Safari Travel in the Late Stages of the Pandemic - May 2021

Safari Travel in the Late Stages of the Pandemic – May 2021

Despite COVID, getting to Namibia is easier today than it has ever been. Three global carriers—Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines—fly directly into Windhoek from Europe and the Mideast, so there’s no need for an extra transfer in Johannesburg. And then Jofie Lamprecht offers his clients a unique extra benefit as well.


For the foreseeable future, it’s likely that airlines and destinations will require travelers to show proof of a negative COVID test, but rapid testing is now readily available even in Southern Africa. Airlines and airports presently require travelers to wear surgical masks as well, and airline lounges have reduced their services and hours, but these are minor inconveniences weighed against the bliss of being on safari. (Especially after 15 months at home.)


Our safari—at Jofie’s superbly comfortable Mukongo Camp on the Okavango River in northern Namibia—had been booked for June 2020, but the pandemic forced us to reschedule to May 2021. Jofie and Lufthansa both accommodated the change with no penalties; we were disgruntled about the delay, but this began to seem petty compared to what millions of people around the world were suffering. And by early 2021, we realized that now we still had a safari to look forward to!


On our early morning arrival in Windhoek, Jofie himself met us at the airport and shepherded us through clearing our rifles with the police. (He’d already outlined the process and provided us with the paperwork and information we’d need. In fact, it was easy.) Within an hour of disembarking the plane, we were en route to the next benefit of being JLS clients: Safari Villa.


Jofie and Maryke have made their home—a large and well-appointed modern house in an upscale neighborhood of Windhoek—into a mini-hotel. Our rifles went into the safe, our bags were whisked off to our rooms, and we gratefully relaxed into the stupor that comes from 18 hours of flying and six hours of time shift from the coast of New England. Jofie, however, immediately changed into bush clothes, leaped into his Land Cruiser (it and the trailer stuffed with supplies) and set off on the 10-hour drive north to camp. Rested and acclimated, we would follow the next day, at a more leisurely pace.


By the time you read this, commercial air service from Windhoek to the north will have resumed. In May 2021, however, Air Namibia went bankrupt—another COVID casualty—and we had to choose between air chartering up to Divundu for $6,500 or hiring a car and driver for $1,500. The choice wasn’t difficult. The long drive in a comfortable minivan with friends of Jofie’s gave us the opportunity to see Namibia at ground level. Windhoek has no suburbs—the veldt begins as the city ends, and wildlife can appear at any time.


Our arrival at camp, maskless and free, felt like a return to the normal world—if a normal world were heaving with game and threaded by Africa’s greatest wild river. At dusk, as we settled into our deluxe private tents with en suite baths and electricity (and USB ports!), an elephant materialized on the riverbank beyond our verandahs.


Then, after a glorious 14-day safari, it was back to Safari Villa with Jofie by Land Cruiser. We had a day in the city for another rapid COVID test and to visit Nyati Wildlife Art, Manfred Egerer’s taxidermy studio, and Windhoek’s famous Bushman Art Gallery for gifts for our families.


The return to Boston involved an overnight stay in Frankfurt. But Germany was still locked down and we were not allowed to leave the airport to go to our nearby hotel. Fortunately, a very considerate Lufthansa Service Desk lady managed to get us last-minute rooms at the My Cloud transit hotel within the airport, so we were spared a night on the gate-area chairs. (We’re not college students any more!) Make your reservations, if needed, well in advance.


One last item: On arrival at Boston Logan, we were flagged down at passport control and asked to wait. OK, but—why? A CBP agent soon appeared and escorted us directly to US Customs, where our gun cases and luggage were already waiting. Courteous officers reviewed the Form 4457—Certificate Of Registration For Personal Effects Taken Abroad—that we’d filled out months earlier for each of our rifles, stamped them, smiled and said “Welcome home.” We were among the first passengers to clear the airport.


Mike Stumbo, Freeport, Maine

Silvio Calabi, Camden, Maine

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Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht