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My birthday September 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Beauty, Creatures, Culture, Namibia, Time out.
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For the first year in many, I spent my birthday with my parents. Being an August Bank Holiday birthday, I’m often away, but this year, my parents decided to join me. And being such a unique event, I thought I’d share it.

I woke up in the Bush Chalet at the Waterberg Plateau, with all sorts of clattering going on as my Godmum, Louise, friend Cynthia and my parents set about preparing breakfast for their first morning in Namibia. Considering we’d driven the women pretty much straight from the airport to the Waterberg Plateau, they had far too much energy. I stepped out bleary-eyed to a chorus of “Happy Birthday”, before being ushered out to the patio of our chalet, which had the most incredible view, positioned half way up the wall of this stunning plateau. For once, I had presents to open, and in the warm sunshine no less (it almost always rains on my birthday – British Bank Holiday timing!).

“So what do you want to do for your birthday?” enquired my Dad

“I want to climb up there”, pointing up to the top of the plateau, towering a good few hundred feet above us. “There is a walk – an hour up and an hour down they say.”

Looks were exchanged, before appropriate shoes were donned and water bottles refilled.

Namibia is not great for accurate maps. There are so few routes or roads in this country that people clearly do not see it as important to be accurate, and same goes for this hiking trail map. My friend and her sister got lost for 9 hours on this Plateau, after embarking on a supposed 3 hours hike, and had to be rescued (thank goodness for mobile coverage!). This was at the front of my mind as we set off up the escarpment. A group of Germans overtook us, so we sheepishly followed them. Halfway up, we stopped for a breather and I panic over what I have done. I had asked my city-dwelling parents, Daddy in his 70s, to climb a Namibian mountain, in mid-morning heat, at a higher altitude to what they are used to. They do not even climb the stairs to our apartment in London. I was suddenly alarmed to the possibility of what could happen, and check that they are willing to proceed. Red-faced and panting, they agree. We finally make it to the top of the plateau, which lords over the flat plains that stretch continuously over the border to Botswana.

The climb down was trickier, as the boulders and shrubbery were far from London pavements, and the fear of snakes and baboons was as high as the temperature. We did however make it down without incident, chuckled about how it was the most exercise most of them had done in years, and hopped into the car for the journey to our next destination.

We proceeded North towards Etosha, stopping at Oshikoto Lake for lunch. This is an underground lake whose roof caved in, leaving a 100m wide sink hole of bright blue water in the middle of the dry savannah. Apparently, the Germans dumped a load of munitions here when they were retreating in the early 1900 war, some of which has been retrieved by divers. A strange sight to find a scuba diving centre in the middle of the desert, but just one of the many wonders of the Namibian countryside. And even stranger still, there was a peacock and crocodile farm there too.

As the sun sank, we neared our luxury stint of our trip, at a private luxury tented camp in a game park just outside Etosha National Park. The tented camp was beyond my expectations – although I had booked it, advised by my parents to “splash out, it’s your birthday”, I wasn’t expecting a handful of private “tents” (en suite with king sized bed and perfectly decorated), restaurant, lounge and pool around a flood-lit watering hole. As the sun set, I had a bath whilst watching kudus and jackals mooch around the watering hole. This is the kind of place where you cannot walk around unassisted at night in the event a lion or leopard gets you. Each room is provided with a foghorn, in the event of an emergency.

Dinner was 4-courses of splendour, with local singing from the male staff, before we disappeared into the dark for our night drive. Groggy from driving and dinner’s wine, we huddled under blankets as we rode through the bush, spotting small dogs, cats and antelope, breathing in the acacia pollen that thickened the air sweetly.

As we arrived back at the camp, we were each led to our private tent by the manager. As I bounded off to mine, I saw that it was lit up by candles, with a bottle of champagne on ice lying on the petal-strewn bed. The staff had decided to act on the knowledge that it was my birthday. It was beautiful, but I was alone and not allowed to leave the tent, and hardly about to polish off a bottle of bubbly by myself (I’m not like Bridget Jones quite yet). I got a strange feeling of love and appreciation, coupled with the abject loneliness of celebrating in such a romantic and beautiful place, alone for yet another year. And 24 feels so much older than 23.

The next morning, my folks and I woke up at 4am to go on a game drive around Etosha. For those who don’t know, Etosha is set around a massive saltpan (which some say is the size of Switzerland), which is an ancient prehistoric lake. The area is entirely flat, and the bush is sparse, making game spotting much better and easier than other game parks. First stop, we found a pack of eight lions and cubs hanging out at the watering hole. And that was just the start. We saw kudus, springbok, oryx, impala, giraffe, blue wildebeest, zebra, warthog, jackal, lion, elephant, and more I cannot remember. Our guide shared with us information on the flora and fauna and pointed out some of the stunning birds and creatures that the park has. At the last watering hole, the elephants put on a great display for us, as they played and swam in the water.

Exhausted, we returned to the camp, and joined the girls by the pool.

Now that’s what I call a birthday!

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