Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Uncle and Aunty Blog are now in Perth, after 10 days of immersing themselves in National Geographic Channel country (aka the Kruger National Park) and contributing mightily to the profits of South African Breweries.
The secret to being a low maintence camp guest - and Uncle and Aunty Blog set a new benchmark in this regard - here in Africa is to have the following:
1. The ability and willingness to drink copious amounts of alcohol at odd hours of the day;
2. A vehicle with appropriate towing points, in order to assist Tonka the Land Rover on his travels;
3. The ability to cook Fettucine Boscaiola;
4. A good and sometimes bizarre sense of humour;
5. A love of Africa and her wildlife.
Some people bring these with them to Africa, others rent them (vehicles wth towing points, that is). Uncle and Aunty Blog really got into the wildlife and the gentle pace of camp life (drink, sleep, drive, drink, sleep drive).
They tell me, by email, they had a wonderful time and were pleased that they didn't read the blog entries about them until now that they're safely back in Australia.
On a less relaxing note, Tonka set a new speed record for the 2.25 litre diesel Series III Land Rover yesterday, clocking 100km per hour on the flat. This is because Mr Blog was towing him, behind a mechanic's Toyota Hi-Lux. The knuckles were a tad pale, Legion of Fans, after the 76km drive from Lower Sabie Rest Camp in Kruger to the sleepy town of Malelane.
The gentlemanly tradesman insisted that Mrs B and I drive the towing vehicle, while he would sit behind Tonka's wheel. This was very nice of him, and probably the only concession to safety throughout the whole exercise. A couple of times I looked in the rear mirror of the Hi-Lux and saw Tonka, on the end of the tow rope, drifting out into the oncoming lane. I think the mechanic may have had a bit of a late night, but a few severe gear changes produced a suitable amount of jerking on the tow line and woke him up. Perhaps better, then, that he was the tow-ee, rather than the tow-er.
Anyhow, (or anyhoo, as an alarming number of people say in emails these days), Tonka is now in hospital, awaiting fitment (lovely, mechanical word, that) of a new clutch plate and Mrs B and I are zipping about in diminutive Volkswagen 1.4 Golf 'Chico', despite Avis Rent a Car's best efforts to up-sell us a more expensive model than the one I had booked over the phone. Hmmm.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Mr Sibanda's second-hand clutch plate (which dedicated readers will recall was salvaged from a pile of chicken pooh and snakeskins in a disused brewery in Zimbabwe) has given up the ghost.
Fortunately, the latest break down occurred in the very civilised Kruger National Park and Aunty and Uncle Blog were on hand (not 50 metres in front of us) to save the day with their natty rented Nissan X-Trail.
Mr Blog will no doubt soon be appearing in one or more South African newspapers and travel magazines that feature people breaking the rules in the national park. I got out of Tonka to attach a tow strap (getting out of one's vehicles in non-designated areas is a big no-no in a park full of lions, but, what can I say LOF, I am tough) and was standing next to Uncle Blog's vehicle, briefing him on the route back to camp, when a pair of elderly self-righteous South Africans drove past and snapped my picture.
Did they stop to ask what the problem was, or to gently remind me of the park rules? No, LOF, they were members of a particularly xeonophobic group of vigilantes who delight in sending pictures of law-breakers (cursed foreigners, it is usually alleged) and their number plates to columns with nifty names such as: "Krazies in Kruger"; "Claim to Shame"; and "Shame File".
Anyway, Uncle Blog towed the hapless Tonka back to Lower Sabie and insisted on giving me several beers in quick succession.
I was, however, pretty relaxed (even before the first beer) about the whole situation. I knew the clutch plate would not last and I have come to terms, at the age of 43, that sh*t does, indeed, happen, particularly with vehicles.
I know that we will be back on the road in a few days, and there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be stuck with a broken down vehicle than on the sunny banks of the Sabie River in one of the most beautiful national parks in the world.
There is ice, beer, red wine, red meat and good woman close at hand, and a Land Rover spare parts place in Johannesburg that can deliver a clutch plate overnight via express post.
