Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “travel”

Homeward bound

When we arrived at Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, Botswana, the previous night, it was dark. From the balcony we could see street lights in the distance, but had little sense how close or far away they were. When dawn came, we looked from the balcony at a spectacular view over a plain.

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

When we arrived at dusk it felt as though we were in the middle of an urban area, so we weren’t prepared for the magnificent view we saw when the sun came up.

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

We packed up and left at about 8:00, and stopped on the road below the Lentswe Lodge to take a photo of our cottage perched on the hillside up above before driving into Serowe and filling up with petrol. One of the garage attendants brought us a form for a competition to win a tractor, and I filled it it. It was just the kind of thing we would win, so I thought I’d better Google for a suitable agricultural project to donate it to, just in case we did.

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

We set off again and as we approached Palapye saw a rather large industrial conplex, and as we passed it saw that it was the Marupule Colliery, next to a power station, which we passed at 8:50, 38.4 km  from the Lentswe Lodge.

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

We drove through Palapye, and turned off to Martin’s Drift, and at 9:45, 75.6 km from Serowe, stopped at a sitplekkie to eat the packed breakfast they had given us at Lentswe Lodge – a sausage, a small carton of yogurt, two boiled eggs, a mince jaffle and an apple. I ate most of mine, and threw the carton in the bin, though there was rubbish strewn all over the ground, more outside the bin than in it. It was certainly not clean like the Namibian sitplekkies, but as it was on the right-hand side of the road, we wondered if it were not South African travellers coming through the borders who were making all the mess.

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

We reached to border at Martin’s Drift at 11:15, 158 km from Serowe, and crossed the Limpopo River back into South Africa. The Limpopo didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Okavango, or even the Boteti!

Once again, the immigration officials on the South African side were more surly and less professional than those on the Botswana side. We were also amused by signs in the toilets, welcoming people to South Africa, to give first-time visitors their first taste of South African culture and customs.

Welcome to South Africa!

Welcome to South Africa!

That sort of thing seems to be common to welcome people to a country. In 1966 I left South Africa in a hurry, to escape the clutches of the Security Police, driving through the night to cross the border with Rhodesia (as it then was) at Beit Bridge, a bit downstream from Martin’s Drift. It was just after UDI, and tension was high, but relieved when we saw the desks where one had to fill in  immigration forms, each with a neatly-printed notice with the exhortation, “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.”

Why is it that one’s first introduction to a country is so often a notice prohibiting something or other?

There were about 50 cars parked on the grass next to the parking area, covered in dust, and we wondered if they had beren confiscated as vehicles whose papers were not in order, possibly stolen, but if they were, it seemed that the real owners had made no attempt to claim them. There were also some police vans parked there, and I got the old feeling that one used to get, returning to apartheid South Africa after a visit to a neighbouring country, that one was returning from freedom to a police state. Why is that? It was much more pronounced in the 1960s or the 1980s, but why now. I know in my head that it isn’t so, but emotionally it still feels a little like it. Is it perhaps a result of the Marikana massacre?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border - stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border – stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Beyond the border post, the countryside feels different too. There are cultivated fields with irrigation sprinklers instead of natural bush. The verges are narrower, there are more wires by the side of the road. Botswana felt wild, this now feels tame and civilised. We turned off for Lepalale, formerly known as Ellis Ras, and drove through it looking for somewhere to eat, as it was 12:30 and getting on for lunch time, but saw nothing, so headed out for Vaalwater, and passed through some bush-covered hills, as wild as anything we had seen on Botswana.

Hills near Vaalwater

Hills near Vaalwater

At Vaalwater there was a restaurant that looked closed, and a Hotel-Bar, which looked more like a local watering hole than a place geared to providing meals.

Beyond Vaalwater the Waterberg mountains were beautiful, as I remembered them from passing this way with Stan Nussbaum 13 years ago. We went on into Modimolle, formerly known as Nylstroom, and had lunch at the Wimpy. They did a reasonable steak egg and chips, small enough to eat, and I knew to avoid their hamburgers at all costs.

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

We left at 2:56 pm, having covered 408 km from Serowe, and drove along the old road to Bela Bela, formerly Warmbaths. The road was quite narrow and winding, and there were obviously many, like us, driving here mainly to avoid the toll road. But this road is also far more interesting, and I always love seeing the sign to “De Nyl, s’n oog” (The Nile, its source). From Bela Bela we drove along the R101 where the speed limit was 120 km/h, so it was no slower than the freeway, though we went at about 110 most of the way to Pienaar’s River.

