Splish Splash

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
Trip End Nov 09, 2009

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Where I stayed
Ai Ais Lodge

Flag of Namibia  ,
Monday, October 5, 2009

The distance from Cape Town to Victoria Falls is a whopping 5,300 km. (almost 3,300 mi.) and there are at least two long drives and today is one of them. From Citrusdal to the Namibian border is 520 km. (323 mi.) and then it is another 100 km. (62 mi.), of which the last 82 km. (51 mi.) is on a hard packed gravel road to our destination tonight.

The temperature is cool when we depart at 7:30 AM under a high overcast sky.  We pass one orange grove after another with their white blossoms looking like bouquets on the trees.  Vineyards mix with the orange groves.  At one pit stop we buy a 5 kg. (11 lb.) case of mandarin style oranges for just 30 Rand (about $4.25 US).

The clouds cannot restrain the sun's rays and by 9:30 they begin to sprinkle across the landscape; by 10 AM it is mainly sunny and by 11 AM there are no clouds left and it lasts for the duration of the day.

Just south of Springbok, 400 km. (248 mi.) north of Citrusdal, we stop for a picnic lunch.  Tables are brought out, and so are containers with dishes and utensils, table cloth and dish towels, mixing bowls, cups and chairs.  Everyone helps out and within no time, fixings for sandwiches are prepared (sliced meat, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced beets, onions, and lettuce).  Everyone lends a hand in the preparation, cleaning, and stowing away the equipment and, as a result, in 40 minutes we’re heading down the road again.

We stop in Springbok to gas the truck and the crew buys more food supplies.

As we head further north, the landscape becomes more barren.  We finally reach the South African / Namibian border at 4:25 PM and are processed within 40 minutes.  The South Africans are building a brand new border crossing at this location and want it ready in time for tourists traveling to see the 2010 World Cup.

Namibia is a relatively new country having obtained its independence in 1990 after 106 years of rule by South Africa and, prior to that, by Germany, England and the Netherlands.  Namibia is a big country, four times as large as the United Kingdom and bigger than Texas.  However, the population is only 1.8 million. 

The landscape changes dramatically once inside Namibia.  It is very barren and rocky.  The shrubbery and greenery that we have seen on the mountains has now changed to various hues of granite and the occasional quartz.  There are many plants that have adapted to desert life and many have some poisonous attributes to them for both humans and animals.  It’s their survival and defense mode in the desert.

Often called the "Land God made in anger" because of its stark, surreal landscapes, untamed wilderness, harsh environment, and rare beauty, Namibia was carved out by the forces of nature.  The same savage, continuous geological movements produced not only spectacular beauty but also great mineral wealth – diamonds, uranium, platinum, lead, zinc, silver, copper, tungsten and tin – all the cornerstone of Namibia’s economy.  Humans have lived here for thousands of years.  The San (Bushmen) are the earliest know people, although their hunting gathering way of life is now almost extinct.

About 16 km. (10 mi.) from our destination, our driver stops the truck and inspects the front end.  We are not sure if there is a tire problem but we definitely smell gas.  We are told later that the truck has a small leak in a diesel pipe (oh yes, this is a real Mercedes Benz copy!).

It is 6:30 PM when we arrive at the Ai Ais Lodge, 11 hours after we left Citrusdal.  We don’t think that we saw 12 other vehicles on the road during the entire time.

Ai Ais is a word in the Nama language that means “burning waters”, referring to the sulfurous hot springs where the lodge is situated.  The lodge itself is run by Namibian Wildlife Resorts (a government agency) and it has just completed a brand new wing which is the one we are staying in tonight. 

The new wing of the lodge is astounding.  There are several indoor hot pools and a cool pool on the ground floor below the rooms.  Our room is large, with twin beds, huge bathroom, a large indoor sitting area with two chairs and coffee table and an outside balcony with two chairs and coffee table.

There is also a campground at Ai Ais.  The facilities are fantastic.  Several full kitchen facilities and we mean full including electric stove and oven, wash areas and full-length counter space.  There are many brick BBQs scattered throughout the campground.  The washrooms are clean and very new, complete with dual flush toilets and really big showers.  The grounds are immaculate as are the rest of the facilities.  The cost per night is $40 US.

It is only a short time before we meet for dinner at 7 PM and then, having feeling the effects of the long drive, it’s off for a good night’s sleep.

The truck is fixed early morning and is ready for us to depart at 9:30 AM for the 77 km. (48 mi.) sojourn to Fish River Canyon.    Along the way we stop to take a closer look at a Quiver tree, so called because the bushmen used the bark to make quivers to hold their poisonous arrows.  The Quiver tree is Nambia’s iconic equivalent to the east African tree top acacia tree.  The leaves of a Quiver tree are like aloe vera, and the bushmen put the milk of the leaves on their face for sun protection.  They also boil the leaves when their stomach is not feeling well. 

We are driving along again when our driver/guide suddenly brakes.  We all look to see what the matter is.  Whoa, a snake is crossing right in front of the truck.  This is the first time we have encountered a snake on our safari.  It is about 1.5 m. (5 ft.) long.  Our guide tells us it is a rinkhal.  Although not as fast as the black mamba (which has been measured doing 20 km (12.5 mi.) per hour with its head in a striking position), they are as extremely dangerous and their venom goes directly to the central nervous system which means that survival is slim to see you later.

The suspension and ride of the truck is very hard and every bump turns the truck into a huge vibrator – a feel good time for some of the passengers, not so feel good for others.

We eventually arrive at Fish River Canyon and boy, is it expansive!  It is second in size only to the Grand Canyon.  It is 160 km. (100 miles) long, up to 27 km. (17 mi.) wide, and a depth of up to 550 m. (1,804 ft.).  The canyon took over 600 million years to evolve.  Today, the Fish River flows intermittently, leaving behind a chain of long narrow pools on the sandy floor of the chasm, and perennial hot springs that gush out of the earth at Ai Ais.

We get out at a viewpoint and hike 2 km. (1.2 mi.) back along the canyon’s rim towards another viewpoint.  We have some awesome views from the canyon’s edge and take many photos and a video to capture the extreme expansiveness of this natural wonder.

By now it’s time for lunch and the crew stop at Hobas, site of the National Park gate for Fish River Canyon, and we again start to prepare for another picnic lunch.  This time, everyone gets into it and it is quite evident that all are having a good time and enjoying participating in this type of event.  A massive potato salad is constructed using eggs and potatoes boiled from this morning, can peas and corn, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, with onions and grated cheese on the side.  A sufficient supply of buns and condiments and away we go! 

It’s a straight run back to Ai Ais from Hobas.  We can’t wait for a dip in one of the three pools at the lodge.  It’s no contest.  Splish, splash we are taking a bath in the outdoor hot pool (although the temperature is only about 39 C (102 F)).  We relax beneath the multi-colored mountains, clear blue sky and warm sun and it takes 1 hours before we emerge from it.

We have a drink before dinner, a dinner which our crew is preparing in the campground.  We arrive shortly before 7 PM and there is the sweet aroma of meat sizzling on the fire.  We are treated to lamb steaks, boerewors, pap, and cabbage (all traditional African dishes) and do they taste great.  Everyone is really enjoying the meal and camaraderie under the stars and the group is continuing to get closer and more cohesive with each event.  This group is certainly punctual, sociable, respectful and have the same mindset with respect to traveling in Africa – all necessary ingredients for a good group.

It’s an early night as it is going to be an early start tomorrow as it is another long day of traveling.
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