This father and son explored Africa courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Wildland Adventures.
Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, features the oldest desert in the world, awesome mountains made of sand, hidden canyons, exotic animals and an Atlantic coast filled with aquatic life, as well as the remnants of numerous shipwrecks. But these are only some of the reasons it became the fantasy vacation destination of one special family.
When Ron Frank and his son Hugo, a 12-year-old cancer victim, approached the Hudson, New York chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation with Hugo’s dream of being up close and personal with a cheetah, Family Travel Forum’s trip-planning staff was contacted to help.
Now, meeting this family’s needs would have been a real challenge for any travel planner. Deciding on the best itinerary, choosing a knowledgeable guide, finding lodging, and deciphering local transportation are among the many questions that all travelers ask of the tour operators and organizations which are experts in the chosen destination. With more than 10 years’ experience in planning family adventures to the Americas, Mediterranean, Middle East, New Zealand and Antarctica, plus expert guided tours of Africa, Wildland Adventures (800/345-4453) was FTF’s first choice to assist the Frank family when they decided to make their wish reality.
Africa Pros Fulfill a Wish
After FTF got in touch, the professionals at Wildland discussed the Franks’ needs and Namibia was proposed. Wildland offers three standard itineraries in Namibia and will work with each family to modify them according to special interests. While the seven-day-long “Best of Namibia” and the 13-day-long “Namibia Explorer” cover some of the same ground including the Namib Desert, the tremendous dunes at Sossusvlei; the historic town of Swakopmund; the Skeleton Coast (referring to the many shipwrecks found here) and the game reserve at Etosha National Park, the nine-day-long “In the Footsteps of Giants” itinerary focuses on tracking desert elephant and the rare black rhino.
Wildland again listened to the Franks’ feedback, then came up with a customized plan. Writes Hugo Frank, “Thank you so much for this trip. I really loved it, and had a fantastic time. I saw so much wildlife and met a lot of nice and fun people including locals.”
The Frank family also asked Wildland to provide extra staff to meet Hugo’s physical limitations, and the ensuing adventure exceeded all expectations. Wrote Hugo, “I saw giraffes, lions, rhinocerous, elephants, desert adapted elephants, many different kinds of antelope, cheetahs, and much, much more. The Namibians are some of the most friendly people I have ever met in my travels.”
Read on for a father and son’s tales and memories of their journey.
A Father & Son’s Namibia Journal
Ron Frank: “I can’t say enough about the extraordinary experience we had on our Wildland Adventures safari in Namibia.
“[We spent our first night at] Little Kulala Camp, in Sossusvlei, a beautiful resort where the staff were warm, intelligent and attentive. [Here we were adjacent to the Namib Desert where] our first big adventure was scaling ‘Big Daddy,’ supposedly the tallest dune in the world. This was quite a challenge, and the scenery was spectacular.
“We were accompanied by a lovely family from France as well as our Wildlife guide (Anton, if I remember correctly) who willingly accompanied us on our trek and even carried a couple of extra water bottles.
“We flew over Sossusvlei to the Atlantic and up the Skeleton Coast to Swakopmund. On route we saw pods of seal, flocks of flamingo, shipwrecks and an abandoned diamond mine. We spent the afternoon walking the beach and shopping at the outdoor markets where we bargained with local artisans for some lovely sculptures we purchased as gifts.
“The next day we went dune boarding [akin to snowboarding on sand] which was fun if a bit intimidating the first time – the dunes are steep! Huge adds, “I hiked up the biggest dune in the world, which the locals call ‘Big Daddy.’ My dad did it with me. I went sand boarding in Swakopmund where you get speeds up to 50+ mph.”
“Ron Frank continues: Our next destination, Ongava Tented Camp was really special. As we drove in from the airstrip, we saw a herd of eland (very rare we were told) as well as wildebeest, impala, kudu, springbok and zebra.
“We loved the tented camp and our safari rides with Binius were the best. He is a very skilled and dedicated naturalist guide. In addition to all the above, we saw lions and rhinos, and our last trip with Binius was tracking rhino on foot. He told us that if need be, he would shoot a lion but not a black rhino. Rather, he would run toward it and try to divert its attention away from us. Fortunately, we only found white rhino and loved the adventure.”
Recalls Hugo, “A lion slept outside our tent one night, about 10 meters away. It woke us up by calling to its family. Lions came a few feet to the jeep when we went on a safari. We played with a little elephant that loved the jeep and got charged by the bigger ones.”
Ron continues: “Another highlight at Ongava was on our last night. At 4:30am we were woken by a roar from a large male lion who lay down 10 meters outside our tent. This was followed by an hour of deep guttural ‘communication’ with another lion on the other side of the camp. At dawn he sauntered off and we all resumed normal breathing.
“In Damaraland, we went on a couple of safaris looking for the endangered desert adapted elephant with an amazing guide named Everest. We invited some of his relatives to join us and had a wonderful time meeting and interacting with his family while being chased by “Oscar” and his tribe of elephants. [My son] Hugo loved Oscar and we all had a lot of fun. I especially appreciated the opportunity to really engage with the Namibians.
“We then flew to Otjiwarengo where we stayed at the Frans Indongo Lodge which was beautiful. While on a drive on the grounds, we encountered a 10′ black mombo snake who stood on its tail and angrily ran into the brush at an amazing speed. “
Says Hugo, “Finally, we hung out, so to say, with some cheetahs. I watched them do speed training, fed them, and best of all, ran with one and played with it. It began to really like me and felt comfortable around me. It would come and rub up against me and purr. I think I bonded with that cheetah. The owners of the place said I was a ‘natural’ with cheetahs. You’re not supposed to crouch or get lower than them because then you look small and vulnerable, but that cheetah liked me enough that I could LIE down near it.”
Adds Ron: “This day was the culmination of Hugo’s wish – a close encounter with cheetah! Whereas I thought it would just be a photo-op with a tame, aged cheetah, it was much more.
We were picked up by an employee of Cheetah Conservation Fund who took us to their 36,000 hectare (c. 90,000 acre) reserve. When we arrived, we were brought into an enclosure where three cheetahs (Harry, Ron and Hermione – the Hogwarts) were being exercised. They chased a flag on a pulley system powered with a car battery at 40 mph. We then fed them bits of meat as rewards.
“Following this, we were invited to the home of Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of CCF and spent a couple of hours playing fetch with the youngest resident cheetah, Kaninni. Hugo felt he really bonded with Kaninni and was so pleased. After tea, we went for a walk in the bush with the eldest cheetah, a large male named Chewbaaka.
“It was a very moving experience for me to see my son, a cancer survivor, have his wish come true.”
[Editors Note: To learn more about the work of the Make A Wish Foundation, visit www.wish.org/]
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.