My trip to Namibia was a press trip, planned and organized by Tourism Namibia and their PR firm in the US. I’d worked with tourism boards in the past but never a tour company on the ground until Namibia. ATI Holidays arranged almost all of our transportation, accommodations, activities, and meals. They had planned everything from our airport transfers to our daily excursions and as if that wasn’t enough, the owner, David, joined us on our life-changing Namibia adventure. He became as much a part of the reason for enjoying the trip as the experiences. Normally, I write solely about my adventures but often it’s the people I meet along the way that make it the most memorable.
I met David the fist day I arrived. He showed up in a suit and tie and I thought, “Uhhh, we’re going to travel on a Namibian safari with this guy!” He seemed formal and stuffy.
I hope we don’t get a flat tire. I’d be the one changing it! He’s sure as heck not going to change it in that suit.
After my judgmental alter ego left, give me a little bit of slack; I had been traveling and sleeping on planes for three days, I realized that he just came from an important meeting and he didn’t normally dress that way.
He showed up the next morning wearing shorts, hiking shoes, a collared shirt to protect his neck from the sun, and a khaki hat. He greeted each of us with small talk and I softened toward him. By the time he started talking about his kids, not even five minutes later, my opinion had completely changed.
David arrived in Southern Africa 17 years ago and initially trained and worked as a commercial pilot in the Eastern Cape before moving north to Namibia. In Namibia, he met his future wife & business partner, Charlotte. After a couple of years working in aviation and safari management, they headed off to Botswana and the beauty of the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park where they ran and built lodges together for four years. The conclusion of their time in Botswana was marked by their marriage at Camp Okavango, after which they decided to return to Namibia and set up home in Windhoek, its capital city. The couple purchased shares in what was then ‘Africa Tourist Info.’ and just under two years later bought the remaining holding of the company, and ATI Holidays was born.
I’d learned more about his interesting story as we drove north toward Etosha National Park. That’s where our safari was about to begin.
Most nights, I was too scared to walk back to my room alone. Without judgement, David walked me back safely and I got to know him better. The way he talked about his two children made me smile… and a little home-sick. His tomboy daughter reminded me of Athena and I laughed uncontrollably when he showed me a picture of how she dresses. Not that her clothes were that wrong or funny but that I’d already seen Athena pick out similar outfits. When I took her to buy underwear during the initial stages of potty-training, we had to shop in the boy’s section because it was the only place we could find Thomas the Train designs. David’s a proud father and our bond as parents grew. No matter where you live, what language you speak, or the age of your children, all parents want what’s best for their child and all parents like confirmation that they are doing something right. David and I confirmed our suspicions – we’re both doing our best as parents.
On the third night, I learned that someone important to me had passed away. My eyes filled with tears at the dinner table and I asked David to walk me back to my room. His presence calmed me. Like the great father that he is, he comforted me without being too pushy or inquisitive. Continents away from family and friends, I felt like I wasn’t alone.
The two flat tires that came next proved his physical worth was as great as his emotional worth. As we, five women, stood by and watched like in a sexist joke, David changed both tires. (These were two separate events on two separate roads yet the result of David doing 95% of the work was the same.) Rather than getting upset or complaining (at least out loud), he just quickly did the work.
As you can see from the below photo, I tried to help… or maybe I was attempting to catch a hiked football. Apparently, this is my “I’m working hard” face. Not appealing!
We visited the Himba tribe and I saw yet another side to David. Playfully, he tried to wipe the clay on my face. When I moved out of the way, he put it on his own face and joked around like a child. His fun, easy-going nature was my favorite side and I snapped a photo to cherish the moment.
I’d gained so much respect for this man that I gravitated toward him each day and each day he made my trip that much more memorable. I had made an unexpected friend and it reminded me of all the great friends I’d made during my press trips over the past two years. I never would have thought that I’d have so much in common with a slightly older British man living in Namibia.
As he walked away at the airport after delivering me to safety one last time, I smiled at the impact he’d made on me. Namibia had been the journey of a lifetime that I imagined. Unsurprisingly, I experienced new environments, encountered animals in their natural habitat, and rested in dreamy accommodations. To my surprise, though, it’s the guy in the suit that I’ll member most from my trip.