Oddballs, Then and Now

Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;

This is classic “The Good Old Days was better” bulldust.

When WE went ca. 1990 we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one has to take binoculars, a telescope, a tripod, a sleeping bag and books:

Jess Zululand Course Books

I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! We were like this:

OddballsOkavango (14 small)
Good Old Oddballs

Communal showers:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!

Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:

New Oddballs
New Oddballs

Here’s Aitch in the Old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge – and the wimpish new arrangement!

 

Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mekoro with a guide who really knows his patch:

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there (or here) NOW!!

The Flat Paddle Society

I am a paid-up member of the Flat Paddle Society. Owner and boat-maker at Pope’s Canoe Centre, Owen Hemingway was alarmed that I even existed in the year 2016 and earnestly (more of ‘earnest’ later) explained to me how much more efficient a wing paddle is than a flat blade, demonstrating with a teaspoon under a flowing tap. It was remarkable. I could see clearly that the spoon shape exerts much more force on the water with less wasted energy.

The reason he was concerned for my well-being was I had bought a plastic boat from him, a lovely Detox, second-hand but like new. I now wanted him to make me a left feather flat-blade paddle and Owen assumed I wanted it for forward motion. He didn’t let me explain that I rely entirely on the current for forward motion and my paddle is only for balance and – occasionally – to roll back up into the sunlight again if I’ve flopped over.

This is why I never entered any sprint races. They’re held on flat water and if the wind had been against me I’d have drifted backwards at the gun.

** Ernest Hemingway – NOT **

Speaking of Hemingways, famous Ernest could write,

Hemingway On Safari

but Owen didn’t inherit any of his genes. My pleas for Umko stories always elicited an enthusiastic yes! but nothing forthcame. Only when I visited him in person did the excited stories and anecdotes, gossip and insider skinner as only a 30-times Umko paddler could know it, pour forth enthusiastically. But in writing? Not so much.

All of this reminds me I still haven’t fetched my left feather flat paddle from him.

 

R.I.P Linda Grewar

Linda Grewar was a Kingfisher paddler from back around 1990. She and Bernie Garcin paddled really well – a number of mixed doubles podium finishes on the Dusi, Fish and Umzimkulu. Then she buzzed off ‘overseas’.

In May 2016 Bernie gave me Linda’s address, so I wrote  to her:

Hey Linda!
LONG time no hear!
Meantime I have freely been using your name in vain in the Umko book we put together for this year’s 50th running of the marathon and for a story on an Umko trip Bernie and I did where you helped us out with driving. MOONS ago!

Last I heard you were out East teaching English, now I hear you’re in England. IMO a lot of them could do with being taught English proper there too!

Me I’m raising kids at my age, they’re 18 and 14 now.

Haven’t paddled for ages, but bought a new boat (no logic involved). Be careful when you look at the pics of me n Bernie with my new boat – you may get a fright!

bernie_detox1.jpg

 

Saw Greg Bennett yesterday. He’s well. Thanks to the book I have seen or spoken to a lot of the old paddling guys in the last year that I hadn’t seen for ages.

Allie Peter, Mike Frizelle, Ernie Alder and various other maniacs are currently walking the whole Wild Coast. Three to four weeks heading South from Natal and ending in East London or Kei River or somewhere near there.

Fill me in on your movements since – when? – about 1990!?

Cheers now – Love to you – Pete Swanie

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On 2016/05/23 01:17 PM, linda grewar wrote:

Hi Pete

So good to hear from you after so long.

Yes, I was out East, in Taiwan. I then also taught English in Slovakia and Czech Republic before ending up here in the UK. I live in Esher, Surrey and was teaching fairly close by, in Surbiton.

As Karen probably told you, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in January- one hell of a surprise, as you can imagine. So far, I have had a course of radiotherapy and have had four sessions of chemo. Obviously I have not been able to work since I have been ill and things are quite hard financially.

Is it possible to buy hard copies of the Umko book? My brother is keen to get one and he can buy me one at the same time! Those days are but a distant memory now….

All the best – Love – Linda

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Dammit. Dammit! What a bliksem! Bloody cancer!

Good luck with your treatment. Hope it goes well.

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** May 2018 – Bernie contacted me to tell me Linda had passed away. Dammit. Bloody cancer.  **

 

Floods in KwaZulu Natal 1987

September 1987 floods

Between 28 and 30 September, the central and southern part of Natal were ravaged by floods that were amongst the most devastating to have occurred in South Africa. The destruction of property was catastrophic, nearly 400 people died and about 50 000 were left homeless. Damage to agriculture, communications, infrastructure and property amounted to R400 million (report: De Villiers et al, 1994).

