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Caroline George Celebrates Adventure and Family in Namibia
Posted on February 25, 2016

Hamock in Spitzkoppe

Our guides have logged some air miles, but few of them have a greater connection to global travel as Eddie Bauer and IFMGA guide Caroline George. From Jordan to Thailand, George has continually set out with an active plan and returned with a good story. For her and her family, travel is both part of the profession and a lifestyle ingrained from her upbringing. As we launch into our adventure travel month, we asked George to sum up her recent experience—full family in tow—in Namibia for her mother’s 70th birthday. It wasn’t your average family camping trip. —LYA Editor

Magical giraffe in the setting sun in Etosha

Words and Images by Caroline George

“Tickets are booked, we’re going to Namibia!” my mother exclaimed on the phone. It was March 2015, and she was about to turn 70 years old (though she looks like she’s 50). She thought the best birthday present would be for our family to travel together. My parents have lived a life filled with exotic adventures in the mountains, but also with traveling all over the world, often to climb but also to blend in with the local culture. My dad develops intense allergies at the mere sight of a tour bus or anything that might closely resemble an organized trip. “Off the beaten path” was their motto, and still is to this day.

Planning wasn’t exactly their forte. But this was a way of life and a conscious choice they made to allow adventure and spontaneity to shape our lives, rather than the opposite. As a child, I remember packing the car with a mix of clothes and gear suitable both for the Moroccan desert and for rainy England. We would drive to Geneva and decide then if we should turn left to head to Africa, or right to head north. This definitely taught us to be adaptable and welcome with open arms whatever came our way. So long as we were together, it would all work out.

“As a child, I remember packing the car with a mix of clothes and gear suitable both for the Moroccan desert and for rainy England. We would drive to Geneva and decide then if we should turn left to head to Africa, or right to head north.”

 

My parents had already traveled to Namibia in the late ’90s, and they were eager to share their love for Africa with their grandchildren and with us, of course. Others may have opted for a more tame, closer-to-home style of holiday, renting a house on the sea and calling it good. But those are not values my parents wanted to communicate to their grandkids. Rather, my mother chose something as far away and exotic as we could have imagined—but as close to who they are as can be.

“Wow, Namibia,” I replied, with images of elephants, seals, lions, rhinos, zebras and pink flamingos flashing simultaneously through my mind. I was ready to pack my bag and get on the next plane, with no further thoughts about journey. However, with small children, it’s important to plan a little bit. We weren’t our little family of four, like we had been when I was a child. We had grown into a family of ten, with spouses from different backgrounds and expectations as to what such a trip would require. Concerns arose regarding temperatures that time of year, the risk of catching malaria, the lack of exercise for us adrenaline junkies during our time in a park where getting out of the car isn’t allowed, where we would sleep—as it wasn’t realistic to just pull up to a campsite and expect there to be availability for ten people. There were lots of unknowns that needed to be figured out prior to the trip. This would be our first time going to such a remote country with Olivia, and with every first, doubts arise. So the pre-trip proved to be filled with trying to find an acceptable level of comfort for everyone. My mom did an amazing job of it, laying out a perfect itinerary with lodging or camping along the way, all the while balancing enough of a sense of adventure to portray who they are.

 

As is often the case, all the doubts and worries abate as soon as you show up at the airport and get on that plane. We all lead busy lives and hadn’t met much over the planning of the trip, which made it feel unreal until my brother’s family, my parents, and my family all met up at the airport. We just had to board the plane now and the rest would just unfold naturally, like it had so many times before. Making the first step is often the hardest. But once through the looking glass, the journey truly begins.

“We wore our harnesses and all our quickdraws to make as much noise as possible to scare away any animals, and felt quite puny alone in a park inhabited by such predators.”

