Africa, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Food, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa

Swinburne, the Lost Valley and Nesshurst

First we went to Swinburne, to Jenny (Mapp) and Steve Cleverley’s Hound and Hare on the far bank of the Wilge River, across the old 1884 sandstone toll bridge where we had launched a canoe journey many years before; There we watched a bunch of large blokes with odd-shaped balls shove each other around, playing ‘If someone gives you the ball, give it to the other blokes.’ Lovely to see Jenny’s smile again – I hadn’t seen her for ages.

We were almost outnumbered by the Welsh contingent there (that being Steve himself, being noisy), but we managed to see him off and send his team to play for bronze against that tongue-pulling outfit that play a bit of rugby in black outfits.

More importantly – and fittingly for our Hysterically-Minded gang – the result sets up a 2019 re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War. Let’s hope the Poms play fair this time.

– Hound and Hare pub in Swinburne – good grub, cold beer –

After a lovely lunch of roasted hound or hare we fell in line under Field Marshall Lello RSVP’s orders and listened to our knowledgeable local guide Leon Strachan in the hall kindly made available to us by Steve the Welsh rarebit. Leon told us the true story of the pioneer de Heer family, led by patriarch Pieter de Heer.

– Peering down into the valley – Piet de Heer watches us – Tintwa mountain on the horizon –

Then we drove to the farm Keerom on the edge of the Lost Valley on the Drakensberg escarpment; the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The story Leon told was of a family that lived a good, self-supported, independent life, sent their kids to school, used local services such as post office, shops and lawyers; sold their goods in the towns of Swinburne and Harrismith; married locally (and NOT incestuously!).

Just like many normal families, some of their children and grandchildren spread all over (one great-grandson becoming a neurosurgeon) and some remained – the farm is still owned by their descendants. People who didn’t understand them, nor know them, nor bother to get to know them, wrote inaccurate stories about them which must have caused the family a lot of heartache over many decades.

What a spectacular valley. It had burnt recently, but already flowers were popping up in the grassland.

Heather and Elize spotted a Solifuge scurrying about. They must have disturbed him, as Sun Spiders often hide by day and hunt by night.

– Lost Valley Sun Spider – or Solifuge – inset: wikipedia pic of a related species –

Next we drove off to Nesshurst, Leon’s farm where he grows cattle and msobo, to look at his etchings. Well, his fossils. He has 150 million year old Lystrosaurus fossils on his farm and some in his museum, along with a Cape Cart he bought when he was in matric back in 1971! He has restored it beautifully. A catalogue of his ‘stuff’ would take pages, but I saw farm implements, military paraphenalia, miniature trains, hand-made red combines made by his childhood Zulu playmate; riems and the stones that brei and stretch them; yob-yob-ting cream separators; a Harrismith Mountain Race badge; photos of old British and Boer generals and leaders; a spectacular photo of Platberg and the concentration camp where women and children were sent to die by the invading British forces; a lovely collage made by Biebie de Vos of Harrismith Town Square, old prominent buildings and older prominent citizens, including my great-granpa, ‘Oupa’ Stewart Bain, owner of the Royal Hotel and mayor of the town; Also a Spilsbury and a Putterill. And Harrismith se Hoer School rugby jerseys.

– Nesshurst collage –

We then repaired to The Green Lantern roadside inn in the village of Van Reenen for drinks and a lovely dinner. I had a delicious mutton curry which actually had some heat; I didn’t have to call for extra chillies – maybe as Van Reenen is in KZN, not in the Vrystaat.

Tomorrow we would head off west to climb Platberg the easy way: 4X4 vehicles driving up Flat Rock Pass (or Donkey Pass).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Leon grows cattle and msobo – and he also writes books! Nine so far. Four on the mense of Harrismith; One on the Harrismith Commando; One on the Anglo-Boer War concentrating on the area around Harrismith; one on his Grandad who was a Son of England; and more.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Africa, Canoe & Kayak, Life

Time Shuffles On – Cataracts Tumble On

Looking at the 2016 Dusi results I see the first finisher who, if I bumped into him, would say ‘Howzit Swanie’ or ‘Howzit Pete’ came in 93rd !!

Getting old! Gone are the days when I knew most of the top ten!

Another observation – 13 of the top 20 had African surnames. Wonder how the anti-Affirmative-Action boys would explain that away? I would bet good money if they (we!) were asked beforehand ‘What sports are Africans likely to do well in if given a chance?’ few would have suggested Dusi paddling!

