So there we are, a-floating down the river. Calm water through a tunnel of trees. Walls of silence through which nothing passes. Just a white-noise buzzing in the background of crickets clickety-clicking. The thick deep green forest close around you. The channel of blue sky like a pathway and the river carrying you unabated on your journey. There is only one direction to travel, but the possibilities of where that journey will take you is endless and limited only by your imagination and your fear.
And that is how every journey begins. Anticipation of whatever adventures and experiences lie ahead…
Further downstream a sound emanates, permeates, and penetrates deep, cutting through your thoughts and bringing you back to your reality. However unreal, or surreal, that may seem.
A distant rumbling, grumbling disquiet that grows and bubbles and eventually boils. White-water.
Previous experiences from the Niger river brought out a silent dread. Looking at each other, then looking ahead. But there is no going back now. We must meet what’s coming.
But packrafting is not like navigating with a pirogue. A 6m wooden boat is not easy to twist and turn through narrow channels or avoid rocks. Packrafts though are nippy. So we gave the rapids a go. Plunged right on in….
And rammed and jammed up against a rock. Out quick and wade through to calmer water. Not very elegant. But the locals struggled with their pipante too. The unlucky fellow on the end of the rope, vainly trying to hold back the boat. Instead being dragged, stumbling through the water, like a fish hooked.
Through our first rapids in a packraft unscathed. We’d be better next time.
And so the river returns to tranquility. Peaceful and serene. A turtle sits atop an exposed rock. Long neck outstretched, head stone still. A statue, until we draw near. And in a blink, dives to submerged safety.
As the late afternoon sun casts long shadows and subtle shades, and black clouds threaten to darken the entire sky, we look for a place to camp.
For our first night we want safety. Peace and beauty we can sacrifice on this occasion. We pull up to the bank as raindrops fall. The flat-river rain-patter drum. I walk along the sandy footpath leading up from the river and introduce myself to the placid-faced man sheltering under a tree with his children.
Of course we can camp on the bank and we will indeed be safe. He can see us from his home and will keep a watch. And once we have our tents up and the clouds have cleared, the man paddles across to bid us good-night.
A peaceful night, watched over by one Mayangna family and a multitude of fireflies flickering and glowing in the natural darkness. A peaceful night shattered by the pre-dawn cockerel.
And so we survived our first day and night on the river. No crocodiles or pirates or drug-traffickers… just friendly unquestioning people and nature’s flowing beauty.
Who knows what the new day will bring… but it’s that not-knowing that encourages us to get up. To get up, go out, explore and live. Make it what you will.