Cecilia went home in March, as did Tobias. We thought it was for three weeks of COVID lockdown, but it turned out to be forever.
So now at last I was going to take the mountain of stuff she had accumulated while staying here, to her home in Mtwalume. She has always said she lives in Mtwalume. So with my white Ford Ranger loaded to the gunwales in the canopy and inside the cab – everywhere but my drivers seat, I headed south on the N2 highway. When I got to Mtwalume, I turned off the highway (1) – and phoned her.
‘OK, I’m at the Mtwalume turnoff. Where to from here?’
‘Go straight. There is a white cottage.’
Hm, there are about a dozen cottages, two or three are white. OK, which turnoff must I take – is this the right turnoff?
‘Go to Hibberdene, then look for Ghobela School.’ Ah, OK.
Back to the highway, seven kilometres later I turned off the downramp to Hibberdene (2); then turned right, turned right after Ghobela, turned right again past ‘Arts and Crafts’ and – just as she had said – there was a white cottage (3). Actually, two or three. Then there she was herself. Cecilia! Follow me, she indicated up a rough track.
I reversed up it, soon ran out of traction, engaged difflock and then eventually even that was no go. My wheels were spinning and when cow dung splattered on my rearview mirrors I stopped and we unloaded about thirty metres short of her house on top of the hill. Lots and lots of stuff.
The week before she’d come to Westville for our fourth attempt at satisfying the UIF requirements. This time we made payslips to match her Jan, Feb and March bank statements. Till today, still no luck. At least I could tell her to keep going, as Tobias had received a lump sum payment the week before!
The very next day she messaged me: ‘Morning Daddy. I hope you go well yesterday. I got my uif now. We thank you sir.’
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!
Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.
For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.
Waterberg, South Africa
On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.
In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.
Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!
On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!
BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.
Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!
‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!
Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.
It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.
We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.
Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!
On to Malawi
Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi
We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!
Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.
We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique
Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique
One Child, One Beach
Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.
When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!
Two Memory Highlights: The rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.
The friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”
Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;
Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;
Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”.
Just back from a Five Days, Five Forests birding trip to Zululand: Nkandla, Entumeni, Dlinza, Ngoye mistbelt or scarp or afromontane forests; and St Lucia coastal forest. (note: this was in 2013)
My highlight was Ngoye, about which I’ve heard so much over the years. Especially after Aitch went without me: “Have you been to Ngoye Koos? Oh, no, I remember, you haven’t. So you haven’t seen the Woodwards Barbet then? I HAVE!” Only about a hundred times, she rubbed it in!
COMFORT This trip was just me and my guide. Sakhamuzi was lovely quiet company. Nights at the B&Bs and the Birders’ Cottage we cooked up a red meat storm, washed it all down with frosties and early to bed. On walks I took my binocs, telescope, rucksack and deckchairs. Mostly we simply found great spots like forest edges and parked. My guide Sakhamuzi was great and said (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) that he enjoyed sitting still. Said mostly birders want to rush from one spot to the next, talking all the time! I said he should get deckchairs and specialise in khehlas and gogos. ‘Charge a premium, carry a hebcooler and you’ll make your fortune, young man,’ was my advice to him! Find a fruiting tree, and let the birds come to your doddery customers.
I took plenty snacks and drinks in my rucksack, so the waiting was comfy, luxurious and munchy. Next time I’ll take some poncho or dark sheet to break the human outline – see if that fools the voëls.
We stayed two nights in the Birders Cottage in Ngoye. Perfect for getting up before five every morning and getting straight into the forest at first light. Saw and heard lots of birds which I’d seen before but had written BVD next to them (“better view desired”) and one great lifer. Yes, Aitch-In-The-Clouds, I did the see the barbet, so I laid that bogey-bird to rest!
The Green BarbetStactolaema olivacea used to be called Woodward’s Barbet – our sub-species is Stactolaema olivaceawoodwardi. Here’s a beautiful 1897 illustration of a pair of Woodward’s barbets, by J.G. Keulemans
Also a special in the forest is the oNgoye red squirrel, Paraxerus palliatus ornatus and I cant remember if we saw him! I’ll have to go back! Illustration by Joseph Wolf, Zoological Society of London 1864.
