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EXTREME NAMIBIA - One of Africa's LARGEST Concentrations of Rock Art


This is the last of our EXTREME NAMIBIA blog posts! In this weekly series we have explored some of our country's extremes, and shared with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

In the bleak expanse of Damaraland, huge red sandstone boulders are piled high against deep orange cliffs - a dramatic sight even before you take a step closer and discover what has been etched onto the surface of these rocks. This is Twyfelfontein - home to over 2,500 unique engravings (some estimates are as many as 5,000) and numerous paintings, believed to date back some 6,000 years. Twyfelfontein has attracted people for millenia thanks to the presence of water. The Khoekhoe - ancestors of the San - named the site /Ui-//Ais, meaning "permanent spring". The current name, Twyfelfontein, means "doubtful spring" in Afrikaans, suggesting a less reliable source of water.

Twyfelfontein is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and must-see for any visitors to Damaraland, as the engravings have much to teach us about Namibia's earliest inhabitants, their beliefs and the wildlife that was found here.


Reading the Stones: The Art of the San

At first glance, the engravings and rock paintings found at Twyfelfontein are similar to prehistoric rock art found around the world. Figures, footprints, strange geometric shapes and animal-like figures cover the stones, telling the story of hunter and prey. But what is unique about Twyfelfontein is that the ancestors of the people who created these works are still living. Although life has changed for them, they still share similar beliefs, rituals, hunting techniques and understandings of the world around them - allowing us a unique insight into the meaning behind the rock art, and what our ancestors were trying to say.

Here are some of the stories behind one of the largest rock art sites in Africa.

The San are able to put themselves into trances by means of dancing and hyperventilation. This is often carried out by a shaman, who will perform various acts while in this "spirit world", such as healing and making rain. Much of the rock art is believed to be depictions of what the shaman saw while in the spirit world. This is also why many of the engravings are positioned next to fissures and crevasses - it was believed they were entrance points to the supernatural world.

One of the most famous figures in Twyfelfontein is the Lion Man. This lion has five toes on each foot (instread of four), and at the end of his bent tail is what looks like a human hand. The Lion Man represents a human who has turned into a lion while in the spirit world. A giraffe with five "horns" is also believed to be a Giraffe-Man. However, the four-headed ostrich is believes to be a very early example of "animation"!

Twyfelfontein Lion Man 

You may be confused by the images of seals, dolphins and penguins! However, these creatures were never present here; instead, the San travelled over 100km to the coast to collect salt, and drew what they saw while there.

Twyfelfontein seal

Some of the engravings may have been used to educate - children could learn to track animals by looing at the footprints etched into the rocks, and engravings of pregnant animals - such as the "Dancing Kudu" - indicated which ones not to hunt. An early example of conervation, perhaps?!

Twyfelfontein Facts:

  • The sandstone rocks here are around 180 million years old. When fissures developed and they separated from the main cliff, they were left with almost perfectly flat faces - making them ideal for engraving and painting.

  • The engravings were discovered by topographer Reinhard Maak in 1921. He also discovered the famous White Lady painting at Brandberg.

  • The San inhabited this area until the 1930s - when they were moved on by Damara herdsmen.

  • Twyfelfontein became Namibia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Practical Information:

  • Twyfelfontein is open from 8am-5pm, visitors in summer should aim to arrive early in the morning as it cann get very hot and there is no shade. This is also the best time for photography. Entry is N$30 for adults and N$25 for children.

  • A 30-minute trail near the visitors' centre can be completed independently, though there is no information about the engravings. Longer trails must be completed with a guide (included in the entrance fee).

  • Visitors should bring a hat, walking shoes, sunscreen and a long-sleeved shirt.

  • Sites of interest near Twyfelfontein include the Organ Pipes,Burnt MountainDoros Crater, and the Petrified Forest.

  • Nearby accommodation includes Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, Camp Kipwe, Madisa Campsite and Mowani Mountain Camp.

