Rowing down the mighty Orange River has been on my bucket list for quite a while. The idea of sleeping on river banks in the middle of an unforgiving rugged rocky mountainous terrain was more than enough to lure me in. With childlike excitement and an irrational fear of scorpions, I headed north to begin my adventure in the desert.
The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa and flows westwards from Lesotho towards the Atlantic ocean and also forms the international border between South Africa and Namibia. The river is like a lifeline for farmers and communities living along its banks, especially in the far north where the landscape turns very barren, dry and desolate. Green trees and shrubs close to the river stand in great contrast to the absolute brown nothingness just a couple of metres further.
The company we booked our trip through was called Amanzi Trails. Their campsite is situated on the Namibian side of the river 16km downstream from the Noordoewer border post. Upon arrival we were greeted by three very friendly and energetic Border Collies who were very glad to see us. The campsite has beautiful green lawns for camping but chalets are also available.
Bright and early the next morning we got a quick briefing and set out for our first day on the river. After the first 5 minutes of rowing I realised that the scorching Namibian sun is not something that I should tempt and quickly drenched my whole body with sunscreen. The first part of the river is very peaceful and it gives you the chance to ease into the whole rowing thing and also allows you to clear out all the kinks with your rowing partner before you hit the rapids.
The rapids we came across on our trip weren’t that extreme and I would say this trip is safe for the whole family. The only rapid I was a bit worried about, was called Sjambok. We reached Sjambok on day three and we had to get out of our canoes to get a briefing from our guides on how to approach it. They gave us clear instructions on what to do and what not to do this made me feel a bit more prepared to take on the beast.
Slowly rowing towards the gushing white waters my heart started to beat in my throat. I knew nothing could really go wrong but the adrenaline was pumping because there was no turning back now. The current suddenly pulled our canoe to the side and it felt like we were rapidly (no pun intended) heading straight for the rocks. After vigorous paddling the canoe turned left and we missed the rocks and went down to safety. I immediately wanted to do it again! A couple of people did tip over and it was funny to see them swim between floating camping chairs and cooler boxes.
One of the things that astounded me every time was the food that the guides prepared for us. They made tuna salad, pita breads with filling, roast lamb with garlic bread & steak and salad, just to name a few. To my amazement they even conjured up a chocolate mousse cake out of nowhere.
The sleeping arrangements of the trip were very simple. You could sleep wherever you found a nice piece of relatively flat ground. Some people brought tents but I just had a ground sail and a sleeping bag. There is nothing that comes close to sleeping under the beautiful Namibian stars. I could just lay there and stare at the sky all night. It did get a bit chilly early in the mornings but as soon as the sun started to rise you could feel the heat creeping up on you.
With no cellphone reception, no electricity and no luxuries, I found exactly the experience that I was looking for. You feel a sense of detachment from the real world and all that mattered was rowing to the next stop in time for lunch. I felt free and unbound with not a care in the world. All in all it was a life changing trip led by the wonderful and friendly people of Amanzi Trails. Just go out and experience it for yourself…I know you want to.