On honeymoon in America in 1988 we saw lots of ducks! America has so much water; In the Everglades, Yosemite, the Puget Sound, Wyoming and Cape Cod we went looking for water – rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, islands and sea inlets – and saw plenty of waterbirds, including thirty species of swans, geese and ducks. Being from Africa, the specials I was really looking out for were the swans – we saw Trumpeter and Mute – and the eider ducks – we saw the Common Eider.
But there was another special duck we really wanted to see! As huge fans of the Pygmy Goose in Africa, we noticed it had a rival: The Harlequin Duck. What fabulous little birds:
I was reminded of this by a great post on DailyKos, where I learnt (a lot) more about the Harlequin Duck:
“I remain in awe of this plucky little duck and its amazing life history. I think of Harlequins as “feathered salmon” — making these epic lateral migrations from the ocean to inland freshwater streams to breed, similar to the upstream migration of salmon to freshwater spawning habitats. After pair-bonding at the coast, the male Harlequin follows the female inland to her natal stream, just as adult salmon home to the stream of their birth. Along whitewater streams within old-growth forests, the female selects a well-concealed nest site in a tree cavity, on a stump, or on a small cliff. Once she lays her clutch of 5-6 eggs, the male departs for molting grounds on the coast, leaving the female to incubate and raise the brood alone. In late summer, the female and her brood migrate together to the coast to ride out the storms of winter. What a life!”
We saw our Harlequin Ducks off beautiful Orcas Island while lurking naked in a hot tub overlooking an inlet to the Puget Sound.
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.
What started out as a routine roof inspection has morphed into a general sprucing up at 10 Elston Place. Geoffrey Cholmondeley Caruth esq. famous painter, builder, redecorator, raconteur, empire-nostalgic, makeover artiste and paddler, came over and made some suggestions and we ended up deciding to fix the roof, bargeboards and fascia boards and paint them; fix the windows and paint; replace the old gutters with aluminium gutters; Almost forgotten in the mix was my second main aim: To catch my rainwater; We’ll add a 5 000l tank to catch the rainwater off the garage roof; Oh, and we’ll also add a door to the flatlet; fix a door frame and paint four doors.
Especially paint four doors! I’ve been wanting to paint these doors a proper deep cobalt blue for a long time. A blue to match Aitch’s blue kitchen wall back at River Drive!
I wasn’t brave enough to paint a wall such a blue, but two outside doors was my kick for touch. And the colour blue the doors have been for nine years is fine, but not right; The first blue Geoff showed by painting half one door was way better, but still not quite right.
Then he got it: The right blue. I call it Deep Cobalt Blue, or (as he has traces of Pommy in his veins) British Racing Blue. Above we have the old blue and the better blue. But wait till you see the Right Blue: Deep Cobalt Blue!
. . . to be continued . . .
. . getting closer. I showed Geoffrey a pic of the old 1999 kitchen blue vs the sample. Also I described the blue of a cuckoo-shrike I had seen in bright sunlight in Mkhuze . .
. . and he came back with the right blue:
I got my blue.
So we moved onto door knobs. I asked Sir Geoffalot for good outdoor knobs, not the el cheapos that hurt my lily-white hands. You’ll get only the best, he assured me. They look great! Are they definitely outdoor quality? I checked with the master designer. Absolutely, saith he, they come with our extended warranty:
Fourteen Days. Partly guaranteed. As long as it doesn’t rain.
Ah, well. He bribes me with good muffins for morning coffee.
And so we carried on! Now the one cottage wall is being painted. Oy! I said to Geoffroy the Pom GCMG, I still don’t have my water tank!
We’re victims of Mission Creep, Fauntleroy the Master Pom replied airily.
Aitch needed a break and Barbara Jeff, LindiLou and Robbie agreed to have the kids on their Umvoti Villa farm. So off we went to a luxury stay in the Cathedral Peak Hotel. The breast cancer had spread to liver and bones and the treatments she opted for were severe. Here was a break from the punishing rounds of chemo. October 2010.
Trish went on some short walks. I went on a few longer ones and some bike rides.
Shepherds’ cottages in Lesotho are often quite primitive affairs, used itinerantly as their flocks graze in that area; then moving on to pastures new, where – especially in winter – a new shelter may be built, or an old one re-roofed with available grass or shrubs.
