Fish River Canyon


Our next Namibian destination was Fish River Canyon. Just a few kilometers from our campsite, Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon on the world…
This statement confused me at first. I thought I’d already BEEN to the second largest canyon: the Colca Canyon in Peru. Turns out, after a little more investigation, this canyon is the second widest, while the Colca Canyon is the second deepest! So many slight variations to claim a record. Either way, Fish River Canyon is still very impressive!
We were dropped off by our truck, a couple hours before sunset, to explore the area. We had three kilometers to walk to get back to our dinner area, and could take our time with photos and exploring. The canyon is gorgeous, there’s no denying. The jagged rocks and cliffs, the small river, snaking its way around the bottom: fish river is beautiful. At sunset it is even more stunning. Even so, there are only so many angles one can photograph a canyon from and soon we were having more fun taking pictures of Kelsi pretending to be a koala on the only tree we could find in the area. Then we sat down with a beer and waited for dinner, which was fish. Very appropriate in a place called Fish River.
When the sun had set, it was back to camp! Our campsite’s claim to fame was its very unique bar. The bar was like a graveyard for old automobiles. It was neatly laid out with classic looking cars and trucks all scattered among the tables. There was even a small gift shop that sold its wares out of the back of a wagon. As Manda said, you could take a couple hundred photos in the bar and never get bored. And he was right.
We spent the evening having a couple beers on tap (tap beer is pretty much non-existent here, so this was a treat) and then had an early night. The next morning we were off to our 8th country: South Africa!












The Dead Trees


In the past few months, I’ve had more than a few friends post new and exciting things for me to add to my bucket list. Two of my friends managed to find the same website and send it to me. It was called “25 places that seem unreal but are actually real”. These places are INCREDIBLE looking. And now, obviously, I’m stuck adding another 25 amazing places to my travel list… It’s simply never ending!
One of these 25 places happens to be in Namibia. Just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the place is called Soussusvlei. Soussusvlei is an old, dried up marshland in the middle of the desert. I imagine it was once an amazing oasis in an otherwise dry world.
At some point, however, the marshland dried up, the ground hardened and the trees died. The incredible thing is, that the ground hardened into a rock hard clay, and the trees that died remained upright. They now sit, blackened and eerily twisted in the middle of a clay field, backdropped by massive orange sand dunes. The place is out if this world.
Yes, I agree with Falafel: “it’s just dead trees Hairy, what is so exciting?” It is just dead trees. But they are beautiful in their own unique way, and Kelsi and I were like two kids in a candy shop waiting to explore them.
The two of us literally ran towards the field of dead trees. We only had a half an hour to take photos! We needed every last second.
My recently newfound love for photographing trees kicked in BIG time in Soussusvlei; these are the most unique trees I’d seen all trip! Pretty much there is no great way to describe them, which is why I’m just going to upload photos and let you see yourselves.
Even with a full 30 minutes, Kelsi and I felt rushed for photo time. We had way too much fun climbing and jumping and trying to take the most ridiculous, or the most artistic shot we could think of. Unfortunately, our group didn’t share the same enthusiasm for dead tree trunks, and so, we were dragged back to the bus. All in all, the trip was worth it! We got some great shots of both the trees and the desert, and stopped at a sand dune called Dune 45 to take photos and climb on our way back to camp. Gina and I decided we’d had enough running around for one day and relaxed in the shade while Kelsi climbed the sand dune. I think it was a lot further up than she expected, as she came hobbling barefoot around the back side of the dune a half hour later, hot and exhausted from the trek. Just another exciting day in Namibia, and a newly added bucket list item completed!












Swakopmund was the first city we’d seen in god knows how long. We were excited for some good shopping, an actual bed in a hostel, a fun night out on the town and some extreme sports to participate in. Swakopmund is a small city right in the middle of the desert. Just rolling dunes and vast expanses of sand then, bam! there’s Swakop. We arrived on the weekend, which meant that nothing in the entire town is open past noon. On top of that, on the Sunday, they shut off the power to the entire city for some rewiring. This meant, no restaurants, no lights, no shops, nothing. The city was eerily quiet: no people walked the streets and the perfect German architecture and brightly painted buildings left the place feeling like a deserted model town in the middle of nowhere. So much for our city vibe!
