I’ll get round to writing; meantime just pictures and a slightly embarrassing confession at the end.
Slight Blush Called For?
I wrote I’d never heard of Marakele National Park! Then I read my own 2003 blog post: ‘Spent three nights in the Marakele National Park while we waited for our binoculars to be courier’d to Thabazimbi . . ‘
I remembered then a lovely pic we had taken of Jess (5) and Tom (20 months) taking themselves to the ablution block.
. . so I went looking for that ablution block and found it:
About 25km north of Mokopane everything went pear-shaped. Human beings! Motor vehicles! I’ve been spoilt I suppose; nice quiet country roads.
Now the road I was about to join had traffic as far as the eye could see going in both directions, crawling and sometimes coming to a halt. Happily, every one was very helpful and friendly, letting people in.
Then came rude traffic officers acting badly, herding us onto the left verge; but the reason became apparent:
Earlier, the sad consequences when civilisation and wildlife cross paths. I saw two of these beautiful civets as road kill:
I told you I’d bought food for the Brauer assuming the cupboard would be bare as Terry was away. What I didn’t tell you was I lost my car in the Brooklyn parking garage. For an hour. I searched high and low. Then the security man searched high and low. Then the security bosses took my key and drove round pressing the button, hoping for a “bleep” high and low.
We found it. No-one told me there’s a Brooklyn Plaza and a Brooklyn Square and a Brooklyn Mall and . . – It was in one of those, but that was nothing. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had two packets of Checkers food, one in each hand, and as I walked my trousers kept slipping down. And then when they reached my knees I couldn’t walk to search for my car. My jockies were clean and unholy, and they weren’t green, but still . .
So that’s why I wear braces, I’m not wearing a belt any more, It doesn’t work.
I was worried. It seemed irresponsible, something I avoid at most costs; unless it involves frivolity and a measure of drunkenness. I do sometimes make exceptions then.
But not now. Not when Mrs Shoes is juggling Anglicanism and culinary delights, cooking up a storm for Easter Sunday lunch after managing Saint Martha’s church choir and the liturgy. The eulogy? I dunno, they use big words and the men wear frocks and the queen is the head of the church. It’s all a bit above one of the low church. Us Methylated Spirits don’t have archbishops, though we love Tutu now that we have stopped hating him.
While we’re talking about burnt offerings, I must clarify that I’m really pagan, the fun movement that brought us fire, dancing, braais and Mother Earth – as opposed to a vengeful old bearded fella. I was just using Methodism as an example of no dresses, no pointy hats.
But it was the Jewish aspect of Easter I was worried about. He hadn’t even started the fire and the clock was ticking. Mrs Shoes had put together 47 ingredients and baked them to perfection and was starting to deliver them to the table. And that was just one dish – there were many others. And still the meat was red and cold and no fire. And we’re not talking about slap tjops here, this was a serious section of a lamb that had once roamed the Karoo vlaktes.
No way I was going to mention anything or show panic or concern. I was raised on influenced by Mad Magazine and Alfred E Newman’s “What? Me Worry?” so laid-back I had to be. What? Not only did we get Mad Magazine in the picturesque Eastern Free State highlands, we got the wicked Sunday Times on Sunday and the kommunistiese The Star. OK, the Star arrived one day late by truck from Jo’burg, but hey! it was still twenty years ahead of the Volksblad which arrived on the very date that was printed on the front page by truck from Bloemfontein. I once got my picture in Die Volksblad, but never in The Star. Don’t draw conclusions.
I digress. I was still worried. Brauer had not yet started to cook the meat. He hadn’t even lit the fire. Oh, hang on, he had: I just hadn’t noticed.
Now he made a caldera in the coals like a volcano and started to drive a long stainless steel arrow through the heart of the poor Karoo beast.
Where all the work was being done the dishes kept arriving; and people – Sid, Jenni and me, the guests – were seated and napkins were tucked into collars. I foresaw a vegetarian meal at the Brauers, a first.
But blow me down, just as the last dish arrived steaming from the kitchen the Brauer strolled in, pulled the stainless steel arrow out of the heart of the beast and started slicing, casually asking, ‘Would you like some pink, or some medium, or some of the rich dark brown roasted to perfection pieces?’
