The manne were curious at least, won’t say envious. Tom had caught five fish before the other ten or so anglers on the beach caught their first. Hey, Rasta! What bait are you using? Then they started catching too. And then the fish went off the bite. Tom only caught anther two. All small stone bream, he called them.
Maybe Tom had an advantage though? He had, after all, fished here before, in 2005:
This time he was his own gillie. No smelly fish bait for me.
Three days in Mflosi’s Mpila camp with two demure young ladies.
We saw a few confrontations: Two male impala, two male lions, four rhino, with one male threatening the others. Nothing much came of these feints and threats, despite the loud shouts which came from the back seat, where the two demure young ladies were seated: FIGHT! Fuck him up!
‘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.
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!
Here’s how it works: Thirty-some years ago I was invited to a wonderful gathering with great friends Dave & Goldie who’d just had twins to add to their Tatum. There was good food thanks to Goldie and lots of beer which Dave may have had something to do with. Also there was something in a church, I dunno why, but hey! Did I mention the food and beer?
Turns out childless, clueless me had said something in church that was actually a lifelong commitment! I had joined the Mafia become a Godfather! I immediately set about neglecting my duties, but when the twins started performing terrifically in the famous Dusi Canoe Marathon I mumbled Them’s My Godsons and got told to shurrup.
But now! NOW! Googs has just run the famous Comrades Marathon in the insanely quick time of 7hrs 14mins – over 15mins inside silver medal time! So once again I step forward out of the shadows. Although claiming some influence on his good performance, I did mention that I hadn’t won my Comrades when I ‘did it’ back when we wore heavy hobnailed boots and hand-knitted vests.
Being the gentleman he is, Googs sms’d me back: Chuffed you are back to claim godfathership! Glad I could lure you back from retirement.
Less than a week later I became a Granpa for the first time. Ziggy had a baby boy on Saturday!
Tom is claiming godfathership! Knowing Zig she probly did confer the honour on him! He’s super-chuffed. Will prolly walk around with his chest out and do nothing, just like his father before him. **Some people!**
Mopani camp was full. How about Letaba? I asked. Sorry, its also full. So Jessie found Tingala Lodge on booking.com – What a happy diversion it turned out to be.
About 15km north of Phalaborwa gate into Kruger Park, Tingala Lodge is terrific. While we chilled on the big patio overlooking a waterhole, a lady arrived in a double-cab bakkie and I noticed a couple of cases of Painted Wolf wine being carried into her room. When she joined us on the patio I said, ‘Lovely Wine, that Painted Wolf. My sister sells it in Durban.’
‘Yep, Sheila’s my sister. I love the labels,’ I said, ‘Who does your artwork?’
Originally an artist who worked on a game lodge in Botswana.
Lloyds Camp on the Savute channel.
‘I knew an artist at Lloyds Camp,’ I said, ‘Jenny Song, she was there when we visited way back when.’
It was Jenny! She did our original artwork!
‘What a lovely person, we got on so well with her. My wife Trish bought something she painted. We had such a special time there,’ I said. ‘When we flew in from the Delta, back in the day, we were picked up at the landing strip by Emma, a young pink-cheeked Pom who said she was the chef, and she was on guest-fetching duty that day. She loaded us into the open Landrover and drove us right up an elephant’s bum at the waterhole on the way to camp. When we got to camp she had prepared a delicious lunch for us overlooking the camp waterhole in the channel, and we ate and drank ice-cold beers looking down on eles heads as they drank freshly-pumped water.’
I’m that Emma! she said. I worked with Lionel and Jenny Song in Lloyds Camp in 1993!I loved driving new arrivals to Pump Pan to watch the eles!
In 2022 we had bumped into Emma the pink-cheeked Pom from our 1993 trip to Lloyds Camp! You sadly just have to behave wherever you go – someone, somewhere will know you – even 29 years later!
I carried on reminiscing about our time in Savute: ‘Our fellow guests were cabin crew from SouthWest Airlines in Texas, the world’s biggest airline at the time.’
That would be Doug and Linda, said Emma, and you won’t believe it, I was in contact with Linda just yesterday. We have kept in touch ever since! She’ll be amazed when I tell her who I met today.
The next day we were due at Mopani Camp in Kruger, so we only stayed one night at Tingala Lodge. I’d love to go back. The birding was terrific, and on the way out we saw an African civet in broad daylight.
Zena said We must go to Kruger, my man Martin is a fabulous guide. I said Let’s Go!, and when August rolled round there we were, chilling in the mopane woodlands around Mopani Rest Camp in the famous Kruger National Park, drinking gin and tonic, gazing out over Pioneer dam from our under-thatch bird-watching stoep.