On our first morning, we woke up early for some activities: quad biking and sand boarding! Namibia has some of the largest sand dunes in the world, and offers a plethora of adrenaline rushing sand activities for tourists. We signed up for two hours of quading and 1 hour of lie down sand boarding.
The quads were so much fun. We raced up and down dunes, sped across straightaways and paused for morning photos on top of a hill overlooking the desert. By the time we stopped for boarding I was covered in sand. My hair, face, shoes: all filled with fine sand that stuck to me for the next week. Well, what more can you do but throw yourself down a sand dune at 60km/hour.
The sandboards they offered us were not boards at all. When I went sandboarding in Peru, the boards we used looked just like snowboards. These were just flat pieces of thin plywood that they heavily waxed up before handing to us. This is nuts. That means, for the entire slope, you have to pull up the front edge of your board, so that 1. You don’t crush your hands, and 2. You don’t dig your board into the sand, immediately come to a stop, and hurl yourself overboard. Alright, let’s do this.
Our first hill was not too high. It was average height and similar to some of the smaller hills I’d gone down before. But it was steep. Very steep. And as a bonus, it had a weird bump, that you couldn’t see, at the bottom of the hill that sent you flying. Good times.
Kelsi went first and absolutely flew down. I’m pretty sure Kels held the record for furthest slide down every hill, and this one was no exception. I followed behind her and was the first person to hit the invisible bump. I knocked my chin against the ground, but nothing serious. It was the older guy that came after me that smashed his face really hard into the sand after vaulting over the bump. He ended up with a bleeding nose and sand burn all over his knees by the end of it. But I have to give him props, because when we all hiked it up to the big hill, he followed along and was ready to go again!
The second hill was MUCH larger. Probably twice the size of the first hill. To add to that, it had a huge curve. The hill fell off at one side, causing the board to curve to the left or else end up flying off a cliff to the right. “What happens of we go off the edge?” We asked.
“No, no, that won’t happen” said the guide.
Then this Aussie guy named Reuben tried to explain why it was impossible to fall off that side. “It’s the natural curvature of the dune guys. There’s no way the board will keep going straight, it just can’t happen”
“Ok” we all agreed, then we set up to board down the mountain. The run was incredible. We got huge speed on the second hill, and a lot more distance than the first hill by far! The guide was right, the hill curved nicely to the left and we all ended up right were we should at the bottom. Success!
Because our group was small, we still had a lot more time to board before getting back on the quads. So we all decided to hike up the big dune one last time.
It was Reuben’s turn to go first. He pushed himself and his board gently over the edge, holding up the front of the plywood as he picked up speed. We all stood at the top of the dune and watched him go. He went straight as an arrow right down the dune. There was absolutely no natural curvature in this slide. He flew off the edge of the dune and straight down the right side where the drop when significantly more vertical. He tumbled down a couple rolls then lost his board and came to a standing position. We all thought that was it until he list his footing and kept falling backwards. His hat and sunglasses went flying from his head, and he did several more rolls before coming to a crashing halt three quarters of the way down the dune. Oh my god.
“Reuben!!!” We all called “are you okay?!”
No response. No movement.
“Reuben!!” We called down at him again.
Finally he shifted, turned his head and gave us the thumbs up. Our guide jumped on the quad bike and flew down the other side of the dune to try to find a safe way down to him. But by the time he got there, Reuben was standing up and laughing just as hard as we were.
“So much for the natural curvature of the dune, buddy!” We taunted from above.
Amazingly, he had zero scratches on him. He was just dizzy from the barrel rolls, and completely himself by the time we all reached the bottom. Still, it made for a pretty exciting morning on the hills!
