Posted by: lastlegjourneys | January 3, 2013

Camping is such fun

Camping is fun – as an experience at Punda Maria again proves.

As much as I try to persuade my kids and brothers and sisters and any other semi-sane people that I actually enjoy camping more than living in some up market Condo or hotel the more they think I am a bit crazy, but then who knows?

We arrived at Punda Maria on the Northern border of South Africa for the first night of a 6 night visit to the Kruger National Park, surely one of the great Game Reserves in the world. On Sunday after lunch we headed north for a night in Louis Trichardt (Makado) where  we put up our two person overnight tent near the ablution block and then had a good night. Audrey slept in the van for the first time, and me in the tent (I had a bad cold).  She had a good night saying that the Toyota Condor, as I have adapted it, has more breathing space than our van on our USA trip had, but the bed was not quite as comfortable. Then you can’t have everything can you?!

After 6 months camping in the 2009, and several trips in South Africa over the years, we have become experts at choosing a good site, especially if you arrive early enough so that you have some choice. As we arrived at Punda Maria at 10h30 on Monday morning we had a wide variety of choices and to our delight the shady position right next to the swimming pool was open. Last time we were here we really envied the folks who had claimed that spot.  

After about an hour we had successfully put up our tent, the big one with a large bed room and a comfortable kitchen/sitting room. This tent takes about an hour and a lot of sweat and sometimes tears, but once it is up with the 30+ pegs securely hammered into the bedrock, it can withstand pretty heavy winds and weather as we found at the Kgalagadi National Park last year.

 The area, while under some shady trees, was perhaps not as level as we would have liked, but then it was a great location! Little did we know!

After a pleasant light supper we turned in. The fact that we had seen a Parks Board vehicle stating that frog research in the park was being sponsored by Mazda, should have been a warning, but then we were pretty tired and not thinking as clearly as we should have.

In any choice of real estate anyone knows that location is the one major factor to consider. While four nights does not really constitute a permanent purchase it does constitute a fairly long settlement in the game reserve were normally two nights in one camp would be quite long. Several important factors are vital when choosing the right location. How far is it from the bathroom and kitchen? Is there a noisy group of European or South African tourists camping in that area who are likely to begin a sing song after too many cheap S.A. beers?

It was quite early when the evening chorus of what must be at least a thousand frogs, started. This was not gentle croaking that would help you to sleep soundly, but rather in your ear, horrible, grating your nerves, noise! It was like a horrible stuck record that went on hour after hour with an occasional silence when some frog leader must have given a signal and the chorus stopped. The silence seemed worse than the repetitive refrain, as on a signal from the frog- master, the croaking would suddenly resume. We lay on the edge of our camping mattresses waiting for the croaking to start again, hoping in vain that by some miracle the frogs would have run out of steam.

Now the other trouble with the camp site was that Audrey was sleeping on a rather steep slope and kept slipping off her mattress onto the rocky floor of the tent. Then in the middle of the night, a terrible fight broke out. No, it was not Audrey and me fighting for the level ground, but either a couple of monkeys or some other animals battling it out in the trees above out tent. Screeching and snarling, raising the hairs on our necks as we pulled our sleeping bags around us.

“How did you sleep?” I innocently asked Audrey, “the worst night of my life!” described it pretty well. That we had to change camp site was obvious, but the thought of taking down our rather big tent and moving tables, chairs, etc., even made us hesitate for about 2 seconds, but then the decision was made. 

We thought of looking for 4 volunteers to each grab a tent pole and help us carry the tent across the camp ground after we had removed the multiple tent pegs, but that was too embarrassing and so down the tent came and everything went into the car and the trailer as if we were leaving for home – after all no one else knew we were booked in for 4 nights.

This time we did some serious research before rather sheepishly putting our tent up in a new site as if we were just arriving. Yes, everybody was fooled by our clever subterfuge but we ignored the sniggering that came from our neighbors. As if they would not have chosen our prime site if they had got there before us!

