Canoeing down the Orange River in Namibia - 1998

Malan and Ria

During our visit to Cape Town in 1996 we were lucky enough to meet Malan and Ria, a couple who exemplified the generous and welcoming nature of the South African people.  After three wonderful days in their company we vowed to meet again - and what an experience it turned out to be.

Fulfilling a long held ambition, Malan suggested that we joined his family on a four day canoeing trip down the Orange river in Namibia.  So it was that we found ourselves squeezing all our equipment into two small watertight barrels, lashing these to a wobbly canoe and setting off with six others to brave the rushing waters of the Orange river in full flood.

The first day was delightful; a fast and exhilarating run with the seven knot current through the wild but spectacular scenery of the Kalahari desert.  By evening Elsa and I were getting the hang of the canoe and beginning to feel we had everything under control.  But we had underestimated the power of water.

Malan and Ria in canoes

An apparently harmless stop the next morning turned into a frightening and life threatening experience.  When we set off again we were swept towards some overhanging trees.  Despite frantic paddling the current proved too strong for us, and our canoe was driven under water and sank.  For several minutes we clung to the tree hoping for help.  I had foolishly taken off my life jacket and just dare not let go.  Neither of us are strong swimmers, and the prospect was not inviting.  Our two guides eventually found us, but neither was strong enough to pull us into their canoe.  With a terrible sinking feeling we both recognised the inevitable, and let go.  Imagine travelling at seven knots down a river over a hundred metres wide in the middle of nowhere - definitely up the creek without a paddle!  I shall remember those next few minutes for the rest of my life; pondering my future, worrying about Elsa, and strangely enough wondering how we could return to South Africa with our passports at the bottom of the river.  My recollections are unclear, but somehow we both managed to swim to the bank.  Our guides miraculously liberated our canoe, with our trusty barrels intact and dry.  Even the sun block was retrieved as it bobbed by another canoe.  Happily we survived, with only a few scratches and a lost hat - and of course a wonderful story to tell.

Unwelcome bedfellow Round the camp fire

Despite the basic facilities, we dined well.  It is amazing what can be prepared over a camp fire, and how good it tastes in the open air.  Sleeping without something over your head is another rewarding experience: enjoying a glorious sunset, marvelling at the star packed southern sky, or catching the first rays of sunshine as they rise over the mountains. However, every silver lining also has its cloud.  The scorpion shown here scuttled from under a sleeping bag one morning!

Orange River from the mine

We finally piled all our canoes and equipment into a waiting truck and made for home.  A few hours dusty drive through the desert and we had retraced four days on the river.  Tired, but with a satisfying sense of achievement, we spent a final night at base camp.  That night our party slept very close together.  Fourteen people from teens to late fifties, some complete strangers before the trip, had become a close knit team - united by a shared experience.

Our trip was organised by Bundi - which means 'rough it'!!  Why not give them a call?