After that it started to get more built up, and at Temba, north of Hammanskraal, the speed limit was 60 in many places, and when we started to encounter pedestrian crossings with humps, we went on to the toll road. It cost just over R18.00, and a bit further on there was another toll gate, where we had to pay another R8.00. We had no more South African cash money, so Val used her credit card, and  so it cost about R26.00 from Hammanskraal — I wonder what we would have had to pay if we had gone on the toll road at Modimolle? But Hammanskraal is within Tshwane, and so people from there, coming to work in Pretoria, would have to pay over R50.00 every day, and they are the poorer people. There are protests against e-tolls that are about to be introduced on most of the Gauteng freeways, but these older toll roads are just as iniquitous, when a 20c per litre increase in the fuel levy would pay for the lot.

We got home at 4:30, having covered 538,7 km from Serowe, 1140.5 from Maun, 1545 from Shakawe, 1836.4 from Rundu, and  2338,4 from Odibo, which was about the furthest point we had reached from home. Over the whole trip we used 5,6 litres of fuel per 100 km.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

A day in Maun and another boat ride

Continued from From Shakawe to Maun via Lake Ngami | Hayes & Greene family history.

After breakfast at the Island Safari Lodge at Maun, Botswana, where we were staying, we hung around for a while reading and relaxing, then later we went into town to try to get some cash money and some lunch. It seemed that none of the credit card machines at garages or other places were working. Nor was the facility to buy air time for cell phones (any offers for two P10.00 air time vouchers for Mascom in Botswana, which we are no longer able to use?). Fortunately we found a couple of working ATMs.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We saw a Bimbos restaurant, which we had not seen for ages, and had a look at it. It was in one of them that I had first had a shwarma, with Tony Irish, in Hillbrow, 30 years ago. But though the name remained, the franchise had gone,and there were no shwarmas, only local food like goat stew, though they did have chicken breyani on the menu as well. If they had had goat breyani I might have been tempted, but chicken breyani tends to have too many bones for the unwary.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We drove around the town, in a kind of figure 8, going west along the road we had come in, turning south, then north, following well-made tarred roads with streetlights, , though the roads between the houses were sandy tracks, and some houses were traditional mud and thatch, some were plastered brick, but often rondavels rather than square houses, and many, both square and rondavel, had traditional lapas outside. It seemed a quite a bit bigger than Rundu, but a much more pleasant place.

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy ...

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy …

Eventually we had lunch at Wimpys, and I had one of their standard hamburgers, which was as tough an leathery and tasteless as they had been for 50 years. “Flanagan’s Ears” as Val used to call them. Flanagan was a dog they used to have in Escombe, a sort of mongrel spaniel. We went to a Shoprite supermarket, and bought some bottled water and biscuits for our journey to Serowe tomorrow, as we don’t know what we will find along the way.

... but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

… but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

I don’t normally buy bottled water, as I regard it as a bit of a scam, and ridiculously overpriced. Well, I do buy bottled water, actually, because drinks like CocaCola and Sprite are basically bottled water with a bit of flavouring and sweetening added. I justify buying those to myself because the flavouring and sweetening does add some “value” to the product. But a litre of Coke costs about the same as a litre of petrol. The petrol had to pumped out of the ground, brought halfway round the world in a tanker, and refined in a fairly complicated process, which might justify the price. But adding flavouring and sweetening, and even a bit of fizz to water is relatively simple, and does nothing to justify the price.

tap2Some bottled water is advertised as “spring water”, and so is supposed to be more “pure” and “natural” than tap water, though I suspect that it absorbs quite a lot of impurities from the plastic bottles that it is stored and transported in. But really, how would you know? Most of it just tastes like water. And some of the bigger food firms, like Nestlé, have jumped on the bottled water bandwagon advertising a lot of bogus benefits, most of which are also available from tap water. They claim that “is filtered through the earth and stored in deep Dolomite lakes” (read “boreholes”), but Bonaqua, the CocaCola brand, is basically bottled tap water.

But when travelling in strange places, tap water is not always potable. I remember that in Moscow it wasn’t, and that’s a big city. At the Island Safari Lodge they put out a carafe of drinking water in the rooms, perhaps for such a reason, so we bought bottled water rather than taking their tap water, which could, for all we knew, have been pumped straight from the river outside. So we bought bottled water.

In the Okavango Delta a boat  is a good way to move your stuff

In the Okavango Delta a boat is a good way to move your stuff

Back at the Island Safari Lodge they advertised a sunset boat trip, and since we enjoyed the one at Shakawe so much, we booked for it. At Shakawe our main interest was that Val’s great-great-grandfather had gone up the river there in his boat, and as far as we knew he had not done such a thing at Maun, but picturing oneself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies seemed quite attractive. So we went at about 5 pm.