Windgat. I think he’s done this before.
braais – burnt offerings; mysterious ritual; seems pointless since electricity was invented, but people persist, you know how people are
slap tjops – thin little slices of a sheep; it would hardly notice
vlaktes – plains; miles of very little
kommunistiese – truth-speaking; not Nationalist propaganda;
windgat – accomplished braaier; barbeque-er of note
Ancestral home of us Tshwanepoels. We have land rights. We’re biding our time before launching a land claim. Meantime, I’m just visiting Chez Brauer in the Gramadoelas for Easter to keep death off the roads without driving on the pavements.
With Terry away that evening I thought I’d better buy food; you know how bachelors are, the fridge would be empty. So I took my Checkers deli ready-cooked booty and went to put it in the fridge. Dorothy had let me in – Brauer was still slaving over a hot autorefractor. Well, when I opened the heavy fridge door, two pounds of butter and three jars of anchovette fell on my toes. The fridge was filled to Terry-pacity. There was two kinds of every delicacy from 140 of the 200 countries of the world in that capacious fridge. I shoved my packet in and quickly slammed the door; only two pawpaws escaped.
Their beautiful kitchen was stocked with alles in wonderland – stuff for Pesach; stuff for Easter; stuff for Passover, Diwali and Lent; bunnies, brightly coloured eggs, marshmallow eggs, designer cubic eggs with dark chocolate (those were yum), and etc. Most of it was of course, thanks to us pagans, who contribute all the fun stuff to holidays and celebrations. Think about it: The grog! the naked dancing! bonfires! You know that, right? We have Bacchus on our team, I think, don’t we? Probly Venus as well.
Diwali wasn’t so good; the lights were dim; thanks to Eskom – they switched off. So Brauer kick-started his borrowed generator and hey presto! Except for a bit of bronchitis. The generator would roar, then sigh, then get a death rattle and vrek. Some investigating was needed. We switched off everything we thought would draw a lotta power, but still the sukkel‘ing. Then Terry Sherlock had a thought: She switched off Brauer’s bar fridge. Aha! THAT was the problem, of course. That amount of hooch draws kilowatts. Now we had Peace on Erf.
One tense moment
Terry stopped Sid when he arrived at the top of the stairs. ‘Wait There, I’ll Help You Down,’ she pressed pause. Sid waited obediently while she sorted out a few things in cornucopia. Sid had driven himself in his BMW, he’s fully licenced and experienced in driving since 1948. Having escorted him down the steps, Terry said, ‘Sit. I’ll Make You Tea.’ She reached for the exact spot in the kitchen where, among 467 other items, she knew Sid’s cake was waiting. Silence. Uh, Oh! Confession time! There wasn’t a rat in the house. Well, not a small furry one anyhow. I had scoffed it the day before! I say let them eat . . . whatever Sid got instead.
gramadoelas – dodgy area with a truck stop right outside the guest bedroom window; residents have corrupted the name to Maroelana to hide the dodgy
pavements – sidewalks
alles – Alice
vrek – go kaput
kaput – go vrek; dead
sukkel – battle; suffer; struggle; like bronchitis
So the streets of Parys were very interesting if you like shopping and eating indoors. I did have a good brekker at the Lekker Bistro, indoors cos it was raining. But then I skipped the shopping to drive the roads to the west. Near Viljoenskroon I saw Simbra bulls for sale and asked Des if I should get him one but no reply yet. He used to live in Viljoenskroon, so I thought the bull would feel at home with him. Update: Mercia says he can’t buy any more bulls. Something about foot-in-mouth. I spose he’s been talking kak again.
Choosing a road less traveled, I headed for Schoemansdrif across the Vaal, but chickened out at this minor stroompie drift which could have been deeper than it looked. As I waited and contemplated how deep was my bakkie, a Landcruiser came past, stopped, then decided to proceed. It sank down to above its big wheels, so I christened this spruit drift Omdraaidrif, made a u-turn and crossed the Vaal instead at Scandinaviadrif which has a high bridge, and got a nice view of the full river.
Pilanesberg price! Ouch!
