Video: Four Days Hiking the Fish River Canyon in 2 Minutes

Last week myself and seven friends hiked the Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia, the 2nd largest canyon in the world. We completed the 90 kilometer distance in four days, ending at the Ai-Ais hot springs.

Only thirty hikers are allowed in the canyon at one time. We needed medical release forms stating we were healthy enough to complete the hike. Without a satellite phone there is no reaching the the outside world once you're in the canyon, which we didn't have.

Four days hiking the 90 kilometer Fish River Canyon from Hobas to Ai-Ais.

Promotional video for Keetmanshoop

After a successful meeting with Keetmanshoops mayor, council members, and director of PR, I've accepted the opportunity to make a promo video for the town. Most of the details still need to be worked out, but we've taken the first and important step of committing to make it happen. The plan is to use the video to attract new investors, and its completion will hopefully coincide with the launch of the towns new website.

One hour photographing the Rosy-Faced Lovebird

Right after visiting Sossusvlei we stopped by the Namib-Naukluft camp site for a few days of camping. It's a gem of park, a complete oasis in the desert with streams, pools, wildlife, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, and immense views. On our full day in the park we embarked on a 17 kilometer hike up and around the Waterkloof trail. It took us almost ten hours to complete the hike, mostly because we couldn't help but stop frequently to explore interesting areas off the trail.

About half way to the summit we were surprised to stumble upon the only parrot in the Namib-Naukluft park, the Rosy-Faced Lovebird. Both Nathaniel and myself have a zeal for wildlife photography so we found some spots to duck and cover to get up close enough to photograph the parrots as they mingled about. We ended up staying at least an hour trying to get a clear shot.

Rosy-faced lovebird - a parrot of Namibia

Just before arriving at the summit we were shocked to find a Hartmann's Zebra foal laying at the edge of the trail. We kept our distance, but couldn't help but be concerned about the little zebra. We had seen an adult mountain Zebra only moments before. It was a few hundred yards away, and we assumed it was possibly the mother who had sensed us coming and fled. We stood and watched the little zebra and after a few minutes the foal made an attempt to stand, but failed, its legs buckling. After about fifteen minutes of trying, the foal stood on its own, taking its first steps. It was an impressive site to witness. We quickly departed, anticipating the mother would return to reclaim her child.

Hartmann's zebra foal

Eventually we reached the summit, took it in, and then began our decent. None of us anticipated how difficult the hike would be and we each packed too little water, having to ration what we had. I was happy to eventually complete the Waterkloof trail, but sad to leave such a beautiful area in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

The red sands of Sossusvlei

We packed the truck at 5:00am, piled in, and began our two-day camping trip to Sossusvlei. We left from Swakopmund and made our way along the C14 gravel road stopping to see the 1,500-year-old welwitschia plant, famous moonscape, and a sunrise over the Swakopmund riverbed.  Along the way we stopped to greet fellow travellers, a few Oryx, a herd of Hartmann’s Zebra, Springbok, and several jackals that had stopped to snack on a dead Oryx who had been caught in a fence.

Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park

Six hours later, which included a few bathroom pit stops, lunch, and a cup of the famous handmade ice cream in Solitaire, we arrived at the Sesriem campsite inside Sossusvlei. We unpacked the truck, set up camp, and started preparing dinner.  The campsite was equipped with electrical hookups, a grill station, shade tree, and trashcans. It was also about one hundred yards from the pool, which was a nice break from the scorching sun.

Sesriem Camp Site

The next morning we again woke up at 5:00am, ate breakfast, drank a cup of coffee, loaded the truck with the gear we didn’t feel comfortable leaving at our site, and started the drive to the Deadvlei dune and salt flat with the camelthorn trees.

Deadvlei is the last dune in Sossusvlei and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to arrive at. We wanted to be there at sunrise, so that meant leaving our campsite at exactly 6:00am, the time the park opens its gates, and driving straight to the dune. Once we got to Deadvlei we had to drive about seven kilometers along a sandy path that only a 4x4 vehicle can conquer, anything less gets shamed with being stuck and needing a tow.

Deadvlei was spectacular and a dream for anyone with a camera.  The light during the twilight hours dances along the dunes creating opportunity after opportunity to make an amazing photo. We arrived early enough to have the dune almost all to ourselves, had we gone later, there would have been far more people.

Walking Big Daddy at Sossusvlei

From Deadvlei we made our way to the Sossusvlei dune. During the accent we crossed paths with a Shovel Snouted Lizard and Tenebrionid beetle that both didn’t mind posing for a photo. Eventually we came back down from the dune and ate lunch by the truck. While eating we watched an Oryx move from a relaxing position under a shade tree to his next destination. From here we made our way back to camp to relax ourselves under our own shade tree.

In the evening we returned to Deadvlei to take sunset photos. On our way out we passed a very nice couple with their vehicle stuck in the sand. We all jumped out of the truck and helped them push the vehicle to solid ground.