Washing clothes at the riverside

Washing clothes at the riverside

The boatman, whose name was Cobra, was not expecting us, and thought that no one had booked for the sunset ride, but soon sorted that out, and we went up the river, much narrower and shallower here than 300 km upstream at Shakawe. We looked at jacana birds, Cobra called them “Jesus birds” because they walk across the lily pads, and look as though they are walking on water. We also saw some bee eaters perched on a tree, but not at their nests.

African Jacana -- sometimes called "Jesus birds" because they appear to be walking on water

African Jacana — sometimes called “Jesus birds” because they appear to be walking on water

Cobra said that the flat island on our right, with its grazing cows, was covered with water when the rain in Angola brought the river down in June or July. On the left bank were a lot of dead thorn trees, some with grass in upper branches, showing where the floodwaters reached, up to ten feet from the ground. There was a shed there, and I asked if that too was covered with water, and he said it housed a borehole which people had put down in a dry period, and the trees had also grown here in a dry period, and when the water covered the banks they had died, because Kalahari thorn trees can’t survive in an environment that is too wet, which would also explain the dead trees that we had seen at Lake Ngami — the water level must be rising again, and must be a lot higher than it was 10-20 years ago, though still nothing like as high as it must have been in Fred Green’s time, for him to be able to sail a boat up the Taokhe River.

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

We turned up the left branch of the river, which was flowing more visibly, but at less than half the apparent speed at Rundu or Shakawe. Occasionally we slowed down when passing canoes with local people, to avoid upsetting them with the wash, and went quite a long way up the river.  There were several fish eagles along the banks, and pied kingfishers.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

The sunset was beautiful, and we took several photos, but even better was the rising moon on the way back. We passed some schoolkids playing around in an old boat, though not controlling it very well, but it struck me as a nice after-school pastime.

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

How can there be so much beauty in the world?

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

And so to supper, and bed.

The next day we followed the course of the Boteti or Botletle River, where Fred and Charles Green often hunted in the 1850s, to see what its attraction was.

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You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

In the Etosha National Park 15-17 May 2013

We spent a couple of days at the Etosha National Park on the way north to Ovamboland. We drove north from the Sasa Safari Lodge through Outjo, with many of the tall north-leaning anthills found in this part of Namibia, with lots of mopane trees. In one place the trees had been cleared, and it looked as though someone was farming anthills, as they seemed to be planted in neat rows. There was also a sign of the changing landscape and a changing world – telephone poles stretching into the distance with not a wire left on them, as cell phones take over the world.

The changing landscape -- a disgth that will soon disappear -- landline telephone poles

Documenting the changing landscape — a sight that will soon disappear — landline telephone poles in northern Namibia

On the way our little Toyota Yaris reached the 200000 km mark, and we stopped to take photos of it on the endless flat road.

Our little Toyota Yaris passed the 200000 km mark between Outjo and the Etosha National Park

Our little Toyota Yaris passed the 200000 km mark between Outjo and the Etosha National Park

We entered the Etosha National Park at the Anderson or Andersson Gate (the spelling varies on maps), and I wondered if it had been named after C.J. Anderson, the Swedish naturalist and trader in these parts, who was a friend and partner of Fred Green, Val’s Great great grandfather, the elephant hunter. Most of what we know of Fred Green’s life comes from Andersson’s letters and diaries.

We stayed at the Halali resort, the middle of three on the southern “shore” of the pan, with Okaukuejo about 75 km to the west, and Namutoni about 75 km to the east. One has to book well in advance, and when we booked the only accommodation available was a “family chalet”, at the highest point in the camp, so we had a good view and a choice of two bedrooms.

Our "family chalet" at Halali camp in the Etosha National Park, Namibia

Our “family chalet” at Halali camp in the Etosha National Park, Namibia

It had been a dry year, and so the animals tended to congregate in great numbers at waterholes that were fed by boreholes, and the one that seemed to have most of the animals most of the time was Nebrownii, about 10 km east of Okaukuejo. There were always large herds of zebras, springbok, and gemsbok drinking there. drink. It was interesting to see how they all walked sedately and orderly in single file. The first time we went there a young zebra foal was amusing itself by running around and chasing the springbok, looking like a sheepdog herding sheep, though less purposefully.

Springbok, gemsbok and zebra at Nebrownii waterhold near Okaukuejo, Etosha National Park

Springbok, gemsbok and zebra at Nebrownii waterhole near Okaukuejo, Etosha National Park

At the Rietfontien waterhole near Halali we saw a rhino, the only one we saw in our time at Etosha, It was a white rhino. When I lived in Namibia 40 years ago there were no white rhino in the country. They were then an endangered species, with a couple of small hers in Natal. Brack rhino, on the other hand, were plentiful in northern Namibia. A huge effort by the Natal Parks Board saved the white rhinos, and exported them all over the continent, and then black rhino became an endangerted species. Now both are endangered species, as poachers kill them indiscrtiminately because some people in Asia believe (falsely) that rhino horn is an aphrodisac, and are prepared to pay huge prices for powdered rhino horn when they could achieve exactly the same result by chewing their own fingernails. As Val said,m it is sad that the white rhinos have had toi be saved from extinction twice in one’s lifetime.

