Friend Rohan owns Detour Trails and arranges the most amazing bespoke mountain bike holidays all over Africa. We joined him Easter 2010 on a ride from the Mtamvuna River to the Mtentu River. At least I did. Aitch drove the kids to Mtentu in the kombi (or maybe in friend Craig’s Colt 4X4 – not sure).
Both hands on the handlebar, so no pics of the ride. I only fell off once, and no-one saw. On the way we stopped for a refreshing swim in a clear deep pool in a steep valley.
Once we got to the magnificent Mtentu River mouth (see the feature pic above) I abandoned my bike and joined the family for lazy hiking, while the keen MTB’ers rode out and back each day.
An easy stroll across pristine coastal grasslands took us to where the Mkambathi River drops straight into the sea at high tide.
At low tide the falls (very low flow here) drop onto the sand of a beautiful beach. Tommy knows there’s bait under here somewhere for his fishing!
Everyone loves this little bay. Aitch, Jess and Tom each had a spell where they had the whole beach to themselves: (click on pics for detail)
Upstream along the Mkambathi River you find Strandloper Falls. The last time we’d been we said ‘Must Bring Our Diving Masks And Snorkels Next Time!’ – and we remembered.
Then we strolled back:
Back on the Mtentu River, Rohan had kayaks for us to paddle upstream in search of another waterfall
Then back downstream to the Mtentu mouth
Paradise – three hours south of Durban. There’s a lodge there now, so it’s even easier to stay.
“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.
Jules Pierre Verreaux (1807 – 1873) was a French botanist and ornithologist and a professional collector of, trader in, and sometimes thief of natural history specimens.
Verreaux worked for the family business, Maison Verreaux, established in 1803 by his father, Jacques Philippe Verreaux, at Place des Vosges in Paris, which was the earliest known company that dealt in objects of natural history. The company was later run by his older brother Édouard. It funded collection expeditions to various parts of the world. Maison Verreaux sold many specimens to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle to add to its collections.
Jules Verreaux began his training in the family business at just 11 years of age, when he accompanied his uncle, naturalist Pierre Delalande, to the South African Cape. They stayed there exploring and collecting from 1818-1820, among their achievements being the first hippopotamus skeleton acquired for the Paris Museum of Natural History. Back in Paris, Verreaux attended anatomy classes under zoologist Georges Cuvier, and began to show an aptitude for taxidermy.
Verreaux worked in South Africa again in 1825, where he helped Andrew Smith found the South African Museum in Cape Town.
No stranger to scandal in his lifetime, while in South Africa Jules Verreaux was summoned to court after a woman claimed to have borne his son. Verreaux had previously asked Elisabeth Greef to marry him, but revoked the proposal. The young mother then brought a suit against him, but lost the case as Verreaux was still a minor at the time of the proposal in 1827.
He was reputed to have set out on the trail of various already extinct and mythical creatures in the Cape, including the unicorn.
More body-snatching: In 1830, while travelling in modern-day Botswana Verreaux witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior. Verreaux returned to the burial site under cover of night to dig up the African’s body where he retrieved the skin, the skull and a few bones. Verreaux intended to ship the body back to France and so prepared and preserved the African warrior’s corpse by using metal wire as a spine, wooden boards as shoulder blades and newspaper as a stuffing material. Then he shipped the body to Paris along with a batch of stuffed animals in crates. In 1831, the African’s body appeared in a showroom at No. 3, Rue Saint Fiacre. It was later returned and buried in Botswana in 2000.
Jules’ brother Édouard delivered a consignment of collections back to Paris in 1831, and returned to South Africa with the third Verreaux brother, Alexis. Alexis remained in South Africa for the rest of his life, while the course of Édouard and Jules’ lives over the next decade is somewhat confused. Some sources say that both travelled to China and the Philippines and remained there until 1837, but it is also possible that Jules stayed in South Africa during this time. He seems to have returned to Paris in 1838, in which year a large number of his collections were lost in a shipwreck while being transported back to Paris.
