Maputaland Meander

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.

– my pic from a later visit –

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.

Borrowed Lello's tent, too

We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:

ndumo-kosi-mabibi-isuzu-1
– fish traps in the estuary –

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.

Mabibi Camp. Aitch aziz

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.

– the Indian Ocean behind the dunes and Lake Sibaya at our feet –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Vilanculos – Sunny Spot!

Vilanculos, said Jaynee J, is a beautifully sunny spot . .

. . with the odd shady person!

When she was about to leave Joburg for her paradise in Mocambique; to find another atmospheric cottage to inhabit and love; move into a new town, in a new country; and change the place – Vilanculos, not just the cottage – she asked some muscled 4X4 mechanic with his sleeves rolled up high on his bulging biceps, wearing tiny khaki shorts* what she should drive – and he sold her this:

  • well, this is how I picture him anyway!
– the monster –

After she’d been passed by her tenth Uno, her twelfth Polo, her fifth Corolla and numerous bicycles, she sold it. And found a cottage with a view:

One day I’ll have to write a story about Jaynee J – It’ll have intrigue, suspense, suspenders, laughter, optometry, launching colleagues and setting them free; Sundry veterinarians, optometrists, champagne, ophthalmologists, vets, veterinary specialties, veterinary marketing, veterinary publishing, veterinary posturing, veterinary skinder, candle-lit baths; It would have hospitality, laughter, publishing, amazing meals, cottages, fairies, champagne friends, neighbours, boat trips, idyllic islands, champagne, hospitality, bed making, bed using, champagne, joy, faeries, friends, a long-ago husband, champagne, laughter; Tales of taking real, genuine, valuable veterinary services to under-served countries, castrations old-style, castrations state-of-the-art, laughter, adventures; There’ll be two fine kids, special grandkids, favourites-in-law, champagne, a champagne suite at the cricket, amazing meals, champagne, The Reeds, The Rock, champagne, hospitality, success, laughter, laughter!! Champagne-induced laughter, some hicupping, nostalgic laughter . .

I’m only scratching the surface here . .

She sees things:

– Jayne J’s Vilanculos creatures –
– she notices satire and aspiration –
– the MMM probly thinks this is normal –

. . and boy, can she organise things! When her Manky Mocambican Mongrel (that’s a registered breed) needed treatment, only the best would do. So a hand-picked Joburg vet had to make a 1450km house call by road – from Joburg to Vilanculos! How many house calls need an overnight stop on the way?

Of course, the Manky Mocambican Mongrel did what any MMM does, and croaked, but not before sub-continents were crossed by the vet and his lover, love was made, proposals were made, proposals were accepted; all done in large, huge STYLE. The vet and his fiancee drove back to South Africa with huge smiles on their faces! Best housecall ever! You do things right, Jaynee J! Unforgettably . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

– three ladies and a dog –
– four ladies –

. . there are still chapters to be written . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Adventure in Deepest Darkest Zoolooland

I must tell you about a wonderful trip we went on recently (well, back in 2015 actually) to Deepest Darkest Zoolooland.

It was actually a rugged and challenging course in which we were required to survive under tricky conditions, with carefully thought-out obstacles and challenges put in our way by the amazing outfit called:

Ngoye with Ski_7


who led us astray boldly into the back roads of wild Zooloo territory where we watched and learned as he reached out to locals to see if they knew where they were.

Ngoye with Ski_6
Don asking perplexed local villagers for directions

This capable and entertaining master tour guide dropped us off at the beautiful Ngoye Forest for the next phase, handing us over to our next capable leader:

Ngoye with Ski_5


Fully equipped, this part of the course led us carefully through:
– Correct equipment
– Packing for an expedition
– The use of snatch ropes and tow ropes
– Handy stuff to always have in your 4X4 (axes, bowsaws, forest vines & lianas);

You had to be really young and superbly fit to survive, and we WERE and we DID! Covered in the mud and the blood and the beer, we emerged smiling from the forest, much the wiser.

Both tours were excellently victualled, lots of sweet and fortified coffee, sarmies, fruit, biscuits, biltong and more. Those who brought deckchairs thinking they would sit back and gaze serenely at the tree tops were optimists in the mist.
Someone came up with an idea as we were leaving to go on a completely different kind of trip next time with this sort of outfit:

Ngoye with Ski_4

But NAH! – we enjoyed the first two so much that we’d book with them again. Unforgettable (and NOT, as Don muttered “unforgiveable”)!!

It was amazing and a whole lot of fun with great people.

=======ooo000ooo=======

(Slightly) more boring version:

We did go to Zoolooland on a birding trip ably guided by Don Leitch. He did get us a wee bit off-course, and he did stop to speak to some local people, for which he got some leg-pulling.

