At first glance Etosha’s restcamps seemed in need of repair but then the staff came to the rescue
When we consider the usual don’t-care attitude to local service excellence, it is often enough to make one despair for the long-term future of Namibia. But something so extraordinary happened a week ago that it is absolutely imperative that it must be brought to the attention of the whole nation.
A weekend visit to Etosha coincided with the renewed start of the rains so there was water everywhere, on the roads, in the bush, in parts of the pan, on the open grasslands, literally everywhere. The bush and the veld were lush, as verdant green as I have not seen in many years.
My wife and I spent two and a half wonderful days in Etosha, first bunkering in Namutoni and then moving to Okakuejo before departing again the Monday morning.
In the rush to get everything packed and loaded, we left our coffee flask in our Okakuejo bungalow.
Now, this is no ordinary flask. It was made in Germany and was given to me as a corporate gift some 20 years ago by Old Mutual before all such gifts came from China. It is a priceless stainless steel flask that keeps coffee hot for a whole day and warm for another day.
It is virtually indestructible. I once drove over it with my Land Cruiser, stopped, picked it up, dusted it off and immediately poured a cup of coffee from it. There was not a scratch on the side.
This same flask has accompanied us on all our local travels from Lüderitz in the south to Katima in the far north. It has also travelled with us many times to and through Botswana and often to South Africa. It was part of our customary take-alongs on every trip we did, and we did many.
So you can imagine that I was quite peeved with myself for having left it behind.
After all, when we first arrived at Etosha, the first impressions for this visit were not exactly sterling. I was sternly reprimanded at the park entrance for daring to get out of my car without a mask, but then one noticed neglect all around. The irony did not escape me. The poor policewomen at the gate was concerned about following regulations, while it was patently obvious that large sections of the infrastructure have been neglected for a long time.
In Namutoni we were received with the usual courtesies and made to feel very welcome, like we have always experienced in the past. But once we entered our bungalow, it was impossible not to notice the general state of disrepair and decay, not overly so, but still sufficient not to be ignored.
For instance, the shower head was missing, the kettle did not work, the front door had to be hammered to close it and there was no way that one could lock it in any normal way. The taps in the bathroom were loose in their mountings and the toilet brush, what was left of it, must have been used on that same toilet for the past decade.
While the public areas of the camp were nice and neat, I realised it was mostly because everything was so green. Once alerted to the camp’s general state, I started noticing many small defects that all added up to cause a mild irritation.
For the rest, the park was as we know it except that the wilderness was exploding with green and teeming with large herds of all sorts of animals. Apart from the obvious shortcomings in the restcamp’s maintenance, Etosha was as splendid as ever.
This was also the very first time in my life that I have ever seen water in the pan, and very large stretches of it. We made a detour to Onkoshe camp, which turned out to be surreal.
Here I noticed a phenomenon I have never encountered before. When the pan is filled to some extent, the horizon tends to disappear. The blue of the water and the blue of the sky are one continuous blue backdrop without any detail. One does not know where the one ends and the other begins and this reaches all the way from east to west as far as one can see. (It is actually well-known among pilots as the missing horizon, coupled to the sky reflecting in the pan’s water, tricks the senses into all sort of false perceptions on what is up and what is down.)
In short, our Etosha trip was as fulfilling as ever until I did the stupid thing of leaving my trusted coffee companion on the shelf in an Okakuejo bungalow.
This is where the most extraordinary chapter of the weekend started.
Back in Windhoek, I shrugged off my loss, accepting the fact that I will never see the flask again, expecting that by then it was keeping someone else’s coffee warm.
My wife nevertheless had the insight to send an email to Okakuejo’s management to a random email address she found on the company’s website. This was already two days after our trip.
You can imagine our complete astonishment when we received a mail back the next day, telling us that our flask has been found, and that it will be sent to Windhoek with the next opportunity. Unbelievable!
From that first response, our amazement (and appreciation) only grew. We were kept informed about the arrangement for the flask’s return to Windhoek, and on Saturday we were informed that it will arrive that afternoon.
Not long afterwards we were called by the driver and we arranged to pick it up at a point near our home. But this was not the end of the saga. This week we were CC’d in a mail from the driver to Okakuejo’s management, confirming that the flask has been received by me in person.
I wish I had the space to run all the email engagements here but they are too substantial.
Despite the budgetary constraints Namibia Wildlife Resorts is facing and despite the enormous damage done to their operations because of the lockdowns, I am full of hope and good expectations for its future.
With staff and service like we have encountered ourselves, an organisation can only go upward. It was the most amazing experience and it brought home to us very clearly that despite last year’s setbacks, the NWR staff is as motivated as ever. This was truly a case of going the extra mile, many extra miles in fact.
PS. Many thanks to Katriena Hoeses and to Gabriel Nantanga. They really went out of their way to be of service. Also thank you to all the other staff members who helped in the process, as I surmised from the many individuals copied in the emails.
Photograph of our darling coffee flask safely back home, by my wife, Retha Steinmann.