Sunday Morning ~ Windhoek, Namibia
August 5, 2018
We’re in the capital city and have WiFi! Yay! It’s ridiculous how dependent we’ve gotten on this technology. Most of the places we’ve been have been so remote that even when it is supposedly available, it doesn’t work. When we tell the proprietor the wifi isn’t working they just shrug. But here it seems to be functioning, so hopefully this will get out today.
Our time in Namibia is about to come to a close. We’ll be leaving after breakfast to head east to Botswana, about a three hour drive from here. From there we will either push on to Maun, the center of all adventures in Botswana, or stay somewhere in the Kalahari on the way there. We’re still up in the air and are going to see what it’s like when we get there. Plus I don’t know how long it will take to cross the border so not sure if we’ll make it all the way to Maun which I think is about 700 kilometers.
We’ve been pampered more this week than during the whole trip combined. Last Sunday we were at the chalet at Ai-Ais and after George tripped and fell into the pool, fortunately without his cell phone, we had a nice swim as the sun came up on the canyon walls.The pool was heated by the hot spring there and though it wasn’t bathwater, it was lovely and we were the only two in the pool. The actual hot spring is too hot to get into, about 150 degrees. It has a stone wall around it and warning signs about how hot it is. After breakfast we walked into the canyon as far as we were allowed (6km) and were swarmed by little bugs the whole way. It made walking in the sand along the Fish River exceedingly unpleasant. We had to tie handkerchiefs over our nose and mouth to keep the bugs out. It brought home the reality of doing that whole five day hike. There’s no path; we were either navigating stones or walking in sand and it wasn’t super easy. Beautiful with the canyon walls around us, but we had to be continually swatting the bugs. Carrying a big pack would have been really hard. We were quite happy with the day hike and our cold beer and comfortable bed at the end of it.
I thought the canyon was situated like the grand canyon with a north and south rim, but it’s not. It’s an east and west rim. So on Monday morning we drove from Ai-Ais at the southern point, up the eastern rim to where I thought the lodge we’d booked was located. The lodge is not part of the National Park, it’s on private land, so hiking down into the canyon for a day is possible with a guide. That’s not allowed in the National Park unless you re one of the lucky ones who got permission to go down and do the five day hike out the other end. This may all sound confusing, and it is. We didn’t understand it and we’ve been reading books about it for a year and we were actually there. We still didn’t get it. The canyon is deep at the northern end and gradually drops off toward the south, so you hike down into it then five days later walk out of it. You don’t have to hike back up. As we drove along what we thought was the rim, we couldn’t see anything. Turns out the gravel road along the canyon is far from the rim, a 12 km drive down another road (only one) to the lookout point and the point where hikers descend. I thought the lodge was somewhere around there. It took us about an hour and a half to get there and when we got to the lookout point we actually could see the lodge. On the other side of the canyon, about 5km away as the bird flies and 300km away by road. George had said he didn’t think we could get to it from where we were, but I was sure there had to be a road to it, but no, turns out there isn’t. You can’t drive across the canyon. We had to go 130km north, 70km west, and 104km south. What I thought would take us thirty minutes took us five hours on gravel roads, BUT, oh, so worth it.
We pulled into this lodge just as the sun was setting after a 19km winding driveway to the canyon rim. The guidebook had said it was “84km from the main road, then 19km after a left turn to the lodge. With a two wheel drive vehicle this will take about an hour.” I took that to mean an hour from the main road but we soon realized they meant an hour after the turn onto the driveway. It was a winding gravely path with loose stones, and it was hard to go more then 20km/hr. But pretty. Very, very, pretty with quiver trees all along the road and the late afternoon sun giving their bark a beautiful golden glow. The lodge doesn’t look like much as you approach it. The main building is rectangular with an aluminum roof and the twenty chalets look like little square bunkers all in a row. You have to enter the main lodge through a large wooden door with two huge antlers for door handles and once you enter, in front of you is the canyon spread out before you. The scene is spectacular. It was designed this way, to have the guests see the view only after you enter the lodge. It is situated right on the rim, I mean closer than the viewpoint was on the other side. All the chalets are situated the same way, with the porch about two feet from the edge of the canyon. (I would not bring kids to this place) The chalets are made from local rocks and look almost as if they grew there. Unbelievable. There were guests sitting around on the deck having wine and two fires were burning in the central fireplaces in the big open room with a bar and sitting area at one end, and dining area at the other end. The canyon side was a huge wall of windows. It’s a brilliant design. The man who welcomed us looked surprised and said, “You are just arriving now?” I said, “Yes, it took a little longer than we thought, like five hours longer.” He laughed like he’d heard that before. We heard the next day that often a GPS will direct people to the lookout point (where we’d been on the other side) and they call the lodge to say, “Where are you? We’re here at the lookout and can’t see the lodge.” Then they are told to drive another 300km and they’ll see it. Anyway, we went to our chalet and both of us instantly said, “Let’s stay here an extra night.” Meals were all included and served by the fire (it was cold!) and the food was fabulous. I asked how they get all the supplies in there, and was told once a week a truck comes with the order of food, wine, and supplies. George asked if the owners lived on the premises and our waiter told us that, no, the owners were American. I said, really? What is their name? He said, “A family named Rockefeller.” Two farms that had been located on the edge of this canyon were acquired and made into a nature reserve and this lodge was built. I have to look into the history, but it is magnificent. There are platforms on the porch of each of the 20 chalets for yoga. They give you a mat at the reception along with a flashlight and earplugs in case the wind gets too loud. No water after 11p.m.as the generator is turned off and the water is all solar heated. The electricity is also by generator, but they are planning to make it all solar powered.
