The best thing about walking is that it’s free and you can do it anywhere. Well, almost anywhere – it’s difficult on an aeroplane, of course, and in Japan. Nevertheless, the vast majority of our planet can be trodden freely, from the suburbs of a city to the depths of a forest. Take with you a generous dose of curiosity and you’ll soon find that walking becomes a deeply personal and rewarding experience, and the smallest wonders will fascinate you like a child in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, or Jabba the Hut in a gym.
Indeed, the best way to see the world, to explore it without inhibition, is by foot. Only then can you truly experience a place, feel its earth, smell its air and hear its sounds. With this in mind, I travelled to Fish River Lodge in Namibia, keen to spend a week exploring the surrounding landscape, engaging with its wildlife, being at one with the African wilderness, and, hopefully, discovering myself in the process. Only joking – I just wanted to go for a relaxing walk each day.
My attention was drawn to the lodge because its website proudly declared that it sits ‘8 meters from the rim of the Canyon’ in Canyon Nature Park. Any place bold enough to use this as a selling point had to be worth visiting. Much to my delight, they weren’t lying – had I so desired, I could easily have spat the gristle from the meat in each evening’s meal into the canyon’s dark abyss, rather than the restaurant’s napkin. But this did nothing to detract from my stay, apart from making me slightly nervous each time I wandered around in the dark.
Wandering around in the day was far less stressful.
Imagine the circulatory system of a human being stretched across a table – gross, isn’t it? But this is exactly what the canyons of Namibia look like from above, an intricate network of valleys that was once flat, until a movement in the earth’s crust caused the valley bottoms to collapse and the present landscape was formed. I’d have loved to have seen that happen.
Walking across this land is challenging; the earth is arid, cracked and unforgiving, and shrubbery almost non-existent. The sun dries your skin so that it begins to resemble the earth beneath your feet, and gritty sweat attacks your eyes like an incessant mosquito at a light bulb. Nevertheless, it is a dramatic place to be, and for those who enjoy walking, its potential is endless.
Or so I thought.
I actually found that after three or four days I had pretty much exhausted my appetite for arid landscapes, not to mention my legs, and began longing for a little greenery. Thankfully, Fish River Lodge provided me with the perfect retreat to see out the remaining days of my holiday wallowing in luxury and heat – it’s difficult to tire of a book and comfy sofa against a backdrop of crickets and the African bush, after all.
By Kirk Shackleton