So we did *sometimes* go where the signs *sometimes* said Maybe You Shouldn’t.
We were rescued by friendly Damara ous in the Namib desert, by feisty ous in tight khaki shorts on Mocambican beaches, and by faithful Bahá’ís at their picnic on the Báb’s birthday on a Malawian beach. Bless em all.
‘Middle’ being a middelmannetjie; ‘You’ being four Big Beef Bulls. It was Louis’ fault, of course.
I usually go nowhere slowly, but right now I was in a slight hurry, and I had an actual destination for a change. This hurry relative to my normal pace would slow down my progress, as we’ll see. I had just left the beautiful Cubango river in the pic above, which forms the Angolan border with Namibia. I wanted to meet Louis on his farm Kakombo outside Omaruru in two days time.
Go via Tsumeb, said Louis. No, that’s tar! I protested. Ah, said Louis, I also like the back roads; There is another way. I thought it was a cutline but when I went down it it was fine. The D3600? I asked, looking at my maps.me app. Yes, I think so, said my Local Knowledge Personal Route Advisor, not looking at a map. The one that goes dead straight south for about 130km? Yes, I think so, he said. He didn’t say when he had been down that road; nor what he’d been driving – I now know he drives a macho Namibian 4X4 called toyota (which is a Herero word for ‘rugged’) with wheels like a large John Deere. You know what those ous in khaki are like.
As I turned off the tar I thought ‘piece o’ cake.’ A good sand road. Third gear, 40kmh, smooth and a low middelmannetjie. In the dips it was softer and I’d have to change down to second. There were three surfaces: Reddish sand was firmer; light cream was deeper and the lightest grey sand was the deepest and softest. Keep up the momentum through those hollows, I told my driver. Surprisingly, some stretches were jarringly corrugated under the sand! 4X4 ous blame these corrugations on 2-wheel drive vehicles but 2X4 me tells them the 2X4 forums say 4-wheel drive vehicles are to blame. Luckily, so far none have asked me about those non-existent forums. They’ve just laughed at me. But I’m used to that.
After a few km’s I was thinking Uh Oh! and then soon it was 2nd gear and 30kmh with only occasional 3rd gear and 40kmh; After 50km of Uh Oh! it just got too deep, I lost momentum, slammed into 1st gear, but no go; I came to an abrupt halt. Stuck in the middle.
So I switched off and let rip with a long string of all my swearwords, repeating many of them and searching for the best ones.
Then I stopped to think. And what I thought of was that I was near the Angolan border and they speak Portuguese there, which reminded me of the Portuguese swearwords Abel Luis Aparicio Caixinha had taught me in primary school. So I let rip with those a few times. I thought that might help.
Cleverly, I had got stuck next to a lovely shade tree, so I left the Ford Ranger in the blazing sun and went to stand under the tree to think. I was not alone. Those four Big Beef Bulls I mentioned lay chewing the cud and staring at me thoughtfully through half-closed lids. I could see what they were thinking. They were thinking What A Doos.
What I was thinking is, I’m glad Aitch isn’t here. She’d be asking me innocently – knowing full well that I hadn’t: Did you bring a spade this time? Just because I had got her stuck in deep sand in the Namib desert thirty years ago, she’d assume I hadn’t brought a spade again. Correctly. If I patiently explained – again – But Think of the Weight I Saved, she’d roll her eyes so hard she’d see her occipital cortex. Again.
I thought Better Start Digging, but the shade was cool so I lingered. Me and the bulls were not alone. Each of them had a thousand flies buzzing around their bums and on the bovine crap which covered every inch of shady ground. A few dozen made a beeline straight from those bums to my lips and my Ffff! Phhh! Ffff! and slapping my cap at them startled the bulls, so they jumped up and stared at me through wide-open eyes, thinking What a Doos. Standing, I could see they were fully-qualified bulls, not cows or oxen. I needed visual proof, not being a good farmer.
I’d run out of thoughts and excuses now, so there was nothing else for it: I’d have to dig. I stepped out into the hot African sun and knelt next to the right rear wheel and started digging. Five seconds later I was back under the tree. Damn! that sand was fiercely hot on my bare knees, shins and foot arches!
Once I got a towel to kneel on I did the wheels one by one followed by a break under the tree to cool down. Then I let down each of the tyres to 1.1 bar, again with a shade break. This undid my initial dig so I needed to repeat, but only after digging out the fifth wheel: the spare slung underneath, buried in the middelmannetjie. One more round of digging in the same sequence and I was ready.
Time to fire outa here. I was determined to get out at first attempt. A failed attempt would dig me down towards Australia and I’d be stuck here until someone happened to drift down this lonely road as no-one had all day. Taking a deep breath I started off with a 3L turbodiesel roar in first gear and difflock for two metres, slammed into reverse and rocked back six metres, back into first and forward! Into second gear, and keep it up for the 300m to the harder red sand. I was out! Much better with 1.1 pressure, should have done that earlier. Plus removed my spare from under the vehicle!
On the hard stuff I stopped to think. 40 to 50km of known track down, about 80 to 90km of unknown challenge to go. Retreat! A four-point u-turn had me heading back north, exhaust pipe tucked under my bumper, discretion beating valour. Back on the tar I pumped all tyres back up to 2.4, swallowed an ice-cold tonic from my fridge and headed west, past Eenhana, then south to Ondangwa.