We did get blocked by fallen trees in Ngoye forest and here’s the thing: Among all the rugged pilots, 4X4 experts and farmers among us, NOT ONE had brought along a tow rope or any decent rescue equipment! It took an accountant with a pocket knife to fashion a tow rope out of a liana that eventually saved our bacon. ‘Strue.

I will stand by my story and I will protect my saucers, even if they were in their cups. Here Sheila shows the total rescue equipment we managed to rustle up; and there’s the tow rope fashioned from a forest liana that saved the day.

Philosophy – Going On Safari

Get the BEST 4X4 possible, modify it, take engine spares, take all your own food and water and fuel, fit a winch, fit a snorkel, take hi-lift jacks, a big toolkit, solar power, satellite phone, there must be more . . . be entirely self-sufficient.

OR

Sommer just take the car you have, buy food along the way. Meet the locals and depend on them.

Here are two different approaches:

  • I told you about the Austrian biker.
  • Now meet a lady from Cape Town who realised her little Toyota Conquest with close to 400 000km on the clock was turning twenty  – and she was turning eighty! So combined they were 100 years old with plenty high mileage! She thought “Bliksem, it’s Time To Drive Up Through Africa”. She left Cape Town and she’s in Ethiopia now (update: She’s now in Sudan) and going strong. (update: She made it to England); (another update: she turned round and is headed back!) (last update: she finally called a halt when she fell ill); Go and read her blog for an adventure – and for wonderful creative spelling!
  • She calls her blog My African Conquest. Lovely stuff, Julia’s all about BEING THERE and the people along the way.
– Julia, her Toyota Conquest and friends in Sudan –
  • Then there’s this approach: A five year preparation of a monster truck with everything including the kitchen sink. Gas, solar, batteries, diesel, water, fuel, EVERYTHING! This beast has a big buffalo boss above the windscreen and it’s called Nyati! Paul’s approach to his travels is different. He writes like . . stream-of-conscious and he’s more about getting home. He’s no spring chicken either, at 70, so hats off to him too!
Now at the pre-COR inspection

Different strokes, different folks. For some it’s more the journey, for some it’s more the equipment. It does tickle me that the huge big Benz truck has seats with wind-down windows for two, while the tiny Toyota has seats with wind-down windows for four! And the Conquest took the dirt roads, while the Benz stayed mainly on the tar.

But it’s all travel and it’s all good.

Do go.

– Paul’s Nyati and Julia’s Tracy –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip.

– . . . in the Xudum area, east of the Sandveldt Tongue –
Xudum airstrip (2)
– Xudum landing strip in high water – a 2020 picture –

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

Xudum drift

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree.”

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic tented camp it was when we were there. I hate the way ‘conservationists’ use miles of wooden decking and flooring!

In May 2019 it burnt down.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Last Maputaland Beach Drive

No more driving on the beach!

Our Environment Minister Valli Moosa had at last grasped the nettle and was closing the beaches to hooligans! We approved, and time and research has shown it was the right decision. It has had a positive impact on the ecology of the coastal zone, with a recovery of resident reef fish species and breeding birds.

Regulations for the control of use of vehicles in the coastal zone (Government Notice 1399 of 21 December 2001) published in terms of section 44 of the National Environmental Management Act (No. 107 of 1998).

But! We admit: We do love driving on the beach! So Bruce Soutar was quick to spot the opportunity for a Last Drive before the regulations came in to force, so he gathered a bunch of people to both celebrate and mourn the closure.
Beach Drive (1).jpg

Beach drive-001

We had the Soutar VW Kombi, Kemp Jeep, Gail Pajero, Duncan __ and Swanie Ford and one other –?

A ‘Bhangladeshi’ Christmas

My bad. We arrived at the Mocambique border with Tommy’s passport, birth certificate, Aitch’s death certificate, my application for Tom’s unabridged birth certificate plus the receipt for same. No go. They wanted his unabridged birth certificate itself, or a letter saying we’d applied for it. “But here’s the application and the receipt”, I protested. In vain.

So its Christmas day and we’re looking for a place to stay. It felt kinda biblical. Reminded me of a story I’d heard in my youth. Everywhere we went was full. We drove on to Bhanga Nek, sandwiched between the big Kosi Bay lake and the beach. I’m in my element in a brand-new Avis rented Ford Ranger 4X4 with six forward gears and push-button 4X4 transfer case on the Maputaland Coastal Reserve’s sand roads. Kids would rather be in a different element, truth be told.

We get to the Bhanga Nek Beach Camp. Full. We drive to the Community Camp. Full, thank goodness: What an uproar! Everyone has spent their entire bonus on grog and they’ve already imbibed half of it. All are noisy, some are already staggery at noon.

Savanna & Jess on the beach at Bhanga Nek

Thulani sees me and lurches over, ice clinking in his glass. “I have a place where you can stay” he says. I ask the whereabouts and recognise it as a village we passed a couple of kms back. He hops in and guides me there. Doesn’t spill a drop of his drink on the bumpy road. He’s done this before.