What more could a man ask for?
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
We were there. Ahead of scedule, at 0617 hours, 13 minutes ahead of the ambitious time we'd set to be out the gate and on the road, spotting animals in the Kruger National Park.
Aunty Blog had swept the tent; uncle blog had organised coffee; Mrs Blog had given lots of orders and Mr Blog was pleasantly sweaty and grubby after rolling 25 kilograms of tent and loading in the back of Uncle and Aunty's rental car.
"OK, head 'em up, move 'em out," I said (or something like that).
"Where are the keys, hon?" said Uncle Blog to Aunty Blog.
"Not locked in the car - I didn't think that was possible with new vehicles," said Mr Blog, whose car is a 23-year-old Land Rover which is virtually impossible to lock.
"No," said Aunty Blog. "I unlocked the car before going to bathroom - that's why it's unlocked."
"Well, I don't have the keys, hon," said Uncle Blog.
"Well, I don't have the keys, hon," said Aunty Blog.
Camping with two vehicles can be a tricky business. You end up sharing out certains items of food and kit between the Land Rover and the Nissan X-trail. It's a bummer, when you wake up before the occupants of the other vehicle and need, say, coffee, or beer.
So, we devised a clever system where the car keys would be kept in one of those handy nylon mesh pockets in the front of the tent...
Which is, of course, where the keys were.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
It's a lovely camp, with the best shower in Africa (open air, though still in the immaculately clean ablution block). Roger, an African - Shangaan I think - makes a point of visiting all the campers and introducing himself. He also has an excellent memory ("you're the man with the laptop - you stayed in site 18 last year," he said, quite correctly).
Roger's lived in the bush all his life and knows all the birds by their calls, and by their African names. A regular visitor has given him a bird book and pair of binoculars, so he's brushing up on his identification of birds by their English names.
Just on dusk, Roger took Mrs B and I for a little walk to find a White Faced Owl. Roger picked his call and led us to him. With Roger's help we eventually saw his long, whispy, pointed ears silhouetted against the darkening sky. He rotated his head and antennae-like ears and locked eyes on us. It was one of those very nice moments, being out in the bush with someone who knows his stuff and is eager to share it.
We'd erected Tonka's home-made shadecloth roof tent and I was debating wheter or not to put the tarp on top, in case it rained. Stars were appearing above us, but far off there were flashes of lightening.
"Will it rain tonight?" I asked Roger of the bushveld.
"I don't know," he replied, looking out towards the horizon. "Let me check?"
Let me check?
What was he going to do, check whether the frogs were croaking in a particular way; whether the owl was on the west side of the tree or the east; whether the rhinocerous beetle was scampering back to its beetle house?
From his pocket he took a brand new 3G mobile phone, flipped it open, and connected to Vodacom Live. Scrolling past news, sport and entertainment gossip he selected 'weather', then 'Phalaborwa', the nearest town.
"Mostly sunny, partly cloudy tomorrow. 20 to 30 degrees. No rain. You'll be fine."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Dusk falls on the African savannah. The low whooping call of hyenas competes with the popping of beer can lids and the crackle of boerewors (snag) fat on the braai (barbie)...
The couple are alone under the African Sky (still available in paperback, rrp $19.95), and they have the darkening contintent all to themselves.
Then they hear it... First a low, far-off rumble, rising slowly but inexorably (right word, Bec?) to a crescendo as the earth begins to vibrate.
The head of the column appears, high and proud, leading the way. The alpha has gained the ascendency and the reward is there for his taking - all of Africa's bounty supplicant before him, the pick of the veldt - once he checks into reception, of course.
Welcome, Legion of Fans, to the Great Campervan Migration (GCM).
Second only to the great wildebeest migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystem (which has kept many a between-gigs American televison personality in narration work), the GCM is becoming an annual fixture here in Kruger.
There is a company, somewhere in the Netherlands, which markets group campervan holidays. This is Africa at her most dangerous, her most raw, a holiday for those not afraid to wear socks with their sandals in public, nor pump out a chemical toilet.
