Mkhuze Mantuma Camp

Boy, we had weather! Bright sunshine, then wind, then a massive ongoing thunderstorm at night, with the thunderclaps within a second of the bright lightning flashes. Then long flashes followed by bangs and long rumbles receding into the distance. Followed by really soaking rain. Then a cool cloudy day, less wind, but a stiff breeze.

– Jess watches the hippos I moved into picture –

Jess did her usual : ‘Dad, come look. What’s this?’

Lots of birds: I was fooled by a call I racked my brain for and then thought Ha! Goddit! A kingfisher: Woodland Kingfisher. Well, it was the Striped Kingfisher – a call I know so well, but I really am rusty!

Birds heard but not seen: Gorgeous Bush Shrike; Grey-headed Bush Shrike; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; Chinspot Batis; Boubou; Brubru; Camaroptera; Fiery-necked Nightjar; Purple-crested Turaco; Red-fronted Tinkerbird;

Seen: White-browed Scrub Robin; Cape glossy Starling; Black-bellied glossy Starling; Violet-backed Starlings – very active, lots of males chasing each other and investigating tree cavities; Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded, White-bellied Sunbirds; Lesser Striped, Barn and Red-breasted Swallows; Squacco Heron; Jacana; Cattle Egret in breeding plumage; Oxpeckers; Willow Warbler; Yellow-breasted Apalis; European Bee-eater; Bulbul; Sombre Greenbul; Golden-breasted Bunting; Crested Francolin; Crested Guineafowl; Yellow-billed Kite; Black-shouldered Kite; Rattling Cisticola; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-throated Petronia (beautiful view of his yellow throat in sunshine, but me and my camera too slow to catch it!); Hoopoe; Wood Hoopoe; Scimitarbill; Reed Cormorant; Anhinga; Coucal; Ashy Flycatcher; Pied Crow; Red-chested Cuckoo; Cape Turtle Dove; Emerald-spotted Wood Dove; FT Drongo; Spurwing and Egyptian Geese; Hadeda; Grey Heron; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-faced Mousebird; Oriole; Pytilia (Melba finch); Blue Waxbill; Red-billed Quelea; Red-backed Shrike; Black-crowned Tchagra; Grey-headed Sparrow; Woolly-necked Stork; Little Swift; Olive Thrush; Pied Wagtail; GT Woodpecker; Bearded Woodpecker;

Animals: Grey Duiker; Red Duiker; Kudu; Impala; Nyala; Wildebeest; Zebra; Lots of giraffe; No eles; No rhinos; No warthogs; No predators – Oh, one Slender Mongoose; One Monitor Lizard (water); Hippo;

We saw Patrick the Ezemvelo Field Guide and he recognised us again. ‘Where’s the boy?’ he asked and expressed astonishment that ‘the boy’ now prefers the city to the bush! ‘How long (this aberration)?’ he asked, probably remembering how he and Tommy had tickled scorpions all those years ago. 2009, that was!

– Patrick the Shembe teaches TomTom his bushcraft in 2009 –

The EM Diet

A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!

– Platberg panorama –

Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.

I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations which were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!

Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !

John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:

‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)

Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!

My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’

My attack was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:

‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’

Ooof!!!

I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.

Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.

Go Straight

Cecilia went home in March, as did Tobias. We thought it was for three weeks of COVID lockdown, but it turned out to be forever.

So now at last I was going to take the mountain of stuff she had accumulated while staying here, to her home in Mtwalume. She has always said she lives in Mtwalume. So with my white Ford Ranger loaded to the gunwales in the canopy and inside the cab – everywhere but my drivers seat, I headed south on the N2 highway. When I got to Mtwalume, I turned off the highway (1) – and phoned her.

‘OK, I’m at the Mtwalume turnoff. Where to from here?’

‘Go straight. There is a white cottage.’

Hm, there are about a dozen cottages, two or three are white. OK, which turnoff must I take – is this the right turnoff?

