FLOODS, MUD AND FOG – A MT KENYA EXPERIENCE

ONE

It is 2 am and I am lying awake, listening to the rain pouring down on our tiny two-man tent, supplied by the adventure company Wild Frontiers. The rain has not stopped since we started our walk up Mount Kenya this morning; in fact, I feel certain it is coming down even harder now. This is our first night on the mountain. The inside of the tent, originally yellow and green I guess, is stained with black and blue-green mould spots, and very wet. The musty smell is overwhelming. I’m cold.

We had arrived at the Mayfair Court hotel in Nairobi last night, 7th January 1998, where we were met by our guide Jackson Wainaina, a man with a friendly, open face and a wide smile. His slender, athletic build paid testimony to his frequent trips up and down the mountain.

After introductions and exchanging pleasantries Jackson announced: “I cannot take you up the mountain. It is too unstable and dangerous due to the unseasonal heavy rain”.

We were momentarily shocked into silence. We specifically chose to do this in January because December and January were supposed to be dry months. But this year was different; it was at the height of the 1997-1998 El Niño phenomenon, one of the strongest in recorded history.

“We acknowledge your concerns,” we told Jackson, “but we all had to take leave for this trip.  Besides the weeks of training and the expense, we are all experienced hikers. We will accept responsibility for ourselves.” He eventually relented and agreed to be our guide as planned.

My thoughts go back to 1996, the year that Roger and I met. It was October and we were on a hike in the Magaliesberg. He was still in the air force and had just returned from a month’s leave which he spent contract flying in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The money he earned there enabled him to buy the equipment for that, his first non-air force related hike. I was a divorced software analyst/programmer, living in Pretoria, who spent many of my weekends hiking. We had much in common and have been together ever since.

Now I sense he is also awake. He tentatively reaches out to me and his hand ends up in a pool of water between our sodden mattresses. The roof of the tent is bulging under the weight of a dam of accumulated water.

“That’s it,” he says. “We are moving to the veranda.”

I protest “We can’t do that; our package was for camping. The huts are privately owned and have a different rate.”

He pays no attention, simply instructs me to grab my belongings while getting his own, and then we sprint, bent over against the rain, to the cover of the veranda. We leave our very sodden, mouldy tent lying in a collapsed pile in the darkness behind us.

Relieved to be out of the rain we crawl into our damp sleeping bags. I fleetingly wonder whether our hiking companions Jean and Aretha as well as Jackson and the porters are safe and dry. Sleep does not come immediately though, and my thoughts wander again.

TWO

We started Mount Kenya’s Sirimon Route this afternoon, hoping to summit Point Lenana, the 3rd highest peak of Mount Kenya. Lenana is for hikers; the other two higher peaks, Batian and Nelion, are for technical climbers. We will be spending five days on the mountain, summiting on the third or fourth day, depending on the conditions.

Our day started early. We took our last shower for the next five days, checked and rechecked our backpacks, and were ready for breakfast at 7. Jackson met us in the courtyard at 7:45 as agreed and introduced us to the team of porters who then loaded our luggage into a Land Rover. We were on the road at 8; eager, nervous and excited all at the same time.

On our way…

Conversation during the drive was concerned mostly with El Niño, the rain and the resulting outbreak of Rift Valley Fever which made headlines in all the local newspapers.

Excerpt from the CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Publication: Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 8, Number 2:

In December 1997, 170 haemorrhagic fever-associated deaths were reported in Garissa District, Kenya. Laboratory testing identified evidence of acute Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV). […]. We estimate approximately 27,500 infections occurred in Garissa District, making this the largest recorded outbreak of RVFV in East Africa. […] between October 1997 (the onset of flooding) and February 8, 1998.

We stopped at the Naro Moru River Lodge for lunch. Now, don’t be fooled by the ‘River Lodge’ part of the name. We were shown to a large, cement-grey room which looked more like a small hall than a dining room, with long metal tables and hard benches where we were invited to make ourselves comfortable. While waiting I idly looked out the window and watched workers in blue overalls wearing long rubber gloves which reached above the elbows. They were pushing long rods into the drains in what seemed like an unblocking effort. Obviously due to the amount of rain, I mused.

Before long the food arrived: a picnic style lunch consisting of sandwiches, an orange and a small boxed fruit juice.

After lunch I asked for directions to the toilet. I walked along the cement path, looking up, counting the doors. According to the instructions the toilet would be the fourth unmarked door. The next moment I stepped on the corner of a large rectangular manhole cover which had not been securely replaced by the workers. It flipped up at the opposite corner, tipping me knee-deep into the slimy sewage-filled hole! I do not have words to describe my horror. I jumped out so fast that I was almost airborne. I tried to regain some dignity as I got up and continued to the designated door. My boots and socks were covered with greasy gunge and I literally ripped them off my feet once I was safely behind the closed door. I tried rinsing them but cold water with no soap had little effect.

When I emerged, shoes and socks in hand, I noticed that a small group of workers had gathered and were watching me, hands on hips, looking highly entertained. Keeping my head high I carefully tried to side-step the messy area around the man-hole which was now very slippery. Then, horror of horrors, being barefoot I lost traction and slipped back into the cesspit again! This time was worse; everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, with me being aware of every small detail: the sludge splashed up over my clothes, across my mouth, across the corner of my eye and into my hairline. I winced as my shin hit the metal frame of the manhole.

Roger, meanwhile, came looking for me because I stayed away so long. As he lifted his camera I hissed “Don’t you dare”. His amusement soon turned to concern when he realised what had actually happened. He helped me up, carefully I might add, in order to not get any of the mess on himself.

“Wait here while I find a place for you to wash,” he said.

The thought uppermost in both our minds: Rift Valley Fever is transmitted via body fluids!

We were taken to a motel room with a bathroom. It was a tiny room, sparsely furnished with a single bed, a bedside table and a chair. The tiny bathroom had a toilet, a small hand basin and a shower head in the centre, causing the entire bathroom to be flooded while you take a shower. There was a dividing wall between the two areas but no door; just an opening.

Roger stood in the opening, handing me items from my toiletry bag, while I scrubbed myself until I was pink. Fortunately, I had disinfectant Gill soap but getting cleaned up was not an easy task without hot water.

We continued our journey to the Sirimon Gate of the Mount Kenya National Park and eventually started walking in the mid-afternoon.

The team at the start of the Sirimon route

The path was wet and slippery. In fact, on the lower slopes of the mountain it was more like walking through a wetland than on a path. We did not even attempt to keep our shoes and socks dry; we simply squelched on through the mud. Within the forest the trees were draped in lime-green coloured lichen, known as ‘old man’s beard’, giving it an ancient, almost fairy-tale feeling. The other-worldly feeling was emphasized by the silence which results from the surrounding fog.

Old Man’s Beard

My last thought before drifting off was that perhaps Jackson was right.

THREE

Day 2: We awake at first light and move off the veranda before anyone notices. Or so we think. Needless to say, Jackson and the other guides are not happy with us. We plead ignorance and site the collapsed tent in our defence. They begrudgingly let us off the hook.

