Tony begins the story]
Pete had suggested a New Year’s trip down the Pongola but then he vanished off to cohabit with his wife on the sunny beaches of Southbroom and only with reluctance was persuaded to come on his trip that Steve and I had frantically organised.
[Carey- Ann continues the story]
Considering myself to be a person of sound mind and reason but by no means versed in the ways of rafting I leapt at the opportunity to join a group of eight explorers on their trail down a stretch of the Pongola river over New Years.
Roosters had long since stopped crowing when our motley crew assembled at the storeroom on the morning of the 30th December. Within a matter of minutes my vocab had increased to include words such as helmets, splashcover and paddles and my life skills had broadened to pumping up crocs and playing Florence Nightingale to Paul whom was suffering from a sprained ankle.
We left on the Saturday afternoon and kind of drifted down to the Itala game reserve at a relaxed rate that saw us leave the put-in point at the picnic site just after the sun set. 500m and a crocodile (well, Vaughn and Pete claim to have seen one but whether what they thought they saw was a crocodile was the subject of much debate) found us an amazing campsite on somebody’s lawn complete with braai area and shelter.
Sunday and the river was running as high as I’ve seen it. Which was really nice for drifting along and chatting until a crocodile (a real one this time) poked its head out about 10 feet from my kayak. Steve and Jeanne claim that the purple people eater didn’t actually touch the water again until it was safely sheltered behind their Croc. But they were laughing so much that I’m sure they must be lying. Buggers !
With the sun sinking rapidly we pushed four crocs and a kayak into the murky waters of the river and began to paddle . We had gone no more than a hundred metres when one of the local inhabitants decided to give chase to Piers and Tony. Needless to say the size of the crocodile became the proverbial fishing story and by the end I swear it was comparable to old Nessie.
Another 4 or 5 largish crocodiles and lots of really fun rapids (the river is hugely enjoyable at this level) and we stopped for the last night of the year on some sloping rocks that just looked aesthetically appealing. Considerable ingenuity and engineering expertise from the 3 engineers and the architect erected a sort of a shelter … while Steve and Jeanne and Piers and Carry smugly erected their standalone dome tents. Dinner was cooked in spurts in between the showers of rain but it was great (thanks Jeanne & Steve) and we even had dessert. And lots to drink.
With the rise of the sun and the normal crack and creak of ones already stiff neck we set off on a full days rafting spanning a distance of approximately two kilometres. The larger portion of this section was relatively easy going giving us ample opportunity to debate the sighting of greater or lesser weavers birds, the existence of the by now infamous crocs and taking in the sheer beauty of the countryside surrounding us. There were a couple of grade two and three rapids one of which required some recceing but fortunately claimed no victims.
Old Year’s Eve dragged on in to the night with lots of nostalgia and drinking until Steve and Jeanne and Carry and Pierce retired to their tents with strict instructions to wake them at midnight … leaving Paul to fantasize loudly, vociferously and enviously.
Midnight and champagne then we all kind of faded tiredly to bed. Until it started pissing down again about half an hour later. Pete and Vaughn and Adrian and I sensibly decided to go and sleep under the shelter but Paul was convinced that it was only a short shower. It wasn’t … and about an hour later a drowned-rat-looking-wet-dog-smelling-thing grumbled into the shelter.
Just after lunch we found a relatively flat stretch of dolerite and set up camp for the night. A surprise downpour saw all nine of us huddled under a makeshift shelter feasting on mussels and crackers (yes -there was some styling on this trip), waterlogged salad, an awesome fillet ingeniously supplied by Vaughan and the piece de resistance in the form of canned fruit and ultramel custard. The witching hour saw us toast in the new year with much back slapping an a swig of champagne .
The next morning dawned sunny’ish and responsive to his subtle (well … subtle for Pierce) hints I nobly offered Pierce the use of my kayak. Mellowly paddling down the last stretch of the river past one or two more crocodiles, Carry was just muttering something about “… really not wanting to swim today…” and suddenly there was this huge unexpected hole. We swam for at least 500m while the Croc contentedly surfed the hole. Walking back down to fetch the kayak or another Croc, Vaughn greeted me with a piece of dilapidated foam … sadly it seemed my faithless Pelicase had leapt open and tossed my beloved Nikon into the murky river. But we got all the foam from the Pelicase back. Also the spare film canister. Oh … and the polariser … and the Pelicase. But somewhere in the Pongola there is a very happy crocodile with photo’s of all his little croclets on the walls of his soggy burrow. Bastard !
We finished the river and Steve and I returned to Itala to fetch the cars. Inevitably the rain poured down the moment we started back and the roads turn into mudslides and we only just make it out of Itala. The pouring rain and dense mist continued all the way back to the Grootdraai weir where Steve and Jeanne headed south and home and the rest of us went Pongola’wards. Until I took a wrong turn, reversed and suddenly my (formerly) trustworthy Jetta was making a …RrrrrRrRRRrRrrRrrRRRrrrrRR.. noise (that sounded nastily like a broken gearbox) and didn’t go anywhere. Adrian’s bakkie towed the disgraced and forlorn Jetta to Pongola in the still pouring rain. Sitting soaking wet and freezing cold in the Wimpy I miserably listened to everybody else making plans to get back to Jhb, thinking “… broken gearbox, gulp, no Nikon, possibly no job, no heidi, cold, wet, …. broken gearbox, gulp, etc etc ….”.
Anyway the next morning the garage replaced a shattered CV joint. The garage in Piet Retief 100km further on replaced it again.
Do I still consider myself to be of sound mind and reason - most definitely, just slightly more rafting wise thanks to ESSA.
But … everybody else seems to have really enjoyed my New Year trip. Some of them are still laughing about it. Bastards !