 

Our journey began with an unexpected surprise. We had dreaded spending so much time in the car trying to see elephants, rhinos, zebras, hyenas and antelopes in Etosha National Park. Instead, we were excited to sit and be on the lookout for waterholes where animals come to drink. It was mesmerizing and meditative to look at them interact, taking turns to drink, always alert to the potential danger lurking around, wondering if the hyena might attack the giraffe while it had its head down in the water to drink. We had to stop to let elephants cross the road, marveling at seeing how a mother elephant provides shade for her little one. Time seemed to fly without us even noticing it.

 

On our way south to Swakopmund on Namibia’s western coast, we interacted with local tribes who were selling trinkets on the side of the dirt road. The women were all wearing a hat with a flat front that looked like a butterfly providing them shade. Each of them asked us for water and food, and I wondered how far they had to go to get supplies. The seaside was as cold and humid as the desert had been hot, (100˚F) and dry. We visited a school of stinky seals that love this area for the food in the sea. Many of them, sadly, were wrapped in dental floss and other trash from the sea. We saw pink flamingos and pelicans and even got our feet burned by the hot sand while climbing to the summit of a dune with Olivia.

We had also traveled with our climbing gear in hopes of climbing the Matterhorn of Namibia: Spitzkoppe, a 1784-meter-high granite summit that stands out dramatically above the endless stretches of savanna below. We weren’t sure how we would get off the mountain, as we had had to cut one of our ropes when one of our cars had gotten stuck in the sand. We thought we were taking a shortcut from our campsite to reach the nearby lodge for breakfast, but being “off the beaten path” isn’t always the shortest way to a destination. We tied both cars together with one of our ropes, but the force was too much and the rope kept snapping. We lost seven meters of rope and resorted to driving the other car to the lodge to get the children fed, and get a local to help us out.

“I realized how lucky I am to have been brought up by such adventurous parents, who showed me that everything is possible and encouraged me to try anything. Upon hearing their voices, I cried, wishing so deeply that we all could have stood at the top of this peak together.”

 

The guidebook described the rappels from the summit of Spitzkoppe as 50-meter rope stretchers down a steep and smooth face, with no option of climbing back up should the rope not reach the following anchor. Being out in the middle of nowhere, this felt rather committing, knowing one of our ropes was now only 43 meters long. But we had a plan: we would extend the rope by attaching a piece of cordelettes to the shortest rope, and have to pass a knot should we not reach the anchor. We set out early in the morning ‪four thirty am to beat the scorching heat in the area. We climbed up and over the fence that was put up in recent years to create a park for the animals that were reintroduced to the area: zebras, leopards, cheetahs and other wildlife. We wore our harnesses and all our quickdraws to make as much noise as possible to scare away any animals, and felt quite puny alone in a park inhabited by such predators. We climbed up boulders and slabs, and squeezed through a few chimneys—one of which was so tight and dark that I could barely breathe—to get to the start of the route proper. The climbing was mainly wide and lower-angle cracks and chimneys and we made quick work of it, reaching the summit in gale-force winds and taking it all in. We called my parents on the radio to let them know we had reached the top. And suddenly, I realized how lucky I am to have been brought up by such adventurous parents, who showed me that everything is possible and encouraged me to try anything. Upon hearing their voices, I cried, wishing so deeply that we all could have stood at the top of this peak together.

I realized then how much I had missed traveling with my parents and brother, and how good it felt to all be together again, to reconnect. Since we kids had fled the nest, we had remained a family, but a distant one. We all got busy with school, work and having our own families, and though we see each other regularly, we don’t adventure together like we used to. This trip felt like going back to my roots, and it felt grounding and important. As the children of our parents, my brother and I had passed on their values to our children, and it felt like a rite of passage for them to see where this comes from, and to hear the magical stories my parents had to tell about their time in Africa. In the end, what was meant to be my mom’s birthday present was truly a present to us all because what truly matters in life is to share adventures and spend time with those you love, and a trip is just the vehicle for this to happen.

“So long as we are together, everything will work out.”

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for our lives.

Etosha sunset

Read more of Caroline George’s emotional and engaging adventure writing at blog.eddiebauer.com

 

 

 

 

Author: - Thursday, February 25th, 2016
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