White rhino at Rietfontein waterhole near Halali in the Etosha National Park

White rhino at Rietfontein waterhole near Halali in the Etosha National Park

On Wednesday morning (16 May), we spent the whole day driving around the south-western end of the Etosha Pan, which is about 50 km from north to south, and 100 km from east to west.

Etosha Pan looking north-west from Salvadora

Etosha Pan looking north-west from Salvadora

As we approached Nebrownii from Halali, there were some vehicles stopped on a culvert on the main road a little way from the waterhole, where there were also several elephants. Some were white from having sprayed sand over themselves. Someone said that there were lions at the culvert, and indeed at one point they ran out, and then went back under the culvert. We went on to the waterhole, and the elephants moved away, some black and some white, from the dust they had sprayed over themselves. The springbok at the waterhole were obviously aware of the lions, and kept glancing nervously in the direction of the culvert, and we wondered if the lions would rush out and try to grab one of them, but they did not.

Black and white elephants

Black and white elephants

When the elephants had gone we went back to the culvert where we had seen the lions, but they were well-hidden under the road. Then a bus came, stopped over the culvert and revved its engine, and the lions came bounding out to see what was going on. The bus moved on, and the lions went back under the culvert, but we got a couple of photos of them. It made the advice to stay in one’s car all the more impressive — it would be quite easy to stop and get out there, thinking that there were no animals around, while in fact there could be a whole pride of lions under one’s feet, and they could come bounding out with amazing speed.

Lions emerging from a culvert near Nebrownii waterhole in the Etosha National Park

Lions emerging from a culvert near Nebrownii waterhole in the Etosha National Park

We went on to Okondeka, on the western side of the pan north of Oklaukuejo, and there was a pied crow perched on the stone marking the spot, and a couple of giraffes drinking, rather far off, with the pan shimmering in the background. The Namibian giraffes seem to be darker in colour than the South African ones.

Pied crow

Pied crow

At the restaurant at Halali mosr of the tables were on a covered veranda, and a couple of glossy starlings would perch in the rafters watching to see when people left a table. Then they would call, and flocks of starlings would appear from nowhere, steaching for leftover crumbs before the waitress cleared the table. On one occasion a couple of people left half-eaten muffins on the table, and went inside to get coffee, and the starlings came to grab the muffins, but a waitress appeared and shooed them away.

Starlings grab food from unwary diners at Halali camp

Starlings grab food from unwary diners at Halali camp

We passed a herd of red hartebeest on the way back to Halali.

Red hartebeest (tsessebe). When your face is butt-ugly, you turn your best side to the camera

Red hartebeest (tsessebe). When your face is butt-ugly, you turn your best side to the camera

On our last day in the Etosha National Park we had breakfast and left Halali at 6:34 am, and went to a viewpoint out on the pan, which was reminiscent of crossing the causeway to Holy Island, at Lindisfarne on the Northumbrian coast. Once out on the pan, however, one became completely disoriented, and the horizion, which must have been 30-40 kilometres away seemed no more than a couple of hundred metres away, up a steep hill, and it looked as if one was at the bottom of a conical depression, because there was nothing to establish perspective or distance, so the horizon looked quite close.

This picture can give a small idea of the illusion of the pan -- if you scan the hotizon from lkeft to right, the horizon appears to come closer, and the flat surface looks like a sloping dune. The effect is much more pronounced when you are out on the pan

This picture can give a small idea of the illusion of the pan — if you scan the horizon from left to right, the horizon appears to come closer, and the flat surface looks like a sloping dune. The effect is much more pronounced when you are out on the pan

In some of the photos we had taken with the pan as a background it looked like a wall. Looking back to the shore there would be a line of green vegetation, but looking north, towards the opposite shore, was completely disorienting. We drove on towards Namutoni, and as we approached it began to see anthills again. We had not seen any since entering the park at the Anderson Gate, and there were none around Halali or Okaukueyo.

Gemsbok in the Etosha National Park

Gemsbok in the Etosha National Park

This is part of a series of posts on our journey through Namibia and Botswana in May 2013. You can read the previous post in the series here.