Also: The first lady finisher came in 30th! Shades of Frith vd Merwe in the Comrades! And in both those events we used to ban them from even participating – ‘to protect them’ – to protect ourselves from getting our arses whipped, it turns out!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Yesterday a past Dusi and Umko winner phoned me about his eyes. I asked him if he was planning to do anything stupid in March.

He is. He is about to do his 51st consecutive Umko canoe marathon, the most exciting of all the river marathons! The reason? He has done 50 but he has only finished 49. He broke his boat back in 1970 and didn’t finish that one.

Fukkit!! So he wants to do his 50th finish.

He said to me ‘You should do it too, you know’. I said no ways, I’m too slow. He said ‘We paddle quite slowly these days you know’ (he won the very first Umko back in 1966).

I said you don’t understand. My slow includes frequent stops, and a lot of resting on my paddle and checking the scenery. He understood that was slower even than him and other 70yr-olds.

He’s going off to have his intra-ocular lens implants laser-‘polished’. All the better to read the rapids. Those Umko Cataracts need clear Ocular Cataracts.

Africa, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 13. Chapman

James Chapman (1831-1872) – our first South African-born explorer, hunter, trader and photographer. Enough Swedes, Scots and Frogs, here’s a homeboy! Again, if you want really accurate history, you’ve stumbled on the wrong place – but check the sources!

A son of James Chapman and Elizabeth Greeff of Malmesbury, he was educated in Cape Town and left for Durban when 14 years old. He was appointed as chief clerk in the Native Affairs Department in 1848. Liewe blksem, Native Affairs even then! 124 years later when I matriculated you could still work for the Native Affairs Dept! We’re lucky the ANC didn’t institute a Dept of Umlungu Affairs in 1994.

A year later he settled in Potchefstroom, where he became one of the first storekeepers. Shortly after, in 1852, he ventured across the mighty Limpopo River and into Bamangwato country, where one of the sons of the Bamangwato chief guided him to the (truly mighty) Chobe River. Early the following year they took him to the Zambezi River to within 70 miles of the Big Falls – the one with the Smoke that Thunders. He would have beaten David Livingstone to their discovery. But closies don’t count. He turned back.

By 1854 he had teamed up with Samuel H. Edwards and launched an expedition to Lake Ngami (we once paddled into Ngami), after which he trekked through the territory between Northern Bechuanaland and the Zambesi. An easygoing man, he was able to get on with the Bushman / San hunters of the semi-desert interior and spent long periods in their company, obtaining valuable help from them. Like I always say, our ‘intrepid explorers’ were actually just tourists being shown around by local guides! Returning to Ngami, he traveled north to the Okavango River, crossing Damaraland and reaching Walvis Bay. Here he busied himself with cattle-trading in Damaraland, before setting out on a long expedition with his brother Henry and Thomas Baines. He traveled from December 1860 to September 1864. Now THAT’S an expedition-length trip!

Their aim was to explore the Zambesi from the Victoria Falls down to its delta, with a view to testing its navigability. However, these plans were bedeviled by sickness and misfortune. They did reach the Zambesi, but did not get to explore the mouth. On 23 July 1862 they reached the Falls – Mosi oa Tunya. Yes, Mosi-oa-Tunya, not another English queen’s name! Hell, even Harrismith OFS had a ‘Lake Victoria’ – gimme a break!

Chapman’s attempt at exploring the Zambesi ruined his health and exhausted his finances. He returned to Cape Town in 1864, dispirited and fever-stricken. The expedition was notable since it was the first time that a stereoscopic camera had been used to record its progress. Chapman’s photos did not come out well though, even according to Chapman himself. The negatives were of a rather poor quality, and when they reached the famous waterfall he failed to get any photos at all. This reminded me of one Jonathan Taylor, a more recent ‘photographic explorer’ and his failure to capture a key moment on an expedition.

Chapman describes the Falls: ‘. . . immediately before you, a large body of water, stealing at first with rapid and snake-like undulations over the hard and slippery rock, at length leaping at an angle of thirty degrees, then forty-five degrees, for more than one hundred yards, and then, with the impetus its rapid descent has given it, bounding bodily fifteen or twenty feet clear of the rock, and falling with thundering report into the dark and boiling chasm beneath, seeming, by it’s velocity, so to entrance the nervous spectator that he fancies himself being involuntarily drawn into the stream, and by some invisible spell tempted to fling himself headlong into it and join in its gambols;Wow! and Bliksem! ‘ . . but anon he recovers himself with a nervous start and draws back a pace or two, gazing in awe and wonder upon the stream as it goes leaping wildly and with delirious bound over huge rocks. It is a scene of wild sublimity.’

