There aren’t many places in the world where you can shower with an elephant before enjoying dinner around a campfire while live music pulsates with energetic township vibe. Not unless you stay at Etosha Safari Camp 10km south of Etosha National Park’s Anderson Gate in Namibia.
I have to confess I fell in love with Etosha Safari Camp at first sight. Our ‘room’ was a free-standing chalet surrounded by mopane thicket and tall blonde grass so although there were lots of them, we didn’t feel anyone was peering down our necks as we lolled on the porch in our safari chairs.
There were bright yellow pillows and rolled up duvets with stylised African figures on them. There was vibrant red and yellow artwork on the walls, and a procession of painted cheetah, elephant, ostrich, lion and rhino strutting across the floor. My favourite spot was the shower, painted in black and depicting a back view of an elephant’s bottom, a hot or cold tap on each cheek. The elephant’s trunk reached up to the showerhead to spray us with water. It was playful and I loved it.
Not every guesthouse or lodge puts itself in a traveler’s shoes, and it irks me because it’s simple for owners to spend a night in the accommodation and see what they miss! Here they’d thought of everything – low tables at the foot of the bed to put your suitcase or backpack, a number of hooks and shelves in the bathroom, a writing desk with built-in safe, and of course an air conditioner to preserve sanity in northern Namibia’s fierce summer heat.
The main complex housed everything from reception and a shop to the Oshebeena bar and Okambashu (‘our home’) restaurant, where we enjoyed our meals on the long verandas or in the courtyard.
There was a shanty town alley of small spaces holding many funky objects such as an oversized teddy bear and a stuffed grey hippo on a bicycle, or entire car doors and their windows plastered into the walls as if they were building materials. There were old kettles, faded political posters and a tin lean-to roof stacked high with tin chests and old-fashioned suitcases. At the far end a train carriage had a medley of baskets and other bric-a-brac on its roof.
Before supper we spent some time in the bar and ‘bottol stor’, crammed with more colourful and wacky objects. There were zinc baths filled with bottles, beer crates, Coca Cola crates, a Dover stove, car license plates and old tin signs advertising Windhoek Lager, Cobra polish and BP oil. There were paraffin lamps, a 10-gallon drum punctured with holes to serve as a lampshade, bicycles hanging from the ceiling, and a table made from a 40-gallon metal drum cut in half.
Outside in the courtyard chairs were made from car tyres or enamel baths cut in half, mounted on a wheelbarrow base, painted bright red, blue or yellow and fitted with a comfy cushion.
We craned our necks to enjoy all the signs around the bar, advertising the Ooh Shebeena Bar, the Down Corruption Bar, and more. Others signs boomed, ‘Light of Admission Leserved’ and ‘Only for Colour Blind People’, while someone had graffiti-ed, ‘White men can’t jump, black men can’t swim; white men can’t eat mopane worms.’
We’ll gloss over the old bras hanging from a string and the corset used as a wall hanging near the entrance to the pool hall. Inside we found an old cabinet radiogram along one wall and a flatscreen TV showing sport on another – a mix of old-time style with functional modern tech. A third wall was filled end to end with shebeen signs from across the country – Hot Stuff, Huhu City Man Back, Young Life Bar, O’Paradise Complex Bar, Just Another Life Bar. A few signs advertised other services such as the Look Good Beauty Bar, even the Obama Fish Shop.
Dinner was a delicious gemsbok osso bucco with pap and pumpkin, and there was kudu stirfry and tender chicken too, everything set up as a buffet along the side of the train carriage. We ate by candlelight on the verandah and tapped our toes in time with live music around a small campfire.
Singing and playing guitar and accordion, building the mood from merry to mournful, were Viviaan Basson and Stefanus Gaeb. Etosha Safari Camp is part of the Gondwana Collection and group trainer Maria Mvula told us they and two other musicians would be off to perform at the Travel Expo in Windhoek the following week. ‘When they’re not here,’ she said, ‘the staff get together to sing instead. We enjoy it.’
I can’t tell you how much fun it all was – this spirited mish-mash of township flair and wit, finessed with warm hospitality, cold beers and good grub. Etosha Safari Camp is a lively place to spend a night or two on your way to Etosha National Park. You can make day-drives into the park, either with the camp’s guides or on your own. Take a dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day but, come sunset, don’t forget to experience the jollity at the Oshebeena Bar.
Note: I was a guest of Etosha Safari Camp for one night, but the opinions expressed are my own.