 Two criteria were considered as we walked through the whole camp inspecting every vacant campsite as if we had been appointed by the Parks Board to do a campground inspection. Firstly, it had to be as far from the swimming pool as possible and secondly it had to be absolutely flat.

 Time will tell if we succeeded but as I sit musing on last night’s events, the frog chorus is going strongly at the swimming pool that is now on the other side of the campground, but you know how sound travels in the bush veldt. So the chorus, while not quite as deafening as last night is still rather painful. At least the ground is level and so we will wait and see. We may look at the possibilities of extending our stay at Shingwedzi from the planned two nights to four nights if the froggy chorus continues to drive us to distraction. Perhaps we will check our budget and even book into a bungalow!

On a positive note yesterday and today we saw some great herds of Elephant and Buffalo and a large selection of antelope and birds, if through rather bleary eyes!

 Yes, someone else has chosen the site next to the swimming pool, but as of yet the frog chorus has not started. I hope they have soundproofing on their tents.

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | May 13, 2012

The last trout

ImageImageThe Last trout. A fishy story.

At present my travelling consists of the occasional trip to Gubu. This beautiful dam is only 100km from East London and so when I get a break I hit the road after packing my fishing and birding equipment and my Gubu Box. My Gubu Box consists of essential food supplies, cooking utensils and other essential equipImageImagement like toilet paper, soap,etc. and although I had a list of things to find in it (Audrey’s Idea) I invariably find I have run out of sugar, coffee or soap when I get to the Dam.

A stop in Stutterheim, about ¾ of the way to the dam, for milk, bread and meat is part of the ritual. Sometimes I then remember what I had run out of last time and then can replenish it before travelling the last 25km. After that it is simply a matter of doing without for the rest of the stay. Fortunately other members of the club sometimes leave some essential behind, and so I have not had to travel back to Stutterheim on the rather bad dirt road yet.

The last two times I have gone, first Audrey, Heidi and family joined me for a night and day and then Gill and the girls on the last trip. It is always a joy to see them arrive and then share this special place.

Being a trout dam I have, over the years, caught quite a few fish in the dam, including my biggest of about 2kg., but that was some time ago. In fact I had decided that I had possibly caught my last trout because even when I have had a “take” in recent times, I have not seemed to be able to hook the fish and when I have managed to hook it, I have invariable lost it. 

After unpacking everything on Tuesday I decided to launch my rowing boat and give the fish another chance. As I sat on the boat retrieving my fly, while my mind was wandering in a thousand different directions, I was brought back to reality by a huge splash. Something had jumped out of the water and then landed on the surface quite near to the boat, giving me quite a fright. As my mind clicked in, I realized that the end of my line and therefore my fly, must have been just about where the splash was. Putting one and one together I realized, in a flash, that it was a fish, and a rather big one, that had been attempting to grab my fly. To my amazement, when I lifted my rod, I felt that I had made contact with a huge trout. This was perhaps the biggest one I had ever hooked and so as he made a dash for the reed banks I allowed him to take some line. If a large trout manages, however, to get into the reeds, you have lost it as your line gets caught up in the same reeds. So reluctantly I tightened my hold on the line to avoid that disaster, only to find the line going slack as the fly came out of the fish’s mouth. Adrenaline was now pumping through my veins and a sinking feeling overcame me as I realized that I had lost a fish of note, perhaps my biggest and last trout!

The afternoon came and went with no further excitement except for the arrival of Gill and the girls and a pleasant supper of toasted sandwiches and pork ribs cooked on the open fire. The next day we swam, Sarah jumped of the cliff at the quarry, and I even tried some more fishing. Also went birding to complete a list for this area for the South African Bird Programme. (SABAP2) On Thursday the family had left and so I decided to try one more time for an elusive fish. Again I was on the boat and as I let my Mrs. Simpson fly sink down deep into the clear waters of the dam in home creek, I saw a rise about 10 meters away. Taking my spare rod I quickly let some line out to cast to the rise only to see my other rod bending madly. This was not really legal, as the rules say you may only use one rod at a time, and so I dropped the offending second rod and grabbed the bending one to comply with the rules and to see what was pulling on it. This was a fish not to be trifled with and in spite of the second rod being in the way I played the hooked fish with great skill (even if I say so myself). The trout weighed in at just under 2kg and my day was made as I cleaned it and put it in the deep freeze for future eating.