Bhanga Nek Map

It’s a lovely rustic chalet. We eat and sleep. Not a single mozzie! It has been booked for that night so we’re back on those wonderful sand roads in the morning, vehicle in 4WD High Ratio second gear and easing along like a dream.

“Wow! I say, “Look at that!” Huh? What? “That view!” Oh, Yes Dad. Whatever.

Bhanga Nek Xmas
Bhanga Nek beach and cottage

The drive back was along my favourite roads in Africa, through coastal grasslands dotted with umdoni trees. Paradise. Easing along effortlessly in 4WD high ratio second gear, barely touching the accelerator, barely touching the steering wheel, the tyres guided in the twin tracks in the sand. Again, I said to the kids “Isn’t this amazing!?”

“Huh?” they said, looking up and looking around. “What?”

Pearls before swine.

Thanks, strayalongtheway.com for the beaut image

We cut through Mkhuze game reserve on the way home and see three of the youngest little warthoglets we’ve ever seen ‘on the hoof.’ Tiny little piglets running next to Ma with tails erect. “Look! They’ve got signal” the kids said enviously.

Kosi to Mkhuze map with warthoglets

A week or two later, back home, I overheard Tom mocking my organisational skills, and telling his mate “My Dad took us to Bangladesh for Christmas.”

*sigh* At least they do love their home, that’s no maybe!

Good Advice in Kenya

Aitch and I went to Mombasa in 1995 and checked in at a hotel on Diani beach. The next day I walked the crowded streets of Mombasa looking for a cheap hired car. Mombasa is quite a place:

Mombasa downtown

I did my sums. I’m meticulous. Not.

Kenya car hire quotes
– car hire – lots of choice –

While Aitch chilled on the uncrowded beach and pooldeck, no doubt quaffing ginless gin&tonics. She used to do that! Tonic & bitters. Ginless! I know! You’re right. Search me. Where’s the medicinal value?! The personality enhancing factor, PEF? Still, she loved it.

Diani Beach Hotel

I found a lil Suzuki jeep. Marvelous. I could turn round from the drivers seat and touch the back window! Almost.

scan0001

Birding Advice: Back at the hotel I went for a walk, leather hat on my head, binoculars round my neck. An old man came cranking along slowly on a bicycle, swung his leg high up over the saddle and dismounted next to me.

‘Ah!’ he said, ‘I can see you are English.’ I didn’t contradict him. ‘You are looking for buds,’ he said, also in a way that made me not argue. ‘There are no buds here,’ he said emphatically. ‘If you want to see buds you must go to the west, to the impenetrable forest. There are many buds there.’ And he put his left foot on the pedal, gave a push and, swinging his right leg high over the saddle, wobbled off. After a few yards he had a thought, slowed, swung off in the same elaborate dismount and came back to me: ‘But in this hotel over here you can see some peacocks in the garden,’ he informed me re-assuringly.

‘Ah, thank you sir. Thanks very much,’ I said, wishing him well and thinking of Kenya’s 1100 species of birds – eleven percent of the world’s total. The USA has about 900, and the UK about 600. He was a character a bit like this:

Kenya man on bicycle

Traveling Advice: We also got pessimistic advice on the roads. We were on our way to Tsavo National Park the next day and we wanted to avoid the main road to Nairobi. We’d heard it was crowded with trucks and buses and we’d rather avoid that, if at all possible. On our Globetrotter map I found a little road south-west of the main road that showed an alternative route via Kwale, Kinango and Samburu.

‘No you can’t; No, not at all; There’s no way,’ says everyone. Even the barman! ‘The bridge has been washed away by cyclone Demoina,’ they all said. This was a bit weird, as Demoina had been in 1984, eleven years earlier, and had mostly hit Madagascar, Mocambique and KwaZuluNatal, well south of Kenya.

Usually I can eventually find ONE person to say ‘Don’t listen to them, the road is FINE,’ but this time I was stymied. No-one would say ‘Yes!’  nor even ‘Maybe.’

SO: We headed off along the road toward Kwale anyway. ‘Tis easier to seek forgiveness than permission, we thought. Aitch, what a trooper, was right with me in adventurousness. ‘We’ll see new places,’ was all she said. She knows me.

As we neared Kwale a minibus taxi approaching from the other direction did a strange thing: They actually flagged us down to tell us ‘Stop! You can’t go this way! The bridge is gone, Demoina washed it away!’ We nodded, we agreed, we thanked them kindly; then we kept going.

And they were right: The bridge over the river between Kwale and Kinango had indeed washed away. But there were recent tyre tracks down to the river which we followed. Below and just upstream of the wreckage of the bridge we stuck the Suzuki in 4X4 and crossed  the low river. Then we stopped for a break, parking our mini-4X4 under a beautiful shady tree on the river bank:

– 

And we were right: Besides being devoid of traffic, the road surface was mostly good, sometimes great:

– peaceful country road –

Then the honeymoon ended: We ran out of detour and got back onto the main Mombasa-Nairobi road at Samburu: Aargh! Every so often a blob of tar would threaten to cause damage. Huge holes had the traffic all weaving from side to side so trucks seem to be coming straight at you, but it’s actually quite safe. Its rather like slow-motion ballet. Cars and trucks went slowly, the only vehicles ‘speeding’ – probably up to 60km/h – were big passenger buses with their much better suspension.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Thanks to Google Earth we can find the place where the bridge had washed away. Here’s the new bridge and new road on the right, with the old road on the left where we crossed the drift (yellow arrow) and that beautiful tree (red arrow and top picture ) that we rested under. The long red mud scar is a new road and new bridge that wasn’t there back then.

Then we got to Tsavo! I’d wanted to visit Tsavo since I was ten years old, and read books by Bernhard Grzimek and others! Well, here I was, thirty years later! Yavuyavu! Fahari!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Yavuyavu! Fahari! – Joy, happiness, yes!!

Redfoot, the 1979 Land Rover

Aitch knew a doctor in PMB who “did up” Land Rovers. That got me thinking . . .

To my amazement my partners Lello, Yoell & Stoute were NOT HUGELY enthusiastic as I twisted their arms to go in as equal shareholders! Even when I told them that, besides the good doctor, it had only one previous owner (strategically omitting to say that owner had been the old KwaZulu Homeland Police Force).

But eventually they saw the light and agreed, good partners that they are, and we became the proud consortium owners of a handpainted 1979 hole-in-the-floor manual 4X4 long wheelbase Series III station wagon-type 5-door Land Rover. White.
It was fitted with a Ford Essex V6 three litre engine on new birdshit-welded mountings and painted white with an old brush. The wheel rims were painted red with the same brush, from which its name Redfoot. Did I mention handpainted?

Well, we ended up putting three engines into ole Redfoot, and it went up Sani once, to Ladysmith once as 8-seater transport (Prem took it to wedding), Yoell used it once and never again; Soutar used it once or twice.

Andre vd Merwe from PE thought he’d buy it but his wife Sue made him turn back NOW after only a few km’s and said he would buy it “Over Her Deceased Corpse”. A Canadian optometrist used it to get to a clinic where he did a volunteer stint in the Valley of 1000 Hills in KwaZulu Natal. He brought it back smoking – he didn’t really get the “stick shift” thing, nor the “clutch” thing. That was one of the new engines.

Spent a total of R25 000 on it in all and sold it for R5 000 – with relief! Not a runaway success story was Redfoot, but I think my partners exaggerate when they say I promised them an ‘investment opportunity’!

BUT never forget: When we went up Sani with an Isuzu 4X4 pickup and a Toyota 4X4 pickup and a Nissan 4X4 pickup, what happened? They all very boringly flew up the pass with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for breath and a radiator top-up, BUT!! _ everyone had their photos taken next to Redfoot!

See, driving a pickup you look like you’re going to work; but driving a Landrover you look like you’re going on an expedition! From which you might not return!!

The three more capable - but less photogenic - bakkies
– here come the more capable but less photogenic bakkies –
Redfoot Sani crop-001
– the posing

~~~oo0oo~~~

Slightly disconcerting: As Redfoot was catching its breath and airing its brakes halfway down, two nuns breezed past us, chatting gaily, in a 2X4 bakkie, and waved at us. Bitches.

Must have 4X4

We only got stuck four times. Once on the beach at Lake Malawi and three times on or near beaches in Moçambique.

In Malawi I got out to let down my tyres but a group of people from nearby ran up: “No, no. Don’t. We’ll push you out!”
Turns out they were Bahá’í Faith folks having a picnic on a day of religious significance to them (maybe the Birth of the Báb in 1819?). They believe in World peace. Me too, brothers! World peace, a friendly push and not having to re-inflate my tyres is what I believe in! Handshakes and good wishes all round.

All three times in Moz we didn’t have long to wait and a guy rolled up in a Land Rover or a Land Cruiser, stopping in front of us and shaking his head pityingly in his tight khaki shorts. “You really must have 4X4” he’d say and I’d agree and ooh and aah about his rugged vehicle. Then he’d pull us out chop-chop, tell us where they had been, tell us where NOT to go (and make that route sound so exciting that we’d sometimes go exactly there!) and drive away still shaking his head.

I reckon if we had gone in a 4X4 we would have missed out on some good advice** and on meeting some friendly people!

Image

I blogged about our trip here:

https://onsafariwithabushman.wordpress.com/

~~~oo0oo~~~

** mainly: ‘You can’t drive here in that thing!’