Our Southern African Adventure, Part 3: Namibia – Canoeing down the Orange River

After a night of fearing the doll’s dress above our bed and the haunted town outside, I was ready to get to a happy place. As Rich knows all too well, when you have a sad, scared or depressed Lis there is one surefire way to bring a smile to my face and a lasting happy demeanor: add water, big great expanses of water. Thankfully the next day would have us crossing into Namibia, and spending two days paddling our way along the calm waters of the Orange River.

Day 7

From Hondeklipbaai it was a fairly quick trip to the border of South Africa and Namibia. Leaving South Africa was a fairly painless process that day, with the most time-consuming activity being that of waiting for BJ. He had declared that there was a distinct possibility that we might not have access to a clean, flushing toilet for quite some time, and decided that he must poop as much as possible now, before we crossed over. Once all our passports had been stamped, the trucks registration checked, and BJ had returned from the toilet, we were crossing the Orange River and into Namibia.

Getting our passports stamped to enter into Namibia took quite some time. We had to be reminded several times that many of the countries we were exploring ran on “Africa time” (very, very slow), and that we had to just keep smiling so that the immigration officers would not want to annoy us further and take even more time (I don’t think they had much access to entertainment during the work day). It was so painful to watch as the officers seemed to stop working all together for a few minutes here and there so that they could check facebook or argue over whether or not to turn the air conditioning up.

Eventually the entire group made it through, and stumbling back onto the truck in the incredible heat of the day, we drove fifteen minutes down the road to the camp site from where we would be launching our canoes.

Arriving at the site, run by Felix Unite River Adventures, we were greeted by our river guide. After giving us a quick briefing on the adventures ahead, kayak paddles rather than canoe paddles were thrust into our hands, and we were instructed to put all the gear we’d need for the next two days into two twenty-liter tubs that would be strapped into our canoes. The tubs would essentially water proof all our gear in case we capsized at any point during the trip.

As the Orange River acts as the border between South Africa and Namibia, we’d always find that Namibia would be on our right and South Africa on our left. Launching our boats, it became obvious quickly that there was going to be a divide in terms of speed within the group. Rich and I paced quite well with BJ and RH, the German, who were in a boat together, as well as two of the Norwegian girls, FP and CL. Our group of three canoes often turned around to find that the rest of the boats were a good 500 meters behind (though we could still hear RY, one of the Kiwis, with surprising clarity throughout the trip).

A heron perches itself along a cliff face
A heron perches itself along a cliff face

The river was incredibly lazy, and in the heat I kept wondering if it might be alright if I just hopped out of the canoe and floated down stream. I probably would have, had we not been told several times not to get out of the boat without our guides permission – crocodiles were a distinct possibility.

We spent the next few hours paddling down along the river, remarking at the hilly expanse to either side of us. Occasionally, we’d spot some South Africans going for a swim in the river or sunning themselves on the riverbank and lazily converse with them as we were swept downstream. Herons and kingfishers would swoop in and out of the river, diving beneath the surface should they ever spot a fish.

Every so often we’d encounter some small rapids – Class 2 at best – and be allowed to navigate our way down. These small rapids weren’t anything crazy, though some seemed to have difficulty with them – lots of arguing could be heard coming from the British couple each time we approached a set – but they certainly helped to break up the monotony of the river.

Running our kayaks ashore, we docked along a bank on the Namibian side of the river. After unloading our tubs which would ultimately double as seats, the group of us wandered into a neighboring forest in search of fire wood. Intrigued by the commotion, a monkey found its way to the edge of our make-ship camp. Not having a wonderful relationship with our monkey cousins after a few encounters in Asia, I wondered aloud if it was going to bring its friends back to camp that night during our dinner.

After a dinner uninterrupted by monkeys, cooked over our open fire, and a fair amount of beer and wine, the lot of us began to nod off and clamor into our sleeping bags. We would spend the night sleeping under the stars.

Day 8

The next day was bright and clear, and though the river was quite calm we had another 18 kilometers of paddling to go. Rich and I sadly did not enjoy this second day out on the river nearly as much as we had our first day. The rapids were few and far between, and our guide appeared more interested in his phone than he did in us. Often times, those of us at the front of the group would encounter forks in the river. Though we tried to paddle against the tide long enough for our guide to give us instructions on which way to go, we’d eventually get bored and just glide along, waiting for any hint of the proper direction. When the guide opted to look up and take notice of us, we’d get yelled at for drifting so far down stream.

There’d also be times that he’d stop by a riverbank, and the lot of us thinking we were meant to stop as well would push up onto the sand. Only after a few of us were fully stationary on the sandbank would he tell us that we were actually continuing onwards. We’d then spend the next few minutes trying to shove ourselves back into deeper water. It was as if he thought his tip (Namibia, like South Africa, is a tipping country) was only dependent on his actions the previous day and had checked out. There was absolutely no guidance or communication to be had.

A part of me wanted to bang my head against my paddle each time our guide picked up his mobile – or maybe whack him in the head with it.

Paddling down the Orange River
Paddling down the Orange River

Happily, at the very least we encountered the occasional rapid. One pair managed to capsize twice, quickly becoming our entertainment for the day. It was good fun for the rest of us to turn around and see a kayak floating down the river, its contents and humans following along behind. Of course neither of the capsizezees were very happy about that though.

Rich and I didn’t have a perfect run either, but at least we didn’t go over. On one set of rapids, having followed too closely behind the pair in front of us, we hit a rock trying to avoid the canoe ahead and turned around so that we were floating backwards through whitewater. Thankfully, we work really well as a team and managed to maneuver our way out completely unscathed and in a fit of laughter.

Sadly, that was the extent of our laughter. Eventually, bored and annoyed with our guide, we reached our pick up point where we loaded into a waiting bus and were sent back to camp – a place where clean toilets awaited us.

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