Talking about ‘fuck’ – I read a wonderful book ‘Duzi Fever’ by an entertaining old bugger Rob Gouldie who did the 1955 Dusi. I once heard him give a hilarious talk at Kingfisher. He told a lo-ong story of hardship, paddling, dragging canoes, breaking boats, chopping one up and stuffing it into the other, lunch breaks and – eventually – settling down for the night in the darkness on their own after a long and stressful day – ‘we were at sewerage farm!’ That brought the house down, as usually one passes sewerage farm within an hour of the start!
Rob Gouldie has since shuffled off down his final rapid.
On portaging on the Duzi – “Negotiating barbed wire fences was a ball ache second to none . . . you had to pry open the strands so your partner could squeeze himself and the the canoe through without hooking his nuts“.
Winning the Dusi one year his partner “blew” and said “Rob, I’m fucked, can I just trail my paddle behind me and pretend I’m steering?”
He asked for leave from his job at a bank to do the Dusi and his manager refused. He writes: “I never knew how important I was as a junior clerk and felt quite proud that the bank would grind to a halt without my services”. Anyway he went AWOL, wrote a letter of resignation “should the shit hit the fan”. It did. He expressed great relief at no longer working for them.
On the race his partner “developed a severe chafe due to sand in his underpants” so he threw away his pants and underpants and “went Beau Brummel”. When they got to Umfula Trading Store the owner kicked him out. His wife was serving in the shop and Rob thinks the owner “was upset that she might be able to compare notes”. After Rob explained and his partner demonstrated, the owner took pity on his partner and gave him a roll of plaster “to wrap around the emaciated-looking Percy”.
In shooting a rapid: ” . . where we nearly saw our rings . . “
They were lying second one Dusi, 44mins behind the leaders who were “obviously cocksure of their lead, not knowing we had caught up to them and could almost smell their farts”.
On a trip down the Umkomaas he bought and drank way too many raspberry-flavoured milk drinks at a remote valley trading store, got bilious . . . and “hurled the most spectacular pink cat”. His mate caught the moment on film:
And on in that vein. I thoroughly enjoyed it! My kind of book! I was delighted to read his full and free use of ‘English as she is spoken on riverbanks’ and determined not to censor Customary Paddling Language in the Umko 50 book. Someone proofreading suggested I use f___ or f__k instead of fuck. Not.
We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave the dentist and US paddler put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; two non-paddlers, Jurie the cameraman, Steve Fourie and me.
And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.
Then they turned on the tap at noon and we could paddle (most of the time, the full flow gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!!)
Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:
The Middle Ocoee The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.
Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip. Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile. Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”. An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom. Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here. Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid. Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river. Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco. At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.
Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom. Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear. Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as . .
Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride. Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.
I only paddled the actual race once (1983 Hella Hella to Goodenough’s) but I was lazy and slow and the long days with cut-off times didn’t suit! Getting-a-move-on is not my forte.
So I used my tripping excuse to volunteer for sweep duties. We would paddle ahead of the start at Hella Hella bridge in our ‘tupperware’ craft and wait below No.1 rapid. Soon the river would be filled with flotsam, jetsam and bobbing heads. We would pull boats, paddles and paddlers to the side separately or altogether. It had not yet dawned on SA canoeing that maybe helmets and lifejackets would be a good idea for the Umko! That came later (a bit like the story that ballboxes came to cricket 100yrs before helmets).
Once the last paddler had passed us (or pulled out) we would drift on slowly to No.8 rapid about 17km downstream of No.1, leaning back looking up at the magnificent scenery. Now that’s more my style. On the way we would do more salvage and rescue.
These pics were in the 1988 program, taken during the 1987 race. So I didn’t see them: I was in the USA on honeymoon.
After the big floods there were rescue operations on the Umgeni and we went to help, ferrying people cut off from their homes or work across the swollen Umgeni. They hung onto us and we ferry-glided across. My big old Perception Quest was like a freighter, so one trip I ferried a person and a sack of mealie meal across!
Bernie Garcin (Bernie and the Jets), Doug Retief (Doug the Thief), Dave Walker (Lang Dawid) and me at Fig Tree Sandbank campsite, one of the planet’s most beautiful spots.
Three plastic (or ‘tupperware’) Perception Dancers and one Quest in 1984 and 1985 – we went both years. In those early days old-timers would still mock plastics, saying ‘tupperware keeps turkeys fresh’ but we knew the joy of not having to schlep fibreglass patch kits along and just smiled!