In 1864 he took over as assistant naturalist at the Paris Museum. In 1870 he left France at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, seeking refuge in England. He remained there for the concluding three years of his life.
Jules Verreaux left a particular legacy in ornithology. Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus bear his name; More a trader than a scientist, his specimen labels often give only the country of provenance and are sometimes attributed to localities incorrectly, perhaps to make them more commercially valuable, but diminishing their scientific value.
Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia Anon., 1874, Ibis, 16(4): 467-469 M. Gunn and L.E.W. Codd, 1981, Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa M. Molina, 2002, “More notes on the Verreaux brothers”, Pula Botswana Journal of African Studies, 16(1): 30-36.
Pierre Antoine Delalande (1787 – 1823), French naturalist, explorer, and painter from Versailles, was the son of a taxidermist in the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He worked for the museum from a young age, and became the assistant of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He was also a painter who had trained in the studio of animal painter Jean-Baptiste Berré, situated in the Jardin des Plantes, and who exhibited landscapes and animal paintings in the Salons de Paris.
As an employee of the Museum, Delalande travelled to southern Africa in 1818, accompanied by his 12-year-old nephew Jules Verraux. They made three journeys into the interior between November 1818 and September 1820: eastward along the coast from Cape Town; northward to Olifants River; and northeastward from Algoa Bay as far as the Keiskamma River.
On their return in 1821, they took back an astounding 131,405 specimens, among them the museum’s first complete whale skeleton (from a 23 metre beached whale he dissected in situ over a period of two months), as well as giraffes, rhinoceroses, a hippopotamus, and human remains (some of them unearthed (i.e stolen) from an old cemetery in Cape Town and from the Grahamstown battlefield). He also brought back a mineral collection, 10,000 insects, 288 mammals, 2205 birds, 322 reptiles, 265 fish, 3875 shellfish, and various human skulls and skeletons from a Cape Town cemetery and from the 22 April 1819 Battle of Grahamstown between the invasive British forces and the local Xhosa. All the living plants in their collection were abandoned in Cape Town and many specimens of their extensive herbarium were lost in transit.
He returned to France with his health badly damaged by tropical infections. For his efforts he received the Légion d’Honneur but no financial reward. Shortly before his death, he published an account of his expedition in the museum bulletin.
He is honoured in the specific names of a swallowtail butterfly, Papilio delalandei ; three birds, Delalande’s sand frogTomopterna delalandii in the picture above, three lizards, a gecko and a snake.
Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia; M. Prevost and J. Balteau, 1933, Dictionnaire de Biographie Française: 662-663.
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.
He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.
I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:
And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!
Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.
Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )
Riposte and Touché:
Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!
John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”
Green beetle bugs have little bugs upon their heads to bite ’em, And little bugs have lesser bugs, and so ad infinitum. And the great bugs themselves, in turn, have greater bugs to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
I thought they were ticks, but iNaturalist soon put me right: They’re mites.
In the cottage while Jess was being ridiculously fussed over a hawk moth in her bedroom, she spotted a snake under her bed. This didn’t faze her, it was the moth that bothered her! She watched me catch it, photograph and remove it and carried on gaan-ing aan about the moth on her wall! I said Jess! You’re my field ranger! Relax! It’s a moth, f’gdnis’sake. After releasing the snake we couldn’t find the moth, so Jess went to bed warily, one eye open . .
