Drifting the Orange

Picture the scene: 10 unshaven men travelling in a pack, five days into the trip, testosterone leaking out everywhere (ok, so most of us were 45+ so the testosterone was possibly not that active), the veneer of civilisation wearing very thin, the beer flowing as we pitched our tents. The following day we were due to start down the river for a 3 day canoe trip when our guide comes up to us and with a proposal.

The conversation went something like this…

Guide – “Uhh, the other group leaving tomorrow is full, and, ummm…”

Motley Crew – polite raised eyebrows, sip of beer, tent kicked, “…and…?”

Guide, casting a dubious eye over us, – “… well, there are two young Belgian ladies who want to run the river and we would like to know if you lot would mind if we add them to your group…?”

Instant sucking in of stomachs and brushing back of hair from the peacocks in the group, worried frowns from the married contingent and aghast expressions from the drinking contingent…  Heads bobbed, eyebrows arched and a couple of mutterings as the crew debated amongst itself.

Motley Crew, coming to a decision – “Well, we don’t mind but…”

Guide, expectantly cheerful – Yup?”

Motley Crew – “… we do like to party at night…”

Guide, delighted – “No Problem!”

Motley Crew – “No, really party, and burp and fart and curse and play drums and howl at the moon…” Realising that nothing we could say was going to change the inevitable course of events, we acceded graciously and welcomed the young ladies into our group.

Next morning bags are packed into buckets, beverages stashed, cameras primed, one last dry picture and off we went.

The first morning was straight into a headwind so stiff that it made it feel like we were rowing upstream! By the time we stopped for lunch our poor geriatric arms had turned to lead and even the act of raising a beer can became a challenge – not one we backed down from, though!

I did manage to get a few pics of some very energetic rowers contemplating the upcoming afternoon’s paddle.

Short stop for lunch and off we went, the wind dropped, the river meandered, a couple of small rapids to add some excitement (and downhill…) and before we knew it late afternoon had arrived and we beached for the night. Camp was rapidly setup, tents pitched and the first drinks poured.

I saw a nice rise behind the campsite which I decided to climb to get a good shot of the camp.

Unfortunately, behind that hill was another higher hill, and behind that… I am a sucker for climbing to the highest point around! A short while later I stood high above the valley with the river stretching back up the path it had carved over the past millennium, the setting sun turning the hills to glowing bronze waves.

The camp is down there somewhere…and the party is starting!

It was while I was sitting up in the sky, sojourning with the stillness of the near desert when the silence was raucously slashed by the sounds of cackling laughter filtering up past me. I peered down to the river far below and could just make out the camp. And boy, did it sound like a good party was going on! Noting that not only was darkness coming in fast but also that I was missing out on sundowners, I ricocheted down the mountain and headed for the hills…

That first night on the river turned into a great party with excellent grub (cooked by the guides) and an impromptu drumming session lead by the irrepressible Erik on buckets, ably assisted by little drummer boy Sharpie (on pots) and   accompanied by the dulcet baritone vocals of the crooning Harvey.  Much (much) later we finally succumbed to the call of the Sandman and crept off to bed… something Erik only crawled out of as the canoes were being launched for the days fun in the sun! He spent the rest of the day crawling under the nearest bush seeking shade whenever we stopped for a break!

Obviously, it was something he ate.

The next two days passed pretty much as the first except the wind stayed away and the rapids got bigger and more exciting – not quite white water rafting but enough for us to fall out regularly and get a good soaking. Meals remained good and we ensured, through regular consumption of the liquid refreshments, that the canoes became lighter and lighter as the days progressed.

Early morning read…

Before we kenw it, it was all over. The canoes lifted from the river and packed onto the bus and trailer and we headed back to the camp for a quick shower, a short hop back to the border, across into South Africa where we continued our journey alongside the Orange (instead of on it).

It was late in the afternoon, while stopped to decide on our route and when we were literally in the middle of nowhere, 10km from the last sign of civilisation, pouring over a map, that we heard a voice …


Whirling around we were confronted by the image of a man.  approx aged 30, obviously out for a training run, all kitted out and with a patina of sweat on his face and shoulders. He flashed us a smile of gleaming white teeth, checked if we were ok and, on finding out we were, he casually jogged down the road, around a tree and vanished. Now, its not as if we were in the jungle, there was barely enough bush to hide an anorexic rabbit but this character melted away and left us all looking at one another, shaking our heads, checking the beers for illegal substances before once more peering down the road to see where he would reappear…which he never did. The whole experience was surreal. Whoever he was, we hope he enjoyed the run because he sure as hell spooked us into finding camp with the kind of alacrity that would make the marines proud – and this definitely before the sun set!


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