An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gone fish(eat)ing

Mr and Mrs Blog are currently hard at work in Mozambique, researching sand, sun, water, seafood and local beers for book six.

More blogging when we return to the world of reasonable internet connections, next week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In the lap of luxury


Wrinkled, Legion of Fans (LOF), is what Mrs Blog and I were after two days in the luxurious Tinga Legends private safari lodge.

If we weren't in the beautiful infinity pool watching animals across the Sabie River we were in the bubble bath sipping champagne (laid on by the lodge for Mrs B's birthday); cleansing ourselves in the double shower; or taking port and coffee under the stars in our own private heated plunge pool on the deck of our luxury suite.

No traipsing through dirt and puff adders to the ablution block at this place, LOF. Each luxury air conditioned unit has a monstrous bed, mini bar, widescreen TV, DVD player and sound system.

Some silly people have said to me ridiculous things such as; "Who needs five-star luxury in the African bush?"

I'll tell you who, LOF - ME and Mrs Blog. When you live in a poly-propylene igloo or on top of a Land Rover for five months of the year, a little air-con and DSTV (satellite TV) goes a very long way!

Tinga is not cheap, but fortunately Mrs Blog has a very altruistic brother, who kindly spotted us for a couple of days at the lodge in honour of Mrs B's significant birthday.

Tinga (let's say that name again) also happens to feature in my next book, which is due for release in August 2008, so expect a good deal more shameless promotion and cross-promotion in the months to come. Tinga was established a few years ago when South African National Parks offered a number of concessions to private operators inside the Kruger National Park. Tinga's concession covers the game-rich land between the Sabie and Sand rivers, not far from Skukuza.

The only problem with Tinga Legends Private Safari Lodge is that it is so luxurious it's tempting to stay indoors, or on one's private deck, rather than go out on the twice daily game drives. Mrs B and I have spotted more than our fair share of animals on this trip, however we did go out on three of the four drives available during our stay.

It was worth it. We saw all of the big five, including two different leopard sightings. The first leopard our guide found for us had been chased up a tree by a pack of wild dogs (possibly the same painted puppies we saw on Mrs B's birthday) which were still milling and squeaking around the base of the tree. In the world of game viewing, LOF, it doesn't get much better than that.

And hearing the distant moan of a lion or the whoop of a hyena while watching the stars from a bubbling private pool? Priceless.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A painted puppy (or 17) for her birthday



A long-held tradition here on the Blog Safari, Legion of Fans, is for Mr and Mrs Blog to take a very early morning game drive to celebrate Mrs B's birthday. It's always in November (funnily enough) and we're always in Africa in November.

Unusually, this year, was the fact that there were 21 other people in Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park for this year's birthday, along with enough alcohol to stop an army. So, getting up at 4.15am, in order to be out the camp gate by 4.30am, required significant effort and commitment on the birthday girl's part (and mine).

We cranked Tonka the Series III Land Rover into action (to all of you who have kindly asked after his health I can report that he is, complete with new clutch plate and pressure plate, fit and well - at least as fit and well as a 23-year-old Land Rover can be) in the knowledge that in Africa the early bird does, indeed, catch the lion.

On cue, at Shitlhave Dam, about 1okm there was an impressive male lion, a fitting curtain raiser to the main event which was the appearance of 17 endangered African Wild Dogs (also known as Painted Dogs) at Transport Dam.

Regular readers will know that I rarely let an opportunity for shameless self promotion (or promotion of worthy causes) slip by in this blog. Wild Dogs feature in my latest book "SAFARI" (rrp AUD$32.95 at all good bookstores and now available in South Africa).

The book opens with a dedicated wildlife researcher getting a bit emotional after one of the Painted Dogs she has been studying is killed, defending her brood of puppies, by some nasty old lionesses.

I like Wild Dogs, almost as much as I like people who buy my books, so it was great to hear, recently, from an Aussie couple behind the Painted Dog Conservation organisation, who were not long back in Perth after spending quite some time researching dogs in Zimbabwe, where the book is set. Painted Dog Conservation is dedicated, not surprisingly, to the conservation of painted dogs. They support research and local education projects and conservation activities. Their cause is good, and they're very nice people, to0.

The couple in question had read SAFARI and, to my intense relief, didn't email me saying "you have no bloody idea what you are talking about". Phew, legion of fans.

On the big B-Day, Mrs B and I arrived at Transport Dam for the aftermath of a particularly grisly affair - the killing of a pregnant Waterbuck. Not good pre-breakfast viewing for the faint hearted, but, hey, a dog has to survive and there are a lot more waterbuck in Africa (believe me) than there are Wild Dog, which are down to a few thousand.

They're Africa's most successful, efficient predator, and their kids are cute when they're little. Although they can't breed with domestic dogs, they do share certain traits, such as rolling around in pooh and dead things, sniffing each other's bottoms, dragging said bottoms along the ground, and standing around with their tongues lolling out of grinning, goofy mouths.
They're a great animal to see in the bush, not only because they're rare, but also because they are always doing something in daylight hours - trotting, sniffing, giving each other piggy backs, ripping other creatures apart. Excellent stuff, unlike lions, which spend most of the (human)waking day sleeping. The highlight of a lion sighting is usually some big over-stuffed cat rolling over on its back for five seconds.