The Mgeni and Mvoti rivers had flood duration periods of up to 24 hours and this caused dramatic erosion. In the Mgeni the island near the mouth was totally removed and scour of generally about 2m took place. In the Mvoti the river channel, normally 35m, widened to about 900m. Large quantities of sediment were deposited over the flood plain. Many bridges were washed away. The greatest disruption to humans was caused by the destruction of the Mdloti and Tugela river bridges on the N2 highway (report: Badenhorst et al. 1989).

A letter to Aitch from Lyn from their game farm at Hella Hella in the Umkomaas river valley:

Flood 1987 Letter (1) crop
Letter to Aitch from Lyn Porter

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Flood 1987 Letter crop (2)

Top picture is actually of the Umgeni river. We went with the 4X4 people to help ferry stranded people across to their homes or back from their homes so they could go to town. Corran Addison in pic. On my one trip I had a person plus a bag of mealie meal on the deck of my kayak.

The Umgeni at Blue Lagoon:

1987_flood_Umgeni mouth_2

We got married on Lyn & Barry’s farm in the Umkomaas valley the following February and the effects of the flood were still being felt.

R.I.P Ernie Alder

Dammit n SHIT!! Ernie died!

Fuckity fuck.

It’s bullshit. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t finished. He wasn’t even close to wrapping up all the things he still planned to do.

Damn! Too soon.

A very special human being.

The wake will be held in Ernie’s Pub in Kingfisher Canoe Club on the banks of the Umgeni River in Durban. You KNOW you have led a really wonderful life when you’re going to be saluted in a pub named after you while you were still in your prime by your mates!

Ernie's Pub

Ernest Alder – 17/08/1942 – 21/01/2018

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Also:

Involved in the Caister old age home while his Mom was there;

Involved in a game farm up near Mkhuze;

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Ernie on the Umko;

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Travis Wilkinson of KCC wrote:

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of Ernie Alder!
There are very few truly selfless individuals, those that give of their time beyond what could ever be expected without seeking reward or adulation!
Ernie you will, for me, always be synonymous with KCC and there will never be a time, driving in to the car park, that I do not look for your vehicle, your welcoming smile or your loudhailer!
Rest in peace my friend, you did so much to assist me in my time as chairman and for the numerous chairs before and those that came after.
Your legacy will forever be intertwined with the history of KCC and you will be sorely missed at the club and along the many riverbanks and boat pounds across the country!

A gentleman, a gentle man! We will miss you – Elvis Kingfisher

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Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.

 

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree”.

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge

Getting into the Okavango Delta is awfully expensive.

A cheaper way is to fly in to Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge, get on a mokoro and disappear off into the wild with a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. In 1993 Aitch and I did just that, spending a night at Oddballs, where you are given a little dome tent to pitch on the hard-baked earth.

You get visitors:

The name is ironic, see (“contrary to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this” – I made a quick check, don’t want to get ‘ironic’ wrong). While in camp you stock up on the meagre supplies available in their shop, like potatoes and onions; a tent, a braai grid; add it to the 10kg you’re allowed to bring in on the high-wing Cessna 206’s and you’re away! 10kg doesn’t go far when you’re a books, binocs and telescope junkie!

We enjoyed six nights out on the mokoro in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. We chose to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three under a mangosteen, minimising packing up and moving. We had little food, but Thaba provided us with the fish he caught in his gill net each night. I ate the barbel and he and Aitch the bream. Lucky me, it was delicious! He also loved barbel, but his lifestyle advisor – a sangoma? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! The first night we were joined by Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT”.

OddballsOkavango (7 small)

When we moved camp from Jackalberry Camp to Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp we decided we needed a bath, so Thaba took us to a stunning clear lagoon, carefully checked for big things that could bite and then stood guard on the mokoro while we swam and rinsed – no soap, please! (Anyone going: You MUST take a diving mask! Next time I’ll pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera. The clarity of that water is awesome).

Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet to show what it looks like.

OddballsOkavango Camp
Squirrel Camp

Days were spent birding, hiking, where we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele and where we had to climb a termite mound as a herd of buffalo – spooked by Thaba scouting ahead – thundered all around us; short mokoro trips & loafing in camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.

After supper Thaba would play the thumb harp and tell / sing stories of life in the Delta and surrounds, including how his adviser had told him to stop eating catfish – lucky for me! I can still hear his musically-intoned intro: “My name, I’m Thaba. Thaba Kamanakao. Kamanakao is surname.”

One night a herd of eles moved in and we lay listening to their tummy rumbles. We kept dead quiet and just peered at them in the moonlight through the tent flap, as they had a little baby with them and we didn’t want to upset mama.

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (2 small)
Still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leaves

Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky, big hearty hot meals prepared for us, ice cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon. Comfy chairs.

And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!

Oddballs (5)

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mokoro – dugout canoe; plural mekoro

postscript 2018: This post was found by Thaba’s son, who informed me in the comments below that Thaba the legend had passed away. Damn! R.I.P Thaba; You made our trip unforgettable.