If you can walk around the Canyon Roadhouse without grinning like a loon, I’m sorry but you just have no sense of humour. In fact, you might even be half dead.
Also read: Orange River to Fish River Canyon, in photos
You’ll find the Canyon Roadhouse (or Cañon if you want to be Mexican about it) around 15km west of the Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia. A vast, barn-like structure with a bright red ‘roadhouse’ roof is the heart of the place, serving as reception, shop, bar and dining room.
You can feel just how much fun the Gondwana Collection has had with the décor – auto memorabilia and wackiness being the main themes. The corrugated iron bar is awash in old metal signs advertising anything from the AA, John Deere and Harley-Davidson to BP oil, Turtle wax and Valvoline.
‘Eat here, get gas,’ one sign encourages with amusing ambiguity. Another declares the hamburgers are ‘the way they were before McDonalds stuffed em up’. An army of licence plates marches up the sides of the bar and forms a bizarre kind of wallpaper in the bathrooms.
A large truck serves as reception desk and there’s a bunch of old cars all around the shed, from an old Chev with a dickie seat at the back, to a cherry-red Morris Minor and white Mercedes ambulance, even an old steam-driven tractor.
Here an open bonnet embraces a plank of wood that holds part of the breakfast buffet, there a couple of vehicles have been modified into fireplaces to keep the place cheery in winter. Tables and chairs are scattered among the cars so no matter where you sit, there’s lots to keep you entertained.
The roadhouse cat snoozes comfortably on the green carpet upholstery of the bench-seat in an old black Fargo truck. A sign on a wall nearby declares, ‘Parking for Italians Only – all others will be towed.’ Another gets more threatening: ‘Ducati Parking Only – all others will be crushed.’ Posters are a reminder of the past, advertising brands like Thunderbird, Trabant, DKW and Buick.
The theme continues outside the shed. A quiver tree grows out of the otherwise empty engine bay of a rusted car, while the interior of another car sprouts a riot of cacti. Cadillac, Wolsley and Mercedes are names to excite lovers of old cars, and here they grow like shrubs in the garden, one filled to the midline with gravel, another showing clear signs of nesting mice.
Rusted old tools cover the outside walls of the rooms – old wheel rims with spokes, spanners, tongs, and more. There are camelthorn trees too, and gemsbok came in the evening looking for pods to crunch on, a reminder that this is part of an unfenced conservation area. Sparrows and prinias chittered in the trees in the fresh morning air, but by 10am it was scorching hot again, the sun beating down even in May.
After breakfast we took a last trip to the loo with its Coppertone, Borax Extract and Cadbury advertisements, its movie posters of Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. We filled up with ultra-modern low-sulphur diesel 50 at the ancient pumps outside and leaned forward into the next canyon adventure.
If ever you find yourself in the area, don’t rush past; make a pit stop at the Canyon Roadhouse to refuel with yummy Amarula cheesecake and drink in the atmosphere. If you appreciate old things and have a soft spot for funkiness, you’ll love the place as much as we did.
For more photos, see my blog post Fun at the old Canyon Roadhouse.
To follow more of my adventures, see my African travel blog.