In the late Fall, the world’s leaders in the Adventure Travel Industry gathered for the first time ever in Africa to see what they might have been missing – to plan new exciting itineraries to draw ever more tourists to some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders – like the Okavango Delta, the thousands of kilometers-long migrations of zebra and wildebeest, and the secretive families of mountain gorilla.
This tribe of adventurers – including many from Jackson Hole – also came to this expansive but poorly known nation of Namibia to talk about the biggest trends their industry of experience purveyors needs to get out ahead of – including how the business of travel can and must save the same wild and scenic places that keep travelers traveling and their business alive. These aren’t the folks serving up mai tais on the beach (not that that’s bad, as I for one certainly love a cold cerveza when soaking in the sun), no, these were the folks that served up experiences, activity, and adventure for all ages. Adventure Travel – the tourism that includes outdoor activities, cultural experiences, and interactions with nature – is the fastest growing sector in tourism, and from my perspective as a conservationist, is one that could use business to make a massive, positive impact on wildlife conservation and the communities that live with and sustain those creatures. But more on that later.
Sure, I had traveled to Namibia to convert people’s love of travel into a passion for saving nature by choosing trips that give back to conservation and local communities. But the trip served up on a platter an awesome opportunity: to have my wife and two daughters join me and experience some of the greatest wildlife landscapes in the world.
For months the thoughts of my two daughters, Annika and Adelaide, seeing their first elephants (creatures their dad works so hard to protect) and to stare into the eyes of a lion (hopefully not too close) lit my fire everyday. I shrugged off the admonitions from some about taking my kids out of school for several weeks, believing deep down in my soul that life and learning needs experiences just as much as formal education. I traveled to Namibia for work before them, and during my weeks in meetings and in the bush, was like a kid counting the days to Christmas, eagerly awaiting their arrival. On that morning at Windhoek’s international airport, I waited at the arrivals hall, with 4-wheel drive truck fueled up outside, and safari hats in hand to adorn my three ladies like leis on a Hawaiian beach holiday. But this wasn’t Hawaii. This was Namibia the land of both wildlife, and wild, wild life. Adventure awaited.
For two weeks we explored a nation whose warm smiles reached deep into your soul and whose rainbow colored sands coated every inch of your body like the security and warmth of a blanket or a loved ones’ arms. We hiked with oryx and ostrich. We climbed sand dunes as big as many of our mountains. Led by experienced, brotherly community guides each morning on game drives and walks, we saw new species of predator or prey – and saw even familiar creatures like a jackal or springbok with a unique perspective and in a different light.
Never once did I take for granted our great fortune. To have my kids go out after breakfast to watch a pride of lions darting to and fro and the lead lioness show her no-nonsense canines as proof no one was to touch her cubs. To see the drama of life play out as packs of jackals took a springbok at a waterhole, or hyenas crushed meat and bone at a recent giraffe kill. To watch my girls sit quietly for more than 2 hours without a sound, as Namibia’s desert-adapted elephants weave amongst us in a dry riverbed, ever vigilant of the youngest addition to their herd, who was but a few days old. These were treasures; there were gifts.
Perhaps more than any, it was these elephants that touched us most, with their multiple generations of mothers and young roaming and feeding together as a tight family group, and their low rumbling vocalizations felt first in your bones before you heard them with your ears. These massive, intelligent creatures enthralled Anni and Addi whose eyes had never been bigger and attention never more focused. These giants were capable of overturning our safari truck and trampling down any tourist if they wanted, but yet they were always gentle and tolerant. While I shudder to anthropomorphize, I couldn’t help but feel that they knew our presence there was in some way helping their herd, their species, remain protected from the slaughter of poaching for ivory that was happening elsewhere on the continent. And indeed our choice to travel to these places that involved local communities who valued wildlife and profited from its survival through adventure tourism was making all the difference.
A few days later, to cap our Namibia experience, we went sandboarding amongst the towering dunes of Namibia’s famous Skeleton Coast while our friends back in the Rockies had just begun to tune up their snowboards. You had to earn your turns here in Namibia, as there was no lift for these dunes, and the sand was unforgiving below both your feet and your board. Exhausted but exhilarated after several runs, it was time to head home as the next day’s departure for the States would come very early. As we piled back into the vehicle with Namibia’s red signature sand on every body part, we looked like our 4WD truck, once white, now red.
Tired and chafed, but exhilarated by the experience, Adelaide turned to her sister in the back seat and exclaimed, “Anni, we are the most adventurest!!!
The most adventurest.
If that was the take home from 17 days wandering Africa’s remotest nation, it was worth the price of admission. Being the “most adventurest” is what we all strive to be – to learn, to experience new things, to be open, to push our personal envelopes everyday, to be committed despite fear, to want more and to look forward always to the next challenge. Making sure my girls always want to be the most adventurest will be forever my measure.