Normally Michael doesn’t shriek like a tween girl who just found out One Direction was breaking up. But he was this day. Being up close to the open jaws of a lion will do that to you.

We had arrived in Africa a few days earlier for a safari so Larissa could fulfill her long-time dream of seeing wild animals in their native habitat. Michael is more of a city boy, more comfortable with concrete than trees, so while he was coming along reluctantly as the good husband, he had his doubts about how this bout with nature would turn out.

During our travels around the world we met up with several people who just gushed about visiting Namibia, located on the southwest coast of Africa. Its main attraction is Etosha National Park, located about 250 miles north of the capital city of Windhoek.

wildlife in Namibia


About the size of New Jersey in the United States or Slovenia in Europe, Etosha surrounds a vast, blinding white saltpan and provides one of the best wildlife viewing areas in all of Africa. On any given day a visitor can spot elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, springbok and, with a bit of luck, elusive rhinos, leopards and cheetahs.

We were riding in the park on a guided game drive in an open air Land Rover, making sure not to leave our arms dangling outside of it. Our safari driver, Ismail, knew all the hot spots or, in this case, wet spots as he sought out the waterholes where the animals congregate.

Within minutes of entering the park gate we spied a pair of giraffes loping across the road with their signature languorous stride. Despite a childhood spent leafing through animal photos in the glossy pages of National Geographic, nothing prepared us for seeing these animals up close in their native habitat. Surprisingly, Michael was enthralled as he watched the mesmerizing pace of the giraffes. We clicked through what would have been several rolls of film in the pre-digital era in about five minutes. Ismail’s gentle smile let us know that “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

wild animals Africa two giraffes crossing road (575x440)

After 20 dusty minutes on a gravel road we reached the Nebrowni waterhole, where hundreds of zebras were eagerly quenching their thirst. Sprinkled among them were springbok, dik-diks and impalas.

We watched the animals for a spell and were just about to leave when off to the right three mammoth leathery gray piles lumbered towards us. The elephants plodded along with a slow-motion rumbling gait, with their big ears flopping back and forth.

As the elephants made their deliberate progress towards the waterhole, the zebras got a bit restless. Most of them had seen this movie before and scurried away before the gargantuan onslaught.

Photo of Zebra Namibia one elephant

When elephants show up at a waterhole it’s the equivalent of the chubby kid cannonballing into the pool at a swanky hotel. Everyone else gets soaked and figures out that it’s time to leave the party. It was no different here. The zebras and springbok crept away and meandered aimlessly while waiting for the big boys to have their fun.

The elephants weren’t content to just drink the water like the other animals. They plunged right in, splashing and swinging the water around with their trunks. They played for an hour, as delighted as schoolchildren on the first day of summer.

After this adventure, we drove down a rutted gravel road through scrub pine for two or three miles where we happened upon another watering hole where a herd of thirty elephants were cavorting in the mud; the larger ones pushing the little ones aside until they swigged together at the equivalent of the “kid’s table” at the end of the pond. Elsewhere giraffes crouched into their distinctive splay-legged wide stance so they could reach down with their long necks and slurp some water. Hours slipped away as we enjoyed front-row seats for our very own live-action nature film. Elephants here, zebras there . . . hey, there goes a pack of ostriches.

Etosha 30 elephants at waterhole-Namibia

At one point Ismail pointed out a large animal about 20 yards off to the side of the Land Rover plodding through the bush. At first, all we could see were branches being disturbed but then we focused on a sight that is rare indeed, the elusive white rhinoceros. It was so close yet we never would have seen it without our guide’s trained eye. This time we put the camera down and enjoyed the moment. We were experiencing one “pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here” moment after another.

Later that evening, as the setting sun was casting a golden glow on the savannah, we got a bit more than a pinch. We had stopped on the narrow shoulder of the road and parked over a culvert to take some photos of the sunset. Meanwhile Ismail was dropping rocks onto the culvert. He said lions sometimes sleep there to escape the heat and this would bring them out. (That maxim about not waking sleeping dogs, doesn’t it apply to lions too?) But guess what: his technique worked, perhaps too well.

self-drive Namibia trip lion

Suddenly a lion, or in this case a lioness, leapt up out of the culvert where she appeared at Michael’s dangling elbow. And that’s when the shrieking started. Fortunately, the lion didn’t seem all that interested in us, or was just so shocked at the sight of a grown man whimpering so much, that she sauntered away with nary a care in the world as she returned to her nap.