EXTREME NAMIBIA - Some of the World's Most COMPLEX Languages


In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

Are you one of those people who like to pick up a bit of the local lingo when you travel? Do you pack a phrasebook and attempt to order your lunch in the native language? Do you like to greet people on the street? Well, in Namibia that might be a little harder than you think...

Namibia's San, Damara and Nama people speak what are recognised as some of the world's most ancient and complicated languages. Even the linguistically blessed are likely to struggle getting their mouths around these words - as not only are they unrelated to other languages outside southern Africa - they involve speaking with clicks! Here's a mini guide to help you out with some of the world's most complex phonetics.

A Quick Guide to Namibia's Click Languages

Namibia's Damara and Nama people speak Khoekhoe, while the San, also known as the Bushmen, speak various related languages, depending on the tribe. Khoekhoe has four click sounds, written |, ǂ, ! and ||, but even speakers of this language are baffled by the San - who use at least seven clicks! Even worse, getting your clicks mixed up spells trouble, as the same word with a different click has a completely different meaning.

Khoekhoe language lesson

For example:

  • hara = swallow

  • !hara = check out

  • |hara = dangle

  • ǂhara = repulse

Yikes! Fortunately for visitors, English is Namibia's official language so you won't have to master the world's most complex tongue! However, if you are up for a bit of a challenge, we've found some tutorials that might help you, or at least give you a bit of an insight into what Namibia sounds like:

Learn how to write and pronounce the Khoekhoe clicks:

Count to ten in Khoekhoe:

Listen to the San:

Facts about click languages and their speakers:

  • In Namibia, there are around 100,000 Damara, 60,000 Nama and 27,000 San, so you are sure to hear their languages on your travels!

  • It was suggested that the clicks developed as a way for hunters to communicate across the savannah - when spoken quietly the clicks sound less like speech and more like a broken branch, whih is less likely to disturb prey.


San hunters at a living museum

  • The languages are considered so complex because the clicking sounds are made at the same time as the consonant sounds, so you have to train your mouth to do two things at once!

  • Khoekhoe is a national language in Namibia. Many schools use it, and some universities teach in Khoekhoe.

Practical Information:

  • Meet the Damara and San at a Living Culture Museum, to learn more about their language as well as their culture and traditions.

  • Take a township tour in Mondesa, Swakopmund, to meet Damara and Nama residents and have an introduction to Khoekhoe in their home.

  • Stay at a joint venture lodge in Damaraland, such as Damaraland Camp. The Damara community members who manage the lodges have formed their own choirs - composed of managers, chefs and waiting staff! They entertain guests upon arrival and at mealtimes with the most wonderful songs - sung with clicks, of course.

EXTREME NAMIBIA - The World's First People


In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

San Namibia 2

San hunter 

The San people – also known as bushmen – are southern Africa’s only truly indigenous people. But more than that – genetic testing has proved that they are one of the groups from which all known modern humans evolved.

Today, around 35,000 San live in Namibia, forming six tribes, each with its own language and customs. Though many San have been displaced and are abandoning their hunter-gatherer lifestyle to become farmers and laborers, there is much we can still learn from them. Their ancient culture, customs, art and hunting techniques have taught us much about extinct cultures, and allowed us to interpret what millennia-old cave paintings and rock engravings might have represented, for example. But perhaps more importantly, at a time when many species are threatened with extinction and resources are not enough to support a growing population, the San’s truly sustainable traditional lifestyle may be able to teach us how to live in harmony with nature once again.

At One with Nature – Survival in the Desert

Namib desert

Namibian Desert

One of the things that amazes visitors to Namibia is nature’s ability to survive – thrive, even – in the harshest of climates. In a vast land which is starved of water for most of year, where temperatures soar during the day and drop below freezing at night, it is astonishing to discover that plant and animal life flourish here. But for thousands of years, humans, too, have made this land their home.

