An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Home

Mrs Blog and I arrive back home in Australia on Christmas Day. It's nice, of course, to be home, and to catch up with family and friends.

But...

We're already missing Africa. The first thing we did, after visiting our families, was to hit a camping store in Sydney and buy a new tent - a future replacement for the circus tent (so named because it has a big top and, according to Mrs B, a clown inhabits it).

Anyway, there may or may not be much blogging from now on. Australia means home, but it also means work - the day job, that is. We'll see how it goes.

In the meantime, we made a good new friend in Hannelie, from Perth, who's been posting on this blog, and has agreed to help me with my appalling Afrikaans spelling.

So, until the near future, happy New Year.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ninja mice

If the vervet monkey is the pirate of African game parks - swinging in to pounce on his prey and rape, steal, pillage and plunder under the noses of his victims, then the African field mouse is the ninja.
 
Operating at night, in silence, they make their entry to unsuspecting caravans, tents and - in our case - Land Rovers.
 
There are precautions the wary safarist can take against monkeys and baboons - keep your food locked up in vehicles or boxes, leave nothing in a tent that might tempt a pirate, and even placing rubber snakes sometimes acts as a deterrant.
 
A Land Rover, however, is porous, as far as rodent security goes.  The floors, doors and internal roof of Tonka are bare metal - there are no carpets, soundproofing or space age insulating materials.  Where something pokes through from below - such as gear sticks (Tonka has four, if you count the high and low range levers, the overdrive and maingearbox) and the hand brake, there are holes in the floor.  Though we keep the windows and doors closed when we're away from the building, we have to open them to get stuff out - of course. It is at night, when Mrs B or my back is turned, or before the lumps of wood and rags are plugged in the more obvious holes in the bodywork, that the ninja strike.
 
We left Tonka in the care of doctor Roland the Land Rover surgeon during our recent visit to England and it was here, we suspect, that he was violated.  
 
While there was no food left in the truck there were, however, three long-forgotten tetra packs of long life milk, sitting up high in one of Tonka's internal shelves.  Big mistake.
 
We arrived from the airport, loaded our bags, said good bye to the good doctor for another year and set off back to the Kruger National Park.  When we arrived I noticed a strange smell and then saw that Mrs B's bag was covered in sticky white fluid.  Naturally, my first thought was of Monkey bodily fluids, but the pirates were nowhere in sight.
 
No, nothing humanoid or primate about this stain - it was UHT milk or, to be more accurate (there had been a heatwave while were away)... UHT cream cheese.
 
Mrs B began gagging.
 
I pulled out the three containers of coagulated steri milk and hurled them away from the truck.  I, too began gagging.  Each carton had been punctured by tiny teeth.  One, I noticed, had a mouse-sized hole chewed through the top.  Perhaps the tiny ninja had bathed in there - no doubt thinking long life milk was good for his silky little coat, or perhaps cute little complexion.  Little b*stard.
 
I have a new enemy.
 
War is declared...
 
The Kruger park is looking very fine at the moment, under sunny clear skies and the Shingwedzi Camp swimming pool beckons, as does Mr Castle (lager).
 
Good sightings yesterday of little baby lions, obscenely bloated sleeping male lions, rhino and elephant.  Despite the monkeys and the mice, neither Mrs B nor I want to go home.
 
No more blogging from this weekend as we are returning to Zimbabwe, land of no fuel, no food, no mobile phone service, no interent connection, no democracy.
 

Monday, December 11, 2006

A virtual safari...

Here are a few more reasons why we spend as much of our time in Africa as we can...






Land Rover gallery




As dedicated readers may recall, we've had a few little mechanical challenges with Tonka, the mighty Series III short wheelbase Land Rover. These have included: leaky fuel tank, broken gear lever (or is that stick?); and ongoing problems with banjo bolts (please don't ask) and the gear box, as a whole.

Being back in the land of Land Rover (the UK) has been nice, though. Amazingly, we picked up a copy of a land rover magazine (Land Rover Owner International) and were astonished (I believe Mrs B squealed) to see a picture of Tonka in it. The magazine's editor had been in the Kruger National Park on a junket and happened to see our distinctive (aka battered and dirty) baby parked up by the fence at Punda Maria camp. He snapped a pic for the pages of his mag dedicated to unusual sightings of land rovers around the world (no snide remarks, please - it is an excellent magazine).

Here are a couple of our pictures of Tonka, his improvised African gear lever (refer to earlier posts about shifting spanners and multi grips) and me attempting to repair the leaky fuel tank on a roadside in Mozambique.

Pictures - at last... perhaps


Testing, testing... with thanks to Bec and all her legion of fans - and to those of your unsolicited commentators... here is a pic of one of the pirates. This is Broken-Hand, one of the ring leaders. Awww... isn't he cute? (little b@stard).

Here's a couple of very nice (if we do say so ourselves) pics of leopards. The one of the leopard in the tree with the poor little baby impala was taken by Mrs B, and is all the more impressive given that she (and I) were hammered at the time, having enjoyed a four-hour lunch with our friends from Capte Town, who were visiting Kruger and invited us to have a meal with them at the luxury private game lode - Tinga Narina - of which they are part owners. I will be giving lots of shameless plugs in the future to Tinga, as it's going to feature in Book 5.

Monkey break

Mrs Blog and I have had a week's break from the monkeys (aka the pirates of Pretoriuskop), as well the sunshine and warmth of Africa. We've been in England.

We decided to break the Africa trip with a week in the UK to get some research done for book five. A good mate of mine is a police protection officer (don't call him a bodyguard or he might shoot you) and, as the lead character of book five happens to be an English protection officer, a trip to interview him (aka spend five nights on the booze) was always on the cards.

Of course, coming to England in December I knew it would be cold. I'm not that stupid, but why is it that I am always completely unprepared for just how miserable it will be over here in t'old country. Landing at Heathrow at five in the morning the captain told the flight "It's quite warm on the ground at Heathrow- 15 degrees centigrade". I strained to hear the faint chuckle, or note of sarcasm, but there was neither. He was serious - going on to add, however; "it may feel a bit cooler, though, thanks to the 40 knot wind - that's 43 miles per hour".

OMG (oh, my God), as the youth of today might say.

It was cold and it just got colder and colder. However, it was a profitable week and I got to meet a bunch of very nice people from Pan Macmillan UK, who will be publishing African Sky next week. Of course, I said nothing about cricket.

As I am in the British Airways lounge right now I will attempt to post some long over due pictures. Here goes.

(Please note, legion of fans, the above mention was not a shameless plug. I am very, very dissatisfied with British Airways right now. They have decided to allow all seats to be available for early reservation online - even the highly prized emergency exit row seats. This would be OK if we knew we could get online and try and book them in advance, but we were told in Joburg that the policy was to hold back exit row seats so that check-in staff could asses whether the passenger was fit and well enough to operate the exits in an emergency or - in my case - allocate them to exceptionally tall people. One thing my online bio does not mention is that I am abnormally tall - 6'6" or pretty close to 2 metres.

Very tall.

Very cranky.

I hope I get deep vein thrombosis as a result of being cramped in my cattle class seat, and cause lots of headaches for the BA PR people. You deserve it).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Yo ho ho and bottle of jam

Another day, another daring raid on an unsuspecting campsite by the Pirate of Pretoriuskop (aka out resident band of limbless, moral-less, tail-less scavenging vervet monkies.
 
Ouma (grandma) and her brood set up camp next door in a caravan and camping trailer.  Ouma laid out her kitchen (for some indescribable reason - perhaps dementia) in the annex of her caravan, instead of inside the trailer home itself.
 
Perhaps she assumed that by putting all her condiemnts in tiny, palm-sized tupper ware containers the contents would have been safe...
 
