After spending most of the year at home (and in the garden) we were delighted when Ray got asked to do a few trips as a river guide on the Orange River (SA's border to Namibia and our biggest river!). He had started working with Umkulu Rafting, based at The Growcery camp on the SA side of the river, just after we met in 2016 and the distance between there and here was our first bout with a long distance kind-of-relationship.
Since 2017 he went up in October for the school holiday rush but I was never able to join as I worked as Rocking The Daisies' Production Coördinator over that time. But since Ray joined the Daisies site crew in 2019 he had not been back to the river since 2018 and I knew he missed it.
So it was a bright star at the end of the dark tunnel of no a travel or remote work 2020 when he got the call and we were told that I could come along and be his 'hunty'.
Look, he warned me that it would be tough. My brother, who is a full time, professional guide, warned me that it would be tough. And I was hella nervous, even though, initially I would only join him on one trip as I wanted to be at the campsite in order to attend my daily Design Science Studio and Living Systems Colaboratory classes. But the internet was so unreliable, and the river so inviting during the incredibly hot days, that I quickly became a full time hunty (bitch, really;).
As crew you have to carry all the camping gear for your group on your boats (which you operate alone, unlike the guests who share boats 2x2). So there I was, weak arms and all the wrong attire, awkwardly perched on a boat packed full of spices, kitchen utensils and "Doug" (Doug is a spade, and VERY important to everyone on the mission...).
Our first group consisted of 50 students. FIFTY STUDENTS and 1.1 tons of beer!
Not even kidding. They partied and we cooked, they floated downstream funneling beer after beer and we packed and paddled hard. The w--- ("I'm not superstitious, I'm just a little stitious," but never say the word, you WILL regret it) comes up in the afternoon, blowing upstream and that is as close to hell as I've ever been. The way my boat was packed in combination with my weak arms and poor technique was a recipe for turning around and around in circles until I got stuck in the reeds. Over and over... and over...
I cried, I screamed, I channelled my yoga breathing and I made it to our overnight spot, only to start unpacking and prepping for dinner... It is incredibly hard work but it is also incredibly rewarding. The scenery, the contrast of mighty force of water snaking through harsh desert, the wide night sky and the feeling when you finally lay down on the sand and look up at the Milky Way... It's a bucket list kind of experience, and I wouldn't do it any other way than working hard with my fiance (yes, that happened on the way back home*) at my side**
Our second group was an amazing collection of different families and small crews of friends, all helpful and kind, interesting and considerate - a blessing.
*en-route home we took a huge detour to spend a night in Hondeklipbaai (a serious detour!) and on the rocks, at the highest point of this wild west coast outpost, Ray asked me to marry him, with a shell bejewelled with vygies... My mother did not want my Gran's ring to go on the Orange River adventure, but that didn't stop him from spending hours on the beach looking for a shell big enough for my big finger :)
**even though he made me do all the dishes; after cooking for 27 people; with hands swollen double from sunburn... I deserved it, earlier that day two keen young boys had towed my boat after I had once again gotten stuck going around in circles by the reeds... a no-no for guides apparently 0_o whatever, those will boys will be telling the story of how they towed the guide to their grandchildren one day.
I can now make apple crumble on the fire; I can carry a full cooler box over burning midday sand; I can paddle up stream (unless the w--- decides to blow from the other direction ONLY on the one morning when you have to paddle UPSTREAM... then you cry and let him tow you) and I can stack boats on top of each other to make a w--- break so everyone can sleep in (semi) still conditions. Oh and I can wash 27 people's worth of dishes, with swollen hands and stiff arms, through streaming tears...