At the time Greg Bennett was sponsoring and competing in, a motorised rubber duck race down the Tugela (sacrilege!!). In ’84 he had Jerome Truran as crew, in ’85 Rip Kirby. We used Greg’s bakkie to get to Ngubevu. Who fetched us at Jamieson’s Bridge?
On one of the trips bare-breasted maidens flashed us. We saw a Landrover parked on a hill on the left bank, then saw some swimmers in the river, who ducked down as they saw us. As we passed two of the girls popped up their lily-white tits to huge approval. They were like this except the water was brown. And they had no cozzies on:
Four-man Hole was soon after that and I crowded into a Bernie-occupied eddy straight after the drop and punched the nose of my Quest into his ribs. Being Bernie he didn’t even wince, but I knew it had hurt.
The current swept us past them, but the mammaries lingered on.
Overnight at the duck race camp the sponsors Lion Lager thought we were competitors so their beautiful beer hostesses liberally plied us with ale. OK, lager. When they ran out I rummaged in the boats and found wine papsaks we used for flotation and squeezed out the dregs. Karen the gorgeous, voluptuous newspaper reporter (remember the days when they wrote stuff on paper?) covering the event for The Natal Mercury held out her glass and as I dispensed I gave her the patter: “A good wine. Not a great wine, but a good wine, with a delicate bouquet”. She shook her mug impatiently and said endearingly “I know fuckall about flowers, I’m in it for the alcohol,” and I fell deeply in love. My kinda dreamboat lady in shape and attitude. She was like . .
Dave too, was smitten as one of the comely lager hostesses joined him in his laager and treated him to sincere sleeping bag hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, ending the session with a farewell flash of delightful décolletage as she kissed him goodbye in the morning.
As we drifted downstream we sang:
The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous
The landlord had a daughter fair – parlez vous
The landlord had a daughter fair
Lily-white tits and golden hair
Inky Pinky parlez vous
We sang to the resident goats: I ain’t afraid of no goats
Two avid fishermen, Lungelo and me went down to the sea. Or to the Umtamvuna River at The Old Pont. Lungelo and I were not the avid ones. That was Tommy and Ryan, passionate, persevering pêcheurs.
Fishermen in blue.
Luxury accommodation on the banks of the Umtamvuna.
Besides the river fishing I also took them to the rocks near the Port Edward lighthouse.
Lovely sunsets and one rain squall – with the boys’ tent left wide open, so the second night they had a bit of a damp night. The fishermen latched on to many, many fish, most of them BIG and desirable (yeah, right!). But they landed far fewer – and smaller – ones. Crabs plundering their bait gave them hours of amusement. All but one fish (used for bait) survived their endeavours I’m pleased to say (pathetic bunny-hugger that I am. Or is that guppy-hugger?).
That’s what Jacques de Rauville told my business partner when he heard I was going to do the Berg River Canoe Marathon. He had come across me one evening on the Bay and I’d asked which way to go, it being my first time out there and the lights and the reflections were confusing. “Follow me” said Jacques, and off he went, but within 50m I was 49m behind him. He waited and told me “Left at the third green buoy” or whatever he said. When he passed me again on his way back and I obviously hadn’t made enough headway, he thought whatever he thought that made him tell his optometrist Mike Lello “tell him not to attempt the Berg”.
Jacques was right, but luckily for me Chris Logan got hold of me and took me for a marathon training session on the ‘Toti lagoon one day which got my mind around sitting on a hard seat for hours on end. Chris was a great taskmaster. We stopped only ONCE – for lunch (a chocolate bar and a coke).
The night before the first day in Paarl they pointed out a shed where we could sleep. Cold hard concrete floor. Winter in the Cape. Luckily I had brought along a brand-new inflatable mattress and a pump that plugged into my white 2,0l GL Cortina’s cigarette lighter socket. So I plugged in and went for a beer. *BANG* I heard in the background as we stood around talking shit and wondered vaguely what that was. A few more beers later we retired to sleep and I thought “So that ‘s what that bang was” – a huge rip in my now-useless brand-new no-longer-inflatable mattress, with the pump still purring faithfully away pumping air uselessly into the atmosphere. So I slept on the concrete, good practice for a chill that was going to enter my bones and then my marrow over the next four days.
The first day was cold and windy and miserable, but the second day on the ’83 Berg made it seem like a balmy day with a light breeze. That second day was one of the longest days of my life! As the vrou cries it was the shortest day, a mere 49km. Yes, those Cape nutters call 49km a short day! But a howling gale and horizontal freezing rain driving right into your teeth made it last forever. Icy waves continuously sloshing over the cockpit rim onto your splashcover. It was the day Gerrie died – the first paddler ever to drown on an official race day. Gerrie Rossouw. I saw him, right near the back of the field where I was and looking even colder than me. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. It wasn’t macho to wear a life jacket and I admit that I wore my T-shirt over mine to make it less conspicuous and I told myself I was wearing it mainly as a windbreaker. Fools that we were. Kids: Never paddle without a life jacket.
