As I left Botswana’s Khama Rhino Sanctuary I spoke to a German couple who said they were going to exit Botswana at Gaberone “cos they want to drive longer in Bots – they like it here.” So I changed plan and did the same. Instead of heading east to Martin’s Drift / Groblersbrug border post, I meandered south to the Tlokweng / Kopfontein crossing.
As afternoon approached the old familiar Where To Stay dilemma started – not my favourite part of my meandering life. For a change I decided to ask someone, as Groot Marico turned out to be a surprisingly not-groot dorpie. The Wag n Biekie Pub looked enticing, set in a shady garden.
Three manne looked comfortable at the pub. One my age was nursing a brandy n coke; one who said he was the youngest oke left in the Groot Marico at 36, nursing a brandy n coke; and Brian, nut farmer. ‘No not macadamias, the climate is wrong. Pecans,’ nursing a brandy n coke. Once Brian and his gabbas had sussed me out – What you doin’? Where you goin’? How old are you? Where do you hail from? – he hopped onto the phone to sort out a place for me to spend the night: Hello Liddy my darling. Listen, Wild Bill Hickok has come to town and is needing a bed, can you help him sweetheart?
Liddy could, so Brian drew what he assured me was a very accurate map to get to Evergreen farm I couldn’t miss it. Luckily I listened carefully as he scribbled.
I bought a round then, as when they heard it was my first visit they winked at the barmaid and she brought me a glass of amarula liquer. ‘Watch out, don’t choke hey! There’s something in it,’ I was warned. I thought maybe a chilli but turned out to be a cherry, which I slukked.
While the kind ladies in the pub kitchen made me a supper to take home we all had another dop, then I departed with thanks for the lekker hospitality.
Evergreen farm’s chalet was great and the monster burger I had for supper was delish.
The next day I discovered the Groot Marico river runs gin-clear as it’s source is an ‘oog’ – a large dolomitic hole in the ground, a spectacular scuba diving spot.
It flows northwards; for a stretch it is named Madikwene River, then reverts to the name Marico, bends northeastwards and forms the border between South Africa and Botswana. Further downstream the Crocodile River joins the Marico from the right and the name of the stream after the confluence becomes the famous Limpopo River.
So we did *sometimes* go where the signs *sometimes* said Maybe You Shouldn’t.
We were rescued by friendly Damara ous in the Namib desert, by feisty ous in tight khaki shorts on Mocambican beaches, and by faithful Bahá’ís at their picnic on the Báb’s birthday on a Malawian beach. Bless em all.
‘Middle’ being a middelmannetjie; ‘You’ being four Big Beef Bulls. It was Louis’ fault, of course.
I usually go nowhere slowly, but right now I was in a slight hurry, and I had an actual destination for a change. This hurry relative to my normal pace would slow down my progress, as we’ll see. I had just left the beautiful Cubango river in the pic above, which forms the Angolan border with Namibia. I wanted to meet Louis on his farm Kakombo outside Omaruru in two days time.
Go via Tsumeb, said Louis. No, that’s tar! I protested. Ah, said Louis, I also like the back roads; There is another way. I thought it was a cutline but when I went down it it was fine. The D3600? I asked, looking at my maps.me app. Yes, I think so, said my Local Knowledge Personal Route Advisor, not looking at a map. The one that goes dead straight south for about 130km? Yes, I think so, he said. He didn’t say when he had been down that road; nor what he’d been driving – I now know he drives a macho Namibian 4X4 called toyota (which is a Herero word for ‘rugged’) with wheels like a large John Deere. You know what those ous in khaki are like.
As I turned off the tar I thought ‘piece o’ cake.’ A good sand road. Third gear, 40kmh, smooth and a low middelmannetjie. In the dips it was softer and I’d have to change down to second. There were three surfaces: Reddish sand was firmer; light cream was deeper and the lightest grey sand was the deepest and softest. Keep up the momentum through those hollows, I told my driver. Surprisingly, some stretches were jarringly corrugated under the sand! 4X4 ous blame these corrugations on 2-wheel drive vehicles but 2X4 me tells them the 2X4 forums say 4-wheel drive vehicles are to blame. Luckily, so far none have asked me about those non-existent forums. They’ve just laughed at me. But I’m used to that.
After a few km’s I was thinking Uh Oh! and then soon it was 2nd gear and 30kmh with only occasional 3rd gear and 40kmh; After 50km of Uh Oh! it just got too deep, I lost momentum, slammed into 1st gear, but no go; I came to an abrupt halt. Stuck in the middle.
