We left South African soil via the recently reopened pont at Sendelingsrdif in the Richtersveld National Park. We had to stand outside our rented Hyundai Getz, and wear life jackets in case we fell into the languorous river beneath us. Once we had passed through what must be the most chilled border post in the world and entered Namibia, we pointed our noses towards the Fish River Canyon.
Three hours later we were there. Traffic, in an unpopulated part of a country with only 1 million inhabitants, was not exactly an issue and apart from passing a few of the graders which keep the gravel roads in Namibia the best in the world, and being passed by a few farmers in white Hiluxes with apparent death-wishes, we saw no-one.
Fish River Canyon Lodge
The Canyon Lodge was quite unlike the Parks Board accommodation we had grown accustomed to on the trip. Our chalet was literally carved from a boulder, and I am not exaggerating when I say that the wall at the head of our bed was at least 10 metres thick. The sheets didn’t have kudus embroidered on them and there were complimentary chocolates on the pillows. The bathroom was tiled in something other than khaki. Our decision to splash out had been a good one; the fact that we could enjoy a 40% discount as Gondwana Club members made it even an even better one.
The Fish River Canyon is arguably the second largest canyon in the world (no one can agree on whether ‘largest’ refers to deepest, longest or widest) but it’s undeniably the largest canyon in Africa. It may have been our main reason for crossing the border into Namibia but it would have to wait until the following morning: for now the pool was calling our names.
I have swum in some pretty special places, but the pool at Canyon Lodge is right up there. Set atop a boulder-scattered hill with views which stretch forever and an in-your-face sunset, its chilly August waters were a tonic our dusty bodies dearly needed. And that’s not to mention the other type of tonic we ordered from the poolside bar…
The plan was to get to the canyon as soon after sunrise the next morning as we could. But we were on holiday, and the hotel breakfast consisted of home-baked German bread, home-cured German meats, home-made German cheeses and freshly-laid Namibian eggs. We finally reached the canyon at about 10, and it was already hellishly hot. But at least we had it pretty much to ourselves, as most of the tourists had long since retreated to those twin desert comforts of air-conditioning and ice-cold refreshments.
Almost as soon as we arrived at the spectacular, I-am-so-tiny-and-the-universe-is-so-enormous viewpoint, I started to sneeze. The canyon was a supersized geology lesson, and in between frantic bouts of sneezing I bored my wife with my pseudo-scientific understanding of sedimentary layers and meanders; fault-lines and sulphur springs. We took a few photos, and I sneezed a few more times.
We marvelled at the fact that anyone would ever contemplate hiking the canyon, let alone run the 90km route in under seven hours, as record-breaking trail-runner and certified lunatic Ryan Sandes has done. I sneezed a bit more, and we decided that the only possible cure for my unexplained affliction would be an ice-cold Coke. Next stop the Canyon Roadhouse.
The Roadhouse, with its enormous collection of automobile, farming and frontier paraphernalia, has acquired cult status throughout Namibia. The tables are squeezed between vintage cars, trucks, bakkies and tanks while the walls are adorned with original signage from Mobilgas, the AA and the like. Behind the bar there’s a collection of number plates which verges on being criminal.
After spending a few minutes admiring – and trying not to sneeze on – the displays, we took a table in the lovely wooded garden. I sneezed on the menus, while my wife ordered the Cokes and a slice of their famous Amarula cheesecake.
We were next to a table of foreign tourists on a photography safari. While they waited for their orders to arrive a few of them wandered off, enormous telephoto lenses at the ready, to see what shots they could get of the (impressively varied) resident birdlife, but as soon as their drinks came they flocked back like obedient guinea fowl chicks.
We couldn’t help but overhear a large German man (with an even larger lens) in obligatory sandals and socks explain to a timid Asian woman in obligatory floppy sunhat how to use the coffee plunger which had just been put in front of her.
“Zis is ze French Press,” he boomed, “You have not ze French Press in Korea?”
She shook her head.
“You must waiting three more minutes. I have ze stopwatch, OK?”
After what might have been the longest three minutes of my life, the Fuhrer finally spoke: “Now you may push the stick. Slowly,” he ordered, “Wery slowly,” his voice rose an octave and the Korean woman slowed her push to the point that from where we were sitting the stick had actually stopped moving altogether.
But still he was not happy. “More slowly than that!” he almost screamed, before grabbing the whole plunger from her hands and doing it himself.
At which point I sneezed. Again.
After that display, nothing could really compete and although the rest of our stay was pleasant in the extreme, we both knew that the highpoint of the holiday had come and gone and the next couple of days went by as a blur. I stopped sneezing. We almost drove over a rinkhals. And we chuckled at the main headline on the lunchtime NBC radio bulletin: “47 blankets have been delivered to residents of Luderitz.”
As the man said, “More slowly than that.”