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.
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
Jess and I have been sussing out the Zululand game reserves COVID-19 scene and phoning and today was the day. We left soon after 6am. My gauge showed how little I have driven in lockdown – I filled up on the 24th March: Less than 100km in three months!
We got to the gate before 9am where the staff were very friendly and welcoming as they gave us an arms-length welcome complete with hand sanitising and temperature measuring.
Lovely day, not a cloud in the sky but a stiff breeze. Very few animals about but we just enjoyed being there. I decided to go straight to Sontuli picnic site for lunch and then straight home so we’d be back before 5pm.
Jess made a lovely picnic lunch while I recorded a whole bunch of birds: Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Olive Thrush, Southern Black Tit, Golden-breasted Bunting, African Hoopoe, FT Drongo, Black Flycatcher, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Red-eyed Dove, White-backed Vulture, Rufous-naped Lark, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-capped Bulbul, Long-billed Crombec, Mocking Cliff Chat bashing a gecko, Yellow-fronted Canary, Pied Crow, Red-faced Mousebird, Crowned Lapwing, Red-billed Oxpecker, Cattle Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, etc. Heard Greater Honeyguide, Green-backed Camaroptera and Gorgeous Bush Shrike up close, but couldn’t spot them.
Jess spotted eles, giraffe, zebra, square-lipped rhino, warthogs, impala, and I saw one bushbuck.
On the way out I ducked down a side road to Bhekapansi Pan at the spur of the moment. And got a flat tyre! My jack didn’t lift the car high enough to get the spare on; luckily a fellow Ford Ranger driver came along and I could use his jack on a rock to lift it up the extra 50mm I needed!
Thank you! That got us up and away – and home by 6:30pm
First job in California is to get into the nearest cheap motel and start the search for a Ford Econoline Camper! We’re going to drive our own home for a week! Of course, I’ll do the sums. I’m not irresponsible. It’ll have to be reasonable . . .
Those days you still used telephone directories, yellow pages and a phone plugged into the wall!
Off to Yosemite! Heard about it all my life and now we were going there!
Favourite birds probly the Acorn Woodpecker, the California Quail and the Roadrunner.
From Yosemite we headed back to the coast in an arc to drive the Big Sur coastline
We were in California cos Aitch said ‘Hey! We can’t only be in the sticks! I’ve never seen an American city with its shops and bright lights. You have.’ OK, m’dear I said, thinking Yosemite, Redwoods, Big Sur coastline. Oh, and San Francisco – we’ll ‘do’ San Francisco, OK?
So we did, we hired a small car after handing back the camper – and paying in for a bumper bashing while reversing in Yosemite – and roamed the streets, going down the famous twisty Lombard Street and catching a few trams. And, unfortunately, shopping. I dunno what Aitch bought, but I got caught for such a sucker when I bought a telescope. One of these salesmen: ‘Ah! South Africa! Aangename kennis! Hoe gaan dit?’ you know the kak. So I overpaid for this telescope which was OK, but not what I had wanted. ‘Sucker!’ chortled Aitch, showing zero sympathy. Was this what marriage was going to be like? Was she not going to be like my Ma, who would have sympathised with her poor boy?
I cheated a bit, using the car to also go across the big bridge and into the redwood trees at Muir Woods, just 20km north of San Fancisco. This using her ‘city time’ for my ‘backwoods time’ did not go unnoticed, nor unmentioned. But she loved the redwoods as much as she’d loved the sequoias!
We loved California. Now, we were off to Wyoming – I’ve been to Yosemite, now I’d love to go to Yellowstone! You too, right Aitch?
Vilanculos, said Jaynee J, is a beautifully sunny spot . .
. . with the odd shady person!
When she was about to leave Joburg for her paradise in Mocambique; to find another atmospheric cottage to inhabit and love; move into a new town, in a new country; and change the place – Vilanculos, not just the cottage – she asked some muscled 4X4 mechanic with his sleeves rolled up high on his bulging biceps, wearing tiny khaki shorts* what she should drive – and he sold her this:
well, this is how I picture him anyway!
