Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.
We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;
Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.
All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.
Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!
One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.
After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:
A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!
Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body; – https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review – and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.
Greeff took the pic, cutting off the nose of the Lincoln to make sure he got my elbow in. The Lincoln is loaded and ready to take us to paddle the Ocoee River in Tennessee after a night at Dave Jones’ house in Atlanta. Dave is a military man, a dentist and an international paddler. We were there cos Chris Greeff is a military man, a dentist and an international paddler. Weirdos like that tend to stick together.
Here’s Herve on all fours studying my map of the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Willem van Riet left of Herve with the ducktail is telling us about the moerse rapids he went through that day.
Here is Hervie again, red cap left back, in the Swim Team, much as he tried to earnestly explain why his swim didn’t actually count as a swim! Competitive swine, our Herve!
. . and here he stands dead centre with the faded red cap at the end of our 360km 12-day trip through the Canyon:
My last supper with Herve was positively biblical: He arrived in a cloud of holy blue smoke in a hundred year old chariot – a faded yellow Merc diesel with four million miles on the clock. Nice car, Herve, I said. ‘Hey! Think of the money I save’, said he. He brought four quarts of beer and six bottles of ‘communion wine’ which he called his ‘quota wine’. I thought, ‘quota for the night!?’ but it turned out he owned shares in a Western Cape wine farm and – just like they did with their workers – he get some of his pay in liquid form. Suddenly I thought through the blur that I understood ‘liquidity.’
We had gathered together, dearly beloved, to write down Herve’s tales of the Umko canoe marathon. As the evening progressed I would say ‘but Herve, wasn’t that the Dusi?’ Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey? But Herve, wasn’t that the Berg? Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey? But Herve, wasn’t that the Breede? Oh, Yes! The Crocodile? Oh, Yes! But you didn’t saw your boat in half to get it on a plane to go to Umko, did you, Herve? Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey?
We laughed for seven and a half hours. We talked of the hardship of owning property in England – Herve’s a farmer, things are very hard, you don’t understand. Then he left after midnight in a cloud of holy blue smoke in a hundred year old chariot – a faded yellow Merc diesel with four million miles on the clock.
(early draft needs work – and being worked on as I find stuff)
1984 was one of the very few years since 1960 that Colorado river water from the Grand Canyon actually reached the sea. High snow melt had pushed it past the point where golf courses and old-age homes are draining it of all its water and it reached the beautiful estuary at Baja California into the Sea of Cortez ! Unknown to many, this also made it the first-ever time Mexico would have been able to taste Mainstay and river water. Well, recycled Mainstay and river water. Passed through the kidneys of a mad bunch of South Africans that Chris Greeff had assembled to paddle through the famous American Canyon.
That’s because we were on the river sponsored by Mainstay Cane Spirits and South African Airways. The “Mainstay” we drank was actually an SAA Boeing 747’s supply of tot bottles of whisky, brandy, gin, vodka – and some Mainstay cane spirits – which we decanted into 2litre plastic bottles to help the stewardesses on board with their end-of-Atlantic-crossing stock-take. We had resolved to drink the plane dry, but man, they carry a lot of hooch on those big babies (I spose in case they end up with all 350 passengers happening to be as thirsty as paddlers are?).
Fifteen paddlers from South Africa joined our guides Cully and JoJo Erdman on a trip down the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to the take-out on Lake Mead 270 or so miles downstream. We were accompanied by one other paddler, an Argentine José who was ticking off his bucket list, having climbed Everest. Five rubber inflatable rafts carried the food (and the Mainstay and a few hundred beers) and a motley assortment of rapid riders from America and SA. Talking of motley: Us paddlers ranged from capable rough water paddlers to flatwater sprinters to happy trippers to complete novices. Some had Springbok colours, others had a lot of cheek.
Some twists in the tale: My boyhood kayaking heroes had been the van Riet brothers, Willem and Roelof, who won the Dusi three times just as I was first learning about the race ca 1970. As I started to participate in the race Graeme Pope-Ellis was winning the first of his eventual fifteen Dusi wins. Both Willem and Graeme were with us on this trip. More: In the year I first saw the Colorado river (1973) by walking/running down the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim to the Colorado’s swiftly-flowing green water, Willem had launched a boat at Lee’s Ferry, done an eskimo roll and come up with ice in his hair, causing him to postpone his trip to this one, eleven years later – in the summer!
The trip was put together by yet another iconic paddler Chris Greeff, winner of more kayak races than I’d had breakfasts. One of the craziest races he won was the Arctic Canoe Race on the border between Finland and Sweden. About 500km of good pool and drop rapids in cold water. When he arrived at the start with his sleek flatwater racing kayak (the others had wider, slower, more stable canoes) the local organisers thought Ha! he intends portaging around all the rapids! (they’d heard of the Dusi and how mad South Africans run with kayaks on their heads) so they amended the rules: Every rapid avoided would incur a time penalty. Chris just smiled and agreed enthusiastically with their ruling: He had no intention of getting out of his boat!
Later: On the trip our American kayak and raft guides kept asking us about our sponsors stickers we had attached to kayaks and rafts. SAA they understood, but what was this “Mainstay” stuff? Ooh. you’ll see! Was all we’d say. At ___ rapid on Day __ around the camp fire we hauled out three or four 2litre bottles filled with a suspect-looking amber liquid. THIS we said, was that famous stuff!
The little Colorado was flooding and massively silt-laden. At the confluence we stopped and had mud fights and mud rolls. I fell out just downstream and got some of that ‘water’ up my snout. A month later I had to have an emergency sinus washout!
Happy daze drifting in the current, lying back gazing up at the cliffs and watching the waterline as century after millenium of geological lines rose up out of the water and each day rose higher and higher above us.
Then you’d sit up and listen intently. Then peer ahead with a stretched neck and drift in a quickening current as the roar of the next rapid grew in the canyon air. The river was running at an estimated high 50 000cfs (about 1650 cumecs). Once you could see where it was, you pulled over and got out to scout it. Plot your way through it.
Dave Walker led the singing:
The canyon burro is a mournful bloke He very seldom gets a poke But when he DOES . . He LETS it soak As he revels in the joys of forni- CATION!
and (to the tune of He Ain’t Heavy)
Hy’s nie Swaar nie
Hy’s my Swaer . a . a . aer
We went down the Canyon twice
I always say we did the Canyon twice. Once we would bomb down in our kayaks, crashing through the big water; The second time was much hairier, with bigger rapids, higher water and far more danger: That was when Willem would regale us with tales of his day on the water around the campfire at night. ‘Raconteur’ is too mild a word! The word MOERSE featured prominently in his stories.
I recently had a letter returned to me that I wrote to my folks in August ’84, the month after this trip. So now I know the extra section of river we paddled an extra 21 miles after the diamond creek take-out point was washed away; plus the trip across Lake Mead sitting back drinking beer while a motorboat towed out the four rafts (one of which had 14 kayaks lashed onto it) was ‘about 50 miles’). Three kayaks weren’t on board, Crazy Chris Greeff, Wendy Walwyn and someone else paddled the flat water too!
BUT NOWADAYS: We check such statements. I’m going to check how far it actually was. Aha! The total distance from Diamond Creek to Pierce Ferry is 54 miles. So no exaggeration happened in the telling by our boatmen and trip guides, who would’ve known. The planned trip was 225 miles, Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, plus this extra leg. So in the end, something over 400km.
A snapshot of the level in 1984 from google earth.
google earth will fly you through the canyon here.
Bernie Garcin (Bernie and the Jets), Doug Retief (Doug the Thief), Dave Walker (Lang Dawid) and me at Fig Tree Sandbank campsite, one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.
Three plastic (or ‘tupperware’) Perception Dancers and one Quest in 1984 and 1985 – we went both years. In those early days old-timers would still mock plastics, saying ‘tupperware keeps turkeys fresh’ but we knew the joy of not having to schlep fibreglass patch kits along and just smiled!
At the time Greg Bennett was sponsoring and competing in, a motorised rubber duck race down the Tugela (sacrilege!!). In ’84 he had Jerome Truran as crew, in ’85 Rip Kirby. We used Greg’s bakkie to get to Ngubevu. Who fetched us at Jamieson’s Bridge?
On one of the trips bare-breasted maidens flashed us. We saw a Landrover parked on a hill on the left bank, then saw some swimmers in the river, who ducked down as they saw us. As we passed two of the girls popped up their lily-white tits to huge approval. They were like this except the water was brown. And they had no cozzies on:
Four-man Hole was soon after that and I crowded into a Bernie-occupied eddy straight after the drop and punched the nose of my Quest into his ribs. Being Bernie he didn’t even wince, but I knew it had hurt.
The current swept us past them, but the mammaries lingered on.
Overnight at the duck race camp the sponsors Lion Lager thought we were competitors so their beautiful beer hostesses liberally plied us with ale. OK, lager. When they ran out I rummaged in the boats and found wine papsaks we used for flotation and squeezed out the dregs. Karen the gorgeous, voluptuous newspaper reporter (remember the days when they wrote stuff on paper?) covering the event for The Natal Mercury held out her glass and as I dispensed I gave her the patter: “A good wine. Not a great wine, but a good wine, with a delicate bouquet”. She shook her mug impatiently and said endearingly “I know fuckall about flowers, I’m in it for the alcohol,” and I fell deeply in love. My kinda dreamboat lady in shape and attitude. She was like . .
Dave too, was smitten as one of the comely lager hostesses joined him in his laager and treated him to sincere sleeping bag hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, ending the session with a farewell flash of delightful décolletage as she kissed him goodbye in the morning.
As we drifted downstream we sang:
The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous
The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous
The landlord had a daughter fair
Lily-white tits and golden hair
Inky Pinky parlez vous
We sang to the resident goats: I ain’t afraid of no goats