Birds Seen: 1. Ostrich Grey goway bird Loerie Speckled Mousebird Red-collared Widow Long-tailed paradise Whydah Pintail Whydah Southern Boubou Dark-capped Bulbul 10. Stompstert Crombec Arrow-mark Babbler European Roller Lilac-breasted Roller Rattling Cisticola Zitting Cisticola White-brow Scrub Robin Yellowbill Hornbill ForkTailed Drongo Lesser striped Swallow 20. Barn Swallow Black belly Starling Redwing Starling Blue Waxbill Grey head Sparrow Buzzard common Crested Barbet Scimitarbill Southern black Tit Palm Swift 30. Southern masked Weaver Lesser masked Weaver Village Weaver Spectacled Weaver Golden-breasted Bunting Village Indigobird Dusky Indigobird Whitebellied sunbird Amethyst Sunbird female Scarlet chest Sunbird female 40. White-throated Robin Chat Blue grey Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher Black Flycatcher Crested Francolin Helmeted Guineafowl Redbill Firefinch Striped Kingfisher Brownhooded Kingfisher Magpie Shrike
50. Red back Shrike Black crown Tchagra Green Woodhoopoe Bronze wing Courser Tawny-flanked Prinia Cardinal woodpecker Emerald spot wood Dove Cape turtle dove Laughing dove Redeyed dove 60. Burchells Coucal (fukwe) Woolly neck Stork Black belly Bustard Redbill Oxpecker Cardinal Woodpecker Bearded Woodpecker YellowBreasted Apalis Diderik Cuckoo Hoopoe Rufous-naped Lark 70. Gorgeous Bush Shrike Pytilia Yellow-fronted Canary Cape Batis Natal Spurfowl Sombre Greenbul Wahlbergs Eagle Golden-tailed Woodpecker Little Bee-eater Chinspot Batis 80. Black collared Barbet Pied Barbet White helmet Shrike .. 82 species Heard calls only: Grey headed Bush Shrike Orange-breasted Bush Shrike Camaroptera Black Cuckoo Piet my vrou European Bee-eater Brubru Woodland Kingfisher
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.
Have you checked my white horse? Well, white VW kombi – WHICH . . was towed into the garage while on holiday two days before new year. Today I towed it again – to a clutch place. I’ve been driving Trish’s ole man’s 1980 Opel Kadett. He handed me the keys, his vision is shot. Glaucoma and deciding not to use the drops for years as they irritated his eyes and blurred his vision. He was right, xalatan is a bitch. But . .
I await the verdict on the kombi’s clutch – which I hope is better than VW’s R17 290.
I KNEW I shoulda fitted a Stromberg.
Peter Brauer wrote:
How thick can ONE man be?
Read what you wrote: ‘Been driving Trish’s ole man’s 1980 Opel Kadett.’
Do you not see the message in that? Let me help you:1980……Opel . .
Give the kombi to the clutchplate and buy a fucking Opel. Of ALL people I thought you would have learned something as a student.
Problem is – no matter how hard I try – I don’t get the 1980 feeling driving it. I just remember Kevin Stanley-Clarke’s firm statement, as he drove us around Doories in his chocolate brown Alfa: “When driving, always watch out for old toppies wearing hats. Give them a wide berth.” My current cap says DAS Pilsener.
Also, clicking in the gearlock, fitting the steering lock, feeling the ceiling fabric fluttering on my bald head as I drive with all windows open – the aircon substitute. Then waiting for the misfiring to end after switching off – it all brings back TOO MANY memories.
PS: New crutch and “dual flywheel” (TF is that?): R9 900.
Steve Reed wrote:
Like I said: Buy a Toyota.
The WORST thing is, you’re right. As my Toyota patients never tire of telling me. With the Durban Toyota plant just down the road I see a fair number of them and their suppliers; and they have NO doubt as to what I should do. Trouble is: The Hi-Ace minibus has a bench seat – I can’t stroll back for a beer or a kip or to feed the kids. That’s a deal-breaker.
I never owned a Toyota in my life, despised them in fact, till arriving here in Australia and had to take the cheapest / most reliable / least offensive on the tweedie handsey (second hand) market.
Try standing on hot used car lots in the Brisbane heat !!! Water boarding is a kinder form of torture.
Eventually when my head and body was about to be fully done in, I gave way and said “OK OK I’ll take it” and by some luck I was standing on the Toyota forecourt at the time.
VERY pleased I was not standing next to a Kia or a Holden Captiva.
As for the clutch, anything that can take six months of the good wife Wendy’s clutch abuse and still be on the road is ok for me. And I am brave enough to say this in front of her – Then duck.
