50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 14

They took a week to do the seventy mile trip, starting out fully laden with sheath knives, groundsheets, cane knives, biltong, beans, coffee, sugar, snake bite outfit, a small camera and much more. They fell out in the first rapids and lost half their provisions, and when Player worried “What the hell are we going to do about grub?” Schmidt laughed and replied “Ah, moenie worry nie! Have you forgotten how many fish there are in this river?” That attitude made Player think Fred would make a great partner and indeed they went on to win the next two Dusis. As it turned out they did catch and eat fish, but the hospitality of the valley residents provided most of the food and shelter on four of the six nights they were out there. Green mealies, tea, condensed milk, curry and rice, coffee and even cigarettes and home-brewed beer were freely given. Canoeists in remote river valleys have found much help and generosity in the decades since then. This adventure had nothing in mind other than exploration - the old “because it’s there” spirit of the Fifties (the first ascent of Everest happened just over a year later). “The scenery was breathtaking, and far more overpowering than the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which I had once thought supreme” said Player. As they paddled on into unknown territory they thought “the fear of what might be lying around the next corner is part and parcel of the joy of canoeing: it keeps the mind alert and makes one savour every second on placid waters and easy rapids.” When they got to the first rapid too rough to shoot in their heavy open cockpit boats they got ready to portage, but Fred danced and sang the 1951 R&B hit song “Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me”2 to some amantombazana walking nearby and between screams of laughter they offered to carry the boats for the weary paddlers! They had a hard time, shipping water in many of the rapids, overturning in some and losing more and more of their provisions. But each time they were at their wits’ end they would be treated to generous hospitality. Once at a school they slept in the classroom thus dodging a heavy rainstorm, ate a hearty plate of rice and goats meat, drank coffee, and as they paddled off downstream the next morning they were serenaded with a lusty “Glory Glory Hallelujah” by the kids who had arrived early to find two wild men sleeping on their workbenches! Approaching the waterfall they were given severe warnings by numerous people on the banks about the danger. “When we reached the falls themselves a vast gesticulating crowd waved and shouted at us. By keeping close to the bank we knew we would be out of danger and we pretended we didn’t understand what they were trying to say. They grew frantic and some of the women put their hands over their eyes as we drew closer and closer to the brink of the falls. The men were jumping up and down, waving their hats and yelling at the top of their voices. I repeatedly cupped my hands to my ears, then shrugged my shoulders as though I could not follow. Fred played it to the full too, and lay back nonchalantly in his canoe singing “Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me.” “By the time we were thirty feet away everyone was frenzied and some were holding on to one another. Then with a great show we bluffed we had seen the danger and reacted with all the pomp we could muster. The crowd was delighted and roared its approval. Getting out of the canoes we tied them up and walked to the edge of the falls. Still mindful of our audience we mimed great shock and staggered back at the sight of the pool below. The crowd screamed and yelled as though to say “We TOLD you so!” A swim below the falls left them with the very last of their supplies: Half a pound of Holsum margarine! But again that night they were supplied with mealies - and dry matches. As they hit the flat water before the coast they were given tea by a farmer and when they reached the sea the proprietor of the South Barrow Hotel UMKO 50 Years gave them a free room for the night! Read more about their trip in Ian Player’s book Men, Rivers and Canoes. 3 Almost a decade passed before the next generation of paddlers ‘rediscovered’ the river Next known UMKO trips - Easter weekends 1960 and 1961 “Rapid after rapid with unbelievable scenery as we paddled past krantz after krantz. We were totally stoked. Again we chose a suitable spot on the riverbank with plenty of driftwood for our campfire. We soon had a roaring blaze going. For supper we ate like kings.” Years later Rob Gouldie, Peter Marriott, Dereck Antrobus, Don Cobbledick, Norman Dyer, Graham Hall, Peter Gladwin and Denny Sterling also paddled from Josephine’s Bridge, which spans the river on the national road between Richmond and Ixopo, to the sea. Rob G ouldie writes (in his wonderfully expressive book “Duzi Fever”): “The Duzi was either a paddling or walking race. Whatever the river levels were, there was an unavoidable amount of walking. We dreamt of paddling in a river where there was virtually no portaging. We decided to plan a trip on the Umkomaas. “Peter Marriott’s father Geoff had a trailer with a multiple rack that could accommodate at least eight canoes and he kindly ferried us to St. 4 Josephine’s Bridge as we planned to sleep under the bridge and make an early start. We built a fire to keep us warm and hunkered down for the night. The cold woke us early and after a mug of steaming coffee and rusks we slid our canoes into the river and into the swiftly flowing current. Paddling was a dream and we basically spent the day steering more than paddling our canoes over rapid after rapid on the beautiful clean water, the river flanked on either side by smoothly rounded white river boulders. On bends of the river we canoed beneath krantzes that towered above us, carved out by the passage of centuries of flood-waters passing through. Having journeyed many miles down river, stopping occasionally for a smoke break and to stretch the legs and ease our bums. Smoke break Floating abreast between rapids “We were in the best of spirits and then Dereck Antrobus started horsing around. In losing concentration, he left it too late to bypass a projecting boulder, got caught sideways on and then in a flash, the inevitable happened. His canoe wrapped around and broke its back. “ They spent the night at Fishy Fish trading store (now known as Riverside Store) where they got uproariously drunk on their “half jacks of Cane, Vodka and Brandy. The mixers were packets of Cool Aid topped up in a billycan of river water”. They drank the whole trip’s supply in one night 14