WHEELS Craig Naude’s magic silver and blue Mitsubishi Colt 4X4 V6 3000 was superb. That’s it above left in the grasslands above the forest. I needed first gear low ratio in places in the forest where the rutted tracks changed to slippery clay, and steep drops into stream beds meant equally steep climbs out of them, starting at snail’s pace. Boy heaven.
COASTAL FOREST At St Lucia we got into the forest at dawn, too, then walked on to the mouth of the estuary by 6.30am and low tide. Waders and terns remain confusing to me, and the sooty tern Sakhamuzi hoped to spot had trekked back to Mozambique. Pity, as it’s one of the easier ones to ID. Oh, well, as the baby tern said to the mother tern: Can I have a baby brother? Certainly, said the mother tern: ‘One good tern deserves another.’
On the way back we spotted a dwarf chameleon, which I now know was probably the endangered Setaro’s Dwarf Chameleon. No picture! Then we sat in the forest in comfort again and a Green Malkoha (old green coucal) obligingly flew into a tree and leisurely displayed his banana beak in full sunlight. No picture!
Driving back to the B&B a Lemon Dove (old cinnamon dove) sat on a track at the side of the road for so long we eventually drove off! First time I’ve ever done that. Usually you just glimpse them flying off at speed. Another early night after red meat and beer was enjoyed.
What a great break – the first real birding since before Aitch and I became child-infested. I’d forgotten what early mornings without scarecrows was like! We spent 32 days on our trip up to Malawi when the kids were 5 and 1 and only saw one bird, and that was a Zambian nkuku whose cousin was deliciously on our plates at a shisanyama at the roadside in Livingstone. I exaggerate. Slightly.
Bruce Soutar wrote: Pete – eye think this is a compliment – from Rooooth Garland: Please tell Piet I LOVE his stories and want to see more . . . He makes me smile, even though he’s a drunkard and no good at flying. Does he have a blogspot I can sign up for? XxPS: Sakumuzi is a huge Twinstreams fan . . . Lovely man. Ruth Garland – Sydney Australia
Ruth’s Dad was the legendary Ian Garland, whose exploits at Twinstreams in Zululand did heaps to save, propagate and teach about indigenous plants. Ruth’s exploits at Mbona in a low-flying kombi were a different chapter, which also did heaps to save and teach, but not propagate.
khehlas and gogos – Old men and Old ladies
gugile – ancient, as in buggered; decrepit; you know; don’t pretend you don’t know
voëls – birds
nkuku – chicken
shisanyama – red meat on red hot coals restaurant; not teetotal joints; licenced to sell alcohol, ‘Which’ – as famous birder Ian Sinclair said with a grin – ‘I’m licenced to drink’
My Bird List in Nkandla Forest:Lemon Dove; Dusky Flycatcher; Blue-Mantled Flycatcher;Knysna Turaco; Red-eyed Dove; Redbilled Wood-Hoopoe; Greater Double-collared Sunbird; Grey Cuckoo Shrike; Rameron Pigeon; Black-headed Oriole; Cape Batis; Black Saw-wing; HEARD: Dark-backed Weaver; Emerald Cuckoo; Chinspot Batis;
My Bird List in Entumeni Forest:Narina Trogon; Cape Batis; Olive Sunbird; Terrestrial Brownbul
My Bird list St Lucia and in St Lucia coastal forest: Woodwards Batis; Rudd’s Apalis; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Green Malkoha – LIFER in South Africa for me – full sunlight saturation view; Grey Sunbird; Livingstone’s Turaco; Burchell’s Coucal; Whimbrel; Osprey; Grey Heron; Fish Eagle; Spoonbill; Yellow Weaver; Green Pigeon; Speckled Mousebird; Swift Tern; Black-winged Stilt; Avocet; YB Stork; Pink-backed Pelican; Little Tern; Three-banded Plover; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater;Lemon Dove – saturation close-up; Crested Guineafowl; Pied Wagtail; Cape Wagtail; Goliath Heron; Great White Egret; Little Egret; Thickbilled Weaver; White-breasted Cormorant; Palm Swift; Brown-throated Martin; Black or Common Swift; Chorister Robin-chat; Crowned Hornbill;
My Bird list in Ngoye Forest:Green Barbet – LIFER for me (yes, I know, Aitch); Yellow-streaked Greenbul; Tambourine Dove; Delegorgue’s Pigeon; Crowned Hornbill; Olive Woodpecker; GT Woodpecker; Orange-breasted Bush Shrike; Mountain Wagtail; Red-eyed Dove; Hadeda Ibis; Narina Trogon; HEARD: Wood Owl; Diederik Cuckoo;
Other creatures on the trip: Samango monkey; Red Squirrel; Thick-tailed Bushbaby (heard at night); Rainbow Skink; Banded Forester Butterfly;
We flew in on our first trip to Malawi. Just me and Aitch. At Lilongwe airport we hired a car from the brochures on the desk, not from the kiosks in the airport. Well, man on the phone said they didn’t have any presence at the airport to save money, but they were nearby, they’d be there in a jiffy. Cheap. I like that.