It’s a sad state of affairs that I will take anything that doesn’t give me kak in the line of cars and women nowadays.
Which reminds me: Bob Ilsley was at Addington when I got there in my khaki uniform. He was in legs, I was in eyes. He made woorren legs for the hobbling. He’s turned 81 now, still flies the plane* he made in his garage – a Piper Vagabond – and waltzes around in rude T-shirts. One says, ‘IF ITS GOT TITS OR WHEELS IT WILL GIVE YOU SHIT.‘
I’ve made glasses for him since 1980: Glass PGX execs; 3 cyl power, same axis; SAME heavy, dark Safilo zyl frame (same frame, not same type of frame), same add, same same; Tried changing a number of times to new frame, multi, CR39, flattops, different axis, whatever, and every single time we go back to EXACTLY what he had before.
Last year we tricked him. We made a free pair of CR39 flattops (‘temporary’ we told him) in a better frame (still zyl, but thinner) and made him wear them while we took his old specs and “searched for a frame just like his perfect one”. The search continued while his wife, all his girlfriends and mates told him he looked much better. Now he has stuck to them (except every now and then he walks in with his old ones on and kicks up a huge stink in the front office when its crowded about how “These bloody new frames you gave me are NO GOOD!”). He’s a character. Sharp as a whistle. He flies and signs off home-built planes – experimental aircraft – before they can be licensed.
* or would still be flying his Piper Vagabond tail-dragger if he hadn’t pranged it on take-off in PMB with his wife on board. He is re-building it in his garage now.
Anyway, owning a Toyota probly makes you more boring in the long run: You, for instance, would not have to catch a lift with friend Bruce to fetch your car in Umbilo Road (and the clutch feels kak, thank you).
We made a detour for lunch – a currie at Gounden’s. Gounden’s is at the back end of a panelbeating shop between Umbilo and Sydney roads. You walk thru the workshop to get to it. Lekker bare place, cheap tables with a big bar doing good trade. Many ous there for liquid lunch. We took quarter bunny mutton, made my hyes water. Washed it down with Black Label and coke – one bottle, one can, long sips from one then the other. R80 for the both of us. Service: Of the Hey You variety. Ambience: Faint sounds of panel beating in the background. Gounden opened this “restaurant” to spite his wife when they divorced. Her restaurant is a few shopfronts away, on the street: Govender’s Curry House. We feel in such cases of matrimonial argy bargy, we should support the husband.
~~~oo0oo~~~ My good wife Aitch also should be employed on a test track for concept offroad trucks along with Wendy. A mate from England visited and Aitch drove them around quite a bit while I worked to make money to take them all to Mkhuze. He drives ancient Peugeot heaps and lovingly tends them with kid gloves, keeping them alive long past their date de vente (sell-by date), so this was an eye opener to him. He said a Cockney version of Yussiss! and described how she takes no shit from a gear lever, nor a clutch. She knows first is somewhere up in that far left corner and she shoves the lever there without any how’s-your-father.
Bob is now 82. Last week he came in with his “Recycled Teenager” T-shirt. To proudly collect his – wait for it – Glass PGX Exec Bifocals in Thick Square Plastic Frame. “Much better” he says. His CR39 flattops were coated with a thick layer of some spray. Took lots of cleaning with acetone to get them clear and smooth. He did acknowledge they were clearer than they’d been in months. But the execs were better.
Today he’s back from passing his flying medical. “Told you” he says. “You wouldn’t lissen” he says.
Today he’s off to Kokstand to check if a home-built – built by the local hardware man – is safe to fly another year. He’ll certify it if all’s well.
Next week he’s on his way to Oshkosh in Wisconsin to the world’s biggest home-built aircraft show. Sleeps in a pup tent in the campground to save tom.
Last time he flew a simulator of the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft. Crashed after 3 seconds. Went to the back of the queue and stood in line again to have another go. Flew it for 44 secs that time. Longer than the brothers themselves.
