Paddle, Engine, paddle!” The persistent screams come from the ginger-haired Slave-Driver tucked into the seat behind me. He’s been cracking the whip since we set off, taking full advantage of the fact that my job, primarily, is to power our two-man canoe. Slave-Driver’s responsibility: navigation. He also controls the bar—an ice-filled cooler stowed between his legs.
We’re on the Orange River, South Africa’s longest. It covers some 1,400 miles between Lesotho’s Maluti mountain range and Alexander Bay, where it spills into the Atlantic on Africa’s diamond-yielding west coast. It’s here, in a dry, harsh region of stark, rock-strewn deserts and ancient volcanic debris, that the Orange forms the border between South Africa and Namibia, carving its way through craggy mountain desert. And this barren, forbidding, visually surreal landscape lends itself to adventure.
Slave-Driver and I are part of a band of gay adventurers (including picky queens and ample man-candy) seeking Nirvana on a queer canoeing expedition—the inaugural Orange Pride Safari. The first of its kind in this part of the world, it’s a butch wilderness adventure experienced through pink-tinted spectacles. Glammed-up camping, without the horrors of pitching your own tent or struggling with malnourishment. Think macho escapade with sufficient luxury thrown in to keep our motley band—the butch, the bad and the beautiful—in a state of perpetual bliss.
Kicking off in Cape Town, we’re welcomed near the seafront, behind the lighthouse in the Green Point neighborhood, with bubbly, muffins and a red carpet. It’s 474 miles to the Namibian border—almost directly north, often along an arrow-straight highway. Assorted lonely towns drift by as we witness the Cape’s agricultural belt transform into an altogether starker, more rugged terrain. It’s cozy in the bus, bonding by way of close-quarter bondage, with Slave-Driver treating us to his encyclopedic knowledge of gay anthems.
We arrive many hours later at Provenance, our sophisticated base camp on a large terraced property at the edge of the river, just a few miles beyond the Namibian border. Our hosts from river experts Felix Unite are waiting with chilled beers and hefty slabs of prime fillet about to go on the coals. Tents have been erected on a wide lawn above the point where our canoes will launch tomorrow. As I tuck myself into my sleeping bag on a slender blow-up mattress, I hear the distant cry of a jackal, and closer, a slightly drunk ginger homosexual massacring ABBA.
For more of South Africa, pick up the February Issue of Instinct