What a Maroon

One would almost think I’d engineered this. Poor Bruce n Heather!

The heavens came down, collapsed the bridge they’d specially had built to let me gain access to their back yard. And so there I was, marooned. Trapped in comfort after Natal’s second big rains in just over a month. The Soutar’s kind offer of a place to stay had turned into captivity. I was forced to stay and drink all their wine. And whisky and sherry. And eat their good food. It was hell.

The rains did eventually stop – after 328mm in just 32 hours!

The workmen started to build a second bridge, more solid than the first, starting from the bottom of the trench and filling it with sandbags.

Then they added thick steel sheets over the sandbags . .

. . and my new bridge was done! I could drive my car again after using ride hail cabs, using their son’s car, and bumming lifts from Bruce. They too, were free at last!

~~oo0oo~~

Volksrust & Utrecht

With my new AHA camper clamped tightly on the back of the newly raised and shod undercarriage of the Ranger, it was time to head south. To Durban and the kids. And their challenges.

Volksrust I stayed next to Die Dam outside town (picture above). Then down the Drakensberg to Utrecht:

Where I stayed in a beautiful camp in the Balele game reserve on the edge of town. Could I go for a drive? ‘Not today sir, they are hunting,’ came the reply from the friendly guy in charge..

~~oo0oo~~

AHA! At Last!

So I decided to sell my home and go mobile, hit the road. Of course, I did some careful research into which mobile home I should buy.

Criteria: 1. No rooftop ladder! See, I have a brain, so you rooftop tent dwellers are OK, but I could get brain damage.

– break a leg –

Criteria 2: No rooftop ladder. Those fokkin things can kill you dead! First there’s UP after six beers; then there’s DOWN in the wee hours because of the six beers. Ascent or descent can kill you dead. I need a gentlemanly collapse-into-bed setup.

Criteria 3: Cheap. Well, compared to a house. While searching, you do get tempted! Here’s one that costs about seven times what I just sold my home for!

– our old Bushman trailer –

Criteria 4: Not a trailer. We loved our Bushman Tracker 1 trailer, but been there, done that. If I hadn’t allowed it to rust I coulda saved all this cash n bother, but . . oh well. And anyway, it had a rooftop ladder. See the dangerous angled access to the sleeping loft on the left of this pic.

So how does one make the ascent in the AHA, seeing as it also has the double bed up on the roof? Like this:

– three broad flat steps onto the tailgate –
– one more step and you’re inside –

Fetching the camper was just the start. The old bakkie got a wobble-hop from the new weight and the diagnosis was new tyres and new shocks.

Rugged kevlar-reinforced off-road tyres; Soothing chamomile shocks for a tranquil ride; This is what they told me. Oh it’ll be worth it, they said. Here we go.

When I sent the pic of my new acquisition to Tommy his comment was, Cor, Dad! Who’s been feeding you? (It was Terry, of course).

~~oo0oo~~

Birding with Groot Oom Koos

I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen Fry‘s statement that “Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars,” and was thrilled when great parents Dawie and LindiLou boldly said, “Bunk school my son! Go birding with your Groot Oom Koos!”

Klein Dawid donned his camo gear and gumboots, threw on Dad’s binnies and made himself a large pack lunch. Now he was ready. His first inkling that Koos is a wimp came when I said we’d start out by birding their beautiful garden on Umvoti Villa. I think he was thinking of a slightly more adventurous foray.

But when I was able to nail down a number of birds in my 25X Kowa scope for long enough for him to get a really good view, he was sold. Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-eyed Dove, Black Flycatcher, Cape Sparrow, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Wagtail, etc

Then we had a birding lesson: What’s that on the high wire? I asked as I lined up my scope again – at the right height for a five year-old so he wouldn’t pull down on it and miss the bird. It’s a Black Flycatcher – No, its bill is bigger, it’s a Drongo, I said. ‘No,’ said Klein Dawie, ‘It had yellow on its wings, it’s a starling.’ Blow me down, it was. A Redwing Starling. He’d seen it flap its wings and show some of that rust colour. Lesson learnt, my boykie, thank you!

