A stroll along Fish River Canyon followed by a South African wine tasting

Our last real tourist attraction in Namibia was the massive gash in the earth known as Fish River Canyon. We drove all day to our campsite, where we were promptly told not to leave any food out for the baboons who willingly tear you limb for limb if you get in their way. Thanks for the warning, I guess?

Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa about 100 miles long and almost 550 meters deep. Formed 650 million years ago, this geographic feature is a canvas that holds many secrets of human history.

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Within this canyon, archeologists have found significant evidence of early life. Homo erectus rock tools were found and estimated to be between 0.5-2 million years old. Rock engravings, or petroglyphs, were 2,000 years old and attributed to two ethnic groups: the San and the Nama people.

This area holds great significance for the Nama people. They were the other group along with the Herero people who were nearly wiped out during the genocide whom we had already learned about at our Swakopmund township tour. 

The stories and struggles of the Nama people are held in the walls of the canyon and its surrounding area. The area was the site of many skirmishes and battles for the people during their war against the Germans. The blood may be gone, but the scars remain deeply ingrained in the canyons’ walls. The Nama people remain a minority ethnic group impoverished from a history of land-grabbing and unfair taxes.

A short drive to the canyon later, we split into small groups for the walk from the Hiker’s Viewpoint to the Main Viewpoint for the sunset. This canyon is often compared to the Grand Canyon.

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An unexpected feature, the horseshoe bend in the canyon instantly reminded me of the famous Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. While I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon myself, I recognized something. No matter where in the world you are, the earth is still the earth. The people may be different; the culture may be different; the language may be different; but the earth will always bind us together.

Leaving behind Namibia for South Africa

The rest of our time in Namibia flew by as we sprinted to Cape Town, our final destination. We stopped for an hour at the /Ai-/Ais hot springs. Hot springs was a little aggressive, so we re-christened them the /Ai-Ais tepidly warm springs.

The crew is growing restless with many long days in the truck. Sophie and I passed the time through good conversation about life and our purpose. And by our purpose, I mean my purpose. She’s pretty much set with her doctor job and her family life. I’m lucky to have Sophie as my voice of reason and lifelong therapist. She provides an unbiased perspective that really makes me sit back and reevaluate what matters to me.

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still on the truck

A small South African vineyard stop for the night

Our introduction to South Africa was at a small campsite called Highlanders. An ex-overlander, Sparky, settled down and established this campsite after years of guiding overlanding tours.

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Enjoying the view over the vineyards at Highlanders

Sophie and I partook in the wine tasting, where we tasted a sauvignon blanc, a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon, a sweet rosè, a sparkling wine, and a rooibos-infused vermouth. My first ever wine tasting, we were each invited to healthy pours and none of the fuss of “proper wine-tasting etiquette.” The South African way is simple: neck it. And neck it we did.

With every bottle opened, the room became louder and conversations more animated. A lovely dinner followed and I eventually wandered to the bar where Sparky and his brother were having a drink by themselves.

I took advantage of the opportunity to pull some stories out of him, as his reputation precedes him as one of the best overlanding tour guides. Guiding in the 1990s until early 2000s, he did overlanding the way that Ben had told us it used to be: wild bush camping every night, no wifi, no amenities, no social media. No anything, except the wildlife and the bush.

We talked about how overlanding has changed over the years. He blamed social media for bringing an end to the lifestyle that he loved so much. Tours had to be catered to the people, instead of people catering to the tours.

As I got him talking, he told stories of getting everyone off the truck and smothering mud all over each other for no reason other than it sounded like fun. You can tell he’s a people person who wants to bring adventure and travel to as many people as he can.

His campsite is a special place. As the only truck on the property, the night was a quiet one. But the history of this place is literally pasted on the walls. IMG_5445There are suggested challenges described on the walls that would get any Australian uni student’s competitive spirit piqued. Here’s just a few:

  • Most number of naked people running five laps around the pool table
  • Henry & Ed’s round the world shots
  • Most number of skinny-boys (naked springbok dance and shots)
  • Highest bar tab
  • Highest average shots per person per truck
  • Most people pyramid
  • Most shots/beer/cider drunk
  • Most bottles of African Ruby drunk

Clearly alcohol has a defining role.

But back to Sparky. My favorite story of his was one that involves a Drago group. Two 70-year-old doctors came up to him after a couple glasses of wine and asked if he’d mind if everyone in the group was naked. Sparky, bewildered, said that it didn’t bother him one bit. Within minutes, he saw the group undressing in the yard, grabbing their drinks, and settling back down for conversation. The night ended with the group dancing nude around the pool table. He chuckled, saying it was a night he wouldn’t soon forget.

Talking to him and his brother, you can see that they’ve figured out a life that works for them. He found a way to settle down with a family, but still bring the spirit of overlanding into his daily life. He lives for the lifestyle, and though we were a tame truck for him, he always appreciates getting to hear the stories from people around the world.

For him, everyone has a story to tell and every story is different. It is through stories that he feels connected and satisfied. I have to say, I truly understand that.

That’s exactly why I went out of my way to go talk to him. It was a very interesting night, even though it didn’t end up with any new records broken.

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