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~~~

Safari 2003

On our trip up north in 2003 Aitch and five year old Jessie kept a diary; when they got home they made this picture album as a memento of the trip. Enjoy the slideshow!

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause a slide, click in the top right corner. To speed it up or to go back, use the arrows).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Simes’ Cottage in Lotheni

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.

– Simes’ Cottage – . Lotheni valley -. in Ukahlamba –

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.

– we set off to overnight in Yellowwood Cave –

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.

– pic from drakensberghikes.com – thanks –

Getting Bolder on Bikes

– wheee! –

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.

– off they go – Aitch takes our kids on a walk – with her camera as always –
– peace descends on earth – goodwill too –
– Aitch says Shuck your clothes and jump in! Mud bath Simes Cottage 2007 –
– Really Mom? – Yes, Go ON! Jump in! – OK!! –
– What? Go back now? – – Just like this? – Yes, off you go! Just don’t go indoors! –
– Dad cleans up apres mud bath

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.

– breakfast away from the cottage where addleds are sleeping – Jess takes blankets, Mom takes food – Afterwards, Jess drives back –

Whipping the Water into a Froth

– Simes’ Cottage Fishermen – please be polite – don’t work out the Hours-Per-Fish! –

Hiking

– Hike Lotheni –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lochinvar Park in Zambia

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? 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 we 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 always. Around 40km of rough road later we arrived at the gate as darkness fell.

– Lochinvar? Never heard of it – a sign on the twisty way to the park –
– a more recent pic of the gate –

‘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.

– Aitch and Jessie’s scrapbook –
– Aitch always had stuff to keep the kids happy – here, chalk and a rubber blackboard –
better pic of the lechwe – we saw them with binocs, but our little camera lens had them as distant specks! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mkhuze Peach

Date: 13 January 2013

We stopped in at the Hluhluwe Spar to buy provisions on our way further north to camp in Mkhuze. Busy, crowded, more basic than city Spars, we gather our stuff and pay at the till.

As we cross the road to the bakkie, Tom looks up at me, lugging his Spar plastic bags:
“You realise you were the only peach in there, Dad?” he asks. “People were thinking ‘What’s that umLungu doing in here?’ he says.