Of course I first took a picture to send to my family and I received mixed responses. Audrey: “it’s been a long time in coming!” Ian: “the fish looks like it’s been around for a long time, and the trout looks pretty old too”. Jealousy makes you nasty! Some will say I was just plain lucky, but as they say “fortune smiles on the brave” and so see if I care. I have always been a lucky fisherman and perhaps this will, in fact, not be “my last trout” and it was definitely not “the one that got away!”



Posted by: lastlegjourneys | April 3, 2012

How to help in the kitchen

Never being too old to learn, today at Ian’s house in Parkmore I learned some worthwhile tips for firstly cooking in someone else’s kitchen and secondly how to be a kitchen helper. The real question is why it took so long and was so painful. It all seems so obvious now:
1. Don’t offer to do your favourite meal when visiting friends or family. It will be a disaster because while making a beef stew at home in your potjie doing the same in a strange kitchen in a slow cooker may seem like a breeze but is certain to turn out a major disaster. While expectations may be high, because nothing is even vaguely familiar, the end result is doomed to failure.
2. Offering to help in the kitchen when someone else is cooking is also to be avoided at all costs. ‘Just pack away the dishes in the drying rack’, would be easy at home but in someone else’s kitchen it becomes a nightmare that is going to have repercussions long after you have left.
3. Some words of wisdom from  experienced cooks:(Ian and Audrey)
3.1 If you are not serious about helping don’t offer.
3.2 When you are told ‘no thank you’ it is not a rejection but rather a test of your seriousness.
3.3 Ignore the feeling of rejection and wash the dishes of clean the counter.
3.4 If that is not followed by a ‘get out the kitchen!’ then wait patiently until your ability/intelligence/willingness/sincerity is tested with a menial task like; empty the rubbish bin.
3.5 If you were reasonably successful with that test then you may be asked to peel the potatoes or watch the rice boiling.
3.6 If you can do this without giving any advice like ‘why is the pumpkin burning?’ you may be allowed back in the future.
3.7 To avoid that danger you may have to make one or two really bad mistakes and then the answer, ’why don’t you rather go and weed the garden?’ will allow you to go back to the T.V. lounge and watch your favourite sport or cooking programme.

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 29, 2012

Did you hear the child cry

Hear the children cry tonight!
We live in a world where tonight millions of children will go to bed hungry. Through no fault of their own they will not have any food today. This is okay because I cannot hear them crying. The gap between the haves and the have nots is huge and is getting bigger. There are many reasons for this and while we may vigorously debate these reasons we are still left faced with the reality. The obvious question that I as one of the haves have to answer is this; what can I do to solve this problem? The answer is just as obvious, not much. Because of that I do very little, if anything, because in this world I have to look after myself and my own. Tonight as I sit in my lounge watching T.V. after a pleasant supper I am contented and the sound of a hungry child down the road, in the nearby informal settlement or across the sea in the slums of India, Mexico or West Africa is far enough to be ignored.
You see, I am not my brother’s keeper, and so I will sleep well tonight, or will I? While most people do care and most people do help in their own way the difficulty is in knowing exactly how I can make a real difference. This has always been the question that caring people face and only a few have been able to find a suitable answer that really satisfies. The magnitude of the problem puts it comfortably beyond our reach.
A thought crossed my mind as I pondered this difficult question. What if I could find one family that is battling to make ends meet and then help them with a small amount every week? Immediately the problem became too big because there are just too many questions. How do I find such a family? How do I know that the money will be spent on food and not wasted? It would only be a drop in the huge ocean of need and so why waste my time and effort knowing that it was fraught with more questions than answers.
And then I hear a child cry, and decided I cannot solve the world’s problems but at the same time I can help someone and so I am on a mission, perhaps mission impossible, but never the less a mission. Perhaps I can help one family beyond what we already do (I know we all do something). So I said a prayer; ‘God lead me to one family where a child will be hungry tonight and help me to know how to help. Thanks to you I have so much and I need to help where I can but I need your help in this’. Perhaps God will answer my prayer and hopefully I will hear that answer. Read Mathew 25:31-46.