You can hear them coming a long way off. The whine of tortured, underpowered motors and straining gearboxes dragging massive bodies (vehicle and human) through the unforgiving African landscape.
And do not get in their way, if you value your life or personal space.
Muriel recently blogged on Salmagundi about an episode with a caravanning family camping on top of her (so to speak) on an otherwise empty 10km stretch of beach.
This is the way of the GCM. The elderly lowlanders who take part in the GCM have that distinctly European (I'm talking about people from Europe, not white people in Africa) need for proximity to others.
Mrs Blog and I were in the charmingly deserted camping ground at Punda Maria Camp the other day, bemoaining the inefficiency of the South African National Parks booking service, which had tried to tell us there were no sites wtih electricity left, as all had been booked. We scoffed, being the only ones in the campsite, but little did we know, the GCM was just over the hill - all 20 of them.
Zis is zee organised holiday, understant? There is the co-ordinator, or guide, who arrives first and (I'm not kidding here) erects zee flag, claiming zee camp ground is now under the command of the GCM Gruppenfuhrer (I don't know why I've switched to German, as they all tend to be Dutch, though I am sure there are a few Teutons in the ranks of the GCM).
The others rally around not only the flag, but also any other camper unlucky enough to be in residence when the GCM thunders in.
And so it was for us, camping quietly in a little grove of Mopane trees, down on the fenceline.
Before we could say f@ck off, we had several couples in monstrous campervans parking around us, and asking us if the ablution block, which was closed off with red and white striped tape as it's now a building site, was open. No, of course it's not open - that's why we camped near it, just in case a huge party of 20 campervans arrived. We had hoped, forlornly as it turned out, that the GCM would laager up around the toilets and showers.
But why, LOF, do people from the continent have to invade each other's personal space (let alone countries)?
It's like those beaches in the south of France, or Greece, or Italy, where people feel compelled to sit, cheek to cellulite, on sun beds. Why? What is wrong with a bit of Liebensraum now and again?
Perhaps the GCMers assume that by camping next to us we will provide some measure of protection from the lions that occasionally saunter along the (low) fence at Punda Maria.
I can assure them, LOF, they are wrong.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
The BBC may be fiercely independent, but it is also stiflingly boring. Last night's news was all about the Pakistani elections (boring); English football (boring); and the Rugby World Cup (very boring, espeically if you're an Australian).
Far more interesting, LOF, was my shower last night, in Punda Maria rest camp, in the north of the magnificent Kruger National Park. I was just drying off when Mrs B arrived, hovering at the door of the gents. "Are you dressed? Get dressed? Come now!"
This is what happened last time we stayed in Punda Maria... my latherings were interrupted by the arrival of Panthera leo - lion - at the waterhole just outside the camp fence.
Don't panic, LOF - the fences in Kruger are electrified, though the one at Punda Maria is only about waist high. That didn't stop about 20 campers from assembling on the fencline and watching four lionesses stalking through the bushes, no more than 30 or 40 metres away.
(Astute readers will note that the lion above is pictured against a backdrop of dry Kalahari Sandveld vegetation. That pic was actually taken in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, about 15km from the Shumba Picnic Site).
Anyway, Mrs B had been preparing dinner when the first feline rose from the bush - about 20 metres from her. She sensibly put the steak in the car fridge (you know those kitty cats - turn your back for a second and they'll steal your food) and came and fetched me.We heard them talking to each other - low, almost mournful groans - during our dinner. This morning the male was just outside the fence, waking us at dawn as he called to his wives; "wheeeeres my breakfast... wheeeeeres my breakfast?"
On top of the Land Rover, under the covers.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Would, hypothetically speaking, it be a bad thing for me to describe, say, the leader of a sizeable European nation as a fucking idiot?
Sorry, LOF, but I'm a little angry. It was watching telly that did it.
Apropos of none of the above, the Chancellor of Germany and current head of the G8, Angela Merkel, is currently in Africa. She met with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa yesterday to discuss zee Zimbabwean zituation.
At a press conference following the meeting she said, now fully briefed, that the situation was "difficult", but not "disastrous". Zimbabwe needed, she was reported as saying, an "African solution".
