Wally Menne – R.I.P

Dammitall, I can think of a lot of people whose death would be good for the environment. Wally Menne is not one of them. His is a seriously sad loss for our environment.

Trish worked with Wally at BotSoc and at the big annual plant fair he was so instrumental in organising. The indigenous plant fair was huge in getting more indigenous plants out into gardens all over KZN and in spreading the word and popularising the planting of plants for a reason other than looking pretty. Azaleas are pretty but we all started to need to plant things that fit better into the local soil, insects, birds, etc biosphere.

We all knew that plantations are sterile and suck up water, but Wally gave me this book and taught me the real dangers of plantations:

Wally Menne gave me this book and taught me about the plantation industry

He told me about the plantation industry’s influence on governments and their insidious PR calling themselves “forestry people” and representing themselves as the stewards of forests when they were in fact the enemies of forests and grasslands. They sponsor bird books and create little nature reserves while destructively expanding into precious biodiverse areas, ruining them forever. They “capture” prominent environmental bodies by sponsoring them and wining and dining their representatives. Insidious. “State Capture” is old hat to them. Wally as always said it exactly as it was: He likened their use of  the word “forestry” to the Nats’ use of terms such as “separate development” or “mother tongue education” to put a pretty face on apartheid.

We miss you Wally and we need someone to stand up in your huge shoes. Ain’t gonna be easy. Most of us are easily swayed by persuasive bullshit and a book launch or a ribbon cutting at a new little nature reserve (which incidentally has no real protection).

Tonie Carnie wrote a stirring obituary for Wally in The Daily Maverick.

On Safari with a Bushman – Cook’s Tour

Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!

Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.

LuangwaWithKids (1) Tom

For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.

Waterberg, South Africa

Zambia

On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.

In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.

Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!

Whoa!

On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!

BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.

Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!

‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!

Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’.  ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.

It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.

Flatdogs pool. Jessica heaven. Wore a hole thru her cozzie!
Flatdogs pool. Jessica heaven. Wore a hole thru her cozzie bum!

We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.

Jess and the three ZambiYanks and their Schoolbus
Jess and the three ZambiYanks and their Schoolbus

Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.

Sausage tree huge-er!
That huge tall Thornicroft’s giraffe suddenly looked small

To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!

Luangwa Road small_cr

On to Malawi

Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.

 

MalawiWithKids (5)
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi

We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.

Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:

Mocambique

Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!

The mighty Zambesi at Tete

Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.

We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.

Two-Mile reef

Two Mile Reef Bazaruto
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique

Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”

MocamWithKids (13)
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique
Zavora beach
One Child, One Beach

Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.

When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!

Two Memory Highlights: The rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.

The friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”

Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;

Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;

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Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”.

 

On Safari with a Bushman – Preparation

Having decided “We’re Going” we wanted to keep things simple.

Over-preparation can cause delays, complications and second thoughts! I took long leave (I asked me, I said yes, I hired a locum optometrist, all good). Trish was between jobs – looking after kids was her current full-timer – so she was good to go. Mario serviced the kombi for us and gave me his usual lecture about looking after it. He told horrific stories about his trips up north in 4X4’s and how terrible the roads were. Especially the road between Chipata and Luangwa, ‘the worst road in Africa’. I made a mental note.

And instead of buying all sorts of stuff I bought a . . . . drum roll! . . . .

1975 Bushman Tracker 1 Off-Road Trailer

R27 500. Made in Nelspruit / Mbombela 28 years earlier. It had a stove, a gas bottle, a tent, a mattress, a table, ground sheets, cutlery and crockery, a spice rack and a 45l water tank. What more could you possibly need?

In the kombi I removed the bench seat in the middle row and fitted the single seat for Tommy’s car seat next to the new National Luna 65l fridge (about R6500, if I recall correctly) so we could walk around both sides to the back bench, to which Jessie’s sturdy and comfy car seat was attached.

That back bench seat also folded down to become a double bed, so we could all sleep in the kombi if need be, as I also rigged a removable bed between the two front seats for Jess and for Tom we had a mattress on the floor. While checking the tyres Jacks Tyres showed me a second-hand kombi mag wheel just like mine, so I bought it. Now we had two spares, like rugged okes!

For each of the kids I had a rectangular six-sided mosquito net “cage” made that zipped closed over them once they were in bed and we then lifted up the four corner straps and hooked them to fittings I had affixed to the kombi roof, completely enclosing them each in a mozzie net “Four Poster Bed”.

We were ready to go.

We packed food for three days plus plenty of snacks – Aitch’s forte. The rest we’d get on the way, in line with my motto: Weight is the enemy!

On Safari with a Bushman – The Decision

We’d been meaning to go for ages but, you know – procrastination.