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 27, 2012

Weevils in the soup powder

Today was just another interesting day in the life of someone involved in running a soup kitchen. Anna and Ellen serve about 100 children and the elderly, and in fact anyone who pitches with a cup and hope, with a slice of bread and a cup of soup every Tuesday and Thursday. This happens from Anna’s house in Peffeirville. Her house is not really a house but a flatlet build by the previous government in this area that was designated for ‘Coloured’s Only’ in this very poor area of East London. It can best be described as sub-economic housing and Anna has a ground floor area consisting of a lounge, bedroom and kitchen and an outside toilet. Water is provided from a tap outside the back door and the kitchen also doubles as a bathroom by pulling the cast iron tub out from under the table. This is not a particularly bad setup as housing in the Gompo/Peffeirville/Parkside area goes. Anyway Anna does not complain and with the help of her friend Ellen, both members of the Buffalo Flats, Church of Christ, they prepare the soup, using soup powder and fresh vegetables. The 12 bread that are each cut into about ten slices come as a donation from Vincent Spar on Tuesday and Southernwood Spar on Thursday. The soup powder, vegetables and money for electricity comes from donations received from one or two kind folk in the East London area.


Today was time to buy a new bag of soup powder and so I dutifully visited Herbie’s Food in Cambridge Street, East London to do so. Herbie however was out and due to a mix up with his staff the bag that I purchased was past its sell by date. Frantic phone calls resulted in more trips back and forth to replace the old soup powder with some fresh ‘Spiced Chicken’ soup powder fortified with a selection of much needed minerals. Anna and Ellen had not noticed the weevils that are very small and can be mistaken for some of the minerals if you do not look very carefully, but I am glad to report that the children in Peffeirville enjoyed weevil free soup, and so we can all relax!


Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 17, 2012

Gubu in all its glory


This morning Gubu was wearing all her jewels. The sunrise painted the sky pink and the clouds in East and West were at their best. No artist could equal the sight and photos only tell half the story. The tree next to the slipway reflected a perfect mirror image in the clear water and a slight breeze stirred the surface. In the distance a Fish Eagle called its mate and two Egyptian Geese arrived honking along as they splash landed on the dam. The local Grey-crowned Cranes arrived with their ‘maheem, maheem’ call. A lonely Guinea Fowl call ushered in the day like a farmyard Rooster. A couple of trout broke the surface nearby as they began their search for food.

It was a day to be out and so after breakfast I loaded my row-boat and headed for the Red-banks to try for a fresh trout. Fishing in summer is frustrating as the fish live in the deeper colder water and you need to fish deep and slow with a fast sinking line and a weighted fly. Only in the early morning and late evening do they venture into shallower water. I longed for the familiar (in fact not so familiar of late) feel of the bump on the fly and the line tightening as the unsuspecting fish is fooled into taking the hook decorated with feathers and fur. As I drifted into Home Creek my heart leaped as a fish took the fly and I was on. You immediately know if you have hooked a big fish and this was a big one. I could not give it a lot of line as the fish would then dive into the weed beds and become impossible to move; it is a delicate balance and with this one I got it wrong. Something gave and the line went slack and that was possibly the one chance that I was going to have today. On examining my tippet it had parted at a joint and I knew that I should have checked it more carefully. An elementary mistake and so stupid when it may be the only take today but then the fish could have been just too big for the light tippet I was using anyway. The barometer had risen and that is a good sign, so who knows what the rest of the day holds.

No further action, in spite of another hours fishing, and so as the temperature increases it is back to the club house for a rest, it already seems like a long day. To my surprise Audrey, Heidi and the two grandkids have arrived, what a pleasant surprise!