They swung from the trees, they crawled throught the undergrowth.  Withing seconds the booty was disappearing.  From the branches above came the sound of the patented tupperware burp (or was the monkeys) as kids came off.
 
What couldn't be eaten - the flour and the bisto instant gravy mix, for example - was scattered over the annex and Ouma's grandchildren's tents.  Scorched earth, pirate style.
 
Mrs Blog and I raced over to try and save some stuff, but, of course, we were too late.
 
No-Tail, one of the ringleaders, along with Blue Balls and the Priate King, One-arm-One-leg, had grabbed a jar of Ouma's home-made jam.  The jar, however, was too big and heavy for him to carry in one grubby, sticky paw, so he was using two hands.  This nesessitated him walking upright, like a tiny humanoid, on the his read legs.  I chased him and he made it a few steps of the tree, precariously balancing on his spindly legs and carrying the jam.
 
Was I witnessing evolution?  From primate to humanoid thief?  Darwinianism with a twist... survival of the naughtiest?
 
No-tail dropped the jam and climbed away, disappointment twistiing his twisted little black face.
 
When it was over, all that was left was a fine mist of flour and gravy powder... and a small brown turd, already covered with flies, sitting on the pressed tablecloth, next to Ouma's microwave.
 

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lemma's dilemma

The radio here in South Africa was reporting yesterday that New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma (pronounced Yemma) had offered to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup in Sydney if the South Africans couldn't get their act together.
 
Well, let me tell you, that went down like a monkey pooh on a camp kitchen table over here.
 
Not a good time to be an Australian on safari, particularly in a sports-mad country where everyone carries a pistol.
 
Some wire service journo had got the Premier's name wrong, as well, so the radios were calling him Lemma. 
 
Admittedly, things are far from tickety-boo on the soccer front over here - a bunch of local and international journos walked out of a press conference en masse the other day because the world cup organisers kept them waiting for 70 minutes without an excuse.
 
However, sport is about the only thing that unifies this country, so I say, back off Morris.  Presumably such a baseless, vaguely-populist offer was only made to distract the Sydney media and local voters from whatever woes the Government is facing this week.
 
Now, back to more important matters...
 
We repaired the monkey damage to the roof of the circus tent yesterday and it's survivied its first downpour.  Mrs Blog stiched the tricky zig-zag rent and we covered the scar with thick waterproof sealant and duct tape. 
She thought the sealant smelled like nail polish, while to me it smelt more like Airfix model glue. 
 
This afternoon we will atempt to replace Tonka's leaky auxilliary fuel tank, which was repaired at the manufacturer's expense, having sprung a leak in Mozambique (it was less than a year old).  Looks like another diesel bath is on the cards.
 
Thanks to the many other people who have commented on the monkey pirate capers and other disgusting monkey habits. I'm starting to wonder if the monkey wee I discovered the other day wasn't actually some other bodily fluid.  Given Stomper Girl's story, I shudder to think...
 

F*ing pirates

A long entry today, to make up for the dirth of correspondence over the last couple.  Apologies if it comes through twice, as blogger seems to be unresponsive today.
 
The adventure continues.  (Attentive readers will recall the definition of adventure - ie last year's nightmare).  Lots of incidents in the last couple of days which will, I'm sure, seem funny with time.
 
Mrs Blog and I hired a zippy little Avis car from Skukuza (the main camp in Kruger National Park) and set off for the big wide world beyond Kruger's fences to pick up Tonka's new gear stick and indulge in a bit of belated retail therapy in honour of Mrs B's recent not-quite-landmark birthday.
 
We went to the outskirts of the pleasant regional capital of Nelspruit, to one of our favourite shops - Outdoor Warehous - and to Riverside Mall, a shopping palace of elephantine proportions which boasts its own Holiday Inn and Casino (flash, eh?).
 
I'm pleased to report that we purchased the following presents for her:
 
1. A Bosch eletric drill with bonus accessory pack (on special for R250 - about AUD$50 - bargain)
2. A jerry can holder for the roof rack
3. Two Series III Land Rover gearsticks (one brand new, one used)
4. A large roll of gaffer tape
5. Some nifty radiator/fuel hose repair tape, and
6. (in a fit of girlyness) a new toiletries bag.
 
What a lucky girl she is.  All this, in addition to the six-can esky (cooler) bag I bought for her in the Pretoriuskop Camp shop for her actual birthday.
 
At this point, I should say thanks, on her behalf to Deb, Bec and the intriguingly-named 'My Float' for your kind birthday wishes.  I look forward to the day when I get a fast enough internet connection somewhere in Africa so that I can find out why you are called My Float, and to thank Bec, on her blog, for advertising mine.  (By the way, MF, despite my best efforts neither CANON, LAND ROVER, or TOSHIBA have come through - yet).
 
In addition to all the good stuff above, Mrs B did, in fact, also buy two tops - one red, one pink ("I want something that's not GREEN!" she said on the way to the mall).  Also on the plastic were two skirts - one green (the practical person in her won out) and one camouflage - mini.  The latter was purchased after much cajoling from me and resistance by her.  "It looks young and shows off too much leg"  Well, duh.  In fact, it looks so good on her she hasn't taken it off.  It's a Jeep brand (we kept that secret form Tonka the Land Rover.  Memo from Mrs B to web-surfing Land Rover PR man - start producing branded mini-skirts.  They're a win-win).
 
Enough.  All this talk of clothes reminds me of Bec's gardening tips.  Back to blokey stuff.
 
On returning to base camp Mrs B and I successfully removed the front floor of the Land Rover and I removed the bodgily-welded gear stick and replaced it with one of the new one.  Bush mechanic, or what? So, we now have three gear sticks but, curiously, only one knob.
 
I could get all Benny Hill (who someone once perfectly described as the master of the single entendre) here, but I'll try and resist.  Another great Land Rover mystery - why no thread at the top of the gear stick and why no knob?  Is the knob a separate part (3333000999114-14 stick, knob, gear, series III, unthreaded) and how am I to attach it (super glue, silicone, trinipone putty all failed with the old one)?  Bizarre.  The old gear stick's know was forever falling off, mid change, and rolling around the cab like an eight ball in search of the corner pocket.  I feel that I suffer enough for my single-minded devotion to this idionsyncratic marque of vehicle without receiving stigmata wounds every time I change from fourth to third.
 
Anyway, if you find yourself in Africa in your Series III and your gear stick snaps off (a common occurence, which has happened in my presence twice over the years), drop me a line.  I have cornered the South African market, though don't come crying to me if your knob falls off. (sorry).
 
Anyway, we were feeling pretty damned pleased withourselves and even posed for pictures of me, a la Fred Flintsone, pretending to drive with my feet sticking out of the floor (sorry, still no pics... we had good intentions of going to the internet cafe at the mall and posting pics, but spent too much time shopping).  Morale was high and I thought that since the floor was off I'd check the oil level in the gear box.  I usually do that on my back, on the ground, and end up with eyefulls of hipp/buffalo/elephant pooh from under Tonka's chasis, so checking the oil standing up was a rare treat.
 
I started to undo the banjo bolt (which replaced the filler plug in order to ensure oil that migrates from the transfer case to the main gearbox can return to the transfer case via a rubber pipe - if that means nothing to you, don't worry.  I don't have room to explain) and it snapped.  I'm no muscleman, but the bloody bolt snapped off.
 
Morale plummeted.
 
Mrs B stepped up to the plate and came up with a plan just in time (I would say that I was close to tears, but I don't cry - ever - and such an admission would be too girly).  We called our very good friends at AVIS at Skukuza, about 50km away, and a guy brought us a car withint two hours.  His wife and young son came in another avis car, to take him back, so we didn't even have to drop him off.  Imagine, Legion of Australian Fans, someone from a car hire company driving the equivalent of, say, Penrith to Sydney, to drop off a car - and charging $20 for delivery.  Talk about service.  His five-year-old was allowed to work the manual credit-card-imprint machine, so we have another AVIS employee of the century in the making.
 