The airport emptied till it was just us, so we took our bags to the entrance and sat in the shade waiting. There was no-one there but a bored youth sitting in a Honda with sagging suspension, but we were chilled and the airport garden needed birding. Eventually I went back to the desk to phone the man. He was amazed: “My man should have been there long ago!”
‘Twas him. ‘Twas our car: The Honda. “No, no,” we laughed, “there must be a better car than this!” – thinking of the rough roads we’d be traversing. “Come back to the office and choose” said the friendly man. So we did and we inspected their fleet. Well, bless them, of course it was their best car, they’re good people; so off we headed to Kasungu National Park. We were on a safari in a dark blue Honda Civic with Formula 1 ground clearance.
In the park we drove with one wheel on the middle bump and one on the left edge of the road. On the open road we drove slowly and avoided anything above deck. While I was unpacking to occupy our bungalow I froze: a serval! Wonderful! We always love seeing the smaller wildlife. I tried to signal to Aitch as the cat walked out of the long grass into the clearing. I didn’t want to scare it, but I whistled low and urgent. Aitch came out and we watched as it came closer and closer.
And closer till it rubbed itself against my leg!!
We headed further north – to Vwaza Marsh, and then up high to Nyika Plateau, 10 000ft above seal level; then south again to Nkhata Bay, beautiful Lake Malawi and warner weather. The car went like a dream at twenty, and even sometimes at thirty km/hr.
South of Nkhata Bay we suddenly came on a stretch of smooth road! I crept the needle up to forty km/h. Then fifty and eventually sixty! Wheee! “Careful, Koos,” admonished my Aitch, clinging white-knuckled to the dashboard (kidding! sort of). Then we came up to the big yellow grader that had smoothed our path. It moved aside and we went past with a wave to the friendly driver. The road condition was now back to interesting, so I slowed down to forty. “Slow down, Koos,” admonished my Aitch. We’d been doing thirty so this still felt fast to her and I knew she was right, but I had tasted speed . . .
WHUMP! We hit a brick and I knew immediately that we’d be getting to know this remote stretch of Malawi. I parked on a low level bridge and leaned out to peer under the car: Oil pouring out the sump. Do you have any soap? I asked Aitch. Here, she said shoving a bottle of liquid soap into my hand. Um, no, a bar of soap. Ever resourceful, she whipped out a fat green stick of Tabard mozzi repellent. Perfect, I said and shoved it in the hole. It went into the sump without touching sides! OK, we’d be here a while . .
To break the tension I took my binocs and went for a walk and straight away things got better. “Come look!” I called Aitch “A lifer!” A Fire-Crowned Bishop flitted around in the reeds of the stream we were parked above. ‘Um,’ she said, ‘Don’t tell me that’s why you stopped here?’ Grinning, she made us a snack on the bootlid and we waited. Before too long someone came by. On foot. A few schoolboys who said, Not to worry, we know a mechanic in a nearby village. He will fix it. Great! I said, Would you ask him to help us, please? thinking Actually guys, there’s no ‘nearby village.’
An hour later a car zoomed by without stopping. Unusual for Malawi. Another hour later and a Land Rover stopped, the driver got out and shook his head sadly. He couldn’t help us as he was in a government vehicle. As he drove off we saw his female passenger appearing to give him a thousand words. He stopped and walked back with a 5l oil can in his hand. “I can’t sell you this oil because its guvmint oil, but I am going to give you this oil” he said. Great, we accepted it with alacrity. It was half full. It was a start.