So I switched off and let rip with a long string of all my swearwords, repeating many of them and searching for the best ones.
Then I stopped to think. And what I thought of was that I was near the Angolan border and they speak Portuguese there, which reminded me of the Portuguese swearwords Abel Luis Aparicio Caixinha had taught me in primary school. So I let rip with those a few times. I thought that might help.
Cleverly, I had got stuck next to a lovely shade tree, so I left the Ford Ranger in the blazing sun and went to stand under the tree to think. I was not alone. Those four Big Beef Bulls I mentioned lay chewing the cud and staring at me thoughtfully through half-closed lids. I could see what they were thinking. They were thinking What A Doos.
What I was thinking is, I’m glad Aitch isn’t here. She’d be asking me innocently – knowing full well that I hadn’t: Did you bring a spade this time? Just because I had got her stuck in deep sand in the Namib desert thirty years ago, she’d assume I hadn’t brought a spade again. Correctly. If I patiently explained – again – But Think of the Weight I Saved, she’d roll her eyes so hard she’d see her occipital cortex. Again.
I thought Better Start Digging, but the shade was cool so I lingered. Me and the bulls were not alone. Each of them had a thousand flies buzzing around their bums and on the bovine crap which covered every inch of shady ground. A few dozen made a beeline straight from those bums to my lips and my Ffff! Phhh! Ffff! and slapping my cap at them startled the bulls, so they jumped up and stared at me through wide-open eyes, thinking What a Doos. Standing, I could see they were fully-qualified bulls, not cows or oxen. I needed visual proof, not being a good farmer.
I’d run out of thoughts and excuses now, so there was nothing else for it: I’d have to dig. I stepped out into the hot African sun and knelt next to the right rear wheel and started digging. Five seconds later I was back under the tree. Damn! that sand was fiercely hot on my bare knees, shins and foot arches!
Once I got a towel to kneel on I did the wheels one by one followed by a break under the tree to cool down. Then I let down each of the tyres to 1.1 bar, again with a shade break. This undid my initial dig so I needed to repeat, but only after digging out the fifth wheel: the spare slung underneath, buried in the middelmannetjie. One more round of digging in the same sequence and I was ready.
Time to fire outa here. I was determined to get out at first attempt. A failed attempt would dig me down towards Australia and I’d be stuck here until someone happened to drift down this lonely road as no-one had all day. Taking a deep breath I started off with a 3L turbodiesel roar in first gear and difflock for two metres, slammed into reverse and rocked back six metres, back into first and forward! Into second gear, and keep it up for the 300m to the harder red sand. I was out! Much better with 1.1 pressure, should have done that earlier. Plus removed my spare from under the vehicle!
On the hard stuff I stopped to think. 40 to 50km of known track down, about 80 to 90km of unknown challenge to go. Retreat! A four-point u-turn had me heading back north, exhaust pipe tucked under my bumper, discretion beating valour. Back on the tar I pumped all tyres back up to 2.4, swallowed an ice-cold tonic from my fridge and headed west, past Eenhana, then south to Ondangwa.
My day was far from over, but that story will need another post.
middelmannetjie – raised hump in the middle of a twin track
ous – men
ous in khaki – real men; hard to see when they stand in front of a khaki background; the background in Namibia is often khaki coloured
Didn’t think to take photos of the stuck Ford Ranger, or the bulls, or the shade tree! Damn! Aitch would have got pictures of my bum as I dug sand with my hands, as she did in the Namib.
M.agical A.vian and H.ysterical E.xpedition to M.emel – 2.0
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. Most wore langbroeks in khaki. Then a ropy 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 with his half-closed eyelids. Also, khaki shirt.
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 (perhaps) slightly older drinking pals, telling them they were fuckin old fossils and 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 always called policemen copchinskys.
As people arrived everyone greeted Oom Des and he had a cussing and a vloekwoord 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. Haai! 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, very late, but with a re-heated and re-heated 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 hundred 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 contains important fiscal lessons and warnings.
A while ago I decided to sell my offroad trailer. It cost me R27 500 but it is a 1975 model so I advertised it for just R10 000. A guy from gumtree offered me R4000 and I told him, ‘Sack! What you thinking!’
