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Explorers 7. Wahlberg

Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.

The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.

Wahlberg’s elephants – in Namibia? –

Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.

– Wahlberg’s eagle and bat –

‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.

His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.

‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’

31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’

1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’

2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’

3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’

Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.

– Dear Museum, I have a white rhino skeleton for you. Signed Johan August –
– books based on Wahlberg’s journals and letters –
– he was the first to collect the red-headed weaver, near Thabazimbi –

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wikipedia; van riebeeck society; alchetron.com; aviation demography unit;

Africa, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Nostalgia, Sport

R.I.P Linda Grewar

Linda Grewar was a Kingfisher paddler from back around 1990. She and Bernie Garcin paddled really well – a number of mixed doubles podium finishes on the Dusi, Fish and Umzimkulu. Then she buzzed off ‘overseas’.

In May 2016 Bernie gave me Linda’s address, so I wrote  to her:

Hey Linda!
LONG time no hear!
Meantime I have freely been using your name in vain in the Umko book we put together for this year’s 50th running of the marathon and for a story on an Umko trip Bernie and I did where you helped us out with driving. MOONS ago!

Last I heard you were out East teaching English, now I hear you’re in England. IMO a lot of them could do with being taught English proper there too!

Me I’m raising kids at my age, they’re 18 and 14 now.

Haven’t paddled for ages, but bought a new boat (no logic involved). Be careful when you look at the pics of me n Bernie with my new boat – you may get a fright!

bernie_detox1.jpg

 

Saw Greg Bennett yesterday. He’s well. Thanks to the book I have seen or spoken to a lot of the old paddling guys in the last year that I hadn’t seen for ages.

Allie Peter, Mike Frizelle, Ernie Alder and various other maniacs are currently walking the whole Wild Coast. Three to four weeks heading South from Natal and ending in East London or Kei River or somewhere near there.

Fill me in on your movements since – when? – about 1990!?

Cheers now – Love to you – Pete Swanie

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On 2016/05/23 01:17 PM, linda grewar wrote:

Hi Pete

So good to hear from you after so long.

Yes, I was out East, in Taiwan. I then also taught English in Slovakia and Czech Republic before ending up here in the UK. I live in Esher, Surrey and was teaching fairly close by, in Surbiton.

As Karen probably told you, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in January- one hell of a surprise, as you can imagine. So far, I have had a course of radiotherapy and have had four sessions of chemo. Obviously I have not been able to work since I have been ill and things are quite hard financially.

Is it possible to buy hard copies of the Umko book? My brother is keen to get one and he can buy me one at the same time! Those days are but a distant memory now….

All the best – Love – Linda

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Dammit. Dammit! What a bliksem! Bloody cancer!

Good luck with your treatment. Hope it goes well.

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** May 2018 – Bernie contacted me to tell me Linda had passed away. Dammit. Bloody cancer.  **

 

Africa, Canoe & Kayak, Food, Life

Floods in KwaZulu Natal 1987

September 1987 floods

Between 28 and 30 September 1987, the central and southern part of Natal were ravaged by floods that were amongst the most devastating to have occurred in South Africa. The main cause was an intense “cut-off” low pressure system off-shore which co-incided with a Spring high tide. Destruction of property was catastrophic, nearly 400 people died and about 50 000 were left homeless. Damage to agriculture, communications, infrastructure and property amounted to R400 million (report: De Villiers et al, 1994).

The Mgeni and Mvoti rivers had flood duration periods of up to 24 hours and this caused dramatic erosion. In the Mgeni the island near the mouth was totally removed and scour of generally about 2m took place. In the Mvoti the river channel, normally 35m, widened to about 900m. Large quantities of sediment were deposited over the flood plain. Many bridges were washed away. The greatest disruption to humans was caused by the destruction of the Mdloti and Tugela river bridges on the N2 highway (report: Badenhorst et al. 1989).

1987 flood_Mdloti
1987 flood_Tugela
1987_flood_Mgeni
Continue reading “Floods in KwaZulu Natal 1987”
Canoe & Kayak, Nostalgia, Sport

As Good Books Go

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 has since shuffled off down his final rapid.

Umko Gouldie Book Duzi Fever.jpg

Excerpts:

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:

Trip Rob Gouldie Umko shoots pink cat

And on in that vein.
Thoroughly enjoyed it! My kind of book!

Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Travel, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Hella Hella weekend

Hella Hella 2016 (37).jpgHella Hella 2016 (30).jpg

Hella Hella trip-001

Hella Hella trip

On the banks of the beautiful Umkomaas river at what the Porters used to call “The A-frame” campsite (washed away in the 1987 floods).

Leopard and otter footprints (I think!); A tiny little dead shrew (what kind? dwarf?);

A magic lunch on the rocks next to a pool in the river below a little rapid.

And five kids.

Canoe & Kayak, Sport, Travel Africa

Paddling the Umkomaas

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.

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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.

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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!

Here’s (I think) Corran Addison:

Umgeni Rescue ca1988

Canoe & Kayak, Sport, Travel, Travel Africa

River trip Deepdale – Hella Hella

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! 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.

How low can you go!

Deepdale Falls

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 dark. 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’:

Deepdale Hella Kayak (5)

Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”

Deepdale Hella Kayak (9)

Deepdale Hella Kayak (10) Deepdale Hella Kayak (11)

Deepdale Hella Kayak (1)
Look Sharp territory

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 is not really a runner, 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 (‘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 path down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way. 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).

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