Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roughing it

This last weekend was a success. We didn't get rained on (much), we didn't get (too) wet and we didn't get divorced.

Mills and I joined a dozen or so friends for a canoeing and camping weekend in Limburg. For someone who doesn't like water, I've sure spent a lot of time on it in the last year and a half.

The weather forecast was dismal. Rain, thundershowers and chances of sun. Mills and I boarded our canoe, nervously, and set off. In a giant circle. Then we hit a bank. Then we overcorrected and hit the other bank. And then went back to the other side.


By this stage, the other six canoes were well down the river and we were still trying to get ourselves facing the right direction. I helped matters by shouting instructions from the front of the canoe. "Can you actually see that we're heading for a bank? Are you even trying? Hard right damnit, paddle! Mills! What's your problem, goddamnit. You are useless!"

Mills did his bit by not hitting me on the back of the head with an oar.

Once I realised that, no matter how much I willed it, I could not steer from the front, we settled into a fairly strong rowing pattern. It was a great test of character for me to let this go. Huge. The women in my family are a) highly competitive b) massive control freaks.

Fortunately we soon found the current and we had the wind at our backs, so things got pretty cushy. We put the oars across our knees and had a casual drift downstream. We even had our water-proof ponchos at the ready when a brief thunderstorm struck.

Speaking of water-proof... the recommendation was made that valuables were placed in plastic bags to ensure that they stayed dry. I decided to put my valuables in a plastic bag, in my camping bag, in the van which was driving most of our stuff to the camp site. Others chose to put their stuff into a dry-bag made specifically for camping purposes. They put this bag into one canoe. More to come on that.
The international ferry between Belgium and the Netherlands.

We made it to the camp site without (too much) incident, although there was the inevitable race for the finish. Mills and I would've won, but we were disqualified for overshooting the pier. We were just going that fast. Paddling back upstream to the end point, into the wind, was not such a fun way to end the day.

Setting up camp on the Belgium side of the river, I was not entirely convinced whether we were camping, or squatting. There were no ablution facilities, and we could either camp in a field of cows(patts), or practically on top of the canoe storage area. Slightly dodgy, but anyway, set up camp we did. We found a little tavern to abuse their toilet facilities and did our best to avoid the ubiquitous stinging nettle in our camp site.

The Dutch have a wonderful product, called Kant en Klaar BBQ sets. Three euros a pop, they are compact, portable and trashable mini-barbeque sets. They come complete with fire container, wire grid, charcoal and firelighters.

Braaing... Dutch style.

Handy it may be, but it ain't no braai, and it certainly didn't pack enough heat to defrost the solidly frozen burger patties. Our Scandinavian companions decided to combat this problem by putting the (frozen) burgers in to cook with the baked beans. It was nasty. Despite their protestations (they ate it by the spoonful - COLD - the next morning), I have to say it tasted like dog food. And yes, I can know for sure because I once tried my dog's food, which (unlike the hamburger concoction) was actually nourishing.

Despite the optimistic weather forecasts, we were pleasantly surprised with a beautifully clear evening. The Europeans marvelled at the beauty of the visible stars. It wasn't karoo desert quality, but hey we could see more than five, so I enjoyed it too.

I think the best part of the camping trip was that it didn't rain. Not much anyway. And it certainly didn't rain over night. The next morning (after squatting for a pee on top of stinging nettle - it's like a bloody electric shock to the tender bits), we set off downriver again. And again, I put my valuables in the plastic bag, in the camping bag, in the van.

Unfortunately, the couple tasked with transporting the valuable-laden dry-bag on the river soon established that the dry bag does not handle being submerged very well. Their dog decided to jump ship when the rapids got a bit too rapid. Canoe + rapid rapids + panicky dog = wet couple and very wet valuables. Although not known for its white river rafting facilities, the Maas river took a particularly quick decline across a few short metres and it was a few precious seconds before the dry(wet)-bag was located. It was too late. The tally was as follows:
5 Blackberries. Destroyed.
3 Phones. Destroyed.
2 Wallets. Sodden.
1 Camera. Soaking.
1 80G Ipod. Ruined.
4 sets of car keys...
...it was a fairly tense moment when it came to starting the cars after that. That would've been an expensive taxi trip home!


Little Big Sis said...

Well done Koekie, I'm really proud that you managed to avoid catastrophe when those around you couldn't :-) Maybe it was just pure luck, but maybe it was your subconcious telling you that valuable items should never be in a canoe!

You don't mention being stiff and tired at the end of all this...? sounds very leisurely.

Koekie said...

Oh, leisurely it was... but Mills might feel differently. Because when I gave up control of the steering, I also lost interest in paddling.

Boomkind said...

Just for your info, those disposable braai things are made in South Africa. Well a lot are and only for export to Europe so a good chance this one was too.

Koekie said...

Oooh, interesting Boomkind! I'll have a look out next time we use one... will let you know if you're right ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Lil Big Sis - we're on the same page here. I find it positively unbelieveble that so much could go wrong without Koekie's intervention! Go Girl! Joupa.