Martin runs Laughing Hyena Safaris, and his experienced Kruger Park nose soon led us to great sightings – big ones, feathered ones and little ones too.
Suddenly! We spotted some spots in the mopane shadows! With great skill we tracked the shadowy spots through the dappled sun and shade of the mopane woodland. What could it be?
Hey, it was! It was a . . a . . leopard! Kruger’s holy grail. With great tracking skill, we had found it:
. . . ‘course, we actually found it the traditional Kruger Park way:
To celebrate we had lots more gin & tonic, which improved our sightings even more:
A keen photographer and Canon ambassador, Martin aimed his long lens out the window and later let us have some of his pics:
. . and he made us a video:
and he taught us a new bird species: the Burchell’s Poupol
Bloody hell, me shoulders! All of a sudden, really painful shoulders lying in bed one night a month ago (written June 2021). Not an ache – actual pain. I couldn’t roll over, I couldn’t get up without flopping like a jellyfish. I was amazed, then I thought, Aha! I Know What Did It. Two days prior I had done a lot of tree branch trimming high overhead.
Using a pruning saw on the end of my aluminium swimming pool net pole, I was sawing off branches that obscured my gates. I’d been meaning to trim for a while as the jungle took over but . . procrastination. Then I got cameras on my gates so I can see who is there and now I had to actually do it.
So, I thought, I’ll be stiff for a day and all will be well. But it was pain, not stiffness, so I hoped: Maybe I’ve pulled a muscle! Luckily the Bennett brothers weren’t here this time to chorus in rude unison: ‘Ha Ha! Swanie, you couldn’t have pulled a muscle. You must have pulled a fat!’
Well, it’s a month later and I have really painful shoulders at night. Daytime they’re fine, nights are torture.
A few months later: It’s gone, fank ve pope.
Confession: The only thing I changed was prompted by a clickbait ad which I did NOT click on. It shouted: “Here’s what not to eat if you have arthritis! CLICK HERE!” with a pic of a panful of tasty-looking fried eggs.
I thought, I have eaten two fried eggs every single day of lockdown. I have breakfast down pat. I fry two eggs, make two slices of toast and scarf it down, salt and black pepper, washed down with sugarless black coffee, breakfast done.
So I stopped. The pain disappeared. Please note this anecdotal evidence is not research. The pain may have disappeared if I’d twirled around three times and farted facing north that day. But I’m too scared to chance it, it was seriously a kak spell, so it’s no more gardening for a long while now. Can’t take chances. Maybe less eggs too.
Lovely accommodation, such friendly and helpful people. I decided to go full-on loafing and arrived expecting dinner, bed and breakfast. They had us as self-catering and the chef had taken leave. We said No Problem; They said No Problem; and between us we pooled what food we had. The delightful Nana who welcomed us and whose face fell when I asked what time dinner was, ended up cooking breakfast for us all three mornings. She was teased by the other staff in her new role and as I listened to them bantering in isiZulu, she ended off her reply with this American English: “There’s a new chef in the building!” to warm laughter. For our dinners she hauled venison out of the deep freeze and we cooked for ourselves as she goes home at 4pm. Today she said “I’ll make you a proper breakfast tomorrow, we have been shopping!” – the shops are about 27km away in Pongola.
Great birding for me, and Jess saw another special predator: A pack of seven African Painted Dogs.
At night a leopard (the resident female, said Adrian) could be heard ‘sawing logs’ while walking in or near the camp, while a lone lion oom oom’d at various distances all three nights.
The 258km from Harrismith to Parys via Weiveld takes six hours to negotiate if you haven’t yet seen a korhaan and you need to see one.
This includes a stop for steak egg and strips at the Royal Hotel in Reitz. Instead of strips I got potato wedges crisply fried in batter. Yum!
Here’s the route for slow pokes not in a hurry:
The roads are really quite good mostly. There’s a section between Petrus Steyn and Heilbron where the ANC oke who got the pothole tender must have pocketed the money and not delivered them. It’s smooth and kinda first world! He’s gonna be in trouble. The dirt roads are also mainly fine, but can get rough, and in the dips they get more interesting, as they’ve had some rain. Mud and some deep pools.
I saw my korhaan at last. Not the Blue, which I’ve been searching for, but the Northern Black Korhaan. Also a few Namaqua Doves, a favourite. Pics from my Newman’s Birds app.
Heavy storms are predicted but I had only a few showers on the way.
The feature pic is the view from my B&B on the left bank of the Vaal (not the Seine, silly!) in Parys, Free State. Paddling mate Chris Greeff had told me about this lovely rapid in his home town. Read a bit about him here. There’s A LOT more – Greeff should write a book.
