Head North!

On the road less travelled . .

I paid and moved on after posing a big challenge to Swamp Stop’s sewerage system. I’d cooked wors, pap, steak and chicken high sosaties and it took two flushes to get rid of it. Did I say cooked? I mean eaten. Cecelia had cooked it. Also potatoes in foil, butternut and a salad. Her broad beam and broad smile had convinced me immediately that her offer of supper would surpass my intended cold baked beans straight outa the tin. And it did, it was delicious.

Two misbehaving teenage fishermen Peter and Ken (ages 75 and 79) were camped next to me the two nights. I tried to get them to behave, but would they listen? Constant gin, beer, wine and tall tales of the bream they were going to catch. Next time. They did catch some fine tigers and barbel, it must be said. They told frightening tales of the terrible A35 road after I had said the road was fine. ‘No it’s not!’ said the driver of the new Discovery, ‘It’s a nightmare! I couldn’t even go 70,75 towing my Conqueror off-road trailer!’ I had to admit I cruise a lot slower and no trailer, so the road was fine for me. Also, I was driving a Ford Ranger – Ja, they made the obligatory groans that all envious okes seem to do when I mention this fact.

When I left camp after breakfast (Cecelia’s scrambled eggs) I thought, Can 154 Years of Experience be wrong? so I decided to dodge the now dreaded and newly notorious A35 and get to Nxamasere off the grid, taking a road parallel and nearer the Okavango’s western-most channel. ‘You can’t go that way!’ they told me in Sepupa village but I read somewhere, “All Roads Lead to Nxamasere,” so I felt confident. I think that’s what it said.

And I was right. It was a magic little bush track, smooth sand mostly and winding along merrily, scratching my pristine 15yr-old paintwork only occasionally. After an hour I stopped for a pee in the cool shade of a magnificent Knob Thorn.

So two magnificent knobs there.

At times the road did seem to peter swanie out a bit, but it would re-appear, and every now and then blue concrete beacons marked WP would appear reassuringly. I thought, If this route goes to Western Province I’m sure it goes through Namibia, and Nxamasere will be en route.

At Kajaja health post two men were building a house right on the road. They gave me a smile and a big wave so I asked them (quickly trying, but failing, to ask them a question that could not be answered ‘YES’). ‘NO,’ they said, You cannot get to Nxamasere this way, you have to take the tar road.’ OK, thanks, I said, I’m sure you’re right, but I am going to try. I’ll see you back here if I fail, to admit to you: You Were Right. They thought that was helluva funny. I started to move off and he said, ‘Wait! Let me ask our father.’ I bowed my head and closed my eyes but he meant his earthly father who was sitting on a chair under a shady tree behind the house they were building. “Dad! he shouted in fluent seTswana, ‘Can one get to Nxamasere this way? There’s an ancient white-haired goat here who is determined not to drive on tar.’ No, said our father, There is no way to Nxamasere that way. ‘Our father says no, there is no way to Nxamasere that way,’ said my man. OK, I said, I’m sure he is right, so I will come back if I get stuck and I will say to you, I admit: You Were Right.

The road meandered on vaguely northwards, maybe a bit more overgrown and a touch less confidently, but on it meandered nevertheless, with an occasional detour and only one bit of gardening needed where a tree had fallen across and needed a bit of a chop, a rope and a backward tug to make a gap. It was surrounded by elephant droppings so maybe those pachyderm foresters had felled it. Still a smooth sandy track, no corrugations, hard enough to not deflate my tyres; occasionally a patch of calcrete which made me think maybe this was the old great north road before the A35? Second gear 30kmh; Third gear 40kmh at times.

Then it did peter out. I took a left detour but that turned back towards Kajaja; a right detour going downhill towards the channel ran into some dongas where lots of sand had been extracted. They call them ‘borrow pits’ – I think that is seTswana for ‘quarry.’

Defeat.

I arrived back in Kajaja with a grin and my men grinned back. Our father waved from under the tree. You Were Right, I said, triggering laughter again, and made my way with my exhaust between my legs to the tar.

And I was right. It was bladdy awful. Smooth; Straight; Wide; Boring.

Even this donkey felt my disappointment, as you can see.

