Our week started with a two-day hike across the conservancy to the Orange River, something we had all been looking forward to and dreading at the same time. The night before we set off, we scaled up the side of a hill for a sundowner, where we were told by Red and Dre that our hike over the next day would be a chilled three hour walk and wouldn’t be too strenuous, relief to both mine and Mia’s ears who were struggling to even get to up the slope for the sundowner. The start of the hike was early next morning, and we all set off at a good pace with plenty of scaling up mountains, and nibbling on the biltong we had made with Karlene earlier in the week. Red had the treat of carrying two mattresses on his back the whole way, and Max managed to leave his water bottle a few hundred metres back which led to a sprint there and back from him, but on the whole, it was a smooth start.
There was disastrous news a couple of hours in to the trek however, whilst we were tucking into our sacred rusks and we heard Red tell us to be conservative on them as we only had two more packets left, something that took Will a good ten minutes to really come to terms with. Once we accepted that we weren’t going to divulge in dried baked goods (rusks) the entire way, we kept going and managed to reach the three-hour mark of our trek, of which we were told would be the total time of the hike, only to hear that we hadn’t reached half way yet… What seemed like many mountains (and plenty of codeine) later, we reached the summit of our hike, where we were treated to some unbelievable views of the Orange River ahead of us and seeing where we had come from behind us. The total time of the hike at this point was around the six-hour mark.
If we quickly go back to the sundowner the night before, it was promised to us that this part of the hike would be the easiest as we had the river in our sights. Yet I think we can all agree, this was by far the most challenging part of the trek, another betrayal up at the sundowner. Max, Mia and Will made pretty light work of it however and were down at the river in very good time. They did it so quickly, they made it down the hill an hour and a half quicker than Dre, Fred and I did and Red had the time to escort them and come back and join us. This section was where Fred got his name the mountain goat, as Dre and I would be very carefully navigating our way down, and Fred would be behind us making such light work out of the things we made look difficult. By the time, we eventually arrived down and hooked up with the other guys, it had been the best part of ten hours since we started the trek.
Our first move was straight into the river to cool off, then eat our meatballs in a tin where the word ‘meat’ was used very loosely, as we tried to work out what was actually in these balls we were eating. Not only were the meatballs pretty gross, but we had to manage to access them with only one fork between us, as all of us forgot our cutlery apart from Fred (more proof of him being a reliable mountain goat). It was then very quickly to bed. Although this may sound like one big complaint, that day of hiking was one of the greatest days as it was constantly awesome views, challenging yet fun conditions, and you would even find yourself being sad the further in you got as you knew you were closer to the finish.
After putting all our effort into the first day, waking up and getting going for our second day was a big effort, where the first half hour felt even harder than the whole of the first day. However as soon as we were back into the swing of things it got easier, especially when we reached the river bed and knew that we only had to follow that rather than scale the mountains going up either side of us in the land of ‘Granita’, appropriately named by Red due to sheer quantities of granite (original). Usual service resumed with Will and Mia taking a healthy lead, however Max joined us slow coaches at the back.
The incident with the peaches will always be remembered by those of us who saw it (Dre and Fred), as Dre magically pulled out of her bag tinned peaches which I had been led to believe had been finished many hours before. This led to slaughter of both those peaches and my hands due to the lack of cutlery and my inability to stop eating. The first aid kit will probably never be used for a more ridiculous reason than to wrap up three of my fingers due to the scraping them against the tin as I delved in. As we got closer to the finish, there was one last challenge which was to climb up a huge waterfall, the sight of which was certainly daunting. We all managed it well in the end, even the two vertigo sufferers in the form of Mia and Dre did super well, with the help of Red as our human barrier. Once that was finished we had a quick march to the Land Rover, the sight of which was pretty much the best feeling any of us could have really asked for. Once we got back to the camp poor Maddy who had just arrived was greeted by all of us who were almost too tired to talk. Max, Red and I couldn’t have been happier to have the cold drinks we had been talking about for about three hours prior.
After resting up for the night, we were straight off to South Africa for our white water rafting down the Orange River. As we arrived we had our introduction to the our next few days from Coby, in which we were introduced to ‘thunder barrel’, which we were taught to use one piece of loo roll per visit to the lavatory (self-dug hole in the ground). This was a ten-minute explanation of how to most effectively use this one sheet, only to eventually be told that we had plenty of loo roll and could use as much as we liked, however all of us were hook line and sinkered as you would’ve been able to tell by the looks on our face as he was describing the method.
The next morning we were off in our boats, yet 30 minutes in we were split up to have the most effective teams, Max, Fred and Will being anointed the strongest at steering. However even after splitting us up there was still some of the boats circling around (Will’s boat). After a long paddle, longer for others (Will) we arrived at our first camping site, however I can’t really comment on this site as I spent the most of it sleeping. Our next day’s paddling consisted of a much bumpier ride, with me and Will getting stuck at the first rapid, however this time it was me at the helm so unfortunately couldn’t blame Will. The biggest rapid by far was Big Bunny, and with the low water levels it meant it was even more dangerous than it would usually be. As we got there, most of us stepped aside to walk around it, however Max and Fred decided to go for it. Although there first trip down the rapid ended in the boat flipping, the first thing max said was “we are definitely doing that again” as he climbed up onto the bank, something that was not music to the ears of an on looking Dre. So second time round, as we were ready and waiting to watch them, we could see them in the distance heading down the wrong entrance. This led to both instructors to simultaneously say “they’re f***ed”, however they somehow managed heroically to navigate their way down untouched with a cheeky 360 in there for style as well.
The camp site that evening was ridiculously lush and we spent most of the evening drinking, especially Fred… Both Fred and Red’s Cornish accent was a permanent fixture for a good three hours through the night, an accent which gave us nightmares. The next morning was a quick shake off of the hangover and then head off on our final stretch of our rafting. It was a very chilled day in comparison to the shenanigans of Big Bunny the day before, and Will was even steering quite competently, a sign that we had been rafting for a very long distance. After carrying all the equipment up an annoying placed slope up to the van and a bumpy journey in the back of the van back to camp (of which I had managed to get the front seat), we were all pretty excited for a good night’s sleep and a working loo.