That made him think this oke needs revision, so we went indoors for some bookwork on the dining room table, where he taught me about some extinct birds and some living birds:

. . then for a walk to the dam with his Gran, my sister Barbara, where we saw Malachite Kingfisher, Bald Ibis, Hadeda, Grey Heron, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Cattle Egret, Yellow-bill Duck, Red-bill Teal, etc. Thanks goodness I remembered to take a pic:

Just goes to show that playing hooky is indeed a better education. If he hadn’t bunked a day of Grade R he wouldn’t have been able to teach me a thing or two. And he wouldn’t have been able to hone his spotting scope technique:

~~oo0oo~~

Groot Oom – Great Uncle

Nylsvley

Lo-ong time since I’d been to the famous vlei, and last time was just a day visit. The cottage looked newly-refurbished with a very smart fridge in the kitchenette, good linen, good shower and a neat little deck and braai area. Very comfortable. More so as I didn’t need any of the kitchen kit – the friendly man at the camp’s Spoonbill restaurant offered to cook for me. What do you do best? I asked. Mutton curry and rice, I saw your ND numberplate, he said. Then he delivered it early to my cottage about fifty metres away. I’m doing room service as you’re my only customer!

The microwave blitz’d it piping hot when I was ready and I sat and watched Crested Francolin and Swainson’s Spurfowl with young crossing the lawn to find a perch for the night. Bonus was a White-throated Robin Chat.

Knob-billed and White-faced Duck, Jacana with young, Anhinga, Goliath Heron, Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, Black Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Coot, Moorhen with young, many others. I should stop being lazy and do lists. A real treat to me was seeing ten Black Herons in one little pond. As they flew off their feet looked very orange, not yellow, so I checked, but it was only their feet, so Black Herons they were. To confirm, they then treated me to repeated exhibitions of their canopy fishing technique.

The river was flowing well after good rains and at the pipes under the roads which have unfortunately been built across the vlei in places, swarms of barbels faced upstream and noisily tussled as they gulped at anything floating downstream. Pictures didn’t come out well, I needed a polarised filter to see past the surface.

Steenbok, Waterbuck, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebees, Slender Mongoose and others seen, but the birds are the star attraction. I checked out the campsite as I’m sure I’ll go back once I have my canopy camper. Soon!

~~oo0oo~~

PS: Lost my cellphone scenic pics so only have my little Canon SX620hs pics of birds from the hide and from the road.

Mokopane

The mountain pass approaching Mokopane from Marken is beautiful. See a video here, filmed in the opposite direction that I travelled it. I should have stopped more often.

As I approached Mokopane all hell broke loose: TRAFFIC! Whoa! I wasn’t used to this. We crawled along stop-start for kilometres.

I got into Mokopane quite late as I had dawdled in Lephalele and en route. Here I found out just why I really need compartments – places to put things that are ‘nailed down,’ not portable; where you can find things reliably – unlike the big pile of stuff in the back of my bakkie. This was the only time it was a problem rather than just a nuisance.

I decided heck with my ‘no fast food’ rule. It was late, I wasn’t in a self-cater, so I’d just buy Nandos in downtown Mokopane. Parked outside the Nandos in the busy main street I was farting around tidying things and searching for stuff like old toppies do, when I heard my canopy flap bang shut and in my left wing mirror saw a guy strolling off thru the busy pedestrian traffic carrying a blue PnP bag I thought. ‘OK, hang on, what was in that bag? Anything important?’

I went thru a mental list. The Woolworths packet had my electronics, the Spar packet had my toiletries, one PnP packet was in the cab with me with health snacks like biltong and chocolate. So what did the other PnP packet contain? Couldn’t think, but I decided it probably had Flanagans chips in it. He could have them. I was not about to hare after him in the crowd and pull a hamstring muscle, say. I’ve done that before. Just then a guy knocked on my window and said, ‘Hy’s a tsotsi daai een.’ He had watched him casually open my canopy and take the bag. Thanks, China, I said and drove off to the Chicken Licken drive-thru.

~~oo0oo~~

PnP – Pick n Pay supermarket

Hy’s a tsotsi daai een – that chap is not entirely trustworthy; probably didn’t go to a good school

Thanks China – I dunno; why do we say that?

