The Gay Flag of South Africa crossed the border for a visit to Namibia recently.
The flag and its boys went on the trip with Orange Pride Safari which is a unique concept of a gay only luxury kayaking. Brandon Ruth and his team is calling this experience "glamping". (Leave it to us queerfolk to turn the dull into delicious).
Their website says: "Orange Pride Safaris, South Africa's first ever "Boys only", Orange River Canoeing Adventure, will keep you enticed with gorgeous scenery [in and out of the canoe], incredible entertainment, fabulous themed evenings, luxurious meals and camping comforts, the likes of which have never been seen before".
Below is a day by day account of the trip to Namibia and up the Orange river as told by Eugene Brockman and Henry Bantjes who accompanied the Gay flag of South Africa on its first wildlife experience.
From Cape Town to...
What a crowd on the bus. Henry and Jako next to him discovered their Dutch roots and re-GAY-led us till the border. The landscape is desolate and wide and daunting almost, but with all the banter on the bus and the Cazwell “Ice Cream Truck” music vid and the jokes and laughter we hardly spent much time on the scenery.
Our school boy antics turned my sesame street doll became a focal point as h became a muslim lady, who naughtily molested Tamo who fell asleep on the bus.
Other than that it was jokes and witty reparte, pilfered black labels, Henry and my standard brand of exhibitionist activism as we queered the West Coast and eventually across the Namibian border.
We had to make several pit stops which became several smoke breaks for some but we are experienced bus bitches after our Gay Flag tour clocking 5 000 km! And we are used to WORKING it!
We almost had a mutiny on our hands as our cutey driver James, thought Gay music would be ethereal Buddha Bar, till we whipped out an iPod with Kylie and Rihanna, Gagga and Katy Perry.
Our picnic basket was gorgeous and had healthy bits such as grapes, mixed raw nuts cranberries, goji berries and pumpkin seeds with nougat!
However soon after passing the Namib border we arrived at our destination to buckets with the best biltong I’ve ever had and some beers, though I was on non-alcoholic. ( I don’t need liquor to be wild ; - ) )
Our tents are lovely and spacious and it has a lovely laager feel to it. The dinner was gorgeous! Lobster champagne bisque, the most tender beef fillet barbequed in a gorgeous braai sauce to tender perfection with a side of a Parmesan slivered tomato and rocket salad. All wrapped up with a generous cheese platter for dessert of preserved green figs and watermelon rind.
The air is fresh, the stars are bright the air mattress in my tent is calling me with a force, but I still have to go to the spacious bush bar and I might even brave a splash in the pool on this warm Namib night.
We have 4 buckets to pack our bedding and clothes for the next four days into. I do not know where my harnesses, feathers and leathers will go! My angel wings? Eish! The canoe at least is bigger than I thought, so hoping it will be steady over the rapids we’ll face.
Now there is good and bad news. Vodacom is active in Namibia, bad news after hitting the river tomorrow morning, we’ll be in no network zones. So I’ll leave you with the promise of more pics, amazing river adventures and Henry and I will do our best to flirt, camp up the trip and queer the ORANGE river!
...Namibia at last!
OMG! We are finally in Namibia! The Flagboys had of course packed VERY sensibly – we have two sets of angel wings, leather harnesses, glitter, feather boas and an array of kinky underwear. Nobody told me to pack sleeping bags or worry about where to poo once we are on the river for four days (I told the ex-wife, Miss Lola Fine a yacht would be waiting for us – she is already on her way with a friend’s private jet.
As usual, with pomp and fan fare, we arrived at base camp in Noordoewer, met with welcome cocktails, hot staff and world class cuisine.
What to wear tomorrow? Angel wings or something more simple like the feather boa and speedo? The gay flag of SA (GFSA) has arrived (again)! Namibia LOVES US!!!
The next morning I was surprised to find myself right on the bank of the Orange River. We were so busy settling in, munching on delicious food and partying that we had not heard the rolling waters.