My day was far from over, but that story will need another post.
middelmannetjie – raised hump in the middle of a twin track
ous – men
ous in khaki – real men; hard to see when they stand in front of a khaki background; the background in Namibia is often khaki coloured
Didn’t think to take photos of the stuck Ford Ranger, or the bulls, or the shade tree! Damn! Aitch would have got pictures of my bum as I dug sand with my hands, as she did in the Namib.
Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.
The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.
Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.
‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.
His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.
‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’
31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’
1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’
2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’
3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’
Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.
The ole man’s first visit to South West Africa was by train in 1939. The trip cost six pounds return. His father being a railway man, he probably got a good family-rate deal. He would have ‘entrained’ here. where Oupa worked:
. . crossed all of South Africa to Upington, then passed through Keetmanshoop, Rehoboth and Windhoek:
.. and arrived at his destination station: Okahandja. The last stretch on a narrow gauge line.
He remembers a lovely wooden dining car, wooden tables, wooden carriage walls. Maybe like this?
His destination was his uncle and aunt’s farms. His aunt Isabel and her husband Theunis van Solms farmed on Engadien or Engadine. They did a lot of hunting.
The farms were clustered east of Okahandja – about fifty miles east, he says.
One farm called Nooi Bremen – Was originally owned by a German Count someone – a scion of the Staedtler pencil family and fortune. Or was it the Faber-Castell pencil family? They had more counts.
Daantjie’s farm Uitkyk – original name Onjombojarapati (meant ‘giraffe fell in a hole’)
Sarel’s farm Hartbeesteich – he left his father (or got kicked off the farm?) when he couldn’t stand the abuse any longer. Was sent away with nothing, but rounded up 600 cattle and drove them off to a widow’s farm near the village of Hochveld, 70 miles ENE of Okahandja, where he farmed for her and with her. When she died he bought the farm. Hartbeesteich. ‘teich’ = German for pan.
Japie’s farm was a dry farm; he drilled eighteen holes but never struck water. Dad can’t remember ithe name of the farm.
Geoffrey Kay, birding optometrist, ‘ornithoptometrist’?, put together a trip to Namibia in 1986.
We landed in Windhoek, picked up a VW kombi and rigged it up with a nice big hebcooler in the back. Ice, beer, gin & tonic. Now we were ready for any emergency.
West to Daan Viljoen game park where a lion’s roar welcomed us that first night. On through the Khomas Hochland into the Namib Desert. Then on to the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund. On to Spitzkoppen; Usakos; Erongo Mountains; Karabib; Omaruru; Otjiwarongo; and Outjo;
Then up to Etosha: Okakuejo, Halali and Namutoni camps. In Etosha we saw a very rare night ‘bird‘; Seldom seen.
Then on to Tsumeb; the Waterberg; Okahandja; And back down to Windhoek.
Geoff Kay, Jurgen Tolksdorf, Jill Seldon, Mick Doogan, Me & Aitch; Three optometrists and three normal people.
We spotted 200 bird species that week! Also a new mammal for me: The Damara DikDik.
Jurgen Tolksdorf newbie birder spotted many birds for us with his keen eye. “What’s that?” he’d say. In Etosha one night we woke up to the b-b-b-b-bhooo of a white-faced owl near our tents. We shook everyone awake and grabbed our torches and binocs and went to look for it. Except Jurgen. He said “A WHAT?” and rolled over and went back to sleep with a snort. We searched in vain and got back to bed very late, disappointed.
After a short sleep, on our way back from breakfast we met Jurgen who had risen late after a long night’s sleep and was now on his way to eat. While we chatted he looked up in the tree above our heads and said “What’s that?”.
While we were birding in Namibia in 1986, a comet buzzed past us.
Englishman Edmond Halley, in his 1705 Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets, used Newton’s new laws to calculate the gravitational effects of Jupiter and Saturn on cometary orbits. He realised that a comet that had appeared in 1682 was probably the same one that had appeared in 1531 (observed by Petrus Apianis), and 1607 (observed by Johannes Kepler). Halley concluded they were the same object returning every 76 years and predicted its return for 1758. He died in 1742 before he could observe this himself, but his prediction of the comet’s return proved to be correct! It was seen on 25 December 1758.
And then – significantly – again by us in Namibia in 1986, thus conclusively proving Halley was no poephol even if he was an Engelsman.
Petrus Apianis in 1531
Johannes Kepler in 1607
Edmond Halley in 1758 if he hadn’t died away – and . .
Petrus Swanie in 1986
We lay on our backs in Etosha on a beautifully clear night with our birding binocs and telescopes and had a good look at a tiny little fuzzball* far away while a white-faced owl went b-b-b-b-bhooo in the near distance. If the truth be told, our view of Halley’s looked more like one of the tiny dots in the right of this picture rather than the swashbuckling zooming thing on the left. But it did have a tail, so we convinced ourselves we HAD seen it. Halley’s Comet!!
*Even the keenest astronomers said the view of Halley in 1986 ended up being underwhelming in observations from Earth. When the comet made its closest approach it was still a faint and distant object, some 62 million km away. However, we humans did send a few spacecraft up which successfully made the journey to the comet. This fleet of spaceships is sometimes dubbed the ‘Halley Armada.’ Seven probes were up there looking, with the European Giotto craft getting closest – to within 596km. The Challenger space shuttle would have been the eighth but it blew up two minutes after it launched.
The Giotto got this pic of the 15km X 8km X 8km rock:
Halley’s is due again on 28 July 2061. I’ll be keeping a 106yr-old eye out.