From Etosha we went on to Ovamboland, Namibia 17-20 May 2013, with flashbacks to the 1970s | Khanya

North to Outjo

After a rapid scanning of church registers from Walvis Bay and Otjimbingwe kindly provided by Gunter von Schumann of the Scientific Society of Namibia to add to our family history research from yesterday. we said goodbye to Enid and Justin Ellis, whose hospitality we had enjoyed for a week, and set out north for Outjo, stopp;ing at Okahandja for lunch at the Bakerei Dekker, where Val had a sausage breakfast and I had Bockwurst and salad. It wasn’t gourmet stuff, but good and plentiful.

Bakerei Dekker in Okahandja, where we had lunch

Bakerei Dekker in Okahandja, where we had lunch

Unlike Gobabis and Windhoek, Okahandja has changed little over the last 40 years. It seems cleaner, less dusty and better-maintained than back then, and no doubt some of the shop names have changed, and there are more eating places, but that’s about it. O yes, and the highway had bypassed the town. But unlike similar towns in South Africa, such as Villiers and Wepener, which we visited two years ago, there was no marked deterioration. Wepener was neglected and dirty, and Villiers looked like a ghost town. Perhaps the differce was that in Okahandja the new eating places, even the franchised ones like Steers, were in town rather than on the bypass.

Another difference was the road signs. Forty years ago one had to beware of kudu. Now it’s warthogs that pose the danger to cars.

Speaking of roads and traffic, one thing we noticed was that Windhoek drivers are much more disciplined and courteous than Pretoria ones. They wait at pedestrian crossings. They queue in the correct lane, and they observe speed limits (for the most part).  There are few minibus taxis, but apparently lots of metered taxis, using ordinary saloon cars.

On the road to Otjiwarongo there are two distinctive conical hills, which can be seen for about half the distance of 170 km

Conical hills on the way to Otjiwarongo

Conical hills on the way to Otjiwarongo

There are also some distinctive rock formations

There is also a place called Sukses, which used to have a sign saying Hotel Petrol, but this time we failed to see it. Perhaps the Hotel Petrol failed.

At about sunset we reached the Sasa Safari Camp near Outjo, which has a splendid view over a broad valley, and a heraldic dog reflected in the swimming pool.

;

So here I am sitting at the dimly-lit bar, Windhoek lager at my elbow, typing this and enjoying the free WiFi which lasts until the electricity is switched off at 11:00 pm, while Val sits outside contemplating the stars in idyllic peace. And the guy who runs the place is preparing a braai for supper. And if there are typos in this, blame the dim light, I can hardly see the keyboard.

Later…

Corrected the typos, spent a comfortable night, and left the Sasa Safari Camp the next morning after a comfortable night and a very good breakfast on the terrace, with a good view over the valley below.

Sasa Safari Camp near Outjo, Namibia

Sasa Safari Camp near Outjo, Namibia

We also left a few of our BookCrossing books at Sasa (which, we were told, means “peace” in the Damara language). So, if you visit Sasa in the not-too-distant future, keep an eye out for them!

On leaving Sasa we spent a couple of days In the Etosha National Park 15-17 May 2013 | Notes from underground.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

Trans-Kalahari Highway, Kang to Windhoek

Continued from Kang — ver in die ou Kalahari.

We woke up about 4:00 am at the Kang Ultrastop, where we had stayed overnight, and after breakfast at 7:00, filled up with petrol and left at 8:25 on our way to Windhoek.

Accommodation at the Kang Ultrastop on the Trans-Kalahari Highway in central Botswana

Accommodation at the Kang Ultrastop on the Trans-Kalahari Highway in central Botswana

This time the only vehicles we saw on the road were big trucks, mostly 26-wheelers, and they were fairly few and far between. It is obvious that this is a mainly commercial highway. It probably cuts off quite a bit of the journey time betweeen Windhoek (and points north, like northern Namibia and Angola) and Gauteng, but tourists might prefer to travel a longer but more scenic troute, through Upington. This route is miles and miles of miles and miles.

The Trans-Kalahari Highway somewhere north-west of Kang, where most of the traffic is 26-wheelers

The Trans-Kalahari Highway somewhere north-west of Kang, where most of the traffic is 26-wheelers

We did discern three varieties of Kalahari scenery (I’m sure the local Bushmen would tell you there are hundreds of kinds of Kalahari). The ones we saw were (1) Bush and grassveld, (2) Bush and sandveld and (3) Smaller bushes with scattered big trees.

Kalahari bush and grassveld, about 65 km north-west of Kang

Kalahari bush and grassveld, about 65 km north-west of Kang

About 100 km further on we came to the bush and sandveld variety:

Kalahari bush and sandveld, about 160 km north-west of Kang

Kalahari bush and sandveld, about 160 km north-west of Kang

And a bit further on we passed through the third type — low scrub with scattered trees.

One often reads descriptions of the Kalahari, or of people travelling through it, but they are rarely illustrated, and I know my picture was somewhat different from the reality. Previously I had only seen the southern fringes, and the central Kalahari was not what I imagined it to be.