‘Go to Hibberdene, then look for Ghobela School.’ Ah, OK.

Back to the highway, seven kilometres later I turned off the downramp to Hibberdene (2); then turned right, turned right after Ghobela, turned right again past ‘Arts and Crafts’ and – just as she had said – there was a white cottage (3). Actually, two or three. Then there she was herself. Cecilia! Follow me, she indicated up a rough track.

I reversed up it, soon ran out of traction, engaged difflock and then eventually even that was no go. My wheels were spinning and when cow dung splattered on my rearview mirrors I stopped and we unloaded about thirty metres short of her house on top of the hill. Lots and lots of stuff.

The week before she’d come to Westville for our fourth attempt at satisfying the UIF requirements. This time we made payslips to match her Jan, Feb and March bank statements. Till today, still no luck. At least I could tell her to keep going, as Tobias had received a lump sum payment the week before!

The very next day she messaged me: ‘Morning Daddy. I hope you go well yesterday. I got my uif now. We thank you sir.’

Hallelujah!! At last!

Huge sigh of relief.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Didn’t take a single picture! Damn.

Where do our Eels go for the Holidays?

The eels in the Palmiet River down the road lead an interesting life. And there’s still lots we don’t know about them. Especially me, so know this is a story of our eels written by someone who’d like to know more.

Firstly, there are about four species. I say ‘about’ as the number is likely to change as we find out more. So this is a composite of the interesting things I have found out. OK?

The thing about being an eel is you should never have children. Never. This is good advice for other species too, like Homo sapiens, but especially for eels cos once you spawn, YOU DIE! You’ve been warned. Usually eels can spawn after seven years, but if they don’t they can live to eighty five years of age! Child-free!

Here’s the potted version of my title – know that there’s lots more to know and probably lots to amend. So parts of the story won’t actually pertain to our Palmiet eels, but to other Anguillidae eels world-wide, especially European and American eels on which most research has been done. They are fascinating fishes.

The eels we actually see in the Palmiet River are usually adults. They could leave on vacation at any time, downstream to the confluence with the Umgeni River of Duzi Canoe Marathon fame near the Papwa Sewgolum golf course; then on downstream to the famous infamous Blue Lagoon; then out into the Indian Ocean and the inshore counter-currents heading north; I would warn them they should think twice about leaving our beautiful valley, but you know how these primal urges are.

All the way up between Mocambique and Madagascar, past Beira, past the mouth of the Zambezi River, to where Africa bulges eastward around Mocambique Island, and into the open ocean where they spawn. Once. The larger females laying up to twenty million eggs, the males emitting their sperm onto the eggs. This is likely done in very deep water, as it has never been observed. And maybe they’re shy. Because it has never been seen, scientists speculate about ‘mass eel orgies.’ You know how people are when speculating.

The tiny larvae hatch and drift with the current back to Southern Africa; the southward currents which flow east and west of Madagascar and join to form the warm Agulhas current flowing away from the equator. They’re now often called ‘Glass Eels’ for obvious reasons:

– tiny and barely visible –

They drift down to the mouth of the Umgeni, recognising Blue Lagoon at night by the pumping music and the whiff of bluetop and dagga drifting to sea; up the Umgeni they go, then ours hang a left up our Palmiet River. Others carry on up the Umgeni. All the while going through larval stages and getting more pigment as they go.

Then, seven to eighty five years later they may get an urge, just as their parents did before them, and head for the ocean again. ‘Again,’ in our story, but for the first time for each of them. Each one only does the homeward journey once, as a juvenile, and the spawning one-way journey once, as an adult.

The well-known story of the salmon migration has been told and shown so often it helps to explain the eel migration; Just the opposite of the salmon, our eels are freshwater fish that spawn in the sea; Ours spend most of their lives in the Palmiet, just taking this incredible, Every-Vaalie’s-Dream vakansie by die see to spawn.