After she’d been passed by her tenth Uno, her twelfth Polo, her fifth Corolla and numerous bicycles, she sold it. And found a cottage with a view:
One day I’ll have to write a story about Jaynee J – It’ll have intrigue, suspense, suspenders, laughter, optometry, launching colleagues and setting them free; Sundry veterinarians, optometrists, champagne, ophthalmologists, vets, veterinary specialties, veterinary marketing, veterinary publishing, veterinary posturing, veterinary skinder, candle-lit baths; It would have hospitality, laughter, publishing, amazing meals, cottages, fairies, champagne friends, neighbours, boat trips, idyllic islands, champagne, hospitality, bed making, bed using, champagne, joy, faeries, friends, a long-ago husband, champagne, laughter; Tales of taking real, genuine, valuable veterinary services to under-served countries, castrations old-style, castrations state-of-the-art, laughter, adventures; There’ll be two fine kids, special grandkids, favourites-in-law, champagne, a champagne suite at the cricket, amazing meals, champagne, The Reeds, The Rock, champagne, hospitality, success, laughter, laughter!! Champagne-induced laughter, some hicupping, nostalgic laughter . .
I’m only scratching the surface here . .
She sees things:
. . and boy, can she organise things! When her Manky Mocambican Mongrel (that’s a registered breed) needed treatment, only the best would do. So a hand-picked Joburg vet had to make a 1450km house call by road – from Joburg to Vilanculos! How many house calls need an overnight stop on the way?
Of course, the Manky Mocambican Mongrel did what any MMM does, and croaked, but not before sub-continents were crossed by the vet and his lover, love was made, proposals were made, proposals were accepted; all done in large, huge STYLE. The vet and his fiancee drove back to South Africa with huge smiles on their faces! Best housecall ever! You do things right, Jaynee J! Unforgettably . .
Kosi Bay is a wonderful place and the campsites are superb. Good birding and great habitat. It’s an estuary system comprising of four lakes – Amanzimnyama (dark waters), Nhlange (reeds), Mpungwini and Makhawulani – the system is connected by meandering channels and fringed wetlands before it runs into the Indian Ocean via a shallow channel and estuary. Kosi is one of the most beautiful and pristine lake systems on the African coast. A boat excursion from Lake Nhlange to Lake Makhawulani is a scenic meander through the reed channels, offering an opportunity to snorkel along the mangrove banks,.
So if you want the full Kosi experience you ideally need a boat. Fortunately for us, on one of our three trips there in 2002 / 2003 good friend Greg Bennett lent us his boat. The freedom this gave us, plus the knowledge of the area provided by a local guide made all the difference.
Jon Taylor joined us. His RAV4 was feeling intimidated by my mighty kombi, so we kindly let it do a little work . .
We flew into Jackson Hole from San Francisco. Change in temperature. I was still in short pants – had to change pretty quick! This was week three of our honeymoon, so we were into the groove: Fly in, find a car, then look around for the best places to visit and find cheap lodgings near there. Aitch was better’n me at that. She’d actually look and weigh up options.
Soon I was warm. Toasty, in fact, as I was sitting – still in short pants – in a Toyota Tercel! A little all-wheel-drive station wagon with four doors and a barn door in back. The four wheel drive system included an unusual six-speed manual transmission with an extra-low gear. It could be moved from front- to four-wheel-drive without coming to a full stop; That was nifty. The 1500cc engine produced 71 HP and awesome torque – more than ample with that light body. I had a SIX speed gearbox on honeymoon in 1988! Formula 1 cars only had five at the time. Plaid seats, two gear levers, four pedals and an advanced 4WD monitoring / information system were standard. Trish asked me, ‘Who do you love more? Me, or this one-week rental car!?’
I cleared my throat . . um, YOU – in a Toyota Tercel!
Then we found the Antler Motel. I said I LIKE the look of this place. She said ‘You’re only looking at the price.’ How do they do that? Only married a couple weeks and already she can see right through me!
We found out we were too early for Yellowstone – the road was still blocked with a wall of snow and we were turned back well short of the park boundary. Still, the view was breath-taking. All the way on our left the Grand Teton mountains loomed, disappearing behind cloud and then fully revealed as the cloud cover cleared from time to time. All around was deeper snow than either of us had seen before and on our right were rivers with Trumpeter Swans. And a moose!
One evening we went to the elk winter refuge, and enjoyed a sleigh ride on which we saw a grouse in a tree. Grouse, swans and elk in the wild – things I’d read about all my life, and here they were! I was chuffed. Also, being married . .
Also, I had read Thunderhead as a ten year-old. About a horse in SE Wyoming. I loved that book and also My Friend Flicka (Thunderhead’s mother), which I read next. Those books’ descriptions were all I knew about Wyoming, but it was enough to want to get there. Plus the attraction of Yellowstone (which I could have checked if it was open before we flew in!).
Every stream I came to I’d get out and search. Then I saw it: A Dipper – at last! It flashed down onto a rock next to the current – and dived underwater! I’d spotted a dipper! I’d read about these little songbirds for years – and here was one doing what they do: hunt underwater!
