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What do black rhinos, celebrated travel author Pico Iyer and Google have in common? They were all featured at the Adventure Travel World Summit held in Namibia last fall. Each year, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) hosts the high-profile summit in a different country — 2013 marked the 10th annual event and the first time it was held in Africa.
Before the conference, attendees were invited to participate in pre-summit fams throughout Namibia. I went to the arid northwest, a region called Damaraland, which is known for its populations of desert-adapted wildlife, including desert elephants and black rhinos. The region is also home to indigenous people such as the Himba, one of the world’s last remaining nomadic tribes.
After arriving on a lonely desert airstrip following a three-hour flight in a 12-seat Cessna, our group was whisked away in Land Rovers. If there is such thing as a five-star reception, we received it upon arriving at the Desert Rhino Camp managed by Wilderness Safaris. The entire staff broke into song and welcomed us to the chic tented camp, which included amenities such as a small plunge pool, a cocktail bar and eight platform tents with wide verandas. We were not exactly roughing it, but we were in the heart of one of the most isolated places on earth. We were reminded of this fact over the following days during game drives, as our skilled guides pointed out tracks — including hand-sized lion paw prints — near the camp.
Toward the end of my stay, the biggest prize — the sighting of a black rhino — had eluded us. But early one morning, word came that a group of trackers had made a sighting. After about an hour of driving through a rugged landscape of camelthorn trees, flat-top mountains and dry creek beds, our Land Rover growled to a stop on a steep hill. As we crept up silently, I saw it: motionless, regal, like a granite statue — an adult female black rhino, ears twitching, standing 100 yards away. The rhino was truly larger than life, as was my experience that morning of seeing this magnificent animal in the wild. Namibia has a growing population of black rhinos, due largely to the country’s conservation efforts, which include placing 43 percent of Namibian lands under some form of protection.
After our safaris, we traveled to Swakopmund for the conference, where stories of Namibian adventures spiced up conversations between destination representatives, tour operators and travel advisors from around the world as they moved between seminars, working sessions and an interactive marketplace. Highlights included sessions about connecting with travelers in the digital age, taught by a Google executive. But perhaps one of the most popular events was an inspirational narrative by author Pico Iyer, who spoke to a vast tent of attendees about the art of adventure.
“Adventure isn’t just about physical daring. It’s about moral, emotional and psychological daring,” said Iyer. “The real voyage of discovery, as Proust said, consists not in seeing new sights, but looking with new eyes.”