The San are greatly admired for their hunting and tracking skills, for their incredible endurance and their profound knowledge of the inhospitable environment they inhabit. They read the environment as we would a book; each track or blade of grass telling a whole story. How long does a spider take to re-spin his web after a springbok has snagged it? How long does it take termites to reconstruct their mounds after a warthog has trampled it? How long does it take for damp earth to dry, for a branch to spring back into place? That’s how long ago the prey passed.


describe the image

San trackers

The composition of an animal’s dung belies its age and health; tracks indicate an injured individual. The San can run for hours after a herd of antelope, covering any terrain. Once they have targeted their prey with a poison arrow, they will have to track it for more hours or even days until it finally perishes – so knowing exactly which gemsbok or giraffe to follow is essential. Snares, traps and staking out burrows are other hunting techniques – honed to perfection over hundreds of generations.

In this land of scarce water, the San know which roots can be scraped or squeezed to quench their thirst. They dig deep holes in damp sand to create “sip wells”, where water is sucked up through hollow grass and then stored in an ostrich egg. A fire is all that’s needed to set up camp for a night; a few simple huts are a temporary village.

Of course, as they are moved from their ancestral lands and have to adopt new lifestyles to adapt to modern culture, these life-saving skills and knowledge are in danger of being lost forever. Namibia’s Living Culture Museums are one way in which the San culture is being preserved – shared with tourists and even more importantly, passed on to the next generation. Visitors learn about hunting and trapping techniques, making fire, building a shelter and identifying medicinal plants. The entrance fees and proceeds from craft sales support the community. And the San are able to continue using their desert skills to survive.

Living Hunters Museum, Namibia

A visitor learns to hunt with the San at the Living Hunters Museum

Facts about the San

  • “San” means “outsider.” It was the word that neighboring, pastoral communities used to describe this nomadic people

  • There are around 90,000 San in southern Africa today. The majority live in Botswana, with the rest in Namibia, South Africa and Angola.

  • Their genetic diversity is exceptionally high, which points to them being the ancestors to all humans throughout the world.

Find Out More

Five Things To Do in Etosha National Park


Visiting Etosha National Park is one of Namibia's most exceptional adventures. This wildlife sanctuary of over 27,000 square kilometers has a protected status that stretches back over a hundred years. Etosha provides a new experience even for seasoned wildlife viewers, and unlike many other African parks, you can explore the vast expanses and numerous waterholes in your own vehicle at your own pace, enjoying a more personal experience with nature.

Etosha Lions

While the opportunities at Etosha are endless, here are five things we think are great ways to experience this amazing destination:

1. Join the Etosha "Night Life" at Okaukuejo Water Hole

Okaukuejo Camp (pronounced Oh-kah-KEW-yoh) is located just within the park's southernmost entrance, Andersson Gate, and serves as the park's administrative hub. Many visitors to Etosha choose to make use of Okaukuejo's rustic camp site or the chic bungalows for lodging, but the main attraction is the Okaukeujo waterhole. Throughout the day, animals dip in and out to quench their thirst. The big show begins at dusk when floodlights are turned on to transform the waterhole into one of Namibia's greatest stages. You can kick back on the benches that surround the waterhole with a Windhoek lager and watch as the wildlife - unphased by the light - slinks and strolls out of the darkness to the banks of the spring-fed pool. Towering giraffes perch precariously while jackals skittishly circle the perimeter. Rhinos emerge from the distance and tussle for turf throughout the night with heavy thuds. It's not uncommon to see large herds of elephants sharing the pool with lions. Okaukuejo is a must see if you're interested in knowing what Etosha's four-legged residents are up to when the sun goes down.

Okaukeujo Water Hole Giraffe Elephant

2. Cool Off at Halali

Etosha gets HOT during the day, and it's rare that you'll see too many creatures wandering around when the sun is high in the sky. They know the best thing to do is find shade and cool off. Follow their lead by visiting Halali Camp at lunch time. Halali is about 45 minutes from Okaukeujo and also offers overnight accommodation. When you arrive, check in at the Halali waterhole's elevated viewing stand. Pending no surprise arrivals, change into your bathing costume and take a dip in the cool waters of the swimming pool. You'll be able to beat the heat and relax amid the camp's quiet, Mopane tree-covered surroundings. Halali also has a restaurants and bar that can help you meet all your body's other needs while you escape the sun.

