Jess on a Field Guide Course

Set in a beautiful sand forest, Ehlathini bush camp is where Bhejane Nature Training courses take place. Up in Zululand north of Hluhluwe village within sight of the north-west arm of Lake St Lucia, the camp borders iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Jess to Zululand Training Course (15)

Jess was assigned a wooden cabin in a mango orchard to share with Lydia from London.

Jess to Zululand Training Course (13)

Jess to Zululand Training Course (39)

Better than a tent, eh Jess? “Just, Dad!” Lydia from London had arrived before her, so got the better bed!

With much trepidation and bravery Jess waved me goodbye and started her first extended spell away from home!

Visit Jess Bhejane (1).jpg


Update: She’s now in Ebandla Trails Camp in Amakhosi Reserve up near Nongoma. She’s out of comms but today they were up on a hill and she borrowed her friend Blessing’s phone and let me now she’s well: Hey Dad, We walked right near an ele herd, and a lioness with a cub, and we’re staying here till Sunday 28th May, and will I visit when they get back to Ehlathini that day? –  “Sure thing my love!”

At night they took turns standing guard while their colleagues slept.

Jess & Lydia being brave:

Lions roared in the dark nearby. This scared them, but not as much as harmless spider they found in the wooden camp back at base camp.

Jessie’s Team: She was one of the two teenagers. The rest ranged from low twenties to mid-thirties – and one aged 67.

The course proved very challenging, the lectures long (“and boring, Dad”) and Jess decided not to wait for the exams.

The books and notes were more extensive than I’d have predicted when I booked her on the course:


Ehlathini – ‘in the forest’

Ebandla – ‘where men assemble’

Amakhosi – ‘of the chiefs’

Bhejane – ‘black rhino’

Hluhluwe – ‘thorny monkey rope (creeper)’

iSimangaliso – ‘miracle; wonder; surprise’

 

My ‘Hometown’ Apache Oklahoma

Apache was my ‘hometown’ for a year in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student.

Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey (about 20 years after me, I guess) wrote “Top 10 Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, OK” after a visit in 2008 (shortened):
For my Apache memories, see https://apacheadventures.wordpress.com/

Rebekah wrote – Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma, this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair. Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in (but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of 10).

apache-gas

Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Shop (as in – woodworking, welding, leather tooling – such a useful craft, not) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the storefronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.

The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is Mayberry meets Sanford & Sons, with a Native American twist.

So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well, OK, it will be poking fun.  But, remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.

#10: Do you feel that breeze?

apache-wind-farm

There was a lot of controversy over the installation of over 150 wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the U.S. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road. Right now with gas hovering just under $4/gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.

#9: We’ll have to wait our turn to get on the bridge.

apache-bridge
We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny “tourist” village about half an hour a way just outside the Wichita Mountains and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-FortWorth. Here’s the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.

#8: Look, it’s Tow-mater!

apache-towmater

In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the movie Cars. I made Jim turn around and go back so I could get a picture.

#7: Meet you at the store right by the giant scorpion.

apache-scorpion

 

Medicine Park is something of an artist’s community, and one of the most well-known artist in residence is Robert Dean, who creates larger-than-life metal sculptures. Many of these are on display at local museums, businesses and homes, and feature prominent animals of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (buffalo, elk, eagles, etc.). We saw one of a huge scorpion.

#6: Wow!  Look at the view from the wastewater treatment plant!

apache-medicine-bluff

The fact that the most beautiful real estate in at least a 200 mile radius (the landscape around Decatur, TX being my comparison point) is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains (including a prime view of Mt. Scott, the tallest of the range), Lake Lawtonka, and the surrounding hills, this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for OK prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the reportedly $32.5m facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view in the area.

#5: Hey, the stoplight is working!

apache-stoplight

I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection in town…sometime when I was in junior high (in the early 80′s). It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the light was blinking when we drove through town.

#4: We had 60,000 people come through last year.

apache-rattlesnake-festival

Our little town of Apache, OK is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the U.S. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.

#2: Moooo!

One of the big attractions of the Fair is Livestock judging. Most FFA students (Future Farmers of America, for those of you who don’t know what FFA stands for), which almost all of the Apache Public Schools student body is a member of, have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. The night we were at the fair was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard (poor things, usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald).

#1: Wheeee!!!

This was the first time Jack ever got on a Merry Go Round. It warmed my heart beyond belief that he did so for the first time at the Apache Fair, where I’m sure was my first Merry Go Round ride. He had such a good time, he rode it three more times before moving on to the Bounce House.

Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown – Apache. Mascot: Warriors (how perfect!), population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; home economics (for girls) and ag(ricultural) shop (for boys) were required courses. My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.

I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me. – Thanks, Rebekah Cooksey for those memories!

Old Selfies

Found some old pics from Apache Oklahoma back in 1973.

Dragging Main with my Olympus camera
Dragging Main with my Olympus camera
ApacheOK73 (8)
Self portrait at the Swandas (original “selfie”??) – my last hosts in Oklahoma – Their farm was called “The Swanderosa”(kidding!!).

Tennis Champs

The pinnacle of my tennis career came when I beat a Springbok tennis player in a tournament at the Wanderers in Jo’burg.

Of course, it helped that my playing partner was Free State junior champ Alick Ross, a brilliant left-hander who carried me all the way.

Also, it helped that the “Springbok tennis player” was actually our opponent’s DAUGHTER, not he himself. So the truth is Alick and I beat Ilana Kloss’ FATHER in a tournament back in 1974.

Ilana – who we didn’t beat Ilana kloss

Oh, well, it sounded good for a while there . . .

Unlike me, Ilana went on to greater heights, winning a Grand Slam title (the US Open doubles) with Linky Boshoff two years later. Her Dad had probably passed on a few things he learnt from me. Us. Alick.

Rugby in JHB

I skipped rugby in matric. Then I played one season of high school football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in his Gran’s the green 1969-ish Toyota Corolla or Corona 1600 to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.

I doubt there were 30 players in u/21 so we made the B side – probably by default; Games I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers;

At Strathvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the 3rds – they were short. The game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man – and was carried off on a stretcher.

Who knows what happened, but at about five or six seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shithouses and liked nothing more than explosive contact!

 

 

 

Casa Blanca Roadhouse, Joburg

As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz’s VW Beetle or Steve’s beige Apache or Bobby’s Mini Cooper S or Glen’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve Reed reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”

I don’t have a pic of the Casa Blanca, but here’s the Doll House in Highlands North and the Casbah in Alberton so long:

Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray the Elvis look-alike waitron had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.

Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us twenty six years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!

I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?

“Thirty six years” he said “but I’m just filling in now”.

Charged me 70c. Plus twenty six years-worth of inflation.