Tom started the day being violently sick, which was a bit of a surprise to all of us, and particularly him. Thankfully it came and went and he quickly perked up, though his breakfast was a piece of bread.
The Fish River Canyon is 20k further down the gravel road, and all the more exciting because you can’t see it from a distance. From the parking area we walked up to the brim, eyes fixed on our feet. Then, “1,2,3 look!” and we all raised our eyes together to look out over the canyon.
It was almost too big to take in. Still and silent, snaking off into the far distance. It is less than six hundred meters deep but up to 23KM wide, and in the bottom, a sliver of green water. At this time of year it is in pools rather than a flowing river, but some pools have fish in them apparently.
The canyon is so deep and the walk so precipitous that day visitors aren’t allowed down into it. If you want to walk into the Fish River Canyon you have to do the 80KM trail over five days with a guide, a head for heights and something other than flip-flops. We only had a morning so settled for a 5k walk along the rim instead. Here and there the path veered within a few feet of the edge and took your breath as you looked down into the rocky void. The path ended at a narrow outcrop where the five day walk starts. There are chains for the way down and the path was so steep it vanished at the first switchback.
Back at the parking area we got in the truck to drive along the 4×4 trail the other way along the brim, stopping where it ended and walking through cacti and rocks to a flat stone looking down into the canyon. It was the perfect lunch spot until several car loads of German tourists decided they too would like to come to where we were sitting to take photos and talk as though they were at a party. Its weird isn’t it? There we were, way off the path which follows the rim, at a spot which is really no different from any other part of the rim and yet because we were there, other people want to go there too. I wanted to ask them whether they realised that actually the canyon is quite large and that we weren’t required to all bunch up in one teeny tiny bit of it, but being English we grimaced and bore it instead. And actually, while I’m feeling irritated here’s another thing. I’m convinced that one day it will be impossible to go to any natural wonder – no matter how difficult or remote the journey – without finding a profusion of stone cairns that various witless tourists have decided will somehow improve it. Clearly the Fish River Canyon – or for that matter the Sesriem Gorge – aren’t nearly as impressive without a series of small stone piles to interrupt the view. I’ve said it before (see the Trollsteigen entry in our Norway trip) and I’ll say it again; it is vandalism, stone graffiti, selfish, stupid and annoying. So stop it already!
Eventually of course the other tourists departed, chattering away, and we were left to gaze into the deep stillness and listen to the breeze whishing around the rocks. It is a grand spot. Africa’s biggest canyon and one of Namibia’s least visited sites. It really is a long way from anywhere and we had to start heading back north.
Less than two hours drive away is the grandly named Mesosaurus Fossil Camp. Its a little farmstead 30K down a dirt road where some of the oldest fossils in the world were discovered, quite by chance. Its a homely place with a few thatched huts for visitors. We scurried up to a viewpoint in a stand of quiver trees to watch the sunset.
Once again we felt to be on another planet surrounded by these extraordinary spiky succulents that can live for hundreds of years.
We’d booked a meal and they assured us that they had taken on board the fact that Philippa is vegetarian. So while Tom and I were given a platter of barbecued meat to feed a family of five, Philippa was given the meat-free alternative of grilled chicken. Namibia is so firmly meat-focused that not eating animal meat really does not compute. So she had a big bowl of Greek salad, pickled cabbage and homemade bread and we put the chicken in our fridge for T and me to have another day. Its a smashing little place though – very much like staying at a holiday home that has been in the same family for a long time. They couldn’t have been nicer and after eating in a rough stone room with a gravel floor we sat around a fire outside and marvelled at the speckled sweep of the Milky Way.