Years later its still parked on the lawn and so when a guy said ‘Hey! What’s that trailer, wanna sell it?’ I said maybe. I’m thinking : It has such character, I’m picturing it on the beach in Mocambique, and it has a fitted stove and a fitted water tank with tap and a grocery cupboard and all crockery and a tent and a ground sheet and . . I’m thinking:
Why was he leaning in and examining it so closely? Was he checking for rust?
‘I can give you R700,’ he said. ‘See, it weighs 640kg and the scrap dealers only give us R2 a kilogram.‘
I told him, ‘Sack! What you thinking?’
sack – short for foosack, English for voertsek, Afrikaans for fuck off!
I mean . . did he even factor in the value of that gorgeous brass tap?
update: SOLD!! to the gentleman shouting ‘Old Scrap! Old Scrap!’ for the princely sum of R600 – and that after I’d filled it up with plenty of other stuff I needed to get rid of.
So the Salesman of the Year Award goes to . . anyone but me.
sadder update: I finally got it off my name (‘scrapped’ – they call it de-registered) for a mere three times the cost I sold it for!
From British Pathé newsreel archive – 85,000 films of historical significance. From 1896 to 1976, fascinating footage of major events, products, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, science and culture, most related by hilariously pompous and self-satisfied Poms.
One hundred and twenty seven years ago today – 22 July 1894 – the Concours Les Voitures sans Chevaux, was held in Paris. A city-to-city motoring competition which is sometimes described as the world’s first competitive motor race. Loose translation: ‘The Race of Carriages without Horses.’
The contest was organised by the newspaper Le Petit Journal and run from Paris to Rouen in France. It was preceded by four days of vehicle exhibition and qualifying events that drew large crowds and created much excitement. Eight 50 km qualifying events were held leading up to the last day when the main 126km race was held.
The editor obviously thought about what he wanted. He wanted cars that were “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey.” Good points all. This meant, for example, that if you had to take a mechanic with you on your journey, you were ineligible for the main prize. Darn right.
The first driver crossed the finish line in a blistering 6hrs 48mins, but he did not win the main prize. His steam-powered vehicle needed a stoker! That’s a nuisance, driving with your butler’s bum in your face as he shovels coal, so he failed the ‘easy to drive’ requirement.
Second, a mere 3mins 30seconds later, was competitor number 65, a 3hp petrol Daimler-engined Peugeot. This made him the winner of the main prize. He looks thrilled.
Third, thirteen minutes later, competitor number 28, a 3hp petrol Daimler-engined Peugeot face to face (vis a vis).
The seventeenth and last finisher took thirteen hours to do the 126km course. 102 had entered, but 78 had not shown up for the qualifying events. These included 25 powered by unfamiliar and improbable technologies such as “gravity; compressed air; automatic; electricity; gas; hydraulics; liquid; pedals; propellers; and levers.”
Here’s a Mr Michaux passing through a busy street in Mantes-la-Jolie, racing amongst horses and pedestrians, en route to Rouen where he finished 9th in his 3hp Peugeot phaeton.
I was thinking: What do we have nowadays that compares? When do we see grown men acting all serious while looking ridiculous to the common man? I think old okes on bicycles dressed in lycra, puffing past thinking they look even semi-normal? Any other contenders?
Do go and look at wikipedia. There’s LOTS more. My home page opens to wikipedia’s main page every morning. There’s always something fascinating to see.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” – Baba Dioum
Of course, that’s only if we don’t Kill What We Love. We’re very good at that, too.
The places I always think of that we killed cos we loved them are on the KZN north coast. Farmers would go to the beach with their tents for their fishing holidays, camping under the trees in the dense coastal forest. Then they built cottages, then their friends built cottages; then they built roads then the roads got tarred (about then we visited in 1963); then came flats, then high-rise flats and concrete paving and the rock pools had to be enlarged and deepened with concrete walls. Next thing you have a city right on the beach. There’s water, then a strip of sand and then concrete. No more dunes, no more forest.
Wonderful blogger The Bushsnob got me thinking of this when telling of his trips to the Masai Mara in the 1980’s. Lots of people love the Mara, so much so that he reckons we now have 118 lodges and camps and lodgings around the game reserve! That means MANY vehicles on the roads!
Soon we’ll need a parking lot.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone . . . ‘
Here’s what Joni Mitchell means by a ‘tree museum’ – we concrete the world, then leave tiny, ever-smaller islands of (sort-of) what used to be. This is a botanic garden she knew in Hawaii:
Baba Dioum – Senegalese forestry engineer, joint winner of the Africa Food Prize.
