot took the scenic route along the remote northern edge of the Skelton Coast to the final destination in our 6 day fly-in safari. Etendeka Mountain Camp is as basic, rustic and no frills as Serra Cafema is luxurious. No sundowners, no iced towels at the end of game drives, and no singing and dancing during dinner. Just raw, unadulterated nature, as wild as it gets.
Etendeka is in the same general vicinity as Damaraland Camp, but the scenery is somewhat different – red, rocky, rolling terrain with lots of cliffs and flat topped mesas. The camp is surrounded by beautiful scenery and wild animals and little else. The camp itself, which is designed for sustainability and low impact, is simple, intimate and homey. We felt like we were visiting someone’s home, rather than a commercial establishment.
In addition to the game drives, we also had the opportunity for a guided hike on the top of one of the mesas. The surface was strewn with red basalt rocks and enough quartz crystal and semi-precious stones to stock every new age boutique in Manhattan, Santa Fe and Los Angeles.
But it was the wildlife that made this place special. Besides the best and scariest lion sighting of the trip, described in my last post (see “Namibia – Raw and Wild,” November 15, 2013), we also saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, oryx, springboks, kudu, but none of the elusive desert rhino that the area is known for.
Like Damaraland, the wildlife is not as dense as in Etosha, but the sightings feel as pure and authentic as it gets. That lion growling at me from just a short leap away rivals being chased by an elephant in Kenya (in 1984), watching a mountain gorilla walk by within tripping distance (Uganda 2007) or having a tiger hiss and crouch in a mock charge (India 2011) for adrenaline pumping, heart pounding excitement (fear?).
That evening as I walked from the lodge to our tent, I was a bit spooked as I realized that the lion was not that far away. The next morning, the couple that had been on the game drive with us and whose tent was only a few yards away told me that they had heard a lion walking around close by in the middle of the night. I couldn’t help but think that maybe he was looking for me.