As they clambered about the Falls on the wet cliff edges, Chapman wrote: ‘It was necessary to proceed farther to obtain a more extended view. One look for me is enough, but my nerves are sorely tired by Baines, who finding everywhere new beauties for his pencil, must needs drags me along to the very edge, he gazing with delight, I with terror, down into the lowest depths of the chasm.’

Baines painted, his brush and easel working where Chapman’s camera didn’t:

Sir George Grey had commissioned Chapman to capture live animals and to compile glossaries of the Bantu languages. He kept diaries throughout his journeys, but his Travels in the Interior of South Africa appeared only in 1868, shortly before his death. Chapman also traveled at times with Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton and Swede CJ Andersson.

He tried farming on the banks of the Swakop river around 1864, but he says the Nama-Ovaherero War interfered with that venture – a timeline says a treaty was signed in 1870 between the Nama and the Herero after a prolonged period of war between the two communities. He then lived at various places in South Africa, later returned as a trader and hunter to old South West Africa after that treaty, then died at Du Toit’s Pan near Kimberley in 1872, aged 40 years.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

wikipedia; tothevictoriafalls; christies to buy expensive paintings; namibia timeline;

Some of Chapman’s photographs are apparently at the Africana Museum in Johannesburg, but so far I haven’t found any.

Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Nostalgia, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

More Books Coming!

Janet spoils me! She got me a beautiful book written by legendary Botswana character Cronje Wilmot back in the fifies – reprinted recently.

And now two more coming! One by legendary Botswana character Lloyd Wilmot – Cronje’s grandson:

– Lloyd Wilmot’s Book – Embers of a Campfire –

. . and yet another book by the amazing Veronica Roodt:

. . and here’s Janet the Humphrey herself:

– getting all mechanically-minded –

Update 6 November: They’re here! Safely shipped down from Botswana by Carla Bradfield and then Gail Bradfield to my door! Yay!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 12. Baines

(John) Thomas Baines (1820–1875) – was an English artist and explorer of British colonial southern Africa and Australia. He was most famous for his beautiful paintings – especially of ‘Baines Baobabs’ and the mighty Falls, Mosi oa Tunya.

Apprenticed to a coach painter at an early age, he left England aged 22 for South Africa aboard the ‘Olivia,’ captained by a family friend. He worked for a while in Cape Town as a scenic and portrait artist, then as an official war artist for the British Army during the so-called Eighth Frontier War against the Xhosas.

In 1858 Baines accompanied the maniac David Livingstone on a disastrous trip along the Zambezi River, from which he was dismissed by the irrational Livingstone after a disagreement with Livingstone’s brother.

From 1861 to 1862 Baines and ivory trader James Chapman undertook an epic expedition to South West Africa. Starting in ‘Walvisch Bay,’ they crossed the Namib Desert, then the Kalahari to Lake Ngami, over the Boteti and Tamalakhane rivers, and then on eastwards to the Zambezi river, on which they were paddled downstream by local boatman to where they could view the falls. If you tried that with even the best 4X4 today without using any roads you would have an epic journey and it would be an amazing achievement. As always – and as still – they were guided by locals:

– pommy tourists being ferried downstream towards the falls by Makololo boatmen –
– the falls from the west –
– the falls from the east –

This was the first expedition during which extensive use was made of both photography and painting, and in addition both men kept journals in which, amongst other things, they commented on their own and each other’s practice. This makes their accounts, Chapman’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa (1868) and Baines’ Explorations in South-West Africa. Being an account of a journey in the years 1861 and 1862 from Walvisch bay, on the western coast, to lake Ngami and the Victoria falls (1864), especially interesting. They provide a rare account of different perspectives on the same trip.

On the way they camped under the now famous ‘Baines Baobabs’ on Nxai Pan in Botswana:

– beaut pic from thelawofadventures.com –

Baines gives a delightful description of the tribulations of the artist at his easel in Africa: ‘Another hindrance is the annoyance caused to the painter by the incessant persecutions of the tsetse (fly). At the moment perhaps when one requires the utmost steadiness and delicacy of hand, a dozen of these little pests take advantage of his stillness, and simultaneously plunge their predatory lancets into the neck, wrists and the tenderest parts of the body.’

– elephant at the falls –

In 1869 Baines led one of the first gold prospecting expeditions to Mashonaland between the Gweru and Hunyani rivers. He was given permission by King Lobengula, leader of the Matabele nation in what became Rhodesia, then Zimbabwe. He later traveled in Natal and witnessed the coronation of Cetshwayo.

