Posted in africa, travel

Where the Stars come alive…(pt 2)

Its 6.30 am and I am asleep on a couch in the bar. I have slept for a grand total of nearly two and a half hours but the day seems to be overeager to get going. The cage gates protecting the bar shake and rattle as they are opened, with the sound seeming to echo inside my head. This is the life I chose after all and the river calling my name. Although in the same way as that, mental and emotional thieving ex-girlfriend may call one’s name.

The first job was to drag my canoe down to the river, pack a cooler box and a small drybag with the bare necessities for the two-day trip. Everything on the canoe should be tied down to avoid losing it all in the inevitable situation that one tips in a rapid somewhere along the way. I carried the most important content in my box, the beverages. Needless to say,  were I to lose these, I would not be the most popular member of the expedition! Let me just say that.

After the packing process, we were set to depart down river. I expected the worst and didn’t feel much better thanks to my ambitious night, but hey it’s an adventure. We set off around 7.30 am with the paddle breaking the surface for the first time of the 40 km trip that lay ahead over the following two days. The trip was not a luxury trip of sight seeing, but the mission was to clear the rocks from the rapids to make a channel for groups coming soon in the upcoming peak season. The river was low which just meant the rapids were faster and stronger and walking around moving stones becomes ten times harder in low water. After the first rapid cleared, I felt awake and ready to move on. The rest of the day consisted of a lot of paddling, trying to make it to camp before night fell. We cleared two more rapids before lunch which consisted of a well-deserved beer and sandwich.

Sitting on a rocky island of the rapids in the middle of the river, my feet in the cool rushing water with a cold beer in hand and the laughter of good company, I discovered a truly happy place. Just as amazing were the surrounding mountain ridges, towering above me on either side, creating the snaking valley through which the Orange River flows. The steep mountain slopes were completely bare. Not a single thing grew on the slopes, covered in fragmented layers of red sandstone. Then at the bottom of the barren red slopes and dry sand, flourished a dark green oasis, running alongside the snaking shimmering blue water of the Orange river. There was no civilization anywhere near enough to walk to and since we were going downstream, paddling back up would be impossible due to the rapids we had already come down. All I could see was the blue vein skirted by lush grass and trees covering the riverbank, feeding off of the water in the Richtersveld Desert, flowing on into the distance and disappearing behind the bends in the river behind me. The valley flanked the sides, leaving anything behind the towering red slopes to the imagination. It almost seems as though I was going into the unknown. Not knowing what was around the next corner was both exciting and daunting, but altogether an awe-inspiring.

With the next hour spent trying to keep up with the other two, shoulders on fire and sun beating down, another rapid was approaching, worryingly named King Kong. This rapid was only a scale 2 and after hearing this, my fear sense started tingling as all the previous rapids were not considered big enough to even be afforded a number on the scale. Following behind the first man, I took on the rapid, paddling faster than the flow of the rapid in order to stay straight and avoid taking on a rock side-on. This had already happened on a smaller rapid, where my canoe drifted sideways into a rock and the flow of water dragging the one side down, rolling the canoe. All of the loose pieces fell off and luckily drifted, which we swam after like a scavenging hunt. Although King Kong washed over my canoe and threw me around, the speed kept the canoe steady and I was through in one piece in no time.

Coming around the next bend, strained by the riding and cleaning the rapids and the 20km paddle, tired but not wanting to seem fragile I pushed on, taking the odd break when no one was looking. As if the river heard my prayer, we pulled through a shallow reed bed into a small lagoon. At the lagoon’s edge was a riverbank with wild grass growing like a manicured lawn. Pulling my canoe up the gentle grass slope, our first day was done and it was right on time. We set up camp under a bush on the lawned bank. Sleeping bags laid out on the grass, the sun was setting. There was no time to reflect on the day because each moment as good as the next without fail. Sitting on the grass, the sound of the crackling fire and water flowing filling the air, sealed off by a cold Windhoek Lager in hand made the moment perfect. The water reflected dramatic hues of red and orange in the warm evening light. This is the true birthpalce of Nostalgia.

Orange-River1

 

Advertisements
Posted in africa, travel, Uncategorized

Where the stars come alive… (pt 1)

 

The dew soaks seeps into my sleeping bag. My feet are freezing and my body forces me out of slumber time. My one eye opens slowly, the second flies open to make sense of what I am seeing. The red tinge of the sandstone peaks turns orange in the early morning sun. The cool breeze on my face and nothing but the quiet sound of the egrets and weavers fill the air, paired with the distant tinkle of the bells hanging from goats’ necks across the river.

I find myself on the banks of the Orange River where wild  grass grows as though it has been planted by a skilled gardener and in a  camp site to rival those fit for a travel magazine. I am here for a short break from the hectic hustle and bustle of Cape Town and University. my adventure is not because I had an urge to escape the city but because of passport issues. Now anyone who travels would know how central travel documents are when it comes to enjoying or hating one’s stay in another country. Being a Botswana citizen, at 21 and wanting to keep it, I had to renounce my South African citizenship as is the law in Botswana. However, it turned out to take much longer than expected leading to my passport expiring. Traveling on a non-citizens travel document meant I was to get a visa to enter South Africa, taking more time. With the visa, I would be allowed to stay in the country for 3 months but I had to leave on a strictly monthly basis.

