Ultimate Safaris’ Marketing Director Birgit Bekker recently spent four nights at the //Huab Under Canvas in Damaraland, Namibia. Here is her amazing report from those five soul-enriching days, connecting with nature in Namibia!
I couldn’t wait to finally see Huab Under Canvas, our semi-mobile camp that was opened in record time in June this year; although I have to admit I had my trepidation – I would be away from the office for 5 days, which I couldn’t really afford and what would I (and the guests) possibly do for all that time?! But it was all or nothing, and I am never one to refuse an invitation to go somewhere wild!
Over the past two decades, I had the privilege to visit some extraordinarily luxurious lodges, often located in remote and exotic parts of Africa, resplendent with 5-course dinners, private plunge pools, kingsize beds and every whim catered to. Life was good!
But in recent years I noticed a trend, which was not just a personal yearning for myself, but also among our high-end travelers coming to Namibia, to experience something different. A craving for an authentic interaction with nature, to hear and smell and feel the wildness all around, and enjoy experiences few others have done before – seasoned travelers were quite happy to pay a surcharge for exclusivity that provides a sense of adventure, pioneering off from the normal tourist route, even if it means selecting more rustic accommodation, but without compromising on comfort and safety and where you are still assured wholesome food, a good night’s rest, a hot shower and exceptional guides to explore the land with.
This is what this camp promised, and I was keen to take it to the test. It was an easy drive from Windhoek to Khorixas, and then the real journey started as we veered onto the gravel road northwest of this Damaraland outpost. The well-maintained gravel road soon changed into a more rugged jeep track. Some parts of the road seemed pretty rough, but nothing that Tarry and his trusty Hilux couldn’t navigate as we 4×4’d our way over boulders, down canyons, and through sandy rivers. I am always so amazed at the skills of our guides and some of the routes they seem to navigate so seamlessly.
Along the way, we passed a small village within the conservancy where we get our water for the camp and then we traveled past the basic camp of the rhino rangers, but otherwise, there were no other people around.
We arrived at night as we left Windhoek quite late, with a full moon lighting the way. That evening I slept outside on the deck overlooking the riverbed, as we would be preparing the tents the following day when the guests would arrive. I felt completely safe on my raised deck, sheltered among the Mopane trees.
The next morning I got to explore the camp at leisure until our guests would arrive only later that afternoon. There was little I still needed to do – Jimmy and Daniel have their Under Canvas routine operating like a smooth running machine and within hours everything was set up. Tarry and I brought our mountain bikes along and decided to explore some of the routes for potential bike trails that morning.
The jeeps tracks are generally in great condition, though sometimes the game trails were smoother, less rocky, but required faster reaction time as they wound around the hills. I loved every moment of it, including the arduous ascent up a mountain, where I had to push my bike most of the way. The view from what I call the “The pass with no name” was overlooking the most spectacular mountain vistas, those typical Damaraland landscapes of table top mountains colored in purple, pink and orange hues. Atop of the pass I let myself be surrounded by the magnificent silence of Damaraland as we spotted some mountain zebra and springbok in the distance. This was well worth pushing my mountain bike for. On our cycle ride back, we came upon a fresh springbok carcass (maybe a day old) and speculated that it was most likely a cheetah kill.
That afternoon our guests, Richard and Robin, arrived by road from Sorris Sorris with their guide Will. I introduced them to THEIR camp; all this was set up just for them, and we discussed options of what we can do for the next four days.
The concept is simple – the camp is exclusively erected per group, guest, family or friends and you never share with other guests if they were not part of the original group. Everything is catered around the needs of our guests’ – if you want to shower at 2pm, we’ll heat up the water in moments and voila, bucket shower is ready. You can enjoy freshly made meals at any time, though of course no point sleeping till 10am if there is a whole world out there to explore. Our tribe works really hard at making this “your” camp; for example, Will gave us an advance notice that the guests prefer Vodka & Tonic rather than the traditional G&T’s, so we made sure we were well stocked up on vodka. The Beast, as we lovingly call the Kitchen Car, has a potent freezer and thus the V&T’s came with generous servings of ice cubes, much needed in the Namibian summer time.
That first evening we enjoyed a chilled fireside conversation, giving guests a briefing on the rhino rangers, who onbehalf of the Save the Rhino Trust monitor and collect research data on the 7 rhino that were relocated to this concession a few years ago. The rangers are accompanied by the Namibian Police who act as the law-enforcement support to the rangers. We explained what to expect on a rhino track and the procedures in how to safely have a close encounter with the endangered, sometimes quite temperamental Black Rhino. The rhino tracking at the Huab Under Canvas Camp is done exclusively for our guests, and so far we had a 100% success rate to encounter one of the 7 rhinos of the concession (there is even a mom with her 1.5-year-old calf and one female that is weeks away from giving birth).