Another hour or so and some figures approached us on foot, one with a greasy green overall and a red metal toolbox on his shoulder. It was our mechanic! The schoolboys had come through!
Soon he had the sump cover off and I started tapping the hole closed using a shifty and a spanner. As I tapped I asked if anyone – perchance – had a bar of soap. Nope. No-one. Holding up the cover to the sun I tapped until not even a glint of sun shone through. I had closed the hole. As we started to replace it, I muttered “I’d give twenty kwacha for some soap,” whereupon one of the guys whipped out a sliver of red Lifebuoy soap from his pocket.
Boy! Did the others turn on him! “How can you be so unkind to our guests?” was the accusation and they refused to let me pay him more than four kwacha for his soap, despite my assuring them that it was worth twenty to me. As we prepared to depart after pouring in the guvmint oil, we gave them each a cold can from our hebcooler, paid the mechanic his dues (he didn’t charge traveling costs) and gave them each a cap. I had two spare caps and Aitch had one. A pink one.
1500km later we handed the car back and I told the man at the airport: “Please check the sump. Its leaking oil.” It wasn’t, but I wanted him to check it.
In 2008 we took ourselves up to Mabibi. Lovely snorkelling spot on the Zululand coast. Aitch had just finished her chemo and this is what she chose as her “what would you like to do now?” With best friends Jon & Dizzi.
We luxuriated in the lodge and went for a daily snorkel in the reef at the point nearby. Lolling around the shallow reef checking out flocks of fish of all shapes n sizes one day, Aitch suddenly rose up and leapt about shrieking something about a sore earlobe. Luckily the water was only thigh deep so she could wade shorewards shouting ouch! and eina!
Six year-old TomTom had seen the fish, got out and rushed off to fetch his tackle. Getting back he had cast in where he’d seen the pansizers, and caught his Ma!!
Aitch never held my culinary skills in high regard. Her favourite meal to mock was my chicken-onion-n-potato-in-a-pot special which she described as pale and tasteless. It wasn’t. It just looked bland. With a touch of salt and black pepper and enough red wine taken internally it was fine.
She was right about my braaiing skills, though. Luckily Tom’s genes skipped back about seven generations to when burning dead animals on a naked flame was considered an advance in civilisation, not like I believe it to be: a pointless exercise now that Eskom has been invented. So he is now my braaiing stunt double.
To show that I’m an early adopter and no Luddite, I’ll have everyone know that when Aitch met me back in ’85 there was already an AEG microwave ensconced in my bachelor flat, faithfully re-heating coffee, poaching eggs and heating up the half hamburgers I would find on my chest after a good night out.
same microwave gave up the ghost this week. That’s correct. My AEG
microwave, bought on 26 March 1984 fizzled on me on the 26th of March
2014. How’s that for hi-fidelity?
And just to show I really will avoid playing the primitive pyromaniac if I can help it, here’s a picture of me pulling my shirt to hide that same microwave behind me at Kosi Bay, Zululand ca 2002. I snuck it into the kombi knowing their campsites had Eskom power and knowing that heating up Tommy’s bottles was a fiddle without it. So I took gas and I took firewood and I took Lion matches, but I used AEG electric microwave technology powered-by-Eskom’s coal burning to feed TomTom.
Update: Now I’m pissed off it packed up after only 30 years:
In 1963 John F Kennedy was president of the US, the Beatles had released their first album, and Winifred Hughes of Crewe, then a mere 39yrs old, paid £79 for an ultra-modern Belling Classic electric oven. It turned out to be an amazing bargain. Winifred, now 92, has used it almost every day since, and she says, “it never let me down”. Sadly, just last week, the thermostat finally gave up, and Winifred says she is “heartbroken” her beloved Belling is no more.
“…which she described as pale and tasteless. It wasn’t. It just looked bland. With enough red wine taken internally it was fine.”
Wasn’t she talking about you??
Terry Brauer wrote:
You truly are the nuttiest oke I know. For a greenie this is like true confessions. Nuking your food.
