14 September 2020 | Tourismus
When envisioning the desert sands that cover much of Namibia, the far-flung idea of embarking on a river-quest may seem inconceivable, but this incongruousness is what makes the allure of travel in Namibia so addictively wondrous.
After arriving at nightfall, just in time for a delicious Potjie dinner and a few ice-cold beers, courtesy of our kind hosts Johan and Coleen, we awoke on the morning of our departure to the utopia that surrounded us at Amanzi Trails River Camp in Noordoewer (approx. 800 km from Windhoek). It is positioned on a grassy river bank overlooking the rusted Geelkrans Cliffs - a welcome oasis to our parched and wintered souls, and a great camping spot in its own right.
Eager to tackle the 65 kilometer voyage from Noordoewer to Aussenkehr, we - that is Arrie Todtenhöfer (affectionately known to us as “Wet Guide“), my father and I - running on the spirit of solidarity like the Three Musketeers, set off on our three-day Orange River expedition in two Indian Mohawk canoes laden with our belonging stored in air-tight buckets, as well as water, food and other supplies.
Bitten by the River-bug
It wasn't long before the river-bug bit us, any memory of whatever life we led beginning to evaporate. We picnicked at Hammerkop Rock in South Africa, stopped off to hike and explore an abandoned fluorspar mine with stupendous views over the river, before paddling ourselves to a standstill, finally setting up camp on the a Namibian riverbank - feeling more than ready to devour a fireside dinner. Sleeping under the vast canopy of stars is part of river-charm, but given the early morning dew-sodden river banks and windy evenings of our early August trip, we were quite happy (and temporarily dry) in our little pop-up tent. (a must during the winter months).
The many campsites along the Orange River all have a unique charm and camping sites are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis as there is no telling where you will end up spending the night, which depends on your rowing speed and progress down the river. That is part of the experience.
All meals on the river are prepared by your Amanzi Trails guide, cum chef, and our “Wet Guide's“ confections were exceptional - we literally licked the platters clean. The beauty of a river trip with Amanzi Trails is the adaptability of your experience and the personalized itinerary, ranging from self-catering options to fully-inclusive alternatives, private family trips or joint adventures, from fishing-focused missions to team-building excursions. Colleen, Johan and Arrie will literally move mountains for you!
During the summer months swimming, fishing and other choices spice up the trip, but given the short duration of our trip, we only ventured into the water on an involuntary basis. We ended in the water within the first hour, thanks to a latent rock and a series of hilariously unfortunate events that left Arrie rosy-faced, without sunglasses and fully submerged in the icy water, resulting in him being christened “Wet Guide”.
We spent our days getting into the rhythmic motion of paddling and “reading“ the water as we scraped through the rocky shallows and taxied the river currents - pushing with one ore and pulling with the other). We succumbed to the ever changing moods of our mistress, the Orange River, who made it abundantly clear that I would not be the only diva around. In a matter of minutes still water would be broken by a sudden crescendo of exhilarating white-water-rapid negotiation, rock-spotting, nose-diving, swear-wording and fighting against whirl-pools and back-currents, before returning us (drenched) to a steady state of reflection once more - an adrenaline-infused-rush if ever there was one! Nothing will “skop your gat“ harder than the infamous thrill of the Sjambok Rapid!
Despite my that vivid description of the more challenging rapids, we experienced this Amanzi Trails adventure as a “family-friendly river trip“ with only Grade 1 rapids and no prior experience required. Rest assured that your capable guide has your best interests at heart and will never put you in a situation that you cannot handle.
Each bend in the river reveals an ever-evolving panoramic view of layered geological masterpieces, the typical signature of the dramatic shape-shifting rock formations of the Richtersveld Conservancy. Undulating striated mountains will coil into snail-like outcrops -caused by the intense pressure of past volcanic activity -, while bewitching peaks of pink metamorphic rock rise up from the river commandeering its trajectory.
It is easy to lose perspective while entranced by the ethereal nature of this captivating and verdant oasis. If it had not been for a hike up Fluorspar Mountain to take a bird’s eye view of the surrounding desolate landscape, we may never have conceptualized the life-force that is the mighty Orange River.
Sensory exhaustion is the only way to describe the feeling of coming to the end of an experience such as this. It's not just the rowing and harsh desert elements that saps your energy. In fact most of the time we found ourselves so enamored with our surroundings that we didn't even notice the occasional headwind that left us rowing in one place for extended periods of time, let alone comprehend the 22 kilometers and more that we travelled per day. Concentrating your energy on the rusted-ochre-stained river at golden hour, the impossibly starlit skies, the mirrored moonscapes and the unfathomable magma-mountain-vistas, the feeling of comradery and the solidification of bonds. And so it was amid impending global doom, the unlikely pair of “a 60 years old pensioner and his vegan princess“ found the secret of the south - a riverside Shangri-La!