Thursday, December 24, 2015

How I Love Les Poissons – Erich

After Sesriem and Sossussvlei, we headed south through Namibia. Our stop that night was the Duwisib Farm Guest House and Caravan Park. Great place. It is next to Duwisib Castle, this strange medieval castle in Namibia. The castle is out of place, but around it is a working cattle and goat farm. And on that farm is a campground.

We were the only ones staying. The ablution facilities were nicer than the bathrooms in any home I've ever owned. It was really a well built campsite.

But it was only a way station on our way further south. We were heading toward the Fish River Canyon. The next night, we stopped just a bit north of the canyon at the Cañon Roadhouse. In this campground, we were not alone. We had plenty of company, including a cat who seemed to adopt us for the night. The Cañon Roadhouse is a fascinating place. They have a restaurant/store that is decked out with old cars. Some of them are just show pieces. Others have been remodeled into fireplaces. And in the middle of it all is a huge wooden bar covered in license plates from many different nations.

The dinner was excellent. I had springbok steak. It was a different flavor than beef, a bit tougher to cut and chew, but very good. Syarra had sosaties (which essentially means kebabs) that had both springbok and oryx. Carver had a chicken schnitzel, and Alrica had butternut florentine. It was a crazy butternut squash dish, delicious, with sauce and all kinds of flavors I couldn't identify. Great dinner.

So in addition to seeing so many animals, we have now eaten a huge variety of unusual game in our time in Africa: springbok, oryx, kudu, and warthog.

The next morning we headed to Fish River Canyon. Now, the Fish River is an interesting exception in Namibia. First, it is one of the few rivers that has at least some water in it all year long. Second, it is called the Fish River. Why is this so strange?

Well, most rivers in Namibia have a name in a local tongue. So we saw the Usab River and the Koigab River among others. Even those that have western names, like the southern border of Namibia which is named for William of Orange, generally have the German spelling or other European spelling that is not English. The aforementioned southern border river is usually spelled the Oranje River. But the Fish River has a name in English. As far as I can tell, it is unique in that regard. (I thought maybe the German word for fish was fish, so I looked it up. No, apparently it is fisch. So this truly is an English spelling.)

Fish River Canyon

But far more jaw-dropping than the name of the river is the canyon through which it flows. It is both gigantic and geologically bizarre. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is amazing, and as you would expect, it is carved out by a river. But this canyon is different, only part of it is carved by a river. Let me explain.

The story starts millions of years ago, when there is a mountain range here. But over time, it gets eroded down to being a plain. And underneath is all this rock. Now, the sea moves in, and this part of Namibia is under a shallow sea for a long time. Layers of sedimentary rock get laid down on top of the old rock. The old rock, through time and pressure becomes super dense metamorphic rock. So now we have a deep layer of metamorphic rock and on top of it, many layers of sedimentary rock.

The sea recedes. But now it gets even better. A strange tectonic activity occurs. There are two parallel faults. Essentially, two hunks of rock (on the sides of the faults) are uplifted while the hunk of rock in between the faults sinks downward. So it makes something like a canyon. Though it isn't a canyon. It's called a graben (which means trench). As if this weren't enough, an ice age comes, and a glacier further carves out the graben, removing most of the layer of sedimentary rock in the lower part.

Ice age ended, a few hundred thousand years pass, and now a river starts flowing, the Fish River (though there are no people around yet to call it that.) The river follows the path of the graben, because it is the easiest way to go. But the base of the graben is this dense metamorphic rock, and the river doesn't have the power to cut down into it. So it cuts sideways, basically spreading out across the width of the graben, flattening it.

Then continental drift comes along, and the mountains where the river has its source are raised higher. Now the river is coming down at a steeper angle and has more force to it. Now it can cut through the metamorphic rock and starts cutting down into it like most river canyons.

More time (lots of it) passes and people arrive on the scene. And what do we have here? It looks like a canyon in a canyon. I suppose technically it is a canyon in a graben, but let's not split hairs.

The canyon is beautiful, huge, impressive. It makes you feel small like all great huge natural features do. It is difficult to capture the magnitude of it in pictures.

Fish River Canyon

From May to September, a limited number of hikers are allowed to hike into the canyon. But at most thirty per day. And when you get in, it is a five day hike down to the end where you get out. You have to pack everything with you going in, and pack everything with you coming out. Getting a permit for that must be done far in advance.

And the worst part is the beginning. We saw where the hikers begin their trek, and it is a steep (at times almost vertical) path. A few parts have a chain to help you, but many do not. It is supposed to be 1.5 km to reach the river from the beginning of the path with a nearly 500 m change in elevation. Some hikers take upwards of two hours to make the climb down. I don't think it is for me. I like to hike, but I don't think I want to hike anything that steep for that long carrying that much weight on my back.

Where the Five Day Hike begins

At the southern end of the Fish River Canyon is Ai-Ais. This is a natural hot spring (65 degrees Celsius). We camped here. It was very hot when we arrived, so we decided to take a nice swim in their swimming pool. Clearly the swimming pool is heated by water from the spring. No, it was not 65 degrees Celsius (which is 149 degrees Fahrenheit), but it was no cooler than the air outside. So we couldn't get any relief from the heat there. The only slight relief was when you stepped out of the pool and the water on your body evaporated. But that only lasted a few seconds. (And at the same time, the brick surrounding the pool was so super heated by the sun that you were nearly burning the souls of your feet.)

That was our last night in Namibia. The next day was crossing the border, which is an adventure I suppose, but not one that makes good reading. From there we headed all the way south to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. Of course, I have mentioned that in my post “Little Things Amuse Me” so there is no need to hash it out again.

If anyone is considering an African safari, I can say with some experience that a self-drive safari through Namibia is a very satisfying way to go.

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