Very warm in bed in Mistique Waters guest house on the banks of the Vaal after a hot bath. Tomorrow the streets of Paris!
M.agical A.vian and H.ysterical E.xpedition to M.emel
I decided to look for elusive gentlemen farmers Des and Ian by launching a stealth visit to the Memel district, choosing the Memel hotel as my base.
I settled on the stoep with a cold beer and asked if anyone knew Des Glutz? Well, they all did and had lots to tell me. Just wait right there, said Rudi the friendly hotelier, He’s sure to pop in, it’s Friday.
Various bakkies arrived and men in khaki wearing boots or velskoens trooped into the bar. Then a Nissan parked right in front of me and under the chassis a pair of bony feet in blue slip-slops appeared, followed by a pair of bony legs in faded navy blue rugby shorts with plenty of ballroom. His face and neck were covered by beard but I could see this was my man. He’s kinda unmistakable.
I accosted him from my prime spot on the stoep: ‘Excuse me, what you think you doing? You can’t come in here dressed like that!’ Well, then he knew I was from far, cos he most certainly can and does go into the Memel pub dressed like that. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me with his chin tilted up and his eyes half closed, you know how Des does that. Then he kicked for touch: Wait, I’m just going to tell these fuckin old fossils I’ll be late. He ‘stuck his head in the door and cussed his three slightly older drinking pals, telling them he’d be outside; then he came back to stare at me. Took a while to see through my new beard, then he said Coppers, is that you? He always called me Coppers after a Clifton primary schoolmate oke called Copchinsky. He also called policemen copchinskys.
As people arrived everyone greeted Oom Des and he had a cussing and a slur for each of them. Except the ladies. Hello my sweetheart, I still love you but I’m worried about your heart, he says to one, Come here and let me listen to your heartbeat. She leans over him and he nestles his ear in her boobs and rubs back and forth going Mmmmmm. Hai Oom Des, she says and rubs his head affectionately. Incorrigible. No change. And no improvement. We had a wonderful evening before he left for home, late, but with a pizza for Mercia as a peace offering. I discovered a few things that Memel evening: One was that the mense of Memel love the oke.
The next day I drove around the well-known Seekoeivlei nature reserve; Des was off to pretend to buy bulls at a vendusie with one of the fuckin old fossils.
Des and Mercia have a lovely spacious home in town and Oom Des decreed that a braai would be held there. Unfortunately I hopped into his bakkie to go there, mid-conversation, so I had no beers, no car. Soon after, another apparition arrived with a snow-white beard. The Bothas Pass hermit had emerged from his cave, bearing enough beers for an army, plus a bottle of brandewyn. Ian Stervis Steele, who I had not seen for many decades. What a night. About ten people, about a thousand beers and a gallon of brandewyn; lots of mutton chops, pork ribs and boerewors, a huge pot of pap and a very lekker sous. Very good oldtime music and Des at the head of the table till WAY late. Generous hospitality and much laughter.
Stervis, myself and a local couple stayed the night with Des and Mercia and their four dogs, the most notable one being a pekingese / sausage dog cross. Pitch black and chubby, about ankle-high, with that Pekingese-style smashed flat beak. Name: RAMBO. If you weren’t careful it would lick you. I got the comfy couch in the lounge.
The next day I was off-peak and had a snooze back at the hotel and booked another night. In the afternoon I drove out to Normandien and Mullers passes and then visited Des. For tea this time. Then back to the hotel where Rudi cooked me a huge T-bone and I had an early night, dank die hemel, Memel.
I saw stonechats, mountain wheatears and amur falcons; and the beautiful Klipspruit valley.
Before I left on this drive I called in at the butcher for some fatty biltong. The owner enquired what I was doing in town and I said I had been sent on a special mission to find and fix a man called Des Glutz. He and two customers in the shop roared with laughter and told me in no uncertain terms that there was no way I could ever live long enough to achieve that.
mahem – grey crowned crane
bakkie – pickup; ute; status symbol
slip-slops – Glutz fashion footwear
fuckin old fossils – people slightly older than Des
Oom Des – old codger
mense – people; folk
braai, boerewors, etc – ritual burnt offerings; various animals sacrificed
brandewyn – sacramental drink served in braai ritual in tall glasses; distilled from grapes or peaches, they say
dank die hemel – Memel ‘sanks heavens’ ritual chant
Memel is maybe named after a Memel in East Prussia where they fought a battle in 1257, even before Des was born I’m told. The name means silence, but that has been broken since Des moved to town and since Memel joined with Zamani to become Memel-Zamani.
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.
* 250km as the vrou cries – or crow flies – a bit further if you insist on going ‘on the ground’