Halali Swimming Pool

3. Discover the native Hai||Om Culture

For many thousands of years, the Hai||Om San (or Bushmen) inhabited the areas that now constitute the park. Their intricate society of hunters and gathers attained a rich understanding of local biodiversity - how plants could be used for medicine, and the patterns in animal behavior. In the 1950s, the local Hai||Om population were removed from Etosha, though their cultural identity still strongly remains attached to the area. As their numbers dwindle, the Xoms-|Omis Project has been working with the Hai||om to document the knowledge and skills passed down from generation to generation. Get a uniquely Hai||Om perspective on the plants, animals, history, and geography of Etosha by referencing these guides available to download for free from the Xoms-|Omis Project website. 

Hai//om San Bushmen Etosha

4. Dance with Dust Devils

Driving through the backroads of Etosha, nature often crosses your path. Sometimes it's a pride of lions lazily moving to another shady spot. Occasionally tree limbs will find themselves strewn across the tarmac. But nothing is quite as unexpected as seeing a towering column of dust come whizzing past you. Dust devils are the fairweather cousins of tornados - generally harmless and appearing when it's warm and sunny. Hot air rising from the ground mixes with a pocket of cool air and causes the circulation that creates an upward spiral of motion that takes along dirt, sand, and whatever else is laying around. Etosha's flat geography and wide, open skies are the perfect conditions to stir up these ephemeral whirlwinds. Etosha's dust devils can reach 5 meters wide and spin up to 70km/h - though most are much weaker. These natural phenomena are generally innocuous - except for the dusty mess they can cause in your vehicle if your windows aren't rolled up quickly enough. One of the best places to see dust devils dance is the western side of the park near Ozonjuitji m'Bari water hole.


5. Take in the Expanse of the Etosha Pan

When you arrive at the Etosha Pan, it's easy to see why the name roughly translates into "great white space." This 120km-long dry lake bed dominates Etosha's geography. The dizzying experience of being the only vertical object on the horizon is exceptionally humbling. The salt that encrusts the parched mud gives off a startlingly white sheen, making it difficult to see where the pan stops and the sky begins. On rare occasions, rains that sweep across Etosha will leave a small film of water across the pan that lures greater flamingos.

 Etosha Pan

Practical Information

A Revival of Ancient Bush Skills in Caprivi


Imagine a school without desks and chairs, without walls or a blackboard. Imagine learning skills that have been learned over thousands of years, passed down through the world’s most ancient culture. Imagine being able to identify dozens of species – from an ant to elephant – without ever seeing a single one.

Children learn in Bwabwata, Namibia

The real-world San classroom. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

To those of us unfamiliar with life in the bush, this seems like an impossible task. But for the San (also known as the bushmen), with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom and a lifetime spent tracking wildlife, the knowledge is innate. For millennia, their ancestors lived throughout southern Africa as hunter-gatherers with a subsistence lifestyle that made little impact on nature. Over the last thousand years, however, the San have suffered social disintegration and the erosion of their traditional values and skills as a result of oppression, persecution and loss of their land.

But in Caprivi – the small strip of Namibia sandwiched between Angola and Botswana – a group of San elders are determined to work with their youth to regain some of the skills they have lost. They hope that this will renew pride in their identity and culture, as well as creating opportunities for the youngsters to obtain employment in tourism.

The elders have developed the Tekoa Training Program in collaboration with Namibian NGO, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), with funding from WWF and USAID. Locally-employed community rangers, who have worked in the region for two decades, impart their bush skills to San children during the program, which takes place in Bwabwata National Park.

San trackers in Bwabwata

Newly-qualified San tracker-trainers in Bwabwata National Park. Photo: Friedrich Alpers of IRDNC

As the school kids, aged between 6 and 14, set off in single file down a fresh elephant track; the San tracker trainers, Alfred and Benson, point out millipede tracks, trapdoor spider hideouts, evidence of a scorpion’s nocturnal activities, tracks of a sable antelope rounding up his herd, and the footprints of a hunting leopard. They show the youngsters see where a tree squirrel leapt, a puff adder writhed, a gecko caught a moth and an impala marked his territory – all without spotting a single animal.

