The story -- embellished several times in the re-telling, intended as a parable about soccer-as-kumbaya -- involves myself; David, my tour guide; and six German tourists crowded around a television in a tent in thenorthern wilds of Namibia, watching last summer's Euro 2012. David, an accounting student at the University of Namibia, and the German tourists, were real, as was the BBC feed. Tent, however, is a more malleable term.
Our small party had gathered in the lounge of the Fort, a Moorish-style battlement located on the sprawling 84,000-acre Onguma Game Reserve, where luxury brushes against nature as close as comfort will allow. This was no yurt on the Mongolian steppes.
In addition to satellite TV and full-service individual doting, the Fort -- with its cavernous stone-and-canvas tents offering deep, canopied sleep and uniformly perfect views of the Etosha Pan and its 550 species -- is the crown jewel of Onguma. The reserve's collection of tented luxury extends to four satellite camp sites, the most notable of which are Treehouses, four thatch-and-canvas, open-air rooms elevated a predator-unfriendly six feet off the ground. Treehouse. Fort. Onguma is a children's nursery rhyme come to life.
Onguma, located close by Namibia's main highway and in the more bio-diverse north, is a magnet for foreigners looking for the easily accessible safari experience. Here you will get your lion and elephant sightings, a black rhino and honey badger if you're especially lucky. The pristine Wolwedans, some 570 miles to the more arid, more arable, south, offers a starker -- though no less luxurious -- experience. Reachable by (small) plane, Wolwedans is the ultimate hideout, Joshua Tree and Blue Sky country wrappedinto one. The safari experience is more subtle: fewer species, fewer strange wails in the night. But you will eat well, and you will sleep well and you will see a night sky like none you've ever chanced. Brad and Angelina -- who have twice stayed at the camp in the last six years -- really like it, too.
To the west is hundreds of miles of shipwrecking coastline, its rough waters fed by the frigid Benguela Current. The visible remains ofwrecked ships still on display make it easy to understand why the place is called the Skeleton Coast. Swakopmund, and its eponymous hotel, a convertedrailroad station, provide an ideal base for accessing both dunes and ocean. You wouldn't dip more than a toe into the water -- any more than you'd sleep outdoors at the Fort -- but sometimes it's enough to just be there. And it's not as if guests are hurting for dry diversions. The hotel features a casino and is located near two golf courses, including one, the Rossmund Golf Course, that is one of only five all-grass desert courses in the world.
Namibia's two million residents are spread out over 318,000 square miles; only Mongolia is a less densely populated country. And while Brangelina's fondness for the country has afforded it a measure of international sizzle, Americans -- who generally favor Botswana and Tanzania to the east to sate their sub-Saharan, safari jones -- are among the rarest species of all. It is escape.