Follow my footsteps: In the Village

Having previously stayed at two of the Gondwana lodges in the vicinity of the canyon (the wacky Roadhouse and the Lodge), I hadn’t as yet experienced the Village. This was my chance.

Each lodge has its own character. The Roadhouse has its frontier-like atmosphere; the Lodge, its century-old farmhouse reception-restaurant area and bungalows nestled elegantly amongst the boulders; and the Village pays tribute to the early Nama people of the area and the history of the South.

A pile of stones referred to as a Haitsi Aibeb lies at the Village entrance in deference to the Nama deity of old. Haitsi Aibebs are visible in many parts of Namibia, usually adjacent to ancient paths or in the vicinity of watering holes, and are held in great respect. Travellers would stop, place a stone, twig, portion of venison, honey or tobacco and kneel down in prayer as they asked for favourable conditions and good hunting. Upon leaving, it was forbidden to look back. So, it’s best to pay your respects, ask politely for protection for your journey and move on!

I was drawn from my bungalow and my laptop by laughter as a donkey cart filled with children and luggage passed by on the path between the bungalows. I followed it to the front of the lodge. Usually used to transport a group’s luggage to the bungalows, it was now being used to transport a family the few kilometres from Village to Lodge. I snapped the happy faces of the party.

DSC_5729This was a different kind of lodge. Favoured by large groups, the 42-roomed lodge is built between a rocky mountain and granite boulders. The stone-clad bungalows are laid out in a circle within an amphitheatre of rock. The sprawling thatch-roofed interior, which is reception area, restaurant, souvenir shop, bar and lounge is lined with murals of Nama scenes. These range from a large mural in the entrance depicting life during the golden years of the mission stations to smaller renditions of various Nama traditions, dome-shaped grass dwellings (matjieshuise) and historic figures. The bungalows also contain paintings of Nama scenes and people who featured in the history of the south. Patchwork designs on the bedding and springbok skin mats hint of the traditional Nama skills, while the Cape Dutch style of the bungalows would have been introduced by Nama groups who travelled up from the Cape.

An ox-wagon with a century of adventures, experiences and hopes ingrained in its weathered timbers is positioned behind the buffet area and a horse cart stands amidst granite boulders and fireplaces in the bar. There is many a story at this lodge, stories that fill history books, bookshelves and memories. Gondwana is ensuring that many of these are recorded in their weekly newspaper columns and Gondwana History series, before they are lost to the past.

The experience reminded me that the land doesn’t only hold a wealth of flora and fauna but the rich history of the people who made it their home.

Ron Swilling

Ron Swilling

Ron Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

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Follow my footsteps: Show of shows – Celebrating sunrise and sunset in Gondwana Canyon Park

Every now and then I am struck by the realisation that every morning and every evening the Earth puts on a super-show to which absolutely nothing can compare. It is so vast and so extensive that every person in every part of the world can view it (at different times). There are no tickets needed and everyone is invited.

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Follow my footsteps: Show of shows – Celebrating sunrise and sunset in Gondwana Canyon Park

Yet, it is so seldom that we sit down to watch, appreciate or celebrate it. I have a suspicion that if we knew we only had a few sunrises or sunsets left, we wouldn’t miss them for the world.

It’s good to be reminded how absolutely magical these times of day actually are and I decided to celebrate both in style with Gondwana’s Canyon Lodge and Village. I was fortunate to be able to join the maiden voyage to their latest sunset destination.

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After a short drive from the lodges, we came within sight of the large rock formations that border the Village in an amphitheatre of rock and the rounded friendly granite boulders that are stacked on top of each other with the purple-blue Spiegelberg in the distance. As the sun’s Midas touch transformed everything into gold, we passed rod-like Euphorbias and robust quiver trees reaching heavenward until a turn between two dolerite outcrops revealed something equally exciting. A semi-circle of chairs was placed around a rocky fireplace and a drink and snack table awaited us. It was time to celebrate!

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As the colours deepened, the rocks and quiver trees shone. I discovered (thanks to guide Valentino) that the small koppie was the king’s throne for this show of shows, the short climb up giving the extra elevation to fully appreciate the magnificence of the landscape.

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I caught the early show the following morning and joined a group for sunrise amidst the quiver trees. The subtle pastel shades of pinks and purples glowed gold as the sun peeped its head over the horizon and lit up the sky. I was suitably impressed, humbled – and awed. This was surely enough to make you kneel down and worship, and if not that then definitely a huge round of applause and a standing ovation were in order.

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And then, acting nonchalantly (of course, this happens every day, you know), the group was eager to return to the lodge for breakfast, leaving the Sun and Earth to their own separate dances until they met again later in the day to merge and make magic.

Ron SwillingRon Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

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Follow my footsteps: The ancient smile – Namibia’s Fish River Canyon

We all went our different ways early in the morning and I caught a ride back to the Roadhouse with fellow hikers. It wasn’t yet time for me to leave the south, I still had the Gondwana Canyon Park to explore and the canyon to visit.

The drive to the second largest canyon in the world takes you by surprise, every time. The 10km drive from Hobas is along a stony road surrounded by an expanse of dry land and there is no hint of the earth opening up into a generous smile just a few kilometres away.

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Follow my footsteps: The ancient smile – Namibia’s Fish River Canyon

This ancient smile, millions of years old, is not even visible from the car park at the main viewpoint. It is only when you alight from your vehicle and walk to the edge (like so many things in Life!), that the geological masterpiece becomes apparent. And, it stops you in your tracks, every time.

The yawning chasm is simply there. When we overcome our awe-inspired shock at seeing something so grand – and that all depends on our capacity for wonder – we try to absorb it. But, the time-span and geological evolution involved is way beyond our human comprehension. In relation to this ancient grandfather, we are new-born babes and we can only look on with admiration.

It is highly recommended to stretch legs - and gain a sense of the spirit and energy of the place - with a walk on the path along the rim from the main viewpoint to Hikers Point.  Or take a stroll at Sulphur Springs further south. Be prepared to be dazzled!

It is highly recommended to stretch legs – and gain a sense of the spirit and energy of the place – with a walk on the path along the rim from the main viewpoint to Hikers Point. Or take a stroll at Sulphur Springs further south. Be prepared to be dazzled!

What I always find refreshing is the lack of tourist trappings here. Once again, as in so many places in this strange and wonder-full country, Namibia’s jewels are humbly presented. There is also a spellbinding aspect to this tourist (and earthling) attraction: there are no barriers, except for the railing at the main viewpoint. The power, grandeur and magnificence of the canyon are not kept from us in any way. Vertigo, risk and a slightly uneasy feeling of danger merge here on the edge of spectacular greatness. They remind you that this holy place needs to be honoured – and respected, as a few souls who have descended into the canyon, never to be seen again, would testify if they had a chance.

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Ron SwillingRon Swilling is a freelance writer, based in Cape Town, writing for Namibian and South African publications. She is a regular contributor to Gondwana’s History and Stamps&Stories columns and documented the intriguing information of the Wild Horses in Namibia for Mannfred Goldbeck and Telané Greyling. She invites you to ‘Follow her footsteps’ on her journey from the Orange River, exploring the Gondwana routes through the intriguing country of Namibia.

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