We had many beautiful sundowner drives during our recent travels through southern Africa. But one, in Namibia’s Hoanib Valley, stands out as so beautiful and so eventful that it was truly breathtaking.
We had our excellent guide, Frank, all to ourselves, because the British couple who had accompanied us on other excursions decided to relax back at the camp. Frank drove us through the curvaceous valley, bound by low, weather-weary mountains, silent witnesses to hundreds of millions of years of history (the oldest rock formation in Namibia is in the adjacent Hoarusib Valley, dating back some 2.6 billion years). It felt right, for some reason, to lower my voice when in the presence of these ancient mountains.
We traversed the cracked clay covering the valley floor, an expanse of shattered terra cotta where no water had flowed for quite some time. Yet life persevered and even thrived, anchored by acacias with access to groundwater. They formed an improbable green border along the edges of the valley and provided nourishment to many of its residents. Around a bend appeared some elephant, and then several more. “It looks like the two family groups we have here have joined together,” Frank said. A mother elephant appeared with her week-old baby close beside, an adorable little wrinkly thing with a fringe of black fuzz.
After they passed, a group of three elephant trotted quickly into view, crashing through some brush. They tussled with one another and trumpeted, kicking up dust and quickening our pulses. It’s one thing to observe elephants grazing or strolling past at close quarters. Watching them fight, even in play, is an altogether different experience! We made a hasty exit, in order to prevent the herd of elephant from blocking our route home.
Fluffy clouds dotted the sky, heralding the soon-to-arrive rainy season. One cloud had already started to release its precious cargo. We could see the streaks of water, which evaporated before they reached the ground. Instead of rain, we received a fragment of a rainbow in the sky. I had expected to see many beautiful things in Namibia, but a rainbow wasn’t one of them. A desert-adapted giraffe then appeared, its long neck forming an exquisite counterpoint with the rainbow fragment.
Another turn in the valley revealed a full moon rising above the valley walls. Its size, clarity and brightness were nothing less than startling. It looked unreal and enhanced: a movie moon. We stopped for a few minutes to watch its slow progress up the sky, awestruck.
Feeling thrilled with our drive, we decided to return to camp for pre-dinner cocktails, rather than have sundowners in the darkening bush. Just after we turned off the main valley floor toward the rock cleft that forms the entrance to camp, an animal darted in front of our vehicle. It looked rather like an oversize gray-and-black house cat, but with larger ears. “That was an African wildcat!” Frank exclaimed. “I have never seen one since I started working here!” We looked at each other in amazement and laughed.
Back at Hoanib Valley Camp, we found our new British friends sipping cocktails by the fire pit, surrounded by luminarias. “How was the drive?” they asked.
“Oh, you didn’t miss much,” I responded. They nodded, pleased that they’d remained behind.