Paddlers of Old . .

. . meet at the Hops from time to time to swap words of wisdom and – as Greg Bennett says: “The older we get the better we were!” I feel like a bit of a fraud among these ancient fellas as not only did they always pull their paddles much harder than I ever did, most of them are still paddling! I hung up my paddle decades ago – and my paddle didn’t notice any difference . .

– millions of river miles – hectolitres of beer – centuries of ouderdom –

The gathering started when Chairman Allie Peter (him in red with the smooth pate) summoned ten paddlers who did the Berg together down in the freezing Cape winter back in 1983 for a debrief and an examination of why one would be so crazy as to do such a thing – 240km along a flat river, no rapids to play in, howling wind and lashing rain. I say “did the Berg together” generously, but actually nine Kingfisher Canoe Club paddlers in black T-shirts were in an awful hurry so I would watch them disappear into the distance straight after each day’s start, leaving me to meander peacefully along at the speed of the current. Which is how one should paddle if you’re not going to actually win the thing; and if the prize is not a red VW Beetle.

Then the gathering grew and now there’s dozens of ous each year – or twice a year. This year we were missing dear old Caveman, Herve de Rauville of the original ten. He has paddled his final flat-out interval.

~~oo0oo~~

Sudden Onset Arthur Right Arse

Bloody hell, me shoulders! All of a sudden, really painful shoulders lying in bed one night a month ago (written June 2021). Not an ache – actual pain. I couldn’t roll over, I couldn’t get up without flopping like a jellyfish. I was amazed, then I thought, Aha! I Know What Did It. Two days prior I had done a lot of tree branch trimming high overhead.

Using a pruning saw on the end of my aluminium swimming pool net pole, I was sawing off branches that obscured my gates. I’d been meaning to trim for a while as the jungle took over but . . procrastination. Then I got cameras on my gates so I can see who is there and now I had to actually do it.

So, I thought, I’ll be stiff for a day and all will be well. But it was pain, not stiffness, so I hoped: Maybe I’ve pulled a muscle! Luckily the Bennett brothers weren’t here this time to chorus in rude unison: ‘Ha Ha! Swanie, you couldn’t have pulled a muscle. You must have pulled a fat!’

Well, it’s a month later and I have really painful shoulders at night. Daytime they’re fine, nights are torture.

Bloody hell.

~~oo0oo~~

A few months later: It’s gone, fank ve pope.

Confession: The only thing I changed was prompted by a clickbait ad which I did NOT click on. It shouted: “Here’s what not to eat if you have arthritis! CLICK HERE!” with a pic of a panful of tasty-looking fried eggs.

I thought, I have eaten two fried eggs every single day of lockdown. I have breakfast down pat. I fry two eggs, make two slices of toast and scarf it down, salt and black pepper, washed down with sugarless black coffee, breakfast done.

So I stopped. The pain disappeared. Please note this anecdotal evidence is not research. The pain may have disappeared if I’d twirled around three times and farted facing north that day. But I’m too scared to chance it, it was seriously a kak spell, so it’s no more gardening for a long while now. Can’t take chances. Maybe less eggs too.

~~oo0oo~~

pic: I recreated the scene of the crime later.

More Suffering (not)

Jess and I have loved our stay at Somkhanda Community Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal.

Lovely accommodation, such friendly and helpful people. I decided to go full-on loafing and arrived expecting dinner, bed and breakfast. They had us as self-catering and the chef had taken leave. We said No Problem; They said No Problem; and between us we pooled what food we had. The delightful Nana who welcomed us and whose face fell when I asked what time dinner was, ended up cooking breakfast for us all three mornings. She was teased by the other staff in her new role and as I listened to them bantering in isiZulu, she ended off her reply with this American English: “There’s a new chef in the building!” to warm laughter. For our dinners she hauled venison out of the deep freeze and we cooked for ourselves as she goes home at 4pm. Today she said “I’ll make you a proper breakfast tomorrow, we have been shopping!” – the shops are about 27km away in Pongola.

Great birding for me, and Jess saw another special predator: A pack of seven African Painted Dogs.