Amazin. Where do you get PGX glass execs from? That stuff is illegal here – we live in a nanny state though. Had a dude on the phone for 20 minutes wanting glass PGX trifocals. Banging on about how he could buy PGX exec TRIfocals on the net if only he could get someone to fit them for him. Had not given up and had been trying for 18 months. PLUS of course being a veteran he needed to have them free. Veterans Assistance (V.A) here only does SV or bifocals, plastic only and a free pair every two years. Clear rules. He has been in battle with the head office of V.A. and after 18 months says he is beginning to make progress. Fantastic. Over here if you whinge long enough, know how to use email, have time, and use the term “human rights” you can have anything. Just shout loud enough. Its all yours. And then the taxes go up.
I wrote: Your veteran sounds like Bob.
On the execs, I got a definite NO WAY from Zeiss, Essilor and Hoya, but of course in Debbin there are lots of little one-man labs with family connections in places that keep Morris Oxfords running for half-centuries after their sell-by dates.
They woke up Hoya who then found a pair covered in dust. The add was +1,75 not +2,00, but I said “What’s the difference?” and we made them up. Bob’s as pleased as punch, like I told you. He loves a good “I told you so”.
Like Horseshoes and Handgrenades, closies DO count. Excellent.
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.
Faster than Light (if you want to . . ) – Moody Blues “The Best Way To Travel”
I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t?
But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane – with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it – was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”
We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and my pilot Blom behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.
“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight. “Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.
Years later I’m married and Aitch, having checked that my life insurance is up-to-date (kidding!) gives me a magic birthday present: A Hans Fokkens paragliding course in Bulwer KZN. We arrive on Friday night and check into an old house on the mountain side of the village.
Hans disagrees with Douglas Adams who said in Life, The Universe and Everything, There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Hans says you don’t throw yourself at anything with his wings, nor do you jump off the mountain. You FLY OFF THE MOUNTAIN! He tells me how airflow works and how wings fly and then feeds us from a huge pot of stew and we sleep. Luckily I had been through ground school before; years before, when Colonel Harold Dennis taught me how heavy things fly in Oklahoma.
The next morning we’re on the hillside getting air into the wing and learning to lift, turn, run and FLY! The first time you lift off you think No-o! Yesss!!
Soon I’m able to take off at will on the beginner slope and we move up the mountain. I love the fact that you pack your own wing in a backpack and carry it up the mountain yourself. My first flight was fantastic but short, basically straight down and a rough and tumble landing. My next flight is way better, way higher and way longer, as this time Hans attaches a walkie talkie to me and can tell me what to do. “Lean right! Hard right! More!” comes over the speaker and thus he keeps me in a thermal and I keep climbing. Fifteen minutes in the air, rising 100m above the take-off point!
Aitch had gone off to read her book and chill, so no pics were taken of my soaring with the eagles and the lammergeiers!
Wonderful, silent, wind-in-your-hair flight at last!
After that amazing and unforgettable quarter of an hour, I descend slowly, and by watching the wind sock I can turn into the wind at the last moment and land like a butterfly with sore feet.
We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.
We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.
The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.
We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.
I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:
“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”
Soft Strong Smart
An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.
He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.
WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.
Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.
Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the hills on the high plateau between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.
The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.
Reading Tramp Royal again! So here’s a re-post from 2016:
I lapped up the famous Trader Horn books ‘The Ivory Coast in the Earlies’ and ‘Harold the Webbed.’ I’m still looking for their third book ‘The Waters of Africa.’ ‘Their’ being his and the special and talented lady whose sudden insight made it happen when she befriended a tramp at her door in Parktown Johannesburg back in the mid-1920’s – Ethelreda Lewis.
If ever the philosophy of ‘Be Kind Always’ paid off, it was in this tale of a friendship that developed after the reflexive dismissal of a tramp at the door of a middle-class Parktown home was changed to a sudden, instinctive ‘Wait. Maybe I will buy something from you . . ‘ and – even better – ‘Would you like some tea . . ‘
After reading Trader Horn I was then even more enamoured of Tim Couzens’ book ‘Tramp Royal – The true story of Trader Horn’, as it validated the Trader Horn legend – Alfred Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith was real and he had got around!!
