I am a city girl. I love sushi, high heels, art galleries, movies and sun downers in chic beachfront restaurants. But instead of that I find myself paddling down the Orange River in Namibia; in an inflatable canoe; a hat literally the size of Panama perched on my head and every inch of my skin that is not covered is smothered with factor 50 sunblock.
How on earth did I land up here?
You see…there are friends and then there are FRIENDS. You know the ones…they are not just around for a good times, they are there to challenge you to grow as a person and are with you in the good and in the bad times. The ‘culprits’ for convincing me to paddle are these kind of FRIENDS. They invited us to book a 4 day trip down the Orange River – it was packaged as the trip of a life time. At first the city girl in me balked at the idea but then I started to hear the ‘BIG WINS’. The trip was fully catered with the most flavoursome food one could imagine. River swims, where the water temperature was just right. Sundowners around the fire at the end of each day. To top it all off they told me that we would paddle with the flow of the river so the trip would be more like a float down the river than a paddle. I was convinced! I could do this! I would be tough and when it was all over I could brag about what I had achieved.
The week of the trip we anxiously watched the weather report. We would have sunny skies. VERY SUNNY SKIES. 45 degrees kind of sunny! As it turns out our trip was falling right in the middle of the worst heat wave that the Orange River area had seen in years. Right. So a pre-paddle trip was made to go buy rash vests, large (very uncool) hats, polarised sun glasses, sarongs, buffs and the highest factor sun block we could find. The sun would not be getting to this skin!
Finally, after weeks of excitement and anticipation (aka dread) we were off. Day 1 involved getting to the camp site and chilling on the grass before we set off the next day. The day could not have been more perfect from the slight cooling breeze to the wonderful meal. I was content, I was full and I was congratulating myself on a job well done.
Warning: what followed the next day is not for the faint of heart so if you are city-girl squeamish I suggest you read one of our other blogs now.
The day dawned bright and clear with a gentle breeze. I found paddling to be a lot easier than I had anticipated but packing up the camp site before we got into the boats was tougher than expected. As it turned out I would be expected to set up my own tent every night and pack up again in the morning. Ok…no problem…I can learn a new skill. That was until I discovered the other new skill I was to learn – toileting. Needless to say there are no toilets along the river and a spade, a toilet roll, matches and a short climb into the bushes (mind the baby scorpions) were all it required to …well…you know. I would love to tell you what the matches were for but I don’t want to ruin all the surprises in case you are planning on doing this trip yourself.
While we paddled down the river (whose water level was so low there was no flow to float with) we chatted about how nice a breeze would be. That was a mistake. We got way more than we bargained for with gale force winds buffeting us head on. After an hour of gritting our teeth, paddling into the wind and not progressing more than 20 meters down river, we called it quits for the day. We hauled our tents and bedding out the boats and set up camp. Every day this pattern was repeated (fortunately without the wind blowing as much) and pretty soon a rhythm developed.
Now…ask me if I would do the trip again. Go on…ask me! Yes I would and you should too! I can almost hear you ask “Why would we do that after reading your tale of woe?” The answer is really simple. Paddling on the Orange River is a near spiritual experience. Not only is this due to the challenges you learn to overcome and the comradery that develops but also due to the unspoilt nature of the river. Dawn breaks rosy on the tips of the mountains as they surround you on each side of the river valley. Thousands of ‘gems’ sparkle and glitter with every dip of the oar. For bird watchers it is a paradise of kingfishers, falcons and other birds. Hidden corners of the river allow for quiet camping and those delightful sundowners that we had packed earlier. Breath-taking blankets of stars covered us at night after the sun had dipped below the mountain peaks.
There is nothing quite as exhilarating as riding the rapids – we even got to swim in some of them! There is nothing as beautiful as the early morning before the heat of the day hits. There is nothing more special than the stories around the camp fire as you discuss the day you had. There is nothing yummier than being served basil pesto, mozzarella and tomato on crackers as a lunch time starter while set up in the middle of a river! And there is definitely nothing funnier than discussing how next time you do the trip you want to dress as a pirate with water pistols to spray the other parties that you pass on the river.
Was it a tough trip? Indeed it was. Did I learn things about myself and about the people I was with? So much! Would I do it again? Yes I would….but if I could I would avoid a heat wave J . It is said that a picture speaks a thousand words so for now I am going to let some photos do the talking so that you can see why rafting the Orange River is indeed that once in a life time opportunity.