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Friday, 17 September 2010

Namibia Part 3 - Swakopmund, Dune 45, Fish River Canyon & Ai-Ais Hot Springs

If Etosha hadn’t reminded us that we were leaving the remote parts of Africa, Swakop definitely did; Ruby now had numerous friends coming and going through the town and they too were filled with overlanders; continental (European) restaurants were everywhere as were all the sorts of shops and outlets you’d see in any European town. We stayed at Swakopmund Lodge in 6-bed dorms (a nice break from the 28 days of bush-camping in tents) and upon arrival were shown a promo dvd of all the activities we could do in our three days there: canoeing, fishing, horse-riding, sand-boarding, go-karting, quad-biking , bush-walking, para-gliding, aerobatic flying and of course...skydiving!

We all went for a mix of activities but Kay, Laraldo, Homeless, Sonya and I all put our names down for the tandem skydive which – weather permitting – would be the following morning. That afternoon, we had a stroll around town, found an internet cafe, had a few drinks and did just about anything we could to take our minds of our upcoming death-plunge.

The next morning (Monday 2nd August) we were picked up by the skydiving company’s shuttle bus and went to their HQ where we nervously filled out indemnity forms and waited for the green light...which never came. (Too many jumpers that day meant we wouldn’t all go together, so instead of splitting us up, they postponed our jump by two days.) With everybody amped up and with some adrenaline to make use of, the gang opted for an afternoon doing a go-karting grand prix. I didn’t get involved but from what I gather, Normski had a controversial win to Homeless and Berber Dave’s dismay (Homeless 2nd, Berbs 3rd, Kim 4th, Son 5th, HH 6th...Laraldo came last).

Laraldo had to change karts as she gave this one a flat tyre.

Laraldo: Good-to-go in kart No. 2

Revving up and ready to go.

Marjane/Normski & Berbs
Marjane congratulating Homeless on coming second.
Berbs reluctantly stands in 3rd place on the podium... Marjane celebrates his win.
The day for the skydive finally came and fortunately (or unfortunately depending upon how you look at it) it was a beautiful day. We were taken out to a spot in the desert where we put on our ultra-gay jumpsuits and awaited further instructions...for about 10 seconds: “Adam – you’re up. We’ll take you up on your own first as we have an odd number of jumpers.” Great. No time to get pumped but I guess no time to get too nervous either. Within minutes I was in the plane and within a further 25 mins I was being launched out of said plane 10,000ft above the ground. We were told that the first 3 or 4 seconds were the “Oh shit!” moments and after that, it’s about 30 seconds of free-falling before the chute opens...then another 5 or 10 mins til landing in the dropzone.

This guy was doing the scissors to my hair as I plummeted obliviously.

Superman pose.

Safe & Sound on solid ground - happy days!
I really wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be (at least nowhere near as nervous as on the bungy I did at Vic Falls 10 years ago) but it was a shame to not have a friend on the plane with me to get amped up. Back on the ground, my mouth was set to motor-mode and the corners of my lips damn-near met each other around the back of my head. It was all over too quickly but I was beaming and buzzing. Now I could kick back with a beer and watch the others go up and come was cool listening out for them too; hearing them screaming as they came within earshot a thousand feet or so directly overhead. (In fact, I could tell when Lara was coming down as the air seemed to turn a distinctive blue colour...Sheila, Mel: she might not want to show you the video of the jump, but if she does, I swear promise it wasn't me that taught her those words!) I had to admire both Kay and Laraldo who were both pretty nervous about just the thought of jumping (Lara doesn’t even do fair-rides) but both went up in the last flight and came down as ecstatic as I did. Son and Kyle were also equally stoked. That evening called for laughs as we had a group viewing of our souvenir dvd and photos.

Laraldo displays her boss-eyed thumbs.

The Supergirl pose!

The next day we had a scenic drive, passing into the Tropic of Capricorn on our way to Naukluft Park, home of Dune 45 (one of the biggest free-standing sand dunes in the world...I might need to double-check with the LP on that). We camped nearby and got up early in the morning to see the sunrise from the much fabled dune only to be told that only people who paid to camp inside the park had that privilege...everybody else had to wait another hour. When we were finally let in, Ruby was in familiar company again as overland trucks huddled around the foot of the dune with on-board chefs and helpers cooking breakfast and laying the tables as their passengers made the 10-15 minute hike up the dune.

Crossing over the Tropic of Capricorn on our scenic drive to Naukluft Park.

I know, a bit dark. But it says "Sesriem - Namib Naukluft Park"

Laraldo at the foot of Dune 45
I took this from the top...Homeless halfway up the dune. (Overland trucks in background.)

Kay - looking tired, but persevering to the top.
Son, Berbs & me chilling taking some time to reflect at the top of Dune 45

You can’t really argue with the shapes and colours concocted by the African sky, winds and sand at that time of the morning.

The view from the bottom of the can see everybody hiking up its spine.
The view from the top was undoubtedly breath-taking: you can’t really argue with the shapes and colours concocted by the African sky, winds and sand at that time of the morning , but (and shoot me for saying this) I feel like I had been spoilt coming down the west coast through the Sahara as I’m certain the dune Laraldo and I climbed in Morocco was at least 1/3 higher than this one and Dune 45 had nothing on the view of the vast sea of sand provided in the Sahara. Just my opinion though.

The truth is, I can’t really remember what we did for the rest of that day (although I do remember Norm frolicking around the Namib Desert like a female gymnast with a roll of toilet paper) and I don’t have any photos to help I’ll assume it was a long drive day followed by a bush camp to get us to Fish River Canyon in good time for sunrise the next day.

I don't remember much about the afternoon after Dune 45, but I do have this photo of Norm skipping around like a female gymnast with some toilet paper.

Ok...I’m running out of superlatives here. Fisher River Canyon? Stunning/awesome/awe-inspiring/breath-taking/marvellous/amazing . It was any and all of these plus more. I had never heard of the place so my lack of expectaion might have helped my appreciation for it. But if you’re lucky enough to have ever been to the Grand Canyon, this is Africa’s own, less touristy version of it.

Fish River Canyon

Check the wee bird in the foreground. He wasn't camera shy...


Me 'n' Laraldo - obligatory couple shot.

As if this spectacle wasn’t enough, Laraldo and I helped Sonya squeeze out her ‘jigger flea’ eggs from inside her toe over breakfast (I had mine sunny-side up). As jigger victim number four (behind me, Karen and Berbs) Son went straight in at the top of the charts with the biggest and most impressive egg-sack. (Little did we know at the time, Homeless was incubating the mother of all jigger fleas in his’ll have to read about that one in our Zambia blog entry due shortly!)

Squeezing out Sonya's jigger flea eggs over breakfast.

Our final stop in Namibia was the Ai-Ais Hot Springs. The springs themself weren’t really much to look at (nothing more than a slightly ornate well with a rail) and the water was too hot to bathe in (as we had done in the awesome Wikki Warm Springs in Yankari National Park in Nigeria) but there was a giant-sized swimming pool within the adjacent hotel complex which we used (for free) as the African sun beat down on our heads.

Homeless launches Squirt in the pool at Ai-Ais (which was infinitely more exciting than the hot springs).

Feeling totally chilled, and in reflective mood, we bush-camped with HH, Homeless and Kim’s homeland (South Africa) staring at us from a distance and the next day we finally got there.

We're coming to see you Mr Mandela.

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