An African hunting trip presents some challenges but many more amazing rewards.
One of the first things that hit me when I found out I was going to Namibia was the formidable challenge it posed. Since I am quadriplegic, a trip to Africa represents the ultimate quest: managing the four days of travel that included two 16-hour flights, taking my own rifle, securing gun permits, packing ammunition, updating passports, finding a place to overnight in Johannesburg (South Africa), hauling two extra bags of Safari Care supplies in addition to the extra bag I needed for my shower/bathroom chair, and, the most important part of the equation, having an accessible lodge on the other end when I arrived.
The next thought was that I couldn't wait to go.
The accessible lift allows wheelchair users the opportunity to view wildlife from inside Elephant Lodge. The viewing room overlooks a watering hole where game comes to drink.
In late summer 2010, Safari Club Foundation chose me to receive its Pathfinder award for hunters with disabilities, which came with a ten-day, ten-species game safari donated by Jan Oelofse on his ranch in northern Namibia. It's the highest achievement in the obscure field I know as "disabled outdoors." It was also around that time I found out about their Safari Care program where hunters traveling to Africa bring supplies to needy schoolchildren. I knew right away it was something we were going to do.
In January 2011, I met Oelofse in Reno, Nev., at Safari Club's national convention where I discovered he has one of the few wheelchair-accessible operations in Namibia. He also has a lot of experience hosting hunters with disabilities, some who are in power chairs. We set my safari date for early June, the start of winter in the southern hemisphere, and I returned home to prepare for the trip.
Arriving at Mount Etjo
On the morning of June 6, my lifelong friend, Greg Goerig, and I land at Windhoek's "international" airport, a place no bigger than some of the remote airports I've seen in Canada. It lies 30 miles south of Windhoek, Namibia's capital and largest city.
Fernando, our driver, stands waiting for us as we clear my rifle and exchange some American money for Namibian dollars. He and Goerig stack our suitcases and my chair in the van, and off we go. It's a four-hour drive—most of which will be through nothing but remote bush—north to the Oelofse's Mount Etjo lodge. Soon we're crossing through the streets of downtown Windhoek, passing the open market and the myriad people hustling about. There are a few tall buildings but not as many as you might expect in a capital city. In no time we clear the structure of the city and enter the wide-open expanses of rolling bushveld. I count a grand total of two power lines and one "rest stop" along the way where a gas station, convenience store, and small market sit where two highways intersect. There are no other signs of civilization.
Jan, his wife Annette, and the staff at Mount Etjo are waiting for us when we arrive. We settle into our accessible room where we'll be staying for two days before heading to the hunt lodge farther into the mountains. The Oelofses have made every adaptation for wheelchair access, complete with a stairlift that takes wheelers to a viewing room, a rear-entry lift into the game-drive vehicle, and a side-car lift on one of the hunting rigs.
Check out the complete article in the September 2011 issue of S'NS.