Chicken Licken – even deeper fried, with less of the oil drained off

Olievenhoutsrus

Last minute as usual I was searching for a self-catering chalet for Friday night. On Friday. It was looking unlikely but then I found what looked like a lovely place and at a very good rate. Olievenhoutsrus north of Vaalwater.

When I arrived I got a lovely welcome from Dina and Zacharias but when I said ‘chalet’ Dina’s face fell. ‘But we are fully-booked,’ she said, a worried look crossed her kind and smiling face. They were full up with crazy mountain bikers as the SA Champs X-Country was being held nearby. Owner Delmar arrived an hour or so later and his face also fell. ‘But you booked a campsite, not a chalet,’ he said. Look, let me show you.’ No, I believe you I said. I’ll just camp till a chalet becomes vacant. I have a tent. ‘But’ said Dina, ‘Do you have a mattress? Bedding?’ No, but I have lots of warm clothes, I’ll be fine. No! She squeaked and rushed off, returning with a mattress, a fitted sheet, a duvet and a pillow! What stars, what lovely people.

Zacharias said ‘Follow me,’ and off we went into the bush to their lovely remote campsite. Lots of wild olive trees about.

I explored around camp and just before dark lit the donkey. Just a few twigs got me a lovely hot shower. Supper was a cold tin of beans and ended just as well with a bar of chocolate. Fine dining. My bed was warm and comfy.

Saturday I went looking for signal on the tar road outside the gate. A bakkie drove past, made a u-turn and drove up close. ‘What’s wrong?’ It was Dina and Zacharias, on their way home for a long weekend. Concerned that the old geezer might be having trouble. After I reassured them Dina said, ‘We’ve freed up a chalet for you, btw, you can move into number 2 whenever you like.’ Back to luxury.

The resident Jack Russells adopted me and I had four lovely nights in the chalet. Great birding at the campsite, around the chalets and on walks along the game farm’s sand roads. I’d go back to Olivenhoutsrus like a shot.

~~oo0oo~~

Talking to Delmar about the tracks I’d seen he mentioned the African Civet and I said, ‘Ah, that’s a special sighting. I’ve only seen one once.’ Driving out on leaving I saw two on the tar road heading north to Lephalale – both road kill!

Marakele Nat’l Park

I’ll get round to writing; meantime just pictures and a slightly embarrassing confession at the end.

– beautiful drive right to the top of the Waterberg –

Slight Blush Called For?

I wrote I’d never heard of Marakele National Park! Then I read my own 2003 blog post: ‘Spent three nights in the Marakele National Park while we waited for our binoculars to be courier’d to Thabazimbi . . ‘

I remembered then a lovely pic we had taken of Jess (5) and Tom (20 months) taking themselves to the ablution block.

. . so I went looking for that ablution block and found it:

– hey! I coulda sworn I saw . . –

~~oo0oo~~

Civilisation. Right . .

About 25km north of Mokopane everything went pear-shaped. Human beings! Motor vehicles! I’ve been spoilt I suppose; nice quiet country roads.

Now the road I was about to join had traffic as far as the eye could see going in both directions, crawling and sometimes coming to a halt. Happily, every one was very helpful and friendly, letting people in.

Then came rude traffic officers acting badly, herding us onto the left verge; but the reason became apparent:

Earlier, the sad consequences when civilisation and wildlife cross paths. I saw two of these beautiful civets as road kill:

~~oo0oo~~

Magaliesberg

– nullarbor cottages –

Lovely cottages run by a lovely lady on a quad bike.

Also lovely cottages, also run by a lovely lady who has just sold and was packing up her home of twenty years standing. We commiserated and agreed we’d never again accumulate so much kak.

Good birding in both places and their surrounds.

Who better to tell us about a place than a frog book author? Vincent Carruthers would know:

~~oo0oo~~

Brace yself

I told you I’d bought food for the Brauer assuming the cupboard would be bare as Terry was away. What I didn’t tell you was I lost my car in the Brooklyn parking garage. For an hour. I searched high and low. Then the security man searched high and low. Then the security bosses took my key and drove round pressing the button, hoping for a “bleep” high and low.

