What a superb canoe trip! Personally I rate it as the best such excursion for a number of reasons especially for the personal gratification that the Cameron/McCleland team experienced in NEVER capsizing not even once during the five days much to certain attendees’ chagrin. As always, the main reason for such an agreeable trip was undoubtedly the camaraderie amongst all the guys. That factor alone is what indubitably makes Quo Vadis Hiking Club such an exceptional Club.
Notwithstanding that, it was not all beer and braais as we experienced two hard paddling days due to flat water and gusting head-winds but more on that later. At least we have a legitimate claim when we declare that it was not all plain sailing (sic) and that we had to do some exercise!
Amongst other things when one is paddling down the Orange, one has to learn a number of things apart from how to paddle – and rapidly. One also has to assimilate a new language, the unintelligible risible language of the Gariep River People. On previous excursions we had commenced learning the vocabulary. Everyday words such as sun and wind could not be uttered. There were Verboten! Banished from our lips. Instead they were replaced by the avant-garde words “spike” and “spoekasem”.
Legend: Malcolm Royal in a pensive mood whilst in an ernest discussion with Peter Glover attempting to solve the problems of the world over a few beers
The fact that various attendees on this trip flagrantly disregarded the ban on their use especially the word wind resulted in nature extracting retribution on day 3 and day 4. It hit us with a vengeance as it literally pumped on both days. As if that was not sufficient, on night 3 it rained and on night 4 we experienced heavy dew. For those of us who took tents, it wasn’t an imposition but you those who did not, I have one word to say: “tough”.
Legend: The undisputed champions on this excursion: the unbeatable team of Cameron and McCleland shown in action down the tricky shalom-like Shambok Rapid on day 2.
In addition to these seemingly benign terms, certain inexact phrases were replaced with much more scientifically exact terms and expressions. This would allow us to more precisely express various distances and times. The first two related to the distance still to be covered to a particular point. When questioned how far it was to a certain location, one of the following terms could be used: either it was “only 5 kilometres to go” or alternatively it was “only one & a half hours away”. These new Gariep Language Phrases were always used in reply to a distance query irrespective of the time of day or the distance still to be covered. This dumbing down in exactitude, allowed all the attendees of the Quo Vadis expedition to be equally proficient and knowledgeable about our whereabouts at all times. These expressions replaced the no less imprecise rejoinder of “just around the corner” but possessed the aura of being definitive and indicative of pin-point accuracy.
It was also felt to be appropriate that we should not be alluding to the fact that most of us were seriously overdrinking. Various benign euphemisms and counter intuitive phases entered the Quo Vadis vocabulary. For instance, instead of enquiring whether one wanted a beer, the innocuous word “sandwich” was substituted. Finally in order to prevent the natural male competitiveness urge to prevail, resulting in unintended beer drinking challenges sporadically arising and the subconscious keeping of consumption slates, whenever one opened a beer, one had to shout, “Eertse dop van die dag” [First drink of the day]. By this simply linguistic ruse or expedient, nobody at any point on the trip overdrank. Of course after the 15th beer of the day, this was a tad silly but it kept the fiction going.
In spite of commencing the trip with beers to the gunnels and a complete replenishment at Aussenkehr, which was the half-way point, at no stage was it apparent that there were sufficient beers on the trip. At the slightest sign of the sun, the pssttt of the opening of a beer can could be heard.
Legend: The Royals in action shortly prior to their impromptu swimming lessons
The reason for the statement that it was the best trip from my point of view was firstly the water level. It was the highest that we had ever experienced it. The previously rock strewn rapids – Surprise 1 and Surprise 2 – were surprisingly (sic) rock free. Generally rapids were easier to navigate and the number of canoes getting stuck declined.