After that it was back in the quads and we trekked the hour back home. When we arrived back at the base, Gina and I decided to head out on some camel riding for a half hour or so. I had never been on a camel before (or ever really seen one until we spotted a couple in Nairobi) but I am always keen to ride any strange or new kind of animal, so I was pretty pumped about the idea.
The thing I was shocked about was how TALL camels are!! I had expected them to be similar to a horse, but I was clearly mistaken. There legs are so long that I rode about one and a half times higher than a normal horse height. You even have to get on them while they are lying down, then wait for them to stand with you on their backs. The getting up and down part was actually the most exciting. They get up two feet at a time, which leaves you jolting back and forth in the little saddle. I thought I was going to fall off when the camel was trying to lie down. His front legs were on the ground while his back ones still stood straight. I was at such an angle I thought I was going to fly right over his head! Luckily, no embarrassing camel falls for me.
The ride was lovely though. We walked out through the desert, just the two of us and a guide. The beach was way off to the right, and rolling sand dunes to the left. Couldn’t have asked for anything nicer! (Except for the highway to get out of our view).
After our full afternoon of adventuring, we tried to explore the city. This was a fail, because, being Saturday, everything was closed. So we opted for heading back to the hostel for a couple drinks before a long night out on the town!
Sunday was also a let down as far as events. Gina, Anisha, Kelsi and I spent a lot of time wandering the deserted streets in a hungover daze, searching endlessly for a restaurant to fill our hunger pit. Sadly, as I said earlier, the entire city had its power shut off, so everything was closed until dinner. We did luck out and find a tiny cafe that had a generator running and was the only place in town serving food.
When the power came back on that evening, our whole group went out for our last final dinner in town together. We went to a restaurant called Napolitana that was incredible! And, strangely enough, one of the nightclubs we’d partied at the night before. Apparently the place becomes a raucous bar after a certain hour on the weekends. Either way, we stuffed our faces with homemade pasta and pizza and called it a night early! We had another early wake up call in the morning, then it was back on the road!












The morning after cheetah park, Kelsi and I woke up early to watch the sun rise. We walked the short path to this rickety wooden viewing tower and climbed to the top. The sunrise was gorgeous, and we entertained ourselves by playing the lion king soundtrack as the sun rose. We are nerds.
Then it was off to breakfast and into the truck. Our drive to spitzkoppe was only a few hours, so we had time to stop at some craft stalls along the way. We pulled over at the side of the highway to see the wares of the local tribes. They sold bracelets and dolls and all sorts if little hand made trinkets for tourists to buy. There were three women from two different tribes and three small children running around at their feet. The two tribes were the Hereros and the Himbas and although they both spoke the same language, their customs were extremely different. The Hereros wear long dresses, and have hats with horns on their heads. We had seen them on the border of Botswana and Namibia all grouped together with horned hats and crafts to sell. The Himbas attire is completely opposite. They wear pretty much nothing at all, and the women never shower… Ever. Instead, they cake their bodies in mud to stop the smell and keep their naked skin cool from the sun. They are definitely a sight!
The children were adorable and were having a great time just running around causing trouble. Kelsi and I gave them some lollipops and they were so eager to have them that they started sucking them with the wrappers on.
After all the shopping was done we climbed back into the truck and made it to Spitzkoppe.
Spitzkoppe is the beginning of the Namibian desert: for us anyways. It is deathly hot, very dry, and has some of the most amazing rock formations. Our campsite was right next to this huge, mountain-like boulder. Just down the road, there were more crazy rocks, each one more alluring to climb on than the next. This was Kelsi’s rock heaven. She couldn’t wait to start climbing around!
We started with a rock formation called the bridge. The bridge was massive brown-red rocks that stretched out like a walkway across the horizon. Gina, Anisha, Kelsi and I spent a good half hour or so climbing around the rocks, before Kelsi got attacked by wasps and we decided it was best to go home.
