Hiking in Namibia
The Fish River Canyon in Namibia is Africa's longest canyon, and second in the world only to the Grand Canyon. Besides being an important conservation area, the canyon is home to a 90km hiking trail which attracts the young, the old, the fit and the not so fit. In fact the only thing all the hikers have in common is a desire to get from Hobas in the north to Ai-Ais in the south.
We got moving eagerly next morning, keen to embark on some nice easy walking and get to Ai-Ais as soon as possible to unwind in the hot springs there. We discovered, however, that either everyone to whom we had spoken that week had lied to us, or they had read a different dictionary definition of easy. It started wonderfully well with me walking in my glasses as it was too dark to see to put my contact lenses in. I was therefore walking far more slowly than usual as I didn't have the all-round vision to see where I was going in detail, I also got left behind in the hunt for a river crossing when I stopped to put my lenses in.
Finding a place to cross the river was also difficult since, at this point, it was fairly narrow and fast flowing, and we had no idea how deep it was. Eventually we found a spot where it looked fairly shallow and where there was a rock in the middle to aim at. We negotiated the crossing with difficulty, trying to balance against the flow of the water... even Sarah went slowly. However, the other family group also started at the same time as us and one of their number was not so careful. He was obviously keen to get going, and throughout the morning he walked as fast as he could, moving as steadily ahead of us, as we did from the rest of him party. He tried to cross the river a little further down from the spot where Mum was still struggling across and, going too fast, lost his footing and had to cling to the boulder mid-river to prevent himself been dumped in the water. It might be cruel, but that image amused and sustained us through the rest of the hike, particularly since once of his party managed to get a little over excited, crying out, 'He's washing away!'
The rest of the first part of the morning was continued in as invigorating a manner as we scramble up and down the riverbank, under, over and around boulders and stones. Eventually we came out onto the flood plain of the river, and saw to our immense pleasure that there was a nice gravel path running back down to the river. Unfortunately that was pretty nearly the only nice walking we got for the rest of the hike. We soon had to cross the river again - for the last time (we began to get nostalgic about it), and from then on we were walking on soft, warm sand nearly all the way to Ai-Ais, with the single exception of a small stretch of rocks, boulders and chocolate swiss roll sand banks, on which Sarah managed to slip.
The longer we went on, the more likely we felt we were to evolve into camels. We were exhausted, and even Dad was tired (widely acknowledged as unusual, previously thought of as impossible). The worst bit was that, as we went on, we kept meeting more and more people who were just on a nice day hike from Ai-Ais, where they were camping in style. They all were all amazed that we had hiked the whole canyon, and all said, 'Don't worry, the weir's just round the corner and Ai-Ais is only 5 minutes from there.' The problem was, that after 5 1/2 days hiking the Fish River Canyon the idea of things being 'just round the corner' or '5 minutes ahead' had come to have entirely different meanings, and we were sceptical of these little, daypack carrying strollers. In the event the 'just around the corner and then 5 minutes' took a little more than half an hour in blazing heat, and we arrived at Ai-Ais at about 11:30, 6 hours after we had started out. We ran up the path to the official trail end, and posed for the obligatory photo, loosened our packs and then limped off to find the car and restaurant.
Of course when we got the restaurant (or fast food stand as it more properly was) everyone looked at us like we were mad. We were hysterical at the sight of chairs and tables, and sunshades brought us more joy than we could ever have imagined... as for the lunch.... If you have read 'A Walk in the Woods' you might remember Bill Bryson raving about his first taste of Coca-Cola for a week. Believe me, he was not exaggerating, it was like tasting it for the first time. Coke never tasted that good before, and it never will again, it was pure sugary bliss perfectly complemented by the novel sensation of hot, sand free toasted sandwiches.
When we had recovered ourselves we went and bought a trail map and some certificates to be signed at the office to show that we had hiked the Fish River Canyon. Then we went to unwind gently in the hot springs. Our sunburn stung, our muscles relaxed, and only when we came out did we realise quite how much we needed a shower. The rest of the day need only be described briefly, the car journey passed in an air-conditioned haze, the shower and beds at the Canyon Road Lodge were something special, as was the dinner, and the amarula.
Next day we drove back up to Hobas and went to look at the canyon from the viewpoints. It was only then that we saw how little we had managed on the first 2 1/2 days. The distance from the trailhead to Palm Springs was tiny compared to the second section towards Ai-Ais, which wound off into a heat haze. As we looked at it, two thoughts came into our heads. The first was 'never again'. The second 'we walked terribly'. We are now reassessing the first thought, looking back fondly on our time of pain and thinking, 'Yes, maybe I would do it again, in about 5 years when the scars have faded.' If we do that we might even be able to prove that the second thought was a heat of the moment judgement, immortalised in the trail log:
'We Were Pants.'