Actually, I think they were wondering why that umLungu takes so much cheek from that umfana.

~~~oo0oo~~~

umLungu – dignified older person

umfana – precocious, insolent, shorter, younger person

Mkhuze_2.jpg

Here’s that stunning hawk moth on my coffee flask again: StopPress! I now know its a Sundowner Moth, likely Sphingomorpha chlorea, thanks to Christeen Grant’s lovely blog.

Mkhuze hawk moth Apr'14

Saw twelve animal species (specials were banded mongooses and painted dogs) and 65 birds, but very few pics of those! Instead we have a TomTom selfie! – or rather ‘ussie’ . .

. . while I’m trying to drink my coffee!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Cape Vidal Camping

So I took these –

Cape Vidal Apr17 (50)

. . to here –

and when they saw these harmless creatures –

they squealed and ran out of the campsite shouting “I’m taking an uber home!”

Cape Vidal Apr17 (71)

We saw kudu, nyala, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, mongoose, zebra, warthog and hyena. Sindi pipes up on a drive: “There are no animals here!” She meant we hadn’t seen an elephant or a lion.

’twas like casting pearls before swine . . . .

iSimangaliso Sindi Apr17.jpg

They had a ball.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

The Old Pont

It’s 2015 and I’m on the banks of the Umtamvuna on the border of the old Transkei  and old Natal. It’s paradise. There’s a broad deep river, a great sunset and the sounds of herons, guineas and francolin settling for the night. Also a black cuckoo complaining he’s feeling indisposed.

All of it drowned out by my camping neighbours from BoksburgBenoniBrakpan whose fokkins are matched by the  local South Coast chicks’ fuckings. Loud music. LOUD. Did we ever play it this loud? Well yes, but it wasn’t a mixture of much-too-current  and rooi rokkies, bakgats, Meidjie en Lola.

‘Kinell!!

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At least my three 13yr-olds are in their element. They’re at the riverside on the wooden peir catching Africa, real crabs and imaginary fish.

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My second double G&T from the bar is helping, also a good book.

But it’s hard not to eavesdrop. One oke has just chooned a chick he met that evening she’s a fokkin’ pussy and another chick complained confidentially to her mate that “Mandy’s a problem when she gets drunk: She takes off all her clothes”. Obviously entirely a chicks-only problem, I think, peeping out of my tent.

The next night the gazebo next to our tent on the opposite side gets going. I meet a swaying Kehle nearly my age in the ablution block and over the communal urinal he tells me that he’s from ‘Toti and his wife works in Umthatha and they’re gathering with family and isn’t it *hic* WONDERFUL how peaceful and quiet it is here on the Umtamvuna compared to the din of the city *hic*? I would agree with him except I can hardly hear him as his party has a massive boombox thundering deep bass  while the ladies of the party are singing and ululating to an entirely different choon. The car is playing modern while the aunties are shouting traditional.

Squeaking through every now and then is the paid lone guitarist at the camp pub on the far side of the gazebo. He’s doing stuff I actually recognise – umlungu hits from the 70’s, but he’s losing the volume fight.

Later on the three 13yr-olds in our tent (I’m sleeping in the bakkie) get the giggles as they hear what’s happening around them.

Bloody hell! I’m looking forward to peace and quiet back in the city.

At least the nearby coast was peaceful:

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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!

Mkhuze Camping

Mkhuze with Jess-collage
– click on pic to see my jackal with a slit throat in the embers –

While I was pitching camp Jess came running to me with a horrified look on her face. She must have seen a snake or a leopard, I’m sure.

“DAD!!” she says breathlessly, horrified, stricken.

“DAD!! There’s no wifi here!!”

Her idea of hell.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Embarrassing note:
I am good at giving advice. If you ask me – actually you don’t even need to ask – I will tell you what the MOST IMPORTANT thing is to take camping.

The FIRST thing you pack when you go camping is a deck chair.

I know this cos Greg Bennett told me back in 1983 on my first Duzi Canoe Marathon. He said “Pete, you can forget everything else but take a deck chair. The most important comfort item you can take is your deck chair,”  he said.

I have since pontificated on this very often.

So on this trip to Mkhuze: I forgot the ducking feckchairs.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Happy Wanderers. Again. Like Boy Scouts.

Happy Wanderers.jpg

This time in winter. Tom loved it. Caught many small blacktail, karanteen, bronze bream, one shad and stayed on the rocks for hours. I had to fetch him and march him to the showers threatening not to feed him till he smelt civilised.

Jess and friend Jordi lay in their tent and watched videos. Could just as well have been at home. Then she asked to go home a day early, after four nights instead of five. Tom said fine so we got home today instead of tomorrow. Suits me.

When we got there Monday I found I had only forgotten the tent poles, the flysheet, the groundsheet, the kettle and the food, but otherwise we were Be Prepared. Like Boy Scouts.

So we ate at the restaurant, the girls slept in the back of the bakkie, Tom slept on the front seat and I slept under the stars. It rained, but I was warm despite my ear filling up. Tuesday I went home and fetched the above-mentioned and we were snug as bugs thereafter.
=======ooo000ooo=======

Steve:

Get the kids to put together a check list for next camping trip while the discomfort is still fresh in their memories…. Tape it to the inside of the bakkie. And put them in charge of “equipment”
Yeah right,
Just joking. my two would just roll their eyes…
(They both arrived last night on a flight from Auckland)

Ending the trip a day earlier – sounds familiar.
I think it happens when the home comforts beckon
Specially that new bathroom.

=======

Kathy:

Thats so funny ! We forgot our tentpoles too once and had to crash on some poor chalets carpet as it was 4 hours from home . All five of us . very embarressing . But you beat me here ! Nice fishing Tom , Leo would be so jealous . Those two must fish together one day . And you know , kids , there is dad – killing himself and sleeping in the rain and they wanna watch videos and go home early . I can picture mine saying that too . Id force them all to stay and we d pull faces at each other for 2 days . You re much wiser . We had this grim holiday in Port Alfred once where it rained nonstop and was freezing . Jacques got flu and depression and stayed in bed . I tortured the kids for a week until Jacques persuaded me to give up and go home . He drove back so fast and only stopped once for a sandwich – no peeing allowed . You win some , you lose some .

Wilderness Walk Mfolosi: The Big Six

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 shucked off our light daypacks and settled down for another ‘well-deserved’ break after our gentle amble up the hill.

The mighty Mfolosi River

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, King Fogg and I; and that’s how we came to spot the Big Six, adding the rare Pink-faced Ceramic-white Freshwater Mfolosi Beluga Whale to our tally of wondrous things spotted in that very special place, the wonderful Mfolosi Wilderness Area.

The sixth of the BIG SIX: Two whales emerge from a dip in the Mfolosi
– thankfully dressed again after our underpants wallow – the skin would have over-exposed the picture! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

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! They’ve learnt not to trust those dangerous upright primates.