When we arrived at camp, it was already time to head out on our walking tour to see the cave paintings. Our guide was a funny little short man from the damara tribe. He explained some things about the area, like how the rocks had been carved by wind and water erosion over a million years ago, or how Spitzkoppe means “pointed head” in the local dialect. Then he tried to teach us some if the damara language. I say tried, because we all failed epically in the lesson. There are four basic click noises in the damara tribe; each one with completely different meanings. To me, they all sounded identical. One was a click from the front if the mouth, another the back, one from the side. I could make out the differences between them when he said them all in a row, but then was lost again when he spoke a sentence. Pretty much the language lesson was a complete failure. So on we went…
We continued on to some cave paintings called “The Small Bushman’s Paradise”. These were paintings written by the nomads, to pass on information to other nomads. For example: a picture of a rhino facing east, meant that water was in that direction. Our guide explained about some more drawings, as then about the history. “These paintings date back to between 200 and 4000 years ago” he explained. I actually had to stop him and ask again “did you say 200 and 4 Thousand?!”
Seemed like a pretty huge gap. A lot can happen in 3800 years; but there you go!
When the walk was over, and we’d had dinner, we decided to hike the 20 minutes to the top of the large boulder for sunset. It was a pretty steep climb at parts, and we left pretty late, but we managed to make it for one if the most sensational sunsets on the trip thus far! Plus, we successfully watched a full sunrise as sunset on the same day!
By the time we made it back to the bottom, it was pitch black. We sat around the fire for a little while telling stories, then it was time for sleep. Tonight, however, we were upgrading from our tents, to a cave!
In the giant boulder we were camped at was a little cave that had an opening to see the stars at night. It was a perfect place to sleep for the night! No matter that we saw a rat scurrying about earlier in the day, and our guide ensured us that the scorpions don’t go into caves, and the leopards will avoid us as well. Great.
But Manda had set up some candles to light our way, and about 7 of us decided to sleep in the cave and watch the stars! Such a perfect ending to a fun filled day.












The Cheetahs of Otitotongwe


Our next stop was a campsite called Otitotongwe, or more commonly referred to as Cheetah Park. It was hot and dry and desert-like at the campsite, which was perfect for drying all our wet belongings.
At 4:00 it was time to see the cheetahs. Cheetah park actually has 4 cheetahs that are tame enough to play with. You can touch them, play tug of war, cuddle them, whatever you’d like! We were overly enthusiastic (as we are about most everything here) about petting the cheetahs. Gina especially had been waiting for this day since Vic Falls, and it was finally upon us.
It was unbelievable to pull up to the reserve and see cheetah’s just wandering around with people. At first we were all a little uneasy about how or where to pet them. We had rules like “don’t wear sunglasses” and “don’t touch their feet or tails” but otherwise we were free to romp around on the grass with them!
There were three cheetahs that were a couple years old, and one cheetah that was only 8 months. You could tell he was the baby of the group. He had softer fur, tufts of fuzzy hair around his head, and had the energy if a kitten on catnip. He zoomed around the yard, tugging on people’s loose clothing, stealing hats, and playing tug of war with anyone who would join. At one point he ran over to me and started chewing down on my ankle. His mouth fit around the entire thing as he tried to detach my foot from the rest of my leg. Attacked by a cheetah in Africa? Check!
When playtime was over, we drove off to the next part of the reserve. This area is where rehabilitated cheetahs are slowly introduced back into the wild. They have a few hectares of land to live on and hunt as they please, but once a day a truck drives through the area to feed them. The cheetahs clearly know that the truck means food. As soon as we drove down the road, the first cheetah came running towards us. The driver got out, while we all stood in the truck’s trailer and took photos. The guy took a stick to ward off the cheetah, then used it to spear a giant hunk of meat. Instead of letting the cheetah chew the meat off the stick, he flung it in the air for the cheetah to catch. As soon as he did, the cheetah sprinted off to eat the meat alone.
We carried on, and before long there were three more cheetahs running towards us. We fed all three of them in similar fashion then moved on to the next ones. We fed 9 cheetahs all together and then finally drove back to camp. What an exciting afternoon!








