September 20, 2005

South Africa FlagWe heard Leon at 5:15 am when he went to get water for breakfast, and other people were up by 5:30. We knew this because we had carelessly chosen the site next to the toilet buildings. But we snoozed on because we didn’t need to be up until 6 am. Since we were the first ones packed up, Leon gave us the demonstration on how to take down the tents. This was a little more complicated then just the reverse of putting them up. We took ours down then showed others how to do it.

Breakfast was very good, a selection of cereals, breads, fruit and tea, coffee, or cocoa. Everybody packed up quickly, so we actually left only 15 minutes behind schedule.

Our first stop on the trip north was at the town of Springbok, where we had an hour and a half spare time. Springbok was not particularly interesting but Leon had to go shopping, so we didn’t have much choice about being there. We found a bookstore which was associated with the hotel. It had a great selection of nature books, including the wildflower book we had seen in Cape Town. We decided that R249 was a bit much, and we didn’t really need the 800-page complete flora book, so instead we got the pretty good overview book for R79.95.

After that we continued about one hour north to the Namibian border, which is the Orange River. We got our passports stamped with the exit stamp on the South African side, then stopped at the Namibian side to get our entry stamp. Although we were in very arid desert country, the banks of the Orange River were green. As we drove away from the river we even passed a couple of vineyards.

Our final destination was shortly after the border, a canoe outfitting company called Felix Unite. It’s a lovely area with camping areas and cooking shelters. First we had lunch, then we met our river guide William (a young Tourism Management student from Cape Town), who told us what was going to happen. We packed up for our overnight canoe trip; everything had to fit into three large plastic buckets, so we were limited to the essentials. The buckets were taken down to the river in a truck and we walked down there.

The canoes were sturdy fibreglass models, for good reason. The river was very low, so it was impossible to avoid dragging the bottom of the canoe over rocks. Our trip was scheduled to be 26 km downstream; we would camp overnight and then paddle most of the next day. When we encountered rapids, which were never technically difficult, William would go down first and show us the correct line to follow. We had the system worked out, Rosemary in the bow would yell out where the rocks were and Paul in the stern would try to steer around them. Christian and Leon had the worst luck, hitting any rock that happened to be in the river, and Mark and Richard managed to capsize their canoe on the first set of rapids.

Today we paddled only 8 km but it seemed to take forever because the wind was blowing strongly into our faces. There were even whitecaps on one wide section of the river. So we were going forward at a snail’s pace. But eventually we limped into our camp spot, which was a lovely sandbank with deep grass to sleep on.

Dinner tonight was barbecue, or what South Africans call “braai”. There were lamb chops and baked potatoes and squash. The dinner was really good and it was really nice sitting by the river. The only problem was the people camped across the river, who had a generator running, but they turned it off at 9 pm. Once dinner was done, we cleaned our teeth and headed to bed. The moon had not yet risen, so the stars and the Milky Way were spectacular. Our sleeping area was very comfortable, no rocks, only long grass, so we fell asleep quickly.

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