We enjoyed their hospitality there when we went up to celebrate the new chef at the castle above serve his first formal meal. A lovely experience!
Aitch thought she’d do nursing after school; very soon found out that wasn’t her, so she tried blood confusion. Well, that’s what I would say and she’d correct me: ‘Transfusion, Koos!’ Bit better, but then she discovered cardiovascular perfusion. Now that she regarded as a career! She loved it.
About ten years later she left for her first job in the private sector, pharmaceutical sales. 1985 – the year I met her. She excelled in sales. Soon I was reaping the benefit. One of her first rewards was a trip to Phinda private game reserve.
Soon after, we got married. I mean, hello-o . .
Phinda Fauna and Flora
Phinda Private Game Reserve is home to an incredible diversity of mammals. Predators like cheetah, leopard and lion are tracked on a daily basis and visitors stand extremely good chances of seeing them. The territorial white rhino favour waterholes and wallows. Herds of elephant and buffalo move throughout the reserve and are easily spotted
An impressive 378 bird species are recorded. Rudd’s apalis, Neergaard’s sunbird and pink-throated twinspot are endemic to the Maputaland region. Lemon-breasted canary, southern banded snake-eagle and grey waxbill are characteristic of the coastal plain. Among resident birds in the Sand Forest are Narina trogon, African broadbill and square-tailed drongo.
Kosi Bay is a wonderful place and the campsites are superb. Good birding and great habitat. It’s an estuary system comprising of four lakes – Amanzimnyama (dark waters), Nhlange (reeds), Mpungwini and Makhawulani – the system is connected by meandering channels and fringed wetlands before it runs into the Indian Ocean via a shallow channel and estuary. Kosi is one of the most beautiful and pristine lake systems on the African coast. A boat excursion from Lake Nhlange to Lake Makhawulani is a scenic meander through the reed channels, offering an opportunity to snorkel along the mangrove banks,.
So if you want the full Kosi experience you ideally need a boat. Fortunately for us, on one of our three trips there in 2002 / 2003 good friend Greg Bennett lent us his boat. The freedom this gave us, plus the knowledge of the area provided by a local guide made all the difference.
Jon Taylor joined us. His RAV4 was feeling intimidated by my mighty kombi, so we kindly let it do a little work . .
Driving through the beautiful Eastern Free State you see many flat-topped sandstone kopjes like these. But suddenly you say, ‘What’s on top of that one? It’s a CASTLE! Can’t be. But it is!’
Truth is, you knew it would be there – as you’ve been invited to visit it – to be at the dress rehearsal dinner, where the resident chef is going to present his first full meal to a small group of discerning – and two not-so-discerning – guests, courtesy of King and Queen of Destiny Castle, Mike and Denyse! So like the Grand Old Duke of York, you drive up to the top of the hill . .
. . where you’re welcomed and taken inside, up the spiral staircase, past the knight in shining armour, to an antechamber where the drinking can begin . . see the thickness of the castle walls! We’ll easily withstand a siege here.
On to dinner, where Aitch and I feed the kids first so that they can be asleep when the ribaldry begins. Once they’ve had their fill we shoot two bears, wrap them in the skins and soon they’re snoring.
Let the feasting begin!
Bottles are smashed open and revelry ensues . .
Common ground is found: Hey! We’re both bald! No I’m not! Oh, now I’m not . .
For once, it seems I was the photographer. After dessert we repair to the rooftop to gaze at the heavens through a telescope, and drink another toast to life, to life, l’chaim!
Good friends, great hospitality, lovely food – and of course, lots of vino!
. . and so to bed
What a stunning amazing place – a dream started by someone decades earlier, then realised by Mike and Denyse Fogg.
I’m guessing the ZF on the pics is Zena Fogg – thanks Zeens!!
There’s a lovely old sandstone farmhouse in the Lotheni Valley, one of the Drakensberg / uKhahlamba’s beautiful valleys. We had some great adventures with good friends and our kids up there.
As an adult retreat it’s our idea of paradise: no electricity, no cellphone reception, no wifi. Peace. Plenty of hot water, a gas stove to cook and boil water on, candlelight, a lovely fireplace, cozy inside. Luxury. Long-suffering friends the Adlams, Taylors and Abercrombies, all blissfully child-free, would tolerate the disruption our two – who were aged from about one to about thirteen over the ten years we went there – could cause. I think they loved it! I know they loved the brats and were very kind to them.