Michael was a bit stunned at first, as were we at his shrieking, but like a little kid who loves being tossed in the air and repeatedly asks for more, he said, “Hey, can we do that again?” City boy was becoming nature boy as our adventure in Africa continued.

Namibia self-drive safari

For those to whom a trip to Africa is the trip of a lifetime it’s a must-see, and as Michael proved, even those for whom it’s not on the radar will experience unforgettable moments that are not available anywhere else on Earth. Just be careful if you wake up a sleeping lion.

Note: This post has been sponsored World Expeditions as part of their #WEVentureOut series. We are proud to have our “Waking a Sleeping Lion” adventure featured in this series, which encourages travelers to step outside their comfort zone and experience more of the world. For more information on trips to Africa and other unique destinations, visit the World Expeditions website.

From guest writer Ray Uzanas ~ I was barely ten years old when I drew a picture of a Komodo dragon lizard; the image copied from a library book about reptiles. I was fascinated with the forked-tongued creatures that look like relics from prehistoric times and dreamed of some day seeing one in person.

Though decades have passed, my interest in the Komodo dragons of Indonesia stayed strong. They are only found in Komodo National Park, comprised of a few islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Since my personal “Bucket List” includes a visit to the land of these nasty looking carnivores, whose appetite for large mammals, including humans is legendary, I took off for Indonesia.

Komodo national park sign

I joined a sea kayaking expedition that departed from the white sandy shores of Indonesia’s Flores Island. Guided by a Flores native, our group of four people paddled for 10 days among the islands hosting the Komodo. I was about to realize a lifelong dream; but that dream would come with challenges.

Daytime temperatures remained in the upper 90s throughout our voyage, while nighttime offered little relief from the stifling heat. With no cooling breeze, sleeping in our tents was difficult—hot and stuffy, especially after dousing ourselves with copious amounts of DEET to protect against mosquito bites in a region rife with malaria. We also had limited amounts of fresh water to wash away the sunscreen that covered our exposed skin.

Indonesia boy in water sunset

These were the conditions we happily endured to experience up-close sightings of Komodo dragon lizards while trekking in their island habitat. The latest surveys show about 2,000 of the remaining wild population of Komodo dragon lizards live on the islands of Komodo and Rinca.

Since the dragons are easier to find on Rinca, we began our adventure there. A park ranger led our hike into the interior of this rough-and-tumble island; it was miserably hot and dry with dense forests often giving way to grassy savannas and scattered watering holes.

We were each on high alert since humans are also potential prey for Komodo lizards. The villagers living on Rinca are in constant danger of attack. They live in houses constructed of wood, corrugated metal, and thatching that are raised several feet above ground to protect them from the occasional Komodo dragon visitor. The dragon lizards can’t climb into the houses.

komodo island vilalger

The night before our visit, a hungry Komodo made off with a villager’s goat and sadly, a year earlier, a young girl wandering into the nearby forest met the same fate. Despite the danger they pose to people, the Komodo now enjoys protection under an endangered species act and is considered a mystical and revered ancestor by the local people.

Given all these risks, what was our protection against the dragons? A seven foot long wooden stick, forked on the business end, was all that stood between us and the hungry behemoths. As I resolutely gripped the stick in my hands, I wondered how an aggressive, carnivorous creature over 9 feet long and weighing 300 lbs. could possibly be discouraged by such a simple weapon.

The three of us walked in single-file close behind the park ranger, carefully peering through the dense underbrush for dragon lizards. I held up the rear, still clutching the stick for dear life, hoping that any dragon lizards would be spotted ahead of us and not from behind.

komodo dragon on rock

After thirty minutes, our patience was rewarded. Perched atop a car-sized boulder, an adult male relaxed in the shade, at least until he spotted us. Slowly, while poking his intimidating forked tongue towards us, he slid off the rock in our direction.

I got down on one knee to snap several photos of the dragon of my dreams that was gliding toward us from less than 10 feet away. I was immediately scolded by the guide as he quickly darted between me and the lizard, fending him off with his stick to keep the lizard at bay.

komodo dragon tongue sticking out

We followed the intimidating reptile as he slowly meandered into the grassland, eventually retreating toward a watering hole where the moist, cool area provided a comfortable spot to await the next visitor and potential meal; wild animals and, sometimes, other Komodo dragons. Using their bacteria-laden saliva and venomous glands, the dragons usually only need one bite to kill their prey. They patiently watch while the poisons take their toll on the unfortunate victim.