Off we went to St Lucia estuary for a camping long weekend. Let’s take the minimum guys, we can buy food locally. Just clear out the fridge and bread bin and let’s go. We’ll buy charcoal and meat and etc from the local Spar. I didn’t even take any wine! Let’s take a tent for the three teenage girls, and the 12yr old fella and I will sleep in the back of the pickup. The simple life.
Except I realised at the first tollgate that I had left my wallet in Westville. Complication. To turn back or not. In my rucksack I found Tom’s saving card, daily withdrawal limit R300. I had just changed his password, as we had not used the account for ages, so we were good to go. We just gotta be frugal, kids. And that’s where they blew me away. All four of them said “Dad, we’ve got money! You can have our money, Dad”. They each had R200 pocket money for the weekend and offered it freely! What stars.
Thanks guys, I may need that, but I have enough to fill up with diesel and we’ll just go easy and discuss it before we spend anything, OK?
The next morning I managed to activate my eWallet and cellphone banking at an internet cafe so could now draw R1500 a day! Problem solved! I gave them each R100 to thank them for their generous offers. Their eyes looked like chocolates and ice creams! Off we went to the game reserve (entrance fee R245) and to the water park (R120 for the four of them). We wuz rich! The girls bought swimming shorts with their money.
The next day that amount had kindly been reduced to R200 (“for my safety” – Thanks FNB!), so I had to make the speech again, and again they rallied around with their offer of chipping in, but with Tom’s R300 and my R200 we were fine. We ate boerie rolls both nights – cheap!
Here’s an isimangaliso* pan with buffalo, waterbuck and zebra (click on the pic). The Indian Ocean is just behind that high forested dune:
Tom got on with fishing . .
. . while the teenage girls did what teenage girls do . .
*isimangaliso means ‘miracle, wonder, surprise’ in isiZulu
We only got stuck four times. Once on the beach at Lake Malawi and three times on or near beaches in Moçambique.
In Malawi I got out to let down my tyres but a group of people from nearby ran up: “No, no. Don’t. We’ll push you out!” Turns out they were Bahá’í Faith folks having a picnic on a day of religious significance to them (maybe the Birth of the Báb in 1819?). They believe in World peace. Me too, brothers! World peace, a friendly push and not having to re-inflate my tyres is what I believe in! Handshakes and good wishes all round.
All three times in Moz we didn’t have long to wait and a guy rolled up in a Land Rover or a Land Cruiser, stopping in front of us and shaking his head pityingly in his tight khaki shorts. “You really must have 4X4” he’d say and I’d agree and ooh and aah about his rugged vehicle. Then he’d pull us out chop-chop, tell us where they had been, tell us where NOT to go (and make that route sound so exciting that we’d sometimes go exactly there!) and drive away still shaking his head.
I reckon if we had gone in a 4X4 we would have missed out on some good advice** and on meeting some friendly people!
April 1986: Disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in the Ukraine.
September 1986: Disaster in the Gillmer’s old kombi near Cradock en route to the Fish.
The trouble started with Black Label beer and Ship Sherry. I had wanted to buy a bottle of Old Brown, but I had fallen amongst thieves and my chairman was in the bottle store with me. “No man Swanie”, said Allie Peter, “Buy Ship Sherry. Then you can get TWO bottles”. Who was I to argue? He was a Kingfisher heavy, he was a Eesin Kayp local and I was blissfully unaware that this decision would not turn out to be in my medium-term best interests.
The night at Gattie’s place was a lot of fun and I clearly remember that clever feeling as I decanted more Ship Sherry into my bottle of Black Label. There was an aura of invincibility at one stage, but eventually – as happened too often in my youth – I looked around mid-sentence and found I was lonely. There was no-one else still vertical. I had no more friends. I dutifully (why does one DO this!?) downed the last of my blend and found a floor to lie down on.
Very soon after this I heard a loud noise. It sounded like someone was slitting the throat of Gattie’s prize bull. I knew vaguely that it was actually me and the loudness was due to the porcelain bowl echoing my distress. Gattie came to check, but seeing that it wasn’t one of his bulls protesting lustily, went back to bed.