~~oo0oo~~

Somkhanda website

Somkhanda at Wildlife Act

This Glimpse was Spotted

‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse,’ said Jessie of her first-ever sighting of a leopard, a female walking in the grass about 30m off a dirt road south of Satara in the Kruger National Park. No matter what our guide Bennett and I said, she teased us with ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’ You’ve waited ten years for that sighting JessJess. ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’ Lots of people never see a leopard Jessica. ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’

We saw other stuff:

One gang of ground hornbills killed and ate a tortoise; We also saw waterbuck, kudu, steenbuck, scrub hare, buffalo, bewildered wildebeest, impala, warthog, zebra, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, hippo, crocs, nyala.

And all the while we were tortured with ‘Yes, but it was only a glimpse.’

So thank goodness we came across this male leopard who posed obligingly in the late afternoon for a very thrilled Jess to get a long look. Peace and quiet at last.

~~oo0oo~~

The day before, in Manyeleti Game Reserve:

~~oo0oo~~

She’s Normal

Jess has had me in stitches today recounting the sayings and foibles of her fellow inmates in rehab. This one said this, that one always says that; this one does that, that one looks like this, etc. She is a keen observer and has great recall, my Jess.

You crack me up Jess. You guys are a bunch of weirdos. And that includes you!

Hmph, she huffs; I was the normal one there.

Jess! You stole my line! I always say that!

~~oo0oo~~

Go West!

I started off going west to find cellphone signal. In the Pafuri area Vodacom (wrongly) told me, ‘You have left your area, you are now on Movitel Mocambique; calls will cost you more;’ So I had to drive 40km west of Pafuri gate to be “in SA” from a vodacom point of view. Local people all shook their heads when I asked where I could catch vodacom signal. ‘You have to be MTN here,’ they all said.

The day I left Pafuri River Camp I just kept going west. When I hit the N1 highway I realised I was halfway to the Botswana border, so I decided to keep heading towards the setting sun. I’d find room at my friend Dave Hill’s friend Duncan MacWhirter’s Kaoxa Camp. National Parks are mostly full because of school holidays. When I got past Musina, guess what? Vodacom (wrongly) told me, ‘You have left your area, you are now on Orange Botswana; calls will cost you more;’ Get your act together, Vodacom! Refund me, dammit!

Kaoxa Camp is everything I remember from a stay here in 2013. and better. There are now safari tents, a swimming pool, and the campsite (no longer a Drifters) looks even better. I had the whole place to myself, and wonderful hosts Virginia and David to look after me!

The farm is now open to the western section of Mapungubwe National Park – the fences between them have been dropped. It was amazing to drive west on the property and just keep going as the only vehicle around, all the way to the Limpopo river and the National Park camps there. I felt like the owner of the full 28 000ha.

To get to Mapungubwe east you have to drive out of Kaoxa gate on the main road and then into Mapungubwe main gate. It’s an amazing park – the more famous of the ‘two halves,’ east and west.

One morning I took a flask of coffee and drove to Duncan’s Lookout on Kaoxa. I sat on the comfy bench and scanned the mopane woodland below, looking north towards the Limpopo. Nothing to see, but plenty of birds to keep me there. A loud squeal told me there was an elephant nearby and I walked to the edge of the hill to see if I could see him. Nothing. Then he squealed again and I saw he was a distance from the hill, not as near as he’d sounded. Then I saw a second ele – they’d been right in front of me and I hadn’t seen them! Then I saw a whole herd of big and small – about twenty five of them. And then – how blind can you be!? A herd of seventy or more! There was a dry stream bed which hid them whenever they went into it, so that’s my excuse. Here’s the Lookout:

~~oo0oo~~

Cook’s Tour Catchup

One day I’ll be a reliable blogger. Meantime, here’s a brief mainly pictorial – catchup, as I’m “in wifi!” I was pleasantly surprised to find out the beautiful, rustic Kaoxa Camp has wifi. I don’t specifically seek wifi or cellphone reception in a place, but I cannot deny it is handy!

