Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
The Tamalakhane River runs south-west out of Maun and when it turns east it’s called the Boteti. After a while it runs southward forming the western boundary of the huge Makgadikgadi-Nxai Pans National Park.
At Kumagha village there’s a gate into the park. When the river has water in it a ferryman carries you across, one vehicle at a time.
We were guests at Tiaan’s Camp as Tiaan is looking for someone to help him start a new admin system and Janet’s just the person to do that. I got lucky as they decided she needed to visit him to check out the camp and discuss how Janet’s consultancy could run the project for him. Tiaan is a character. He was once a diplomat although you would never guess that in a game of Twenty Questions. Nor in game of One Hundred and Twenty Questions.
Tiaan has run mobile safaris in Zambia, Botswana and Zululand among many other places. He has been involved in lodges on the Delta panhandle and has now settled in Khumaga village in a camp he built himself with comfy chalets, lovely campsites, a crystal-clear swimming pool and a huge central building housing an open dining area, an open raised deck overlooking the Boteti where 22 elephants came to bathe the afternoon we arrived.
AND he operates a cool bar run on the honour system. You know, gooi and skryf.
He has a delightful accent, a mischievous laugh, speaks three languages well, and has an amazing store of tales from brain surgery to government service to building in Botswana and Jakobsbaai on the Cape West Coast; to safaris, interesting guests, religion, Land Rovers (he’s afflicted with six of them), philosophy and fascinating animal stories. Maybe he does have a diplomatic side, but he keeps it well-camouflaged.
He took us on a game drive in one of his Land Rovers – and we didn’t even break down – so he could show us his knowledge of and love for his patch, the very southern end of the great Okavango Delta, just before the waters from Angola sink into the Kalahari sand for the very last time at Lake Xau.
The next day Janet and I took her old Toyota – now well over 400 000km on the clock – into the park along the green Boteti river valley. The water was dropping so the ferryman had me move the Toyota forward a couple metres, then back a couple metres on the ferry to rock it across the shallows. We found plenty of interesting little things to photograph, and only got stuck in the deep sand once.
In between all this there were the gin n tonics, whiskies, beers and Tiaan’s home-made absinthe, generously dispensed – the absinthe gratis on the wonderful Tiaan system of “Have another and listen to this . . . !”
Interesting birds included Double-banded Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbet, Hoopoe, Crimson-breasted Boubou, a young Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Red-faced Mousebird, Bateleur, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Blue-cheeked, European and Little Bee-eaters, Meyers Parrot, Goliath Heron and a Grey-backed Cameroptera who clacked at me fourteen times! Here in KwaZulu Natal they usually clack five to seven times. Here are some Lee Ouzman pics from his website:
Before this leg of the trip we had been to Mogotlhong.
gooi and skryf – honour system in a bar: pour your dop and write it down, you’ll be billed later
Aitch knew a doctor in PMB who “did up” Land Rovers. That got me thinking . . .
To my amazement my partners Lello, Yoell & Stoute were NOT HUGELY ENTHUSIASTIC as I twisted their arms to go in as equal shareholders! Even when I told them that, besides the good doctor, it had only one previous owner (strategically omitting to say that owner had been the old KwaZulu Homeland Police Force).
But eventually they saw the light and agreed, good partners that they are, and we became the proud consortium owners of a handpainted 1979 hole-in-the-floor manual 4X4 long wheelbase Series III station wagon-type 5-door Land Rover. White. It was fitted with a Ford Essex V6 three litre engine on new birdshit-welded mountings and painted white with an old brush. The wheel rims were painted red with the same brush, from which its name Redfoot. Did I mention handpainted?
Well, we ended up putting three engines into ole Redfoot, and it went up Sani once, to Ladysmith once as 8-seater transport (Prem took it to a wedding), Yoell used it once and never again; Soutar used it once or twice.
Andre vd Merwe from PE thought he’d buy it but his wife Sue made him turn back NOW after only a few km’s and said he would buy it “Over Her Deceased Corpse.” A Canadian optometrist used it to get to a clinic where he did a volunteer stint in the Valley of 1000 Hills in KwaZulu Natal. He brought it back smoking – he didn’t really get the “stick shift” thing, nor the “clutch” thing. That was one of the new engines.
Spent a total of R25 000 on it in all and sold it for R5 000 – with relief! Not a runaway success story was Redfoot, but I think my partners exaggerate when they say I promised them an ‘investment opportunity’!
BUT never forget: When we went up Sani with an Isuzu 4X4 pickup and a Toyota 4X4 pickup and a Nissan 4X4 pickup, what happened? They all very boringly flew up the pass with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for breath and a radiator top-up, BUT!! – Where did everyone have their photos taken? – Next to Redfoot!
See, driving a pickup you look like you’re going to work; but driving a Landrover you look like you’re going on an expedition! From which you might not return!!
Slightly disconcerting: As Redfoot was catching its breath and airing its brakes halfway down, two nuns breezed past us, chatting gaily, in a 2X4 bakkie, and waved at us. Bitches.