Sand, Sand, Sand oh and mud

Months of preperation is over. We have already spent 4 days of kayaking. From here onwards it is one way to the sea, God willing. All the late nights spent doing map work, marking the river in 1km intervals then calculating the GPS points and getting only a few hours sleep was fixed by a lovely two night stay at the Riverside Lodge in Aliwal North. We were spoilt beyond what we could manage. We could never eat the amount of food they were prepared to sponsor us with. However, when anyone is in Aliwal and does not go and have a Venison Pie at the Riverside Lodge, you will miss out big time. If you are not a big eater, hopefully you have someone to share your small portion with you. Even the small portions are big.

Over and above being well fed, the lodge staff and management went out of their way to be of any assistance they could help with. Ben, Gawie, Jana and Lappies really did a great job accomodating us. The two days we spent there soon felt more like a week. Unfortunately we could not spend a week, we had a schedule to keep to and a long river to tackle. Wednesday morning Lappies and his helpers took us down to the weir where they reckon was a good point to launch. Well my heart nearly stopped. There was this tiny eddy next to a massive whirlpool and stopper wave. We had about 2 meters to get the kayaks going in the right direction once we pushed off or we would still be spinning like a front loader.

Trying to load the kayaks and explaing how the inflatables work and convince the small group of people that all the gear will fit took some doing. Soon all was sorted and we said our goodbyes and pushed off. Passing the Riverside Lodge, a number of people had gathered on the patio to wave us off. Once under the N6 bridge it was just us, the river, silence and the unknown ahead. Soon we realised that there was no relaxing and enjoying the scenery too much. Sandbanks. Every now and then a shout would break the silence: "sandbank to the right keep left!!" But there were also those moments when there was this quiet very firm "shit sandbank!" This normally happened when we could not spot the shallow submerged sandbank and just got stuck. In times like this one had to get out and push or pull the kayak over the sandbank. Care had to be taken with the firmness of the sand under foot. It is very easy to step into quicksand.

We made it the first day to Goedemoed as planned. However the information that we were given regarding beaching close to the Weir was a bit dicey. We were nearly over the weir wall when we had to back paddle fast and still we could not find the docking area. So we paddled back up stream about a kilometer to were we knew there should be a faerm, according to the map. I climbed out and withing 50cm nearly got sucked into quicksand. Nevermind walking on water.... Made my way up to some workers houses and they directed me to a farm about 2km down the road. Got there, just to find out that the farmer had gone to town. As I turned to make my way back down to Marianne, a worker called to say the farmer is on his way. I explained our situationa and asked if they could help us get around the weir. Without hesitation, they agreed to be of assistance. We went back down to the river to portrage everything up to the bakkie. Although it was a short distance, it is hard work heaving all the gear and kayaks onto a steep sandbank then carry everything about 100meters. I then asked if we could just camp on the lawn then get back in the water the next morning as it was getting late and I did not want to put them out too much. Of course, typical to farmers hospitality, they refused that we camp outside and insisted that we make use of one of their many bedrooms. Thank goodness we did. Later that night a violent thunder storm broke out. The house even took a bit of hit. Might not have been too pleasant out in the tents.

Next morning Ben took us down stream past the weir and rock ledge and helped us to get going again. Offcouse there was no nice jetty or easy launching place. We had to climg down a 1,5m sandbank with a small strip of firm sand to pack the kayaks before pushing off. By now our knowledge of sandbanks have increased tremendously. So there were a lot more "Sandbank to the left, keep right!" and a lot less "Shit, sandbank". We could predict the flow of the river much better. Although everytime we stopped for tea or lunch, we would seek out a sandbank. The river banks were to densely covered in reeds, to make a docking. The beautiful willow trees are either standing on high sandbanks or in the water, thus shade when we take a break is nill. Mud when we get in and out of our kayks are plenty.

We were offered accomodation for the second night, however to find the farm would be tricky as the enterance to the bay to the farm is overgrown with reeds. There was a strom brewing and we were already tired, so we decided to pitch camp on a lovely sandbank infron of the Tussen die Rivier Lodge. That might sound a bit odd, however, there was a deep channel of the river between our sandbank and the river bank and the river bank is covered in dense reeds. Soon we were in for some fun. For starters, my collapsable basin, decided to collapse full of water in my tent (the water is suppose to keep the basin in shape) Once I had that dried out a blasting wind came up. I realised something was wrong with Marianne's tent and went out to help her and forgot to zip my tent. The next moment it was dust flying everywhere. Once I got back in my tent, everything was covered if fine river sand. Later when I got to Marianne's tent so we could cook supper, everything was covered in sand. She was trying to keep her tent down, and I mean everything. Although we could hear the thunder, the storm just brushed by with a few drops of rain.

Next morning the sun was smilling at us when we set off again. We would reach Lake !Gariep and then we would really have to work hard. No nice litte flows to carry us along. We were averaging 10km/h and we were to drop down to 5km/h and less. Comming into the lake we had all kinds of conditions. From small waves to mirror like water. I never understood what kayakers meant by smooth water being sticky. I soon learned on that first day back on the lake. If there is no small waves, it literally feels like one is paddling through goo. It feels like the kayak just will not move. We beached at the entrance corner to Jarcana Bend. Instead of trying to make a collapseable basin stand to have a rinse down, I went for a sunset swim. It was awesome. The water was warm, the sun was a deep dark organe and the mountain sillhouettes had already turned black. Soon the Milky Way was out and so intense that poor old Orion even became obscure.

We planned to be in Oviston on the 6th as it was Terry's (Marianne's husband's) birthday. Although we set of earlier than other mornings, the going was very slowly. Thanks to the GPS, it was easy to negotiate our way around the lake. Although Marianne was sufering from severe muscle exhaustion. Which is understandable: she can not use her back like one should when paddling, due to a number of fusions in her spine, thus she uses her arm muscles more. However she does not have chest muscles to assist because of masectomies because of breast cancer. But she is tenacious and a fighter and will keep going. I was concerned about the injuries she could develop because of this. Terry was going to meet us on the lake, however we could not spot him and we just kept going. As we came through Broekspruit Bay, I noticed what seemed like a sailing yacht up a head and started paddling with everything I had to get to them. Using my whistle, I tried to get their attention. The yacht made its way to me and I asked that they please go and look for Marianne as I reckoned she needed help. Luckily she was only about 500m behind me. Marianne, then hitched a lift with the yacht. As they drew up next to me, they invited me to hitch as well. Soon Marianne and I was sitting back in our kayaks, on tow attatched to the yacht with a beer in hand, chatting to Jaco, Theuns and Deon. They pulled us all the way to the headland of Seekoeigat, just as the Oviston Tower comes into view. From there it was a 5km across the Venterstad Bay to get 'home'. I paddled up ahead so that I could call Terry to bring the car down.

Soon we were home with some refreshing cold cooldrink, some chops on the braai and a chance to celebrate Terry's birthday. That was the easy part of the river. From here to Van der Kloof, it will technically be a little bit more difficult, with another huge lake to negotiate. (pictures will be added later)

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Just read an article about a woman who decided to hitch through South Africa with R100 in her pocket, a rucksack on her back and a lot of courage in her heart. Why? She is looking for UBUNTU! Looks like you guys are going to find lots of UBUNTU along the way too. Have fun, keep us updated, and get those pics coming! Take care, be safe. Love, Melanie x