Couzens died in October this year, tragically – he fell in his own home. I thought OH NO!! when I read it. He was a gem, almost a Trader Horn himself – what a waste! Too soon! He did the MOST amazing sleuth job of tracking down all Trader Horn’s jaunts n joints across the world and revealing that – despite the skepticism that had followed the incredible fame and Hollywood movie that had followed the success of Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith – now famous as Trader Horn – ‘s first book in 1930. MOST of what the old tramp, scamp, rogue and adventurer had claimed to do he had, in fact, done! Tramp Royal is a wonderful vindication, and a moving, fascinating and captivating read.
One (small) reason I LOVED the trader Horn books, besides the original title:
Trader Horn; Being the Life and Works of Aloysius Horn, an “Old Visiter” … the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; With a foreword by John Galsworthy
(phew!) . . . . . was the number of places A. Aloysius Smith – ‘Trader Horn’ (or Zambesi Jack or Limpopo Jack or Uncle Pat – he had aliases!) had been to that I have also been to:
Joburg, his least favourite city in the world. He was in a doss house in Main Street in 1925, I was in Eloff Street in 1974. Parktown, where Ethelreda Lewis ‘discovered’ him. He would have died there, unknown and in penury, had it not been for her sudden decision to listen to him tell a story. ‘Wish’ came to love Joburg, as did I. In Parktown he was in Loch Street in 1926, I was in Hillside Road in 1977;
Hwange in Zimbabwe, or Wankie in Rhodesia as it was then; – BTW, pronounce Hwange ‘Wankie’;
Harrismith, where he went with Kitchener’s Cattle Thieves to steal Boer cattle and horses in the scorched earth tactics of the wicked looting Brits; He showed his humanity by describing the Boer women’s sadness, and states – I hope its true – that they always left ‘one milk cow behind for the kids; and we called it Pansy.’ And Harrismith is where I was born and raised;
The west coast of Madagascar where our yachting trip to the island of Nose Iranja took us quite close to his ‘Chesterfield Islands’;
The east coast of Africa, although he spoke of Zanzibar and we visited Mombasa – which he probably visited too, as he sailed up and down the coast;
Oklahoma, where like me he befriended and was befriended by, the local Native Americans – his mostly Pawnees and Osages, mine mostly Apaches, Kiowas and Cherokees;
Georgia, where he behaved abominably and which I used as a base to go kayaking in Tennessee. He drank in a doctor’s house and I drank in a dentist’s house;
The Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, where both of us got raucously pickled;
The Seaman’s Institute in Durban where he holiday’d happily for two pounds a month while waiting for his book to be published; His editor needed a break from him and sent him off by train on the 2nd April 1926 to avoid the Jo’burg winter. My only connection here is drinking in the nearby Smuggler’s Inn. If it was around back then, Wish Smith would have gone there!
Kent, where he died in 1931; I visited Paddock Wood on honeymoon in 1988.
Wish himself would be saying, ‘What, you haven’t been to Lancashire!?’
I would love to see his river – the Ogowe or Ogooue River in Gabon. Everything I’ve seen on youtube verifies Aloysius’ lyrical descriptions. Here’s an example (but turn the sound off);
I also loved the unexpected success of the first book. Written by an unknown tramp living in a doss house in Main Street Joburg, the publishers Jonathan Cape advanced fifty pounds which Mrs Lewis gratefully accepted. Other publishers had turned it down, after all. Then the Literary Guild in America – a kind of book club – offered five thousand dollars! They expected to print a few thousand, and also offered the rights to a new publisher called Simon & Schuster, who hesitated then went ahead, receiving advance orders for 637 copies.
Then it started selling! 1523 copies one week, then 759, then 1330 and then 4070 in the first week of July 1927. Then 1600 copies one morning! Then 6000 in a week. They now expected to sell 20 000 copies!