What a honeymoon! A. You, my dear; B. The Dipper; C. The mountains; D. That Toyota Tercel.
That night in our cozy motel room my sternest critic suggested I was thickly settled:
Wait! Did I show you a pic of our Toyota Tercel? It was all-wheel . . what? oh ok
Next: On to Washington State . . . we have a ferry to catch.
In 1297 the Gordon family arrived at Lochinvar from Berwickshire. They established a castle on an island in the lake – or loch, as this was in Scotland. Lochinvar.
In 1908 another Scot, Mr Horne, a cattle farmer from Botswana, arrived on the banks of the Kafue river in Northern Rhodesia long before it became Zambia. The local chief, Hamusonde, gave? sold? him some land – or did Horne simply claim it? He registered it on behalf of the British South Africa Company. Known locally as ‘the Major,’ Horne built a big old red brick farmhouse. He called it Lochinvar and it is now known as the old Lochinvar Ranch homestead.
Previously little of this land had been used for farming because of the wild game here, including lion and leopard. To convert the land into a cattle ranch, ‘Major’ Horne set about exterminating the local wildlife in a ruthless program of annihilation. Populations of sable, roan, eland, warthog and wildebeest were wiped out, as well as all the predators he could find. The last lion in the area is thought to have been killed in 1947.
In 1966 the Zambian government claimed the land back and declared it a nature reserve.
In 2003 we drove past a sign that said Lochinvar National Park. As we’d never heard of it, we decided to go and explore this place. What say, Aitch? I asked. Go for it, she said, as always. Around 40km of rough road later we arrived at the gate as darkness fell.
‘Sorry, but you can’t go in,’ said the friendly soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but we have to,’ said I. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so please hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man.’ Back he came – ‘Sorry, but 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 rough next to a village.’ Off he went and back he came: ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside,’ he said.
‘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 in the headlights.
Lochinvar National Park
Later, we found out more about the park: In 1966 Lochinvar Ranch, as it was then called, was bought by the Zambian government with the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, and converted into a Game Managed Area; The extra protection afforded to the wildlife by this designation was not enough to prevent its numbers from diminishing further, and so in 1972 Lochinvar was upgraded to a National Park. Subsequently the park has been designated by the WWF as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’, and a WWF team has been working with the local people on a project to manage the park on a sustainable basis for the benefit of both the people and the wildlife. There are a lot of settlements around Lochinvar, and local people still come into the park – as they have done for centuries. Many were unhappy with Lochinvar Ranch – and have always felt that this is their land. They still come to gather wild foods and catch fish, and drive their cattle from one side to the other; so although major conservation efforts are being made in Lochinvar, building up the diversity and number of game species here is not an easy task.
We approached Lochinvar from Monze, on the Livingstone–Lusaka Road – about 287km from Livingstone and 186km from Lusaka. Directions: The road that heads northwest from Monze, signposted for Namwala, is just north of the grain silos on the Lusaka side of town. It passes Chongo village and forks about 8km afterwards. Ask local advice to find this junction if necessary. Take the right fork, or you will end up in Kafue. Follow this road for about 10km and then turn left at another sign. It is then about 14km to the park gate. This last section of the track twists and turns, but all the tracks that split off eventually rejoin each other and lead to the park. There are also a few more signs so, if you become unsure, ask a local person and they’ll show you the way. The gate to Lochinvar is about 48km from Monze. Most of the camps depicted on the old maps are now disused, and ‘some of the roads now seem as if they were figments of a cartographer’s imagination.’
The original state-run, red-brick Lochinvar Lodge, built in the colonial style of 1912, lies abandoned. There are always ‘plans to renovate’ this dilapidated, crumbling old building, but it would take a lot of work and money. Until enough people come to Lochinvar to make a second lodge economically viable, it’s likely to remain an evocative old ruin. As the state of the park gradually deteriorated, the lodge was put up for tender to private safari operators in 1996. Star of Africa agreed to take the lodge, as part of a ‘package’ of old government properties around the country. They first planned to build a floating lodge, but settled on a luxury tented camp which they called Lechwe Plains.
Camping rough in 2003, the campsite handpump had water, but the long-drop toilet and cold shower were out of action. We were happy to be inside the park, though and were equipped to be fully self-supporting.