Bakubung Lodge was R2400! One person! One night! But it was late so I gritted my teeth. For once I checked that I was getting the Old Goat price and the friendly lady assured me she had not mistaken me for anything younger than ancient. ‘Remember this is for dinner, bed AND breakfast,’ she kindly tried to ease my landing, feeling my pain.
But I’d bought grub in Potchefstroom and the thought of a dining room didn’t appeal – other people, you know? So I ate Cordon Bleu in my comfy room, actually in the bath, up to my chin in hot water. Vetkoek n mince ala Potch washed down with a vintage merlot. For you label-readers, it was 13,5%, R54 and some change, February. Only 750ml, so not the finest, but complemented the vetkoek well. A delicate nose, bosveld notes.
On to Dinokeng. I dialled a number I found. It was Wim. I was welcome to stay at his place, man; Did I have a tent and a mattress? No? OK, then phone Fanie. He might have a roof and a bed. I did. He did. How does R600 sound? Fanie asked me. I said Fine, baie dankie Fanie, still suffering from the R2400 the night before.
Supper was an avo and a crispy bun from Potch Spar. There was a kettle, and friendly camp manager Bothwell brought me some Ricoffy sachets. On the drive out I saw a bird I couldn’t place. I decided melanistic shaft-tailed whydah. Maybe a world-first. Me and my camera were too slow again.
In Pretoria I finally made my long-awaited visit to AHA camper makers and ordered my piggyback slide-on camper for the old Ford Ranger, paid my deposit and was told: Come back on the 11th May.
The 258km from Harrismith to Parys via Weiveld takes six hours to negotiate if you haven’t yet seen a korhaan and you need to see one.
This includes a stop for steak egg and strips at the Royal Hotel in Reitz. Instead of strips I got potato wedges crisply fried in batter. Yum!
Here’s the route for slow pokes not in a hurry:
The roads are really quite good mostly. There’s a section between Petrus Steyn and Heilbron where the ANC oke who got the pothole tender must have pocketed the money and not delivered them. It’s smooth and kinda first world! He’s gonna be in trouble. The dirt roads are also mainly fine, but can get rough, and in the dips they get more interesting, as they’ve had some rain. Mud and some deep pools.
I saw my korhaan at last. Not the Blue, which I’ve been searching for, but the Northern Black Korhaan. Also a few Namaqua Doves, a favourite. Pics from my Newman’s Birds app.
Heavy storms are predicted but I had only a few showers on the way.
The feature pic is the view from my B&B on the left bank of the Vaal (not the Seine, silly!) in Parys, Free State. Paddling mate Chris Greeff had told me about this lovely rapid in his home town. Read a bit about him here. There’s A LOT more – Greeff should write a book.
Very warm in bed in Mistique Waters guest house on the banks of the Vaal after a hot bath. Tomorrow the streets of Paris!
What a beautiful setting and what beautiful people. Everywhere I go there are friendly greetings – Dumela ntate!More oom! Morning! and howzit? Service in the shops is friendly and quick. The food at Erika’s home outstanding and plentiful, washed down with lots of red vino and black coffee. Two years ago the Ford agency fixed my Ranger bakkie so well that I brought it back for its 300 000km service and a road trip check in which they have also decided to fix my tie rod ends and my propshaft, whatever those are.
Erika and Pierre patiently hosted me as I waited two weeks for an appointment at Ford. I was surprised. They’re certainly busy and the town seems full of Ford Rangers – I saw far more than Toyotas!
A lovely town, but the dark cloud of corruption and maladministration of the “Ace” days still hangs over the town. The roads are abysmal and we have had power interruptions and lack of water in the two weeks I have been here. Erika and Pierre are ace organisers of the non-“Ace” variety and had already equipped their house for electric outages and their guest house next door for electricity and water. But when an explosion hit the main power station and we were told we could be without power for quite a few days, Erika decided to step up her off-the-grid equipment and bought a new generator so the guest house could have its own. Batteries have been schlepped for testing and charging, LED lightbulbs with batteries that burn after a power outage fitted, the DB board has been rewired, the new generator installed, lots of activity with plenty of help from their workers at home and at their businesses, Aletta who runs the guest house, Paul who does the two gardens, June the handyman, and Thys the electrician. Next she’ll tackle catching her roof water like happens in the guest house, and more solar charging of the batteries.