A third type of Kalahari scenery -- low scrub with scattered trees

A third type of Kalahari scenery — low scrub with scattered trees

For the first 100 km or so from Kang we passed black plastic rubbish bags at regular intervals, until we reached the teams picking up the rubbish and hoeing thorn bushes out of the verges, I imagine it must help to provide employment for local people, not that the Kalahai here has a large population. We saw fewer animals on the verges than yesterday.

Beyond the cleaning teams, we saw at some of the roadside sitplekkies what they were doing — there were polycarbonate cold-drink bottles, and polystyrene hamburger boxes everywhere, and we had to walk quite a long way into the bush to take photos that didn’t have the foreground full of them.

The sigh that everyone seems to ignore

The sign that everyone seems to ignore

There are some creatures that seem to like the rubbish though…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese birds seem to congregate at the sitplekkies. We didn’t have our bird book with us, but they seem to be a species of crow.

The map showed a village 138 km from Kang, but we saw no sign of it, and one of the first settlements we saw after the highway turned left towards the Namibian border was Tsootsha, about 300 km from Kang, and from there there was still another 100 km to go to the border at Mamumo.

We were struck by the politeness and professionalism of the customs and immigration officials on the Botswana side of the border, and the rather lax and couldn’t-care-less attitude of those on the Namibian side. When we went to pay the road fund contribution they were sitting on their desks eating lunch, and seemed to mildly resent the interruption.

The scenery was slightly different on the Namibian side, for a while at least. The bush seemed greener, and more familiar. I wondered whether it was because of different farming methods, because the border is not based on any natural geographical features — it is an arbitrary line, drawn on a map by people who had probably never been within 5000 kilometres of it, colonial officials playing at maps in London and Berlin — we’ll cut off this bit from Namibia and and give it to Botswana in exchange for the Caprivi Strip.

We reached Gobabis at 3:20 pm, nearly 7 hours and 500 km after leaving Kang. Actually it was 2:20, because Namibian time is now an hour behind South African time, tho0ugh I think they have daylight savings time in summer. Gobabis should have been familiar territory for me, but wasn’t. I used to come here about once a month when I lived in Windhoek. But after 40 years, the town had changed beyond recognition. Now there were islands with trees down the middle of the main street where in the past there had been a central strip of tar, with wide gravel stretches on either side. Now there were branches of all the major chain stores in southern Africa, and we saw at least two specialist stationery shops. Back then there were a couple of banks, a couple of general dealser stores, a hotel and farming cooperatives and suppliers. Perhaps it is the Trans-Kalahari Highweay that has brought prosperity to Gobabis,.

Gobabis

As we headed west for Windhoek the main road too was unrecognisable. On my monthly trips 40 years ago, it had been gravel from the airport at Ondekaremba, 40 km east of Windhoek to Gobabis, though construction teams were building the tarred road, leading to frequent detours. I think it was only on my last trip there that the tarred road had been completed all the way. In many places it followed a different route, giving different views, like this one of the approach to Witvlei.

Witvlei, Namibia

Witvlei, Namibia

The hills in the distance were a familiar sight, but I was used to seeing them from a different angle.

As we approached Windhoek, the road from the airport into town was more familiar, and we stopped to take photos of the Auas mountains. They were a familiar sight when I lived in Windhoek, so I would not dream of taking a photo of them, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I wanted a memento of a once-familiar sight that I will probably never see again in my lifetime.

Auas mountains, east of Windhoek

Auas mountains, east of Windhoek

We reached Windhoek at 17:37, South African time, just over 9 hours and 718 km after leaving Kang. We went to stay with Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin. I first met Justin when he came to Windhoek in 1970, with a group of Anglican students from Stellenbosch University, who had come to spend part of the Christmas vac working for the church there. When I was deported from Namibia a couple of years later,  along with the bishop and two other church workers, I met Justin again at a student conference, and tried to persuade himn to go to Namibia to take our place. Whether as a result of my blandishments or something else, he eventually did so. I met Val and her cousin Enid at the Anglican parish of Queensburgh, which I was looking after for a year while the rector was overseas, and they went on a holiday to Namibia in 1973, and then Enid went back in 1974 to work there, and married Justin. Then they too were deported, and spent several years in England, returning when Namibia became independent in 1990.

The story continues here.

 

On holiday, Free State and Eastern Cape

Last Tuesday we left Pretoria for a holiday, travelling around seeing people and places. On the first day we drove to Clarens in the Eastern Cape, where the trees, especially the Lombardy poplars, were in their yellow autumn beauty.