El Dorado


We arrived at El Dorado by mid afternoon and the sun was shining! Unfortunately, our tent was still full of water, so we had to borrow our driver, Vincent’s, tent for the night. After setting up our tents and eating lunch, a group of us followed one of the workers at the campsite to see the daily cheetah feeding!
El Dorado is a campsite / farmhouse. The Dutch family that owns the place allows campers to set up on their property for the evening, while they continue to tend to the animals they own. They have a number of ostriches roaming around, as well as some oryxes, puppies a leopard, and three cheetahs.
When the cheetahs saw us coming they ran towards the fence, eager to be fed. Then they started mewing! They sounded just like little kittens that were hungry. It was the strangest thing. These cats were huge! I would have expected them to roar, or growl or anything except for sound like a small house cat that could fit in the palm of your hand.
I turned to Kelsi, “that’s it, new favourite African animal! Sorry giraffes, you’re out, cheetahs are in!” Then it was feeding time. The guy opened up a large bucket full of raw meat chunks and pulled out a stick. As he skewered a large hunk of meat, the cheetahs went wild with mewing. They jumped up against the fence and pressed their faces as close to the meat as possible. Then the guy pushed the meat into one cheetah’s mouth, it tore it off, and ran off to the side to eat it. Then he fed the second cheetah, and the third, and by then the first one was back to get some more! On the second round, he let us feed them. We each got a turn to give one of the cheetahs some food, take some photos and carry on. It was so much fun.
When our cheetah high was over, it was time for the bar. We heard that El Dorado had a very unique bar, and we were eager to check it out. Turns out, the rumors were true. The bar was really just the living room of the family’s home. They had a little bar set up for travelers to order drinks, then you just sat on their couches, chatted with their children, and socialized. As well, the room was full of animal heads mounted on the walls. Each one had been caught by the owners, stuffed, and set up around the room. There were all sorts of antelope, a lion, cheetahs, leopards. Pretty much everything we had just seen in Etosha. It was very impressive having all these animals staring down at you as you sat and had a beer.
While we were sitting around, we met the little girl that lived at the house. She was very sweet, and almost a little shy, but wanted to chat with us anyways. She proudly brought over a little 6 week old puppy for us to hold. This was the only remaining pup from their litter of 5. The others had either died or already been sold to other families. This puppy was absolutely adorable! “That’s it guys, cheetahs are out, this puppy is my new favourite African animal.” We probably spent more time cuddling this little dog than we did staring at the cheetahs earlier.
Unfortunately, while we were sitting there, the wind picked up and it began to rain. Not again! Kelsi ran back to the campsite to close the tent flaps. When she returned, she was soaked to the bone.
“The tent flew away and I found it in a tree nearby! It’s full of water…”
Great. Two tents down, no more to go.
It took a while for the rains to slow, then we all walked back to the campsite for dinner. We were lucky that we could eat outside. The weather was nice and gave us a half hour window to eat in the fading light without getting wet. Then it started back up.
We were exhausted, and the miserable weather was matching our moods. I was not very interested in sleeping in a puddle two nights in a row.
Nonetheless, we had no other options. So once again, we took our towels, soaked up what water we could, slept as much in the middle of the tent as we could and tried to get a couple hours of sleep.
After another restless sleep, we woke up in a moat. Water was all around the edges of our tent, but otherwise we were doing okay. All of our stuff was safely in the truck, so we just had to dry our sleeping bags out!
Then we found out that the truck had flooded and all our bags were wet as well… There’s just no winning.
So we packed up our wet things and piled back into the truck to try to nap on the next drive!







It was a 10 hour drive from the Delta to our campsite near Etosha National Park. Even though we knew this, we thought having drinks at the bar the night before was a good idea. When someone suggested shots, we also thought it was a good plan. Then when pulling an all-nighter was laid on the table, Kelsi, Gina and I were definitely in. We sat at the bar, went swimming, played our new favourite Afrikaans song “Maybe Baby” about 100 times, and partied with Sean and Nick, two of the guys that ran the campsite, until our breakfast call at 5:30 the next morning.