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 17, 2012

Gubu – meeting Africa

Finally got away to one of my favourite places, the beautiful Gubu Dam near Stutterheim, for a couple of days of fishing and relaxing

Tonight I am eating a great supper of vegetables; cooked in the microwave. It is a selection of potato, onion and butternut, with some fresh tomato cut into it. Poured over these is a mixture that I made of vinegar, mayonnaise and water. No meat because at lunch time I shared my pork sosaties with John Tiwani. John had been working the whole morning at cutting the grass in front of the Stutterheim Trout Clubhouse. After my morning of birding I decided to have a lunch consisting of the great pork sosaties that I had bought at Vincent Spar on the way to Gubu, to be finished at supper time. As I got busy with the important business of cooking these culinary delights I invited John to join me.
He really seemed to enjoy them saying: ’these are really nice, I have only seen them on T.V.’ We chatted about him as we ate and he told me that he had completed Grade 11 at the Jongiligwe Secondary School in the area before leaving school and getting the lob where he works as a gardener about three times a month. He supports his younger sister who is in grade 3 and he had to give up school because of financial problems. He also plays rugby at number 10 in the local rugby club in Stutterheim, the Blue Jets.
He is a typical example of many South Africans living in tribal areas where they are caught in a circle of poverty that is extremely difficult to break out of. He told me that he would like to get a better job but there did not seem to be any opportunities for him. He can drive a tractor and is a good brick layer, indicating that he has worked on farms and as a casual laborer in the area. How does a young man like this manage to get into a situation where he can have a better life? His only chance is to leave the rural areas and go to the nearby cities like East London where he joins the many others desperately looking for a break. At the same time he has his little sister to care for. I did not ask him what had happened to their parents, but I have an idea. I took his number and promised that I would phone him if I found a job, but he and I knew that there was little chance of that. I encouraged him to keep up his rugby because for some that opened a door of opportunity as it had for Makaya Ntinini (in the S.A. cricket world) and Odwa and Akohona Ndungane (in the rugby world)
I daily thank the Lord that I was born into a situation where I could enjoy the many opportunities that I had and feel so desperately sorry for people like John Tiwani who seem locked in a hopeless situation. Sharing my pork sosaties seemed to be so little that I can do!
As I sat outside the club house pondering this problem the lights of Stutterheim (some 20 km to the East) were in competition with the stars that kept on coming and going as the clouds lifted and then descended again. While the stars here are not as great as they were at Kgalagadi that we experienced last year, they are much brighter than those in urban areas like East London. If you have not seen the stars in all their beauty and glory then perhaps it is time for you to make a journey into rural Africa. You may even meet someone like John Tiwani, and be touched in your soul!

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 1, 2012

Soccer stories to warm your heart

There is hope for the human race when you consider two scenes from the soccer world in the past month. One comes from Africa and one from England. The first happened during the final of the Africa Cup of Nations where one of the unlikely finalists was Zambia. Hardly an early tournament favourite, but they surprised friend and foe and probably even themselves by being there! But reaching the final against the African powerhouse, Ivory Coast was not the end of the story. They managed, to the delight and amazement of spectators, coaching staff and even players, to win the match on penalties after extra time and so the coveted cup was theirs! As the final whistle went and the players and coaching staff rushed to congratulate each other on the field, I saw, to my amazement the coach, Herve Renard, run along the outside of the playing area apparently looking for someone. After a while he reappeared carrying a person in his arms and then the cameras panned away to the on field celebration. It was only later that I heard that the coach had gone to look for one of his players who had been injured during the match and he then carried him back to join in the celebration. For the record Zambia (2012) joined South Africa (1996) as the only countries from the Southern Region of Africa to ever win the cup, but on this occasion the real winner, in my opinion, was coach Renard.
The second scene took place during the Carling Cup final between Liverpool and the brave Cardiff City team who had defied all odds to reach the final of this knockout competition in spite of playing their soccer in the second division. The captain of Liverpool is Stephen Gerard, who has also captained England in the past and is one of the icons of Liverpool and English soccer. In the Cardiff team is another Gerard – Anthony. He is Stephen’s cousin and is six years younger than Stephen. As they grew up and played many games of soccer in the back yard, their Grandmother is reputed to have often told Stephen to be gentle with young Anthony. As the final unfolded, the drama of an early lead by the underdogs, Cardiff, was taken away by a goal by Martin Skrtel and then when the Dutch international Dirk Kuyt scored a second for Liverpool the inevitable result seemed obvious. Young Anthony, who had been on the bench for most of the match, was brought on for the last few minutes, and no, he did not score the equalizer. Rather a team-mate Ben Turner did – in the closing moments of extra time! Penalties were then to decide the winners of the prestigious cup and after Stephen inexplicitly missed the first one, the drama continued as a number of players either scored or missed. Finally as the game came to an end, Anthony stepped up to keep Cardiff alive. As he approached the ball, with every nerve in his body telling him to be calm, he missed; and Liverpool won their first silverware since 2006! Young Anthony fell to the ground, his tears mixing with the grass and mud of the Wembly pitch. 80 000 spectators at the field and several million more on T.V. felt for the youngster but it was his older cousin Stephen, who ran over to console him with a hug! I wonder what Stephen said? There is still hope because people do care.

