We've just spent three incredible nights in the Richtersveld. Wow. Off the grid - no electricity, no water, no signal, no fuel. Just endless epic wasteland. Now we're headed to The Growcery for some canoeing adventure on the Orange River. We bounce and negotiate our way out of the wilds of the Richtersveld finally arriving at Sendlingsdrift - which has nothing besides fuel.
I stop Pajey at the petrol station so we can refuel and Nicky heads out to find out about the border crossing. When I try and start Pajey he's asleep. I pop the hood and see that not only has the battery terminal come lose with the shaking, the entire mounting for the battery has broken. On closer inspection, I see it was attached by a cable tie and that's broken. After lots of effort, I manage to get another cable tie in. And then we discover we can't open the back boot. It's been giving us hassles, but now it's impossible. With lots of energy, I eventually manage to open it. By now I'm hot and greasy and time is slipping away.
We decide to take the “shortcut” via Namibia and then back into South Africa to our next destination - The Growcery. Yeah sure. Shortcut! Hours of border cursings - I meant to type “crossings” but autocorrect knew better and changed it. We finally get across enjoying the 30 second pont trip. Now open road...gravel...
“I can hear a strange noise,” I say after about 30 minutes of driving. I stop the car to check it out. Joy…the back wheel is flat. So much for tough and expensive Cooper tires. Oh well we will just have to change it and move on. It's a good spot to change a tire - if there's such a thing - because the road is flat and straight. However, there's a problem. The jack won't fit under the car with the tire flat. Well, that's very clever! We try and maneuver the car but it does not work. Finally, we have the idea of trying to inflate the tire and then put the jack under. It works and while sipping warm beer for sustenance we have the tire changed and are back on our way again.
Finally, eight hours later, four border posts, one battery problem, one tire problem, just before sunset we arrive at The Growcery. It's like an oasis. Green - welcoming, and it has a pub! “Where's the beer?” are my opening words.
“Hi, I'm Jason,” says a smiling young guy. “Welcome to The Growcery.” I seat myself at the beautiful outdoor pub with a cold beer in hand and complete the book-in form. Jason gives us the lie of the land - “We are a green, organic establishment,” he says. “We grow our own vegetables,” he says pointing at several vegetable patches, "we recycle everything,” and he explains the process to us. The Growcery seems like an oasis in the area. Admittedly we've just come from the harshness of the Richtersveld and our Namibian adventure but it is a green oasis. Lovely grass and trees in what otherwise is a dry area.
“Wow, hot showers and electricity,” I exclaim in joy. It's hard to explain this place. It's eclectic, hip, trendy, comfortable, tasteful, fun, vibey…something like that. For example the showers I was mesmerized with, they're not dark dank holes as is often the case at a camping spot. They're cleverly and trendily built with rocks and tin and are open to the sky above and even partially on the one side affording you an amazing view while luxuriating in a fantastic warm and full throttled shower.
The bar area is vibey and flows onto the green grass where lights dot the lawn and bar area at night pulling in thirsty campers like moths to the flame. We've just come from camping in the sand of the Richtersveld and so when we arrive at our campsite we are again hugely impressed. Grass…electricity…water. Wow. But it's more than this.
It's the layout, the details that show me the people who run this place are concerned with more than just camping but the experience of camping. An example is the welcome board at our site “Welcome to a the Growcery, Blewett Family” - It's a small touch but it's this detail that is everywhere. Another example are the amazing photo collages that decorate the walls of the toilet area, again details that make even the places where you wouldn't expect much, feel like you're at home.
Our grassy campsite is partitioned off by a tasteful pole fence and has a covered kitchen area on the one side and a large fire pit in the middle, while before us we have a stunning view of the river. A fish eagle cries. The sound of Africa and a fitting welcome to our new home for the next few nights.
Darkness descends and we sit sipping the requisite snifter. “Hi everyone,” a voice says behind us, “I'm Deván and I will be your guide tomorrow.” Aah, joy. The river rafting. One of the main reasons we have come here. Deván then learns all our names. Now that's impressive. Jason, who welcomed us did the same. It reminds me of the old TV program, Cheers - which had the song chorus, “where everyone knows your name.” We feel like part of the local family.
We're doing the half day river rafting on the Orange River. It covers a distance of about 15km which should be nice and leisurely. We meet at 10:30, a civilized time to begin an excursion, dump some vital fluids (aka beer) in a cooler box and board the vehicle that will take us to the start. “If you get hot open the window, it's Africa airconditiong,” says Jaym the other guide on our excursion. There's already an occupant seated in the vehicle, Kayla the dog. She knows where the actions happening and she's not missing out. Soon we are bouncing our way along the dirt road towards our start.
“OK everyone, these are the signals,” Jaym says as he explains the basics of river rafting to us. It's just our family and another family also with three kids but their youngest looks only about two years of age. Wow. Pretty adventurous family.
Soon we are in our Ark rubber ducks and paddling sedately down the river. The river is wide and smooth and our six boats are effortlessly gliding down the river. We notice another group also on the river however they have fiberglass canoes. “I'm glad we're in an Ark inflatible, they're much safer and easier to control,” I think as I watch the other group wobble down the river.
After about 30 minutes of sedate drifting Jaym stops his ark. We all bob nearby like obedient ducklings. “OK everyone. There's a rapid coming up. Follow my line. I will firstly go right...” and he explains the plan. Sounds good to me, let's get the action on.
Around the corner we can feel the pull of the river as it gains speed and up ahead we can see the rapids. “Yeehi,” I shout as we bump and bounce across the rapids. They're not big rapids but they are fun. We all emerge unscathed on the other side and are soon drifting in tranquility once again. Soon we see the lead raft heading to the side and we all follow and disembark.
“This is a really interesting geological area,” Jaym says. We've landed on the Namibian side of the river. The best border crossing I've done. No forms. No wait. And so beautiful. “It's a lava extrusion,” Jaym explains pointing at a huge black rock that looks like it's oozed its final hours into the river. He also points out fascinating petrified mud stones.
We're back in the river and the dotted farms and cabins give way to amazing cliff formations. A herd/pack/flock...whatever of cormorants perch on the rocks observing us while high above a fish eagle soars on the thermals. “We're having a floating lunch,” Deván says as we tie our canoes together bobbing beneath a massive rock cliff. Soon the guides are laying out a smorgasbord feast on one of the canoes complete with tablecloth, cutlery and the best setting for a lunch ever - literally floating on the river.
“Wow, this is good,” I exclaim as I tuck into my pasta salad, filled with fresh tomato, parma ham, basil, rocket, and more. I'm not sure if it's the organic goodness of Growcery's home grown food or the setting or both, but this is delicious and spectacular.
After a leisurely lunch, we set off again getting to experience sections of tranquil rowing where we marvel at the bird life and scenery plus a few small but fun rapids. As we near the end the canoe party stretches out a bit as everyone rows at their own pace soaking in the ambiance and tranquility. That's what this place is all about. Relaxing, experiencing, enjoying, living.
There's a sign hanging up in the pub area that says “Some people die at 25...but are only buried at 75” - The Growcery, the canoe adventure, is for those who are intent on living every moment of their life to the full. As Jaym said, when discussing the name Growcery, “It's not just because we grow all our own vegetables, it's about people growing through what they've experienced.” I certainly feel at least an inch taller...inside where it counts! We will be back...next time for the six-day river adventure. “Aah, now I know why this place is called the Growcery...it's the one reason they didn't mention. It's because being here grows on you. You just can't help it.”
To find out more about the Growcery or Orange River Rafting check out their website!
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