Everywhere the attitude is help each other, make it work and keep smiling. Up yours, Ace.
Next: On to la métropole parisienne
Good friend Steve added this pearl in a comment; I’m copying it here for easier access: ‘In Bethlehem (just to the west of the route you took) we had a Dutch baker called Kraai. Back in the 60’s, a wag called him Kraai the Beloved Baker, to the amusement of some of the locals.’
Dumela ntate – greetings father
More oom – morning uncle
howzit? – howzit; how is it? On cold Harrismith winter mornings in 1969, Larry the Yank used to answer, ‘two inches shorter than usual’
M.agical A.vian and H.ysterical E.xpedition to M.emel
I decided to look for elusive gentlemen farmers Des and Ian by launching a stealth visit to the Memel district, choosing the Memel hotel as my base.
I settled on the stoep with a cold beer and asked if anyone knew Des Glutz? Well, they all did and had lots to tell me. Just wait right there, said Rudi the friendly hotelier, He’s sure to pop in, it’s Friday.
Various bakkies arrived and men in khaki wearing boots or velskoens trooped into the bar. Then a Nissan parked right in front of me and under the chassis a pair of bony feet in blue slip-slops appeared, followed by a pair of bony legs in faded navy blue rugby shorts with plenty of ballroom. His face and neck were covered by beard but I could see this was my man. He’s kinda unmistakable.
I accosted him from my prime spot on the stoep: ‘Excuse me, what you think you doing? You can’t come in here dressed like that!’ Well, then he knew I was from far, cos he most certainly can and does go into the Memel pub dressed like that. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me with his chin tilted up and his eyes half closed, you know how Des does that. Then he kicked for touch: Wait, I’m just going to tell these fuckin old fossils I’ll be late. He ‘stuck his head in the door and cussed his three slightly older drinking pals, telling them he’d be outside; then he came back to stare at me. Took a while to see through my new beard, then he said Coppers, is that you? He always called me Coppers after a Clifton primary schoolmate oke called Copchinsky. He also called policemen copchinskys.
As people arrived everyone greeted Oom Des and he had a cussing and a slur for each of them. Except the ladies. Hello my sweetheart, I still love you but I’m worried about your heart, he says to one, Come here and let me listen to your heartbeat. She leans over him and he nestles his ear in her boobs and rubs back and forth going Mmmmmm. Hai Oom Des, she says and rubs his head affectionately. Incorrigible. No change. And no improvement. We had a wonderful evening before he left for home, late, but with a pizza for Mercia as a peace offering. I discovered a few things that Memel evening: One was that the mense of Memel love the oke.
The next day I drove around the well-known Seekoeivlei nature reserve; Des was off to pretend to buy bulls at a vendusie with one of the fuckin old fossils.
Des and Mercia have a lovely spacious home in town and Oom Des decreed that a braai would be held there. Unfortunately I hopped into his bakkie to go there, mid-conversation, so I had no beers, no car. Soon after, another apparition arrived with a snow-white beard. The Bothas Pass hermit had emerged from his cave, bearing enough beers for an army, plus a bottle of brandewyn. Ian Stervis Steele, who I had not seen for many decades. What a night. About ten people, about a thousand beers and a gallon of brandewyn; lots of mutton chops, pork ribs and boerewors, a huge pot of pap and a very lekker sous. Very good oldtime music and Des at the head of the table till WAY late. Generous hospitality and much laughter.
Stervis, myself and a local couple stayed the night with Des and Mercia and their four dogs, the most notable one being a pekingese / sausage dog cross. Pitch black and chubby, about ankle-high, with that Pekingese-style smashed flat beak. Name: RAMBO. If you weren’t careful it would lick you. I got the comfy couch in the lounge.
The next day I was off-peak and had a snooze back at the hotel and booked another night. In the afternoon I drove out to Normandien and Mullers passes and then visited Des. For tea this time. Then back to the hotel where Rudi cooked me a huge T-bone and I had an early night, dank die hemel, Memel.
I saw stonechats, mountain wheatears and amur falcons; and the beautiful Klipspruit valley.