The Gamka rapid was just as technical as it has always been and nearly witnessed the demise of the McCleland / Cameron team. A temporary halt in mid-rapid was decreed as water levels within the canoe made it unresponsive and wallowy with minimal ability to steer. This tactic was called into question and declared unsporting and contemptible yet no-one, including the Club Generalissimo, could vouch for its ineligibility.
What was still as incorrigible as ever was the final rapid accurately eponymously entitled Sting in the Tail.
Legend: One crew with that sinking feeling, shortly to be practicing underwater paddling
What did not decline was the number of canoes capsizing. The first person to launch the challenge was Peter Glover who unwisely – in retrospect – threw down the gauntlet. He challenged the occupants of the first canoe to capsize that they would be at the mercy of the other canoeists when they extracted their punishment.
But what should happen at the first challenging rapid, appropriately called Entrance Exam! Ignominiously Arnold and Peter capsized! Peter thought lightning fast. Every excuse that was possible was expounded and rapidly rubbished by all and sundry. Peter even tried to bribe certain people. Finally he unilaterally decided in absolution to sing a song in Swahili. As we do not know the difference between Swahili and Shona, it was a poor consolation.
Legend: All of those without tents gloomily surveyed the weather this evening and schemed implausible stratagems to avoid getting drenched and spending a night being wet and miserable whereas those with tents had a warm comfortable snooze.
Arnold then became the unwilling victim of Peter’s anger. On every rapid, he would pour profanities onto poor Arnold.
“You p****, we should have gone right”
“Don’t you have eyes, you f&&&&&& c######”
Then KLAP as he congratulated Arnold on the back with such gusto after not falling out, that Arnold then commenced purposely falling out in order to avoid these accolades.
Legend: The day after the big storm. The sun is radiant and the water is calm while the beer begins popping
The challenge for the most bailings was on! Arnold and Peter were the clear leaders with four with the Gavin / Grant team with two. How ignominious? The Germiston Lake rowing champs became the bailing experts. That night saw Peter in earnest deliberations with Arnold far from our prying ears! Arnold looked quite forlorn and downcast as he trudged back to the fire. Being subject to Peter’s verbal tirade put hairs on his chest.
Legend: The trip commenced at Vioolsdrift and ended at the confluence of the Orange and the Fish Rivers
On day 2 Malcolm and Andrew took up the challenge as they were knocked over like skittles on even the most innocuous puny rapid.
Finally on day five, the tally looked as follows:
Number of capsizes per Team:
|8||Grant & Gavin|
|6||Peter & Arnold|
|5||Malcolm & Andrew|
|0||Dean & Clive|
Of course, sour grapes prevailed when previously lapsed or tenuous rules were invoked against the McCleland / Cameron team and convoluted interpretations of some rules were elicited but to no avail. In my humble, professional and unbiased opinion, the results shown above are a true and fair reflection of the canoeing prowess of the teams.
The final reason for the adjudication as the best trip was that we used two skivvies from Felix Unite – Siyabonga and Blessed aka Willem. They dutifully made the meals and righted all capsized canoes. What a pleasure! That meant more drinking time at the end of a hard day’s paddling as if there was insufficient drinking whilst paddling.
Legend: The stunning sunsets on the Richtesveld
Now for the bad bits. The wind howled on day 3 and 4 making them like a “forced march”. It was a case of solid paddling all day without a respite. I found it a challenge but despite his lack of fitness, Malcolm, for some reason did not. Even without any proof to the contrary, I still contend that as Malcolm’s quid pro quo for paying for Andrew’s trip, he was made to recompense Malcolm in the only way how he could and that was to do the lion’s share of the paddling for two days.
Without fail, every five minutes, Malcolm kept up his plaintive manta of “How far is it to go?” Not surprisingly it was countered by was the inane riposte “only 5 kms to go”. Nobody had the heart to disabuse him with the fact that in reality it was the longest and toughest day of the whole trip, even without a head-wind.
Legend: The show is over and the Director is making preparations to vacate the set
There will doubtless be many more great trips like this one with such great guys.