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.