WE ARE THE WOMEN WHO TRAVEL TO AFRICA (6) / by Mariam Harraz

We entered Etosha National Park early afternoon and drove through the park to reach our campsite. Our first safari trip. No more dunes, but in the distance salt pans, the flat rocky sand seemed endless and large patches of trees with animals evoking every inch of shade they can get. 

The reason why the dry season is the best time to go is because of the heat, even though Etosha has fragments of shade, and the vast openness allows us to spot animals easily, it’s still very difficult. Within 22000 square kilometres they can be anywhere, so there are waterholes that prompt the animals to cool down and drink by the water. 

The truck was filled with commotion. We were on edge not letting our guard down even for a second, camera’s were ready and binoculars attached to our necks, every single one of us staring out the windows anticipating any movement that could be an animal. 

Our first spot, an impala herd gathered by a tree, a few minutes later 6 different species either walking towards the waterhole or surrounded it. A female giraffe first, so close you could compare it’s height to our truck, it stood towering over facing it’s side to us and when it noticed us it turned around grouchy.

Amongst it there were zebras. Their chalky dusty stripes blended in with the colour of the stoney sand. 

Then there was the wild desert elephants with tusks the size of my arm, galloping all the water he could gulp. The animals were just like us, every movement alerted each one of them, it kept them on edge, on the brink of escaping if need be. 

However, Etosha national park was noted as a park that animals roam freely with nowhere to hide, making it more difficult to hunt. Hence when they are by the waterhole it’s less likely for them to attack their prey.

A few of the Oryx gathered in the water and it was as if the animals had a silent agreement between each other, they were safe, for now.

I know I speak of the heat a lot, and having lived in Dubai during summer, which is known to reach 50 degrees, I can definitely say Etosha was so much more worse. When we reached our campsite the only place to cool down was the swimming pool but I opted to cool down with all the ice-cream I can get. After lunch Beth and I sprinted to see the elephants on their way to the waterhole, we could catch them if we were to stand by the fence on the edge of our campsite. 

We stood anxiously waiting for them, and unexpectedly we spotted them walking haltingly in the distance wary of any move. A few minutes later they were literally 5 metres away from us, our only protection was the half broken fence. Two wild male elephants stood right in front of us blocking any light we can get, their presence was momentous. Beth and I stood completely still, not moving an inch as they looked right at us, we held our breathe to seem like we’re objects and the moment they realised we weren't a threat to them they treaded heavily away.

We strutted back to our campsite stunned. Everyone seated in the truck we headed out for a second round not managing to see much in the evening. Nevertheless the waterhole by our campsite was more than enough, it was surrounded by benches giving us the perfect view of the animals approaching from afar to drink water and the ones that already surrounded it. At night everything changes, the atmosphere became more deadly, all ready at the brink of escaping.

We were told the moment we wanted to sleep we were to head back to our tents. Last year a man fell asleep whilst watching the waterhole and a lion jumped over the fence and ate him. Since then they have put electric fences to keep them away, just incase. 

Even though I knew the fence provided us with some sort of protection, my heart raced when I was awoken by the boisterous roar of the lions, the rumbles of an elephant and the cries of many other species, it felt as if they were right by my tent. I refused to even open my eyes.

We woke up before sunlight to catch the Nocturnal animals. There was no sunrise or sunset in Africa that goes by without bewildering us with its beauty. The sky is filled with a gradient of tangerine, gold and rose which bounces of the trees and elephants we spot, altering their colour for a few seconds.

After 10am we didn’t see anything, and being in the backseat hidden from everyone I shut my eyes. Yes I did, on a once in a lifetime safari trip I couldn’t help but sleep. After a few minutes I woke up to realise my friends laughing at the pictures they took of me, teasing me, who sleeps whilst on a safari cruise in the third largest park in the world? Me. And a few hours later, so did everyone else.

As we observed the animals by the waterhole I began to catch on (as silly as it sounds) their personalities. The lions scrutinising the area walk back and forth, the elephants drinking water alongside each other, you sense their bond between the herd. 

It’s difficult to describe Etosha, the breathtaking animals and scenery you see, because it’s very different from what we are used to. Being in a habitat that belongs to other species, the wilderness, was serene even though I woke up to screams.

The morning after it was time to take off to Windhoek the capital of Namibia, and to say goodbye to two dear friends, Hannah a British lawyer who I enjoyed chatting and complaining to, and Sybille a peaceful and warm hearted swiss girl who we dubbed as swisssssssss for 2 weeks. Even though goodbyes were hard I was excited to welcome three new friends.

As we packed up our tent in the morning, I made note to put my phone in my pocket so I could message my family the moment I got internet. So me and jasmine packed our tent and after breakfast I realised my dilemma, I packed my phone with my tent. I hurriedly ran to the truck seizedmy tent and began to unfold it, my friends stared at me confused. “Mariam, what’s going on?” There was noway I was going to be able to get away with my clumsiness this time: “I packed my phone in my tent” I declared. Everyone exploded into laughter and ran to grab their camera’s to record another moment of my abnormality. Finally with the help of Denis I safely and exhaustedly managed to get my phone out of my tent with just a small crack. 

The way we looked when we arrived at the five star hotel was priceless. Dressed in floppy safari clothes covered with dust, our feet and hands practically black from the dirt and our faces red and sweaty. We stepped into the reception helping ourselves to the drinks being served and the air conditioning. It seemed as though it was out first opportunity in days to shower and to have a sip of water. 

I eagerly sat and caught up with my family, calling them one by one and how I have missed hearing their voices. I found out a very close friend, practically my sister had given birth and at moments like these, I missed being home. 

We went out for a delicious dinner in which we had the pleasure of meeting new people and saying goodbye to two dear ones. We had a waitress who memorised 27 peoples food and drinks order by heart without a pen and paper. It was pretty impressive.

We went to bed when we no longer could stay awake and 5 hours on a bed again felt rejuvenating. 

Tomorrow we were crossing the border to Botswana and within a few days we were heading deep into the Okvango Delta, bush camping amongst the wild on a remote island. 

By Mariam Harraz

For the Arabic version:

http://www.huffpostarabi.com/mariam-harraz/story_b_9631776.html