The 10 hour bus trip was excruciating. We kept pointing blame at each other: “did you suggest shots last night?” “Why would we decide to stay up ALL night?!” We did a lot of napping during the first half of the trip. We also did a lot of itching.
Kelsi and I had been bitten by bugs so many times while we were in the delta that our legs looked like they’d been through a war zone. We probably had 30ish bites on each foot alone: Mosquito bites, ant bites, and caterpillar rash covered our bodies. We slathered on this silver ointment that Gina had, but to no avail. We tried tea tree oil, an aloe itch relief gel, and anything that people could offer to help. In the end, only scratching our bites until they bled gave any sort of satisfying relief.
We were almost too distracted with the scratching to see any animals on our Etosha game drive. Being our 9th or so game drive on the trip, we were not overly impressed by seeing an impala on the side of the road. But the animal sightings picked up when we came across our first watering hole.
The watering holes are where the action takes place. The first one we pulled up to had a tonne of animals. There were a huge herd of impalas, an oryx or two, a bunch of zebras, about 15 giraffes, and a pride of 8 lions hanging out in the trees a few meters away. They were all so close to each other it was possible to fit them all in a single camera shot! As soon as we arrived, the lioness got up to have a drink of water. You could see the rest of the animals tense up. The impalas shuffled the other direction, the giraffes stood still and followed the lion closely with their eyes. The zebras ran in a frenzy to the other side of the watering hole, then every eye in the area was intently watching the lioness move towards the water. She lapped up water for a few minutes, with the whole animal kingdom watching, then stalked her way back to the shade.
Just a few moments later an elephant came walking towards the back of the bushes where the lions were relaxing. This was where we got to see who the real king of the jungle was… Turns out both elephants and lions are scared of each other. The elephant jumped back in surprise when it came around the bushes, face to face with 8 lions. The lions were equally shocked to see a full sized elephant sneak up behind them and ran to the next tree grove. The animal kingdom still stared, alert and ready to flee! The only animal un phased was the male lion. He sat his ground and simply lifted his head when the elephant went past. What an exciting afternoon at the watering hole! Eventually, the elephant washed himself in the water and we drove onwards to camp.
Just before dinner that night, it began to rain. Kelsi and I, worried about our tent, frantically tried to pull it under the cover of a tree and save our bags. It was just a little rain, under the safety of a tree, what could go wrong?!
Then, the wind picked up, and it rained harder. It poured actually. We all huddled in the truck to eat our dinners. When the rain failed to slow down, none of us were keen on leaving the safety of the truck. So we sat, and waited. We waited until the rain slowed and Manda told us we had to get off the truck to save the battery…
So remember in Vic Falls, when we picked out the most dilapidated looking tent we could find? Well this finally caught up to us big time in Etosha. When we made it to our tent, the walls were saturated with water. The floor had small puddles around the sides and drips were falling from the ceiling. We took our towels and mopped up what we could in the tent. The rest we wiped down with wet wipes and crossed our fingers that the rains wouldn’t come back in the night. Then we went to sleep.
It didn’t take long before the rains started up and the water came dripping into the tent again. The bottom half of my body had a steady drip and my feet were sitting in a puddle. Kelsi had it worse… “I’m gettin’ it in the face, Hairy!” She announced.
At first it was funny. We laughed at our sad situation as we felt the drip drop of the rain fall into our laps. Then we nearly hit our breaking point. We’d had very little sleep in the past 48 hours and were getting cranky. The rain soaked our sleeping mats and our wake up time was creeping closer. We contemplated pulling our sleeping mats into the communal bathroom and sleeping on the floor, but it was too much effort.
At 5 am we were brooding. This was the worst tenting experience we could think of. When Manda woke us 45 minutes later we didn’t want breakfast and we didn’t want to socialize. We had a cup of tea and took it for a walk to see the sunrise. Screw this day!
Luckily, we calmed down a little and had a good long nap on the bus. We had another game drive to get through, then off to our next campsite: El Dorado!