A great spot for fishing, birding, botanising or sitting with a G&T and gazing into the distance . .
Adventure in Yellowwood Cave
It had been years since I’d slept out in the ‘Berg and I was pleased when Gayle and Grant readily agreed to spend a night in a cave in 2011. Aitch was feeling a bit weak, so decided to stay in the comfort of the cottage. It was May already, so getting a bit chilly.
Settling down for the night on the hard floor of the cave I gazed out through the yellowwood tree branches at the night sky, ablaze with a million stars. I was just thinking ‘It’s been too long, this is the life! I’m in paradise!’ when a small voice piped up next to my ear, ‘Daddy I don’t like it here.’ Oh, well, she may not repeat the exercise, but I doubt she’ll ever forget it. Jessie lay on my one side. Tom on the other side in a double sleeping bag we shared. At least they were warm.
Getting Bolder on Bikes
Fun with Aitch
Once Ma took the kids off up the mountain trail, to give the fishing and reading adults ‘a piece of quiet,’ as TomTom used to say for peace and quiet.
Another Piece of Quiet
We snuck the kids off to have breakfast one morning in the kombi soon after they woke, to allow the adults to sleep in. Good birding opportunity, too.
Fresh out of that Hole in Wyoming we landed in Seattle and immediately headed for the hills. Or the sound. Puget Sound. I’m a bit allergic to cities, so we picked up a little rental car – would you believe a Toyota Tercel, with all-wheel drive and six forward gears . . what? I’ve said this before? OK, I did enjoy those cars.
We drove onto a ferry in Anacortes and disembarked on Orcas Island. We looked for a place to stay. I had something in mind – the thing I usually have in mind: cheap. And we found it, right on the other side of the island. Ah, this is good value, I thought. Aitch was fine with it. She liked the laid-back friendly approach they had. We were determined to avoid boring same-old places and anyway, she was always a great sport and tolerated me and my frugality. Hey, it was a lo-ong honeymoon. We had to stre-etch things. This was week four of our 1988 honeymoon.
Years later I read a Lonely Planet review: There are resorts, and then there’s Doe Bay, eighteen miles east of Eastsound on the island’s easternmost shore – as lovely a spot as any on Orcas. By far the least expensive resort in the San Juans, Doe Bay has the atmosphere of an artists’ commune cum hippie retreat cum New Age center. Accommodations include campsites, a small hostel with dormitory and private rooms, and various cabins and yurts, most with views of the water. There’s also a natural-foods store, a café, yoga classes ($10), an organic garden and special discounts for guests who arrive by bike. The sauna and clothing-optional hot tub are set apart on one side of a creek.
Ours was a cabin. We paid $10 for the night. Camping and the dormitory were cheaper, but hey, I’m no cheapskate. Our cabin was called Decatur and was luxuriously made of packing cases and a double layer of plastic sheeting in the windows. Cosy and warm. Seriously.
We’d seen a sign ‘Hot Tub’ on the way in, so we went looking. Walking down the path to where the bath house overlooked the Pacific, the sign said ‘suits optional’ and we realised that meant bathing suits, so we happily hopped in naked as we were the only people around.
Getting ready to leave, Aitch froze and I started laughing: voices, coming down the path! Aitch ducked back underwater, as we were joined by two couples who shucked their clothing and joined us. The view as they clambered down the steep metal stairs! You almost had to avert your eyes. We had a long chat, they were from Seattle and ‘South Africa? Optometrist? Did we know Rocky Kaplan?’ Well, actually I did know of him. ‘Well he has reduced my short-sightedness so much; I’m now only wearing a three eyeglasses!’ OK.
By the time they left up the steep metal stairs – the view! you almost had to avert your eyes – and Aitch could finally emerge from the steam, she was wrinkled like a prune.
Then it was back on the ferry, island-hopping our way back to the mainland. Next we were headed for Texas, the Gulf of Mexico! New birds and warmer climes. Except we wouldn’t get there . . .
In 1297 the Gordon family arrived at Lochinvar from Berwickshire. They established a castle on an island in the lake – or loch, as this was in Scotland. Lochinvar.