It was a great nights sleep and the airbed was comfortable. We were a bit chilly, but Henry and I could double up our inflated mattresses and cuddle. Yes, we got wild in the wild, but quietly, tents are not sound proof.
We had coffee and rusks and relaxed around the camp. Followed shortly by training with the gorgeous, cut and buffed Chris from 360 Specialized Training. Henry has gone to the classes before but nothing prepared me for how intense it would be. I was sweating after the 3rd set of exercises, and I gym 5 times a week! Chris says it is functional training taking the normal movements of the body and doing them in high paced sequences that leave you fitter, leaner and more cut. I have to say looking at Chris one would easily become a believer.
Then it was a great continental breakfast with flapjacks and fruit. We all ate heartily unsure of the strain we “city queers” might be put through on the river.
We re-packed and we were told to minimize our luggage to fit into two 25 liter plastic buckets, including sleeping gear. So I had to cram all my costumes, leathers and feathers, cosmetics and essentials in one bucket. On the river everyone carries his own weight. We also had the luxury to pack a resupply bucket for snacks and water we would be given on the second day.
We had a short demonstration before choosing the Mohawk canoe, which would be our mode of transport for the next 3 of days. Henry and I chose a green one (my favourite colour). It had four holes for our buckets and a cooler for our water and snacks. On the water you soon realize to hold your balance and to keep your core tight. You also have to master steering (if you sit in the rear), how to spot rocks and manage pace (if you sit in the front).
However one is completely assured of your safety with the cute, sometimes gorgeous river guides who give you tips and pointers for each rapid, send a team ahead to rescue you (which Tamo and Evan used often) and to lead you single file down the rapid. Henry and I did well. We styled through the first few rapids. We made a good team on the water. Poor Evan and Tamo however didn’t and soon set the trend for capsizing and faltering on white waters.
Rowing was not too exhausting as we were awarded an hour and a half’s picnic and stop. However ours was pure pampering as we were greeted with refreshing Bos Ice Tea Cocktails, which I downed of thirst under 30 seconds shocked to find there was alcohol in it. So much for my vow to detox whilst on this trip!
We then camped out in luxury under Bos Ice Tea’s umbrellas whilst eating generous salmon and avocado & aubergine pesto sandwiches.
Afterwards, we had to make our way to Hammerkop, our stop for the night. Henry and I cleared the last rapid of the day and joined the huddle of canoes at an inlet. It was there that I got to fall in the water whilst we were pushing off for the next stint. I was jolted out of our Mohawk by Henry trying to lift him into his seat, tilting the canoe to the side with force and me into the water, scraping my thigh and knee and getting the first injury on the river.
However we pressed on ahead to find our tents pitched at a tranquil spot along the river with the most majestic mountains firing red and terra cotta in the dawn. Henry and I paddled ahead with force, claimed our tent and started to chill as the kind Michael took care of my wound. Soon most people were crowding around me and joined us for drinks and snacks nuts and cranberries. Soon we had massages from cute and naughty farm boy Pierre who traveled up with us from Cape Town. He dug into my knots and had me mellow and oiled up slickly.
The luxury of it all set against this arid, ruthless and unforgiving nature was a constant theme of the trip. One has to be astounded at the sheer volume of planning, logistics and work that goes into getting this luxury down the river on a raft, then to unpack and prepare and lay it all out. These people row just as hard as us, or even harder to get ahead of us, then hustle to pitch tents, plush settings for lunch or dinner and get fires lit for our food.
As the last rays of the sun made the mountains blush we chilled with the snacks form our coolers. We also familiarized ourselves with the camp shower (all shower products were biodegradable) and yes the camp toilet (proper chemical block) that was luckily set to the side of the main camp for some privacy.
