To beat the heat and see the countryside from a different perspective, a dozen of us went for a paddle down the Orange River (also known as the Gariep River), and ending up back at our camp. Our guide managed to forget three paddles, so we took turns making the men in the back do all the work. The river meandered past impressive sedimentary cliffs and grassy banks, providing a beautiful glimpse of the barren red hills in the distance. Fish jumped occasionally, and we spotted a wide variety of bird life, from the bright red and black little guys to funky coloured ducks and several very large herons. We passed local farmers tending to their water pumps and driving a herd of goats along the banks. The water was surprisingly low considering that the Orange River drains most of South Africa. There were a few sections of small rapids, which were fun to navigate until two girls managed to capsize their boat on a particularly fast moving corner. A yard sale followed, as shoes, bottles, packs, and the overturned boat carried on downstream.
Back at camp, we were loaded and on the road by 1pm, headed north again. It wasn't until we turned west onto a gravel road and into Gondwana Canyon Park that the landscape began to change again. The gentle rolling desert gave way to flat plains, punctuated only by the occasional quiver tree (the San Bushmen use the limbs to carry their arrows, hence the name). Suddenly, an oasis of trees appeared, and we pulled into the camp site that is dotted with shady trees and even a pool! The whole crew was in it within minutes of piling out of the truck, and then ten minutes after getting out, we were just as hot as we were before. The desert is a harsh place.
About an hour before sunset, we piled back into the truck and drove out to a viewpoint perched right on the edge of Fish River Canyon. Wow - it was magestic, very much like the Grand Canyon, with winding eroded ridges, layer upon layer of ancient rocks, and the sparkling Fish River meadering far below. Trails could be spotted on the plateaus in the distance for crazy hikers with a death wish. Indeed, the trails are closed for day hiking following the death of an unprepared hiker in 2002. We enjoyed a nice spread of appies as the sun eased down to the horizon, eventually slipping below and leaving behind a glowing sunset that was reflected in the rock faces below. It was a beautiful sight, but I think some of us were secretly thankful that the heat was over for the day. Warm breezes blew through the camp as we ate soup around the camp fire and learned the plans for tomorrow. It will be a long day of driving, with beautiful scenery along the way, the world's largest sand dunes, and a very good chance of spotting zebras and giraffes along the way. It should be a great day.