So, back to Nelspruit (about 40km outside the park) for replacement plugs for both the main gear box and transfer box (I am SO over banjo bolts at the moment).
 
At this point, I'll point out some key (murphyish) laws of game viewing in the national park...
 
1. If you go out looking for a particular animal you will never find it
2. If you are running short of time and can't linger you will see something fantastic
3. If you see something fantastic your camera batteries will be flat or you will stuff up the picture some how.
 
We had been looking for a leopard for some time (as attentive readers will recall) and had also not seen cheetah on this year's trip,,,, so far.
 
Driving back from the big shopping trip, we dropped our (first) Avis car back at Skukuza and loaded all our fine new possessions (drill, mini skirt etc) into Tonka and raced back to Pretoriuskop.  Travelling at the maximium allowable speed (50kph) we would only just make it back to our camp before the gates closed for the evening.
 
When we saw three cars stopped on the side of the road we had to stop, however...  Cheetah.  Not one, but three of them.  They crossed the road in front of us and we had the camera out in a flash.  Unfortunately (see rule number 3) I had had mistakenly put the CANON camera on one of the 'creative' settings. Result - 15 virtually completely black frames, with barely a cheetah in sight.  Not happy.  Morale low again.
 
Next day, racing into White River in the second car, which had just been delivered, what should we see, lazing in a tree 30m off the road, less than a kilometre from the gate?  Yes, Legion of Fans, you guessed it... a leopard.  But banjo bolts and dodgy gearbox plugs won out.
 
A new day (sort of) dawned through the mist and fog that seems to surround Pretoriuskop in the rainy season and we set off for a drive, at 4.30am, complete with new gearstick and gear box plug.  Lions at Nyamundwa dam, resting on the wall, and then drinking.  Fantastic. Morale rising.  A perfect spot for coffee and baby food (rusks).  Later, we also saw buffalo and elephant.
 
"Our luck has turned," I may have said to Mrs B (or probably - "It's about f*ing time something went right" given the hour of the day).
 
But, of course, I spoke to soon.
 
We got back to camp, feeling quite dozy and were looking forward to a mid-morning snooze in the circus tent (so named because it has a 'big top' - it's 2m tall inside the main bit - and, according to Mrs B, because it's home to a clown - ha ha).  I lay back, feeling quite content, and looked up.
 
Daylight.
 
Hole in the fly.  Right at the very top.  Inaccessible from the outside without taking the whole bloody thing off.
 
Muddy, tiny footprints, and dried wee on the fly....
 
Something had used the tent as a trampoline while we were out.
 
F*ing pirates!
 

Friday, November 24, 2006

F*ing pirates

A long entry today, to make up for the dirth of correspondence over the last couple.
 
The adventure continues.  (Attentive readers will recall the definition of adventure - ie last year's nightmare).  Lots of incidents in the last couple of days which will, I'm sure, seem funny with time.
 
Mrs Blog and I hired a zippy little Avis car from Skukuza (the main camp in Kruger National Park) and set off for the big wide world beyond Kruger's fences to pick up Tonka's new gear stick and indulge in a bit of belated retail therapy in honour of Mrs B's recent not-quite-landmark birthday.
 
We went to the outskirts of the pleasant regional capital of Nelspruit, to one of our favourite shops - Outdoor Warehous - and to Riverside Mall, a shopping palace of elephantine proportions which boasts its own Holiday Inn and Casino (flash, eh?).
 
I'm pleased to report that we purchased the following presents for her:
 
1. A Bosch eletric drill with bonus accessory pack (on special for R250 - about AUD$50 - bargain)
2. A jerry can holder for the roof rack
3. Two Series III Land Rover gearsticks (one brand new, one used)
4. A large roll of gaffer tape
5. Some nifty radiator/fuel hose repair tape, and
6. (in a fit of girlyness) a new toiletries bag.
 
What a lucky girl she is.  All this, in addition to the six-can esky (cooler) bag I bought for her in the Pretoriuskop Camp shop for her actual birthday.
 
At this point, I should say thanks, on her behalf to Deb, Bec and the intriguingly-named 'My Float' for your kind birthday wishes.  I look forward to the day when I get a fast enough internet connection somewhere in Africa so that I can find out why you are called My Float, and to thank Bec, on her blog, for advertising mine.  (By the way, MF, despite my best efforts neither CANON, LAND ROVER, or TOSHIBA have come through - yet).
 
In addition to all the good stuff above, Mrs B did, in fact, also buy two tops - one red, one pink ("I want something that's not GREEN!" she said on the way to the mall).  Also on the plastic were two skirts - one green (the practical person in her won out) and one camouflage - mini.  The latter was purchased after much cajoling from me and resistance by her.  "It looks young and shows off too much leg"  Well, duh.  In fact, it looks so good on her she hasn't taken it off.  It's a Jeep brand (we kept that secret form Tonka the Land Rover.  Memo from Mrs B to web-surfing Land Rover PR man - start producing branded mini-skirts.  They're a win-win).
 
Enough.  All this talk of clothes reminds me of Bec's gardening tips.  Back to blokey stuff.
 
On returning to base camp Mrs B and I successfully removed the front floor of the Land Rover and I removed the bodgily-welded gear stick and replaced it with one of the new one.  Bush mechanic, or what? So, we now have three gear sticks but, curiously, only one knob.
 
I could get all Benny Hill (who someone once perfectly described as the master of the single entendre) here, but I'll try and resist.  Another great Land Rover mystery - why no thread at the top of the gear stick and why no knob?  Is the knob a separate part (3333000999114-14 stick, knob, gear, series III, unthreaded) and how am I to attach it (super glue, silicone, trinipone putty all failed with the old one)?  Bizarre.  The old gear stick's know was forever falling off, mid change, and rolling around the cab like an eight ball in search of the corner pocket.  I feel that I suffer enough for my single-minded devotion to this idionsyncratic marque of vehicle without receiving stigmata wounds every time I change from fourth to third.
 
Anyway, if you find yourself in Africa in your Series III and your gear stick snaps off (a common occurence, which has happened in my presence twice over the years), drop me a line.  I have cornered the South African market, though don't come crying to me if your knob falls off. (sorry).
 
Anyway, we were feeling pretty damned pleased withourselves and even posed for pictures of me, a la Fred Flintsone, pretending to drive with my feet sticking out of the floor (sorry, still no pics... we had good intentions of going to the internet cafe at the mall and posting pics, but spent too much time shopping).  Morale was high and I thought that since the floor was off I'd check the oil level in the gear box.  I usually do that on my back, on the ground, and end up with eyefulls of hipp/buffalo/elephant pooh from under Tonka's chasis, so checking the oil standing up was a rare treat.
 
I started to undo the banjo bolt (which replaced the filler plug in order to ensure oil that migrates from the transfer case to the main gearbox can return to the transfer case via a rubber pipe - if that means nothing to you, don't worry.  I don't have room to explain) and it snapped.  I'm no muscleman, but the bloody bolt snapped off.
 
Morale plummeted.
 
Mrs B stepped up to the plate and came up with a plan just in time (I would say that I was close to tears, but I don't cry - ever - and such an admission would be too girly).  We called our very good friends at AVIS at Skukuza, about 50km away, and a guy brought us a car withint two hours.  His wife and young son came in another avis car, to take him back, so we didn't even have to drop him off.  Imagine, Legion of Australian Fans, someone from a car hire company driving the equivalent of, say, Penrith to Sydney, to drop off a car - and charging $20 for delivery.  Talk about service.  His five-year-old was allowed to work the manual credit-card-imprint machine, so we have another AVIS employee of the century in the making.
 