The team of Red Hot events truly impressed us with a dinner setting of Moroccan bohemia with multi-coloured pillows on carpets, red beaded metal stars and candles on the tables. There were no paper plates, no plastic, no cutting corners. Full table cloths, full on silver and plush fabrics. The only secession was plastic tumblers and wine glasses in respect for the astounding natural. Tamo showed that whatever skills he lacked on the river was amply balanced with grace and charm as he led us through a wine sobrage of Haute Cabriere’s Chardonnay Pinot Noir and their Pierre Jourdan Champagne Belle Rose.
Soon after, we were served freshly barbequed skewers of beef and chicken with cous-cous salads, pita bread with herbs and rocket, humus, tsatsiki, olives and chillies. Food was ample and gorgeously prepared. Desert was a large bowl of strawberries to match the gorgeous wine that flowed non-stop.
We wrapped up the evening on Haute Cabrierre’s wines before starting a drumming session with our cute river guides. I soon checked out and hit that air mattress hard, leaving the night skies, mountain settings and the Orange river.
The next morning we woke up to the cool breeze of the Orange river on the hot and desolate landscape. Our tent was warm and cosy in the night air. Proper plunger coffee, a selection of tea and rusks were laid out and ready from early for early birds like me.
I had to finally make use of the toilet. The camping toilet is a completely foreign object, a confusing Rubik’s cube of levers, for which I had to ask a second run of instructions. Once I learnt its operation it was comfortable and hygienic, a major upgrade from the alternative, a spade called “Doug”; available if we needed a toilet break whilst on the river. All of us avoided ever having to ask for “Doug”.
Base needs taken care of we mingled on the scatter cushions of our dinner whilst some of the group paddled across to climb the towering cliff reflecting on the calm waters.
I delegated a Gay Flag of SA photo shoot with some of the “river rats” as we dubbed the sweet cute guides who led us along river.
Whilst they were climbing, we got quiche of chipolata sausages and bacon, as usual all prepared on campfire. After we were all assembled Chris from 360 Specialized Training took a few of the eager queens for an abs class on the sand. I quickly surveyed the mirage on proposed exercise spot and chose to rather lounge in the shade away from the sharp morning sun. I did however row hard later to make up for my laziness.
Soon the clinging and clanging of tent pipes filled the air and we pushed off for our first rapid named “Entrance Exam” which I luckily passed. I wore my colar for the river, Henry wore his red feather boa which now started to look like a drowned camp chicken with his red sequence hat.
The river is a great way to relax and push your self at the same time. Your mind is forced away from your daily pressures whilst being forced to focus on the flow of the river, the obstacles in it and how to respond. It also made Henry and me work together better, though we both fought for control, which admittedly is not the best thing if you sit in front and is supposed to only be an engine.
Then there was King Kong and Henry and I sailed through that as well, a little shaky and off course but quickly corrected.
Two in our group fell ill with sun stroke, one lucky queen was paddled by gorgeous Chris the trainer fulfilling a wish to spend some time with him in a boat, but not at all in the way he had hoped. This day luckily our lunch spot was also our camping spot and we were all relieved for our Bos Cocktails (non-alcoholic) this time. We were served silver platters of cheese and cold meats with melba toast and crackers in the blissfull shade.
We baked for a couple of hours before the relentless Namibian sun slid over the mountain tops and left us to settle in, have our drinks and mingle. Massages again this time, Pierre straightened out my lower back and tight hamstrings. Soon that night’s dinner table started to impress as it was raised and lined with sturdy dark wood and leather director’s chairs. It was soon set with crisp white linen tablecloths and napkins, proteas in rusted ornamental handbags and a bronze runner for the lengths of the table.
Unfortunately I was feeling queasy from too much cheese and then having droe wors couldn’t part take in the succulent lamb and roast potatoes nor the chocolate brownies laid out and had to console myself with an apple. Not any apple though, and apple sought out from endless buckets in the dark and sent to me with a topless “Straight James” the cute and sweetest river guide in our group.
I have to compliment the river guides and all staff who welcomed our “vanity” of moffies onto the river with broad smiles, sincere hospitality and humour. They all mingled and no hang ups with even the most forward of our flirting. Some even played into it and soon had each of gleaming with interest in our favourite, though Blommie was by far the most liked.