Our second day in Sossusvlei we visited the first dune we passed along the road, the Elim dune, it was a high dune, but not nearly as photogenic as all the others. In the afternoon we packed camp, quickly visited the Sesriem Canyons and then set off for the Namib-Naukluft trail about two hours away.

Sesriem Canyons

Heading into our first term exams

This term has flown by, Monday passes to Friday faster than I would like. I'm already more than seven months into my Peace Corps service and it felt like a blink of the eye. Here's a quick update on where I live, teaching, secondary projects, and how I spend free time.

Where do I live

Peace Corps put me into a gigantic three-bedroom second story flat at the P.K. DeVilliers boys hostel. The flat was remodeled about a year and a half ago, so it's in really good condition. I have hot water, electricity, and furniture (I know furniture doesn't sound like a big deal, but most PC volunteers are put into flats/housing with no furniture besides a bed and maybe chair) like a big table, plenty of chairs, a sofa, two arm chairs, and a couple of dressers. The flat is right in town, so it takes me about five minutes to walk to school and about ten to be in downtown. I also have a bike, which I love, so pretty much anywhere I go in town, it's by bike. Disclaimer for all you aspiring PC vols, or soon to depart, my housing situation is not typical, you will most likely be living in something totally different, like a hut, or small cinder block house with a tin corrugated roof.

Teaching

When school started I taught only the three grade nine English classes, about a week after, I was given the grade nine BIS classes, about two weeks later, I get the three grade ten BIS classes. The English classes meet every day, and the BIS classes each meet once per week. There are forty two periods in week, I'm teaching twenty one, so it's a comfortable schedule for me.

In Namibia students are put together into a class, for example, we have approximately ninety grade nine learners at our school and they've been placed into three classes the A's, B's, and C's. The classes are together all year and rotate between subjects each day. Sometimes they'll split for subjects they can choose that aren't core subjects, like design and technology and accounting. It's typical that the best learners are in the A class, and so on.

I teach kids that have a broad range in ability and knowledge for the subject, which makes tailoring lessons to everyone a challenge. Some learners will understand pronouns in one class period, others could take a week before they really grasp how to use pronouns in their writing/speaking. Once I introduce a lesson, I try to build that same lesson in some small way into all my following lessons as review, otherwise, it will be forgotten. Which brings me to the end of term exam, which I just finished preparing, the exam will be an opportunity to gauge how well the learners are doing, but also just important, gauge how well I'm doing as their teacher. Hoping for positive results.

My classroom is in the library and I've inherited running the library from the previous volunteer, who did an excellent job. In February I put together a library committee of grade nine learners, it's been slow going, but now we are picking up momentum. We cleaned up the library, begun taking inventory, discussed rules, and voted on chair positions like VP. We decided to open the library to all learners during the daily thirty minute break, on the first day about fifteen learners of various grades came and checked out books, which was awesome.

Back in October I reached out to Darian Book Aid about getting some new books to add to the library, and they approved the request and sent us a box of fifty books. They will be great additions to our library, and the learners were really happy to receive them.

Library Committee holding books sent by Darian Book Aid

Secondary Projects

It's hard to find the time to do secondary projects outside of teaching, so I don't have too much going on right now. Teaching is a lot of work when you consider the classroom time, marking, exam preparation, lesson preparation, etc. What I do have happening is the plans to start a school garden, we already had our list of supplies and a quote for materials approved by the administration and we've bought everything on the list. Now we need to commence the digging and setup of the garden, we bought a fence we have to build and also shade netting to hang above the garden. The agriculture classes will play a big part in starting/maintaining the garden. We don't have a plan yet for the produce, but they will benefit the learners/school.

I'm the U-19 soccer coach and I've announced trials will start on the 30th of March. I'll select a team and we will begin training. I'm hoping the schools in the area can agree on a game schedule for June/July where each school plays each other twice. We have four schools in the town. We will also hopefully travel to at least one tournament, and so far we have an invite for a tournament in Mariental that we would like to attend, as long as we can coordinate transportation and accommodation.

The CED volunteer in town Steve Link is working with the town municipality to find ways to promote it on the web to attract visitors, investors, and new business. They want to film a promotional video and Steven suggested to the mayor I could help them with that. We'll have a meeting sometime before the end of the month to discuss. It would be a team effort to plan the video, but then I would be in charge of shooting, editing, etc. It's a cool opportunity so I'm hoping it works out. I'm also using this opportunity to put together a video club at school with kids interested in video production who can assist with the project and any future projects.

Free time

I've been playing soccer with the local Namibian first division team Try Again. Training is four nights a week, but I usually only have time for one or two sessions each week.

This week we have our week long mid-term break so I'm heading to Sossusvlie and the Namib-Nakluft mountains for some camping with a few other volunteers. Also planning a road trip in May to the coast of South Africa from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.