So, back to Nelspruit (about 40km outside the park) for replacement plugs for both the main gear box and transfer box (I am SO over banjo bolts at the moment).
 
At this point, I'll point out some key (murphyish) laws of game viewing in the national park...
 
1. If you go out looking for a particular animal you will never find it
2. If you are running short of time and can't linger you will see something fantastic
3. If you see something fantastic your camera batteries will be flat or you will stuff up the picture some how.
 
We had been looking for a leopard for some time (as attentive readers will recall) and had also not seen cheetah on this year's trip,,,, so far.
 
Driving back from the big shopping trip, we dropped our (first) Avis car back at Skukuza and loaded all our fine new possessions (drill, mini skirt etc) into Tonka and raced back to Pretoriuskop.  Travelling at the maximium allowable speed (50kph) we would only just make it back to our camp before the gates closed for the evening.
 
When we saw three cars stopped on the side of the road we had to stop, however...  Cheetah.  Not one, but three of them.  They crossed the road in front of us and we had the camera out in a flash.  Unfortunately (see rule number 3) I had had mistakenly put the CANON camera on one of the 'creative' settings. Result - 15 virtually completely black frames, with barely a cheetah in sight.  Not happy.  Morale low again.
 
Next day, racing into White River in the second car, which had just been delivered, what should we see, lazing in a tree 30m off the road, less than a kilometre from the gate?  Yes, Legion of Fans, you guessed it... a leopard.  But banjo bolts and dodgy gearbox plugs won out.
 
A new day (sort of) dawned through the mist and fog that seems to surround Pretoriuskop in the rainy season and we set off for a drive, at 4.30am, complete with new gearstick and gear box plug.  Lions at Nyamundwa dam, resting on the wall, and then drinking.  Fantastic. Morale rising.  A perfect spot for coffee and baby food (rusks).  Later, we also saw buffalo and elephant.
 
"Our luck has turned," I may have said to Mrs B (or probably - "It's about f*ing time something went right" given the hour of the day).
 
But, of course, I spoke to soon.
 
We got back to camp, feeling quite dozy and were looking forward to a mid-morning snooze in the circus tent (so named because it has a 'big top' - it's 2m tall inside the main bit - and, according to Mrs B, because it's home to a clown - ha ha).  I lay back, feeling quite content, and looked up.
 
Daylight.
 
Hole in the fly.  Right at the very top.  Inaccessible from the outside without taking the whole bloody thing off.
 
Muddy, tiny footprints, and dried wee on the fly....
 
Something had used the tent as a trampoline while we were out.
 
F*ing pirates!
 

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pirates are mightier than the pen(man)

In chilling postscript to the less than flattering item I posted about monkeys, the pirates of pretorisukop paid our campsite another visit yesterday.
 
Mrs B and I returned from the camp shop with some staples (beer, tonic water, ice) and found newspaper strewn on the ground near Tonka the Land Rover.
 
We're very scrupulous about not leaving food out, or in the tents (the Pirates' primate cousins, the baboons, who make the odd raid on the camp, make the vervets look like kittens, and are not above ripping open tents to get at food).  In the side pocket of one of our chairs, however, was a newspaper and a ballpoint pen.
 
The paper was scattered and after some searching we found the pen.  It had been held in a tiny, grubby little hand and then bitten, once, right on the metal tip, squashing it so that the nib can never protrude again when the pen is clicked. 
 
I have been warned.
 
PS: Thanks, Deb, for your many comments.  Once post per day, I promise.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The pirates of Pretoriuskop

There was a headless corpse outside our tent in Pretoriuskop Camp, in the Kruger National Park, this morning.
 
"Pirates."
 
"Hmmm," said Mrs Blog. We'd slept in and they had come in the early morning. 'It's like some sort of a ritual with them."
 
Seen in isolation, or in their natural surroundings, peacefully picking things off trees and swinging from branch to branch, the vervet monkey is a cute little creature.  They stand about a metre tall, fully grown and are a light grey colour with dark faces and hands.
 
Like Australian tourists on holidays, however, if you get them together in a camp environment they become criminally obnoxious.
 
The troop of vervets that lives in and around Pretoriuskop Camp are, without a doubt, the baddest, mankiest, sneakiest, most troublesome group of primates I have ever seen. 
 
They rape, they steal, they kill at will, and seem to have a damned fine time in the process.  As well as behaving like pirates they even look like buccaneers.  There are several amputees and none would look out of place in a shirt with puffy sleeves, with a small parrot on his shoulder.
 
The pirate king - not the biggest male, but the smartest - is "one-arm-one-leg".  Named for obvious reasons, the unusual thing about one-arm-one-leg (it's not that unusual to see an amputee monkey or baboon - they tend to get electrocuted on power lines or run over) is that his missing arm and leg are both on his left side.  Amazingly, he runs faster than his cohorts and seems to be the chief rubbish-bin-opener.  He thieves more, fights more and roots more than any of them.  You have to be tough, I suppose, to live with two limbs missing in a group of bandits.
 
As well as conducting daily rubbish-removal services, the pirates also raid tents, clear the breakfast and lunch tables of the safari operators' camps, and jump up and down on tents and tarpaulins (for no other reason than to have fun and cause damage).  In between , there's time for a spot of weeing from trees (on vehicles, tents and, occasionally, people).  Their favourite food is marshmallows and they are not above breaking and entering to get them.
 
Even when acting naturally they are obscene.
 
Mating - as natural as it gets in the animal kingdom - can be quite a thing to behold in the case of some animals.  The precariousness of giraffes; the sheer logistical challenge of rhinos (the earth definitely moves); the wild, mildly-kinky biting and scratching of lions...  However, with the pirates it's usually plain disgusting.
 
I happend across Blue Balls the other day, one of the ring leaders (all adult male vervets display bright blue testicles when they're up for it - which seems to be most of the time, but Blue Balls is a particularly big monkey in all respects).  He was mating with one of the females, standing up and (jolly) rogering her from behind.   Nothing bad about that, you say... but underneath the female's belly was a tiny, terrified wide-eyed new born baby hanging on for its life.  Beside them was a juvenile monkey who was pummelling Blue Balls with his tiny fists (to no effect) throughout the whole beastly act, as if to say "leave my mummy alone, you bastard".  Blue Balls, calm as you please, looked over his shoulder at me at one point and I'm sure, if he was human, he would have winked at me.
 
When not eating marshmallows, bread, chocolate and other human food, the pirates will occasionally be forced to live off the land.  Again, even when behaving like normal monkeys they impose their own particular reign of terror.
 
One of them was sitting on the grass next to the camp fuel station the other day and I stopped to look at him.  He was picking at something in the grass.  I smiled.  Nice, I thought, to see him as he should be.  He picked up a large dung beetle and held it up.  Typcial, I thought.
 
I'm not a big insect fan, but you've got to love dung beetles.  Built like miniature front-end loaders they scoop up pooh with their flat little noses and roll it into a ball.  The male with the biggest ball gets the girl, and together they implant their little eggs (or larvae or whatever) into the ball and bury it.  The net result is that months worth of dry season pooh is cleaned up in a few days and, throughout the rest of the rainy season, they keep the roads and the campsite nice and clean.  Lovely little useful creatures.
 
Which, of course, makes them the sworn enemy of the vervet monkey, whose role in nature is to steal food and pooh in inappropriate places.  Favourite spots for leaving their calling cards are camp chairs, tables, car roofs, awnings and the very tops of dome tents (where it's almost impossible, without collapsing the tent, to remove it).  Their droppings, of course, smell incredibly bad, as befits the bikie of the animal kingdom.
 