We might be thinking what a hard journey. But ours have it easy. If an eel needs to get back to where Mom and Dad lived on the Zambezi it has to bypass Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams! Is that even possible!? Indeed it seems to be. They move overland if they have to!

Of course with everything in nature the story includes Homo sapiens. What we do. We transport eels, elvers and eggs to where they shouldn’t be; We introduce parasites from one area to another; We farm them, chopping up other fish to feed to them; We catch them to sell as sushi or jellied eel by the ton – so much so that catches are down to 10 to 14% of what they used to be in Europe. When the scarcity became known we stopped catching and eating them, right? No, the price just went up, businessmen offering over R20 000 per kilogram. Don’t eat eels; Don’t buy eels! Please. They’re endangered.

Next time I see an eel in the Palmiet I’m going to tell him or her: Stay put! It’s a minefield out there! That vacation has no return ticket!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ref: wikipedia; Freshwater Fishes of Southern Africa by Paul Skelton; images at wikipedia; discovermagazine.com; advances.sciencemag.org;

~~~oo0oo~~~

bluetop – cane spirits liquor traditionally swallowed down by Blue Lagoon

dagga – cannabis, weed, zol, marijuana

Vaalie – inland person, far from the coast; only wade to ankle-depth

vakansie by die see – seaside holiday

Palmiet Night Walk

A few Palmiet Rangers went on a night walk led by herpetologist snake catcher and all-round naturalist Nick Evans. And they saw good stuff:

Meantime I took some pics in my garden lately

And another of our naturalists, Suncana, was busy as ever, spotting new and fascinating things:

While Roger and Rory shot more birds:

~~~oo0oo~~~

This “emperor moth” from Cowies Hill wasn’t. Turns out iNaturalist says it’s a Giant Silkworm Moth. Genus Lobobunaea. Beauty!

Natural Health Drink

The conifers are a wonderful group of trees including pines, yellow-woods, redwoods, junipers, cypresses, larch and spruce trees.

From the bark and sap of the pine one can distill TURPENTINE; and

From the berries of the juniper one can distill GIN. – . . . sort of . . .

YAY!!

Juniper berries are actually modified pine cones, but fleshy and edible.

Gin was first mentioned in the 13th century (in Belgium – called jenever) and the first recipe for gin was written in the 16th century.

For all our lives we’ve had to drink London Dry Gin.

Now we can drink JOBURG DRY GIN!

YAY!!

Now, don’t tell anyone, but gin is actually distilled from ANYTHING and then that clear spirit is just infused with juniper berries to make it taste (slightly) better. It’s cheap! Shhh

The way they ‘infuse’ it is to sommer bliksem whatever they’re adding, into the container holding the gin (called ‘bathtub gin’); or to go fancy by sort of ‘steaming it with the botanicals.’ Right!

Gin was REALLY popular in London around 1750. Cos it was cheap, it was loved. So much so that there were 7500 ‘Gin Joints,’ and being drunk was called being ‘gin-soaked’ and gin was called ‘mother’s ruin’. In Victorian times Gin made a comeback in ‘Gin Palaces.’ Same thing, but slightly higher-toned.

So tonight we’re drinking – Local; – Anti-malarial; – Convivial – GIN & TONIC

To get gin-soaked and experience mother’s ruin.

And because IT’S MEDICINAL.

Tonic

The poms in India had to drink quinine to stay alive. Being poms, they mixed the quinine with gin.

It tasted awful but they persevered. They’re poms.

Someone began mixing the powder with soda water and sugar. That was a bit better, and thus a basic tonic water was created. That way the poms drank more gin.

The first commercial tonic water was produced in 1858.

So: The mixed drink “gin and tonic” originated in British Colonial India when the British population would mix their medicinal quinine tonic with gin. They’re poms, see.

So remember: IT’S MEDICINAL.

YAY!!

To make Pink Gin or Pink Tonic:
Simply add Angostura bitters, a botanically infused alcoholic mixture, 44.7% ethanol, gentian, herbs and spices, invented by a German doctor in the town of Angostura, Venezuela on the banks of the Orinoco River.