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | March 1, 2012

The big five in South African Game reserves

The Big Five in South African Game Reserves.
There are many game reserves in Southern Africa where you can see the big five, (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) but in my mind these reserves can be divided into two kinds: Firstly those private game reserves that undoubtedly have the big five but in limited numbers and in a limited space. The big five can then be displayed to visitors from one of the reserves vehicles by one of the reserves guides. These reserves cost a small fortune in the luxury accommodation that they offer and guarantee the big five because the guide knows exactly where to find them. To some degree this is like canned hunting and has little appeal to me even if I could afford it. The second kind of reserve is the national or provincial parks where a large number of animals live in a large area and visitors are allowed to drive in these areas in their own vehicles to search for the somewhat elusive animals. The animals are difficult to find because of the size of the reserve. There is no guarantee that you will find all five but the challenge to do so makes it exciting! The large Kruger National Park (280x60km) is considered by many to be the best game reserve in the world based on facilities, size and number of animals. The Umfolozi/Hluluwe in Kwa-zulu Natal would be another South African example of a world class game reserve. As time passes I now no longer worry so much about finding the big five, but rather spend time looking for the birds that I can add to my life list, or unusual, lesser known animals or scenarios. On our last trip to Kruger we were very excited to see a Honey Badger for the first time and watching Vultures and Hyenas feeding on an Elephant carcass held our attention for some time. Going a bit further afield the Okavango Delta in Botswana, with the marvelous Chobe Game Reserve, must rate very high. Being charged by an Elephant creates a rush of adrenalin and also provides some great photographic opportunities as long as you don’t tarry too long..

Posted by: lastlegjourneys | February 23, 2012

Eyeball to eyeball with an African Goshawk

It is not often that I get to the Nahoon Estuary Nature reserve more than once or twice a week. Yesterday, however,with a Bird Club committee meeting scheduled for 17.45, I was on my way for the second time that day, having already spent a great hour there with Khian during the early afternoon. After battling the evening traffic, I arrived at 17h10 and so I had half an hour to spend in the bird hide before the meeting. On impulse I went to the top part of the hide and what a good decision that was! As I was watching the birds feeding on the food I had put out earlier and others taking their evening bath, they all suddenly disappeared in a flash. This got my attention as it seemed obvious that a raptor had arrived. To my amazement and delight, a beautiful African Goshawk flew over the birdbath and landed in the tree right next to me. It would be an exaggeration to say that I could have reached out and touched it, but infact I almost could. Time seemed to freeze and how I wished that I had taken my camera out of its bag and so there we sat, me on the bench and the Goshawk on his branch only feet away. Temptation was too strong and so I reached for my camera bag and as I suspected would happen, the bird saw the movement, gave me a sideways glance, and then glided away to a tree on the other side of the bird bath. For a wonderfull moment that seemed like an age, we had been as close as I probably will ever get to a beautiful wild bird in his full hunting mode. What a priviledge and soul moving experience!

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