Before I left on this drive I called in at the butcher for some fatty biltong. The owner enquired what I was doing in town and I said I had been sent on a special mission to find and fix a man called Des Glutz. He and two customers in the shop roared with laughter and told me in no uncertain terms that there was no way I could ever live long enough to achieve that.
mahem – grey crowned crane
bakkie – pickup; ute; status symbol
slip-slops – Glutz fashion footwear
fuckin old fossils – people slightly older than Des
Oom Des – old codger
mense – people; folk
braai, boerewors, etc – ritual burnt offerings; various animals sacrificed
brandewyn – sacramental drink served in braai ritual in tall glasses; distilled from grapes or peaches, they say
dank die hemel – Memel ‘sanks heavens’ ritual chant
Memel is maybe named after a Memel in East Prussia where they fought a battle in 1257, even before Des was born I’m told. The name means silence, but that has been broken since Des moved to town and since Memel joined with Zamani to become Memel-Zamani.
It takes five days to go the 250km* to Harrismith from Westville. This is because you visit friends along the way. First, there were leaving formalities with amazing friends and supporters Petrea and Louis Lodder:
First stop Jenny & Tabs Fyvie in the Tala valley; My luck it was Justin’s 40th and Caitlin had baked a cake! Hayley also arrived and there was a flock of very deja-vu Fyvie-Mandy looking kids running around. What a busy happy extended family household! Tabs and Jen are hugely experienced travellers and campers, so I got a bit of Kruger Park advice and info, Kruger being one of my intended destinations. We did an inspection of their alucab camper with rooftop tent on a double-cab Landcruiser. I’ll pick their brains again when it comes to solar power, batteries and fridges.
On to the Rosetta Hotel as it was getting late. They were having a St Patricks night – lucky me again. I washed down a huge eisbein with sherry, a large Windhoek draft, a pint of guinness for Oirish luck, and a glass of house red – *burp* – then to bed in a huge warm room. In the morning I swallowed their substantial all-in breakfast.
To Mandy & Carl Reitz on their farm The Bend on a big bend of the Tugela river and a view of the high Drakensberg from the Sentinel to Cathkin Peak. What a fantastic three days I spent there. We laughed a lot thinking of how clever and beautiful and irresistible we were in those far-off alcohol-fueled days when The Bend was our mecca for sex drugs n rock n roll and variations on those themes.
I did lotsa farming with Kai in my normal fashion: Sitting in the passenger seat and nodding. Kai knows better than to take farming advice from me – he has had experience of me as a temporary deputy farm manager! He drove me all over his farms and the district and we took walks in the mud – they’ve had good rains. A special sighting was a large grey mongoose – the ichneumon or Egyptian Mongoose – running into cover; too quick for my camera.
Durban friends Greg & Roly Bennett had been to their old farm Oppermanskloof on the Geluksburg road to scatter their Mom’s ashes. I met them near Bergville where Roly and I had a great laugh remembering our young n clever daze; – His seconding us on the Dusi canoe marathon, doing a fine job on the first overnight stop, handing us cold beers, deckchairs and a hot meal; sheer luxury! On the second night we couldn’t find him: He had disappeared into the pub leaving us to fend for ourselves; – Water-skiing on Hazelmere dam where I dropped the tow rope as I rose out of the water behind Greg’s 220hp Yamaha outboard; The boat made a tight u-turn and came back to me. When I told them I’d pulled a muscle Roly roared with laughter and said, Swanie you couldn’t have pulled a muscle, you must have pulled a fat! Skinny bastid – he still doesn’t have calf muscles.
Next through Geluksburg and up Middledale Pass into the Vrystaat.
A lovely welcome from Leon & Elsa Strachan on their farm Nesshurst where again I was shown all over and fed and entertained royally. I forgot to get a pic of their beautiful big guest çottage on the banks of their dam.
I must ID that interesting plant. Then I got to Harrismith to Pierre and Erika du Plessis to stay in their lovely home. I have been so spoiled by Erika, and Aletta and Paul, her two helpers. Yesterday I heard a scream from Aletta in the garden. I rushed out to find she’d been stung by a wasp jealously guarding his spider prey on the lawn!
Next post: A fascinating trip to Memel.