And remember it too, IS MEDICINAL!

Cheers!

~~~oo0oo~~~

More Palmiet Privilege

Spring has sprung.

(iNaturalist ID’d the first moth as one of the Giant Silkworm Moths Subfamily Saturniinae)

~~~oo0oo~~~

Forgot to include this. Suncana Bradley’s earlier pic of a female Black Cuckooshrike flying towards her. Unusual, striking.

2007 M.A.H.E.M Hysterical Tour

Ken Gillings led us on a Magical Avian and Historical Expedition to Memel in the Free State in 2007.

Mahems – Crowned Cranes who trumpet ‘Ma-Hem!’ as they fly overhead – are found year-round in Memel, but I can’t remember if we saw any. They’re nomadic, so they come and go. Did we see any? Someone may remember.

The reason birders go to Memel is the vleis – the marshlands – the wetlands

. . and the grasslands – the vlaktes – wide open spaces

Or, if you’re a history buff, cos kak happened here. Here’s Ken telling us what shit went down here, right here, on this spot

– right over there, Steenkamp shot Poncenby – morsdood – war is hell, I’m not to blame –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Maputaland Meander

Re-post from 1992 when Mike & Yvonne Lello kindly lent us their Isuzu Trooper 4X4 for a breakaway (OK, another breakaway) where I knew we’d be on soft sand and needing 4X4.

Aitch was impressed with out first stop: Luxury with Wilderness Safaris at Ndumo, grub and game drives laid on. Ice in our drinks. Boy! For an oke who usually sought compliments if the ground she had to spread her sleeping bag on was softish, I was really going big! In our luxury permanent tent on a raised wooden deck with kingsize four-poster bed, she had fun with the giraffe’s dong, saying what a decent length it was – implying something? I dunno. ‘It’s his tail,’ I said, spoil-sportingly. ‘Or her tail.’

Magic walks among Sycamore Figs and drives among Fever Trees.

– my pic from a later visit –

So where are we going next? she asks. ‘You’ll see,’ I said airily. Hmm, she said, knowingly, raising one eyebrow but saying no more . . .

This Isuzu Trooper was magic – just the right vehicle for our Maptuland Meander. Leaving Ndumo, we drifted east to Kosi Bay and inspected the campsites, then drove on to Kosi Bay Lodge. ‘I’ll just run inside and arrange things,’ I said, optimistically.

So I walked into the lodge and came out and said, ‘We’ll just camp outside the gate, I brought a tent!’ Ha! You hadn’t booked! I knew it! Aitch announced triumphantly. She’d known all along. She actually loved it. She didn’t really mind the roughing it and the uncertainty and she LOVED catching me out and teasing me about my disorganisation.

Afterwards, Aitch would tell people there had been a bit of muttering and a few mild imprecations erecting the unfamiliar tent, which I’d also borrowed from the Lellos. It had poles that seemed unrelated to other poles and it was dark. OK, she actually told of some cursing. Loud cursing. The air turned blue, she would exaggerate.

The next night we camped in a proper Kosi Bay campsite. They are very special sites, we love them.

Borrowed Lello's tent, too

We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:

ndumo-kosi-mabibi-isuzu-1
– fish traps in the estuary –

Then onward, southward. Where are we staying tonight?, she asked sweetly. ‘You’ll see,” I said airily. Hmm, she muttered knowingly, raising one eyebrow. Well, let me just say ONE thing: We are not staying at Mabibi. The newspapers have been full of stories about bad guys at Mabibi. ‘Izzat so?’ Yes. We can stay anywhere but Mabibi.

Through bustling KwaNgwanase town . .

Now we were on my favourite road in all of South Africa: The sand roads through our vanishing coastal grasslands. Some kids shouted Lift! Lift! and hey! ubuntu! and anyway, it’s Lello’s car . . .