Our hiking companions clearly survived the night much better than we did. Jean, a dentist, and his mother Aretha, a pharmacist, both look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we get together for breakfast. But then again, Aretha always is, and looks, cool and collected; in all the years we have hiked together I have never seen her without make-up. And Jean never seems phased by anything either. He is fit, full of fun and always up for a challenge. Breakfast consists of tea, hot oats porridge, pancakes, scrambled eggs and baked beans. Neither Roger nor I have ever had a problem with appetite so we tuck in with appreciation.

Today’s scenery is again breath-taking. Everything is green and lush. No sun though. The sky is grey and overcast and from time to time visibility is reduced to a couple of metres due to low cloud and drizzle.

There are a number of river crossings to be negotiated. I don’t do river crossings well at the best of times and after all the rain they are scary indeed. At one particular crossing I just cannot get myself to leap over the raging torrent of water. Eventually Felix, one of the porters, a very tall man, comes to the rescue. He does an almost-split to position himself with one foot on the bank and another on a protruding boulder in mid-stream. Next, he takes my hand and steadies me for the leap. I make it, much to my relief and the amusement of the entire team.

Assisted river crossing!

The vegetation has changed from yesterday’s forest to more open grassland dotted with weird giant sisal-like lobelia plants and the cabbage tree-like senicio. As we gain altitude the giant species are replaced by a smaller species of both genera. The increase in altitude is now also starting to affect our breathing and progress becomes slower.

Giant Lobelia

Shortly after lunch Roger tells me he needs to take a ‘nature’ break. So he moves off and I wait; and wait. When I eventually decide to investigate I find him squatting, his knees protruding past his ears. He has a stick in his hand and is listlessly spreading the faecal matter in a semi-circular manner on the ground. He is very pale. With a jolt I remember the doctor’s words when my father-in-law died on the toilet in my house a few years ago: “Anyone suffering heart failure normally has an urgent need to use the toilet before they die”. I suddenly feel really concerned.

When I ask “What are you doing?” he responds, “I am doing what the brochure says”. Then I remember. We read the brochure together:

[…] Ultra-violet radiation from the sun and organisms present in the soil are the best decomposers of human waste. At high altitudes those soil organisms are not very abundant. […] Leave faeces on the surface and if possible scatter and smear it around. This will maximise the exposure to sunlight and speed up decomposition.

“OK, but we have to get going.”

The rest of the group are gradually disappearing in the distance.

We eventually start moving again. Our progress is slow.

We are approaching 13 000 ft and I recall Roger saying when we first started our planning for this trip: “I shouldn’t have a problem with the altitude. I fly a non-pressurised Dak at 11 000 ft every night”. He had spent 10 years in the SAAF and was now flying DC-3 Dakotas for Speed Services, the courier company of the Post Office, so it was a fair assumption. However, I am thinking now, in a Dak you are not actually exerting yourself.

Kami Hut is situated just below the snow line and overlooks the MacKinder Valley. It is dusk when we get there and we are welcomed by John, our friendly cook. He offers us a very welcome treat of tea and Marie biscuits, followed by a salty soup to tide us over until supper time.

Kami Hut

We all gather inside the hut for supper and to be briefed on the proceedings for the next day. Jackson and the porters would sleep in the hut. We would again sleep in our tents which had already been rigged by the porters. The rain had stopped.

Supper and briefing inside Kami Hut

Jackson says: “I will call you at 3 am. We will leave at 3:30 am in order to be at the summit at sunrise. Most of the walk will be in darkness so have your torches ready. It will not be easy. Go slowly, or as they say in Swahili ‘pole-pole’. Please be on time in order for us to reach the summit at sunrise. We must descend soon again, before the sun melts the ice.”

We are all strangely quiet when we retire to our tents. Once again sleep does not come easily. Breathing is difficult in the thin air. I am feeling anxious. Roger is quiet and listless. I eventually fall into restless sleep.

FOUR

Summit day: Jackson wakes us at 3 am as scheduled. Roger’s only response is a grunt. I get ready and leave the tent in search of tea and biscuits. It is very cold. We’re all chatting, rubbing hands and involuntarily moving to keep the circulation going. I am feeling claustrophobic inside all my layers of clothing; or is it the lack of oxygen?

Only when Jackson announces that we should depart I realise that Roger has not yet surfaced. Going back to the tent I am greeted by a pair of boots (he is a tall man) sticking out of the tent’s entrance, toes pointing upward and slightly outward. O no, I think, now we are going to be late!

After much coaxing he eventually gets himself up and out of the tent.

It is very dark and very cold. We are now above the snow line and progress is slow. Without warning my head torch blinks and dies. I can’t find my spare batteries; my fingers are so clumsy. You cannot stand still for too long so we keep going, using one torch between us and keeping close. Not easy considering the steep, rocky terrain.

It is still dark but showing signs of dawn when we encounter a group of hikers that we had met the previous day. They are on their way down and advise “Best you turn back. We were at the summit but it was totally clouded over and we could barely see our own hands in front of our faces”.

Their disappointment is tangible. Imagine being right there and not being able to take the much desired ‘proof of having been there’ photos!

We decide to continue regardless.

Getting there, slowly…

It is becoming more and more difficult to keep going. With every step my legs disappear up to my knees into the soft snow. Breathing is really difficult and the condensation freezes on my balaclava, just below my nose. I start counting, setting a goal of ten steps before resting for a count of ten; then the next ten steps, and the next… And then, after four hours of laborious climbing, looming in front of us is the iconic cross, indicating the summit of Point Lenana (16 355 ft).

At that moment the sun breaks through and the cloud clears. We are treated to the most spectacular views all around. Below us is a sea of cloud and a kilometer to the west is the stark rock face of the highest peak, Batian, hiding Nelion from our view. Our spirits lift; it is like being on top of the world. We hug each other and take photos. There’s Jackson with his trademark ‘Father Christmas’ hat he uses for summit photos, Aretha looking cool as ever, Jean displaying an OUT THERE magazine, Roger looking very pleased with himself and me feeling strangely emotional and very thrilled with another goal achieved.

Summit of Point Lenana, Mt Kenya

Without warning, the cloud starts moving in again and Jackson urges us to start the descent.

While descending the southern slope to Austrian Hut I realise that had it not been for Roger’s lethargy we would not have had our 15-minute window of opportunity. As always, things happen for a reason…

FIVE

As we lose altitude Roger starts perking up again and I heave a silent sigh of relief. I am convinced he has a degree of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Thank heavens for the half tablet of Diamox Aretha gave him the previous night.

Halfway between the summit and Austrian Hut we decide to take a snack break so we select a flat rock on a narrow path, overlooking the Lewis glacier. Jean of course cannot sit still so he asks Jackson if he can use the ice pick. The next minute, much to Jackson’s dismay Jean scoots off along the glacier and disappears from view, leaving Jackson standing without an ice pick, an essential tool should a rescue be required. Aretha decides to continue walking. She is used to Jean’s antics and does not seem concerned at all. Jackson decides to accompany her while we stay behind, enjoying the tranquillity and the euphoria of ‘having done it’.