I soon bounced back enough to rejoin the table for a little bit. However the river had taken its toll and we all knew there was another days rowing ahead, so most of us had an early night. The river was rushing along endlessly and soon after settling into my sleeping bag I was swept away too for a sound sleep.
Another day, with the same river just wilder. Not only the river though, but also the boys. The river guides had clutched the imaginations of most in the group. A lovely breakfast of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast with homemade tomato sauce – (which I could unfortunately not stomach). In stead I had rusks and an apple searched out by a kind river guide. Also a protein shake – SNAPS to me for bringing protein shake.
This day was the serious rapids as we soon found out on Sjambok - THE rapid of the trip. It capsized all canoes spare two. Yes, I swallowed a bit of the Orange myself. It was jarring the current was strong, but I grabbed my sandals, paddle and a bucket that came loose from the clip. Swimming with all of that whilst grabbing onto a rock was a scary experience, but also one that boosted my pride in myself for keeping it together and thinking level headedly. One canoe hit a rock head on and cracked the nose so we were camped out for a while on the interesting rock formations for some time. The guides were very reassuring and friendly, soon coming to take us along to do stints swimming down the current.
This “going the flow” and making the best of a situation is what makes this trip special and tailored. Each day the team gauges your mood and your energy and give you the best experience they can. The rock formations were fascinating. The lava flows of this landscape left rows of hard black rock that ran all the way from the river right up the mountaintops.
The sun was intense and the river had sapped our energies. There is a reason Namibia has the sun on their flag, I can tell you.
Henry and I soon located the reason we were so wobbly on the water. Our buckets were uneven, so every right turn was more intense that we expected. That and also that when panicking on a rapid I wouldn’t give Henry chance to steer, swerving us too fast in a direction.
We skipped our lunch spot and hit the water going straight for the night’s camping spot. Henry realized upon getting out of the canoe that he had a limp and swelling after our dip in the orange where the cooler fell on his ankle.
So we hobbled over to the refreshments table where Bos Ice tea again offered us cocktails. Henry and all the team received enough TLC to be back on our feet and we were ready to socialize when the sun finally fell.
By that time we had become really comfy with each other and our river guides, knowing them all on a first name basis. Henry roped in two of the hottest river guides for a photo shoot hoisting the camp shower.
Pierre smoothed away all tension of the tight bends we had do navigate whilst on the river and soon we were sitting down to a Robinson Crusoe themed dinner table on African scatter cushions and botanical printed white and green table cloths with chandeliers and a wire high heel with a mirror ball.
Dinner was exactly what I had hoped for large pans of paella with yellow rice, prince prawns, sausage and also chicken pieces. I dressed as “slave Boy Friday” for the night and couldn’t help but dishing up 3 portions of paella. I finally was over my queasiness and was hungry!
Again Tamo gave us a sobrage that made us appreciate the value of a still champagne like Tranquil which was perfect for a day of wild white waters and adrenaline.
There was drumming and the party was going strong, especially with Haute Cabriere flowing but we left the crew and the river guides to party while we snuck out, hobbling to our tent. Henry’s ankle had swollen and the poor guy was bandaged and dazed on anti-inflammatory pills. So we called it an early night but took a good helping of the jellybeans for desert to bed.
We were having fun on the river but we still missed our pooches and were a bit frayed from our poor rowing that day, the capsize and also Henry’s injury, so we were looking forward to and early night to make the most of our last day on the Orange!
Last day, on the river and this morning our main guide Hendrik hustled the crew early so we’d to take to the water by 9AM. We all caught up, creamed each others backs with glitter sun block and also caught up on tales from the night before. Whish I could share, but what happens on the Orange stays on the Orange.
We were served a breakfast of croissants and cold meats with fruit, which we polished off quite soon. Henry and I were camped up in feather boas that now smelt like dead dog and short shorts, my angel wings had snapped it’s elastic so they were packed away in the bucket.