~~oo0oo~~

Maun n Surrounds

Kaziikini camp

Boteti River Bridge

Out on the Makalamabedi road south of Maun the Boteti river is flowing nicely. Three or four of the pipes have a swift current and the birds are loving it. And I only got two pictures, none of the lovely scene!

Sally Forth

It takes five days to go the 250km* to Harrismith from Westville. This is because you visit friends along the way. First, there were leaving formalities with amazing friends and supporters Petrea and Louis Lodder:

First stop Jenny & Tabs Fyvie in the Tala valley; My luck it was Justin’s 40th and Caitlin had baked a cake! Hayley also arrived and there was a flock of very deja-vu Fyvie-Mandy looking kids running around. What a busy happy extended family household! Tabs and Jen are hugely experienced travellers and campers, so I got a bit of Kruger Park advice and info, Kruger being one of my intended destinations. We did an inspection of their alucab camper with rooftop tent on a double-cab Landcruiser. I’ll pick their brains again when it comes to solar power, batteries and fridges.

On to the Rosetta Hotel as it was getting late. They were having a St Patricks night – lucky me again. I washed down a huge eisbein with sherry, a large Windhoek draft, a pint of guinness for Oirish luck, and a glass of house red – *burp* – then to bed in a huge warm room. In the morning I swallowed their substantial all-in breakfast.

To Mandy & Carl Reitz on their farm The Bend on a big bend of the Tugela river and a view of the high Drakensberg from the Sentinel to Cathkin Peak. What a fantastic three days I spent there. We laughed a lot thinking of how clever and beautiful and irresistible we were in those far-off alcohol-fueled days when The Bend was our mecca for sex drugs n rock n roll and variations on those themes.

I did lotsa farming with Kai in my normal fashion: Sitting in the passenger seat and nodding. Kai knows better than to take farming advice from me – he has had experience of me as a temporary deputy farm manager! He drove me all over his farms and the district and we took walks in the mud – they’ve had good rains. A special sighting was a large grey mongoose – the ichneumon or Egyptian Mongoose – running into cover; too quick for my camera.

Durban friends Greg & Roly Bennett had been to their old farm Oppermanskloof on the Geluksburg road to scatter their Mom’s ashes. I met them near Bergville where Roly and I had a great laugh remembering our young n clever daze; – His seconding us on the Dusi canoe marathon, doing a fine job on the first overnight stop, handing us cold beers, deckchairs and a hot meal; sheer luxury! On the second night we couldn’t find him: He had disappeared into the pub leaving us to fend for ourselves; – Water-skiing on Hazelmere dam where I dropped the tow rope as I rose out of the water behind Greg’s 220hp Yamaha outboard; The boat made a tight u-turn and came back to me. When I told them I’d pulled a muscle Roly roared with laughter and said, Swanie you couldn’t have pulled a muscle, you must have pulled a fat! Skinny bastid – he still doesn’t have calf muscles.

Next through Geluksburg and up Middledale Pass into the Vrystaat.

A lovely welcome from Leon & Elsa Strachan on their farm Nesshurst where again I was shown all over and fed and entertained royally. I forgot to get a pic of their beautiful big guest çottage on the banks of their dam.

I must ID that interesting plant. Then I got to Harrismith to Pierre and Erika du Plessis to stay in their lovely home. I have been so spoiled by Erika, and Aletta and Paul, her two helpers. Yesterday I heard a scream from Aletta in the garden. I rushed out to find she’d been stung by a wasp jealously guarding his spider prey on the lawn!

Next post: A fascinating trip to Memel.

~~oo0oo~~

  • * 250km as the vrou cries – or crow flies – a bit further if you insist on going ‘on the ground’

Miss Universal Joints

Met a lovely new friend Rory this week. He knows what happens under the bonnets of motorcars, so a thoroughly useful chap. I was introduced to Rory by Geoffrey, a British monarchy supporter but otherwise a decent sort.

Geoffrey not only solved my dilemma of how and when to have my fine 14yr-old vehicle serviced, but offered to take me home after I dropped off the old Ford – and bought me coffee and a muffin on the way home! We drank the delicious brew (brewed by a local KZN boykie) sitting outside and solving a few of the world’s problems. Which I told him would only really be solved when the last king was strangled by the entrails of the last priest*. I hope he took notes.