The sound of a rock breaking loose somewhere close by brings us back to reality. It starts a muffled, hopping roll down the mountain. There is an eerie silence while Roger and I look at each other, wide-eyed. Then, another tumbling rock; and another; and another. It picks up and soon becomes a full force rock-fall. The fog makes it impossible to see or hear where the fall is happening, but it feels close. All we know is that we are very vulnerable and there is nowhere to hide. We have no idea where Jean is. Jackson’s words flash through my mind: “The mountain is unstable and unsafe…”

Relief sweeps over me when I hear Jean’s voice behind us. We snap out of our frozen stupor and find him standing there, very pale and totally spent.

He stammers: “I fell into a crevasse and was hanging down with just my arms, head and shoulders sticking out. There was nothing below me, so my legs were dangling in space; I couldn’t get out. None of you responded to my calls!”

We say, almost simultaneously: “We heard nothing. It must be due to the fog. So, how did you get out?”

“I was exhausted and about to give up when the rock-fall happened. It sounded like it was right behind me. I have absolutely no idea how I got out.”

Shocked at the mere thought of what could have happened, the three of us start down the track to Austrian Hut at a sedate pace. It was a narrow escape! Jean’s energy is totally depleted and I find it very strange to see him like that.

My overwhelming thought is ‘thank heavens for our evolutionary development that is responsible for the fight or flight reaction in our bodies. That provided the adrenaline that Jean needed to make that final effort to get himself out of the crevasse, but it also resulted in him now being completely drained of energy because he had used up all his resources’.

Again we are reminded that the mountain is not to be taken lightly. I wonder what Jackson will say when he hears about this.

Austrian Hut, at an altitude of 15 715 ft, provides welcome relief from the elements, compared to the cold, wet and musty tent we had been sleeping in until now. It has bunk beds on one side and a long table on the opposite wall.

The hut was built with Austrian funding after the rescue of Austrian Gert Judmaier in 1970. He fell on Batian and broke his leg. His climbing companion Oelz was unable to move him so he descended Batian to look for help. Judmaier waited on the rock face for 9 days and nearly died before he was rescued. Eventually Judmaier’s father paid for the Austrian Mountain Rescue Rangers to fly to Kenya and get his son off the mountain.

After a well-deserved rest Roger and I decide to take a walk before dark. There is a long-drop toilet situated a hundred metres away, on an incline. This requires you to get fully dressed in all the layers, including gloves, when nature calls. Needless to say trips to the outhouse are not taken unnecessarily so we combine this with our walk.

We make our way to a tarn (a circular lake filled with glacial melt-water) close to the hut, taking our toiletry bags along, thinking we could have a wash while we are out there. The tarn is absolutely beautiful. The water is a clear, deep turquoise colour, surrounded by ice cliffs, with blocks of ice drifting on the surface. The water is so cold, however, that it is not possible to wash; one scoop with cupped hands splashed over my face is enough to convince me that another day without washing would not kill me. My fingers become numb and my face feels like I am about to suffer Bell’s paralysis. Trying to brush teeth resulted in brain-freeze worse than gobbling down ice cream as a child.

We soon make our way back to the hut where a hearty dinner and a dry bed awaits. As always, we are amazed at what the porters can cook up in such primitive conditions. Every meal is well-balanced with meat, starch, veggies and even dessert. Everything is carried up by the team, and all waste is carried off the mountain.

SIX

Day 4: I awake early and find myself doing the daily ‘body check’ that I’ve been doing since my mishap at the start of our walk: no rash, no fever, no pussy eyes, no bleeding, no swelling. That means no signs of Rift Valley Fever yet, I think thankfully. There is a long day ahead so I start getting ready for the day; slowly.

After our return home my seventy-two-year old mother would ask me “So what did it feel like up there?”

I would reply “You get off the bed and then you rest. Then you put an item of clothing on and rest again. And so it goes until eventually you are fully dressed. Then you rest before plucking up the courage to move”.

“Oh,” she would say with a big smile, “then I know exactly how it feels; I feel that way every day of my life”.

She suffers from a heart condition but that had not changed her great sense of humour. I found it very sad though, and for the first time had some insight into how she actually felt…

Austrian Hut

It is very quiet this morning. The hut is enveloped in fog. Or is it low cloud? We start walking soon after breakfast; eager to get to lower altitudes. We walk in relative silence, making sure to keep sight of each other. Visibility is very poor and the terrain is treacherous; strewn with boulders of all shapes and sizes with intermittent patches of mud and smaller rocks that makes for slow progress. We are now on the Chogoria route and reach Minto’s Hut after 5 km where we take a short break.

We leave the alpine zone behind just before we get to Bandas, a further 16 km away, in the mid-afternoon. After a good meal we all retire early. I am exhausted and sleep comes quickly.

Chicken stew and veggies

SEVEN

Day 5: Today will be our last day on the mountain so we are up early and tuck into a hearty breakfast before starting our 22 km trek to Forest Camp.

The surrounding vegetation has now changed dramatically from forest to bamboo thickets, flanking the road on both sides. We are walking on a Jeep track which looks more like a river of mud than a road. It takes serious concentration to walk without slipping and falling. Aretha, usually so composed, falls down a number of times landing on her butt, feet in the air.

At one point, Jean says: “Enough of this, you must concentrate!” Then he picks his mother up by the collar and sets her back on her feet, much to her indignation and to the amusement of the rest of us.

Every so often I notice pathways into the bamboo. When I ask Jackson where they lead to he informs us, “These are buffalo highways so don’t stray onto one of them”.

The porters are constantly chatting in loud voices and it all makes sense when we pass a notice board on the side of the road which reads:

DANGER – WILD ANIMALS

STAY ON THE TRACK BE AUDIBLE

AND YIELD RIGHT OF WAY
Mmm…

Before long, Jean says: “You guys continue without me; I need to take a nature break. I’ll catch up.”

Two minutes later we hear running footsteps from behind and then Jean falls in beside us again. He is very pale and says breathlessly “I was happily having a pee, whistling away and facing into the bamboo when I saw movement. It took a moment to realise it was the twitching of a buffalo’s ear. When I saw the white of his eye at the same time that I heard branches breaking I did not hang around to see in which direction he was moving!”.

He looks rather embarrassed when we all burst into laughter, but I also notice that from that point onwards everyone is surreptitiously sneaking glances into the bamboo; walking just that little bit closer together and talking just a touch louder.

We spend a festive evening at Forest Camp where we will be collected by Land Rover in the morning.

EIGHT

Day 6: While having breakfast Jackson informs us: “Sorry guys, the vehicle cannot reach us, even with chains on the wheels. The road is too muddy. We will have to walk to the Chogoria Transit Motel. It is only another 5 km down the road.”

Oh well, after all the walking we had already done I am sure we can manage another 5 km, I think, feeling sorry for the porters. Their loads are so much heavier than ours.

Jean fooling around, as always!