Fokol

We found it. No-one told me there’s a Brooklyn Plaza and a Brooklyn Square and a Brooklyn Mall and . . – It was in one of those, but that was nothing. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was I had two packets of Checkers food, one in each hand, and as I walked my trousers kept slipping down. And then when they reached my knees I couldn’t walk to search for my car. My jockies were clean and unholy, and they weren’t green, but still . .

So that’s why I wear braces, I’m not wearing a belt any more, It doesn’t work.

~~oo0oo~~

The Art of the Braai

I was worried. It seemed irresponsible, something I avoid at most costs; unless it involves frivolity and a measure of drunkenness. I do sometimes make exceptions then.

But not now. Not when Mrs Shoes is juggling Anglicanism and culinary delights, cooking up a storm for Easter Sunday lunch after managing Saint Martha’s church choir and the liturgy. The eulogy? I dunno, they use big words and the men wear frocks and the queen is the head of the church. It’s all a bit above one of the low church. Us Methylated Spirits don’t have archbishops, though we love Tutu now that we have stopped hating him.

While we’re talking about burnt offerings, I must clarify that I’m really pagan, the fun movement that brought us fire, dancing, braais and Mother Earth – as opposed to a vengeful old bearded fella. I was just using Methodism as an example of no dresses, no pointy hats.

But it was the Jewish aspect of Easter I was worried about. He hadn’t even started the fire and the clock was ticking. Mrs Shoes had put together 47 ingredients and baked them to perfection and was starting to deliver them to the table. And that was just one dish – there were many others. And still the meat was red and cold and no fire. And we’re not talking about slap tjops here, this was a serious section of a lamb that had once roamed the Karoo vlaktes.

No way I was going to mention anything or show panic or concern. I was raised on influenced by Mad Magazine and Alfred E Newman’s “What? Me Worry?” so laid-back I had to be. What? Not only did we get Mad Magazine in the picturesque Eastern Free State highlands, we got the wicked Sunday Times on Sunday and the kommunistiese The Star. OK, the Star arrived one day late by truck from Jo’burg, but hey! it was still twenty years ahead of the Volksblad which arrived on the very date that was printed on the front page by truck from Bloemfontein. I once got my picture in Die Volksblad, but never in The Star. Don’t draw conclusions.

I digress. I was still worried. Brauer had not yet started to cook the meat. He hadn’t even lit the fire. Oh, hang on, he had: I just hadn’t noticed.

Now he made a caldera in the coals like a volcano and started to drive a long stainless steel arrow through the heart of the poor Karoo beast.

Where all the work was being done the dishes kept arriving; and people – Sid, Jenni and me, the guests – were seated and napkins were tucked into collars. I foresaw a vegetarian meal at the Brauers, a first.

But blow me down, just as the last dish arrived steaming from the kitchen the Brauer strolled in, pulled the stainless steel arrow out of the heart of the beast and started slicing, casually asking, ‘Would you like some pink, or some medium, or some of the rich dark brown roasted to perfection pieces?’

Windgat. I think he’s done this before.

~~oo0oo~~

braais – burnt offerings; mysterious ritual; seems pointless since electricity was invented, but people persist, you know how people are

slap tjops – thin little slices of a sheep; it would hardly notice

vlaktes – plains; miles of very little

kommunistiese – truth-speaking; not Nationalist propaganda;

windgat – accomplished braaier; barbeque-er of note

Tshwane

Ancestral home of us Tshwanepoels. We have land rights. We’re biding our time before launching a land claim. Meantime, I’m just visiting Chez Brauer in the Gramadoelas for Easter to keep death off the roads without driving on the pavements.

– early Tshwane – from the family album –

With Terry away that evening I thought I’d better buy food; you know how bachelors are, the fridge would be empty. So I took my Checkers deli ready-cooked booty and went to put it in the fridge. Dorothy had let me in – Brauer was still slaving over a hot autorefractor. Well, when I opened the heavy fridge door, two pounds of butter and three jars of anchovette fell on my toes. The fridge was filled to Terry-pacity. There was two kinds of every delicacy from 140 of the 200 countries of the world in that capacious fridge. I shoved my packet in and quickly slammed the door; only two pawpaws escaped.