~~~oo0oo~~~

baboon-vloek – impolite baboon dialect used when worried

Wilderness Walk – Mfolosi 1985

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:

What a beauty! 'Our' 19yr old D___ (Donna?); Martin Lowenstein on right

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.”

A Week in Mkhuze

We saw lots of bewilderbeast droppings and lots of bewilderbeasts – many with tiny calves, meals on wobbly hooves to the lions and cheetahs. The big male lion had helped himself to a giraffe calf, so fat pickings this summer. The lions were recently introduced to shake things up in Mkhuze, (four in Nov 2013 and four in 2014) so the edible animals are on high alert, muttering to each other ‘there goes the neighbourhood.’

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– wobbly hooves –
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– hmmm, I’ll have one of those! –
– impala nursery on the banks of Nsumu pan –
– ugh, I ate too much giraffe –

We watched two cheetah stalk the wildebeasts and then charge off out of sight. Friends saw the lionesses bring down a wildebeast calf right in front of them at the waterhole. Lots of square-lipped rhino and a beautiful hunting wasp, all yellow and black rugby jersey colours. Wonderful Mkhuze birdlife as always, 106 species, with cuckoo hawk, nicator, grey-headed bush shrike, wattled lapwing and pygmy kingfisher being my highlights.

Then at last: A hook-lipped rhino! He stood obligingly while we took pictures.

He just stood there as placid as anything. I had told Jess if we were lucky enough to see one we’d probly just get a glimpse, so she should be ready with her camera! So there’s another reason to take everything your parents say with a great big sack of cerebos.