Well, Rocktail Bay Lodge was also full and we drove on as evening approached. The fire watchtower man had knocked off and was walking home. We stopped to ask directions, then gave him a lift so he could show us the way. He settled down into the bucket seat, pushing Aitch onto the gear lever, taking us left then right then left – straight to his village. As he got out he pointed vaguely in the direction of Mabibi. ‘You can’t miss it,’ I think he implied.

You are going to Mabibi, aren’t you? I knew it! said the all-knowing one. ‘Well, there’s nowhere else,’ I mumbled. When we got there she surprised me by saying Let’s just sleep under the stars, I’m too tired to pitch the tent. So we did. My brave Aitch! Here she is next morning.

Mabibi Camp. Aitch aziz

Soon after we arrived a night watchman came to see us. His torch beam dropped straight out of the end of his torch onto his toes, so I gave him new batteries. He was so chuffed! A torch that worked! Those bad guys better look sharp tonight!

The next day we drove the best part of this perfect road, past Lake Sibaya.

– the Indian Ocean behind the dunes and Lake Sibaya at our feet –

One more night, in relative luxury, if the little wooden cabins at Sibaya camp can be honoured with such a flattering description! I think they can, but I was over-ruled.

Then we hit the ugly tarmac highway home. A very special place, is Maputaland.

~~~oo0oo~~~

TomTom Homework Book

Found an old primary school workbook of Tom’s. School was not his very best thing.

– Tom starting a new school –

He summed up school as –

S.ix C.rual H.ours O.f O.ur L.ives !!

Math –

M.ental A.buse T.o H.umans !

Homework –

H.alf O.f M.y E.nergy W.asted O.n R.andom K.nowledge !

. . . and ended with a heartfelt plaintive broadcast question; I suspect not really expecting an answer –

In The Name Of Jesus, Why Does School Exist!?

– hurry up and take it, Dad – at least I can wear civvies today – last day of term –

~~~oo0oo~~~

2009 D.A.F.T Hysterical Tour

Ken Gillings decided to make it more real this time: We’d actually walk the Fugitive’s Trail from Isandlwana to the Fugitive’s Drift across the Mzinyathi (Buffalo) River, then up a little way on the other side on Fugitive’s Drift Lodge land belonging to David and Nicky Rattray.

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause click top right corner. To speed up or go back, use arrows).

On the trail there was a bit of oofin’ and poofin’ – and some lying down and contemplating the sky.

It was 6km as the crows fly, but we weren’t equipped for flight. It took us a while, and when we eventually reached the next Quantum Leap (back into our taxis), it was good and dark. It was a lovely, unforgettable adventure.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I had run the trail before this – or the road more-or-less parallel to it.

Aitch’s Dogs

Aitch TC (2)

TC was her first dog, and she was Aitch’s favourite. She arrived while we were still living in our flat in Marriott road. She was a flat dog for a month or two and couldn’t believe the wide open spaces of our first suburban home.

Then Matt (because he wasn’t glossy when he arrived) came along and HE was definitely her favourite. Big time. She wept when he died, killed on the M13 highway one night. Bogart tried his best and she loved him too, but Matt was a hard act to follow, he was soppy and used to bring her dried leaves in his mouth as a gift! We buried Matt near the river at 7 River Drive.

Bogart River Dr (3)

Bogart (Trish’s maiden name was Humphrey) was third. He had a tail. Docking tails had been stopped – at last! What’s a dog without a tail? Shame, man!! She loved old Bogie. He was killed on the N3. Buried at River Drive.

And then came Bella! Bellisimo!

All the while, TC was still there, still the boss; wondering why we kept getting new tiny black nuisances which grew up to be bigger than her.

Now, make no mistake, Bella became Aitch’s all-time favourite. She loved Matt next best and Bogart too. Also Shadow and Sambucca in later years. And TC all along. But Bella!? She and Bella the Brak won the top prize at dog training. Her friend who won second prize with her pedigree German Shepherd turned to Trish when Bella won the last round and said “You know, Bella would fly if you asked her to!”