South-eastern Kruger National Park – Pretoriuskop & Berg en Dal Camps

Groot Letaba reserve – Mtomeni, part of the African Ivory Route group of camps

– Mtomeni Camp on the Letaba river upstream of KNP –

Middle Kruger Park – Letaba & Shingwedzi Camps

– near Letaba & Shingwedzi –

Northern Kruger Park – Punda Maria Camp

Pafuri River Camp outside the park:

The Pafuri to Crooks’ Corner northern tip of KNP bounded by the Luvhuvhu river, is amazing birding country; here’s a glimpse:

I’ve read about this area for ages, and now finally got to visit; up where SA meets Zimbabwe and Mocambique, at “Crooks’ Corner”:

– Crooks’ Corner: a pod of 30 hippo snoozing in the Luvhuvhu before it flows into the Limpopo –

Next: I went looking for cellphone signal . .

~~oo0oo~~

Hot Spa & Rehab

On the way to Mpumalanga and rehab, Jess and I pulled in for two nights at the Natal Spa outside Paulpietersburg.

It was DB&B, so we splurged on our favourite drinks: hot chocolate for Jess, red wine for me.

Jess lolled in the hot spring water, but I decided discretion: Never know when someone after beluga whales might be out harpooning,

Before we left Durbs Jess met up with her longtime, great and solid friend Sindi (rella) and little boet Tom. They had a lovely reunion.

. . and of course, they hadn’t improved an iota:

Domkrag

I got to thinking, which I prefer not to do, but the nagging feeling eventually forced me to address the issue: What if I had a puncture in sandy soil?

Ah, shit, OK, I’d better address that.

See, I had fitted new shocks to the bakkie which raised it. And the bakkie’s jack was already too puny and couldn’t lift the vehicle high enough, so I should do something about it. Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve is known to have a bit of sand in places, and I’ve watched my jack heading down into the sand towards Australia without the bakkie lifting up even one millimetre. Not good.

Also, I have long been of the opinion that the elderly should not exhibit their plumber’s crack to the public at any time. Not even when changing a flat tyre in the sand.

So I went to Ford in Mbombela and the nice man didn’t just sell me an R800 jack. No, he said, “Let Me Look At Yours First. The new ones aren’t any bigger than the old ones.” That surprised me, as the new Rangers are a lot bigger than my 15yr-old Ranger.

I unpacked the kak off my back seat and pulled the backrest forward to show him . . . . the bracket for the jack and the brackets for the jack handle. No jack, no jack handle! I’ve been jackless for who knows how long! Not just clueless.

So the kind man fetched a new jack, but it looked just like my missing one: Small and made of tinfoil. I almost bought it on the grounds of it being anyway better than no jack, but luckily the good man suggested I first look at Midas, then at Askari offroad trailer place.  At Midas I almost bought a R1500 bottle jack but luckily the people there were totally unhelpful – didn’t even lift their heads when I walked in, so I walked out.

At Askari the very helpful fellow saw me coming. He said, ‘I’m Sommer Going To Show You Ve Best Fing First, Oom’ – and he did! So I bought a R5000 ten ton jack on the following logical basis: 1. I’m on my own; and 2. I’m old; I don’t want to huff and puff with my arse in the air showing my plumbers crack and sukkel.

I bought this automatic, pushbutton, plug-in, motor-driven, remote-operated ten ton 552mm lift hydraulic bottle jack GT – check out the impressive pic.

‘It comes in a very nice carrybag, Oom,’ he said reassuringly, so I knew I’d got a bargain.

~~oo0oo~~

Maybe this is why the Afrikaans for jack is ‘domkrag?’

domkrag – literally dumb strength

sukkel – struggle; battle

~~oo0oo~~

Update: I tested it. Sadly there is still a plumber’s crack moment when you have to position the damn thing, but after that it’s all nonchalant dignity and pressing a button on a remote while hitching up your trousers and watching the car rise with satisfaction. As long, of course, as the ground beneath you is not too sandy.

What a Maroon

One would almost think I’d engineered this. Poor Bruce n Heather!

