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False Travel Namibia 29 Rain in the Namib is entirely irregular, and very sparse. The only reliable sources of moisture are the dews, left by the freezing fogs that mill around for days. On these all life depends: luckily, the seemingly sterile sand is just rich enough in organic and chemical materials to support a food- chain. First come the grasses and scrawny shrubs, the insects ( mostly beetles) and lizards, spiders and crabs that scuttle about beneath them; then the rodents and other smaller mammals, tiny klipspringers, springbok and the noble gemsbok – which can go for weeks without water – then the cheetahs, desert lions, rhino and the desert- adapted elephant; none of them particularly good- tempered, but all astonishing in their capacity to survive among so much unending sand. And the sand has one more surprise: it speaks. Or rather, it hums, growls and positively roars. Not to order, and by no means everywhere. But where conditions are right – the size, variety and distribution of the grains, depths of the dune, and other factors not yet revealed to science – its voice can be heard if you send a few bucketfuls of sand cascading down the slope. Some describe the sand as ‘ singing’, but that hopelessly diminishes what can amount to an overwhelming rumble, like the beginnings of an earthquake. Marco Polo heard it too, in the Gobi Desert, and his report was not believed either. The poet William Blake saw eternity in a grain of sand. He saw the mystery in child- like things. Sadly, he never did get to Namibia. Nasa / Science Photo Library shot Top left: Far Away. Waves of sand piled up high by coastal winds are clearly visible from space. The Sossusvlei clay pan - white and grey - was eroded and deposited by the rare heavy rains that run off the high ground to the right left: Close- up. The multicolured grains of Namib sand MATTATTATT PHILLIPS Sanandstime

False Undiscovered Namibia 30 Travel Namibia FishRiver Trekking through Fish River Canyon has always been for people who can happily carry everything they need for five days on their back. Now a new tour, already dubbed ‘ Fish River for Softies’, lets mules take the strain. It’s a great idea for tourists but, as Fabian von Poser found out, the mules have still to be convinced. Come on Kaiser, come on Bushman.” Neither mule budges an inch. Telané Greyling shrugs her shoulders. “ Come on Kaiser, come on Bushman,” she repeats, gently trying to egg them on. It doesn’t help to tighten the reins, to whisper or to shout. Kaiser and Bushman have had enough. Not another step. This is it for today. Mules, the offspring of horse ( maternal) and donkey ( paternal), are reputed to be easy to get along with, combining the physical strength and gentle character of a horse with the stamina and sure- footedness of a donkey. But Kaiser and Bushman are entitled to be a little bit grumpy, as they are carrying our 30 kg saddlebags down into the world’s second largest canyon. It’s a crisp morning in September when our group of 13 hikers sets off to explore the Fish River for four days, each of us leading our own mule. Nights will be spent under the starry sky, drinking from water holes and eating at the campfire. We start out from an old farmhouse at the northern end of the canyon. Across sandy plains and slopes littered with stones we make our way down. Then, suddenly, there is the canyon. Its towering rock faces rise up 500 metres. The wide loops through which the river meanders south cover a distance of almost 160 kilometres. Mannfred Goldbeck picks up a stick and draws the twisting route into the sand. “ The Fish River is one of the most beautiful hiking areas in southern Africa,” he says. Five- day walking tours, trekking 80 km through the canyon, have been available for years – but participants have to lug all their gear themselves. Now, as in The Grand Canyon in the US ( the world’s biggest canyon), you can let mules