I asked Rory to give the Ford a test drive as somethin’ was ridin’ rough. He said it was something called Miss Universal Joints and that he replaced two of them like a good orthopedic surgeon. Shows how little I know: I didn’t even know the ole Ford had entered the Miss Universe competition.

~~~oo0oo~~~

*Good thinking, Denis Diderot

Go Straight

Cecilia went home in March, as did Tobias. We thought it was for three weeks of COVID lockdown, but it turned out to be forever.

So now at last I was going to take the mountain of stuff she had accumulated while staying here, to her home in Mtwalume. She has always said she lives in Mtwalume. So with my white Ford Ranger loaded to the gunwales in the canopy and inside the cab – everywhere but my drivers seat, I headed south on the N2 highway. When I got to Mtwalume, I turned off the highway (1) – and phoned her.

‘OK, I’m at the Mtwalume turnoff. Where to from here?’

‘Go straight. There is a white cottage.’

Hm, there are about a dozen cottages, two or three are white. OK, which turnoff must I take – is this the right turnoff?

‘Go to Hibberdene, then look for Ghobela School.’ Ah, OK.

Back to the highway, seven kilometres later I turned off the downramp to Hibberdene (2); then turned right, turned right after Ghobela, turned right again past ‘Arts and Crafts’ and – just as she had said – there was a white cottage (3). Actually, two or three. Then there she was herself. Cecilia! Follow me, she indicated up a rough track.

I reversed up it, soon ran out of traction, engaged difflock and then eventually even that was no go. My wheels were spinning and when cow dung splattered on my rearview mirrors I stopped and we unloaded about thirty metres short of her house on top of the hill. Lots and lots of stuff.

The week before she’d come to Westville for our fourth attempt at satisfying the UIF requirements. This time we made payslips to match her Jan, Feb and March bank statements. Till today, still no luck. At least I could tell her to keep going, as Tobias had received a lump sum payment the week before!

The very next day she messaged me: ‘Morning Daddy. I hope you go well yesterday. I got my uif now. We thank you sir.’

Hallelujah!! At last!

Huge sigh of relief.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Didn’t take a single picture! Damn.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Trish once told me to Go Straight!

Lone Ranger in Intensive Care

We packed breakfast and lunch and snacks and left for Mfolosi Game Reserve at 6am this morning; Jess, Azo and me. ETA around 8.30. Tom elected to chill at home.

Instead, by 8am we were back home, with the sad and sick Ford Ranger on the back of Ritesh’s yellow ‘flatbed’ or ‘rollback’ AA tow truck. Dammit. The gears gave a death rattle and the engine died. May be terminal.

ignominy

Tom was still sleeping. We ate some snacks, I took butterfly pics in the garden and now its bucketing down with rain. The End.

Kaput Ranger in the rain
Butterfly garden

Later: Terminal, schmerminal. ‘Twas nothing. The verdict was only the engine, the gearbox and the propshaft. Nothing that R25k couldn’t fix. Got it back ten days later – all good. Purring; Nicely run in at 272 000km.

While it was indisposed I drove a little blue Nissan Micra. Very nice.

Things are actually fairly easy . . .

. . . if you pull your finger out of your arse. But digital-anal extraction is not really a prominent forte of mine, me being more a procrastinator, thinker, cogitater, planner and delayer sort of person. Circumspect. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing, I’m sure it has saved me money at times, I just can’t think of any specific instance when it did.

So the white Ford Ranger pickup clocks 150 000km and is due for a service – full diesel and turbo service and check the nipples or whatever these okes do that know what they’re doing. At 152 000 and 154 000 I’m still serene and only at 156 000km do I start thinking Shit, you’re actually a slack SumBitch, y’know!?

