As said: after we got our vehicle registration and second covid shot, we made the booking to hike the Fish River Canyon with Lut and Gerhard and Gavin and Lee.
Now all our prep to go to Namibia got into fifth gear: last minute shopping, sorting out documents and necessary paperwork, doctors visit and a last pre-hike Indaba at Lut’s house before we left Cape Town. Knowing we travel a bit slower than either Gavin and Lee in their Moglet or Lut and Gerhard in their campervan, we left Cape Town on Monday.
Later that day we got an official email from niece Steffi, confirming she would be joining us on the hike too… yeay! We aimed to be in Springbok by Wednesday at the latest for our PCR test to cross the border into Namibia.
When we filled up with diesel in Piketberg we couldn’t resist taking a photo of the ‘Cape Namibia Route’ sign. Although we have passed these signs on various occasions while spending time in the Cape lately, this was the first time we were totally excited, because this time we were really going to start our travelling into Namibia!
We made a small detour to Nieuwoudtville hoping to see another spectacular flower display like we had seen the year before. Although the Knersvlakte between Vanrynsdorp and the Vanryns Pass had much more flowers than we remembered from last year, Nieuwoudtville had not yet a flower in sight. We had to admit: we were about six weeks earlier than the period we had seen them the previous year. We made a quick turn around back to Vanrynsdorp, to continue on the N7 to Springbok. We spent the night in Kammieskroon, where a few of the gardens sported vibrant clumps or orange daisies. (bottom picture: Nieuwoudtville now versus Nieuwoudtville last year)
Next morning we left early and arrived mid morning in Springbok. Our first port of call was the Pathcare Laboratories for our PCR test. We filled out the paperwork and were told to come back at 2pm for the actual swab. Don’t know what was wrong with my nose, but the nurse tried the swab in the first nostril, apologised she couldn’t get to the right spot and asked if she could try the other nostril. Unfortunately this didn’t seem to work either and she eventually asked if she could get the swab up the back of my throat. It seems she was succesful then, but put me in a coughing fit that made me gasp for breath and made the tears run out of my eyes. Half a cup of water later, the scratchy throat slightly improved. Stefaans swab was quick and without problems and now we just needed to wait for the results. Although we had read somewhere on the internet that the Springbok Hospital was a qualified lab for the PCR test, the nurse told us that all tests were sent to Cape Town.
So we decided to find a caravan park and wait for our results there so we could print them out in town before leaving for the border. We parked next to a field full of flowers, did some laundry and at one certain moment a helicopter flew over with a gigantic ‘thing’ hanging from it. To today we have no clue as what that ‘thing’ might have been.
Later in the afternoon, we had all sorts of copies made at the local pharmacy and had them all certified at the police office. When we received our PCR results the next day we quickly wanted to have them printed but luck was not on our side: the electricity in town was out and nobody could help with prints.
So we left the flowery streets of Springbok behind us, hit the sandy and rocky semi desert of the Northern Cape and were lucky enough that someone in Steinkopf could help us to print our PCR results.
Now we had all our stuff to cross the border!
Namibia … here we come!
We arrived at the South African border post in Vioolsdrift and passed through without a hitch. Then we crossed the Orange River, which is the natural border between the two countries and saw the sign to welcome us into Namibia. A bit further we arrived at the Namibian border post and once again… passed through without a hitch.
Of course we had to take a photo of Trokkie being welcomed in Namibia.
Just past the border posts we filled up with diesel for the first time on Namibian soil. We headed in the direction of Aussenkehr and Ai Ais, where we would meet the rest of the team. We passed a dry and rocky river bed and decided to free camp there and then, with a glass of wine to celebrate our first night in Namibia.
Next morning we continued to Aussenkehr to buy a Namibian sim card. The security guard at the local Spar was extremely chatty and helpful when he saw us looking confused at the machine where you could buy airtime. Seeing we only had South African Rand and the machine only takes Namibian Dollars, he quickly asked one of the other customers to swop money. And when we had our voucher, he just asked to borrow another customer’s phone to explain what numbers to dial to load the airtime. Very friendly and helpful! The only network card available was TN which, we discovered later, was not the best one for coverage. But seeing we would disappear into the canyon very soon, it didn’t really matter as the data we had bought was only valid for 7 days.
It was a weird experience to drive for hours through rocky and sandy landscapes but getting closer to Aussenkehr, to see extensive vineyards and palm plantations. Obviously the Orange River is a valuable source of lifegiving water. (farmlands photo courtesy Henlo du toit photography on Aussenkehr website)
The township outside Aussenkehr was also a surprise: not a sink shanty town like we mostly see in South Africa, but heaps of reed and grass huts and structures alternating with sink and wood structures.
We continued to Ai Ais via windswept desert landscapes teeming with tiny flowers and camo-beetles that moved so fast you could almost not focus long enough to actually see what they were. It was pure luck one got to stand still next to my boot long enough to take a photo. The beetles looked almost like the little stones and pebbles on the desert floor.
Closer to Ai Ais the sandy desert made place for the more robust and rugged rock mounds. It looked as if a giant has shaped the road by scooping up the rocky rubble and dumping it in piles next to the road.
We eventually arrived at Ai Ais and set up camp at the far spot of the campsite where the canyon hike ends. In the next two days before we would start, we cheered on several teams as they arrived back in camp after their hikes.
We also got up close to the lone baboon roving around in the campsite as he climbed up the steps of Trokkie and was sitting inside, eyeing our dustbin with recently discarded banana peels, while we were inside ourselves. He wasn’t fazed, but I was very much taken by surprise. Stefaan chased him out and we decided to close our bottom door and all unnecessary windows as long as we were in camp.
Later that afternoon Gavin and Lee arrived, and next afternoon Lut and Gerhard and Steffi arrived too. We met some other hiking parties and were grateful that one party gave us their Slingsby map (which proved much better than the small map we had bought earlier in the resort shop) and Gavin and Lee got to know Berta and her team who, after hearing that some of us didn’t have gaiters, eventually lend us theirs. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the hot water spring swimming pool (just divine!!! my kinda temperature) and had a last braai before we decided on a reasonable early night. Tomorrow would be the big day: the 5 day hike in the Fish River Canyon.
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