Although the large herds of Kafue lechwe can be spectacular, the birds are the main attraction at Lochinvar – 428 species have been recorded there! The best birding is generally close to the water, on the floodplain. We drove everywhere in our kombi, but we since read: ‘It’s probably best to walk. It’s vital to avoid driving anywhere that’s even vaguely damp on the floodplain as your vehicle will just slip through the crust and into the black cotton soil – which will probably spoil and extend your stay in equal measure.’ Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
So this is what mother Mary probably felt like! It’s 3am and still no sign or word of the little blighter. Then ***pring pring*** . .
Hello, is that Mr Swanepoel? This is Andrew of Medical Rescue Emergency Services
Shit! Worst fears and all that
Don’t worry Thomas is fine
I have him here at St Augustines Hospital in the emergency unit. Can you come and fetch him?
Driving down the empty streets I think of mother Mary. Mary Methodist. And how she handled me in my fun days. Did she shout? Did she rant? Did she threaten? None of the above. I tried hard – not always successfully – to emulate Mom, appreciating hugely how patient she was with me, and knowing confrontations with me would not have ended well. Love and Patience had worked for me. And a good judicial dose of Los My Uit – not interfering.
The story turned out to be along these lines: A house party in Kloof; Parents away; The girl whose house it was taking Dad’s Ford Everest, filled with okes; She was driving fine, when an older oke said Here! Lemme Drive! after which things sped up! In downtown Durban the cops took an interest in his driving style, and the clever oke thought he could outrun them; Turning a corner he rolled the Everest, bringing the short chase to an end; He decided to scarper, and Tom’s not sure if the cops got him; The rest were taken to St Augustines by ambulance, a few slightly injured. I met some of their parents and we all nodded gravely; Some were muttering threats and blame. Tom was unscathed and we went home.
Memories of Mom peeking her head into my Country Mansion garden bedroom on some mornings-after: Are you back? Oh, Good; or I’m Glad You’re Safe; and once: Were You On That Train?
Even Mom’s gentle attempts at warning served no purpose. In desperation she evoked the dominee: ‘You know, Ds Ras says ‘Na Middernag Kom Die Duiwel Uit!’ she warned. That sounded like fun and only convinced me the night actually started later in the evenings. Love and Patience.
dominee – fire and brimstone preachers
Los My Uit – benevolent, discreet – yet watchful – neglect
Na Middernag Kom Die Duiwel Uit! – after midnight the Devil makes a grand appearance, TaDAAA!! – like Freddie Mercury – and the fun begins!!
One interesting side-effect: Tom would often say ‘Dad, speed up, please’ with my driving. After this he often says ‘Slow down please’ when I go round a sharpish bend!
Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
What luck! friends couldn’t make their timeshare for happy reasons (grandchild due) so we took over! With pleasure. Nibela is in prime Broadbill sand forest territory and I have dipped out on seeing a Broadbill, coming close a number of times, but no sighting. I was keen, so was Jess. Tom considered the fishing options and the food a la carte, but decided in the end that it was just too remote for a city slicker! ‘Enjoy your sticks and trees, Dad!’ he bid us farewell.
Jess liked the place immediately. It had cellphone reception and DSTV. Also there was wifi at the main building. What was not to like?
The food at the lodge was great. The one pork belly dish was the best I’ve had, and all their soups and veges were superbly done. We ate there three nights and I made supper one night.
We searched for the African Broadbill, but no sign was seen or heard, so it remains on the wishlist. This is what its sand forest haunts look like, where it performs its little bird-of-paradise dance to get laid so an egg can get laid:
Lovely local specials we did see were Woodward’s Batis – a pair displaying and calling two metres away in a tree; Rudd’s Apalis; Purple-banded Sunbird; all good sightings and obligingly chirping as we watched. Narina Trogon, calling each day, but not seen; Heard but didn’t see a possible Neergard’s Sunbird. Two lovely bird parties popped up right in front of our chalet: One evening Dark-backed Weaver, Puffback, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow White-Eye and Southern Black Tit; The next morning Dark-backed Weaver, Puffback, Pink-throated Twinspot, duetting Southern Boubous, Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Collared Sunbird.
Jessie’s Best Sighting:
In the grounds of the lodge Jess spotted something beautiful in a tree! Look! Dad! wifi! You didn’t even have go indoors to have wifi!
A drive out to where the Mkhuze river flows into the lake brought back memories of my last trip there – by boat on a bird count with the game warden nearly forty years ago. Greater Flamingos, one Lesser Flamingo, White Pelicans, a Rosy-throated Longclaw, Common Ringed Plovers, Kittlitz’s Plovers, Stilts, Yellow-billed Ducks, Hottentot Teals and many more.
Pelicans fishing in a ‘laager’ – surrounding the fish then dipping in: Heads up – Bums up.