We left Clarens at 9:54, and drove to Fouriesburg, but did not go in to the town, and from there the road deteriorated, with lots of potholes. We by-passed Clocolan, and saw Modderpoort in the distance — the new tarred road is quite a bit further east than the old gravel road, though when I say new, it is a relative term, since the tar road was here when we last passed this way 26 years ago, in 1985. It was a beautiful day, with more Lombardy poplars in their autumn beauty.

We arrived at Graaff Reinet at 6:45 pm, 710 km from Clarens, and it was already dark. We went to stay at Villa Reinet, run by Nick Grobler, the husband of my second cousin Ailsa Hannan, whom I have never met, and didn’t
meet this time, as she had gone on the bus to Cape Town to see their son there, and then fly to Dubai to see their other son who worked there as a chef. Nick said they had moved here about five years ago from Johannesburg.

Thursday we spent visiting the Valley of Desolation and Nieu Bethesda.  The valley was a lot smaller than I had expected, and the main scenic feature was that it provided a foreground for the view over the plains of Cambeboo beyond. It was vaguely reminiscient of Meteora and the Vikos gorge in Greece, though on a much smaller scale.

We then drove back along the way we had come yesterday, along the N9 national road, seeing it in daylight this time, and there was yet another abandoned railway line running beside the road. We turned off west to Nieu Bethesda, which Fr Zacharias had recommended that we visit, and drove over some mountains, and it was a village in a narrow valley, basically built on the flood plain of a river, which was a pleasant stream now, but i had read that there had been disastrous floods in the past. It was a pleasant place
with lots of trees; green willows and yellow poplars, and evergreen pines lining the streets.

We crossed the river and drove down to a brewery Nick Grobler had recommended. It was a kind of farm shed, and with concrete floors, and we went into a room that looked as if it had produce for sale, and a bloke came and asked if he could help us. We said we had been told that this was the place to come for beer, and he said he had Karoo ale, which was bitter, and honey ale, which was sweeter, and a dark ale. I opted for the Karoo ale, and Val for the Honey ale, and he opened taps at the side of what looked like an old fridge, and filled two glasses for us, and charged R15.00 apiece for them. He waved airily at an adjoining room, and said we could sit anywhere, inside or out.


The next room had some crude wooden tables and chairs on the bare concrete floor, and a couple of windows with broken panes, and outside was a green lawn where childrewn were playing with a plastic soccer ball while the adults sat at a similar crude table and drank beer, and a border collie dog joined in with the football. It felt rather hobbit-like, a bit as I imagine the Sign of the Prancing Pony at Bree. The Karoo ale was good — there has been no real ale in South Africa since Lion Ale was withdrawn from the market about 25 years ago.

 

The end of the earth: book review

End of the EarthEnd of the Earth by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Matthiessen writes about two journeys to Antarctica, one from Tierra del Fuego in South America to the shore of the Antarctic Peninula west of the Weddell Sea, and the second from Tasmania to the Ross Sea, almost on the other side of the continent.

On both occasions he travelled on Russian ships, which, because of the economic situation in Russia, no longer ply the northern coast of Russia, but find tourist trips at the other end of the world more profitable.

Matthiesen describes not just the journeys, but the history of the places they visit, most of which have no permanent human inhabitants. He describes the wild life (most of the passengers of the ships are keen bird watchers), and the highlight of the second trip, the Emperor Penguin, the only bird species on earth that never lives on land, and breeds on the ice shelf.

I would probably not have given the book a second glance if it had not been going cheap at a sale, and two things made me buy it. Last year I went to a gathering at African Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg, where Michael Cassidy showed slides of a trip to Antarctica that had been a 70th birthday present. He had followed more or less the route of Matthiessen’s first trip from Tierra del Fuego, and having seen the pictures I was quite interested to read about it. A second reason that I had read and enjoyed a couple of other books by Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard and At play in the fields of the Lord.

I thought this would be a book that I might dip into, and read a few interesting parts of, but as I read I became quite absorbed in it. It is more than just a travelogue, but it is also the story of our planet.

View all my reviews

The vanishing hitchhiker

No, I’m not talking about the well-known urban legend (Legends from a small country: Legends that go bump), but about the fact that one no longer sees hitchhikers on the road. It came up in a discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup, where someone asked why one doesn’t hitchhikers on the road any more. Was it paranoia on the part of motorists, cops cracking down, or what?

I used to hitchhike and give lifts to hitchhikers in the past, but no more.

Paranoia?

Perhaps, but I think the change came when hijacking became a popular method of car theft, possibly due to the increased effectiveness of car anti-theft devices.

Until about the mid-1980s I think most car thefts were of unattended vehicles, and robbery was rare. But with electronic ignition systems and satellite tracking that has become more difficult, so robbery, and especially armed robbery, has become far more common. People are reluctant to pick up hitchhikers, and hitchhiking has become a futile method of getting from place to place.