We are all relieved to find the Land Rover waiting for us when we reach the motel. But the trip is a nightmare. The vehicle has very little traction and we are slipping and sliding all over the sodden road, like a giant snake slithering downhill in a zigzag pattern. The driver, a cheerful man sporting a cowboy outfit, is frantically turning the steering wheel with little or no effect; the vehicle just goes where it wants to. Whenever we seem to be heading straight for the edge of a drop-off all the porters, in a single movement, jump towards the opposite side of the vehicle with a yelp, supposedly in an effort to shift the weight; or is it in an effort to avoid seeing the moment when we slide over the edge, into the abyss? To make things worse, we pass an accident scene where a bus full of school children actually did go over the edge. It is a sobering and very sad sight.

The smell inside the vehicle is overwhelming, to say the least. None of us has had a decent wash for the past five days. Brushing teeth with a mug of lukewarm water and wiping down with a facecloth was the extent of our ablutions. Then, much to Roger and my amazement, when we get to a small village the porters all disembark, take off their dirty shoes and top layer of clothes and right there on the pavement change into their Sunday best. They wave goodbye, smiling happily, and go off to their homes where their wives and families await.

Back in Nairobi we wearily get out of our vehicle at the hotel just as a shiny black ‘London’ taxi pulls up behind us. We watch in amazement as an elegant, fifty-something woman disembarks with flair, wearing a summery white outfit, complete with a wide-brimmed white hat and scarf in true ‘Out of Africa’ style. With chin held high she proceeds along a red carpet up the steps and disappears into the hotel foyer. Her bearing says: I have arrived.

We ask the hotel doorman to direct us to a side entrance, considering how dirty we are and how muddy our boots are, but he firmly refuses. He insists, despite our protests, that we walk along the red carpet as well and use the front door into the foyer.

At the check-in counter we find ourselves side-by-side with the ‘Out-of-Africa’ lady. I watch her covertly, finding it hard to suppress my laughter. I attract Roger’s attention and whisper “watch her nose”. It is twitching like that of a rabbit but she maintains her concentration while filling out the register without looking left or right. Now he also is finding it difficult to keep a straight face.

We are soon shown to our rooms where we thankfully drop our packs. While I strip down my hiking clothes and take a long overdue shower Roger goes outside to clean our boots using the hosepipe in the garden before it is his turn to shower.

Refreshed, we all meet up for a celebratory dinner.

Celebratory dinner

Returning to our room after dinner, where we had wonderful aromas of food and wine (and clean bodies), the smell hits us squarely between the eyes as we enter.

“Oh my word! No wonder the other guest’s nose twitched,” I exclaim. Neither of us realised just how smelly we actually were. We have a good giggle while flinging open all the windows before thankfully flopping down on a real bed.

A wonderful sense of achievement washes over me as I reflect on our adventure; the first of many high-altitude hikes, I hope. It was all so worth it despite foolishly going against Jackson’s advice.

As I drift off to sleep I wonder which item on my bucket list will present itself next…

Training…

It all started during the 2016 Festive Season. We were visiting Eugene and Marlene and after a scrumptious meal and many glasses of wine the conversation inevitably turned to adventure and travel experiences. Then Marlene asked if we would like to hike the Fish River Canyon with them again during the 2017 season. And I said: “Why not do something different? How about the Naukluft Hiking Trail in Namibia?” And that was that; agreed.

The next morning brought sobriety and both Roger and I were wondering what we have let ourselves in for! We hiked the route 15 years ago and it was a challenge then; who knows how we will deal with it now!

In the past, whenever we had a big hiking event coming up, we always went to Cape Town for training up and down Table Mountain. We immediately planned our first trip after studying Roger’s schedule and found ourselves on a BA flight to Cape Town on the 24th February. We got there around mid-day and our first stop was at the Cape Quarter where our friend Matt manages the Drifters Outdoor Shop. Roger needed new boots and I needed a new day pack and a stick that would fit into check-in luggage.

We also decided that this trip would be our introduction to AirBnB accommodation, so after we spent a lot more money than we intended at Drifters we found a place to stay in Rondebosch. The plan was to hike up Platteklip Gorge the next day. I phoned my friend Henk to let him know we are in town and he decided to join us on the hike. He suggested starting at Constantia Nek, going up to the reservoirs, across to the cable station and coming down via the cable car after a cup of coffee. It sounded like a good plan.

We met for coffee and breakfast the next day and set out from Constantia Nek as planned. We hadn’t seen each other for ages and were chatting so much that we missed the path going up to the reservoir and soon found ourselves on a jeep track going to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. O well, we would then go up Nursery Ravine instead. The views were beautiful and the walk was pleasant but it was hot. We had started too late and the mid-day sun had no mercy. Once we entered the forest there was some relief, but nursery ravine is steep. Being unfit and this being the first hike in such a long time we all decided to turn around before we reached the top. My knees were very stiff coming down so I was very careful and made sure of every step. Can’t afford an injury now…

We were back at Henk’s house in Hout Bay in the early afternoon where we whiled away the time sipping cold white wine and chatting. By 5 o’clock we decided to go to La Parada for tapas. It was delicious and well worth a visit. Thanks Henk!

After parting ways with Henk we headed to Somerset West where we would spend the night with friends Debi and Jonathan. We were tired and slept well; so well that we did not get going very early the next day. After all, we were not planning to hike but rather recover from the previous day’s effort.

When we eventually left Somerset West we took a leisurely drive along the coast towards Betty’s Bay. En route we stopped at Kogel Bay for a lunch of packed snacks.

Our lunch spot at Kogel Bay

It was a stunning day and while we were sitting and just enjoying the view Roger noticed something in the breakers. It was an otter! We watched it come out onto the beach, then walk towards the vegetation and disappear into the undergrowth along a small stream. It was awesome!

What a treat! We always wanted to see one of those!
Roger picking up plastic, as always…
Baboon sentry. They were very cheeky and quite aggressive along the path down to the beach!

When we got to Betty’s Bay in the late afternoon we paid a brief visit to the penguin colony at Stoney Point, previously the site of the Waaygat Whaling Station (1915). You can follow the link if the history interests you: https://marinewildlifemagazine.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/waaygat-whaling-station-at-stony-point/

Penguins at Stoney Point
Some historic pictures
Hawk Moth caterpillar that Roger rescued from the road surface (caterpillars are my worst nightmare!!)

Our AirBnB accommodation for the night was Stay with Friends, a very comfortable and well-run guest house indeed. On our way there we saw the sunset and remembered that it was the 26th, i.e. time for the much advertised partial eclipse of the sun.

Taken through the smoke of a nearby veld fire, looking towards Pringle Bay.
Projected through a pin-hole on to a piece of paper

After a good night’s sleep we were up and checked out by mid-morning. We had a very good coffee and breakfast at Jack’s in Betty’s Bay and then set out to hike in the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens.

We walked up the Leopard’s Kloof Trail to the Waterfall, then half-way back and along the contour path to the Disa Kloof Waterfall. From there back down to the restaurant for another coffee and cake. This time I had no issues with stiff knees and we both felt great after the walk.