I saw Gerrie’s boat nose-down with the rudder waving in the wind, caught in the flooded trees and I wondered where he was, as both banks were far away and not easy to reach being tree-lined and the trees underwater. Very worrying, but no way I could do anything heroic in that freezing strong current, so I paddled on to hear that night that he was missing. His body was only found days later.
That night a bunch of paddlers pulled out. Fuck this they said with infinite good sense. Standing in the rain with water pouring down his impressive moustache my mate Greg Jamfomf Bennett made a pact with the elements: He would paddle the next day IF – and only if – the day dawned bright, sunny and windless. He was actually speaking in code, saying, ‘Fuck this I’m going home to Durban where ‘winter’ is just an amusing joke not a serious thing like it is here.’ He and Allie were then rescued and taken out of the rain to a farmer’s luxury home where about six of them were each given their own room and bathroom! Bloody unfair luxury, giving them an advantage and allowing them to beat me in the race!
Contented after devouring a whole chicken each, washed down with KWV wine and sherry supplied by the sponsors, us poor nogschleppers climbed up into the loft on the riverbank and slept on the hard floor. Here I have to confess Greyling Viljoen also slept in the loft and he won the race, which weakens my tale of hardship somewhat.
A good kip later, we braced ourselves for the third – and longest – day . . . . Which turned into the easiest day as the wind had died and the sun shone brightly on us, making for a really pleasant day which seemed half as long, even though it was 70km compared to that LO-ONG 49km second day. Before the start Capies were seen writhing on the ground, gasping, unable to breathe. They usually breathe by simply facing the wind and don’t have diaphragm muscles. So a windless day is an unknown phenomenon to those weirdos. At the start about ten Kingfisher paddlers bunched together in our black T-shirts: Alli Peter, Jacques de Rauville, Herve de Rauville, Bernie Garcin, Dave Gillmer, who else? Greg Bennett. He was also there, to his own amazement. I hopped on to their wave and within 50m I was 49m behind. I watched the flock of black T-shirts disappear into the distance. I was used to that.
That night we welcomed the last finisher after dark. Read about Ian Myers here.
By the fourth day I was getting fit and could paddle for quite a while without resting on my paddle and admiring the scenery. I paddled with a lady paddler for a while, focused for once. Busting for a leak, I didn’t want to lose the tug, so eventually let go and relieved myself in my boat. Aah! Bliss! But never again! I had to stop to empty the boat before the finish anyway (the smell!) so no point in not stopping to have a leak rather. Not that there will be a next time! Charlie’s Rule of Certifiability states clearly “Doing the Berg more than once is certifiable.”And while Charles Mason may have done 50 Umkos he has done only one Berg.
Greyling Viljoen won the race in 16hrs 7mins; I took 24hrs 24mins and probably 24 seconds; 225 maniacs finished the race. I guess I was 224th? I was cold deep into my marrow. My spinal column was an icicle, a stalactite. The Velddrift hotel bed that night was bliss. I wore all my clothes and piled the bedclothes from both beds on top of me.
In Cape Town the next day I bought clothes I couldn’t wear again until I went skiing in Austria years later. Brrrr!! Yussis! Nooit!
Thirty six years later I got an email:
12 Nov 2019 – Hi Koos, I am sorry to address you on such familiar terms because I have never met you. However, there is something sad that will always connect us and that is the death of the love of my life, Gerrie Rossouw. If you have any photographs with him in it, from the 14 of July 1983 or before, I would appreciate you sending them to my email. I am South African, but I’ve been living in Portugal for the past 33yrs. I will continue reading your Vrystaat Confessions. Thank you for having written about Gerrie. I have kept him alive in my memory all this time. Not a day has passed where I don’t think of him. Unfortunately, I have never had closure. Maybe now I will. Eileen
I replied with the little I know and gave her Giel, the Berg RIver’s historian’s address. Hopefully he’ll have more info for Eileen.
vrou cries – or as crows fly
Jamfomf – he who is all mustache and no cattle; or Allie’s name for Greg
nogschleppers – the important bulk of the field without whom the race would not look so picturesque, nor deliver as much drama; OK, and also, ‘also-rans’
Brrrr!! Yussis! Nooit!– coldest I’ve been; damn; never again
We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers? It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.
We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! Deepdale or Bald Ibis Falls. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip, lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.