– crossing a drift in Natal –
– lots of chasing – black rhino –
– lots of killing – white rhino
– lots of killing –

Thomas Baines never achieved financial security. He died in poverty in Durban in 1875 of dysentery, at the age of 55 while writing up his latest expeditions. He is buried in West Street Cemetery. A generous eulogy was read in London at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society by its President, Sir Henry Rawlinson.

– Zambezi river at Tete village –
– lion family –

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Jane Carruthers; Jane Carruthers again; His art 1. 2. 3. ; britannica.com brief biography; wikipedia;

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Baines wrote another book in 1871: Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, Travel & Exploration by Baines and Lord. My kind of book! I’ll blog about it separately, as I’m pleased to see he acknowledges a prior book which I could not resist buying: Galton’s book – 1st edition 1855

Canoe & Kayak, USA

Not-so-Sharp Jesse

Jesse W. Sharp, a 28 year old bachelor from Ocoee, Tennessee attempted to ride over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in a 3.6m long plastic kayak on June 5, 1990.

Jesse’s kayak before

Sharp, unemployed at the time, was an experienced white water kayaker. Three people who accompanied Sharp to Niagara Falls to video-tape his trip told police that Mr. Sharp had been planning the trip for years. They also told police that Sharp was attempting to go over the Falls in the kayak to advance his career in stunting.

Sharp’s idea was to gain enough speed in his kayak to project himself over the falls and the pummeling water that would surely claim his life. He would then traverse the rapids below the falls, ending up four miles downstream in Lewiston. So confident was Jesse about making the trip that he parked his car at Artpark in Lewiston and made dinner reservations for that evening.

Powerhouse operators, noticing what was about to unfold, diverted water from the river in an attempt to ground the kayaker.

But to no avail, Jesse Sharp was determined, and simply skirted around the rocks in his kayak. Just as Sharp reached the brink of the falls he raised his paddle above his head and then, at 1:45 pm, the kayak plummeted over the brink and vanished into the raging waters below.

Sharp did not wear a protective helmet so his face would be visible on film. He also didn’t wish to wear a life jacket, believing it would interfere with his ability to escape in the event that he was caught underneath the Falls. After “shooting the falls”, he intended to continue down river through the rapids to Lewiston, New York to the restaurant where he’d made his dinner reservation. His body has never been recovered.

Oh well, I’m sure this at least qualified Jesse for a Darwin Award! Especially as he was a bachelor, presumably leaving none of his genes behind.

Africa, Canoe & Kayak

Umzimkulu Ambition

Rippleby the Kirb was desperate. He had a boat with two holes in it and only one body to fill one of the holes. He needed another body and he was at the stage when any body would do.

It was the South African K2 Champs and this time Rip was not going for a top spot, he just wanted to be there on the lovely Umzimkulu River with its fascinating and unusual features: Clean water and running water. We’d had a few seasons with neither in our other rivers.

He obviously didn’t ask me, as I was a bit handicapped. Firstly, I had a firm ‘one man, one boat’ policy; secondly, I had never paddled a double, so although that made me an unknown factor, it was not widely thought that I’d be an asset in the engine room. Thirdly, when once I tried to join his group he called has-beens he put me firmly in my place with ‘Swanie, you can’t be a has-been if you never was.’

Eventually he did ask me – I told you he was desperate – and I accepted on condition I did not have to take a paddle along. I would sit in the back and provide company and good cheer. And some heckling. No, he insisted, I had to take a paddle – even though he knew it would be mainly for ornamentation.

We compromised: I took a paddle and a carry-pack of beer.

We decided to come last, so when the gun went off, nothing happened. This was my usual start but for Rip a novelty. Only when shouted at from the bank to ‘Get A Move On!’ did we mosey off downstream.

It soon became apparent that our plan was in danger. We passed a lot of people. People swimming, people looking for their paddles, people trying to lift up their boats filled with water and wrapped around rocks.

But we were prepared. We stopped below the first big rapid and had a beer each and helped people in need. Then we moseyed off again once everyone had left the scene. But once again we started passing hordes of boats. Flotillas! It was a problem. We stopped twice more for the same reason and refreshment.

Eventually there was nothing we could do, the finish line arrived and we crossed it burping pleasant beer breath. We kept an eye on the line over a couple more beers at the finish and about ten boats finished after us.

Mission unaccomplished. But a lot of fun was had.

——-ooo000ooo——-

K2 – double kayak, or two-man kayak (also called double canoe)

Umzimkulu canoe marathon – now called the Drak Challenge