Tuesday we walked a trail for ten miles along the rim of the canyon. At one place we stopped to rest and watched some hikers from Brazil ascend from the canyon with a guide. We were considering doing this but weren’t sure how grueling it would be. We watched them come up, all of them in their 30’s and 40’s looking like they just stepped out of a Patagonia ad and they were dragging. They hauled themselves up the steep part, hanging onto the ropes bolted into the rocks and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not. We really want to hike down to the river even though we’d walked along it at the other end, but didn’t want to kill ourselves. We had a choice of half day to a plateau above the river, or full day down to the river. This group had done the half day hike and looked so beat we decided not to try the full day. We signed up for the half day hike and even that I was a little nervous about.
Wednesday at our early breakfast, Desi, our guide, brought us our bag lunch and three bottles of water each. We told him we didn’t need that much water but he said, “Take it. There’s no need to die.” A safari vehicle took us to the trailhead and Desi made us stand at the top and look down and agree we still wanted to do it. We also had to sign a waiver. It was making me a little more nervous, but I thought if we go slow, we can do it. Well, it turns out that Mt. Mulanje is way harder than this was. We were down to our destination in less than two hours. Desi entertaining us the whole way. When we got there he said this is where we eat our lunch. I said, “It’s only 9:30! I’m not even hungry yet!” I had stuffed my face at breakfast anticipating some marathon-like physical feat and while it took some effort and care, it wasn’t that hard. We talked and drank water at his insistence since he told us story after story of taking people down into the canyon and having them get sick from dehydration. We asked if anyone had ever gotten hurt and he told us about one Dutch guy two years ago slipped and fell a long way onto the rocks. Desi had to carry him out on his back and radio for help. I asked if a helicopter came to get him? He laughed and said, “A helicopter? In Namibia?” A small airplane came from Windhoek and took him the three hour flight to the hospital. He survived with multiple broken bones and internal bleeding, but he and his wife came back two years later to do the hike again. Desi said that was an emotional event to take the guy down again.
As we hiked out of the canyon, which I thought was easier than going down, he told us stories about learning to be a guide and what he had to go through. He talked about camping without a tent, training to come face to face with lions, facing elephants on horseback, and tracking leopards, all of it fascinating. I asked him what DO you do if you come face to face with a lion? He said, “Do not run. First of all, you are already dead. Do not run.” I laughed. I asked, “If you just stand there will they attack?” He said, “Yes, they will test you. Stand your ground. Don’t move. They will come at you three times. They will shove sand at you. Stand your ground. Do not move. After three times, they will walk away. When they walk away, do not move. When they lie down and look at you, move slowly away, but never turn your back.” I told him what I’d been told to do if you come upon a grizzly when hiking in Alaska, lie down and play dead, but he said, “Don’t do that with a lion. They will eat you if they see you move. And then they will get used to eating humans because they are so easy. No tough hide to chew through.” We were back at the top in two hours and I said, “Those people yesterday made it look so hard! I wish we’d gone to the bottom.” I wasn’t even tired! It was only 12:30. The vehicle came to pick us up and Desi said to the driver, “We didn’t even eat lunch. These people are killing me.”
We did another rim walk that afternoon, had another gorgeous dinner by the fire, and on Thursday morning we packed up to leave. It was one of the highlights of the trip, really. We were undecided about where to go next but had plenty of time to discuss it on the drive back to the main road. We considered going into South Africa to the Kgaladi Transfrontier Park, which is supposedly incredible, but you must have two nights reservation to even be allowed into the park. George called and they had one night available, so we took that and hoped for a cancellation, but when we called later there hadn’t been one, so we bagged that idea and headed north toward Windhoek.
That night we got as far as Rehoboth a funky town where a group of people, called Basters, made a settlement. The word “Basters” is refined from “bastards”. These are people who descend from European fathers and indigenous South African mothers and being mixed race were accepted by neither. In 1868 they lost their right to own farmland in South Africa so moved with their herds over the Orange River into Namibia and migrated further north. This happened over a three year period and during that time they wrote their own constitution, elected a leader, and finally settled in the highlands south of Windhoek. The name Rehoboth is from the bible and means a land where everyone is accepted (or something like that). This is all stuff we learned at the little museum in the town. Everyone there is light skinned and incredibly sweet and friendly. It is a strange place though. We stayed at the one hotel in town which was very basic and the proprietors looked a tiny bit inbred. (The woman at the museum definitely did.) As we were checking out, amidst sincere thanks and goodbyes, we told the older women at the hotel we’d love to visit again. They said, “Yes! And bring some boyfriends!” And the young women in the kitchen were all looking out at us nodding their heads.
We left there and drove to Windhoek, the capital, and checked into another funky little guesthouse, all painted different shades of purple. We walked all over the city, visited craft markets, the botanical garden, and Joe’s Beer House. There is a biltong festival going on outside the city, but we passed on that, enjoying being out of the car for a couple of days. Now we will head east, into the Kalahari Desert, which, I learned isn’t a desert at all because it gets too much rainfall. We’ll learn more about that I guess as we immerse in it.
In less than a month we’ll be home. I’m looking forward to being home, but also a little sad to think of ending this great adventure. It’s been so much fun to be loose and free. I’m so grateful. George is such a great traveling companion. We’re on the same page most of the time with desire for activity and excitement about the next day’s discoveries. And we’re keeping it simple. So much is good.
Now to see if I can post this and maybe get some photos on Facebook….
Love to all,