The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing twilight. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.
The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!
Dropping into a ‘room’:
Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”
We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie’s legs are a lot shorter than mine, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.
At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘um, forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow track down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way, and Bernie had the benefit of my taking longer to get to him.
Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.
I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.
We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?
But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).
1990 saw the completion of Inanda Dam on the Umgeni River. As always, a dam profoundly changes the river and the valley. Yet another river tamed to serve our insatiable thirst. Drown a valley to water lawns. It also changed the Dusi Canoe Marathon, inundating the Day Two sandbanks and creating a 10km flatwater haul to the new overnight stop at Msinsi Resort.
For old times sake I wanted to go down that section before it got flooded, so I took all my boats and borrowed a few more and invited a few non-paddling friends – my partners and optometry friends – to accompany me. For me a nostalgic trip, for most of them a first look at a section of the Dusi course.
We launched all the craft at a low level bridge and started laughing: They didn’t float, they just plopped onto the sand under a millimetre of water. Talk about LOW water! We dragged the boats the length of the dam-to-be to take out about where Msinsi campsite is now, hardly getting our shoelaces wet. About 6km, Sheila said.
For me a lovely walk in the river bed, for them, I suspect, a bit of a pointless mission – and certainly not the ‘paddle’ I had enticed them into! I think they enjoyed it anyway. They did enjoy teasing me! Mike & Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, Geoff Kay, sister Sheila. And then some tag-along kids who lived in the valley.
An idea of ‘Before & After’: (better pics needed!)
Dams destroy biodiversity. You lose a lot to waterski.
As a schoolboy I was keen on kayaking and was tickled by a cartoon depicting a kayak on dry land trailing a dust plume with the caption Kalahari Canoe Club! I kept that on my wall for years. Kayak’ing in the desert was just a joke, right!?
In January 2010 we got to the Kalahari to hear the Nhabe River was flowing strongly into Lake Ngami and Aitch’s twin sis Janet and boyfriend Duncan had organised us kayaks! Hey! Maybe you really could kayak the Kalahari!
A reconnaissance trip to the area with GPS found us a put-in place where we could launch – no easy task as this Kalahari “desert” was knee-deep and chest-deep in green grass after the good rains. We returned the next day with two vehicles, four yellow plastic expedition kayaks and lunch, and set off on the beautiful river, flowing nicely between overhanging trees. It was my idea of Paradise! Green green everywhere, with plants, flowers, grasses and birds all putting on a spectacular show.
everything was green –
Five Giant Eagle Owls peering down at us blinking their pink eyelids from one thorn tree – that was special! As was a big green snake, I guessed over 2m long that came towards me on the bank as I drifted towards it. I was amazed it kept coming. When my kayak’s prow beached it still came on up to about a metre away, grabbed a small shrub in its mouth and only then beat a hasty retreat. A Kalahari Vegetarian Viper? I was thinking till I heard a loud hiss and saw the big flap-necked chameleon he had caught (together with some leaves) in his mouth. I had missed seeing a chameleon in that tiny green shrub! My guess is he was an Angolan Green Snake.
Another memorable sight was rounding a bend and seeing four cows drinking: One all-black, one all-brown, one all-white and one all-tan. They looked so striking against the lush new green backdrop that we remembered the camera but we had drifted past in the current and by the time we paddled back against the current they had dispersed. Here’s the white one:
Lunchtime we ate on the bank sitting on the kayaks. I remember hardboiled eggs and very tasty sarmies, thanks Jan!!
The girls then turned back as the paddling would be much slower against the current while Duncan and I headed on, determined to get into Lake Ngami.
And we did. How spectacular! The trees fell back and the sky opened up and huge reed beds stretched in every direction. Fish eagles cried, ducks scattered before us and herons and cormorants and waders were all over the place. At first we were still in a channel, but after another kilometre or so we could branch into other channels and lagoons out of the main current. We felt like David Livingstone in 1849. Sort of. Better.
Way too soon we had to turn back to get back upstream to the girls and the vehicles.
This is a trip crying out for a multi-day one-way expedition with seconds collecting you at a take-out point on the lakeshore. To do it though, you have to be free to leave at short notice on those rare occasions when the river is up. Or else you’ll be reviving the oldKalahari Canoe Club – with plumes of dust!
Aitch and I went to Mombasa in 1995 and checked in at a hotel on Diani beach. The next day I walked the crowded streets of Mombasa looking for a cheap hired car. Mombasa is quite a place:
I did my sums. I’m meticulous. Not.