The kids are beaming with enthusiasm and eagerness to continue the exploration: the endless knowledge; the skills development of tracking; the learning of animal behavior; and the monitoring of endangered wildlife, such as cheetahs, wild dogs, roan antelopes and other rare species found in their park home.

These children are being given the opportunity to develop tracking and ecological management skills that are critical to preserve our natural system and the environment. Over the next few months, more than 200 rural children in Namibia’s remote north-east will learn the skills of their forefathers, and be able to apply these skills when looking for work and to contributing to finding sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges our planet faces.

This post is based on original article by Karine Nuulimba of IRDNC

Find Out More:

Namibia's Living Culture Museums


There is an old African proverb which states: "If an old man dies in Africa, a whole library burns to the ground”. This proverb refers to the oral nature of the cultures on the African continent. The ancient traditional knowledge has not been written down in books, but is passed on orally from one generation to the next. His knowledge is saved in the cultural memory of the people. Without a circulation within the respective language group, this knowledge is forgotten and might be lost forever. Namibia's Living Culture Museums strive to capture and preserve this knowledge for future generations. 

Five museums, described below, are currently located throughout the country and tell the amazing story of some of Namibia's most iconic cultural groups.Museums featuring the Ovahimba and Khwe are currently in the works. These museums are instrumental in passing down traditional skills and values, as the children of the groups are actively involved in the activities of the museum. !Gamace N!aici from the Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/‘Hoansi points out, "When the visitors come to see our culture, they learn but our kids learn as well. That is very important for our culture."

The museums, funded and developed by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia, not only preserve the different cultures but also give the groups an opportunity to earn an income and benefit from tourism. Travelers can visit a Living Museum and thus actively contribute to the preservation of traditional culture in Namibia. The local population is responsible for the development of the museums content and manage the operations. Proceeds from the museums benefit the local community.

The Living Museum of the Ju/’HoansiThe Ju/'Hoansi-San Museum 

The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi was inaugurated in 2004 and has developed into a cultural highlight of Namibia. The main focus lies with getting to know the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kalahari San. On the same level guest have the opportunity to learn how the Ju/‘Hoansi-San traditionally light fire, make tools and weapons, and much, much more.  




he Living Museum of the MafweThe Living Museum of the Mafwe

In 2008 the Living Museum of the Mafwe opened in the Caprivi Strip. The Mafwe concentrate mainly on fishing and agricultural activities but also present traditional dancing ceremonies in their museum situated under huge Baobab trees.






The Living Museum of the DamaraThe Living Museum of the Damara

Together with the Bushmen the Damara belong to the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of an archaic hunter-gatherer culture and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.



The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’HoansiThe Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi

In 2010 the The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi opened in the Tsumkwe region, where the San are still allowed to hunt. Here the traditional bow hunt with poisoned arrows, the digging out of spring hares and porcupines, the snare catching of guinea fowls, khoraans and other birds for the daily hunt for food has never been terminated. Visitors have the unique experience of learning the art of reading tracks and participating in a hunt.



The Living Museum of the MbunzaThe Living Museum of the Mbunza

After three years of initial building-up work the newest edition to the Living Museums finally opened at the end of October 2011: Mbunza Living Museum. An essential part of the interactive program of the Living Museum is the demonstration (and preservation) of the fishing and land cultivating culture of the Mbunza. The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving, etc.) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and the making of drums.

Discover how Tourism is Preserving Etosha's Hai||om Culture


“The Etosha Pan has been called many things: the Great White Place, the Big Emptiness... but the Hai||om call it the Lake of a Mother’s Tears. A mother who has lost a child will feel such grief that she will cry enough tears to fill the pan,” a park ranger tells me. “This isn’t just part of our history; it is part of our souls.” 

Namibia BushmenMoments like these, when personal stories of the people who once lived in Etosha come alive, are scarce and far in the past. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most remarkable game reserves, offering visitors the chance to view herds of game against the dazzling backdrop of a vast, shallow pan of silvery sand. The area south of the Great White Place, where tourist routes and lodges are situated, was once the homeland of the Hai||om, an indigenous San or Bushmen community recently recognized as the oldest humans on Earth.