The heavens came down, collapsed the bridge they’d specially had built to let me gain access to their back yard. And so there I was, marooned. Trapped in comfort after Natal’s second big rains in just over a month. The Soutar’s kind offer of a place to stay had turned into captivity. I was forced to stay and drink all their wine. And whisky and sherry. And eat their good food. It was hell.

The rains did eventually stop – after 328mm in just 32 hours!

The workmen started to build a second bridge, more solid than the first, starting from the bottom of the trench and filling it with sandbags.

Then they added thick steel sheets over the sandbags . .

. . and my new bridge was done! I could drive my car again after using ride hail cabs, using their son’s car, and bumming lifts from Bruce. They too, were free at last!

~~oo0oo~~

Volksrust & Utrecht

With my new AHA camper clamped tightly on the back of the newly raised and shod undercarriage of the Ranger, it was time to head south. To Durban and the kids. And their challenges.

Volksrust I stayed next to Die Dam outside town (picture above). Then down the Drakensberg to Utrecht:

Where I stayed in a beautiful camp in the Balele game reserve on the edge of town. Could I go for a drive? ‘Not today sir, they are hunting,’ came the reply from the friendly guy in charge..

~~oo0oo~~

AHA! At Last!

So I decided to sell my home and go mobile, hit the road. Of course, I did some careful research into which mobile home I should buy.

Criteria: 1. No rooftop ladder! See, I have a brain, so you rooftop tent dwellers are OK, but I could get brain damage.

– break a leg –

Criteria 2: No rooftop ladder. Those fokkin things can kill you dead! First there’s UP after six beers; then there’s DOWN in the wee hours because of the six beers. Ascent or descent can kill you dead. I need a gentlemanly collapse-into-bed setup.

Criteria 3: Cheap. Well, compared to a house. While searching, you do get tempted! Here’s one that costs about seven times what I just sold my home for!

– our old Bushman trailer –

Criteria 4: Not a trailer. We loved our Bushman Tracker 1 trailer, but been there, done that. If I hadn’t allowed it to rust I coulda saved all this cash n bother, but . . oh well. And anyway, it had a rooftop ladder. See the dangerous angled access to the sleeping loft on the left of this pic.

So how does one make the ascent in the AHA, seeing as it also has the double bed up on the roof? Like this:

– three broad flat steps onto the tailgate –
– one more step and you’re inside –

Fetching the camper was just the start. The old bakkie got a wobble-hop from the new weight and the diagnosis was new tyres and new shocks.

Rugged kevlar-reinforced off-road tyres; Soothing chamomile shocks for a tranquil ride; This is what they told me. Oh it’ll be worth it, they said. Here we go.

When I sent the pic of my new acquisition to Tommy his comment was, Cor, Dad! Who’s been feeding you? (It was Terry, of course).

~~oo0oo~~

Birding with Groot Oom Koos

I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen Fry‘s statement that “Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars,” and was thrilled when great parents Dawie and LindiLou boldly said, “Bunk school my son! Go birding with your Groot Oom Koos!”

Klein Dawid donned his camo gear and gumboots, threw on Dad’s binnies and made himself a large pack lunch. Now he was ready. His first inkling that Koos is a wimp came when I said we’d start out by birding their beautiful garden on Umvoti Villa. I think he was thinking of a slightly more adventurous foray.

But when I was able to nail down a number of birds in my 25X Kowa scope for long enough for him to get a really good view, he was sold. Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-eyed Dove, Black Flycatcher, Cape Sparrow, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Wagtail, etc

Then we had a birding lesson: What’s that on the high wire? I asked as I lined up my scope again – at the right height for a five year-old so he wouldn’t pull down on it and miss the bird. It’s a Black Flycatcher – No, its bill is bigger, it’s a Drongo, I said. ‘No,’ said Klein Dawie, ‘It had yellow on its wings, it’s a starling.’ Blow me down, it was. A Redwing Starling. He’d seen it flap its wings and show some of that rust colour. Lesson learnt, my boykie, thank you!

