Sandeep and I chatted the night before we headed to Etosha National Park in Namibia and I told him one of my childhood memories. I was six. My parents had returned from safari in Kenya with pictures that I still remember in vivid detail – a lion with a magnificent mane, a leopard draped over a tree branch, and a herd of zebras. After seeing those pictures, going on safari has topped my list of travel dreams. The thought of being hours away from realizing the dream made me nervous. What if we couldn’t see any animals? We had no idea what to expect. To manage expectations, we prepared ourselves for a few days of seeing nothing but birds.
On our four hour drive from Windhoek to Etosha, the kids sang about a dozen renditions of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Ava kept asking if we were in the jungle yet. We pointed out a few warthogs by the side of the road but she didn’t seem too impressed. Kayan practiced his lion roars with increasing intensity. We entered Etosha’s gate an hour before sunset.
We thought it would be too bold to pursue wildlife without getting the lay of the land first. So our plan was to head straight to our new home, Okaukuejo Camp. However, within a few minutes, I spotted several giraffe heads bobbing in the distance. Giraffe and zebra topped my list of desired sightings and I was too excited to pass up on the opportunity. Plus, giraffe seemed tame enough that we figured we would just take a quick look. We turned onto a dirt road to find this group drinking water.
A car heading our way told us that there were lions ahead. We had no idea what to do. Were we supposed to stop the car or gun the engine? After hours of hearing, “Hush my darling, don’t cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight” and Kayan’s lion roars, it seemed like a sign that we should forge ahead. We went ahead very slowly, windows up and doors locked. They took a while to spot but we finally saw three female lions lolling away the evening. (All pictures on this blog are untouched, so I have not zoomed in on the lioness. If you are having trouble spotting her, she is sitting in the middle of the picture looking right.)
Sandeep and Kayan have been very excited about seeing lions, so this was their moment. Just as Sandeep said, “What I really want to see is a lion hunt,” a herd of zebra meandered by the other side of our car. We braced ourselves to be caught in between the predictors and their prey. These must have been very satiated or very lazy lions, because they didn’t budge. The lions and we just watched the zebras sway into the grass, creating a geometric pattern in the savannah. Sandeep said something about it being too bad the lion didn’t eat the zebra and Ava wanted to know why anyone would want to eat a zebra when it was so beautiful.
The sun began to set and we finally checked into our camp. We couldn’t believe that we had seen all these animals within our first hour in Etosha, at a time when we weren’t actively searching for wildlife. Our first impression is that self-driving in Etosha is very easy, even with young kids. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to our African safari experience.