For the Hai||om, the past is disappearing at a frantic pace. Days when the elders would to sit around the fire and tell stories are quickly disappearing. However, there is reason for hope on the horizon. Worried that their cultural history may die with them, the elders of the Hai||om community partnered with international researchers to establish the Xoms |Omis Project (Etosha Heritage Project). The aim of the project is to capture and document the Hai||om cultural heritage and deliver a unique body of cultural, historical and environmental knowledge.  

The Hai||om have acquired an incredible knowledge about biodiversity; the use of various plants as food and medicine; and the behavior of game in the region. Much of this knowledge has been documented through the Xoms |Omis project and is now passed on to the younger generations through workshops and joint activities.

Namibia BushmenBorn in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om is the first publication to pay homage to the forgotten cultural history of the National Park. Designed to accompany the reader on a journey through Etosha, the book reincorporates the culture and history of the natural landscape. The history of selected waterholes and other culturally relevant locations accessible to visitors on the main tourist routes serve to portray the life of the Hai||om who once lived there and to highlight the history of the park. “This publication ensures that people will know our story and helps to protect our history and culture,” says Kadisen ||Khumub, the co-chair of the Xoms |Omis Project.

A series of products based on Hai||om heritage and knowledge have also been developed, such as postcards and ‘Born in Etosha’ t-shirts, allowing visitors a chance to take part in the remarkable project.

For more information about the Xoms |Omis Project, or order your copy of Born in Etosha, Homage to the Cultural Heritage of the Hai||om here.

Experience Namibia's Cultural Diversity with Community Tourism


Namibia is a fascinating cultural melting-pot, combining early African populations with a wide array of western explorers.

Himba CultureSince gaining independence in 1990, Namibians have worked on mending Apartheid-era wounds, and today they are celebrating their rich heritage.

Namibia's colourful African vigour infuses old Europe into a distinctive Namibian spirit, creating unique architecture, food, customs and art. What has emerged is a true sense of unity in diversity – the coming together of 13 ethnic groups, each celebrating their past while working together toward the future. There is a powerful bond uniting rural and urban, farmers and professionals. While each of these groups has its own rich cultural heritage, they all share one thing in common…they are Namibian and proud of it.

This harmony exists through a shared history, expressed through a common sense of hospitality. The open, welcoming people of Namibia provide guests to the country with the opportunity to experience these customs and traditions first-hand, and visitors to Namibia are likely to experience an authentic way of life. Local tour operators have taken care to develop itineraries which includes visits to communities in rural areas where villagers eagerly share their everyday lives, from the Herero women who wear distinctive Victorian-style dresses and horn shaped hats, to the semi-nomadic Himba whose women wear intricate hairstyles and ornamental jewellery artfully crafted from shells and metals. Listen to the Nama or the Damara whose complex languages feature intriguing clicking sounds. Visit the San people who are among the last hunter gatherer communities on Earth and have been able to preserve much of their ancient culture.

San CultureCommunity based tourism options are a large part of what makes a visit to Namibia so distinctive, providing an enriching and engaging opportunity for both the traveller and the local communities to get to discover each other. At the same time, such activities generate real social and economic benefits to the empowered communities, and ultimately provide a more authentic Namibian experience to the visitors. Community campsites provide a base from which to enjoy and explore the highlights of the country and magnificent scenery, while offering opportunities to truly delve into what makes Namibia so unique, its people, its local feasts and customs, and, perhaps make a few new friends.

Come discover what makes us so proud to be Namibian – and allow us to share our Namibia with you! 

8 Things Namibia Taught Me


Namibia is a land of adventure and spectacle. Amazing natural parks, free-roaming wildlife, and iconic open spaces can inspire anyone. WWF Travel's Director Elissa Leibowitz Poma recently joined WWF's Chris Weaver in Namibia and came back with a few lessons that she originally posted on the WWF Travel Blog:

1. Black rhinos have a more sensitive disposition than white rhinos. Among several reasons why, according to Jeff Muntifering of the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia, is the fear of being hunted. White and black rhinos alike have been poached for decades, but black rhinos, which are more solitary than white rhinos, appear to have passed along knowledge of that practice in their genetic code as a survival mechanism.