* 250km as the vrou cries – or crow flies – a bit further if you insist on going ‘on the ground’
This isn’t our usual way, is it Dad? asked Jess. Nope, we’re not going to Zululand this time, love. We’ve been there dozens of times. Today we’re headed for the Drakensberg! OK? OK. We’re headed North-West to the nearest High Berg, where usually we head North-East parallel to the Indian Ocean. Oh, OK.
First stop BREAKFAST! I’m determined not to stop at a franchise-type cookie-cutter, me-too, fake, soul-less ‘one-stop.’ The Windmills Kitchen looks better. The people are nice and friendly and we order a big greasy fried breakfast each, Yay! We’re completely predictable: One strong black coffee, one sweet hot chocolate please. As always. Want more sugar with that Jess? Dad, you know I don’t add sugar. Oh yes, you told me that before, hey? Only about a thousand times, Dad. We have our little rituals.
I look for the pot-holiest road I can find: Nottingham Road, Rosetta, Redcliffe, Hlatikulu, Enyokeni, Emahlutshini. Weaving northwards, mountains on our left and ahead.
Hey Jess! I said excitedly when we drove in to Giants Castle after our slow drive: Let’s ask them if they have a room for the night? Jess just said, ‘OK.’ Yay! I love it.
Later as the wind increased, the clouds rolled in and it started raining we thought, OK, maybe we’re a bit under-dressed, Jess with a strappy top and me in a T-shirt and shorts; but I had taken along a Louis longsleeve which Jess threw on and we were fine. I knew we’d be warm sleeping. Ezemvelo has some of the finest blankets and duvets available. Supper was so good – veg soup, chicken curry with tiger prawns, papadum, green beans and basmati rice, red wine – that we soon warmed up. Jess finished with a hot chocolate. I didn’t ask and so she eyed me suspiciously. What? I asked innocently. Aren’t you going to ask me if I want to add sugar? Of course not, you told me you don’t.
Gravity and The Aged
Before supper I had told Jess I was looking for two birds in Giants Castle: Ground Woodpeckers and Bush Blackcaps. I showed her the Woodpeckers and showed her a pic I took of the Blackcap. I’d also said, Competition, Jess!: Who can see the first Berg animal!? She was polite, she didn’t quite yawn, but not really interested. She was trying to impress on me the wondrous thing SHE had discovered: The chalet has DSTV, Dad! So neither of us was really too interested in what the other was gaan’ing aan about.
When I spotted two baboons on the steep slopes above our chalet I thought I’d get pics to show her as she sat wrapped in a warm blanket watching Heaven something. Dad, does heaven exist? she asked from inside her cocoon. Whatcha think Jess? No, Dad, I don’t think so. Nor me, Jess, I said hastening out to catch the ‘boons.
My eyes were fixed ahead and a kestrel fluttered overhead then landed on a rock high above. Another thing to photograph, I thought and then I noticed I was airborne. The Irish blessing, May The Road Rise To Meet You was happening in slow motion, except it was Drakensberg rocky and grassy hillside rising; My knee was gouging a large chunk out of a rock, but the rock was harder so the gouge came out of my bare knee. My tripod smacked another rock and my camera dug into the peaty, moss-clad wet earth. I thought ‘I have fallen down’ and ‘how silly’ when I realised I was actually still airborne. About then, my forehead smacked a moss and lichen-clad Drakensberg rock which, as you know, is millions of years hard. Then I stopped. I lay there, stunned, for quite a while. Then I rolled onto my back and started laughing. No bones broken and luckily no witnesses. Gravity is a bitch. It never gives up.
I lay there philosphically. I arsed myself, How Rare Are Baboons in the Berg? Not at all. Hmm. How Impressed Would Jess Have Been By a Tiny Rock Kestrel On a Huge Rock? Not at all. Hmm. What’s The Rush? Hmm. Should codgers bustle or scurry? Deep philosophical questions.
Jess pointed out a tree on top of a distant hill showing up against the sunset-lit cliffs. This one, Jess?
There are tons of flowers, leaves, mosses, lichens, grasses, etc in the Berg. These can be photographed more safely:
Lots of creatures. I only shot a few of them. My camera has a slow shutter speed, and so often they hop mid-shot. Dead moths are easier:
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-COVID-19 existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”