In 1908 another Scot, Mr Horne, a cattle farmer from Botswana, arrived on the banks of the Kafue river in Northern Rhodesia long before it became Zambia. The local chief, Hamusonde, gave? sold? him some land – or did Horne simply claim it? – or did the colonial government give it to him? He registered it on behalf of the British South Africa Company.
Known locally as ‘the Major,’ Horne built a big old red brick farmhouse. He called it Lochinvar and it is now known as the old Lochinvar Ranch homestead.
Previously little of this land had been used for farming because of the wild game here, including lion and leopard. To convert the land into a cattle ranch, ‘Major’ Horne set about exterminating the local wildlife in a ruthless program of annihilation. Populations of sable, roan, eland, warthog and wildebeest were wiped out, as well as all the predators he could find. The last lion in the area is thought to have been killed in 1947.
In 1966 the Zambian government claimed the land back and declared it a nature reserve.
In 2003 our little Swanie family drove past a sign that said Lochinvar National Park. As we’d never heard of it, we decided to go and explore this place. What say, Aitch? I asked. Go for it, she said, as she almost always did. Around 40km of rough road later we arrived at the gate as darkness fell.
‘Sorry, but you can’t go in,’ said the friendly soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but we have to,’ said I. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so please hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man.’ Back he came – ‘Sorry, but the main man says the gate is closed.’ ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough,’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping rough next to a village.’ Off he went and back he came: ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside,’ he said.
‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars in the headlights.
Lochinvar National Park
Later, we found out more about the park: In 1966 Lochinvar Ranch, as it was then called, was bought by the Zambian government with the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, and converted into a Game Managed Area; The extra protection afforded to the wildlife by this designation was not enough to prevent its numbers from diminishing further, and so in 1972 Lochinvar was upgraded to a National Park. Subsequently the park has been designated by the WWF as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’, and a WWF team has been working with the local people on a project to manage the park on a sustainable basis for the benefit of both the people and the wildlife. There are a lot of settlements around Lochinvar, and local people still come into the park – as they have done for centuries. Many were unhappy with Lochinvar Ranch – and have always felt that this is their land. They still come to gather wild foods and catch fish, and drive their cattle from one side to the other; so although major conservation efforts are being made in Lochinvar, building up the diversity and number of game species here is not an easy task.
We approached Lochinvar from Monze, on the Livingstone–Lusaka Road – about 287km from Livingstone and 186km from Lusaka. Directions: The road that heads northwest from Monze, signposted for Namwala, is just north of the grain silos on the Lusaka side of town. It passes Chongo village and forks about 8km afterwards. Ask local advice to find this junction if necessary. Take the right fork, or you will end up in Kafue. Follow this road for about 10km and then turn left at another sign. It is then about 14km to the park gate. This last section of the track twists and turns, but all the tracks that split off eventually rejoin each other and lead to the park. There are also a few more signs so, if you become unsure, ask a local person and they’ll show you the way. The gate to Lochinvar is about 48km from Monze. Most of the camps depicted on the old maps are now disused, and ‘some of the roads now seem as if they were figments of a cartographer’s imagination.’
The original state-run, red-brick Lochinvar Lodge, built in the colonial style of 1912, lies abandoned. There are always ‘plans to renovate’ this dilapidated, crumbling old building, but it would take a lot of work and money. Until enough people come to Lochinvar to make a second lodge economically viable, it’s likely to remain an evocative old ruin. As the state of the park gradually deteriorated, the lodge was put up for tender to private safari operators in 1996. Star of Africa agreed to take the lodge, as part of a ‘package’ of old government properties around the country. They first planned to build a floating lodge, but settled on a luxury tented camp which they called Lechwe Plains.
Camping rough in 2003, the campsite handpump had water, but the long-drop toilet and cold shower were out of action. We were happy to be inside the park, though and were equipped to be fully self-supporting.
Although the large herds of Kafue lechwe can be spectacular, the birds are the main attraction at Lochinvar – 428 species have been recorded there! The best birding is generally close to the water, on the floodplain. We drove everywhere in our kombi, but we since read: ‘It’s probably best to walk. It’s vital to avoid driving anywhere that’s even vaguely damp on the floodplain as your vehicle will just slip through the crust and into the black cotton soil – which will probably spoil and extend your stay in equal measure.’ Sometimes ignorance is bliss.