Their beautiful kitchen was stocked with alles in wonderland – stuff for Pesach; stuff for Easter; stuff for Passover, Diwali and Lent; bunnies, brightly coloured eggs, marshmallow eggs, designer cubic eggs with dark chocolate (those were yum), and etc. Most of it was of course, thanks to us pagans, who contribute all the fun stuff to holidays and celebrations. Think about it: The grog! the naked dancing! bonfires! You know that, right? We have Bacchus on our team, I think, don’t we? Probly Venus as well.

Krag

Diwali wasn’t so good; the lights were dim; thanks to Eskom – they switched off. So Brauer kick-started his borrowed generator and hey presto! Except for a bit of bronchitis. The generator would roar, then sigh, then get a death rattle and vrek. Some investigating was needed. We switched off everything we thought would draw a lotta power, but still the sukkel‘ing. Then Terry Sherlock had a thought: She switched off Brauer’s bar fridge. Aha! THAT was the problem, of course. That amount of hooch draws kilowatts. Now we had Peace on Erf.

One tense moment

Terry stopped Sid when he arrived at the top of the stairs. ‘Wait There, I’ll Help You Down,’ she pressed pause. Sid waited obediently while she sorted out a few things in cornucopia. Sid had driven himself in his BMW, he’s fully licenced and experienced in driving since 1948. Having escorted him down the steps, Terry said, ‘Sit. I’ll Make You Tea.’ She reached for the exact spot in the kitchen where, among 467 other items, she knew Sid’s cake was waiting. Silence. Uh, Oh! Confession time! There wasn’t a rat in the house. Well, not a small furry one anyhow. I had scoffed it the day before! I say let them eat . . . whatever Sid got instead.

~~oo0oo~~

gramadoelas – dodgy area with a truck stop right outside the guest bedroom window; residents have corrupted the name to Maroelana to hide the dodgy

pavements – sidewalks

alles – Alice

vrek – go kaput

kaput – go vrek; dead

sukkel – battle; suffer; struggle; like bronchitis

erf – earth; plot; erven; yard; peace on erf = domestic bliss

Pilanesberg Dinokeng AHA

So the streets of Parys were very interesting if you like shopping and eating indoors. I did have a good brekker at the Lekker Bistro, indoors cos it was raining. But then I skipped the shopping to drive the roads to the west. Near Viljoenskroon I saw Simbra bulls for sale and asked Des if I should get him one but no reply yet. He used to live in Viljoenskroon, so I thought the bull would feel at home with him. Update: Mercia says he can’t buy any more bulls. Something about foot-in-mouth. I spose he’s been talking kak again.

Choosing a road less traveled, I headed for Schoemansdrif across the Vaal, but chickened out at this minor stroompie drift which could have been deeper than it looked. As I waited and contemplated how deep was my bakkie, a Landcruiser came past, stopped, then decided to proceed. It sank down to above its big wheels, so I christened this spruit drift Omdraaidrif, made a u-turn and crossed the Vaal instead at Scandinaviadrif which has a high bridge, and got a nice view of the full river.

Pilanesberg price! Ouch!

Bakubung Lodge was R2400! One person! One night! But it was late so I gritted my teeth. For once I checked that I was getting the Old Goat price and the friendly lady assured me she had not mistaken me for anything younger than ancient. ‘Remember this is for dinner, bed AND breakfast,’ she kindly tried to ease my landing, feeling my pain.

– vetkoek, vino, bathtub –

But I’d bought grub in Potchefstroom and the thought of a dining room didn’t appeal – other people, you know? So I ate Cordon Bleu in my comfy room, actually in the bath, up to my chin in hot water. Vetkoek n mince ala Potch washed down with a vintage merlot. For you label-readers, it was 13,5%, R54 and some change, February. Only 750ml, so not the finest, but complemented the vetkoek well. A delicate nose, bosveld notes.

.

.

.

On to Dinokeng. I dialled a number I found. It was Wim. I was welcome to stay at his place, man; Did I have a tent and a mattress? No? OK, then phone Fanie. He might have a roof and a bed. I did. He did. How does R600 sound? Fanie asked me. I said Fine, baie dankie Fanie, still suffering from the R2400 the night before.