So, this pirate looks at me, holds up this magnificent little obsessive-compulsive creature, and bites its head off.  He then tosses away the body away.  Like a lion killing a cheetah or a leopard he doesn't want to feed on his enemy, just take it out of the game.
 
I looked again at the headless corpse of the little dung beetle outside the tent and scanned the trees above. 
 
"Pirates." 
 

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Constipated tenor

Lion to the left of us, rhinos to the right...and a bloody great bull elephant crossing the road behind us.
 
That was this morning's game drive, and the addiction is well fed today.  The rain stopped just before dawn and we dragged ourselves out of the tent and into Tonka.  He whined for a little while (starter motor could be original, I fear, and therefore 22 years old) and coughed and farted himself to life, directing a jet of blue diesel smoke through the gauze window of the next door neighbours' tent (that will teach them to pitch so close to us).
 
On the Faayi loop near Pretoriuskop Camp, not far from the Voortrekker Road, we stopped and turned off the engine to watch a pair of rhinos.  This was a good start to the day, we thought, but then we heard the low, rumbling, groaning call.
 
He came sauntering up the road, looking tired, wet and hungry.  His big black mane was springing to life, though, as the sun lightened the clouds to the colour of lead.  He stopped for a scratch and a wee, barely spared us a glance and sat down in the grass, about 15 metres from us.
 
As the rhinos graded the bush beside us an elephant crossed the roach behind us.  Three of the big five within 50 metres of the truck all at once.  Not too bad.  Also, we were the only car on the scene, for about an hour, putting paid to those whingers who complain that Kruger is too busy.
 
We had a breakfast of coffee and rusks amidst the animals.  South Africa is an odd country.  Grown ups eat rusks (baby food in Australia) and teething children are given a stick of biltong (dried raw beef) to teeth on.  Go figure.  Anyway, as we crunched away the lion continuted calling to his friends and relations.
 
Now, lions do not sound like the MGM lion at the movies.  They do not roar.  As mentioned above, it's more of a groan.
 
Picture, if you will, a very big man - let us say around the 250 kilogram mark - with a deep voice.  I'm thinking Luciano Pavarotti here (no offence to my future Italian readers).  Now imagine him severely constipated and trying - no straining - for relief.  Place a microphone and a stack of speakers in front of him in the smallest room in the house (we need the echo effect here, as well, you see) and turn the volume and bass up to max.  That's what it sounds like.
 
I was trying to think of a way to describe a lion's call as we watched him from the luxury of Tonka's cockpit.  Mrs B said; "It sounds like he's trying to do a pooh."  Hence the origins of the analogy.
 

Product placement

Not a day goes by that I don't use my Leatherman (small folding device with pliers and an assortment of knives, screwdrivers etc.. not a member of the Village People).
 
Today I used it to tighten the clamp on the breather hose (or is that pipe?) on the Land Rover's one remaining fuel tank.  It also cleans fingernails.
 
Did I mention that I also very much like my Canon EOS digital camera, with lenses by Canon and Sigma; and my Toshiba Satellite Laptop on which I'm writing this; and my Nokia mobile phone which I'm using to transmit this (all of which, I hasten to add, need updating).
 
And while we're at it, web-surfing Land Rover PR person - I have the best 4x4xfar so I don't need a whole new truck, though a new Series III gearbox, if such a thing still exists, would be nice.
 
Of course, if you're thinking of travelling around Africa and don't have your own leaky vehicle with questionable gearstick, you could do far worse than chat to my very good friends at the Classic Safari Company in Sydney at www.classicsafari.com.au
 

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Plastic corks are better than cork corks

Bush mechanic tip of the day - use plastic wine corks to plug diesel fuel lines instead of cork corks.  This should solve the plastic vs traditional wine cork debate once and for all.
 
Cork corks react badly with diesel and start to crumble as soon as they come into contact with it (Roland the Land Rover doctor concurred, having had the same problem once before).  While waiting for the doctor to come out and weld the gear lever back on I removed the long-range fuel tank, which had sprung a leak on the trip to Mozambique.
 
The long range fuel tank is the newest thing on Tonka.  It lasted about 5000km before the seam started to come apart (see earlier tip about sunlight soap).
 
It was joined to the main tank with a rubber hose (people want to call them pipes in South Africa) which had to be blocked.  I felt quite proud of myself (having zero mechanical knowledge or ability), being able to remove the tank and plug the pipe.  Despite being drenched from head to toe (I am not joking here) in diesel while attempting all this under the Land Rover.
 
I had to clean the air filter with some petrol the other day, which was not a nice job.  I'm definitely a diesel person, rather than a petrol person.
 
Let's have a blog poll.
 
I would be preferred to be doused, head to toe in:
 
a: diesel, or
b: petrol
 
(If you're a smoker I'd recommend a.)
 
I definitely need to go back to work now.  Curse you, Rebecca and The Barman for starting this.  If it wasn't for the tens of thousands of fans, I'd give it up...

The leopard hunt

4.00am and the alarm goes off.  I sleep through it, dreaming about a clock radio I had as a kid, and Mrs B nudges the cracked rib.  "Wake up!"
 
Those of you countless thousands of blog fans who know me personally know that I've been known to sleep until 4.30pm on weekends, and will not usually get up earlier than 9am unless I absolutley have to (one of the great benefits of being self employed) when in Australia.
 
Yet here, in Africa, we lead a double life.
 
In bed by 8pm (you just have to start drinking earlier in the day, that's all) and up half an hour before the gates open to let us and the other animal-addicts camped here in Kruger out the camp gates (game drives are restricted to daylight in Kruger).
 
It is, of course, an addiction.  We haven't seen a single leopard on this trip, despite more than two months in Africa, most of it in the bush.  Secretive and sneaky, leopards are traditionally the hardest of the big 5 to spot.  A local told me the other day he'd been visiting Kruger for 25 years and had never seen one.  Now that is bad luck - or he should have had his eyesight checked years ago (or possibly shouldn't have been drinking Klipdrift rum and coke at 9am)... whatever.
 
Not seeing animals (well, nothing of particular interest, that is) doesn't make us want to pack up and come home to Australia.  It just makes the itch even worse.
 
Today we saw a couple of elephants, a few zebra, two giraffe and about 250,000 impala.  Not good enough.  We will be up pre-dawn tomorrow.
 
Back to work now.  I'm 250-odd pages into the manuscript for book five, with about 70 to go.  Why am I wasting time blogging, then?
 
 
 

My handbrake's not so lekker...

Rest easy, legion of blog fans, Tonka the Series III Land Rover's gear stick (or gear lever, I've discovered they're referred to in South Africa) has been repaired, sort of.
 
Dr Roland, the Land Rover surgeon finally made it out into the wilds of the Kruger Park (I exaggerate slightly here, as we're only 40km from White River, where the doctor has his practice.  He came in his sleek, white long wheelbase Land Rover Defender bakkie (Afrikaans for ute.  NB: non-Australian readers, ute is short for utility vehicle or 'pick-up'). 
 
Nifftily, Roland has converted his alternator into a welder so with one lead attached to it, and the other earthed to his bumper bar he set about re-attaching the gear stick (sorry, lever) to the eight millimetre stub which remained.  First, he complimented me on my improvised gear lever, a shifting spanner (an improvement on the multi-grips mentioned in an earlier instalment, as dedicated fans will recognise).
 
Things seemed to be going so well that I went off to fill the jug at the tap in the Pretoriuskop camp ground with good intentions of the doctor, myself and Mrs Blog (sorry, Rebecca, it stays) have a celebratory cuppa.
 
I'd hardly turned the tap on when Mrs B came running across flapping her small but perfectly arms.  "Quickly, quickly!" she yelled.
 
