Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Girl in a Canyon - Part 2

The day of reckoning finally dawned, there was no turning back. No more trips to the physio, no more training and certainly no more excuses.

We were all up long before the sun, packing our kit and sorting out the camp site. Poor Keith really had the hardest job, as every last minute thing needed to be put in his backpack, but being the soldier he is, he managed just fine.

We were finally ready to get into the shuttle, which would transport us to Hobas - the starting point of the actual hike, a 1½ hour trip in a rather full Land Rover.

The drive was uneventful and slow. The worst part was when we finally caught a glimpse of the canyon - I certainly wasn't expecting anything that big!

We finally arrived at Hobas and met up with Norman (who had spent the night there). Norman is a Canadian who lives to travel. He had come to South Africa to do the Two Oceans Ultra and then travelled to Namibia. We asked him to join our group, as hiking the canyon alone is neither allowed or advisable. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. Norm taught me so much about what is important and that "things maketh not the man" - he also made the best "kitchen" helper!

So, back to Hobas. We paid our entrance fee, handed in our medical forms and returned back to the van for the final 10km trip to the view-point and the start. It all seemed so easy!

Once we got to the view point and looked into the canyon it finally dawned on me that after a full year of preparing, it was finally do or die. The views from the top are awesome - and I don't use that word lightly, it is truly AWESOME, take your breath away beautiful. I just wish I had the equipment and the skill to take a photograph to capture just how big and beautiful it really was.

We had one last photo opportunity - all smiles, clean clothes and shiny boots before we stepped off the cliff and entered into the canyon!

The descent was the part I feared most, every account I had read described it as very difficult - the worst part of the hike. I found it really easy and it only took us about 1¾ hours, including a snack break!

There was one problem, we had become separated from 2 of our hiking party. Once we reached the bottom and waited for about a ½ hour, Keith and Anthony hiked back up and found the other two about 45 mins back up the canyon. They were able to help them with their bags and finally everyone was together - safe and sound.

We decided to camp at the bottom of the descent. This is not normally what is done but it turned out to be a perfect camp site, although there is not a lot of wood available there and it took us ages to find enough.

This is where we camped the first night, right on the beach next to the river.

For our first night celebration, we (Keith actually) had taken a 2kg rump steak down, which we braaied (BBQ'd) on the beach. We had this with fire baked potatoes and 3 bean salad. It was really well received and there was just enough left-over to enjoy for lunch the next day. I also realized that cooking and preparing meals was not going to be anything like home!

Night falls very suddenly in the canyon and by 6 o'clock it is pitch dark. This was our first experience of real silence and the full beauty of the night sky. I have never seen so many stars, and it really puts life into perspective when you see just how small we are. As humans we tend to think the universe revolves around us - but when you see something that indescribable, you know we are only a spec of dust! You know then that none of this happened by accident.

We all went to sleep early and I experienced my first night of sleeping under the stars.

I kept singing the words to the Chris Tomlin song Indescribable:

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings

All exclaiming
Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and
You know them by name.

You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim

You are amazing God

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A Girl in a Canyon - Part 1

The story of the girl in the canyon starts long before the day she finally puts on her boots, loads her pack (weighing 15kgs) and takes the first excited step into the canyon.

It started a year ago when her husband announced that he would love to hike the Fish River Canyon. For the first week she thought they were going to the Wild Coast (note to self - The Fish River is not the same as the Great Fish River!). It was only after he started to send links to the Fish River Canyon, that she caught on that this was not all it seemed. She's always up for a challenge, even though her chances of a few luxurious nights at the Wild Coast Sun flew out the window!

So, as Lao-tzu, the Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC) said "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." We started this with a single step - and as the time got closer, the steps became more difficult and once I had the 15kgs on my back - heavier.

In this last year I have prepared for this "holiday", like no other - I lost 10kgs and trained harder and got stronger than I have ever been in the 37 years I've been blessed with life. I visited every website and blog ever written about hiking and the Fish River Canyon. Was I prepared ? - the honest answer- yes and no. How do you prepare to have your perspective on life altered forever?

So let me start off by telling you what I don't do in my "normal life" :

1. I do not walk barefoot - I HATE dirty feet.
2. I bath or shower at least twice a day- ditto for brushing my teeth and washing my hair.
3. I don't undress in front of any man (except my husband).
4. I certainly never cook using sand as one of the ingredients.
5. I do not use a spade and search for a place to relieve myself.
6. I wear clean clothes everyday - most days it'll be 2 sets.
7. I can't sleep without my special pillow.
8. I never have dirt under my nails.
..... This list does not even start to explain all the things I thought held my life together.

As it turns out - none of the above are essential to happiness. Fulfillment and happiness is something you experience when you step out of every box you have built around your life and just live.

So lets start with the first step of a thousand miles (okay it was 90kms, but who's counting).

We left Cape Town on a clear Tuesday morning - long before the sunrise. Check list in hand, everything packed - padkos (food for the road) and flask neatly packed at my feet. We headed North, first stop was Bitterfontein (Bitter Fountain).Bitterfontein is situated approximately 380km from Cape Town along the N7. The town derives its name form an extremely saline fountain that still exists in the area. The town, well known for its delicious mutton. Sheep farming is also the main agricultural activity of the area. An extremely rare green granite, known as the 'Bitterfontein Green" and found nowhere else in the world, are minded here and pictured below.

After a quick comfort break and petrol fill, we continued North - next stop Springbok. The "busy metropolis" of the Northern Cape. We stopped at the Wimpy and had the finest Wimpy breakfast anywhere in the country! The staff are so friendly and if you ever manage to make it there - ask for Cecil, his smile will brighten your day.

We managed to drag our full tummies up Monument Koppie, a hill in the centre of Springbok surrounded by Anglo-Boer War monuments.

As much as we loved Springbok, we had places to go and things to see, so we headed back to the car and got going to the border, across the Orange River. We were lucky to find some of the most unfriendly government officials (on both sides of the border) - it has been rumored that the last border official who smiled was fired! The Orange River really is a specular sight.

After having the passports stamped, paying our dues to the Namibian government, we raced on to Ai Ais. It is amazing to see the change in vegetation as you cross the border - we were in the desert now.

We arrived in Ai Ais just after lunch and got to work setting up camp. Once we finished lunch, we put on our bathing costumes and headed for the hot spring pools. They are busy re-vamping the resort, so the pools are above ground pools, but the water is divinely hot. We met some wonderful people in the pool - one being Norman Rotter, a Canadian backpacker, who would later join our group down the canyon and become a true friend, but more about Norm (AKA Indiana Jones) later.

So we were all set up, and waiting for the rest of our group to arrive from Jo'berg. The scary part is watching groups finishing the hike - knowing the final count down was on for us. We took a short stroll down to the river, but turned back after about 10 minutes - was that fear I saw in Keith's eyes or just excitement? - time would tell.

Here is our first glimpse of the Fish River....

The next day the rest of our party arrived and we had one day to catch up and trade training stories and injuries. There was lots of nervous laughter, good natured banter and of course a braai (BBQ)!
That's all for the start...I apologize if it's terribly long winded, but this diary is as much for me as for you.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Back to Life

Dear Friends and Family,

Just to let you all know we are all back safe and sound! No major injuries, but plenty of aches and pains and stories to tell.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers while we were away - and I can't wait to share the tale of this adventure!

Rose and Thorn

Jeremiah 17: 7-8

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water."

It is not your business to succeed, but to do what is right : when you have done so, the rest lies with God.
C.S. Lewis

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