Round bridge, at the start of the Leopard’s Kloof Trail
There are a number of ladders along the Trail
At the pool below the Leopard’s Kloof waterfall
On our way down again
View of Betty’s Bay
Boardwalk at the end of Disa Kloof Trail
Honey Flower (Retzia capensis)
Tranquil reflections, Disa Kloof Trail

Next stop was at my friend Rinette’s house in Stanford Bay. She has also recently converted her guest accommodation to AirBnB, called Whales, Waves and Walks, so we made use of that for this visit. We normally park in the driveway and sleep in Ufudu so this was a real treat!

After a pleasant evening of eating out and chatting we set out to do the Duiwelsgat Hiking Trail the next morning. However, one cannot hike on an empty stomach so first we went in search of breakfast! We were pleasantly surprised when we found a coffee shop called Hot Coffee in Gansbaai that served banting-friendly fare!

We started the trail at the parking area near the Gansbaai camping site in town where we left our car. Rinette collected us at Klipgat, the end of the trail, at an agreed time to take us back to our car again. The weather was wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk.

There were a number of bridges over gullies
Fresh water from several springs just gush over the cliffs and into the sea
Roger doing his thing…
The rock formations are fascinating!

A point of interest along the route was Duiwelsgat. It is a huge hole above the cliff, going all the way down to the sea. It was originally named Duiwegat because of the rock pigeons that built their nests in the hole. A wall was built around it to prevent cattle from falling in.

Duiwelsgat
Blood Flower (Haemanthus coccineus)

All too soon it was time to leave again and get back to Jo’burg. But we were feeling happy after all the time outdoors and knowing that the ‘training’ had begun…

Another year; another birthday…

2016 was a tough year. Lots of late nights working, very early mornings on travel Mondays and late returns on travel Fridays. What was supposed to be a 6-month project was extended twice and ended up being 11 months, including the support period. I was tired and needed the tranquillity of the bush and the rejuvenation of being creative. That made our decision easy: we will go to Marloth Park for my birthday this year. Roger had three days ‘requested off’ and three days leave. What a treat; a full six days!

We left home rather late on Thursday, 12th January. The Hilux was heavily laden with everything we needed for the projects we had planned for our visit. The weather was overcast and cloudy, and thanks to the recent rain everything looked clean, fresh and very green. A pleasant drive! When we approached Mbombela (formerly known as Nelspruit) we decided it would be too late for a braai once we got to Marloth Park, so we stopped for a Nando’s supper and eventually arrived at MP at 10 pm.

A touch greener than our previous visit!
Gecko taking advantage of the easy pickings around the light

The Lowveld is almost unbearably hot at this time of year so we were very pleased when we awoke to a grey sky the next morning. It was not long before it rained. And it rained. And it rained some more; on and off for just about the entire time we were there. What a pleasure!

River down the driveway, slightly contained thanks to the earlier erosion humps Roger made
View towards the braai area

It was pleasantly cool and very conducive to getting stuck into our respective projects.

When we had Ufudu designed and built we included a gas oven, thinking that it would come in handy during our travels. It turns out we used it very seldom, and when we did it was not all that successful as the door continuously rattled loose and thus did not seal properly. We therefore decided to remove it and rather increase our cupboard space. Roger advertised it on OLX and when that did not yield any interest we suddenly had a brain-wave: we would install it at Marloth Park. This was Roger’s project.

The oven started life in Ufudu

We decided to create a mobile, island-style installation so Roger immediately immersed himself in the planning; measurements, cutting list, fittings, checking, measuring again, and so on…  Eventually everything was bought, cut, collected and loaded. Building/assembly happened ‘on-site’ and after two days we had an oven!

The proud cabinet maker!
Our first effort – banting bread
Ready for the next baking occasion!

Besides the oven there were a number of maintenance and ‘renewal’ projects happening at the same time. Now, as much as this sounds like work, it is very relaxing to do things, then sit back with a beer/glass of wine and admire one’s handy work…

Cupboard floor in dire need of replacement…

Much better. It was quite an effort without the right tools…

My project for this trip was to ‘lighten up’ and refresh the furniture in the main bedroom. Annie Sloan paint was the answer, and I came well prepared for the task. So, after two days we had a new look in the bedroom.

Chest of drawers
Bedroom cupboard

 

Busy, busy!

On Sunday, our projects done, we had time to just relax. Among other things, we used the opportunity to put Roger’s dad in his final resting place.

Dad waiting patiently…

Marloth Park was Roger’s dad’s favourite place. He simply loved coming here and would often go walking around on his own, armed with a fence dropper as his weapon. Said dropper, much to Roger’s dismay, was taken from one of our property’s corner posts. Dad passed away in 2010, 2 days before his 90th birthday. With Mom’s agreement we brought his ashes with us on this trip and buried it under Roger’s favourite tree, a Tree Wisteria.

To mark the spot, we took two rocks from a nearby pile and, lo and behold, they were marking / protecting the dropper of another corner post. Most apt, we thought…

May you rest in peace Dad

Monday was my birthday. We were up early and entered the Kruger National Park through the Crocodile Bridge Gate half an hour after opening time. Again, it was cool, over-cast and drizzly; blissful!

Giant legless skink
Birthday breakfast at Mugg & Bean, Lower Sabie
Crossing the Sabie River…
We had two cheetah sightings, both with cubs. So amazing!
Family of Ground Hornbills
Water Thick-knee

We stayed in and chilled on Tuesday, only venturing out for a drive through Marloth Park in the afternoon.

Bee hotel doing well
Crocodile River as seen from the Marloth Park lookout

In the evening we visited Don and Trish for a beer and a chat. They are permanent residents and it is always a pleasure going to their place. They have a feeding station for bush babies and this time we had the pleasure of watching these amazing little creatures coming to fetch their evening treat!

Southern Lesser Galago

O, I almost forgot to mention our very own ‘Bush Tokoloshe’ or ‘Scary Man’, as we had christened him.

It all started at the end of October last year. One of our neighbours, who collects African Art, had left him in the rubbish bin area at our complex in Rosebank. Soon after we started our holiday trip Roger received a WhatsApp message from another neighbour complaining about ‘that scary thing that has been there for two weeks and why has it not yet been removed?’. We both looked at each other with that ‘aha’ look and decided that we would take him to Marloth Park. He is now our official guard and, dare I say, I don’t think we are about to have any house invasion issues…

Almost life-size!
On guard
Scary!!!

All too soon it was time to leave again. Wednesday morning was pack up and go; back to city life…

BUT, watch this space. We have lots of plans for 2017…

Golden Gate and Clarens

We wanted to spend a night at the hot springs in Aliwal North, but they were not open due to renovations in progress. The rest of the town seemed to have very limited options and appeared run-down and dirty. When we spotted The Pantry, a local restaurant and deli, we decided to have lunch before moving on. The food and friendly service was well worth it. The two sisters, Nicolette & Lizelle, have certainly created a little gem in the middle of such a drab-looking town.