I was filling the jug as fast as I could. I know the doctor is a busy many (with a questionable sense of time management) but I couldn't see the urgency.
 
She gesticulated at Roland and I, too was speechless for a moment.  His shiny Defender had rolled forward and had pinned him between the front passenger side of little Tonka and his own vehicle's bumper bar.  The doctor was most certainly not speechless.  "The bakkie is squashing me," he said, though he was quite casual about this.
 
I had nightmarish instant visions of medical evacuation helicopters, a mechanic rendered legless for life and, worse, us being stuck indefinitely in Pretoriuskop with only a shifting spanner for a gear stick... lever... whatever.
 
"Push!" he ordered, galvanising me into action.  I got between the two Land Rovers and together we nudged the bigger truck back.  Mrs B chocked the wheels with a brick - something which, in hindsight, we should have done in the first place.
 
The doctor was remarkably calm and waved off the rapidly appearing bruises on the back of his legs.  He continued welding and swearing and welding and swearing until, at last the gear lever was reattached.
 
"My handbrake's not so lekker (good)," he said calmly, by way of explanation over a cup of tea once the job was done.
 
Despite fifty years of designing and manufacturing rugged 4x4 vehicles that will outlive most of their owners, Land Rover has still not been able to design:
 
- a gear lever for the Series III with a girth wider or stronger than a bic biro (incidentally, more of these Land Rovers were built than any other model before or since - about a million worldwide)
- a hand brake that works, or
- a windscreen that doesn't leak on the driver's side, thereby allowing a stream of rainwater to travel down the inside of the dash, then on to the top of the accelerator pedal so that it cascades off and runs between the driver's foot and sandal.
 
On the bright side, the resident mechanic at Skukuza, Kruger's main camp, told me on the phone before the doctor arrived that he would not even attempt to weld on a gear lever as the heat would surely seize-up the gears. 
 
"He doesn't know Land Rovers," said the doctor said in rebuttal.
 
So, despite all their faults, the gear stick/lever yet again shows why we wouldn't dream of driving anything else in Africa.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life skills and birthday blues

Every day Mrs B and I learn more about Tonka, the Land Rover, and discover more and more skills that we are lacking.
 
Our current list of things to learn how to do includes:
 
1. Welding. The guy in the workshop here in Kruger's Pretoriuskop Camp said I was welcome to use his welding machine to try and fix my broken gearstick, but he didn't know how to weld and the "welding guy" was not around.  As a result we've been waiting two days for the Land Rover mechanic from a neighbouring town to come out and weld for us.
 
2. Auto electrics.  Mrs B already knows more than the average motor mechanic about earthing batteries and, as a result of diagnosing problems on two occasions she is considering enrolling in an Auto Electricians course at TAFE (technical and further education colleges in Australia) when we get home.
 
3. Diesel mechanics.  I think that if I ever get to the stage where I don't have to do my day job to support my writing, I will become a diesel mechanic.  This will save a lot of time and money. 
 
Today is the diminutive (5'2") Mrs B's birthday.  It's not a landmark one, but it's very close.
 
She is doing her best to remain chipper, despite the lack of gearstick (which means we can't go out spotting animals which is, apart from writing books, the chief reason we come to Africa).
 
We went on a night drive from Pretoriuskop as a consolation prize the other night.  Night drives are conducted by national parks guides who drive a 23-seat truck equipped with spotlights.  No one else is allowed to drive in the national park after sunset, so this is a good way to see night animals, and big cats up and about doing stuff (as opposed to sleeping, which they do during the day).
 
It was a nice idea, and we did see two separate groups of lions (three lionesses on the prowl and two big males snoozing on the sun-warmed tar road), but... we also had to endure a lot of talking along the way.  Backpackers chatting each other up; old Canadians wanting to know if there would be a rest-room on the way (this, half way through the drive, in the middle of the bush!); and the precocious only child with new camera "why can't the lights be BRIGHTER, mom?"
 
The good thing about night drives is watching the group dynamic at the start of the trip.  The pushiest, loudest people always race each other to get on the truck first and sit up front behind the driver, thinking they'll spot the good stuff first.  What they never count on, however, is that as they are seated above the windscreen, and the trucks have open fronts and sides.  When the spotlights go on the bugs flock to the truck and those in the front seats get moths and termites and all manner of other creepy crawlies smacking into their eyes, mouths and noses. It shuts them up for a little while. 
 

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The definition of adventure

Morale is low in the Park camp today...
 
As if we needed another sign that Tonka's gearbox is due for replacement he gave us a none too subtle reminder yesterday.
 
It had been bucketing down here in the Kruger National Park for two days and when the rain finally eased to a drizzle we decided to go out for an afternoon drive.  For those in the know, we went up the Diospane Road from Pretoriuskop and turned on to the dirt road that links the parallel tar roads from Pretoriuskop to Skukuza.
 
At the Klipspringer Koppies (big clusters of granite boulders set high on a hill) we came across a lioness who was sleeping on a rock beside a half-chewed, very dead impala.  Mrs Blog surmised that the lion had probably chased a leaopard off the kill as there was a bloody drag mark up the surface of the boulder.  Lions don't need to drag their prey out of reach of anything else.
 
Anyway, that was all well and good and we set off for home, feeling very pleased with ourselves for finally getting out of bed and doing something.
 
Near Shithlave dam I slowed to check something in the bush.  As I geared down the gear stick suddenly felt all squishy.
 
I found myself in neutral, unable to get into second.  I rammed it down and the gear stick sheared off, about eight millimetres from the bottom.  So, I'm coasting through the African bush, in neutral, with a gear stick in my hand.
 
Mrs B looked at me.  It might have been funny if it wasn't such a worry.  In about a year I'm sure it will seem funny.
 
We pulled over and rummaged through the little plastic tool box.  Sometimes, in hindsight, I think I'm a bit silly for making certain impulse buys.  There was the hand winch, that jammed first time; the cheapo spanners that snapped on first use; etc etc.
 
However, the R20 (AUD$4.00) Chinese-made crappy el-cheapo multi-grips that I bought in a South African supermarket two years ago and thought I would never use, saved the day. 
 
Along with some super glue and toilet paper (to effect purchase on what was left ot the gear stick); lots of swearing and some bashing with the broken gear stick, I managed to get it into second and drive back to base camp.
 
Now we're sitting here waiting for the Land Rover mechanic from the nearby town of White River to come and weld the gearstick back together tomorrow.  Fortunately there is alcohol and a swimming pool at hand.
 
Which all reminds me of something very apt that someone once said to me in Africa...
 
Q: "What's the definition of an adventure?"
A: "Last year's nightmare."
 
PS: Thanks to bec for her tip about getting your horses clean with sunlight soap.  Bush mechanic hint for today is:  a handful of mealie meal (ground up maize) sprinkled into your radiator fixes minor leaks.  And, if it fails, you can rip the radiator apart and have something (indigestible as far as I'm concerned) to eat!
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Italian spelling

Thanks to Stefano Res from TEA publishing in Italy who posted a nice comment somewhere below about the deal they've kindly offered me for Far Horizon and Zambezi.
 
Thanks also, Stefano, for showing me how to spell Buongiorno correctly!
 
I heard an interesting story about an Italian guy who owns a safari lodge in Zambia.  He was so angry about people poaching game on his property that when he caught a poacher he hung him upside down by the ankles as a lesson to others.  It's the sort of thing people mightn't believe if I put it in a novel.
 
 

Truth is as bad as fiction

Without giving too much away, my fourth book, due out in August 2007, starts with a Zimbabwean national parks anti-poaching patrol tracking a gang of Zambians who are, in turn, following a black rhino.
 
Sadly, the poachers kill the rhino before the rangers can catch them.
 
