Food, Fraud, and Fish River Canyon

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
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Trip End Feb 13, 2011


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Sunday, June 13, 2010

We dismounted the truck in Swakopmund to be greeted by the salty smell of the Atlantic Ocean and the feel of the freezing ocean breeze!

           Everyone was very excited as we would be in dorms for the next few nights, that's right- actual BEDS! We quickly separated into 3 dorms, threw our stuff down and headed into town. It’s very hard to describe the novelty of walking along streets and seeing shops when you’ve been in the bush for a while. Even despite our regular pit stops at various somewhat third world supermarkets along the way to buy food supplies. Swakopmund was a very western town, our first taste of 'civilization’ as we knew it for some time.

            As it was a Sunday most of the shops were closed but we managed to find one clothes shop open (the famous-amongst-all-girls-on-our-truck Mr Price! -a joyous Primark style establishment). Marks shoe soles had been coming apart and flapping as he walked since Vic Falls, and following an unfortunate flip flop breakage in Botswana had been looking like a tramp for some time, so we headed in to buy some new shoes. After much grumbling about having to spend money on shoes, cursing the makers of his old shoes, lamenting over how "nothing is made to last these days" etc, we found a suitable pair and headed to the counter. Alas, our card didn’t work in their machines so we headed across the road to an ATM.

            The ATM like a lot of places in Africa was a small inlet in a building (an actual small room you walk into- not just a hole in the wall) with an armed security guard standing inside. Mark withdrew money and we were just heading out when a group of three guys who were waiting behind us stopped him explaining in broken English that his transaction hadn’t completed on the machine. There was a big hoo-hah involving our card going back in the machine and them all crowding around Mark. Eventually he got his card back (the security guard was no help what-so-ever) and we left quickly. The whole incident was pretty scary but whatever they were trying to do, they didn’t get hold of any money or the card at the end of it. However, we thought it was still probably a good idea to tell our bank about it incase anything dodgy had happened so we went straight back to the hostel to call them.

After that traumatic saga we decided to cheer ourselves up with a KFC lunch- our first fast food since leaving the UK- and it went down a treat!

We spent the next few days in a relaxed fashion. Strolling around town, watching football and eating. There was one restaurant just next to our hostel that served the most amazing food, a 3 course meal with drinks worked out to about 20 pounds and the food was to die for. Calamari, muscles, and Kudu steak which you could cut with a butter knife! In the evenings we would meet with our truck mates and play pool and have a few drinks. It was like having a mini-holiday from ‘roughing it’ in our truck and by the time we boarded her again on the Wednesday we were all rested and rearing to go.

After a long drive day, we finally pulled off the road just as the sun was going down and set up camp. It was so windy that our campfire was blowing along the ground kicking out no heat what so ever. Our tour leader was in bad spirits as he’d fallen off a quad bike and ended up in hospital the day before and was in a lot of pain. We all decided an early night was needed (and would be warmer than outside). That night as we lay freezing in our tents, rocks poking our backs and the wind blowing so hard the roof was nearly on our faces- our cozy dorm rooms in town, late nights, drinking and socializing seemed a million miles away.

The early start the next morning was as freezing as the night before and as we drove on we were all wrapped in our sleeping bags with the sides sealed up on the truck. After a few hours the truck stopped, the back door opened and our driver came aboard. Normally our tour leader Iain does this whenever we reach a new destination, telling us what’s where and how long we’re there for. However as he was crippled as aforementioned, our Paul Hogan-esque driver, not famed for mincing his words stood there and said: “Well. If you could see outside, you’d see a bloody big sand dune over there. It’s bloody windy and you can’t see squat. But we’ve paid a hellava lot of money to get in here so if you wanna go outside, be my guest. We’re leaving in 5 minutes.”

The original plan was to not only visit the dunes, but to go on a guided walk around them, learning about how they are created and the animals that live there. Instead- we poked our heads out the door and could see nothing but orange sand in the air, which, as it hit you at speed, felt like thousands of pins stabbing you in the face. A few of us stepped outside, most people stayed in their sleeping bags on the truck! And after a few minutes, sand in every orifice, we set off again.

By breakfast time the wind had died down a little and we had bread and peanut butter on the truck while a few crazy people (Mark amongst others) went and actually tried to climb one of the dunes. That night we all had sand in every nook and cranny, which unbeknown to us at the time, we would be finding for days! That night was another cold and needless to say, windy one. A group of people was assigned to stand around the gas rings used to cook the food just as a windbreak as they kept going out. Nevertheless moral was high and as usual we were entertaining ourselves. This night saw the creation of a particularly humorous version of “harder, faster, stronger”’ by a Norwegian guy with alternative world-cup based lyrics. Other entertainment included thinking of new lyrics to “I got soul but I’m not a soldier” in the same vein as Bill Bailey’s “I got Ham but I’m not a Hamster”. (Alternatives such as “I got tea but I’m not a teacher” and “I got pie but I’m not a pilot”), or simply singing ‘rounds’ such as London’s burning. This may sound mind numbing to anyone reading this from the comfort of a first world environment but with no electricity simple things are very amusing.

Speaking of which- that night, our brave and battered tour leader had an announcement. He said that he and our driver were not who we thought they were. They were in fact secret assassins, and they wanted us to join them. Everyone was given a secret target and the mission was to assassinate your victim by throwing a sock at them. However, if anyone saw you throw your sock and shouted “assassin” you failed. Various rules applied such as the sock having to fully leave your hand and you have to retrieve it after the hit, tents and the toilet were safe zones etc. If you killed a person you took on their target and so it would continue until there was one ultimate assassin left. Queue an evening of paranoia, everyone with socks in their pockets, no one standing near each other eyes all over the place. Needless to say I was killed almost immediately- I have never been very vigilant!

The next morning we set off to Fish River Canyon, people were still on edge in the back of the truck, and despite another cold uncomfortable night of bad sleep, no one was risking having a nap while we drove lest they get assassinated! The canyon was an amazing sight. I especially enjoyed it as I was already dead and therefore not watching over my shoulder every 5 minutes like Mark. The rules of the game were that it couldn’t be spoken about so no one knew who was still in or out but it was pretty obvious when you watched out for who was being jumpy and who wasn’t. (I feigned assassination attempts a few times to freak people out and see them scream “Assassin!!” –You should have seen the hikers who were walking around the canyon’s faces!)

Whilst soaking up the scenery Mark was ‘killed’ which made him thoroughly grumpy. However it was a blessing in disguise as we then enjoyed a nice walk along the canyon without having to watch our backs. Eventually the wind was picking up again so we piled onto the truck whilst waiting for a few stragglers to get back. It transpired at this point that only 2 people were left in the game so an elaborate ambush unfolded involving Esmerelda climbing into a storage locker lying in wait for Danny to walk past- jumping out and killing him, therefore winning the game!

Tomfoolery out of the way (for the time being) we proceeded to our next campsite next to Orange River. On the opposite bank was South Africa!

A few days previously our tour leader had decided to blow the entire cook group budget on cheese for this night, wisely entrusting a French girl on our truck with the task of shopping for us. We were given forewarning of this so each person bought a bottle of wine for the occasion, and so we had a very civilized wine and cheese party. At least it was civilized for a few hours, it went down hill quickly after the cheese disappeared and the wine continued to flow.  

The next day, with muzzy heads, we crossed the border into South Africa.
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Comments

Julie on

Why was Mark killed? I mean he doesn't lose. Was it georges fault for not telling him there was a ditch next to the road? Did he have sweaty hands? Or an injury? I can't believe he got grumpy about losing!!

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