At 158 000 I start making plans and at 160 000 I actually phone Mario and tell him I will be bringing the Ford Ranger bakkie in as soon as I can organise a lift. “Any time” he says in his Italian accent. And then he says “Those Ford Rangers are wonderful vehicles, they’re bullet-proof”, not realising he has just given me a subconscious reason to take my foot off the Urgency, Jeez you’re Slack pedal again. He is a qualified mechanic who apprenticed and specialised on Alfa Romeos back in the day so he knows about cars giving grief and he can diagnose from fifty paces. He knows you have to LURV your car and LISTEN to your car and FEEEL for your car. Right.

Invariably, after a service, he gives me a long and earnest lecture about neglect and how to treat a car. He has serviced my Ford Cortinas and VW Kombis for at least 25yrs and knows I am not what you would call Italian for “meticulous”. As they say: Devi prestare un’attenzione meticolosa alle istruzioni perché le dirò una volta sola. Prestava un’attenzione meticolosa al suo lavoro assicurandosi che fosse sempre perfetto.

So at 163 000km I gear up for REALLY doing something about this and then luckily lil sister Sheila phones: Would I like to join them, they’re going to Ngoye forest in Zululand with a bunch of birders all older than us this weekend and can we take my bakkie?

So I phone Mario and my dilemma about how do I get to work once I’ve dropped off the Ford is solved: Sheila takes me to work then fetches me at 1pm and takes me and Jessie to the dentist. We walk the 3km home.

Now I have to fetch the Ford. Jon is in Jo’burg or Barcelona; Bruce’s Mom just died, he’s organising funeral homes; I don’t want to ask Sheila for a third lift.

WAIT! Jessie’s scooter! There’s a plan. I’m unlicenced and don’t have a helmet but I don my cycling helmet and a jacket and I’m off. Wheee!

Yamaha scooter.jpg
Heather & Bruce on that scooter

Yussis I enjoyed it! It started to rain and those wheels are small but I zoomed off, 150cc’s whining. I diced – and beat – every car at all the lights. Twenty kilometres later I was there and asked Mario to help me load the Yamaha in the back of the Ranger. We huffed and puffed and we had to call his son Andreas to help, but we squeezed it in lying on its side with the handle bars hanging over the tailgate. I was about to clip Sambucca’s dog leash on the brakes to stop it from falling out when Mario said “The petrol is leaking out” so we dragged it back out and abandoned it in his garage.

I have my bakkie back. The noise wasn’t a hole in the exhaust, the fan belts were shot; the seat belt light was just a loose wire to an airbag; the brake light was low brake fluid; I’d imagined the discs paper-thin, so I had stopped braking for the last few weeks; Two minutes after I got there Mario poured brake fluid in to the appropriate reservoir and the light went off!

Nothing was as bad as I’d imagined. So he fixed everything and did the 150 000km service 13 000km late all for R2200. Things are actually fairly easy if you pull your finger out of your arse.

=======ooo000ooo=======

If you check the Italian words “attenzione meticolosa; volta sola; and perfetto” – you will find this translation: What I’m Not.

Mutiny on the Bakkie

Mutiny on the way to Lilani Spa. It’s cold and drizzling, so the back seat of the bakkie thinks cycling has become a seriously kak idea and they’re making it known:
I’m NOT riding!
We’re NOT going!
You can’t force us!
It’s too wet!
It’s too cold!

‘Snot optional,’ I intone each time. ‘Snot optional’.

This got them giggling and making up their own snot sayings:
She SNOT riding.
He SNOT riding.
We SNOT riding!
SNOT funny, Dad! SNOT funny, Pete!

So off they went pedaling in the drizzle, shivering and shouting and giggling. I drove ahead to get out of earshot of the whining. Looking back, here come the four of them . . .

Image

The road to Lilani is 17km of downhill. All long gentle downhill. It’s Lazy Man’s Biking Paradise. From Ahrens to Lilani you don’t have to pedal. You simply place your bum in the saddle and gravity does what it did to Newton’s apple. What’s not to like?

And when you get to the bottom, what do you have to do? Jump into the hot springs mineral waters and soak. If you’re 9 to 15 yrs old of course you’ll take great delight in saying repeatedly, ‘Dad it smells like a fart,’ cos it’s sulphur springs, and it does, but its great.

Downhill biking, warm water, cold beer, and – almost always – solitude. Heaven. If you haven’t been to Lilani Spa, get your ass over there. You can drive right in if you like, and you can stay overnight too.

Here are The Four Mutineers again:

~~~oo0oo~~~