While Aitch chilled on the uncrowded beach and pooldeck, no doubt quaffing ginless gin&tonics. She used to do that! Tonic & bitters. Ginless! I know! You’re right. Search me. Where’s the medicinal value?! The personality enhancing factor, PEF? Still, she loved it.
I found a lil Suzuki jeep. Marvelous. I could turn round from the drivers seat and touch the back window! Almost.
Birding Advice: Back at the hotel I went for a walk, leather hat on my head, binoculars round my neck. An old man came cranking along slowly on a bicycle, swung his leg high up over the saddle and dismounted next to me.
‘Ah!’ he said, ‘I can see you are English.’ I didn’t contradict him. ‘You are looking for buds,’ he said, also in a way that made me not argue. ‘There are no buds here,’ he said emphatically. ‘If you want to see buds you must go to the west, to the impenetrable forest. There are many buds there.’ And he put his left foot on the pedal, gave a push and, swinging his right leg high over the saddle, wobbled off. After a few yards he had a thought, slowed, swung off in the same elaborate dismount and came back to me: ‘But in this hotel over here you can see some peacocks in the garden,’ he informed me re-assuringly.
‘Ah, thank you sir. Thanks very much,’ I said, wishing him well and thinking of Kenya’s 1100 species of birds – eleven percent of the world’s total. The USA has about 900, and the UK about 600. He was a character a bit like this:
Traveling Advice: We also got pessimistic advice on the roads. We were on our way to Tsavo National Park the next day and we wanted to avoid the main road to Nairobi. We’d heard it was crowded with trucks and buses and we’d rather avoid that, if at all possible. On our Globetrotter map I found a little road south-west of the main road that showed an alternative route via Kwale, Kinango and Samburu.
‘No you can’t; No, not at all; There’s no way,’ says everyone. Even the barman! ‘The bridge has been washed away by cyclone Demoina,’ they all said. This was a bit weird, as Demoina had been in 1984, eleven years earlier, and had mostly hit Madagascar, Mocambique and KwaZuluNatal, well south of Kenya.
Usually I can eventually find ONE person to say ‘Don’t listen to them, the road is FINE,’ but this time I was stymied. No-one would say ‘Yes!’ nor even ‘Maybe.’
SO: We headed off along the road toward Kwale anyway. ‘Tis easier to seek forgiveness than permission, we thought. Aitch, what a trooper, was right with me in adventurousness. ‘We’ll see new places,’ was all she said. She knows me.
As we neared Kwale a minibus taxi approaching from the other direction did a strange thing: They actually flagged us down to tell us ‘Stop! You can’t go this way! The bridge is gone, Demoina washed it away!’ We nodded, we agreed, we thanked them kindly; then we kept going.
And they were right: The bridge over the river between Kwale and Kinango had indeed washed away. But there were recent tyre tracks down to the river which we followed. Below and just upstream of the wreckage of the bridge we stuck the Suzuki in 4X4 and crossed the low river. Then we stopped for a break, parking our mini-4X4 under a beautiful shady tree on the river bank:
And we were right: Besides being devoid of traffic, the road surface was mostly good, sometimes great:
Then the honeymoon ended: We ran out of detour and got back onto the main Mombasa-Nairobi road at Samburu: Aargh! Every so often a blob of tar would threaten to cause damage. Huge holes had the traffic all weaving from side to side so trucks seem to be coming straight at you, but it’s actually quite safe. Its rather like slow-motion ballet. Cars and trucks went slowly, the only vehicles ‘speeding’ – probably up to 60km/h – were big passenger buses with their much better suspension.
Thanks to Google Earth we can find the place where the bridge had washed away. Here’s the new bridge and new road on the right, with the old road on the left where we crossed the drift (yellow arrow) and that beautiful tree (red arrow and top picture ) that we rested under. The long red mud scar is a new road and new bridge that wasn’t there back then.
Then we got to Tsavo! I’d wanted to visit Tsavo since I was ten years old, and read books by Bernhard Grzimek and others! Well, here I was, thirty years later! Yavuyavu! Fahari!
When I paddled the Berg river marathon in 1983, that crazy 200km (‘241km Pete!’ Giel van Deventer reminds me. He’s the Berg historian) ffreezing fflatwater ffoolishness, the oldest oke in the race was Ole man Myers (ancient: 60 if he was a day). He lost his boat one night when the waters rose (he’d left it too close to the bank). Next day he had to find it downstream and take it back to the start – and so arrived at that leg’s finish VERY late – even after me.
When word came to the camp that he was arriving we all gathered on the bank to welcome him.
He paddled up in the dark singing:
“Roamin’ in the gloamin’ by the bonny banks of Clyde . .“