Golden Gate is South Africa’s only grassland national park and is situated in the western foothills of the Maluti Mountains, close to the Lesotho border. We love going there so planned to spend two nights. The drive was pleasant and the landscape beautifully green.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park – view towards the east

We no sooner arrived when we heard a fellow camper complain about the baboons. They had broken into their locked tent by tearing the side wall and stole food items, amongst others their sugar. They had sewn up the tent, but now still had no sugar for their morning coffee and the Park Shop had none. I know the feeling when morning coffee pleasure is threatened! Luckily we still had some sugar in Ufudu which we gladly donated; after all, we don’t use that stuff any longer…

Our mission for this visit was to find the elusive (for us) Ground Woodpecker so we were up early and went for a hike along the Echo Ravine trail. We saw birds, and beautiful flowers, but no woodpeckers, and eventually had to return to camp for breakfast; empty-handed.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the loops in the park, having lunch at a Farm Stall just outside the park gate, and going to the hide at the Vulture Restaurant. Sadly, there were no vultures due to a lack of menu items. We later asked the Park Manager about it and his response was that they are dependent on farmers for donations, which they have not had for a long time.

The next morning saw us up early once again and this time we took breakfast with us. We decided on the Mushroom Rock trail and voila!, there they were! Sitting on a rock, two Ground Woodpeckers basking in the sun. Mission accomplished.

Ground Woodpeckers

After watching them for some time we took a leisurely walk up the path and stopped at the Dripping Wall for breakfast.

Mushroom rock
Roger preparing breakfast
Surveying the area on our way back
Looking towards the west

Back at camp we packed up and left the park. We wanted to go and explore Clarens.

First stop, naturally, was for coffee

We popped into all the art shops around the ‘square’, had lunch at ‘The Posthouse Restaurant’, and ultimately ended up at the Clarens Brewery. A visit to the brewery was not planned, but as we came up to it, there was a sudden downpour. What better place to take shelter than in a brewery?

Clarens Brewery

It did not take much to persuade us to do a tasting; Roger did the beers and I joined by tasting the ciders. We ended up buying a variety of beers, 2 ciders, and 2 apricot liqueurs. We were back on the road by 3 pm for the last leg of this trip.

Driving through another storm
River flooding its banks
River flooding its banks

We arrived home at about 8 pm on the 23rd. Sadly, another year’s leave over and done with…

Port Alfred and Yellow Sands

We always enjoy Port Alfred. It is one of the places that we think we would be able to stay one day when we move away from Jo’burg. After lunch at the Fresh Fish Market we settled in at the local Municipal caravan park in exactly the same spot as before!

Fresh Fish Market
Snug at the Municipal Caravan Park

For our evening meal we decided to walk to Guido’s. We did not have the convenience of Suzi and we needed the exercise. It was cool, overcast and pleasant to walk.

Rough sea!

Roger noticed a fishing charter boat on the river soon after we arrived so he contacted the owner and arranged for a trip.

Graze… by the river

After a sumptuous lunch at Graze… by the river the next day we were collected at the agreed time and spent about four and a half hours fishing on the river with Chris. Well, Roger was trying to catch fish while I was parking off and taking photos…

Sunset on the river
Trying to catch live bait from the holding container proved to be rather challenging!
Bbrrrrr…..

We had a braai on board and eventually called it a day, empty handed, at about 9 pm.

Bathurst was our first stop the next day. There we browsed a second-hand bookshop and bought an arm-full of books, once again! We just cannot resist…

Lara’s Eatery and Deli where we had lunch
Delicious, fresh, local food! Well worth a visit.

We met John Waterson during the ‘Toys for Boys’ event at Tedderfield earlier in the year and he invited us to his farm should we ever be in the Eastern Cape. He is the agent for Savannah Light Sports Aircraft in South Africa and has a small factory where he assembles the kits. His farm is en-route to Yellow Sands, our next destination, so a visit was mandatory.

On our way there we started noticing a knocking noise at the rear of Ufudu whenever a bump in the road was encountered. Stopping at John’s was fortunate because upon inspection it turned out that bolts which keep Ufudu attached to his chassis needed tightening. John had the right tools and in no time it was sorted out and we were on our way again.

Maintenance

Yellow Sands was recommended to us by Gavin and it really is worth a visit. We spent two nights there and would have liked to stay longer. This trip is only a few weeks though, so we had to move on.

Sun-downers, shortly after arriving and settling in
Roger, still trying…
If you look carefully you will see Ufudu among the dune shrubs

You may have noticed by now that this trip was largely about meeting up with old friends and acquaintances. Next was getting together with an old school friend of Roger’s, Andrew Hart and his wife Jenny. We got together at the Pinecreek Inn, which was more or less half-way between Cove Rock where they live and Yellow Sands. After a long afternoon of much chin-wagging and wine drinking we set out again. This time to a place called Gubu Dam near Stutterheim. Andrew mentioned that he had often seen the turn-off but had never been there himself, and of course we are always keen on going to new places.

The road was long, dusty and very bad and when we eventually got there the place was a great disappointment. It was in the middle of a pine plantation; cold and totally uninviting.

Gubu Dam Picnic Site

We left at first light the next morning.

Herolds Bay to Port Alfred

We had planned our trip and arrival in Herolds Bay to coincide with the date of Joe van Biljon’s farewell. He had just taken early retirement due to health reasons and a few caring Comair staff (mainly Suzanne and Estie) had arranged a surprise farewell party/braai to take place at the picnic site.

It was pouring with rain when we arrived at the local caravan site in the late afternoon. Being in Ufudu, however, that is never a problem; handbrake up, have kitchen and bathroom on board! The weather cleared sufficiently for the party the next day and a good time was had by all. The die-hards even ended up going to Duttons Cove after the braai!

Some of the party-goers. That’s Joe in the centre, wearing the blue jersey… (Thanks for the photo Suzanne)

We had breakfast with friends Frans and Joey in George the next morning and then went shopping before heading out. I needed some longs due to the unexpected and wide-spread cold and rain!

We managed to find a suitable camping spot after arriving at Nature’s Valley rather late that evening. It was a challenge reading the site map, finding our way among the trees and ensuring it was level; all in darkness…

Somehow it did not look so bad in daylight!

We had an arrangement to meet up with Mathew Beresford-Carter and his wife Samantha the next day. Roger and Mathew are old SAAF friends and Mathew now flies fire-bombing choppers. They live in Knysna. We spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon with them, catching up over a meal at the local Nature’s Valley Restaurant.

Summer?
A walk on the beach is always good, rain or shine!

It was still overcast and raining on-and-off on Monday. On the upside: the rain is very needed and at least it is cool. As always, it was a leisurely drive with frequent stops to explore the points of interest along the way.

Bridge over the Storms River

We checked in at the Pine Lodge Resort in Port Elizabeth for the night and planned to view the much advertised Super Moon from the adjacent Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Alas, it was not to be; the cloud never lifted and the moon was not able to show itself. It was a pleasant evening though and we enjoyed the long walk on the beach.

The Cape Recife Lighthouse made up for the lack of a moon!
Seagulls facing into the wind. Note the wind sock! This is PE after all…

Our aim was to spend the following night in Addo National Park but they were full! It was a surprise and disappointment; we thought it was ‘off season’ and would therefore not be a problem. As a compromise we decided to drive through on a day visitor’s pass and, as always, we were not disappointed.

Elephants galore; and numerous babies!
I spy with my rear-view camera…

And there, much to our surprise, right next to the road, a caracal. In broad daylight!