2. The San click languages spoken by some bushmen is quite difficult to pronounce. A language originating with the hunter-gatherers of southern Africa as they traversed their ancestral lands, the languages and various dialects are still spoken by about 100,000 people in Namibia and Botswana (and small groups in Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe). The one I tried learning consists of four click styles, depending on the placement of your tongue in your mouth. The clicks themselves weren’t so hard to form, but connecting them to words twisted my tongue in knots! (See a pronunciation guide to practice.)

3. Giraffes are the best models in Namibia. You could be driving along a road, nothing around you but sand and rocks, and then all of a sudden a giraffe neck and head pops out from behind a grove of trees. The giraffe would hold your gaze, nibbling on some leaves but intently watching you from beneath impossibly long eyelashes. (They’re that long for a purpose, by the way: To keep insects, debris and sunlight out of their eyes.)

4. There must be a better word to describe a springbok’s leap than “pronk.”Springboks and other gazelles exhibit this behavior when they’re being pursued by prey or otherwise feel a need to get out quickly. It’s an elegant, ballet-like move that allows the springbok to gain extra distance, and surely the motion deserves a more elegant, ballet-like word.

5. You must succumb to the dust. Namibia is a desert. It’s hot, it’s dry - Arizona seems like a rain forest in comparison. So you must accept the fact that the dust will coat every inch of you - covering every centimeter of your skin and clothes, coating each strand of hair, lining the inside of your nose. Instead of resisting it, I  embraced it. It made me feel like a part of the magnificent, stark landscape.

6. It’s hard to eat game after watching it all day. Game meat is a way of life in Africa, and ostrich, zebra, kudu and other mammals frequently show up on menus. I recognize the realities of the world, and I’m not a vegetarian in “real life.” But for me, there was something quite difficult about watching dapper oryx walk across the valleys all afternoon, then mustering any desire to eat a steak of it for dinner. I was surprised by my reaction, actually. I stuck with pasta and veggies.

Ochre body paint made by Himba

7. The adornments that Himba women wear all have practical purposes.The Himba are a semi-nomadic group in the Kunene region of northern Namibia who have maintained a traditional tribal lifestyle. The women we met in a small village were coated head to toe in otijze, a paste made of butter, ash and the natural pigment ochre. The coating gives them a rust-colored, shiny glaze, which not only beautifies them in the Himba way (the rich red color symbolizes blood and life), but also provides sun protection. Likewise, women wear beaded anklets, to prevent snake bites.

8. I have a new appreciation for asphalt. After spending hours each day in a vehicle bumping along dry riverbeds, rock-strewn trails and paths formed by elephants, I hereby declare I will never complain again about potholes in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about how you can have an experience like Elissa's in Namibia's Conservancies, click here

Conservation Hero – Ou Jan Tsumib


Jan TsumibWith global green awareness currently rising, conservation heroes tend to be very public individuals, whose achievements are well documented in the media. Amongst these is a small cohort of people whose actions go unnoticed, but whose efforts almost subconsciously inspire those around them to care more for our planet: We know them as “unsung heroes”.  Namibia's Ou Jan Tsumib is one such person.

Ou Jan, a Hei//om bushman, born in the wilds of Etosha, has spent an entire lifetime looking after the land he was born on. He addresses the wildlife, the plants and the changing seasons of the bush with a father-like voice and speaks of elephants and mopane trees as equals to himself. He worked in conservation all his life for no other reason than to get him closer to the soil that supports the life he so admires ,and in so doing has acquired an unequaled understanding of the web of life in this domain. He has also influenced everyone he has had contact with by generously sharing his knowledge and inspiring them to care more about the natural world. 

Winner of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, Ou Jan Tsumib’s quiet voice, dignified manner and wealth of understanding about the world around him make him a true conservation hero.

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