Supper was an avo and a crispy bun from Potch Spar. There was a kettle, and friendly camp manager Bothwell brought me some Ricoffy sachets. On the drive out I saw a bird I couldn’t place. I decided melanistic shaft-tailed whydah. Maybe a world-first. Me and my camera were too slow again.

In Pretoria I finally made my long-awaited visit to AHA camper makers and ordered my piggyback slide-on camper for the old Ford Ranger, paid my deposit and was told: Come back on the 11th May.

Now Easter weekend loomed and I remembered another time I had almost got caught out by Easter. I headed for comfort and luxury. Top-notch accommodation and world-class fare at rock-bottom prices.

~~oo0oo~~

drif or drift – ford; shallow river crossing

Omdraaaidrif – u-turn ford; the Ford u-turned

Flying to Paris

The 258km from Harrismith to Parys via Weiveld takes six hours to negotiate if you haven’t yet seen a korhaan and you need to see one.

This includes a stop for steak egg and strips at the Royal Hotel in Reitz. Instead of strips I got potato wedges crisply fried in batter. Yum!

Here’s the route for slow pokes not in a hurry:

The roads are really quite good mostly. There’s a section between Petrus Steyn and Heilbron where the ANC oke who got the pothole tender must have pocketed the money and not delivered them. It’s smooth and kinda first world! He’s gonna be in trouble. The dirt roads are also mainly fine, but can get rough, and in the dips they get more interesting, as they’ve had some rain. Mud and some deep pools.

I saw my korhaan at last. Not the Blue, which I’ve been searching for, but the Northern Black Korhaan. Also a few Namaqua Doves, a favourite. Pics from my Newman’s Birds app.

Heavy storms are predicted but I had only a few showers on the way.

The feature pic is the view from my B&B on the left bank of the Vaal (not the Seine, silly!) in Parys, Free State. Paddling mate Chris Greeff had told me about this lovely rapid in his home town. Read a bit about him here. There’s A LOT more – Greeff should write a book.

Very warm in bed in Mistique Waters guest house on the banks of the Vaal after a hot bath. Tomorrow the streets of Paris!

~~oo0oo~~

Cry, the Beloved Dorpie

What a beautiful setting and what beautiful people. Everywhere I go there are friendly greetings – Dumela ntate! More oom! Morning! and howzit? Service in the shops is friendly and quick. The food at Erika’s home outstanding and plentiful, washed down with lots of red vino and black coffee. Two years ago the Ford agency fixed my Ranger bakkie so well that I brought it back for its 300 000km service and a road trip check in which they have also decided to fix my tie rod ends and my propshaft, whatever those are.

Erika and Pierre patiently hosted me as I waited two weeks for an appointment at Ford. I was surprised. They’re certainly busy and the town seems full of Ford Rangers – I saw far more than Toyotas!

A lovely town, but the dark cloud of corruption and maladministration of the “Ace” days still hangs over the town. The roads are abysmal and we have had power interruptions and lack of water in the two weeks I have been here. Erika and Pierre are ace organisers of the non-“Ace” variety and had already equipped their house for electric outages and their guest house next door for electricity and water. But when an explosion hit the main power station and we were told we could be without power for quite a few days, Erika decided to step up her off-the-grid equipment and bought a new generator so the guest house could have its own. Batteries have been schlepped for testing and charging, LED lightbulbs with batteries that burn after a power outage fitted, the DB board has been rewired, the new generator installed, lots of activity with plenty of help from their workers at home and at their businesses, Aletta who runs the guest house, Paul who does the two gardens, June the handyman, and Thys the electrician. Next she’ll tackle catching her roof water like happens in the guest house, and more solar charging of the batteries.

Everywhere the attitude is help each other, make it work and keep smiling. Up yours, Ace.

Next: On to la métropole parisienne

~~oo0oo~~

Good friend Steve added this pearl in a comment; I’m copying it here for easier access: ‘In Bethlehem (just to the west of the route you took) we had a Dutch baker called Kraai. Back in the 60’s, a wag called him Kraai the Beloved Baker, to the amusement of some of the locals.’

~~oo0oo~~

Dumela ntate – greetings father

More oom – morning uncle

howzit? – howzit; how is it? On cold Harrismith winter mornings in 1969, Larry the Yank used to answer, ‘two inches shorter than usual’