Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ai-Ais and the Fish River Canyon: Burning Water and Vertigo

Following our dusty and bumpy drive, we arrived at Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort.  Ai-Ais means burning water (for the hot springs) and the “resort” is situated on the banks of the Fish River, near the end of the canyon of the same name, which we had come to this area to see.  It is a bit of a stretch to call our odd accommodations a resort, but German tourists seem to have come from far and wide to stay at Ai-Ais.  There is an outdoor pool fed by the hot springs, as well as an indoor pool (pictured here) just outside our room.  We thought the pools were a little dirty, but apparently the speedo-clad Germans and Afrikaaners didn’t mind.

We used what little daylight was left to explore (and find the perfect sundowner location).  There is a five-day/50 km hike through the Fish River Canyon that ends at Ai-Ais, so we set off up the riverbed in the canyon to see what the hike was like (at least the end of it).  It’s dry season, so the Fish River is completely dry in places and in others is just a trickle – this makes it the perfect, albeit sandy, hiking path.  Even trudging through the sand, we quickly left Ai-Ais behind and were on our own, or so we thought until we ran into these guys:

At Aus, our next stop, there are definitely wild desert horses and we were thrilled to find a small group of them before that.  Even though they were skittish, they didn’t immediately bolt like many of wild animals, so we picked a nearby rock as our sundowner/horse watching location.

We devoted Saturday to a more complete exploration of the Fish River Canyon.  Bright and early, we drove 50 km through the desolate landscape to the main viewpoints.  Turning west into the national park at Hobas, a short drive brought us to the edge of the canyon, which appears out of nowhere in the desert.

The Fish River Canyon is said to be the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon).  Although we won’t be able to compare the two until February, the sight of the Fish River snaking its way through the steep cliffs was quite magnificent, although difficult to capture in photos.

Many visitors simply stopped at the main viewpoint and headed back out of the park again, but we were quite happy to spend our day exploring the canyon edge.  From the main viewpoint, we hiked to the so-called “Hiker’s Viewpoint,” where the path steeply descends into the canyon for the official five-day hike.  Our guidebook indicated that too many people had been injured or killed on day hikes into the canyon, so such excursions are no longer allowed. 

From the “Hiker’s Viewpoint,” we continued to various other poorly signed viewpoints (Namibian national parks do not seem to be as well organized as their South African counterparts).  Accidentally driving down a 4x4 only road and hiking along various unmarked paths, we tried not to fall over the edge of the canyon into the depths below, particularly given the gusting winds.  The lack of crowds, or really any visitors at all, was refreshing – throughout the day, our car was the only vehicle parked on the edge of the canyon! 

Following a picnic on an empty canyon edge, we were back on the road to Ai-Ais.  In case you were wondering, it seems that driving everywhere in Namibia is an adventure.  Each time we embark on a drive, no matter how short, we check the map to see if there are gas stations en route.  If not, we make sure the tank is full.  Except for a rusted out truck from the 1950s by the side of the road, we’ve hardly seen any other cars, but have sighted ostriches and oryx.  We did see one couple that was biking from point a to point b in the desert – we quickly agreed that a trip like that would probably lead to the end of our marriage.   

Our desert drive continues north, with a stop in Aus to see more wild horses and then four days to see the famous dunes at Sossusvlei!


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