My search criteria for a New Year weekend getaway in South Africa consisted of “accommodation with private Jacuzzi”, and so it was that the husband and I were cosily ensconced in a chalet at Thulamela in Hazyview. Sipping pink champagne in a Jacuzzi on a private deck amid a canopy of trees was definitely a highlight, but we couldn’t spend the whole weekend doing nothing, could we?
Browsing the pamphlet of things to do, we crossed off zip lining – been there, done that. I reluctantly crossed off horse riding because the husband finds it “boring”. River rafting… Hmmm. Neither of us had done that. It was a choice between a two hour cruise or a half day adventure which would include flying over an eight metre waterfall. Um, no thanks. The two hour rafting trip stated no children under the age of five would be allowed. “Well, how bad can it be then?” I asked.
The head guide was explaining how to steer the inflatable canoes from the rear and that the person in the middle would simply be rowing in the calm waters. “It sounds complicated,” said Graeme.
“I’ve kayaked plenty before, I don’t think it will be that difficult,” said I – famous last words. My great kayak experience includes lagoons in East London and the lazy Sand River. Of course the Sabie River doesn’t look too intimidating to the casual observer either.
“Okay so you’re happy to steer.”
“Okay, is there anyone who feels nervous and would prefer to have a guide in their canoe?” the head guide asked. Worried faces looked back at him and a few hands went up. In a minute all five guides were assigned to help people.
Not ten metres from the point where the canoes were pushed into the river, one canoe went sideways over the first step and the passenger was stuck in waist deep water; sucked into place by the current until a guide got to him and pulled him out and back to his canoe.
Graeme and I easily popped over it with no problem but only a few metres further found ourselves a bit closer to the right bank than everyone else, with the current pushing us towards a large tree.
“Go to the left! Row! Row!” the guides were all shouting at us.
We had just started out and I was still struggling to reacquaint myself with rowing. We collided gently with the tree sideways on. I was still thinking perhaps we could push against it with our oars when the current flipped the canoe over faster than a flapjack. Just like that I was in darkness, drinking river water. Trying to hold my breath. Beating futilely at the roof of the canoe. Thinking, “Oh fuck, I’m drowning. I’m going to die.” Just as quickly the canoe bounced off somehow – whether it was the current or Graeme’s efforts, we’re still not clear. Graeme had a hold on the canoe and managed to kick towards the bank and grab on. I was being swept downriver by the current – thank goodness for life-jackets – panicked and gasping. The guide’s words rang through my head: “If you fall into the water, don’t put your feet down or they will catch in the rocks and you might break a leg.” I now realized that what he really meant was, ‘If your feet get stuck in a crevice, the current will push you flat over and you’ll friggin’ drown.”
“Grab on!” a guide shouted, indicating for me to grab the ropes of his canoe as I approached. I managed to haul myself in and collapsed, feet hanging out over the edge. “Grab your oar!” It was drifting by in my wake and we managed to grasp it. “Are you okay?”
I was shell-shocked, honestly. I nodded. “I’m fine.”
Where was Graeme? Was I going to be a third party with my butt soaked in the pool at the bottom of the canoe and my feet hanging over the edge like crocodile bait for how many more kilometres? And then he appeared, rowing furiously, water spraying up around him like an action hero as he came to collect me. I wriggled over into the canoe with him, this time taking the middle seat. “You’re a terrible canoe driver,” he teased.
The rest of the trip was pretty tame – spotting a snake, a baby crocodile and getting stuck on rocks in rapids twice. Graeme’s worst injury of the day was slipping on wet rocks when he retrieved an empty water bottle that another tourist had thoughtlessly tossed towards the river, when we were having our water and crisps break near the end. Which was also when I discovered my sunglasses lodged underneath my helmet – no wonder I’d been so uncomfortable since my Sabie River swim!
“Would you do this sort of thing again?” I asked.
“Yes it was quite fun. And at least you made it adventurous by capsizing us. Would you?”
“Not on your life. I’m finished with rafting.”
This crap is for the fish!