Concerning the urban legend, I found this interesting:

The first possible variant of the urban legend The Vanishing Hitchhiker occurs in Acts 8: 26–40 with the conversion of an “Ethiopian” by the hitchhiking apostle Philip. More recent variants in the Gambia and Somalia exhibit a different plot, but retain the vanishing hitchhiker motif. A female hitchhiker spends time with a man, who is later unable to locate her, but who finds his coat on her grave. The found-coat variant is part of a widespread cycle of vanishing hitchhiker legends. Could the story have originated in Africa? This article deals with this issue and with widespread occurrences of this legend.

But back to the actual vanishing hitchhiker.

Hitchhiking could be quite interesting. One sometimes met interesting people that way, though sometimes one also met very dull ones.

In 1960 I was told a story of an Anglican monk, Fr Victor Ranford SSM (of the Society of the Sacred Mission) who was based at Modderpoort in the Free State, and used to hitchhike wherever he needed to go. One driver who picked him up told him he knew he was an Anglican and not a Roman Catholic. Fr Victor asked him how he knew. “I can tell by your socks,” the driver said.

Wally Buhler, hoping for a lift outside Ixopo (in those days the distances were in miles)

Wally Buhler, hoping for a lift outside Ixopo (in those days the distances were in miles)

In 1964, when I was at university in Pietermaritzburg, a friend and I decided to hitchhike to Grahamstown, 500 miles away, on a long weekend. We got as far as Ixopo, 50 miles away, and no one gave us a lift, so we walked back into town and took a bus to Springvale Mission, where we hoped to get a bed for the night. The bus was supposed to be for blacks only, but the driver allowed us to board. The priest of Springvale, whom we knew, was away, but someone let us into the house and we spent the night there. There was a lot more trust in those days.

The next morning we hitchhiked to Highflats village, and planned to go down to the coast and up to Durban where my friend lived. Our first lift out of Highflats was from a witchdoctor in a pre-war Packard. We sat in the spacious back seat and watched the gall bladders and goat horns and other paraphernalia that festooned the car swinging as he drove rather erratically along the winding road. He took us as far as Hlutankungu, where he turned off.

From Hlutankungu we walked, waving our thumbs at passing cars, but they were few, and none stopped for us. After an hour we reached Jolivet, which was at the third mile, so we knew we walked at three miles an hour. There was a station on the narrow-gauge railway, and we heard a train whistling and could see it coming winding in and out shosholoza through the hills, so we waited for it at the station, and asked the guard if we could get a ticket to the terminus at Umzinto on the South Coast. He said the train no longer carried passengers. It seemed that the information in Alan Paton’s novel Cry the beloved country was out of date — he describes someone travelling one one of these narrow-gauge trains. But eventually the guard took pity on us, and allowed us to travel in the guard’s van at the back of the train, sitting among the mail bags. That was the only time in my life I managed to hitchhike a ride on a train, and it reminded me of the hero of Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma bums. It’s my favourite Kerouac novel, and on that trip I felt a bit like a Dharma bum.

Four years later, as a student in England, I hitchhiked with another friend from Durham to Manchester, where we stayed with his parents in the village of Saddleworth. Then we went to Liverpool, and took the ferry across the Mersey and stayed with another friend in Cheshire, and from there down to South Wales.

A couple of years after that I was living in Namibia, and we had a visitor, an English guy who had been teaching in Tanzania, and when his time was up and he had to return to England, he discovered that if he paid 30 shillings (R3.00) more, he could change his plane ticket to go from Johannesburg instead of Dar-es-Salaam (those were the days!) He did so, and hitchhiked from East Africa to southern Africa, and saw quite a lot before going to Johannesburg and getting the plane back to the UK.

So people hitchhiked quite a lot in those days.

But I rarely see hitchhikers nowadays, and if I do, I don’t stop. I think it’s rather sad.

It’s time to abolish toll roads, not extend them

Toll roads were introduced by the National Party regime so that they could rob the Road Fund to pay for the invasion of Angola and the destabilisation of neighbouring countries.

Part of the democratic transformation process should see the phasing out of toll roads, and the restoration of the road fund. The fairest way to pay for roads is through a tax on fuel. And in that way all roads can be maintained, and not just a few selected ones.

African Energy News Review – Poor will be most affected by N1/N2 toll road proposal

Capetonians have until 30 April to comment on the National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) controversial plans to build toll roads on the N1 and N2 freeways outside Cape Town.

The move would further increase transport costs, which are already rocketing because of significant fuel price increases.

Sanral expects to put out the project to tender with the aim of starting construction within two years if the plan is approved by Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe.

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