Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

Liquid Insobriety, a Deserted Spa, and a little History

Located in the south of Namibia, close to the border of South Africa, Fish River Canyon is the largest gash in the African continent, and second only in the world to North America’s Grand.

During the colonial era, there was much oppression, genocide and marginalisation in Namibia. The colonial authorities (mainly German) in the south waged a war of extermination against indigenous tribes. Southern Namibia, and the area around Fish River Canyon, was the location of the longest running military action in the history of African Colonialism. Between 1779 to 1879, there were tensions between various europeans (mainly the Dutch and British) and intense quarrels over land for farming, with the Xhosa tribes of the western Cape. The result was much fisticuffs, and nine main intense quarrels.

Although swamped in history, the gorge is what we have come to see. Formed through water and wind erosion, and also due to the collapse of the valley floor (following tectonic plate movement), in places it has a depth of up to 550 meters. It is approximately 160 km long and up to 27 km wide. It’s over 500 million years old, with part of the strata having formed as far back as 650 million years. The Orange River runs through it’s guts and sites here indicate that humans have used the area for at least a million years, with tools of 800,000 years being found. Most of it is unstudied. Some of the ancient cave paintings and rock art here have been radiocarbon-dated back 27,000 years; making them amongst the oldest known artwork in Africa.

Now a tourism-focused “resort” with hot springs; catering for all the hikers and campers who endeavour to take on the length of Africa’s canyon in the cooler months (it’s at least a four day hike between May to September), Ai Ais is at the south end of the giant, Fish River Canyon.

In November, we are the only people here. The river at this time of year is simply a chain of stagnant water pools. A large troop of baboons are semi-aggressively loitering around our camp, at various heights around the hotel and campsite, and up the cliff faces either side of the gorge. Last night the troop made unearthly, guttural, scowling noises as we heard a leopard, presumably abduct one of them for its supper. The larger apes, along with the rest the crew will defend their patch and troop to their death. Although a leopard wouldn’t take on a possessive male lightly (male baboons have the longest tooth-fang of all African mammals), the snarling sounds and ear-piercing screeches from the baboons moving along the canyon, it seemed the feline escaped with both its life and a meal. The only thing that loudly-escaped me was a few hours of blissful sleep.

The hot springs are roughly 65 degrees centigrade – too hot to jump in. There are a couple of indoor pools which have been cooled and an outdoor pool which is just as hot due to the ballistic sunshine which keeps it simmering throughout the day. A discreet night swim with our solar torches is just the ticket! Even though I’m sure the night security didn’t care if we swam or not, I get the distinct feeling they’d rather we didn’t. Baboon sleep patterns are similar to our own, so unless, like us, they’ve indulged into liquid insobriety and also decided on a hairy dip in the warm pool before bedtime, we won’t be back-stroking next to an unfamiliar, dangerously-fanged, drunk cousin in the dark.

There is a small spa here which is overwhelmed by hikers in the busy months. Aches and pains are plentiful after people have (hopefully) completed the hike through the winding rock crevice of roughly 88 kilometres which has no amenities on route. Unfortunately for us, in November, they don’t let hikers in. It’s too hot, too dry, and supposedly too risky. Although like an acquaintance with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder); who reveals multiple characters throughout each year, the canyon doesn’t appear to have trouble remembering the moments it lives through. Each event is etched in the earth with colours, with new gouges in the cliffs, piles of shifted rocks, and penetrations into rough and compacted ground. You can even find a record of the dead.

Depending on the seasonal conditions, the gorge is full of steep descents, loose boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, fast flowing water, opportunistic baboons, sun worshipping, beautiful snakes and misunderstood scorpions. Even in the season when they allow you to hike, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism require you to have a medical certificate stating you are fit! Permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September, but even in this time period, the gorge is susceptible to flash flooding. Temperatures normally vary between 5 °C and 30 °C with little humidity, however extreme weather along with temperatures reaching a toasty 48 °C in the day and 30 °C at night are not uncommon….as we are finding out!

They obviously don’t make any money from charging people to set off without the shuttle bus from the far end of the hike. People fear we wouldn’t make it out in one piece…or at least with money left in our pockets. With it being the over-lawful and bureaucratic Germany….sorry, Namibia, allowing us to hike the gorge simply isn’t an option. We check it out from the various viewpoints along the gravel track on it’s south rim.

With the entire facility to ourselves, we make use of all the pools. While one of our guests enjoys their first ever body massage, we relax in the waters and breath in a bit of peace and quiet. We all while away the afternoons hatching out new and far fetched, likely dangerous plans for business in the future. The goats, the ropes, some bedouin enterprises, a husband for Penelope, and a big red bus are all considered again during our boozy afternoons. Our semi-secret river expedition which is likely the most dangerous idea seems to be the main topic of discussion again, and has been for the past couple of years. Maybe we just need a few interested investors, and a few extra team members. I’ll discuss it more later.

After this section of Namibia, we ventured south into South Africa, but for you readers of intrepidness, I’ve already written a few things on the Southern country. Next, my typing digits head north, to the pan handle of Nambia. There’s a long journey east towards Victoria Falls…

One comment on “Liquid Insobriety, a Deserted Spa, and a little History

  1. Anonymous
    September 16, 2018

    Wow……just, wow……

    Liked by 1 person

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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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