On the hunt
Moving along swiftly!
What a magnificent eland bull!

We were the only campers at the Pearson’s Resort in Colchester that night. After watching a magnificent sunset and an already waning super moon we decided to prepare the artichokes we were given in Barrydale. It was delicious!

Sunset over the Sundays River
Starters, yumm…
Sun rise / moon set the next morning

We got to Port Alfred just before lunch after spending some time at the Oakly Farm Stall having coffee and enjoying some home-made eats. They have a wonderful selection of furniture and other items made from old oak vats and we contemplated buying an easel, but eventually decided against it; it was just too big to transport home inside Ufudu.

Oakly Farm Stall on the R72

Route 62

We were sad to leave De Hoop but at the same time looked forward to experiencing the R62. We were previously unable to stop at all the interesting places along the route due to time commitments, so Barrydale would now be the main focus for the next leg of our journey.

One is completely cut off from the outside world due to lack of cell phone reception while at De Hoop, and the first news we got once we had comms again was the outcome of the US elections. That was certainly enough to change our mood. But enough said about that…

The next news was of the storms in and around Johannesburg. What unbelievable destruction! And then the realisation that the beautiful ‘cloud burst’ seen from Ponti was actually directly over our house! We decided not to panic and after a phone call or two decided there was nothing we could do anyway so best we put it out of our minds. As it turned out some of our neighbours had significant damage but our unit was fine.

Courtesy: eNCA

First stop on our route was the Malgas Pont across the Breede River, famous for the fact that it is the last ‘hand-drawn’ pontoon in South Africa. We had taken Ufudu on it before so it was not new to us, but it remains interesting.

They make it look so easy but it certainly looks like hard work to me!
Old fashioned transportation; modern communication!

The next stretch of road was really badly corrugated and very slow going. Our bird sightings more than made up for it though.

Blue Crane with chicks

We stopped at the Paradise Organic Restaurant in Suurbraak for lunch. It was delicious and well worth the time spent. Somehow the experience is so much more when a restaurant’s owners are there, interested and chatting; and you can actually look out at their veggie patch and herb garden, knowing that everything is as fresh as it gets. As always, we envy the lifestyle. They have managed to escape the rat-race and are doing what they love, while at the same time contributing to the community by providing employment and upliftment. Their home is right next door to the restaurant, overlooking the mountains…

Paradise Organic Restaurant
View from our table

We stopped at the lookout points along the Tradouw pass, just taking our time and enjoying the scenery and eventually arrived in Barrydale in the mid-afternoon.

Drupkelder, Tradouw Pass

Barrydale does not have a caravan park but after making enquiries at The Hub we were directed to the Rooi Kombuis. This is what we love about the small towns in our country: the folk are friendly and only too eager to accommodate. In no time Toitnette had a power cable out, the ablution facility was opened and set up for us, and we could choose where we wanted to park!

Die Rooi Kombuis – Interesting claim!
Ufudu in the Rooi Kombuis garden

After we settled in we went exploring. On foot, of course, because we did not have Suzi with us this time.

Mmm, interesting…

Our first stop was the quirky Karoo Art Hotel. Each suite is decorated in a unique style/theme and the facility is open to the public for viewing. Art in all the public spaces is for sale. It is an amazing place and well worth a visit. But then again, anyone who knows me also knows that I cannot resist anything ‘art’!

Karoo Art Hotel suite
Karoo Art Hotel suite

Something we found extremely interesting is the agreement between local restaurant owners of who will be open on which night of the week. This spreads the income and affords the restaurant owners and staff welcome evenings off! On the night we were in town Clarke of the Karoo was the restaurant to go to. And it was well worth it. The long walk back to Ufudu was probably a good thing; it gave us time to work off some of the excesses…

Clarke of the Karoo

Breakfast was at the Rooi Kombuis, renowned for their unusual menu items. It was good but in my opinion did not live up to the hype. Perhaps we have become spoilt?

Before leaving town we paid a visit to the Magpie Art and Design Studio. We had a fascinating time chatting to Shane, one of the 4 founder members of the concept. Magpie is world-renown for their art, created from recycled items. Barack Obama even has one of their chandeliers in his private collection. I was enthralled. You can read more about them at http://www.magpieartcollective.com/

Recycled plastic Tern installation in the Magpie garden

After a tour through their garden we eventually, and reluctantly, left with some freshly cut artichokes in hand.

Roger with Artichokes and Shane in the background

Our next stop was at the Barrydale Wine Cellar. Good wine at really affordable prices. We later regretted not buying more. But it is always a trade-off between what is available here and now and what possibly still lies ahead. One never knows, and then we may have run out of space!

Next was Diesel and Crème for a mid-morning snack. It came highly recommended and did not disappoint. An American diner/roadhouse style restaurant that serves the most amazing milkshakes, and everything else.

Yum…
Diesel and Crème

We eventually headed out of town and about half an hour down the road stopped at Ronnie’s Sex Shop for lunch. Again, the place was more interesting than the food, which was not bad, just ordinary!

Roadkill Café at Ronnie’s Sex Shop
The bar – interesting…

Cape Town Friends and Family

We stopped for lunch at the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens after we left the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. On our walk after lunch we passed some workers that were ‘playing around’ with a puff adder. Snakes are always interesting so of course Roger had to get some pictures. I was a little concerned that they would harm the snake so we waited around until we witnessed it slithering off into the ticket.

Roger doing his thing!
Roger doing his thing!
Don't mess with me and I won't mess with you...
Don’t mess with me and I won’t mess with you…

Ufudu was ready to be collected so we were both anxious to get back to AC Motorhomes before close of business and therefore did not spend too much time in the gardens.

We collected Ufudu and drove back to Somerset West to drop Debbie’s car off.

The next four days were spent getting together with friends and family. Thanks to everyone for their time, hospitality and the gifts we received. It is always so hart-warming to see everyone when we are in the Western Cape. Regrettably there were also those we were unable to see; we will make contact again next time!

Willowbridge car park where we slept after having dinner with André and Betsy
Willowbridge car park where we slept after having dinner with André and Betsy

We absolutely love Farm Stalls and on this trip we decided that we would avoid franchised restaurants. We thus discovered, amongst a few other new ones, the Dassiesfontein Farm Stall between Botrivier and Caledon, en route to Rinette in Gansbaai. What a delightful place! They have an array of solar panels on the roof and a grid-tied solar system with a monitor showing patrons how much energy is being produced. Their bread is made from flour that is ground on the farm and is baked daily in the restaurant’s old wood stove.

Dassiesfontein Farm Stall
Dassiesfontein Farm Stall. Note the owl house under the apex of the roof on the right
All lighting is solar powered
All lighting is solar powered
Home-made bread with pork fat and apricot jam. Not banting friendly but delicious!
Home-made bread with pork fat and apricot jam. Not Banting friendly but delicious!
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Live cam of the owl house on the roof, showing barn owl and chick

We eventually left Gansbaai, where our last ‘friend visit’ was, on Sunday afternoon, 6th November, heading towards the De Hoop Nature Reserve.

