Trailblazing through the waters of Wilderness
Driving over the bridge, surrounded by emerald foliage rolling down the mountainous hills, one would never imagine the adventure carrying out below. For under the concrete and mortar, a canoe crew skims along the Touw River, plunging paddles into the skin-numbing water and pumping underdeveloped muscles to pull the vessels forward.
Field specialist Amanda Robbins arranged the half hour trek to Wilderness to put her five Africa Media journalist interns’ thrill seeking writing skills to the test. As one of those Big Five, I can attest to the adrenalin surge Eden Adventures’ abseiling along the Kaaimans Waterfall caused, and the welcome journey back down to water where four canoes lay waiting at the river’s embankment.
Making my way down to the edge, my bare feet work to maneuver over gravel and stones until the chill liquid greets my toes to soothe the aches away. Our guide, Steve, flashes a cheeky grin and asks if anyone needs a brief lesson on canoe etiquette, safety, or paddling, and as he explains how to scoop ice cream to move forward, I become lost in the beauty of the contrasting views.
The rumbling of vehicles hums in eardrums as drivers zoom by with thoughts of dates and deadlines, but cormorants and king fishers croon and sunbathe detached from human cares of temporality. Nature coexists with man, separate, yet entwined through a shared surrounding.
Steve’s voice cuts through the spiderweb strands of my wandering mind, and he urges us to all board our boats. “Front steadies, back steers,” he reminds us. Megan, my canoe companion, clambers in and plops down onto the seat then waits patiently for her paddle. I wade out into the algae-tinged river, stepping gingerly as my skin prickles from the frigid water. I drag the craft further out until the bottom no longer drags, then climb in, push off, and begin to pull the water with the curved edge of the plastic.
The ride is smooth, and beneath the boats, eels and fish flit unseen. Each stroke slices into the glassy surface and propels our bodies further into the indigenous forest that hides histories and houses mysterious shapes and sounds. Leopards, baboons, and bushmen could be camouflaged in the brush, tracking our antics and pondering our erratic comments. Our rhythmic movement is abbreviated with bursts of chatter and giggles as our pants become damp from the drips that slide down our poles and one canoe careens into a clump of vines near the shoreline.
“It is not a race,” I cry as the boys, John and Surya, zip past in an attempt to reach a narrow pass first, but all I receive as answer is a splash and a laugh. Synchronizing our sweeps, we push our muscles with a smirk past the competition, then come to a landing against the riverbank, ending our bold and venturous crusade into the wild waters of Wilderness for the moment. We mount the shore, and my bare feet bound onto the warm stones.
I briefly regret my decision not to keep my shoes on, but the anticipation of jungle possibilities drown out the pain in my cautious steps. Leopards may be lurking in the gloom. Wild elephants, tucked away from prying eyes, could come crashing out through the trees. My nightmare, the baboon, might be watching. I hungrily scan the forest, searching for any hint of movement or glint of glassy eyes. Nothing.
We walk on, the group chatting and laughing and driving the wild away with their civilized shoes and upright gaits. The moment is gone, the dream of connection chased away by skipping stones. Soon we will clamber back into our man-made contraptions, paddle back upstream in a lurching race, and squelch back up the path to Fairy Knowe Lodge. Then, maybe, the jungle will come alive.