Last month Mrs Blog and I were out in the bush in Hwange National Park in the far north west of Zimbabwe, not far from where the rhino was killed in the manuscript, which, by the way, I finished earlier this year and is currently with the publishers for editing.  
 
We were taking part, as we do every year, in a game census in the park, organised by Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe.  This involves Mrs B and I being sent out to a remote water hole in the middle of the donga, armed withh a clipboard and bits of paper.  The go is that we sit by the billabong for 24 hours, from midday to midday over the last full moon of the dry season and count everything that comes for a drink.
 
By coincidence, we weren't alone - human wise, that is.  A three-man anti-poaching callsign was camped a  stone's throw away from us.  They were a great bunch of blokes - keen to come over and chat and talk about their work.  One of them was a medalla (an old guy) who we already knew quite well.  In composition, the patrol's ages and backgrounds (old guy who's been around for decades, keen new guy and middle-ranking boss-guy) was pretty close to the fictitious one I'd made up for the book, so I was pretty happy about that.  Their dress and equipment was just as I'd described, also, as I had seen patrols coming and going in the past.  They told us stories of contacts they'd had with poachers and bad guys they'd killed.
 
The morning after the long night spent counting elephants the patrol leader came over and told me they'd just heard that a black rhino had been killed by poachers.
 
Word got around the park pretty quickly.  A friend of ours had been out checking on the other counting teams when he heard gunshots, about 500 metres from Chingahobe Dam.  He'd spent enough time in the scrub during the Bush War to recognise the sound of an AK 47.  About half a magazine's worth of bullets, he reckoned.  He was also close enough to hear the chopping as the poachers hacked off the rhino's horn.
 
Our mate, wisely, sped over to the volunteers counting at Chingahobe and they all took off back to Robins Camp, the nearest national parks outpost, to report what had gone on.  Unarmed people don't mess with AK-47-toting poachers in real life.
 
Even though they had the exact location of the crime and were able to report it quick-smart, it was dark by then and the parks and police response was slow.
 
The three gunned-up members of the anti-poaching patrol with us were monitoring things on the radio and hoping that they might be 'uplifted' (relocated) to chase the gang.  However, in that part of the park the vehicle fleet amounted to one solitary national parks land rover.
 
Scouts were sent out and the police arrived the next day, but as far as I know the poachers got away.  There were offers of vehicles from some of the counters (we would have helped if required) but the parks people were not about to involve civilians (a pretty wise move, in hindsight, though there was some frustration in the hours after the crime occurred).
 
Our first choice for a waterhole to count at this year was Chingahobe Dam - where the  shooting took place.  Luckily for Mrs B and I the other team had specifically requested this location for the game count, so we were happy to default to our second choice.
 
Poaching happens in every national park in Africa.  The loss of a rhino anywhere is a setback for the fate of this endangered species, but are some positive aspects to this story.
 
Despite a decade of warfare and, more recently, disastrous political and economic mismanagement, Zimbabwe still has its own population of black and white rhino in selected national parks. In countries to its west and north (usually lauded as magnificent wildlife sanctuaries) such as Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania, natrually occurring black and white rhino have been wiped out by poaching in the national parks (though some are kept and bred in private reserves and eventually reintroduced into the parks).
 
In Hwange national park the rhino are genrally located in an area known as an IPZ, or intensive protection zone.  For geographic and habitiat reasons, the rhinos are generally happy to hang around this area, and although it isn't fenced (it is wilderness after all) it is heavily patrolled by rangers.  However, some rhinos (like the one in my forthcoming book) wander out of the IPZ in search of greener pastures, or other horny rhinos, or whatever presses rhino's buttons. 
 
The good news - sort of - is that the rhino that was killed was unknown to the park's rangers or volunteer researchers.  Somewhere, sometime, two rhinos had gotten together, had a baby, which had grown old enough to wander off on its own and do its own thing without anyone in the system knowing its whereabouts. Few other African countries have so many rhino that they can't identify every single one of them by name!
 
Zimbabwe's rhino have survived thanks to the men on foot, with their ageing rifles and torn remnants of uniforms who make up the anti-poching callsigns.  Economic mismanagement, government policy and the country's status as an international pariah mean that they do their job largely without vehicles, fuel, decent food and pay, or recognition.
 
Yet they are out there.  Now.  And they have the authority to shoot to kill on sight if they see someone with a weapon in a national park.
 
Sounds like a good start to a book, even if it is sad.
 
 
 

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cracked rib, sliced toe, leaking fuel tank

Due to popular demand from my legion of fans (that would be you, Deb) I have at long last decided to return to the world of blog, live from the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
 
There'd been good intentions to run a kind of online travel diary, but I was out of email range in Zimbabwe and Mozambique for more than a month and, well... couldn't be bothered after that.  Until now.
 
So, it's not really a diary - more a retrospective of the last two months on safari, in small chunks. 
 
I'm breathing carefull as I write this, having slipped off the ladder on the back of the roofrack.  One of my left ribs did its best to dent the top of the steel roofrack, but I think the roof rack survived better than I did.  Mrs Blog sliced open her big toe on a cunningly camouflaged tent peg this morning and Tonka, our Land Rover (he's Tonka-tuff and becoming yellower by the year as his bodgy green paint job wears away to reveal his canary yellow original colours) is leaking fuel.
 
Our new second fuel thank that we had installed last year is leaking diesel from its seam.  Ah, Africa.
 
Handy bush mechanic tip for the day:  Sunlight clothes washing soap (which is probably not even available outside of Africa in the 21st century) reacts with diesel to form a temporary sealant.  Gets clothes whiter than white and conserves fuel.
 
Tionka the Land Rover is always leaking something.  I repaired a radiator leak yesterday (when I say repaired, I tipped a bottle of red goop into the radiator and prayed - and it actually worked), and the rear of the vehicle is spattered in drops of gear oil.  The gearbox is on its last legs, I think, and we will be replacing it near the end of this trip.  Why is it that there are fifty-year-old Land Rovers still on the road, but their gearboxes wear out after 160,000 km?
 
Not that I'm complaining of course.  I am a die hard Land Rover man in my old age.  I get a lot of stick from Toyota owners as I do spend a fair amount of time on safari lying on my back under the chasis trying to identify the leak of the day, but will their shiny new four wheel drives still be on the road in 22 years time?  Perhaps, and if they are they'll probably still have their orignal gearboxes, but I doubt it.
 
But enough about Land Rovers.  More about me.
 
I'm two-thirds of the way through my fifth book and I'm quite enjoying it so far, which probably means wife/mother/mother-in-law/publisher and editor - all of my critics are women, by the way - will think it's a stinker until draft three or four.
 
The journey so far...  Mrs B and I had a month in the bush in Zimbabwe, mostly in Hwange National Park, preceeded by three days in the Botswanan stopover town of Francistown while we waited for a rear differential oil seal for the truck.  (Interestingly, I learned that my 22-year-old Series III Land Rover has a 40-year-old Series IIa rear axle and diff.  This, I wa assured by Solomon, the Land Rover king of Francistown, is a very good thing.  "This is a strong axle".  Hmmm.  A strong axle requiring unique parts).
 
Had a good time on the annual Hwange National Park game census, with the wildlife society of Zimabwe (known these days in very 'now' corporate speak as "Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe").  This, I think, should be the subject of a separate blog.
 
Then proceeded south to South Africa for a week in Kruger where we rendezvoused with some friends of ours - two brothers (as in siblings, not men of the cloth - of you knew these two you wouldn't make the mistake) from Australia.  We spent some time acquaintin the bros with African wildlife and then headed through the new border crossing in the Kruger Park at Giryondo across to Mozambique, for a week of sun, sea, Dois M beers, prawns and cashews.  More on mozambique later, I think. 
 