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We had lovely weather, including rain, wind and too hot, but mostly perfect, as all the others were short duration and actually pleasant. It’s dry again, so the waterholes were busy. Three of the lady lions launched a run on a wildebees calf at the waterhole as I watched and the other voyeurs (among whom friend Geoff Kay) told of watching them kill and eat one the day before. Geoff had it on his camera. Old Geoff just the same: ‘You saw what? I saw better. You got what telescope? Mine’s longer. You saw an elephant? Last year I was here with Jurgen and we got charged by one.’ etc.
Actually we dipped on eles. Not one; and not a single turd neither. Not one. We drove 450km over the six days and the reward I offered of an ice cream to she who spotted an ele turd (not a whole ele, just a turd!) went unclaimed!
Reminded me of a Free State Reed-ism: “Not a leaf stirred. Not an elephant’s turd.”

~~~oo0oo~~~

– giraffe stereo –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Fishermen’s Tales

Two avid fishermen, Lungelo and me went down to the sea. Or to the Umtamvuna River at The Old Pont. Lungelo and I were not the avid ones. That was Tommy and Ryan, passionate, persevering pêcheurs.

20141218_145446 Fishermen in blue.

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Luxury accommodation on the banks of the Umtamvuna.

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Besides the river fishing I also took them to the rocks near the Port Edward lighthouse.

20141219_185433  After the rain the front recedes

Lovely sunsets and one rain squall – with the boys’ tent left wide open, so the second night they had a bit of a damp night. The fishermen latched on to many, many fish, most of them BIG and desirable (yeah, right!). But they landed far fewer – and smaller – ones. Crabs plundering their bait gave them hours of amusement. All but one fish (used for bait) survived their endeavours I’m pleased to say (pathetic bunny-hugger that I am. Or is that guppy-hugger?).

Mkhuze’s Great

Some things I love about Mkhuze:
Those dirt roads between the fever trees (there’s lotsa tar too, these days).
Few people.
Polite people even at a lion kill (‘After you! No, after YOU!’).
Lots of birds.

– Fever tree dirt track Mkhuze –

African time; African efficiency. We had electricity – at times, but not at our site, which I found out after I’d set up camp fully. Couldn’t test, as the generator only runs from 5pm to 10am – which is plenty, but you can’t find out if your site is working if you arrive when it’s not running. No problem, I set up a field kitchen 60m away from my site. We had water – at times. Even hot water at times. The bins had monkey- and baboon-proof lids – some of them.

FRIENDLY inefficient staff: Got any charcoal? Yes. Where? There. So you go and look again: fokol. Go back. Doesn’t seem to be any. Yes, it is there. Where? I show you. None. HAU!! It was here! Screech of laughter: Hau! So she goes and fetches extra from the stores, hosing herself at the fact that ‘Strue’s Bob, there wasn’t any when she thought there was!

At the waterhole a sexy young thing with a 400mm lens got chatting away to this 59yr old. She musta been 19 in the shade. Burbling away about look at that and watch here for the pygmy kingfisher and have you seen the lions behind that bush and the poor wildebees calf lost its mother and the lions nearly ate it and etc. Fairly unusual for a Seffrican she was. My 17yr old can seldom string two words together to a stranger!

Very little ranger or staff presence so the ous were up and out on game drives well before the meant-to-be time of 5am.

Patrick the ranger on a game drive in his open top Landie stopped me – he recognised us from two previous visits when we went on drives and walks with him – and asked ‘Where’s the boy?’ Remarkable really, as the one visit was in May and the other in 2009! I spose we do stand out a bit. I told him Tom thought he’d rather be eaten by a lion than endure two teenage girls for six days.
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
Note to self: There’s LOTS that needs fixing with your camping equipment!
I forgot the braai grid and couldn’t find one in six shops in Mkhuze village 18km away. I took the wrong gas bottle, didn’t fit. No problem, the girls got cold food* and hot tea – I had grabbed the electric kettle from the kitchen as I left home.

As always, the fridge worked a treat, so in the heat they got plenty of ice-cold drinks and water.

Next time I’m gonna be SO organised . . .
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
*Don’t feel sorry for them! They got some toasted sarmies from the Rhino Dino once or twice – and Phindile also made us one lekker breakfast.

Canada in a VW Bug

Larry drove me up to his home town Cobleskill NY from Shreveport in Louisiana. His sister Ginny was there and we camped our way northwards in a grey VW bug with a big U-Haul box on the roofrack.

Then Sherry Porter, twins Dottie and Dale Moffett and Aussie Jonathan Kneebone arrived In Cobleskill and I hopped into Sherry’s red VW bug (also with a big roofrack).

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Dottie and Sherry, Dale on right.

We roared off to Montreal, Ottawa (where we spotted Indira Ghandi on a state visit)

The Indian Prime Minister, Shrimati Indira Gandhi with His Excellency Mr. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, when he called on her in Ottawa June 18, 1973.

indira-ghandi

On to Kitchener/Waterloo, Sault St Marie and the Lake of the Woods, Quetico National Park.

We hired canoes and camping kit and paddled off for a planned two nights on the lake. We rushed back the next day with our tails between our legs after being attacked by clouds of  no-see-ems on the water by day and a zillion mozzies in our tent by night! Beautiful, though.

We spent one night in a converted railroad station. The track had been ripped up and the route was now a hiking/biking trail.

One night we stayed with friends. It was Friday and we were off to the pub. “I’ll Drive!” I shouted excitedly and foolishly (we were expressly banned from driving as exchange students). Reverse – BANG – oops! Thank goodness for huge metal fenders on Ford F250 pickup trucks! Damn! Embarrassing! Poor Sherry’s dubdub! Whatanidiot! Not like I could pay to fix it! Sherry was an absolute star about it – she was a star about everything. She was a genuine superstar was Sherry Porter.

Dottie, Sherry & Dale (plus me and Jonathan Kneebone) in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come! (Damage to car was me reversing)

Sometimes we simply pulled over and made ourselves comfortable in a quiet clearing off-road.

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada

Me, Dottie, Dale & Kneebone.

On to Manitoba, then south back to the USA into Minnesota – drove over the small Mississippi near its source, and on to Dubuque, Iowa.


Over the years I kept thinking I must look up Dottie. Eventually I found – in the newspaper of her hometown Ardmore Oklahoma – her obituary. Died suddenly at age 50.