Frau Merkel, who I am sure is a very nice person, could do with a little face time with the people of Zimbabwe. Asking Mr "quiet diplomacy" for his view on what's happening in Zimbabwe is a bit like asking Japan's war time prime minister, Tojo, for his views on his buddy Adolf Hitler's relations with the jews.
"He's got some issues," Tojo might have said, "but he's working through them. I'm sure he'll find a German solution."
So, Ms Merkel (if you're doing a spot of self-googling, as I myself have been known to do) what's the difference between "difficult" and "disastrous"?
Perhaps we should put you to the test, Ange. Let's drop you somewhere in the middle of Zimbabwe - Gweru, for example. A pretty little town.
Let's give you some money to help you get by. We'll be exceedingly generous and not give you the government-mandated minimum monthly wage of ZW$150,000 (about US$0.25c), enough to buy a beer or a coke. Instead we'll give you what a domestic or mine worker makes - about ZW$5 million. That's about $US9 - for the month, that is.
You'll need to eat, but here's the catch. Because of the president's decision to evict all the white farmers, there's not enough maize in the country, so that means no mealie meal, which would be your staple diet as a Zimbabwean. Oh, by the way, there's actually no other food or drink on the shop shelves at the moment because of the President's decision to introduce artificial price controls. This led to police and soldiers and the party faithful buying up entire stores, so there's nothing to buy now. Sorry.
Of course, there is the thriving black market, so go find some food there. With your five mill you could buy a bag of potatoes for about $3 million. That should see you through the month - one potato per day. The president doesn't want a war, or revolution, so he's just allowed some cattle to be slaughtered - if you're quick you can buy enough stewing steak for one meal for half a million dollars.
Not happy Angela? Difficult, isn't it. You've got $1.5 million left to last the month. Let's hope, God forbid, that you don't get sick. The Nigerian doctor (all the Zimbabweans have left) in the hospital down the road will not even admit you for a consultation unless you sling him a $2 million backhander (that's before any prescriptions or other fees - this goes into his pocket). So, basicially, if you get sick, you're stuffed. Not that there's any medicine in the hospital anyway.
Had enough, Ange?
Maybe you'll see sense and, like an estimated further 2,999 Zimbabweans per day, you'll try and cross into South Africa or Botswana to find work - legally or illegally.
Everything we're talking about so far, Angie, is basically lifted from a conversation I had the other day with a Zimbabwean guy I know, who is a gardener. As well as trying to feed himself and his wife and kids he's trying to pay school fees. ZW$600,000 a month (one US dollar) doesn't sound like a lot, but with three kids that eats away a hell of a lot of your monthly wage.
My friend the gardener told me he'd go to South Africa, about 320km distant, if he could afford to get there. He can't. He's not well enough to walk, and doesn't want to chance ending up in hospital.
"If I can find a white man with a bakkie (a pickup)," he said, "he might give me a lift to the border for free. If I asked a black man, he would charge me at least $2 million."
I won't tell you what Government troops did to his sister during quashing of the Matabele rebellion, as I know there are some kids who read this blog. It's bad enough I used the F word. But that's old news, dating back to the early 80s when the West turned a blind eye to what was happening in Zimbabwe.
But back to you, Angela. Bad luck, eh? You're stuck in Zimbabwe with a bag of potatoes, one night's meat and $1.5 million dollars. What's that? Toilet paper? Glad you asked, Frau Merkel - you can buy four rolls for that 1.5 mill.
But wait... in the time you've spent trying to work out your budget, the zim dollar has just nose-dived even further. Overnight, it's just lost another 30 per cent of its value (that's the effect of 4000 per cent inflation). That 1.5 million you've got left is now actually worth $1,000,000 and falling, and it's still 29 days until your next pay.
If you're angry at the man and the party responsible for all this, don't dare raise your voice. The elections are around the corner and people are already making plans to move away from their villages and start sleeping in the bush... because at night all the president's men come around and deliver beatings, just to remind you who to vote for.
Difficult, isn't it, living in Zimbabwe?