Mrs B and I have both taken our daily panadol and are in good spirits as the first big storms of the rainy season are now over.  She is lying in the sun reading (and people ask her what she does when I'm writing in Africa!) and I am about to stop this and do some proper work.
 
If you can call what I do proper.   
 

Bongiorno Italia and attentin Latvia!

Before I start on this shameless plug for me and my books, let me apologise for the lack of pictures.  When blogging via email I can't send pictures.  I can't call up the blog on the web, either, as I connect to the 'net when travelling via a mobile phone, which has a speed of 9.6kbps.  For non technical people, like myself, that means f*ing slowly.
 
Anyway, greetings, or bongiorno, I suppose, to all my future Italian readers.  Just got some good news from my very good friends at Pan Macmillan (the publishers) that my first book, Far Horizon, and third, African Sky, are to be translated into Italian and released there sometime in the near future.
 
That means I am, or will soon be, published in five languages - English (though my former boss and now senior sub editor Greg N would question that claim); Dutch, German, Italian and Latvian).
 
Yes, Latvian.  Attention, legion of Latvian fans (all 500 of you - I prefer the term 'limited edition' rather than 'very small print run').... As the publishers never came through with a Latvian copy of "Zambezi" I will pay good money for one of these. 
 
Too much blogging, not enough work.  I fear I have fallen into the trap of procrastination.  Deb, it is all your fault.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

We all look alike to them

At the risk of sounding like I'm prone to racial stereotypes, I couldn't let this one go by without recording it somewhere.
 
Mrs Blog and I wandered into the terrace restaurant at Mopani rest camp in the Kruger National Park this morning and quickly jagged a table in the sun that had just been vactated by another murungu (Shona slang for white person - spelt mzungu in swahili) couple.  They had left their money and the African waitress had just picked up their payment and tip and turned away as we snuck in.
 
A few minutes later we saw the waitress looking at us - a slight look of puzzlement on her face.  She then proceeded to ignore us.
 
"What do you think?" Mrs B asked, smiling.
 
"Yep, I reckon," I said.
 
Mrs B went over to the waitress and asked if we could order.
 
The woman put her hand over her mouth and started to laugh, at the same time apologising profusely.  She hadn't realised the occupants of the table were different.  She said something in Tsonga (the language of the Shangaan people) to the waiter next to her and I'll bet anything it was...
 
"They all look alike to me."
 

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rootin', tootin' review

The first review (that I can find) for African Sky is in, and it's a good one (phew).

It's by Frank Walker, of the Sydney Sun-Herald. Frank did a profile on me last year and was one of a number of journos who visited Afghanistan while I was there with the Army.

The review ran on August 6, on Page 62. Here's an excerpt (I'll leave out the bit where he gives the plot away, but trust me, it's all good. I haven't censored anything about how lame my writing is).


"Park is an Aussie who loves Africa and spends half his year there among wild animals writing thrillers. This is his third. Set during World War II on an Allied pilot training base in Rhodesia it's as much a whodunnit as Boy's Own adventure yarn with a hint of kinky sex thrown in... (and here he gives a run down of the plot)... it all culminates in a dogfight with dastardly Nazis. Rootin' tootin' reading, ideal for long flights."

Got to be happy with that. Fighter planes and kinky sex. What else could you ask for in a book?

Biggles fantasies


One of the good things about writing books is that it gives you an excuse to do lots of fun things that you might otherwise have no reasonable excuse to do.

As part of my research for the new book, African Sky I was able to track down the owners of two vintage WWII Harvard training aircraft - a type used to train pilots for the allied air forces in Australia, Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) and Canada.

Jeff Mueller showed me around his Harvard at Bankstown Airport and answered a whole host of research questions, including how to go about sabotaging an aeroplane such as his. I think Jeff enjoyed that bit, in a strange sort of way. He was also able to tell me how to crash land a Harvard - something he's had to do himself (not by choice).

Afterwards, Jeff took Mrs Blog up for a joyflight, during which he did some rolls (upside down stuff) and pretended to straff some enemy bunkers around Blacktown and shoot down a Japanese Zero over Prospect Reservoir (Mrs Blog enjoyed that bit, immensely). All this was for a good cause, as Pip Lovejoy, plucky, sexy heroin of African Sky gets involved in a dog fight in a Harvard during her first every flight in an aeroplane, so Mrs Blog relayed her breathless feelings about the flight and I got to take notes.

When the book came out, I thought it would be good to get some PR pictures taken with a Harvard. Jeff had sold his by then (he's upgrading to an ex Russian air force jet and practising his emergcency landing drills!) but he put me on to Norm Longfield, who owns a Harvard at Hoxton Park Airport in Western Sydney.

So it was, that I got to do some more serious plane spotting and have my picture taken with Norm's magnificent, shiny specimen of a Harvard (above). I can't fly, but I like to hang out with guys who can, and live out my Biggles fantasies.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

African Sky... sneak preview


Well, here it is. Book 3, which now has a name (as opposed to "book 3", which the publishers, Pan Macmillan, convinced me wasn't commercially viable) - "African Sky". My third novel is due out in shops in Australia in the first week of August, and in the UK and Germany in early 2007.

Here's the back cover blurb:

Rhodesia, 1943.

Paul Bryant hasn't been able to get back in a plane since a fatal bombing mission over Germany.

So, instead, the Squadron Leader is flying a desk at a pilot training school at Kumalo air base.
But one of his trainees has just been reported missing.

Pip Lovejoy, a volunteer policewoman, is also trying to suppress painful memories. When Felicity Langham, a high profile WAAF from the air base, is found raped and murdered, Pip and Bryant's paths cross.

Suspicion immediately falls on the local black community, but Pip's investigations unearth a link between the Squadron Leader, the controversial heiress Catherine De Beers and the dead woman, which throws the case in a new, disturbing direction.

What Pip thinks is a singular crime of passion soon escalates into a crisis that could change the course of the war.

And people wonder...


Why I spend my life and most of what I earn trying to get back to Africa... and on:

Drinking...

Drifting...

Fishing... and

Watching animals... like this elephant on the banks of the Zambezi, upriver from the Chirundu bridge, maybe 300-400 metres from the nearest houses and less than a kilometre from a busy border crossing.

The mighty Zambezi


Here's a pic of the Zambezi River, taken from the verandah of a fishing shack where I've stayed a few times on the Zimbabwe side of the river, at Chirundu.

If you've read Far Horizon (my first book) this is where Mike Williams (the lead character) retires to lick his wounds and think about the girl he thinks he's lost.

It's one of my favourite places in Africa to sit. And the fishing and game spotting are pretty good, too.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More interesting than Australia v Brazil


In the spirit of the FIFA World Cup and in acknowledgement of the fact that I have absolutely no interest in soccer (apparently it's now called football) here's a pic of something interesting that I saw on a soccer field in South Africa.


We were on a morning game drive out of Umlani Bush Camp (www.umlani.com) on the border of the Kruger National Park and came across a pack of about a dozen African wild dogs (Africa's most efficient predator and most endangered mammal).

Unfortunately we'd just missed them gobbling up (more like ripping apart) an impala for breakfast, but a pack of hyena showed up and cleaned up what remained. The dogs took off into the bush, but were soon followed by the hyenas. Hyenas often follow wild dogs because they know the of the dogs' killer reputation.

When we caught sight of the dogs again it was on the football field at the back of neighbouring Tanda Thula lodge (where the staff from the various lodges in the area chase a ball around and hug each other, in true soccer, errr 'football' style). We watched the hyenas and dogs chasing each other back and forth across the pitch for about half an hour. Occasionally there would be a stand-off, like the one above, where fangs were barred and snarls exchanged, but it was all pretty harmless.

You can't teach an old dog like me to like soccer/football, but clear patches of ground do come in handy in the African bush sometimes.