Up to November that year sales averaged 10 000 a month, thus doubling their best guess. They had already run ten reprints, the last reprint alone being 25 000 copies. 30 000 were sold in December alone up to Christmas day. The story grows from there – more sales, trips by the author to the UK and the USA, bookstore appearances, talk of a movie. The trip continued until he had gone right around the world, drinking, smoking and entertaining the crowds with his tales and his exaggerations and his willingness to go along with any hype and fanfare. At his first big public appearance at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March he spoke to a packed house in the 1,500 seater New York City Town Hall off Times Square:
‘William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage (probably well fortified with strong liquor), acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: “The Lord take care of you, an’ the Divil takes care of the last man.” He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.’
His fame grew and he reveled in it.
Then suddenly, people started thinking old ‘Wish’ Smith’s whole story was a yarn, nothing but the inventions of a feeble mind, and wrote him off as yet another con artist – there were so many of those! It was the age of ballyhoo and fooling the public with bearded ladies, confidence tricksters and hype. Some critics grew nasty, depicting Ethelreda – without whom none of this would even have happened, and without whose kindness and perseverance Aloysius would have died in obscurity, never seeing his family in England again – as abusing ‘Wish’ for her own gain. The truth really was that she – in effect – saved his life; she certainly returned him to his family; and she enabled the kind of rollicking final few years his dreams were made of! He had people to listen to him; he had money to throw around! What a better way to go than dying anonymously in a doss house in Main Street Joburg!
The hype died, cynicism (the bad kind, not healthy cynicism) set in and old ‘Wish’ Smith – Trader Horn – died in relative obscurity with his family in Kent. It may all have been a hoax . . .
So was he real, or was it all a hoax? To know more, read Tim Couzens’ book – it’s a gem!
Here’s a silent movie of the old rascal on a Joburg street corner soon after he’d been kitted out in new clothes when the first cheque for his book came in.
Here’s the back page from the movie program. The movie, of course, was Hollywood – WAY different to the true story! An interesting facet was for once they didn’t film it all in a Hollywood studio; they actually packed tons of equipment and vehicles and sailed to Kenya and then on to Uganda to film it ‘in loco’ – although on the wrong side of Africa to where it had happened!
It was a landmark film of sorts that chalked up several firsts. It was the first fictional feature-length adventure shot on location in Africa (but the wrong location! East Africa while Aloysius’ adventures were in West Africa!). It was the first sound-era ‘White Jungle Girl’ adventure – many more would follow. It’s an old movie, sure, it is of its time; to me as a Trader Horn fan, the worst thing about it is: it isn’t the true story! Nevertheless, some rate it as ‘surprisingly engaging and worth checking out’ now that it’s been reissued on DVD. (NB: See the badly-made 1931 movie, not the worse-ly-made 1973 remake).
Trader Horn wrote glowingly of a real lady he met on his river: an American missionary, Mrs Hasking. She died on the river, and Trader Horn took her body down river to be buried. I found out more about her here.
Here‘s a much better, two-post review of the Trader Horn phenomenon – and Tim Couzens’ book – by fellow ‘tramp philosopher’ Ian Cutler. Do read it!
On 27 October 2016 I wrote to Ian Cutler:
Sad sad news today: Tim Couzens the master tramp sleuth has
moved off to join his Tramp Royal in the afterlife.
At 72 he was about the same age as the old rogue at his death.
Regards, Peter Swanepoel
Sad news indeed Peter. Thanks for letting me know.Ian
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
Last year Maun received none of the floodwaters that usually arrive in winter. The summer rains in Angola 1000km to the north had been poor, and the flood just didn’t get right through the Okavango Delta to Maun; Well below average summer rainfall added to the drought. Rainy season is December to March in Angola and Botswana. So this winter, as word got out that the highlands in Angola had had good summer rain, and knowing that local rainfall had been above average, filling the pans and raising the underground water table, word got out that the flood was a big one and there was a lot of excitement in town.