Penguin rehab centre – Coffee Shop
Penguin rehab centre – Coffee Shop
Penguin rehab centre – enclosure
Penguin rehab centre – enclosure
Landscape with wind turbines
Landscape with wind turbines

We arrived at De Hoop just before sunset, which was beautiful as always, and checked in for two nights. Our holiday had begun…

Sunset at De Hoop
Sunset…

The next day we went for a short drive and then a long walk along the beach.

Huge herd of Eland
Huge herd of Eland
Cape Sugar Bird
Cape Sugar Bird
Start of the walk, which is also a section of the Whale Trail
Start of the walk, which is also a section of the Whale Trail

We were lucky enough to have a whale and calf leisurely swimming past and giving us the pleasure of watching them for a very long time!

Having a whale of a time
Having a whale of a time

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Spot the Agama
Spot the Agama

De Hoop remains one of our favourite Nature Reserves.

One of the magnificent fig trees around the De Hoop office buildings
One of the magnificent fig trees around the De Hoop office/admin buildings

Two days without Ufudu

After breakfast with Debbie and Jonathan we drove to Brackenfell, Roger in Ufudu and me with Debbie’s car. The reception at AC Motorhomes was warm, as always, and we left Ufudu in their capable hands before meeting Kevin for lunch.

It was good to see him, as it always is. Here he is, a 22-year old young man with great plans for his future and a good measure of focus to go with it. Hopefully his exams go well after all the disruptions at the campus and here’s holding thumbs that his interview with Maersk goes well at the end of the month.

We arrived back in Somerset West at about 5 pm. Rather late to launch the Hobie but between Jonathan and Roger they were determined that it would happen. We were in the Cape after all; it remains light until late.

Arriving at Strand
Arriving at Strand
Rigging in process
Rigging in process
Almost ready to go!
Almost ready to go!
All is well that ends well...
All is well that ends well…

After a late dinner we spent the night in Debbie and Jonathan’s guest room. It felt rather odd to not be in Ufudu. And such a pain to remember what to pack and what not to. We realised that we had become very lazy travelers since the advent of Ufudu…

We left early’ish the next day, hoping to get accommodation at the Kogelberg Biosphere. En route we stopped to visit Laubsher van Zyl, a colleague of Roger’s, in Pringle Bay. What a wonderful place to live!

Arranging for the Kogelberg accommodation was a bit of a mission; we drove in, only to find out that it was not possible to just arrive as a ‘walk-in’ guest. All bookings have to be made through Central Reservations. There is no cell phone reception in the reserve so we had to drive out again to make the reservation and payment. Much to our delight we managed to get a reservation so the next step was to go into Kleinmond to buy food.

We went down to the harbour to buy fish for supper. There we were entertained by some kids swimming and diving off the dock. We ended up buying lamb chops as there was no fresh fish available.

Kids having fun in the sun!
Kids having fun in the sun!

After buying the necessary supplies we headed back to the reserve and settled in.

Exo pool. I was not brave enough for such cold water!
Eco pool. I was not brave enough for such cold water!
Wetland filter section of the pool
Wetland filter section of the pool
River Frog
Cape River Frog enjoying the pool
Beautifully designed chalet
Beautifully designed chalet

It was still early enough to go for a hike down to the river before supper.

So good to be out there again
So good to be out there again
View of the chalets, on our way back to camp
View of the chalets, on our way back to camp
Braai time!
Braai time!
Sunset
Sunset
Moonset
Moonset

What a beautiful, tranquil place. We had a most enjoyable evening and reluctantly left the reserve mid-morning the next day.

The only sad part is the noticeable lack of maintenance compared to 3 years ago; the pool pump was not circulating the water, the roof gardens were in need of attention and wood work needs treatment.

Female Yellow Bishop
Female Yellow Bishop
Wild Malva (Pelargonium cucullatum)
Wild Malva (Pelargonium cucullatum)

 

Bloemfontein to Cape Town

During our sabbatical year I wrote extensively about all the places we visited. I have undertaken to not repeat anything mentioned before about any places we subsequently visit, with some exceptions of course! The Karoo National Park is one such exception. Reason: rare sightings (for us) and the fact the this was the first time we were able to sleep in the park; it had previously been fully booked.

As we entered the park we noticed a park official fussing around a snake. It seemed rather odd as the snake appeared to be dead; it was a Cape Cobra. It turned out to be severely stunned after being caught up in the electric fence, with what appeared to be some damage to its tail section. Fortunately, the gate guard realised that something was wrong when he heard the fence ‘ticking’ and switched it off before alerting the park official. We spent some time waiting for it to recover and move, rather slowly, into the bush; just in case some motorist did not notice and drove over it.

A rather groggy Cape Cobra
A rather groggy Cape Cobra

We got some rather curious looks as we drove into camp; in the middle of an exceptionally dry Karoo landscape with a Hobie in tow! You know the sort of look: ‘Do these people know something we don’t?’. Anyway, while checking in we decided to go on a night drive seeing as we have never spent a night in the Park.

What a good decision. The guide and his tracker were informative and communicative and in no time we saw Aardwolf; another tick on our list of must-see creatures. In fact, it was at a den and hence not just a fleeting sight, with quite a lot of movement. Sadly, the photos we managed to get are not good enough to publish.

The other really cool sighting was of a Cape Eagle Owl. It was nesting and had a chick so we undertook to return in the morning as Roger wanted to be sure the eyes are really orange!

Those eyes look orange to me!
Those eyes look orange to me!

Owls sleep during the day so we spent a long time observing the nest the next morning. Just as we were about to leave, with no more than pictures of a sleeping owl, a last click of the camera delivered the indisputable proof: it opened its eyes!

No question here!
No question here…
Klipspringer on Klipspringer pass
Roger’s favourite antelope: Klipspringer on Klipspringer pass

Then, after leaving the Park on Sunday I got the news that a very dear friend had passed away during the night. I was deeply shocked and terribly sad; we were scheduled to go and visit Lorrainne and John in Worcester, as we always do when we come to the Western Cape. Lorrainne and I had been friends for more years than what I can remember; this was so unexpected…

We stopped for lunch in Laingsburg where we paid a visit to the Flood Museum. What an interesting experience! We now understood for the first time what happened, thanks to a long chat with the curator. It was actually not a flash flood or a burst dam wall. There were a series of heavy downpours over the two days prior to the 25th January 1981 and the water dammed up against the railway bridge which caused the town to become flooded. The extensive damage and high death toll was caused when the embankment gave way and the town ’emptied’. You can read more about it here http://www.infolaingsburg.co.za/index.php?p=25

Scary flood level
Scary flood level
The curator telling us about the flood
The curator telling us about the flood
'Shopping mall'
Laingsburg ‘Shopping mall’

Worcester was on our route so we stopped by at John and Lorrainne’s house. Not the visit that we had planned but at least we were able to be there and spend some time with the family. How devastating to lose a friend, partner, mother and grandmother; so young and with so much still to give. May she rest in peace.

We arrived at Jonathan and Debbie’s house in Somerset West at about 8:30 pm. After catching up over a glass (or two?) of wine and a bowl of soup we spent the night in Ufudu, parked in their driveway.