(A re-post -I went looking for my ‘missionary’ post to link to, and couldn’t find it. Turns out I’d posted it only on my seldom-visited Apache Adventures blog. So without apology, I thought I’d also post it here).
The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?
A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elr*ck wore a string tie, a 10 gallon stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters. He was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.
Soon he invited me to join him on a ‘men’s retreat’ to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife and come back and tell her you’re the boss” shit. I mean, this was 1973!).
I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state (and get out of school – I mean I’d already DONE matric!).So we hopped into his muddy pinky-brown wagon with ‘wood’ paneling down the sides – it looked a bit like the ’53 Buick Roadmaster in the picture above, or this Chev Brookwood maybe?
We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving like Thelma and Louise. Hey, you think they based the 1991 movie on us? We should get royalties, surely?
Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk uninterrupted for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men & boys just like him, all fired up for the Lawd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat: ♫“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫ We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.
We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be.
So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans? We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n hair ‘n pelvis ‘n organs this 18yr old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.
I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.
~~~oo0oo~~~ footnote: Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.
(old post from my early daze blog vrystaatconfessions.com)
Harrismith had a very successful sportscar designer! Sheila reminded me on her facebook. He was a big mate of Polly du Plessis. They called each other Sissel Pud (du Plessis backwards) and Tweedie (de Witt backwards). Verster was captain of the rugby team and Mary Bland’s boyfriend. He dopped a few years and was in JC when she wrote matric. A real gentleman, says Mary. When she left to go nursing he said, ‘My fear is that we don’t meet again – worse, that we’re living in the same city and we don’t even know it.’ Sensitive soul.
Here’s the story of Verster de Witt – or the parts I could fish out:
Two Stellenbosch university pals wanted to make a great sportscar. They were Bob van Niekerk and Willie Meissner. In 1958 Meissner went to England and saw a new technology called fibreglass. He wrote a letter to Bob van Niekerk asking him to come to England to study fibreglass crafting. Bob hopped onto a Union Castle ship and joined his mate. In those days that was called ‘instant response’: The letter took a week; the response took a week; the ship took a month; Bang! Two months later there his mate was, ready to help.
Bob recalls: ‘We had full confidence in our ability to produce the mechanicals and a good chassis, but needed someone to put a ‘face’ on it – a good looking design. As luck would have it, Willie knew a lady Joan, nee Peters, who was married to a stylist working at Rootes who would hopefully stop us from producing a mediocre, unattractive body.’
His name was Verster de Wit, an ex-Harrismith boykie and good friend of our Polly du Plessis and Mary Bland (later Swanepoel). He very soon had them building quarter-scale models with plasticene during the week in their one-roomed flat in Earls Court while he was off working in Coventry on the Sunbeam Alpine. Fridays, Verster would come down to London to inspect the work they had done. When they got to scale model number 13, it suddenly all came together, and ‘a unanimous decision was made to progress to full-scale.’
‘We rented a garage in Gleneldin Mews in Streatham and built the mock-up using wooden formers and plaster of paris. The first body came out of the mold in April 1957 and was sold for 75 pounds, which helped to pay for my trip back to Cape Town where Willie had started the Glassport Motor Company (GSM).’
They considered what to name their cars: Cheetah, Mamba, Simba, Zebra, Kudu, Lynx or Tyger? Eventually they called the open top the GSM Dart and the hardtop the GSM Flamingo. On returning to South Africa, they built four prototypes in 1957, and the first production car rolled off the line in early 1958. In total, 116 GSM Darts and 128 GSM Flamingos were produced from 1958 to 1964. Actually, the GSM club tracked down many of them and reckoned there were a few more than that.
The GSM cars were astonishingly quick and agile and won a lot of races. In their first nine hour in JHB, a Dart beat Sarel vd Merwe in his Porsche into second place; they were followed by an MG, another Porsche, a Volvo and an Alfa Romeo!
But perhaps the best story was after they had sold 41 cars by 1959, for racing and road use in Cape Town, they decided they could also be sold in England and Bob set sail with a complete body and chassis kit on the Union Castle liner. In England Bob was introduced to Mr John P Scott at Windsor Garage, West Malling in Kent. Scott agreed to give him a place to build a car and fund all the parts on condition that Bob built the car in 10 days! AND that he entered it in a race at Brands Hatch! AND that he won the race! What a tall – almost impossible – order!
