Whilst the country is touted as one of the least populated, the tri-annual migration of holidaying South African’s (joined with a healthy dose of international tourists), made any feeling of isolation dissipate with each passing 4X4 and its accompanying plume of diesel fumes and fine dust. With ample time to ponder the simple things in life, I categorised the passing cars into three main groups:
• Bona-fide Overlanders: Cars/motorbikes emboldened with an array of stickers, flags, dents and more jerry cans than tires. These fine specimens understand the overland ethos and would always pull over as a matter of formality to ask if I needed water, food or any help.
• Weekend Warriors: Cars/motorbikes emboldened with an array of Hire Company and hazard stickers with more money than sense. Located below the bona-fide overlanders in terms of likeability, the weekend warriors drive at high speed, often fail to give even an inch on a wide-open road and barely stop. If they do it’s for a photo of the bicycle and myself, no doubt to show friends back home.
• Absolute Fuckwits: An inglorious category, the ‘absolute fuckwits’ sit a rung below the humble Ebola virus. Usually resigned to bus drivers, taxis and overlanding tour groups, they take up the entire road, chop up the entire road, and leave a sand storm for the entire road. This category, often denounced by all other road users, often has the effect in making Australian cyclists yell out loud, “ABSOLUTE FUCKWIT!!”
I cycled in the direction of one of Namibia’s foremost tourist attractions, Fish River Canyon. Touted as the second largest canyon system in the world, it snakes its way over 160km with a maximum width of 27km. The night before my arrival, I decided to camp in the Ai-Ais National Park with the intention of saving money on campsite fees. It was only at 8pm when I nearly shat myself at the sickly sound of hyenas circling my tent.
I was in the middle of nowhere, alone and frozen with fear with my trusty, yet pitiful 2” Leatherman blade. It wouldn’t have stood much a chance against a pack of hungry animals, so I resided my fate and concurred it wasn’t worth losing sleep over. They came back three separate times that night, and I have never been happier to see sunlight. Quite rich coming from redhead. On three scattered hours of sleep I packed up my gear and rode out to the main Fish River Canyon lookout.
I coughed up the 80R entrance fee and cycled one of the most horrendous, corrugated roads to the main lookout. Over the space of four hours I watched a steady stream of tourists arrive, take their photos and then leave within the space of 30 minutes; a mere blip in the canyon’s life.
The canyon system has artwork dating back an impressive 27,000 years, and as I watched millennials pout in front of a selfie stick, I really wondered how far we’d come and how I’d nearly trade it all in to be one of the original inhabitants.
Naturally, the bike brought some attention and I talked to a variety of groups and was once again on the receiving end of endless South African hospitality, being gifted some beers and a giant orange. A cloud of dust drew closer from the horizon and no sooner a ‘G-Adventures’ bus arrived, spelling the end of the tranquillity as they overtook all the tables and laid out a feast fit for all the hungry ‘adventurers’. I initially felt lonely, but upon further research the eighteen day tour from Cape Town to Victoria Falls cost $4,000USD, nearly double that of my entire budget for Africa.
Everyone had left by sunset and I said I might meet them back at the campsite. Not a chance! I hopped over the rails and set my tent up literally at the cliff’s edge. Not a breath of wind could be heard as I watched the full moon illuminate the canyon in colours of dark blue and magenta and I lay silently in awe at one of the most impressive wild camps I’d ever concocted.
I watched the moon set over the back of Fish River Canyon as it had done over the last 350,000,000 years and cut up my orange in complete, utter content. The sound of cars broke the silence and I again met the same people from the night before.