There was nothing unusual about our arrival at Cañon lodge, in fact it was perfectly ordinary: a friendly staff member or two came out to shoulder our heavy bags and manager, Michael awaited us at the entrance with welcome drinks, a firm handshake and the keys to our delightful cottages nestled among Namib Desert rocks. With such a polite welcome, how could we possibly have guessed that we were in for a extremely fun-filled stay that it would end in familiar farewells... hugs and all... only a day later?
Yes, it may be slap bang in the middle of nowhere, but something about this desolate setting seems to unleash the wild thing lurking within the weary traveler... at least that was the effect it had on our little group. Or maybe the desolate setting has nothing to do with it, but rather the vibrant management team's ability to orchestrate a party out of nothing, except a couple of drinks and their evil secret weapon - a snuff machine. But more about that later, let's first explore the lodge, shall we?
Firstly, slap bang in the middle of nowhere is hardly a very helpful guideline to get you where you want to be (and this is definitely a place anyone would want to be!)... so, going by the map, let's just say it lies on a gravel road called the C37 somewhere between the towns of Granau and Seeheim. However, if you like going by landmarks, it is a mere 20 km away from Hobas, the main viewpoint of the Fish River Canyon in the Fish River Canyon National Park.
As with its close relative, Kalahari Farmhouse, Cañon Lodge is an absolute oasis after kilometers and kilometers of arid, grey vistas. Weeping willows, flourishing green grass, and a pond complete with lotus-like water lilies drifting about are the first sights that greet one on arrival. Entering the main building, an old farmstead built by two Bavarian brothers in 1908, containing the restaurant and bar, you suddenly find yourself back in the pioneering days of desert farming and diamond hunting. Tools, instruments, keys, typewriters, match boxes, pipes, and all sorts of trinkets from yesteryear decorate the walls and spill into every available space, creating a magically relaxed museum setting.
Getting to the cottages is a whole different experience, as you exit through the back of the main lodge, right back into the arid world you left behind at the front. With quiver trees dotting the long and winding pathway, an old-fashioned well, massive red-tinged granite boulders piled a-top each other and an endless blue sky above it is stunningly beautiful. Hidden among these unusual hills, you will find 25 pitch-roofed cottages - each delightfully cool and inviting with their natural rocky interiors and copper fans. However, after the heat of a December day in the desert you may seek the extra coolness of the pool. A bit of a challenge as it lies a good few 100 meters further along the path, but once you get there it's all worth it. Surrounded by green lawns, the pool sits right on the precipe of a mini plato overlooking the spreading Namib.
And if you think swimming during the day is a treat, I have to tell you that a night time dip (whether fully clothed or in the nude) is even more magical, as the lack city lights allows the heavens to shine as they should. How do I know this? Well... yes, it did have something to do with that evil snuff machine wielded by the lovely management team.
To be fair, it all started with sundowners - something I found to be Namibian lodge life's national pastime - followed by a delicious buffet dinner, and then of course a night cap or two at the in house bar. We'd been eyeing the strange contraption for a while, but when they decided the time was right Michael and Elizabeth (redubbed Helga after her iron-rule of the bar) introduced it to us. And not gently.
Basically what looked like an innocent wooden frame turned out to be more of a guillotine as mint-flavoured snuff shoots through your nose and right into your brain. How it works: you hold your nose against a little iron hook on top of the wooden contraption, underneath your nostrils are two little holes containing generous amount of snuff. On the other side of the machine someone holds a small wooden hammer, bringing it down hard upon the metal surface causing a seesaw effect that shoots the snuff into your sinuses.
Crazy, but cool. A truly Namibian contraption, and ice-breaker deluxe.
All things considered - everything from the spontaneous hospitality to the delightful cottages to the languid swimming pool - Cañon Lodge was a true desert treat that comes highly recommended for anyone looking to explore the Fish River Canyon from its outskirts.