Our morning started before the crack of dawn. I awoke to the sound of others taking down their tents. The cling clang of the metal poles hitting each other is a sound few can sleep through. The idea of getting out of my sleeping bag was something I dreaded, but the thought of warming my hands around a hot cup of delicious coffee was enough to entice me to get up. As I emerged from my tent I saw that maybe 8 or so of the other campers had already made themselves comfortable around the table- scarfing down toast and cereal.
Before settling down for a cuppa, I made sure to pack away the contents of what I had brought into the tent back on the Nomad Adventure Tours overland truck. I left Sue to finish packing up her own things, since she brought her backpack and daypack into the tent the previous night – despite my advice to only take what she needed. I joined the others who were already enjoying their simple breakfasts, finally getting to warm my hands around that hot cup of coffee.
A common misconception that people have of Africa is that it’s always hot- such is NOT the case. Luckily I had been forewarned that the nights do get quite chilly so I was prepared with thermals, wool socks, a hat and extra blanket. Others were not so prepared. That night we experienced the temperature dropping to about 7 degrees Celsius- definitely not what most people have in mind when they think of Africa.
Once everyone took down their tents and helped our Nomad Adventure Tours guides, Shingie, Sandile and Shaun put everything from breakfast away, we hit the road. The eighteen of us enjoyed the views of the area surrounding Cederberg for the first half hour or so, but before long most had been rocked to sleep. Our first stop was a short photo opportunity at the side of the highway, but unfortunately the clouds had not yet broken up and there was a thick fog over the mountaintops. Our bumpy ride continued for another few hours and eventually the sun made its fashionably late debut. We pulled Harrison off to the side of the highway at a designated rest stop and the men got to work setting up the tables while most of the girls trekked into the bushes in hopes of relieving our full bladders.
As Toni from Reclaiming my Future said, Africa does steal your dignity in the sense that you learn very fast to become comfortable with peeing behind a bush- even if it’s simply on the side of the highway with transport trucks driving by at high speeds. Once the girls had empty bladders again, we washed up and joined the others with lunch preparations. Lunch was a typical tour lunch consisting of sandwiches and fruit- but still satisfying. As quick as we had everything set up, we had it all packed up and were back on the road.
The ride was a short one as we made our way into the town of Springbok a mere 15mintues later. Shingie and Sandile let us loose in the town and we were able to get anything we may need- snacks, alcohol, additional blankets or lamps that we may have discovered that we needed after doing without the night before.
An hour later we all returned, wallets empty and shopping bags full of goodies. We were on the road for an additional 150km until we hit camp in Fiddler’s Creek, right on the banks of the Orange River, a five minute drive from the South African and Namibian border. Upon arrival to camp everyone hurriedly put up their tents, a few took showers, some cracked their beers and we all enjoyed the peacefulness and tranquility of the beautiful spot we were at.
After exploring the campsite I made myself comfortable at the bar overlooking the river dividing South Africa and Namibia. I leisurely drank my double vodka and soda while discussing some controversial subjects with Jasmijn, the Dutch girl on the trip, and Sue. After twenty minutes or so, I noticed a good number of the members of our group had made their way down to the dock, some of the boys clad in their swimming trunks. Not to feel outdone, I marched down the steps into the dock.
“Are you seriously going swimming?” I asked thinking they were absolutely mad.
“Yeah! Feel the water, it’s beautiful. Not at all cold.” Klaas-Jan, the Dutchman said to me.
I flung off my flip flop and made my way to the edge. Nervously I dipped my toe in the water. Despite it being winter in Africa, the water was a refreshing temperature. My mind was made up.
“Wait for me, I’ll be two minutes, gotta go get my bathing suit.”
I ran back to the truck, went into my locker and fished out my bathing suit which had been buried underneath more useful, warmer clothing. I quickly retreated to my tent and changed, wrapped myself up in my towel and started back for the dock. I passed Sue who was still in the bar discussing politics or something of that sort, handed her my camera and asked if she could take a few pictures of me.
“What are you doing?” she asked me.
“Oh just swimming to Namibia, no biggie.” And with that I turned on my heel, ran down the steps and dove off the dock and into the refreshing water.
I had been forewarned from other travelers that the current in the Orange River can be quite strong so I swam upstream, rather than straight across. The campground had set up a few surfboards attached to buoys in the middle of the river, presumably to act as a rest point for those who were silly enough to attempt to illegally cross the border. I made it to the halfway point where many of the boys who had also taken the plunge were now huffing and puffing as they tried to catch their breath.
After a few minutes of catching my own breath and strategizing how exactly I was going to make it to the other side without getting carried 500m downstream, Simon- a German guy who was traveling with his girlfriend, Paulina, to Windhoek- decided to swim to the other side with me. Together we set off swimming as hard as we could upstream towards the Namibian side of the river. After a DIFFICULT swim we made it to the Namibian side. I’m not sure if “SWIM TO ANOTHER COUNTRY” was on my bucket list, but CHECK!
It was about this time when Simon and I were huffing and puffing, completely exhausted from the short yet extremely difficult swim, realized that we were going to have to swim all the way back. As we caught our breath, we realized also that we were going to be limited on time- the sun was setting quickly. No more than five minutes later we plunged back in and swam as if we were swimming for our lives! A few guys were still perched upon the surfboards and as we made our way over, they had extended arms waiting to help pull us in for a breather. After only a minute or two I decided to just give’r. With whatever strength I still had I swam the last 100m or so as hard as I could, unfortunately by this point I was unable to fight the current as well as I had the previous 3 legs of the swim across the river and by the time I had made it back to the dock I was a good 15m downstream and had to have Sandile (who had been watching our valiant attempt) throw me the buoy and pull me in.
After a shower and getting into warm clothes it was time to enjoy a delicious lamb on the braai dinner that Shingie had prepared for us. After the dishes were done and everything was put away we gathered around the campfire, played some campfire games, told jokes and just enjoyed each others company until everyone grew tired and eventually retired to their tents.
Bundled up in my thermals, hat and layers of blankets, I had no troubles getting to sleep that evening, especially after my swim to Namibia and back.
**DISCLAIMER: While Nomad Adventure Tours did provide me with a discounted tour, all expressed thoughts, opinions and experiences remain my own.**
**If you choose to contact Nomad Adventure Tours for more information – mention The Mellyboo Project!**