The bright lights

24 January 2013

We’ve arrived in Aliwal North, several Spur cheeseburgers are down the hatches and things are looking up.

The last two days have seen a dramatic change in scenery along the !Gariep as we’ve moved out of the mountains and into the plains of the Free State. The river has slowed and broadened, banks have become more vegetated and reedy, and large-scale commercial agriculture much more prevalent. In short, we’ve seen a side of the !Gariep that many people would be familiar with.

A broad meandering river replaces the faster narrower one we were growing used to in the mountains of Lesotho.

A broad meandering river replaces the faster narrower one we were growing used to in the mountains of Lesotho.

Water Extraction Inspector Ian making daily notes on the localities of pump stations on the banks of the river. These features are becoming far more numerous as we enter commercial farmlands of South Africa.

Water Extraction Inspector Ian making daily notes on the localities of pump stations on the banks of the river. These features are becoming far more numerous as we enter commercial farmlands of South Africa.

Filtering water from the highly silted !Gariep is becoming a daily routine now that we have moved out of mountainous Lesotho where cleaner mountain streams are more abundant. Our nifty ceramic filter turns murky !Gariep water (left) into crystal clear drinking water (right).

Filtering water from the highly silted !Gariep is becoming a daily routine now that we have moved out of mountainous Lesotho where cleaner mountain streams are more abundant. Our nifty ceramic filter turns murky !Gariep water (left) into crystal clear drinking water (right).

The river continues to be extremely silted, and as the terrain has flattened, side-streams have disappeared, meaning we’ve had to filter drinking water directly from the river – a labour-intensive process, especially as temperatures have risen and water needs increased.

We’re also using river conditions as an excuse for our first woefully unsuccessful attempt at fishing. Sam patiently reeled in mud for an hour; Ian spent most of that time just getting his line in.

Daily water samples reflect the amount of sediment in the water column, which is linked to upstream rainfall. Murkier samples are usually associated with the main Senqu/!Gariep River while clearer samples mostly come from side streams.

Daily water samples reflect the amount of sediment in the water column, which is linked to upstream rainfall. Murkier samples are usually associated with the main Senqu/!Gariep River while clearer samples mostly come from side streams.

Today we arrived at Aliwal North after an easy portage around an imposing weir at the entrance to the town. Aliwal is a big resupply point for us and we spent the afternoon buying enough luxury muesli and sweet chilli sauce to get us to Oranje, around 8 days paddling away. We collected a real Pelican Case that Kate had kindly couriered to us, along with a few love letters and a camera battery.

James also picked up a knife to replace his trusty Rapala, lost to the river. He almost ended up buying a (BB) handgun, until the saleswoman told him they were for kids to play with “until they’re big enough to hold a rifle”. Ah, inland South Africa.

Organising chaos as the team resupplies for the next leg of the journey to the !Gariep and Vanderkloof dams and beyond.

Organising chaos as the team resupplies for the next leg of the journey to the !Gariep and Vanderkloof dams and beyond.

Tomorrow we start a 100km stretch through mostly flat terrain towards Bethulie and on across the !Gariep Dam, where we’ll find out just how far 40km can be when there’s no river taking you along with it.

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