That made him think this oke needs revision, so we went indoors for some bookwork on the dining room table, where he taught me about some extinct birds and some living birds:

. . then for a walk to the dam with his Gran, my sister Barbara, where we saw Malachite Kingfisher, Bald Ibis, Hadeda, Grey Heron, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Cattle Egret, Yellow-bill Duck, Red-bill Teal, etc. Thanks goodness I remembered to take a pic:

Just goes to show that playing hooky is indeed a better education. If he hadn’t bunked a day of Grade R he wouldn’t have been able to teach me a thing or two. And he wouldn’t have been able to hone his spotting scope technique:

~~oo0oo~~

Groot Oom – Great Uncle

Nylsvley

Lo-ong time since I’d been to the famous vlei, and last time was just a day visit. The cottage looked newly-refurbished with a very smart fridge in the kitchenette, good linen, good shower and a neat little deck and braai area. Very comfortable. More so as I didn’t need any of the kitchen kit – the friendly man at the camp’s Spoonbill restaurant offered to cook for me. What do you do best? I asked. Mutton curry and rice, I saw your ND numberplate, he said. Then he delivered it early to my cottage about fifty metres away. I’m doing room service as you’re my only customer!

The microwave blitz’d it piping hot when I was ready and I sat and watched Crested Francolin and Swainson’s Spurfowl with young crossing the lawn to find a perch for the night. Bonus was a White-throated Robin Chat.

Knob-billed and White-faced Duck, Jacana with young, Anhinga, Goliath Heron, Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, Black Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Coot, Moorhen with young, many others. I should stop being lazy and do lists. A real treat to me was seeing ten Black Herons in one little pond. As they flew off their feet looked very orange, not yellow, so I checked, but it was only their feet, so Black Herons they were. To confirm, they then treated me to repeated exhibitions of their canopy fishing technique.

The river was flowing well after good rains and at the pipes under the roads which have unfortunately been built across the vlei in places, swarms of barbels faced upstream and noisily tussled as they gulped at anything floating downstream. Pictures didn’t come out well, I needed a polarised filter to see past the surface.

Steenbok, Waterbuck, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebees, Slender Mongoose and others seen, but the birds are the star attraction. I checked out the campsite as I’m sure I’ll go back once I have my canopy camper. Soon!

~~oo0oo~~

PS: Lost my cellphone scenic pics so only have my little Canon SX620hs pics of birds from the hide and from the road.

Mokopane

The mountain pass approaching Mokopane from Marken is beautiful. See a video here, filmed in the opposite direction that I travelled it. I should have stopped more often.

As I approached Mokopane all hell broke loose: TRAFFIC! Whoa! I wasn’t used to this. We crawled along stop-start for kilometres.

I got into Mokopane quite late as I had dawdled in Lephalele and en route. Here I found out just why I really need compartments – places to put things that are ‘nailed down,’ not portable; where you can find things reliably – unlike the big pile of stuff in the back of my bakkie. This was the only time it was a problem rather than just a nuisance.

I decided heck with my ‘no fast food’ rule. It was late, I wasn’t in a self-cater, so I’d just buy Nandos in downtown Mokopane. Parked outside the Nandos in the busy main street I was farting around tidying things and searching for stuff like old toppies do, when I heard my canopy flap bang shut and in my left wing mirror saw a guy strolling off thru the busy pedestrian traffic carrying a blue PnP bag I thought. ‘OK, hang on, what was in that bag? Anything important?’

I went thru a mental list. The Woolworths packet had my electronics, the Spar packet had my toiletries, one PnP packet was in the cab with me with health snacks like biltong and chocolate. So what did the other PnP packet contain? Couldn’t think, but I decided it probably had Flanagans chips in it. He could have them. I was not about to hare after him in the crowd and pull a hamstring muscle, say. I’ve done that before. Just then a guy knocked on my window and said, ‘Hy’s a tsotsi daai een.’ He had watched him casually open my canopy and take the bag. Thanks, China, I said and drove off to the Chicken Licken drive-thru.

~~oo0oo~~

PnP – Pick n Pay supermarket

Hy’s a tsotsi daai een – that chap is not entirely trustworthy; probably didn’t go to a good school

Thanks China – I dunno; why do we say that?

Chicken Licken – even deeper fried, with less of the oil drained off