Although I should probably put up some thoughts on the World Cup before my memory starts to fade, I realized I didn't actually take that many pictures and I promised some nice pictures on this post. So I will skip slightly ahead to my trip to Namibia which I went on shortly after the World Cup. I once again was lucky enough to go with a fantastic group and had a hell of a time.
There were some minor adventures before getting to Namibia. First was a trip to Kimberly to pick up a car. The trip down was pretty standard but the effort to get the car was extraordinarily difficult. My friend and I, being poor volunteers, could not cover the deposit. Since we had no other option other than to get to Upington to meet the rest of our group, we pleaded with the car company to find some way to lend us a car. In a fairly stunning display of customer service the two women who were helping us spent at least an hour finding ways to lower the price and then finally we were able to drive away. Returning the car turned out to be a much worse experience but that is a different story.
From Kimberley we booked it to Upington to stop over for the night. That night in Upington might have been the coldest night I have spent in South Africa. Sleeping outside and next to a river probably contributed to the experience but it was below 0 C well after the sun came up the next morning. We didn't stay in Upington very long but did a quick pass through so I don't have to much to say about the town other than it is fairly strict about it's citizens being up and alert on Sunday mornings. I say this because at about the time I was waking up and mustering up the will to get out of my sleeping bag, the morning church bells went off followed shortly after by an air raid siren. My friend and I agreed that we like the sound of church bells and that they are a positive contribution from churches and really a nice public service. The air raid siren on the other hand was just bizarre and obnoxious and I am sure it gets old very quickly if you happen to live in the town.
After leaving Upington, we were on a schedule to make it to Fish River Canyon so that we could hike from the rim down to river to make the next day a bit easier. After driving in cramped taxis so long even a fairly standard road trip was a treat. The major items of the drive were the border crossing, were one member of the group had some difficulties which were later sorted out, these massive birds nests built along the power lines (no pics), and the best meat pie in Namibia (located in a shell gas station, I got on the way back too).
After a long drive we finally arrived at the canyon. The view from the canyon rim was truly awesome, as in that which inspires awe. Like most things in life the picture does not really do it justice but it gives some idea. As I have said to just about everyone that I talked to before going on the trip, the Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world. Well, at least that was what I was told and was comfortable repeating it before I actually looked into it. Turns out it is debatable despite Wikipedia's assertion. This led to discussions on how "largest" canyon is quantified. There very well might be a perfectly good formula on how to determine a canyon's large-ness or maybe it is a more vague idea like "planet" used to be (sorry Pluto). I still haven't looked into it any further but from personal experience, the Fish River Canyon is definitely the second largest canyon in the world.
Leaving behind canyon superlatives, I think it was fair to say everyone was eager to get going and to start doing some backpacking. First we had to turn in all our forms which included a medical form saying we were fit enough to hike the thing. Then we had to find the trail head which we had some difficulty in finding. Finally, after a lengthy search we geared up, dropped the cars off and hiked in.
The descent was quite steep but was over after an an hour or so. With each step I was getting into backpacking mode which I find to be extremely comfortable. We hit the river around dusk and enjoyed a nice fire, ate a hearty meal and slept. The picture below shows what the terrain was like for the first couple of days, loose sand and large rocks. The novelty of the sand wore off quickly because it is strenuous to hike on and it also just gets into everything. My camera has some battle scars from the journey. The shutter no longer opens up fully and needs a little assistance. Unfortunately, I did not realize this until after I had taken a day and half worth of pictures. When you factor in all the pictures I take with my fingers in the way and just bad pictures in general it is lucky I came out of this trip with pictures at all.
When there wasn't sand to trudge on or boulders to scramble on, there were huge fields of rocks to break your ankle on. Reading sentences like that, you might think it was a miserable experience and at times it was hard but these kinds of challenges drive me into a even deeper state of backpacking meditation which I have already said I enjoy. The ankle-breaker rocks were often the best because it was a fun game to see how fast and how far you could get without stumbling. It should be noted that no one broke their ankle but everyone did get some pretty gnarly blisters.
One of the nicer stops along the way was a hot spring. Unlike the hot springs I went to in Hot Spring NC, you got to enjoy the spring from the source and it made all the difference in the world. Sure it was not that cold outside and the springs were scalding hot but the water was awfully nice on the aching muscles and sore feet. Sure it smelled pretty strongly of sulphur but the scenery outweighed the odor. And yes, we did run across a group of skinny-dipping college students but it made the experience much more primal.
The source of the spring. It was very hot. It was also very stinky. That's all I have to say about that.
Baboons-- we saw some! We saw a lot really but this is one of the better pictures I was able to take. It seems they are pretty accustomed to hikers because we were able to get fairly close. There was also an incident were one of the bolder baboons tried to steal one of our group member's pack. Let me describe the scene for you. All of us are unwinding and relaxing, talking about the day when the only person looking in the other direction snaps to attention mutters "Mother of God" and lets out a mighty baboon call. I turned around in time to see a rather large baboon drop the pack and flee. The baboon gave a little shriek of surprise when he got caught. I love everything about the situation, my fellow hiker's instincts were spot on beause he gave the warning in the correct language.
This was the part of the trip were we decided to take a shortcut. It turns out we hiked some ways out of the canyon and made our own shortcut. It added quite a bit of excitement to the end of out trip. Although we were misguided enough to get into the pickle in the first place, we were clever enough to get out of it so I guess we can just call it even.
The next day we hit the Ais-Ai resort which is conveniently located at the end of the canyon trail. I didn't get any pictures once we got to the end because I was too busy enjoying cold beer and french fries in the shade to be bothered to document the event. All-in-all a very worthwhile hiking excursion, I would certainly recommend it if you are ever in southern Namibia.