2007 M.A.H.E.M Hysterical Tour

Ken Gillings led us on a Magical Avian and Historical Expedition to Memel in the Free State in 2007.

Mahems – Crowned Cranes who trumpet ‘Ma-Hem!’ as they fly overhead – are found year-round in Memel, but I can’t remember if we saw any. They’re nomadic, so they come and go. Did we see any? Someone may remember.

The reason birders go to Memel is the vleis – the marshlands – the wetlands

. . and the grasslands – the vlaktes – wide open spaces

Or, if you’re a history buff, cos kak happened here. Here’s Ken telling us what shit went down here, right here, on this spot

– right over there, Steenkamp shot Poncenby – morsdood – war is hell, I’m not to blame –


Ken Gillings’ Hysterical Tours

Dear old Ken died too soon. His tours were hugely educational – and such fun. You had to listen carefully or you’d miss his wicked Sergeant-Major little asides and throw-away comments. And you had to stay up late in the pub after the day ended to hear his best ribald Sergeant-Major jokes. We should have recorded them all. Well, here’s one, anyway.

We walked the Fugitive’s Trail from Isandlwana to Fugitive’s Drift. Ken arranged for a local man to take us to the start and fetch us at the end in his taxi – a shiny new Toyota Quantum like this:

Toyota Quantum

On the way we stopped to look at something and Ken ordered us to hop out of the taxi. Then he paused, gave a slight grin and said:

“You could call that a ‘quantum leap.’


Our traipse along the trail was not uneventful. Once again a bunch of pale people were out of their depth, just like in 1879. Also, our average age was way above that of the pommy soldiers, and we had no horses. Even though we weren’t being pursued by victorious Zulus, panting was heard and hearts fluttered. Some had to lie down a while.

We walked from the Isandlwana mountain to the Buffalo river at Fugitives Drift:

Fugitives Drift down in the valley on the left

We were a bit slower than the fleeing poms at the uMzinyathi (Buffalo) River crossing. Didn’t want to get our shoes wet:

Once again a bunch of bumbling Wit Ous cross the Buffalo at Fugitives Drift

After the tour I thanked Ken for a wonderful weekend and awarded him the Victoria Cross for his brave endeavours. Or rather, my Victoria Cross-on-Zulu-Shield, which I had earned by running a 21km half-marathon from Isandlwana to Rorke’s Drift years earlier.

– no blood was spilled in the earning of this medal – and only a mild amount of sweat –