That following morning, after a hearty breakfast (replete with eggs and bacon of your choice, and robust, darkly flavored plunger coffee which delighted the coffee snob in me), off we drove to the SRT camp. Here we picked up our rhino ranger and drove around the concession to meet up with the rest of the rangers and the NamPol unit who had already left at the crack of dawn to locate a possible rhino. By the time our rhino ranger contacted them, they had not found a rhino yet, not even a track. However, apparently one rhino was spotted at a spring near the camp at midnight, so we picked up the rest of the rangers and drove back to the camp, where they hoped to locate its track. Initially the plan was to find a rhino, and then return to camp for brunch and relax in the heat of the day, but of course, nature doesn’t follow a routine. This is not a problem in a camp that is sole-use to guests, and where we have no concerns about keeping a schedule.
As the trackers tried to locate the rhino, our guests enjoyed the freshly prepared brunch, until the news came – finally, a rhino was spotted. It would require an extensive hike across mountains in the midday heat – but it was a no-brainer, the guests were keen, and would not miss out on what could be a once-in-lifetime experience.
Off we went, sometimes walking along game trails, sometimes what we call in Africa “bundu bashing”. And our long, hot hike was rewarded, coming across a young bull called Teka, resting in the shade of a large Melkbos. It was a special sighting, and we all felt we earned it – it was an exhilarating experience coming upon the rhino on foot, always following the respectful trackers, who considered our guests’ pace throughout (Richard and Robin were in their mid-60’s but fit and kept up well). Afterward, as we scrambled back up along the hills to return to camp in the baking sun, Richard told me that this was way better and more fun than driving around in a vehicle looking for animals.
Guests had the rest of the day at leisure, but were curious to explore more of the immediate area of the camp by foot, so after tea time we hiked to the spring and looked for more animal spoors, where Will showed us all the weird and wonderful the little species that occupy this place, like the ant lion, and peeping into rock crevices searching for gecko and lizards.
Eventually, we came upon the top of a hill where more breath-taking views awaited us, as well as tasty sundowner snacks that Tarry had laid out, including of course the V&T’s.
Sometimes everything aligns just perfectly and this was one of those evenings. We faced a fiery red sunset to the west, framed by its blazing corona, and like magic, rising in the exact polar opposite of the setting sun was the bright silver sphere of the full moon. It’s moments like these where you are overwhelmed with awe not just of our planet, but of the entire universe that we live in.
We drove home, just a short drive, all of us reflecting on what we felt was a pretty perfect day.
The next day I stayed behind in camp, exploring more routes on my bike with Tarry, whilst Richard and Robin joined Will on a full day adventure over the “Pass of No Name” through the Huab River and along wild Damaraland trails to visit a remote Ovahimba village. They were treated to a picnic lunch on their journey and arrived back in camp later that afternoon, beaming smiles telling of an uplifting cultural encounter, ending another day that they would not soon forget.
By now Richard and Robin completely embraced “their camp”. Richard loved walking around barefoot, whilst Robin enjoyed catching up on her reading in the cooling afternoon breeze. It’s amazing how quickly you connect with people when you are out in nature. Never overstepping the professional line of host versus guest, you still find that you engage more honestly and sincerely when you don’t have to worry about social etiquette, polite dinner-side conversation or a routine necessary to operate a large lodge efficiently. Our conversations ranged from strange Spanish movies to blogging, to Spending Kids’ Inheritance (SKI-ing holidays 😉 ) to birding; a group of curious people wondering about the world we live in.
That evening, the last night, Robin was unusually quiet. I was concerned. Was dinner in order, has she slept alright? No, she said, she is just sad that she has to leave tomorrow.
That following morning, day five, we bid a bittersweet fond farewell, as they ventured with Will to their next destination. Jimmy and Daniel and their able crew from the conservancy had the camp broken down quickly and it was strange to be back in the city that same afternoon.
Sometimes I am concerned that our lodges are getting so modern, so civilized, so clever, that we shelter our guests from the wildness out there and that we take our habits from city life with us…when instead what we crave, often subconsciously, is our own place in the wildness, where we can walk barefoot, where the drinks are cold, the days spontaneous and the sunsets serendipitous, to appreciate what it is all about.
You realize that nothing we do is ever in isolation – no matter how far we travel, how remote we explore, it seems that human connection is always at its best, is purest when we are in nature. Our sense of wonder, which is stunned in the cities, in everyday real life, is reignited when we pull away from what we thought was important to us. When we are forced to disconnect, we truly connect.
I thought 4 nights was too long; now I know that they would never have been enough.
Feeling inspired by this story? Reach out to our team and let them help you plan a soul-enriching experience in Namibia!