Bob accepted the challenge and worked day and night to complete the Dart by the Friday before the race. On the Saturday, April 18, 1960 Bob found himself in the middle of the grid on an unfamiliar circuit in a brand new and untested car. He steadily worked his way up into first place and won the race! He actually did it! Setting a Brands Hatch lap record that stood for seven years! A delighted Mr Scott then established a GSM production facility in a 5000 square foot factory behind the Windsor Garage to produce the first batch of cars. They couldn’t call them Dart in England, so they used ‘Delta’. Records are vague – it seems somewhere between 35 and 76 GSM Deltas were made in Kent.
The little cars developed a legendary winning reputation in the UK, Europe and SA. To show that they weren’t only about racing, the Flamingo was marketed as the road-going version:
In 1964 they ran out of money.
Aftermath with Verster de Wit: 1976
A GSM club was formed in JHB and they tracked down Verster at his home in Kosmos on the Hartebeespoort Dam. He and his new wife Eva hauled out a suitcase full of his photos and sketches of his design days in England and in SA. They regaled the club members with tales of the hours of dedication and hard work Verster had put into his automotive design career. Another well-known design he had also been involved with – in addition to the Sunbeam Alpine – was the Humber Super Snipe.
In the 1980s the design got another lease of life when Jeff Levy got Verster to help him make a series of accurate replicas known as Levy Darts.
After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.
I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.
At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.
On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.
The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.
I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.
While I was contemplating thus, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’
Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.
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.
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.
We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:
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, still snoring.
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.
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.
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.
I had run the trail before this – or the road more-or-less parallel to it.
Larry visited from Ohio back in 1996. Pierre was in Harrismith; I was in Durban; Steph and Tuffy were living in Cape Town, so they won – we arranged to meet up as the Old Fab Five musketeers down in Kaapstad.
Larry Wingert had been Harrismith’s Rotary exchange student back in 1969 and had returned to South Africa twice before – once in 1976, down through Africa from Greece, mostly overland, all the way to Cape Town; and once in 1985, when he and I had done an overland trip from Maun in Botswana to Vic Falls in Zimbabwe.
Trish and I took him to Mkhuze game reserve:
and down to Cape Town:
Steph took us to his Kommetjie beach house
This year 2020 Steph’s brother JP sent me pics of the magic pub in the beach house
and Tuffy entertained us royally at his and Lulu’s lovely home in Langebaan:
Asked what the Fab Five was, I had to think about it. We were a gentlemanly triple-AA gang Educational Club who would meet clandestinely after dark and do creative things to broaden our minds.
The one AA was for automobiles, which we would borrow under an intricate arrangement where the actual owners were not part of the bargaining process; we would then use these automobiles to go places;
The other AA was for alcohol, which we would procure under an intricate arrangement of dispatching a third party who could legally buy the stuff, to a bottle store other than my parents’ bottle store; this we would then imbibe for the purpose of stiffening our resolve. And for laughter and the third AA:
Action! Adventure! Anything but boredom.
One of the founding reasons for launching the august club was we suddenly had a Yank in our midst and we were really afraid he’d go back to the metropolis of Cobleskill, upstate New York and say there was nothing to do in Harrismith. The thought mortified us. We had to DO something!
We were reminded how offended we were late one night on one of our adventures – this one not motorised – we were prowling the empty streets at night te voet – on foot.
And we spotted a policeman driving around drunk! Can you believe it!? That was OUR forte! What was HE doing driving around drunk like us!? So we indignantly phoned the copshop from a tickey box, reported him to the dame on laatnag diens and walked away feeling smug. Next thing we heard a squealing of tyres and the roaring of a Ford F150 straight six. It was him! She had obviously radio’d him and told him! Maybe they were an item!?
We started running as the cop van roared closer. It was the only thing making a noise in the whole dorp at three in the morning so we could easily hear where he was. We sprinted past the Kleinspanskool and as he came careening around the corner we dived under the raised foundations of Laboria – Alet de Witt’s big block of flats. We crawled through and out the other side, at Steph’s house. Steph & Larry went home as did Tuff, a block or two away. Pierre and I had a way to go yet, so we set off along Stuart Street – we could hear the fuzz in the grey Ford F150 with the straight six and the tralies over the windows roaring around in Warden Street. He never stood a chance of catching us. We were fleet of foot and we could u-turn within one metre!
te voet – on foot; saving fuel for the environment