My adventure started not because I had an urge to escape the city but because of passport issues. Anyone who has traveled will know how much travel documents can affect one’s holiday. Being a Botswana citizen, at 21 and wanting to keep my citizenship, I had to renounce my South African citizenship as is the law in Botswana. However, it turned out to take much longer than expected leading to my passport expiring. Traveling on a non-citizens travel document meant I was to get a visa to enter South Africa, taking more time. With the visa, I would be allowed to stay in the country for 3 months but I had to leave on a strictly monthly basis.

My first month was up and I needed a plan to cross the border. A concern was where I would sleep, how I would get there and how I would explain crossing the border and  crossing back the other way immediately afterward. The answer came in Umkulu Safari and Canoe trails. The camp is on the South Africa – Namibia border near the border post of Vioolsdrift in the Eastern Cape. Being the nearest border to me, only 680km from Cape Town, the next story was to get there. The best option, taking into account the finances of a student, was to get on the Intercape bus, a bus company linking Southern Africa with their routes. The ticket was reasonably priced at around R850.00. The deal seemed good, with the only downside being the duration of the trip. In a car, the trip would take around 6 hours whereas the bus it takes around 10 hours.

I made my way to the bus early on that Friday, beyond happy I had stayed in the night before, boarding at 10 am. The adventure had begun, so I settled into my seat for the journey. What I didn’t expect was the scenery. From the wide, endless plains to the mountain passes and rustling Karoo flora along the whole way. This along with good company made the time fly by. The road forms the Cape-Namibia route which links Cape Town directly to Namibia all the way to their capital of Windhoek. A good option for self-drive holidays as well.

Arriving at the border post around 10 pm I was ready to relax. As anyone could imagine, my documents were new to the officials and thus my attempt to cross quickly went anything but smoothly. With a bit of smooth talk, I got through and was on my way to the camp, standing on the back of a rattling pickup, flying over the gravel road with the cold evening air on my face. The night was dark but it was possible to make out some of the features along the way like sheer cliff faces that the road hugs at the bottom.

Upon arriving at the camp I was impressed. Beautiful lawns, sloping down to the river only 15 meters from the bar. The building style is rustic, incorporating wood, metal and stone. The beer was cold, the music was good and the food was delicious. The camp grows its own vegetables, meaning vegetarians are well catered for. Above all the staff were all welcoming and made me feel at home. Maybe too much so, as the night flowed on so did the beer carry on flowing. The morning was fast approaching and each sip of beer was colder than the last, sweet nectar. Clearly the next day would not be my best. Scheduled to get up at 7 am sharp my head only found the pillow at 3. 45 am. The next two days on the river were going to be very long and instill respect in me.Umkulu Bar (2)

End of Part 1

 

Posted in africa, travel

Botswana’s helping hand to South Africa

Southern-Africa

Pieter van Wyk- Student travel reporter

Cape Town- Botswana has recently singed to become the partner country of ITB Berlin 2017, the biggest travel show in the world. Signed by Botswana Tourism Minister H E Tshekedi Khama II and Dr Christian Göke, CEO of Messe Berlin. Along with the relaxing of Visa laws by South Africa should see the country gain more tourists for 2016 and especially 2017 onwards.

Botswana’s tourist gateway comes through South Africa because the country is land locked. Tourists will travel through to Botswana via O.R. Tambo airport and also spend time in the country. However, with Botswana as a partner country of the ITB travel show, their assets will be showed off. Long term international interest will be gained as they are put in the spotlight. Surrounding countries will also benefit such as Zimbabwe which was called the best “adventure destination” for 2016. Not to mention Namibia and Zambia and South Africa of course.

As one of the most financially stable countries in Africa, Botswana has made huge leaps and Bounds to come from one of the poorest nations after independence 1966 and with a current GDP of US$38.819 but US$18.02 per capita vs South Africa which has US$13.32 per capita of which both are estimates for 2016. This has been a factor which has given Botswana credibility across the world and thus is now the first African country ever to be a partner country in the ITB Berlin.  David Ruetz, has been quoted saying that “Botswana is Africa’s best kept secret with the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Basin with its many animal species, large forests, and innumerable streams that empty into small lakes.”

Along with this South Africa is planning on relaxing Visa regulations in order to try boost tourism. Tourism saw a low in South Africa in 2015 with a drop in arrivals by 6.8%. This is set to help the suffering economy. Tourism has gone down as South Africa’s extremely strict Visa requirements means that tourist who would otherwise be happy to visit the country will choose to go elsewhere. The new regulations will make South Africa a competitor for tourists from Russia, India and China and could possibly include visa exemption overall.

Therefore, the combination of relaxed visa regulations and Botswana, and consequently its surrounding countries, being in the spotlight for the world to see and explore, will only mean well for the Southern African economy through tourist numbers in arrivals.