The idea of a long road trip up north is a common dream and – like many Saffers – we planned to do it ‘one day’.

Then one lazy day at home in 2003 I read a lovely interview with an Austrian bloke who had traveled down through Africa on his own from Vienna to Cape Town on a motorbike. The journalist interviewing him asked him about the trip, his adventures, his highlights and his challenges. He’d had a fun time.

The journo then looked down at his bike and said: “Hey – this is a dead-ordinary street bike! What on earth made you choose this bike for your African safari?”

“Choose it?” he said “I didn’t choose it. I had it”. That did it! I got up right there and then and started pacing around. ‘Acting strangely’, according to Aitch.

Within a few months of reading that Wake-Up! What Are You Waiting For? call we had hopped into our white VW kombi petrol 2,3i 2WD with 195 000km on the clock and headed north.

Two little problems: While procrastinating we had adopted Jessie, now five, and Tommy, now 22 months old. But what the heck, even after we’d modified the kombi it was still a six-seater. There was room for them!

 

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Saffers – South Africans

I Didn’t Read Science Fiction . . .

Aitch did.

She introduced me to Douglas Adams’ five books. For years I just looked at them on our library shelf, stuck in my natural history and science rut. Of course I’d read frequent references to them and looked up what all the sayings were about (so long, and thanks for all the fish). After Aitch died I finally read them. All. Voraciously. How could I not get hooked with lines like this:

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

As Ann Litz, (Obsolete Librarian on quora.com) says ‘This single line conveys the tone, sardonic humour and plot of the entire novel’.

I also read Adams’ real-life travel book on vanishing species where he says something about how the rhinos “trotted like boulders”. (I seem to recall he had some funny things to say about Komodo dragons too).

I can clearly hear Aitch saying, “See?! I TOLD you! Hmph!”  – triumphant grin, nose in the air.

Lloyd’s Camp, Savuti

We flew on from Oddballs east out of the green delta across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:

We flew on to Savuti

The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. At the strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day. She drove us right up an ele’s bum at a waterhole en route.

Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.

Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s roughing it: YUM!!

 

Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ was the focus. Gotta have names.

So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light (its a national park, so you can’t be out after dark) we’d hare back to camp. Once on the way we saw two ratels (honey badgers) skoffeling around and at least we did slow down to watch them awhile.

In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans were repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.

The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they (three of them) came running straight onto the carcase and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.

Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby  and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:

Roolin Safari

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (7)

Savuti Botswana (1)

In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet Lloyd, pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature.

I love the one guest comment after yet another exciting Wilmot Safari: “While the Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”

It was 2001 and the Savute channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile (crocodile carcase?) high up in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.

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skoffeling – rummaging

The Photo Archives

I hardly ever carried a camera back when I was beautiful and had just the one chin. “I’m video’ing it in my head” I would say.

Of course now I’m really grateful other people carried cameras and I could get pics from them. Even in the days when you loaded a roll of film in the dark and wound it on by hand frame-by-frame some people carried cameras. I salute them!

And I admit I would grumble when they said “Stand closer together” “Smile” “Hang on! Just one more!”. Of course some people would think they had put in the roll of film when they hadn’t and all our posing (“poeseer!” remember SanMarie the game ranger’s joke?) was in vain. Yes, I’m thinking of you Taylor. He posed us in various ways on a buffalo carcase and when we eagerly asked for the photies weeks later (they had to go off “for development” of course) he had to sheepishly admit he hadn’t had a roll of film in his steam-driven camera.

Anyway, my memory of that moment was much better than his pic would have been: I remember a bloody carcase with glistening red meat still on the bone and lion prints around the sandy scene. We were posing looking over our shoulder, worried the lions might chase us off their prey at any minute. When later we did get a pic from someone better organised than Taylor the truth was far more mundane. The photo spoilt a good story.

Wilderness Walk.jpg
Intrepid non-photographer on the left with empty camera

So although I do have some slight regrets I still think I was generally more “in the moment” than many camera-occupied companions over the years – and I saw more birds. Anyway, my memories of what happened are usually far better than boring reality. Usually I play the starring role in them.

Once I met Aitch things changed of course and we had a fulltime photographer in the house. The years from 1986 are well documented. Then the kids arrived and the number of pics went through the roof. Thank goodness for digital! Even now when we drive through a game reserve Jess will say “Mom would have said ‘Stop! Go back!’ and you would have to reverse and she’d take a picture of a flower, remember?”

With cameras as ubiquitous as they now are all this smacks of days gone by. I was prompted to write this post when I read this yesterday: ‘If a millennial goes to a beautiful place but doesn’t get a photo, did they ever really go?’…

To end, some advice for Taylor:

Life like Camera.jpg

Here’s a graph showing camera sales in 1000’s since 1933:

Camera sales.jpg