Fish River Canyon, Namibia

5 August 2018

[Above photo:   The canyon from its rim.]

As we were driving on the dusty gravel road from Ai-Ais, the southern end of the Fish River Canyon, to Hobas at the northern end, a familiar Land Cruiser approached, flashing its lights. It was, of course, Peter and Caroline. We chatted and Peter described how Caroline had suggested they put their cooler in the car at their last camping spot. Peter said, “I have difficulty getting into the cooler. I can’t imagine a baboon could.” Could and did, eating all their cheese and butter and other foodstuffs. “Caroline’s not speaking to me.”, which she denied. Laughter all around.

On arriving at Hobas we drove and walked to the viewpoint at which through-hikers descend to the canyon’s floor for the 5 day walk. No one else is allowed to hike down within the Park, even for the day. Temperatures exceed 120 degree in summer and are often below freezing at night in winter. The view was fine, a tortured course of very deep cuts; it is allegedly the second largest canyon system in the world, after the Grand Canyon. The descent, we could see, was a challenge; chains on stanchions accompanied the steep rock steps as far as the eye could see. We congratulated ourselves that we’d been circumspect about backpacking it.

Our next step was to get to Fish River Lodge, which we realized was not next to Hobas, as it appeared on the map. It was if you were a crow. Perched on the edge of the opposite side of the canyon, we could just make out a row of dots—the chalets—blending into their surroundings. Four hours of washboard roads later we pulled in. The main lodge concealed the view, which appeared dramatically after walking through the entrance. It was sunset and guests were gathered on one of several balconies, sipping wine and watching the colors change from brown to red to purple to black as night fell. It was the reverse of watching a print develop in a darkroom—the canyon vanished.

The food was super and the chalets elegant, each starkly modern and minimalist, built of slate, and on its own perch over the canyon. Both indoor and outdoor showers! We immediately signed up for a third night. The next day we hiked the rim going north, about 9 miles total.  Inspired, we hired a guide on day two and descended into the canyon (ropes, not chains, on stanchions anchored to the rock). There were tricky parts and the “trail” vanished at times, but it was spectacular, the temperature just right, and the guide, Desi, was a Himba from Damaraland who had a raft of tales to tell about people demanding to climb down but not being prepared for it. One poor fellow fell and fractured ribs, an arm in two places, and his leg; Desi had to carry him to the top. It recalled “Into Thin Air” and those who think money will propel them up Everest.

We’d seen 4 young Brazilians as they came up and over the rim the previous day, looking exhausted. So we naturally were apprehensive—I’m a month short of 78! But, happily, we zipped down and up and both felt so fine that we walked the rim another 4 miles in the afternoon. I guess all this hiking, and Linda’s running, helps.

We tried and tried to get into the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park, a merger of two large adjacent parks in S. Africa and Botswana, set in the Kalahari. No luck, so we decided to go to Windhoek, Namibia’s capitol. It was a hefty distance and we stopped for the night in Rehoboth, a little town with 70 churches where the Basters, as they call themselves, landed after an arduous trek from S. Africa in 1868. The offspring of indigenous women and Dutch settlers, many of which couples married, they were shunned as “bastards” and not allowed to own land. Instead of simply descending into depression and drink, they moved to and settled Rehoboth. We stayed at the Ochsenwagen Hotel, owned and run by Basters, a very simple place.  The mushroom sauce on my lamb chops looked congealed (tasted fine) and it took 30 minutes to get two glasses of wine; we suspected they went to a bottle shop and bought it, their inventory and number of clientele being very constrained. They were very sweet and we were glad we’d stopped for the night. The setting was quite a contrast with our prior aesthetic and luxurious experience in the Fish River Canyon. We walked around town and before leaving in the morning we visited the museum. Our “guide” was a woman who had worked there for 32 years, she told us. She talked constantly and although it made looking at the exhibits difficult, we learned a lot about her and her relatives and the Basters in general. She still lives with her elderly parents, describing herself as “a bit complicated”. She is stubborn, says what comes into her head without concern for the consequences, and won’t marry because she doesn’t want to be “punched around” and forced to “have babies”. I wondered what a good psychoanalysis might do for her: not much, I fear. Besides, there isn’t an analyst in the country.

Did I mention how Linda has a genius for organization and packing? Well, she picks good spots to stay, as well. As we entered Windhoek, looking for a lodge, she spotted one from the Bradt Guide to our left, on a quiet side street: Cori’s Hotel, a B&B. With ten foot tall purple walls and a lavender gate, it was hard to miss. Rini, who owns and runs it, wears purple. The placemats in the breakfast room are purple, as are the fake flowers on each table. As to the furnishings, they are chosen for durability and ease of cleaning—all floors are very cold grey tile, the tables are steel and glass, the chairs steel. But…it is a short walk to downtown and we’ve had a good time exploring this little city. We had a long walk to supper last night at Joe’s Beer Hall. Not exactly an inviting name to me, but it had great reviews and lived up to it. Good craft beer and strong on the meat. It apparently seats 400 but in many little thatched rondevals, eight people seated on benches around a table. We were sort of alone, as two couples chatted away in Afrikaans and the pair of guys to our left, Chinese, ate their immense pork knuckles and sauerkraut in silence and left. I had a chance to compare medallions of—I know, but we do eat beef, pork, lamb, fish, crab, etc.—Kudu, Springbok, and Oryx, grilled to perfection. The latter two are superior, to my palette, to the former. With a pint of a good IPA, I was sated. Since it was dark and it isn’t wise to walk about in the dark here, we hopped a cab and happily returned to our home for the night.

There is, I should note, a really wonderful central crafts market in Windhoek which we visited twice. It is filled with beautiful, whimsical, and ingenious creations. It gives me hope for our future to see this side of the human endeavor, contrasted with DT’s proposed $100 billion tax break for the rich. It has been demonstrated, time and again, that giving the rich more money doesn’t float the little skiff in which the working stiff is trying to keep afloat. (Block that metaphor!)

We’re off toward Maun this morning, the center of all Okavango Delta activity-planning. But first we’ll stop halfway, camping in the Kalahari, and see if we can get a ride into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the second largest such in the world. They do know how to do environmental protection in Namibia and Botswana, with strong governmental vision and leadership. It makes me weep for Malawi.

  1. Chimwemwe, our gardener, is slowly coming out of coma, we hear.

 

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