Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Unforgettable Five Days on the Orange River

We've booked weeks ago, worked hard in anticipation and looked forward to it since the tour began, and now I'm glad to say that our 5-day rowing of the Orange River has met and exceeded our expectations! The Orange River (also called the Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River) is the longest river in South Africa, as well as separating South Africa and Namibia. It starts in the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho, provides water to many cities, towns and farmers, and flows through the Richtersveld and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

We rowed with Bundi (there are quite a number of tour operators running river rafting trips available), camping the day of arrival and departure at their Base Camp near Noordoewer on the Namibian side. Arriving late evening, we pitched in our 2 small hiking tents and had a delicious dinner prepared by our guides. 

 Preparation. We were given one waterproof barrel and cooler per boat (inflatable rubber ducks called "Crocs"). Thus dad rowed on his own, and mom and us 3 switched between 2 Crocs. 

The next day after breakfast and a prep talk, we were off with our 2 guides, Ronny and Michael, both whom are Nama. There are quite a few ethnic groups of people in Namibia, with names such as the Herero, the Damara, the Nama, the San (Bushmen), the Rehoboth Basters, the Caprivian, the Kavango, the Himba and the Owambo. The Nama, Damara and San (Bushmen) tribes are considered to be the original inhabitants of Namibia, and speak a similar Khoi 'click' language. In other words, they are the closest thing you'll get to the real Bushmen of old, the nomadic hunters and herdsmen of Africa. Both speak really good Afrikaans however, and are excellent guides who know the river and area very well. 

Day 1, with no sore arms yet!

Paddling was not hard - the trips are not just for extreme sport fans. 

It was not uncomfortably hot during the days (autumn weather), but we had a good amount of swimming breaks anyway. Diver 1 ready.....diver 2 launching (nice one dad)...

Who needs to tire when you've got life jackets?

Now, how to get back on the Croc....

Rock jumping! 

One of the guides were usually in front (especially during the rapids - most of the rapids aren't very big, but shallow water means rocks, and rocks mean Crocs getting stuck on them). Here Michael is waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Ronny, our anti-sunburn, paddle-wielding ninja guide. He looked like this most of the time. 

The famous Thumbprint, a pretty cool rock formation sighting along the way. 

We saw a lot of these cormorants drying themselves in the sun. So we followed suite!

We slept in our 2 little tents when the wind was cold, but the rest of the time it was like this.

One has a surprising amount of free time on such a trip, so cards were played, tennis balls tossed, naps taken and photos snapped. Spot the ball. 

Endless fascination.

All meals were made Ultimate Braai Master style - on the fire by the guides (mom really enjoyed this). We sat around the campfire late evenings, listening to Ronny's stories and watching sunsets. Ronny can tell stories for hours (storytelling is in their genes, as it used to be a way they preserved their legacy. It's a difficult form of art, really), and we learned a lot about the kind of lives these people have. 

Sunsets, sunrises - we got them all (unusual for us late-sleepers..). 

Day 2, our guides introduced us to a most delightful activity - the nappy run. Putting our life jackets on upside-down, we followed Michael and drifted down a very fast rapid with waves splashing our faces and toes in the air. Once you're through the fastest though, you have to quickly swim to shore while the current takes you downstream. It was great fun and we did it 3 or 4 times.

Nappies on...

Nappies run! 

On the first 3 days, we rowed about 15 km a day, reaching our overnight spots (which the guides choose depending on the group size, fitness, weather conditions, etc.) around 3pm. 

When drifting through the beautiful, desert-like scenery, it's easy to think you're the only human being in the entire area, but it's actually surprising how many herdsmen live along the river. We often saw the goats and/or sheep grazing next to the river, and quite a few houses and kraals. 

The boys figured out a way to catch fish without a net or a fishing rod. They seemed to lure them into a mini dam they dug, then caught them by hand and put them in a bottle. 

A natural, perfectly round hole in a rock.  

Day 3 we reached our overnight spot before lunch, and thus had time to go on a walk after lunch to a nearby old Fluorspar mine. We collected some of this green crystal, and later that night threw it into the coals. It starts glowing green, then literally explodes, sending green pieces of crystal flying. Dangerous maybe, but nature's very own fireworks display. I wish I could have taken a photo.

We woke up that morning with half-a-rainbow in the sky. Rather strange, but awesome. 

Miners at work, looking for fluorspar. 

Family photo! 

From above, we saw how full the river can actually get...(click image for large). 

I loved the dune-like mountains...

...while mom preferred these. 

Day 4 was my 16th birthday, and I woke to the full moon shining above the mountains. Thanks to mom, lots of people had written messages beforehand which she gave to me that morning - it was a big surprise! We ate a lot of chocolate and rowed 26 km, due to Ronny telling mom about some 'Half-mense' (literally 'half humans', referring to Pachypodium plants, a genus of rare succulent spine-bearing trees and shrubs found in very specific climates). These Half-mense are growing on top of a mountain next to the river, thus if we could row to the base of the mountain that day, we could climb it the next day to see these plants, and still get to the pickup point in time.

Sixteen and I row it! 

While I didn't get any presents on the day itself, I did get a very special and unique birthday gift from our guides: a real Bushman dance performance, with singing in their language and all! Watch the video here.

My sweet (sixteen..), colorful 'cake', if you can call it that...

While the guides were making lunch, we checked out an abandoned mine. Apparently the road leading to the mine washed away, and it wasn't worth rebuilding. 

Maarten checking out the sorting tables, just to make sure they didn't miss 

On the last day, we woke up and climbed a mountain, literally. With our 2 Klipspringer-like guides leading the way (Michael didn't even bother to change from his flipflops..), we reached the top and got some breathtaking views of the surroundings. We also saw the famed Half Mens in its natural habitat.

Mountain conquered! Ronny and Michael then admitted they didn't think we would make it, as their experience with other groups taught them few people actually climb the whole mountain.  

As these plants only grow about 1 cm a year, and my dad is almost 2 meters tall, this is not just any plant. It's a grandpa plant (more than 200 years old)!

Do you think little Half-mense should be called Half-kinders (half children)? 

Overall, it was just the right combination of relaxation, adventure, fun, beauty and learning. Thanks for reading!


  1. Alhoewel ons ook die einste roete in 1990 geroei het, is dit 'n belewenis om weer te ervaar soos gesien deur jou oë. Wat 'n wonderlike avontuur!

    1. "Beauty is timeless," veral natuurskoonheid. Dit was heerlik xx

  2. Ek lief die kormorant familie foto!!!!

    1. Toe ek die idee gekry het, was ek ook klaar mal oor dit gewees :)


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