Very soon after this it was morning. I was fine, but on the way to the race in the light blue Gillmer bus there was a low rumbling and some inner turmoil and I considerately thought to warn the inhabitants of the kombi of the pending gaseous pollutant. “Open the windows! There’s been a Chernobyl-like disaster” I shouted. They looked at me uncomprehendingly for half a second. And then the green cloud hit their nostrils, and they understood.
The hardest part of the Fish River canoe marathon – by far – was keeping my upchuck behind my tonsils on the dam we were cruelly forced to navigate before we were allowed to start the real paddling. Once on the river all was hunky dory and I ambled downstream in my white Sabre at my usual blistering pace (equal to the current) with frequent stops to stretch my legs or tie my shoelaces.
That night I ignored Allie’s advice and stuck to plain Black Label. Much safer.
Walking single-file to supper in Thembe Elephant Park camp one early evening with Jess bringing up the rear.
“Dad there’s a snake!” she said, and pointed out this vine snake at about her eye level two foot off the path. We had all walked past it.
Beautiful. Aitch took the pic.
She’s a great spotter, our Jess. While Tom waxes lyrical all the time, she’ll say “What’s that?” and we’ll see some new creature.
Ndumo – Camping alone – Extract from my diary: Tonight I decide to cook rice, lentils, green beans, potatoes and chicken washed down with a fine claret in a silver goblet. Mug. OK, it’s actually stainless steel. YUM!!!
If you must know, the meal was actually a KOO tin (chicken biryani), but you can read the label, all those ingredients are there. But I added the green beans as an inspirational touch. From a separate KOO can. Delicious!
And the better news: There was two whole litres in that fine claret box.
footnote: Soon after, KOO wins South Africa’s Best Brand Award. Coincidence? I think not.
Aitch’s work entailed a fair bit of travel. Daily, overnight, local flights, even some overseas conferences. One night before she left to the Midlands on conference she told the kids she’d be away and the subject of bribery came up. She was told politely but firmly that “a hug and a kiss are NOT OK as a ‘suh-prize'” homecoming prezzi anymore. Those were still welcome, but some hard assets such as cash, toys or sweets seemed to be preferred.
Truth be told, Aitch liked that! She was into gifts – giving and receiving.
Wanting to get to Mozambique for snorkeling soonest. Trish not well at all and wants to go snorkeling and I’m trying to arrange. Phone +2**2394*002 if you can.
Hope and trust all well with you? And your gang?
Our kids well – just rattled.
———- Forwarded Message ———
Re: Delayed response Re: Where you?
Hi! I am helping out at a Lodge in the Vilanculos area over the Xmas period – so may not reply promptly to your e-mail!
All is well however!
So I make a phone call
On 25 June 2011 09:31, Pete <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Hey Jaynee J !!
So good to chat to you again. That CAN DO approach! Love it. WhattaPom!
We’ll fly at a moment’s notice and I’ll do EFT as soon as you tell me.
The one fly in the oinkment will be PAIN. Let’s hope! Morphine is said to be amazing, so here’s hoping.
(Aitch says, “Morphine has always meant dying to me, Koos!” Well, it has to all of us, hasn’t it? )
Speak soon P
Subject: Re: Delayed response Re: Where you?!
Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2011 10:46:10 +0200
Hi my darlings
Well of course its a CAN DO. For you guys we kill bulls and marauding elephants!!!
Have a self-cater chalet lined up (nice) ….price being negotiated …..
LAM cheapest airline especially if you book on line.
Morphine – whatever gets you through the night Trish – is alright, is alright!!!!!
Waiting for you guys – bring jerseys!!! XXXXX
Well, it didn’t happen.
Aitch ended up in hospital for a night, which ended up being four nights – ‘Just to rest.’ Actually, I thought the herceptin had affected her heart, but my good friend cardiologist Dave said no – but he looked very worried – the look on his honest face made me realise we were near the end – and sent her to our other friend Mike the pulmonologist, who checked her in. She was quite chirpy when we visited, but tired and in pain.
Then she came home on the 1st July – THANK GOODNESS – and spent her last four nights in her own bed, fussed over by us. No more pain thanks to morphine prescribed as she checked out of hospital.
She died early morning 5 July 2011. Last words; ‘Thank you. Love you Koosie!’