My legs were pink and the skin tight from all the sun so I covered them with the gay flag (so many uses along the river!) Henry and I were well balanced and ready for the white waters. However there were only a few timid rapids, none like Sjambok, so we glided through them. My steering had finally kicked in and I could get us to where we needed to be in style.
Snaps also to Tamo and Evan for clearing their first rapid, even though it was in reverse. The stretch of river on that day was peaceful, which meant less stress but harder paddling so Henry and stuck to Hendrik in the lead and kept up our pace.
The quiet and serene landscape was impressive, but it didn’t help Henry and I with the monotony of the rowing so we started to sing, everything from 80’s pop such as “I Think Were Alone Now” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to classy diva’s like Shirley “Never, Never, Never” and Edith “Je Ne Regrette Rien”.
There were some more smaller rapids, but then again the quiet water with Henry and me keeping to the front. We also charmed our way to a bag of jellybeans from Chef Leon and Mykola’s canoe, which was a delicious burst of energy. At last we heard that we were close to a resort at Aussenkehr Vineyards, which will be our final destination on the Orange. The water was slow and whilst people were waiting for some canoes to catch up, Henry started to row. The word “resort” had put a fire into him and before we knew we saw the vineyards. I perfected my strokes at last and we kept brilliant pace and in no time were the first to make it to the vineyard. We waited for oragnizer Brendan (Ms Brenda “Not So” Fussy) to catch up with Chris to make arrangements.
At last we were on land and it was strange to bid our canoe farewell, it has almost become an extension of us. Henry, though had no sentimentality and asked where the cocktails were.
Soon, we were in the shade sipping on rock shandy’s and coming to terms that we paddled our last stroke on the orange.
Aussenkehr is an amazing oasis in the most desolate of landscapes. It used to be the worlds largest table grape vineyard, but is now the biggest for the Southern Hemisphere only.
Properly refreshed, we were moved to Bertie, an old Gold Reef City Bus with wooden interiors and benches that hooked our canoes and drove us back the distance we had gone down during our three days on the river. We had covered just over 70 kilometers on the Orange rive the most Northern Border of South Africa and it was an amazing experience. Especially since the GFSA had been along for all of it.
Back at base camp, we all made a beeline for the pool bar, I had had enough sun and caught up on my blogging, whilst the others splashed around drinking cocktails before we were served a gorgeous pasta lunch of cherry tomatoes, chorizo and basil. The blaring of the cricket on a TV screen seemed surreal after 3 days of nature.
With the heat abating, our tents were pitched in a flash before the last rays of the sun slanted over the camping grounds. With the river guides freed up from their normal duties on the river, we got to them a little better. People went about, taking turns to wash the Orange out of their hair and to relax under the shade, to have snacks at their whim, after having to ration on the river.
Soon the braai’s were lit and before we knew it, it was dinner! It was a buffet of steaks, chicken, snoek, wors, solid potato salad, roasted veggies and more. The tables again were decorated stylishly and this time we had real glass. Everyone was quietly digging in to their meals, when it became time for Orange Oscars! It was a hilarious analysis of events and behaviours on the river. I won BEST DRESSED, which included a lifetime’s supply of “Gay SA flags”. Each person was also awarded a shot of tequila, which really got the party started.
It was only logical that cute river guides, six packs and tequila, salt and lemon would equate to body shots so Blommie, Straight James and Chris were roped in and on the counter.
Soon the madness moved to the Bar where our head river guide Hendrik and his makeshift band had to churn out numbers on their guitars for karaoke. “Like a Virgin” shall never be the same again, especially since on guitar player had a cigarette shifting between his toes and his mouth. The night was a blurr of Malibu and shots mixed with Afrikaans folk songs before we all collapsed in our tents, the alcohol blissfully obscuring the fact that were soon to be whisked away back to our real lives.
I woke up early and took a last stroll to the Orange river and saw the sun come up over the scorched hills of Namibia and felt truly blessed to have been on a trip of a lifetime.