Over New Years (yes this blog post is late) a group of friends and I decided that we were going to paddle down the Orange River over a 4 day period with a company called Bushwhacked.
The Orange River for those of you that have my geographical skills is the border between South Africa and Namibia. They call it the Richtersveld and it is possibly one of the harshest environments one can experience or witness. It is a seven and a half hour drive up to the border of Namibia and of course we decided to drive up in December. As we drove north the temperature on my car went up. Driving into Bushwhacked it was a whopping 55 Degrees Celsius
This adventure was going to be one of heat and tough paddling.
We spent the first night at base camp, a beautifully set up space for you to practice your camping skills for the first night. Everyone settled in and of course the heavy debate of what to take and what to leave behind ensued.
We were given two dry bags and a cooler box per boat. You have to paddle your boat, so you don’t want to make it a very heavy one. The dilemma? You also don’t want to be out there in the riverbed without your basic comforts.
Lesson number one: Travel light and nimble as an elf.
After many a debate we settled on leaving our tent behind. thereby cutting our clothing in half and making sure we had plenty of snacks and drinks for the river.
After breakfast we headed out on what was sure to be the adventure of a lifetime. The only problem is that after the first 100m I realised I might have possibly bitten off more than I can chew. But I realised in that moment that there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Lesson number two: Finish what you start.
Very soon after leaving the base camp the beauty of your environment hits you. I could not believe the colour of the rocks and the mountains surrounding us. Some were bright orange and others deep red all the while with green trees on the boarder of the river and blue skies. The vivid colour palette was something I will never forget.
We paddled until lunch and then found a spot on the side of the river where our guide and his assistance setup lunch. The food is basic but simply delicious with a carefully thought out menu I could not fault. I had to question whether in survival mode if I would be fussy?
Between every moment you find yourself in the water. It was the only relief from the relentless heat that pounded down on us. Sunblock was sure to be our best friend and a precious commodity over the next few days.
Lesson number three: wear sunscreen. Yes, like the song. He was right.
Paddling further after lunch and facing a strong head wind I again questioned if this break was for me. With my arms burning and my sense of humor fading I learnt my fourth lesson on the Orange River. Stop sulking, there is nothing you can do about it so change your attitude and be positive. A special shout out to my girlfriend for surviving me and to all the couples that broke up and got back together that afternoon!
Our first night of camping without a tent left me with mixed emotions. The stars are unlike anything you have ever seen before but so are the insects. Now I wouldn’t call myself a city girl who lacks adventure but I will say this. I don’t want bugs on me. At all. With mixed emotions we set up camp and started counting shooting stars. The first night was possibly the best as the moon decided to put on a show and rose over the mountains. Drifting in and out of sleep, I remember thinking every time I opened my eyes that I was in the most beautiful place I had ever slept in my life.
The sun rises early so you do too. Packing up the camp after our river shower and making sure we hit the water early was our daily mission.
Lesson number five: The early bird catches the worm
Paddling down the river I couldn’t believe the harsh environment that the animals of the Orange River live in. The sun beats down with no mercy and the only way to protect yourself is to cover up with wet sarongs. It made me appreciate evolution and the animals ability to survive in their surrounding. We saw a troupe of baboons that clearly looked as if they thrived. I however was twitching that I might not have enough sunblock!
Lesson number six: Be grateful for what you have, someone else has it harsher.
Our second day of paddling was fantastic. The water moved faster so the paddling was easier. We also did what is called a nappy run. This is when you tie your life jacket around your bum like a nappy and go legs first down the river. I simply loved it. If you surrender to the river you feel as if you are flowing with the water. Even when the rapid pulls you under it brings you back up. It was exhilarating.
Lesson number seven: Sometimes you just got to let go and surrender.
By late afternoon on the second day we had setup camp. Again no tent. I was fine with this given the first night was beautiful. Mother Nature however had a different idea and decided to test us with a freak electrical storm. Within the space of 5 minutes we went from blue skies to rain and lightning with gale force winds. I was still standing in my bikini! The temperature dropped so suddenly that I started shaking. I thought to myself, this is it. This is how I die, in a leopard print bikini in the Orange River. Twenty minutes later there were blue skies. It was wild. The rest of the evening was spent on edge waiting for a curve ball from our environment. It never arrived.
Lesson number eight: Life is what happens when you are making other plans.
Our third day was again magical. Floating/paddling down the river with ice cold drinks and a group of friends that can laugh at any situation I realised how grateful I was for the people in my life. Being able to laugh no matter what is critical to your survival. If we didn’t laugh there were definitely moments we would cry. But in these moments I realised my next Orange River lesson. Laughter is the best medicine.
With the sun setting on our third day on the Orange River I went for a walk with my girlfriend. We stood in the middle of the Orange River and looked around us. It is massive and magnificent. Best of all? It is actually right in our back yard. I cannot believe so many people are trekking over seas when they haven’t even seen this part of the country. I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. To walk on the riverbed and see how majestic the mountains are, and to know that I was seeing something few people could see because few people would voluntarily sleep with out a tent, paddle their butt off and do their business in the bush. I felt like I had accomplished something; that I had an adventure not many will have in their lifetime and that it all came from hard work.
Lesson number ten: Be brave and capture the spirit of adventure within you.
We watched the sunset and boy, did it put on a show. The colours were something else. With great company, laughter, good food and a comfortable seat I felt content.
We set up camp on the edge of the riverbed and lay watching fireflies to the sound of frogs croaking. It was like a scene from a movie until it started raining. So about that no tent thing… Pack one. A small durable waterproof tent. It is worth the slog. I must admit it was an all-time low in my life lying in the dark on a riverbed in the rain.
Lesson number eleven: Make the best of a bad situation.
On our last day we paddled to brunch and shortly afterward set out to do shamrock. I rapid which is classed as a stage three difficulty and was going to test us, all the team work and communication we had built up over the last three days on the river. We had to paddle extra and carry our boats 500 meters across rocks if we wanted to do it. We did. We decided that we had come this far and nothing was going to stop us now. What a blast it was and if you ever find yourself there remember lesson number eleven. Nothing in life comes without a little bit of hard work!
Once we left the river I had this instant sense of nostalgia for the last few days. Was that it? It went so fast! I felt like I was a fully-fledged river rat and I didn’t want that to change!
The busses pick you up and take you across the border, which is quick and painless. You return to the campsite sun beaten, tired and ready for a shower. I promise you it is the best shower you will ever have!
We spent New Years Eve in the campsite with spit braai’s (a South African BBQ with a whole sheep) and cold beer, which was a perfect way to watch the sun go down on the final day of a very rough year. It got me thinking. 2015 was a hard year as I have mentioned but it was also a great year. I grew from strength to strength. This was the year that launched the blog and ended it with the adventure of a lifetime. Which bought me to my final Orange River lesson.
Lesson number twelve: No one said it would be easy. They only said it would be worth it.
Thank you to Jonathan Tucker, my love, my friends and of course The Orange River for a trip and lessons I will never forget!