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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
(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.
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.
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) (update: She made it to England) and going strong. 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.
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!
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!
As a colonial, I had long contemplated making an expedition into the regions north of the Cape Colony and Natal, but not until that year was I able to see my way clear to accomplish it. At that time the Cape Colony was not so well known as it is now, and Natal much less; more particularly beyond its northern boundary, over the Drakensberg mountains, for few besides the Boers had ever penetrated beyond the Free State and Transvaal; and when on their return journey to Maritzburg, to sell their skins and other native produce, I had frequent conversations with them, the result was that nothing was known of the country beyond their limited journeys. This naturally gave me a greater desire to visit the native territories, and, being young and full of energy, wishing for a more active life than farming, although that is active during some part of the year, I arranged my plans and made up my mind to visit these unknown regions, and avail myself of such opportunities as I could spare from time to time to go and explore the interior.
That’s a quote from Andrew A. Anderson in his book “Twenty-Five Years in a Waggon in South Africa – Sport and Travel in South Africa”. * He started his trek in August 1863.
So the answer I suppose, is: As long as we’ve been here.
Well, as colonials we had also long contemplated making an expedition into the regions north, so in 2003 we got off our butts and went.
Back to our Andrew A Anderson: He left Natal and sallied into the Vrystaat, stopping first at a soon-to-be-famous town.
‘The great change in climate and vegetation is very perceptible on leaving fair Natal for the cold, dreary, open, and inhospitable Free State. Harrysmith, in 1863, was a poor, dull, sleepy, town, only supported and kept alive by a few transport riders on their way to the Transvaal and the small villages of the Free State.
‘I remained two days to gain news and information about the locality, and the various roads to the north; game being plentiful in all directions, principally blesbok and springbok, wildebeest or gnu, quaggas, hartebeest, and others. The ostrich was also plentiful. I decided to follow the game up, taking the advice of my Natal friend, who had recently returned from his shooting excursion. I took the road leading east, and less frequented than the others, which eventually leads to the newly-formed town of Wakkerstroom.
Later, Anderson relates a story he heard – second hand! – pinch of salt, I reckon:
‘As an instance of their boldness at times, for, generally speaking, they are cowardly, the following was related by Mr Botha, a respectable, educated Boer farmer, and is quite true. It happened to his uncle.‘
“Journal.—Apes river, between Pretoria and Waterborg. Arrived at the Outspan, remained until next night at twelve, then started the waggon off on the springbok flats (twenty miles without water). The party consisted of L. Botha, P. Venter, and the servants, one waggon with span of sixteen oxen, one cart and two horses. Venter and Botha remained at the Outspan place with the cart and horses and a bastard Hottentot boy called Mark, twelve years old.
“The waggon had been gone half-an-hour when they heard the rattling of wheels in a manner which made them think that the oxen must have had a ‘scrick’ (scare) from a lion, as that place is full of them. Mark, who was sleeping alongside the fire, was called up to bring the horses. The lazy fellows there won’t do anything themselves*, not even when there is a ‘scrick’ from a lion. They were soon going to render assistance to the waggon, going at a jog trot (even then they did not hurry*), when Mark, who was on the front seat, called out, ‘Baas, de esel byt de paarde’ (‘The donkey bites the horse’), and immediately the cart stopped, and a lion was seen clasped round the fore-quarters of the favourite horse. Before the gun was taken up, down went the horse; meanwhile the gun was levelled at the lion, but the cap missed. Another was searched for, but it would not fit, as it was small and the nipple a large military one (so like a Boer!*). The lion now was making his meal off the horse, lying at his ease alongside the splash-board, eating the hind-quarter, Botha trying to split a cap to make it fit in vain; so Venter took the gun, and Botha made up powder with spittle to make it stick, and Venter was to take aim and Botha to do the firing with a match. Just as it ignited, the lion sprang right into the cart between them, and gave Venter a wound on the head and scratched his hand with his claw, and bit off a piece of the railing, sending the gun and Mark spinning out of the cart, and with that force that the lion fell down behind the cart. He then came round, as fast as he could, on to the dead horse, and continued his feed; but, not in the same cool manner, but making a growling, like a cat with meat when a dog is near, and now and then giving an awful roar, which made the cart, men, and all shake again. The other horse, which is a miracle, stood quite still, never attempting to budge an inch. After the lion had fed he went away, and Botha got out, intending to unharness the remaining horse, but no sooner was he on the ground than he heard the lion coming on again at full speed. He threw himself into the cart, and the lion stopped in front of the living horse, which tried to escape but was held fast by the pole-chain after breaking the swingle-trees. The lion gave one jump on to the horse, and with one bite behind the ears killed him. Botha was lying on the front seat, with his legs hanging down alongside the splash-board, when the lion came and licked the sweat of his horse off his trousers, but did not bite, Botha remaining quite still, which was the only chance, in the dog-cart from ten o’clock, when first attacked, until near daybreak, when the lion left;”
Saith Anderson: ‘This is a most remarkable case of boldness in a lion, when not wounded.’
*Anderson’s contempt for the Boers was typical of Poms. This arrogance led to the ‘mighty British Empire’ suffering a crashing defeat against the Boers in the First Anglo Boer War in 1880.
As you know, Duncan is project manager for Beks Ndlovu’s company African Bush Camps. He is currently refurbishing the camp we stayed at in Jan 2010 (Somalisa in SE Hwange). This week Duncan wrote to Beks:
“FYI…Jurassic is causing a nuisance in camp. Broke into the new storeroom to get cabbages and potatoes. Then did the same to the new Acacia kitchen on Monday night. I believe quite a lot of damage and refused to be chased away”.
Our project manager who has spent many years in the bush building safari camps sent me a message tonight whilst I was on vacation in Australia.