After witnessing them in their native habitat, I remain in awe of the power and fierce reputation of the Komodo dragon lizards. Decades after my first crude rendering of these beasts, the dreams of a ten-year-old boy finally came true.

Ray Uzanas with stickOur good friend Ray Uzanas is a global explorer and travel photographer. He’s posing with the stick that protected him (barely) from the komodo dragons.

When we were driving all over the world we saw some unusual animal crossing signs that were different from the typical signs for deer we see at home. As we bounced along some pretty rough roads we took these warnings seriously, can you imagine the damage an elephant will do to your car?

camel crossing sign Jordan

Camel crossing signs are common when driving the Arabian Desert in Jordan. Fortunately all the camels we saw were behind fences.

animal crossing sign deer israel

Who knew they had reindeer in Israel, but it sort of makes sense. This sign is unusual because it’s in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English.

horse crossing sign dubai

In Dubai, horseback riding is a popular hobby among the Emirati. Apparently some of them break free now and then.

koala crossing sign australia

At the top of this post is a kangaroo crossing sign that is seen throughout Australia. You really have to take them seriously, particularly at dusk when the kangaroos go bounding across the road as if they are attracted to the car’s headlights and become “roo’d kill.” While the koala pictured above will do less damage, they are so cute that drivers really hope to avoid them.

cow and sheep crossing sign australia

Drivers get two for one on this sign in the Australian Outback as they look out for cows and sheep.

New Zealand bird (575x431)

We’re not sure why these birds in New Zealand couldn’t just fly across the road.

elephant crossing road sign

Elephants were a common sight in Namibia. But they lumber along so slowly we doubt they’d be much of a problem.

warthog crossing road sign

We saw literally thousands of warthogs by the side of the road in Namibia. They are one of the funniest looking animals around. Smart too, unlike the kangaroos in Australia, we never saw a warthog crossing the road.

meerkat warning sign

Meerkats, similar to prairie dogs, are all over Namibia. We stayed at one lodge where a local meerkat was pretty tame and scurried around the restaurant.

zebra crossing sign namibia

A multi-purpose sign for zebras, warthogs and kudu on the Erongo Plain in Namibia.

wild animals Africa two giraffes crossing road (575x440)We didn’t see a giraffe crossing sign in Namibia, but we did have to stop for these actual giraffes.

Larissa crossing road Namibia (575x403)

Namibia is so sparsely populated we never saw a crossing sign for this rare animal.

bull crossing sign in spain

Cattle crossing signs are fairly common around the world but we liked how they rakishly add horns in Spain. Ole!

turtle crossing sign

Watch out speed racers for slow crossing turtles on Tybee Island in South Carolina.

abbey road zebra crossing

Well in London this is called a zebra crossing so it fits here. Can you guess what Fab road this is?

If you have any unusual animal crossing signs please send them to me and I’ll credit you and link back to you blog. Thanks!

Etosha National Park in Namibia is one of the top game viewing sites in Africa. The park was created over 100 years ago and is huge, larger than the state of New Jersey. We spent three days driving around the park during dry season. That’s the best time to visit since the animals must come out of hiding and flock to the waterholes to drink.

On any given day a visitor will spot zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok, oryx and more. With a bit of luck a rhino or lion will come sauntering by. We were lucky to see both of those as well.

Namibia is a prime destination for self-drive tours in Africa. With the second lowest population density in the world (after only Mongolia) there were times when we were the only car for miles as we gazed upon the animals.

The zebras sort of surprised us. To begin with, they’re not all black and white. Some of them have a fair amount of tan coloring which we hadn’t expected. They also pretty much just stand around all day without much to do.

Pictures of Zebras at Etosha National Park in Namibia

Pictures of zebras Etosha Namibia

They also seem pretty dense, just standing in the road staring us without a thought of moving. In that way they were sort of like donkeys with stripes.

Photos of zebras Etosha Namibia

Larissa just loved how many of the zebras stood around all day doing the zebra version of spooning.

Zebras at Etosha pack at waterhole

The lone springbok (the one that looks like a deer) seems a bit lost among all the zebras at this waterhole in Etosha.

Wild animals of Namibia ostrich zebra (575x438) We don’t see this relationship working out.

Pictures of zebras Etosha Namibia elephant

These zebras don’t realize it yet but they’re about to get kicked out of the waterhole by the big, bad elephant. 

Photo of Zebra Namibia one elephant

There’s always somebody who’s the last one to get the memo.

Pictures of zebras three zebras

Here’s a short video of zebras moseying around the park: