Molumong – Wool Trading Station

We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.

We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.

The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.

We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.

I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:

“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”

Soft Strong Smart

An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.

He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.

Molimong Trader touched up

WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.

Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.

Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the hills on the high plateau between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free  and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.

– Jess and I explore the grounds –

The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.

molumong lodge older

Contact them: Noma – Phone: (+266) 2700 9843 / 5399 9843  molumonglodge@mail.com –

I found two websites for Molumong Lodge: https://molumong.wordpress.com/ and https://molumongecolodge.wordpress.com/ – It seems one you’d book through a South African, the other direct with Noma who lives at the lodge.

~~~oo0oo~~~

We loved Molumong. So much so that we went again later that same year, meeting good friends Dizzi and Jon Taylor there. October, a lot greener.

~~~oo0oo~~~


Nine Years Today

. . and then Jessie’s tribute:

Who’ve I missed out? Who else should be posed with Aitch here?

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Vrystaat Shepherd’s Cottage

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Fogg’s Folly

or Destiny Castle

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!!

~~~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~~~

New Worm !

Dizzi discovered a new worm, sent a picture and asked: ‘Pete – What is this? Hamerkop Worm? About 5cm long.’

I didn’t have a clue, and guessed – incorrectly – that it might have been from the dogs. But Dizzi soon came back with an answer: Bipalium – a genus of large predatory land planarians. They are often loosely called “hammerhead worms” or “broadhead planarians” because of the distinctive shape of their head region. So Dizzi’s description was spot-on!

– from Georgia USA – wikipedia –

Land planarians – flatworms – are unique in that they possess a “creeping sole” on their ventral (‘under’) side. And they’re hunters! They’ll stalk their prey, following their tracks and then pounce on an earthworm or snail! Some earthworms will react violently and wriggle vigorously, but the Dizzi planarium bipalium flatworm uses the muscles in its body and sticky secretions to attach itself to the earthworm to prevent escape. A wrestle-and-kiss tactic! Some even have a potent neurotoxin, so goodbye earthworm or snail.

Maybe Dizzi will spend more time in her garden and film a planarian kill for us?

They vary in size from smaller than this one to over a metre. They have very few predators themselves as they seem distasteful or toxic to most other creatures. Wonderful where they belong, but can be a menace when introduced where they don’t. They’re found all over in the tropics and sub-tropics, and are now spread outside their natural areas too – mostly moving around in potplants or plant soil.

Asexual planarians can just split and form two planarians. Sexual planarians are hermaphrodites. Some can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Telling a planarium to ‘Go Fuck Yourself ‘ is pointless, as it might just do that – ‘autofecundation.’ That’s rare, though. Usually two hermaphrodites will get together and swop sperm.

Fascinating creatures! BipaliumPlanarian.

~~~oo0oo~~~

So I go looking for worms and the further I dig the less simple and – as with most things where we Homo sapiens involve ourselves – the more disheartening it gets!

Earthworms. Everybody loves earthworms, right? They do so much good . .

Well yes, earthworms do much good where they belong. But where they don’t belong they do much harm. Up in the northern hemisphere the boreal forest — the world’s most northerly forest, which ‘circles the top of the globe like a ring of hair around a balding head,’ shouldn’t have earthworms, and the introduced worms are causing a huge problem. Worms have been moved around the earth by man since we started traveling. In soil, plants and pots for plants; by air, sea and road, in moving timber on trucks, in the tyre treads of those trucks and cars, in boats, by anglers and by gardeners.

One researcher called it Global Worming! Which may add to global warming. The boreal forest is a carbon sink, but the earthworms may alter it to emitting carbon instead.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mabibi and Sibaya

Camping at Mabibi in Zululand with the kombi – and Taylor with his puny little JEEP.

On the way I pretended (!) to get stuck to give the JEEP owner an ego boost:

– sundowners on the lake – Tom, Dizzi, Gayle, Jessie & Aitch –
– every body had to get lip-stick’d –
– Jon took a shot of me emerging sylph-like out of the champagne-clear waters of the lake –

. . which reminded me of Ursula in Dr. No . . Me and Ursula were like twins, ‘cept I wore less clothing and had something useful in my hand . .

Ursula Andress did it in 1962 in Dr. No; Halle Berry paid homage in 2002 in Die Another Day; and I trumped them both in 2003 in Lake Sibaya.

Labour of Love – nudge wink

Crispin was concerned. The locquat wasn’t getting any action. It happened since the streetlights murdered the hawk moths. He himself is a man of action, so he sprung or sprang into same.

Every fetish has its paraphenalia. This case it was stepladders and camel hair brushes. Handlangers were rustled up and we went a-fertilising. I was a keen volunteer as I hadn’t had much to do with sexual parts and sperm and ova myself for some time; and even if this was actually pollen and stamens, hey, you take what you can get.

Crispin knew where our targets lived. We crept up to and up them, tickled their upright stigma and style delicately with the soft camel hair brush and bang! pregnant! one shot! The candle flower, Oxyanthus pyriformis, natal locquat didn’t know what hit it. For all it knew it may even have been a hawk moth fondling it with its moustache.

– other new life elsewhere in Pigeon Valley –

~~~oo0oo~~~

handlangers – nogschleppers; hangers-on;

flower parts – check if I got them right;

~~~oo0oo~~~

Update from Crispin Hemson xmas 2019. It would appear no pregnancies happened! My thought of bang! pregnant! one shot! was over-optimistic – but he’s bok to try again . .

bok – game; up for it

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

Memory is a Dodgy Business. I remembered the scene so clearly. Standing next to a fresh buffalo carcase red with blood; looking around, nervous that the lions who had obviously recently killed it might come back and be annoyed with us for putting our feet on its lunch.

We were on a walk in the beautiful wilderness area of Mfolosi game reserve; no roads and restricted access; accompanied by our two armed Rangers we weren’t in any specific danger, but the feeling of ‘we’d better be careful’ was there, and I kept scanning the area around us.

Or that’s how I remembered it over the years. An actual picture painted a different picture! Photographic evidence of how dodgy one’s memory can be and how the years can enhance it! The top picture was sort of my memory; Here’s the actual ‘carcase’ – it’s a skeleton! No lion would want to look at it! Nor a hyena, nor a vulture! Only detritivores would still be interested in those horns n bones!

NOT Jonathan's picture - his was film-less

Aitch took the picture with her point-and-shoot Nikon. Our group photographer is the colonial Tarzan-like oke on the left. He had the penis-substitute camera and bossed us around and lined us up and made us pose (poeseer, he said, sounding like one of SanMarie’s jokes – she’s on the right with a rifle), and fiddled with his f-stop. A purist, he was still deeply into film and darkroom development theory. So where’s his picture?

He’d forgotten to put film in the camera! We have not let Taylor forget it.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Here’s the moth that will get to those horns in time:

Moth-horn-borer
Ceratophaga vastella

and whose larvae will make them look like this:

Moth-horn-borer_2

. . and here’s an old-timer-y look to make the carcase look fresher:

– olden daze –

. .and another desperate attempt at the realism I so clearly remember:

– we came upon a freshly-killed buffalo! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Harrismith Mountain Race – Again

Years later I was training for Comrades and thought it would be a good idea to persuade Dizzi and Jon Taylor to join me in another go at the mountain-goatish course.

Someone took pics, unfortunately, which showed Dizzi running spritely and the old boys shuffling ignominiously.

– Dizzi comes steaming past –

One old goat in indecently short shorts, me in Savages strip No. 451 and modest attire.

Ever since, Jon has sworn this is the race that gave him arthritic knees. I think his shorts were too short so his knees caught cold and gave him kneasles.

We eventually finished with knees like jelly after the downhill section. Dizzi asked ‘What Kept Us?’

~~~oo0oo~~~

What a beauty! Don’t disturb him

What a beauty! Don't disturb him

Walking around in a campsite which shall remain nameless (I don’t want anyone to disturb him), I heard a host of birds kicking up a big fuss. I couldn’t see anything, so lay down on my back and searched the whole tree with my binocs. Then a toppie revealed him by flying right at his head and slapping his face with its wings!! A big beautiful black mamba, who just quietly took the birds’ abuse. Maybe wrote down its name . .

I carefully marked the spot so I could find the snake again – I know how snakes can ‘disappear’ – and went back to our chalet nearby and called friends to come and look. I got them to X Marks The Spot . . . and I could not find him! I searched thoroughly, but no go.

We assumed he had moved off, but after my friends left I lay down again and searched the branches again. He was in almost the same position! He’d hardly moved. How the heck had we missed him? The incredible camouflage power of ‘not moving!’

While lying on my back on the mowed lawn I spotted a butterfly land on a blade of grass and twist its abdomen, wriggle, then fly off. I went to look and found a neat single spherical egg laid on the under-surface of the green blade of grass. Beautiful. A greenish-yellow colour, I think. I thought I took a photo of the egg but cannot find it.

– the snake and the butterfly were near here –
– Dizzi spotted butterflies against those far-off cliffs! – some will now recognise the place! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

toppieBlack-capped Bulbul, Pycnonotus tricolor

black mambaDendroaspis polylepis

Here’s a GIF to help spot him more easily: head left, tail right

Die Donkie is n Wonderlike Ding

I was going too fast, but we were late and I could see miles ahead along the sweeping roads on the hillsides of Lesotho. A speck of dust would show up then disappear as we rounded a hill, then reappear later a bit nearer, but still far away. Eventually a car would materialise, turn into a white bakkie and sweep past in a cloud of dust.

We were hastening to get to Sani Top after entering Lesotho near Ficksburg, and zooming over Khatse Dam after waiting a while for the brakes to cool so they’d work again after too much sight-seeing braking down the steep decline to the dam. Little Jessie and Tom strapped in the back and me and Aitch in front. The Dizzis were waiting for us and Aitch hates keeping anyone waiting and especially the Dizzis, so I was putting foot, it’s true.

As I rounded one more bend at dusk my eyes widened and the donkey’s eyes widened much more. Huge, in fact as he stared at his impending doom. The look in his eyes was quite fatalistic, and he was rooted to the spot, massive bundle of sticks and bushes loaded on his back and sticking out more than his body width on both sides. On the left a high bank, on the right a cliff plummeting down to the river valley far below. Swerving was out of the question, as was hard braking, so I manual-ABS’d, slowing down as much as I could without endangering us.

As we hit the poor ass I probably closed my eyes. WHACK! A sickening bang. Dead, I’m sure. Kombi messed up. I stopped and hopped out thinking: You don’t stop and get out. For safety you keep moving. Like hell.

.

I walked into a wall of cussing and swearing and remonstrating in high seSotho. What the hell did I think I was doing and Who the hell was going to pay and Where the hell was I headed in such a hurry and How the hell was he going to . . . I hardly heard him. I was staring past him at the donkey walking away minus its load, seemingly none the worse for wear! I was so relieved I actually giggled and had to bite my lip.

I immediately launched into a sincere and abject apology oft-repeated and completely ignored. I apologised for speeding, endangering, carelessness, being younger than him, and for breathing. I was sorry that he’d have to catch his donkey and I regretted that he’d have to do all the loading all over again. I was getting nowhere and the tirade was warming up and getting more creative. I saw I wasn’t getting through, so I returned to the kombi and fetched R200 and pressed it into my fully-justified tormentor’s hand.

It was like switching off a radio. He was COMPLETELY satisfied and what were we talking about a minute ago again? A last apology and off we went. We still had a long way to go. Phew!

– near Sani Top in earlier days –

There was a sequel the next morning as we headed back into Lesotho on the same road. There was my man again, so I gave him a cheery wave. He was with a mate and he pointed at us jabbering away, grinning excitedly. We had fun imagining what he was saying. All complimentary, we agreed.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Heartfelt Appreciation

Jessie’s Thank You letter to Dizzi:

December 11th, 2008 by bewilderbeast

Jess n Tom got well spoilt for their birthday.

Jessie wrote a thank you note to her favourite GoodGodParents:

Thank you for the ABBA singstar you are the best and the best.

And I’ve just sung Summer Night City it is the best song I’ve held.

And I’ve also sung

And I Can Dance With You Huney

If you think it’s funny

Does your Mother know that you out?

Thank you John and Dizzy (Dizzy you are the best)

Love you Lots, Lots, Lots, Lots

from your best girl in the world

Love you so much

You best girl

Jessie Swanepoel

Dizzy

JHON

Happy Wand Dec 2009 (391)

  • Dizzi leading Jess astray –

~~~oo0oo~~~

50. That’s fifty. Five zero. FIFTY! Eish!

Aitch doesn’t mess around. Suddenly a big marquee was pitched on the front lawn. What’s that for? I ask. We’re having a party, says me wife. Oh. OK. So tip-toe’ing discreetly past my half century mark is not going to happen?

Nope.

So I help the guys lay down a dance floor; and I carry chairs. And I carry chairs. Do we need so many chairs? I ask. Carry chairs, I’m told.

Then a minibus arrives and musical instruments are carried out – a trombone, a saxophone and a guitar – and one of the guys looks familiar. Big, braces, white hair. Mario!? I say / ask in amazement. Yes, says he in an Italian accent. What are you doing here? I ask, onnosel-y. He just smiles. I spose he’s used to that.

Mario Montereggi! When he’s not marshaling his Big Band, he runs a trio, Music Unlimited, for small events: Him on trombone, a guitarist and a saxophonist.

– Mario Montereggi’s trio –

WOW!! Aitch certainly does NOT mess around!

The theme was Africa, but Brauer thought it was Out of Africa, and of course he took it literally. You know how he is . .

– Aitch put it all together – she was much younger’n me –
– the sax player charmed the kids –
– especially TomTom –

Instead of a solemn speech full of half a century of carefully censored praise . .

– Terry and Pete exaggerating –

Terry and Pete sang a song full of scurrilous exaggerations – and duped the rest of the mense into singing the chorus! Everyone knows Billy Joel’s Piano Man tune . .

– Brauerr song PFS 50th –

Then Jonathan and Aitch said some words and I had to correct everyone and put them straight.

– after Jon and Aitch spoke I had to leap up to defend my reputation –
– good peeps gathered –
– PFS 50th –

~~~oo0oo~~~

onnosel – not clever; dof

mense – good people