Jurassic by the way is an elephant that has a seriously warped sense of humor at Somalisa. He eats guests’ soap and toothpaste and refuses to go by our general ground rules . . . He has a mind of his own!
I can’t help but reflect that today we have these encounters with wildlife and here is what I sent back to our projects manager:
“What fun and games… You are amongst very few people in this world that can tell that kind of story? Do you think your grandchildren might have the same stories in years to come?
Please kindly ask Jurassic to understand we have a new camp to open in less than a week and since he is family he needs to understand FHB ( family holds back)!”
We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave the dentist and US paddler put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; two non-paddlers, Jurie the cameraman, Steve Fourie and me.
And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.
Then they turned on the tap at 12noon and we could paddle (the full flow gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!!)
I’m in orange.
Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:
The Middle Ocoee
The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.
Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip. Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile.
Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”.
An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom. Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here. Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid.
Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river. Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco.
At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.
Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom. Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear. Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as
Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride.
Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.
Lunchtime high on the Momfo cliffs overlooking a great bend in the Mfolosi river. Our guides lit a fire and began to prepare our lunch. We settled down for a well-deserved break after the hike up the hill.
From our high vantage point we had already seen a buffalo in the sandy river bed, a rhino on the far bank and a lioness hiding behind the reeds on the opposite bank. As we watched she stalked across the wide river bed towards some zebra. She lay down and waited once she was on the near bank. A few more lionesses and a lion walked across the sand to our left, crouching and flanking the zebra, who panicked and dashed off straight towards the first lioness. She pounced in a cloud of dust and she and her target disappeared behind the thorn bush. We strained to see what happened. Did they get their lunch?
After a while they all walked out looking a bit disgusted with themselves. So no, probably not.
While scanning with my telescope I took a good look at the rhino and called out excitedly to the rest. Hey, come and look! It’s uBhejane, not another white rhino like the many we’ve seen. We all had a good look and confirmed the jizz and the hooked lip of the rarely-seen black rhino. What a sighting!
Scoping well left of the river up an adjacent valley I noticed baboons in two sycamore figs, the mfolosi tree that give the river and the park its name. Suddenly they started barking and swearing in fluent baboon-vloek, and a magnificent leopard appeared in view, staring up into the tree above him. I got the scope on him and called the others. He was most obliging and waited till all nine of us, including the two rangers had a good look before flicking his long tail and bounding up the tree, to increased pandemonium from the residents. We heard loud shrieks, even ruder words and then much barking and squealing. I watched for a long while to see if I could spot the leopard again. But we didn’t find out if he got his lunch either.
So as far as lunches go, we can only confirm that we definitely ate ours, and that it was the delicious traditional huge white bread sarmies with butter, tomato and raw onion with salt and black pepper, washed down with freshly-brewed Five Roses tea. Mmm mmmm!
Four of the Big Five for lunch. On foot! Actually, sitting on our bums at lunchtime. What a day! And the rhino was the real Big Five member, not the more placid white rhino. The big five idea originated in the days when they were considered the five most dangerous animals to hunt. The days when the way you “got” the big five was to kill them, not just to see them. We joked as we packed up to walk back to base camp that we now needed to see an ele on the way home to round off our lunch. Well, we did. It was almost ridiculous. But thrilling.
And that was not all . . .
The next day our walk took us on a different route. As we crossed the low Mfolosi in the blazing sun we asked our guides if we could swim. ‘Well, you can wallow,’ they said, ‘It’s not deep enough to swim.’ So wallow we did and that’s how we came to spot the Big Six, adding the rare Pink-faced Ceramic-white Freshwater Whale to our tally of wondrous things spotted in that very special place, the wonderful Mfolosi Wilderness Area.
The next day we walked upon this sleeping pride, loafing on the riverbed. They scattered when they saw us, the male on the right leading the flee-ing, tail tucked ‘tween his legs!
baboon-vloek – impolite baboon dialect used when worried
The Umfolosi Wilderness is a special place. Far too small, of course, but its what we have. I’m reading Ian Player’s account of how Magqubu Ntombela taught him about wilderness and Africa and nature. The idea of a wild place where modern man could go to escape the city and re-discover what Africa was like
My first trail was ca 1985, when I went with Dusi canoeing buddies Doug Retief, Martin & Marlene Loewenstein and Andre Hawarden. We were joined by a 19yr-old lass on her own, sent by her father, who added greatly to the scenery:
A good sport – took our gentle teasing well
We went in my kombi and some highlights I recall were:
Doug offering “bah-ronies” after lunch one day. We were lying in the shade of a tree after a delicious lunch made by our guides: Thick slices of white bread, buttered and stuffed with generous slices of tomato and onion, washed down with tea freshly brewed over a fire of Thomboti wood. Doug fished around in his rucksack and gave us each a mini Bar One (“bah-ronie”, geddit?). Best tasting chocolate I ever ate, spiced as it was with hunger and exertion.
After the 5-night trail we went for a game drive. Needing a leak after a few bitterly cold brews I left the wheel with the kombi trundling along amiably and walked to the side door of the kombi, ordering Hawarden to take over the driving. Not good at taking orders, he looked at me, waited till I was in mid-stream out of the open sliding door and leant over with his hiking stick and pressed the accelerator. The driverless kombi picked up speed and I watched it start to veer off-road, necessitating a squeezed premature end to my leak and a dive for the wheel.
Thanks a lot, Hawarden! Pleasure, he murmured mildly. Hooligan!
30yrs later Andre Hooligan Hawarden wrote:
“Hey, remember that cool walk we did in the game reserve when you had the tape recorder and we attracted the owl? Then next day we lay on the bank of the Umlofosi river and watched the vultures coming down for a lunch time drink and a snooze?
That was a wonderful experience. I’ve never forgotten it.”