Everybody who’s like me (!) followed the progress of the water flowing south with great interest. The levels are monitored as the mighty Okavango leaves Namibia and enters Botswana and spreads out into its beautiful delta in the Kalahari desert.
The highlands in central Angola is where the water is coming from – 1000km north as the crow flies. Rain that fell in January and February is reaching Maun in May. It travels the first 700km in about a month, then slows down as it spreads out in a fan in its dryland delta on the sands of the Kalahari.
The focus of the townspeople of Maun was when the floodwaters would reach Old Bridge. My main focus was when it would reach little sis Janet’s home 13km further downstream. We started getting updates when the headwaters of the flood reached the Boro river, which flows into the Thamalakane.
Monitoring the incoming flood was Hennie Rawlinson, a neighbour two doors down from Janet in Tsanakona ward. Janet’s lovely cottage on the river is the feature pic above. Hennie had the inspired idea to turn the event into a fundraiser for WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center by allowing people to follow him daily as he tracked the headwaters. On average the flood moves about 2km per day, but that’s a huge variable, depending on the terrain, the foliage and the water table, the porousness of the sand its moving over, how much its channeled or spread out at that point, etc. Even in a river bed, where it moves quicker, it will reach a pool and have to fill that up before overflowing and moving on. So there can be long hours of ‘no progress’ – no forward progress, that is.
Hennie traveled into the Delta fringe to find the headwaters. Here’s one of his videos:
Then the water reached the confluence of the Boro and the Thamalakane! Great day! But wait! It headed NORTH East! It had to fill up a few pools and only then did it push South East towards Maun.
Much excitement as the water past under the high new bridge across the Thamalakane and approached Old Bridge, a historic landmark with a backpackers and pub just downstream of it on the left bank; and the site Hennie had chosen for his ‘Finish Marker.’ Other denizens of Maun also awaited the flood:
Finally the time came when the pool before Old Bridge started filling up and Hennie decided the flood would flow under it that night. He and a few others got permits to be up all night on the bridge as Maun was under corona virus stay-at-home orders like most places.
They waited all night, along with a crocodile or two. The water took a couple hours longer, and arrived in the wee hours of the next morning:
The fundraiser: The Rawlinsons tallied up all the donations and announced: The final amount we have raised is: P50 511 – We will be handing the money over to WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center this week. The winner who guessed the time the water would arrive was James Stenner and that couldn’t have been luckier, as he had pledged the prize – a chopper flight over the Delta – to three deserving people of his choice who are involved in research on the delta but have never flown over it! What a mensch! He runs luxury mobile safaris – have a look at his website.
Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:
We had started our own little competition: When will Janet’s size three clogs get wet? So she went out in them to show us how dry the riverbed was . .
and then when the water started seeping into the grass, showed us the first time her clogs could get wet in many months – a year!
From the air you could see more: the flood was approaching. That’s ‘Wilmot Island’ in the riverbed in the distance – dry – water arriving – water filling up. Over the course of just three days. Janet’s home is in the lower left corner just out of picture.
On the ground her view changed from the one above to:
One of her neighbours in Tsanakona ward made a collage of the view from his gate:
In dry times the river is a road and many streets cross straight across it. When the flood arrives you have to cross at the three big bridges:
And so Maun celebrates and heaves a huge sigh of relief. Residents flocked to the waters, welcoming it and scooping up some from the very front of the headwaters to take home. Pula!! The waters have arrived!
Of course the water doesnt stop till it has evaporated, sunk into the Kalahari sand or been pumped out and used by us humans. It carries on! Onward towards the Boteti and Nhabe rivers, with their endpoints in Lake Xau and Lake Ngami respectively. There it does stop. Those are lowpoints and there’s nowhere else to go.
I may post on that. The headwaters have already reached the split where the Boteti flows SE and the Nhabe SW.
Read how the Okavango may just be the site where humankind originated! Latest mitochondrial research moves the probable origin site of the direct ancestors of people alive today. Fascinating work by an Aussie scientist.