– Canine Academy Winners!! –
Family 2004 Frame 2
– Houdini the blonde pushy – Bella polite –

TC died of old age at River Drive, where we buried her on the banks of the Mkombaan river near the paperbark Commiphora, near Matt and Bogie. (Note to new owners: Don’t go digging too much in 7 River Drive!).

Yes, Bella you WERE her favourite, but then kids arrived and took over. And then Aitch rescued Houdini from euthenasia and look how he is pushing in while you wait politely as ever for your turn!

– Houdini the blonde –

Houdini escaped once too often, never to be seen again. Which is how we got him to start with: A friendly dog that no-one knew who he belonged to was given to Aitch by a vet.

So when we moved to Elston Place, Bella AT LAST had the family to herself. Didn’t last long: Aitch decided Bella ‘needed company’ and told me “Bella is lonely, I want to get her a puppy.” “Absolutely not!” I decreed, laying down the law as the boss of the house. “No more puppies!”

So she got two. Enter Shadow and Sambucca:

Sambucca was in danger of becoming “Sweetie” (Jessie’s choice of name!) so we sent out an SOS for a name for a pitch black dog. Terry Brauer came up with Black Sambucca – just right!

Bella died at 17yrs old, about a year before Aitch died. Aitch was right there with her when she died. We buried her in the garden at 10 Elston Place. Only Sambucca outlived Aitch.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Jessie’s Album as Slideshow – Safari 2003

On our trip up north in 2003 Aitch and five year old Jessie kept a diary; when they got home they made this picture album as a memento of the trip. Enjoy the slideshow!

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause a slide, click in the top right corner. To speed it up or to go back, use the arrows).

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Gardener’s Wisdom

Bruce sent this:
always mow the lawn after 3pm.
Then the dog turds are dry !!

….

Me:
Hosed myself!! Just picked up some steaming ones this mornin’
Strategically placed by Sambucca the black labrador where I’m most likely to step in them.

I just KNOW she’s thinking “Ooh! UGHHHH! There! He can’t miss that one”.

….

Jon Taylor wrote:

Very thoughtful dog u have. But time to delegate the task.

….

Me again:

A few years ago I offered Tobias R10 a day to do it Mon, Wed & Thursday. I figured it wasn’t part of his JD, so when I asked him I added a carrot. He said “Sure!” He’s no fool.

I offered my kids R5 a day to do it on the other four days. I got, “NO WAY” “Yecch!” “She’s not my dog, Dad!”
….

‘A gardener’s wisdom’ reminds me of my Clarens mate Steve Reed’s quiet wisdom.

On windless days he’s apt to murmur:

“Not a leaf stirred;

  Not a dog stirred.” 

(needs to be said out loud)

~~~oo0oo~~~

Roomerazzit dogs face north while crapping. Useful to know. Lost your compass? GPS battery flat? Find a dog doing his business: He’s facing North

So maybe that’s why they step around and fuss around before finally ‘assuming the position?’ They’re aligning themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field. Aaah!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Molumong – Wool Trading Station

We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.

We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.

The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.

We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.

I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:

“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”

Soft Strong Smart

An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.

He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.

Molimong Trader touched up

WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.

Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.

Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the hills on the high plateau between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free  and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.

– Jess and I explore the grounds –

The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.

molumong lodge older

Contact them: Noma – Phone: (+266) 2700 9843 / 5399 9843  molumonglodge@mail.com –

I found two websites for Molumong Lodge: https://molumong.wordpress.com/ and https://molumongecolodge.wordpress.com/ – It seems one you’d book through a South African, the other direct with Noma who lives at the lodge.

~~~oo0oo~~~

We loved Molumong. So much so that we went again later that same year, meeting good friends Dizzi and Jon Taylor there. October, a lot greener.

~~~oo0oo~~~


Some Spring Sightings

Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.

Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!

Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.

~~~oo0oo~~~