Sadly, one of the adult dogs in the impressive pack we saw on B-Day had a snare around its neck, which was causing a nasty wound. Not even the magnificent Kruger Park can escape the problem of poaching. In this case, the snare was, I suppose, set by someone trying to catch a small buck to eat - or sell as bush meat. Mrs B and I reported the snared animal, and the pack's location, to a wild dog hotline, run by researchers in the park.



The Painted Dog Conservation people in Australia have kindly invited me to speak at a fundraiser some time in the future if I ever get to Perth and I would be very keen to do so.

Don't worry, Rhino people, I haven't forgotten you and, as a reminder, I will be talking about rhinocerous conservation and Land Rover spare parts at a dinner dance for the SAVE foundation, NSW branch, on Saturday, February 9, at 7pm at the Hunter's Hill Sailing Club, Merrington Place, Woolwich. (For details contact: theafricanqueen@bigpond.com )

But back to the birthday girl and the dogs. Mrs B, now that she has recovered fully from her hangover, says thank you all for your kind wishes (and gifts, where appropriate). For the dog lovers (and I know you are out there), here are a couple more pics.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mrs B-Day and a night driver to remember

Today is Mrs Blog's birthday plus-one here in Safari land and, let me tell you LOF, there is not a lot of movement in the bushveld.

A cast of thousands (well, 23) gathered here in Preotoriuskop Camp to celebrate Mrs B's significant chronological milestone (we don't mention the number, itself, out loud). Party pictures may be posted in the near future - subject to approval by the birthday girl and laws regarding nudity on the web.

There was Jane, aged 23-and-a-bit; Di The Leopard Whisperer (DiTLW - so named because her snoring once attracted the noctournal amorous gruntings of a male leopard in a remote campsite in Zimbabwe - true story); that doyen of aged drug-addicted punk musician wastrels, The Barman, and The Barmaid, who also turned 40 (oops, sorry), the day before Mrs Blog; Brother-in-law Book, looking like a cross between a Columbian drug lord and 70s pornstar with his "Movember" facial hair; Mother-in-Law Blog; Mother Blog and Ali G; Colonel G (an army buddy of mine); and my glamourous, well-read, brainy, stylish, financially-independent, single publisher, C and her lovely kaftan-wearing sister, L; to name but a few.

The night before the birthday (I may fall asleep, hungover, at the keyboard before we get to the actual bash, so stay tuned) Mrs B and I organised a Kruger Park night drive for all the guests.

This was a high-risk event, LOF, as Mrs B and I have been on more than our share of long, cold, boring night drives over the years, however sometimes you strike it lucky.

Not so the three other people (two of them dour-faced Dutch ladies) and another gentleman, who rolled up to the Pretoriuskop filling station, definitely out of luck, to find they would be sharing the 23-seat national parks game viewing vehicle with 20 drunken loud-mouth Australians.

Mrs B went through the motions of trying to shush the crowd, but once the first champagne cork bounced off the roof there was no turning back. A group setting away from home brings out the worst in any nationalitly, I find, and Australians are no exception to this rule (in fact, I think we wrote the text book regarding drunken obnoxious behaviour abroad).

Well, LOF, our captives - I mean fellow passengers - could have stepped up and joined the party, or remain fixed in their seats with arms folded, lips pursed and disapproving scowls branded on their faces for the entire trip. The ladies chose the latter.

Anyway, we set off into the late afternoon, the breeze through the open-top vehicle providing a little relief from the still-strong heat. Mrs B raised her highly attuned little nose and said; "Smell that? Elephant."

I nodded, as I always trust her olfactory judgements - even though to me it smelled like a two-day-old lion kill, to me - perhaps a buffalo carcas, I mused silently.

"Cheese and bikkies?" asked DiTLW, who was sitting in front of us with Jane, aged 23.bit. DiTLW and Jane, 23.bit, have been bunking together during the trip and are, in the eyes of the Kruger National Park, officially a "couple" in terms of their entry permit - something that caused their first outburst of hysterical laughter, which has not abated for four days.

DiTLW, like Mrs Blog and me, is biologically old enough to be Jane 23.bit's parent, though DiTLW is, as they say in the classics, young at heart, or, as Jane 23.bit put it; "She's great - I thought that I was, like, going to be the immature one until I met Di!"

As I accepted the proffered biscuit and cheese Mrs B looked at each other. We had both been wrong, but the cheese tasted quite good - dead elephant odour notwithstanding.

The deteriorate of our relationship with our fellow Dutch passengers was most definitely not helped, LOF, when Colonel G saw the first rhino and barked, in a voice that would have set a regimental sergeant major's a heart a-flutter; "STOP!"

The driver faga-ed ma-brakes-i (came to an abrupt halt) and those who weren't in the brace postion suffered spinal injuries.

DiTLW and Jane 23.bit shrieked as their box of crackers slid off laps and the aforementioned stinky cheese (and I do not exaggerate here) flew into the air, over the shoulders of Mrs Colonel G and landed, with a malodourous "plop" in the lap of one of the dour-faced ladies.

She looked, in horror, at the piece of legalised mould sitting in front of her. For a moment even Jane 23.bit and DiTLW were silent as the woman lifted it, gingerly, as though she might die of framage poisoning, and tossed it back.

What could have been a jocular ice-breaker was, in fact, the nail in the coffin that buried any chance whatsoever at all that these ladies might enjoy themselves....

On the upside (and there is always an upside on the Park Safari) the drive turned out to be the best we'd had in 12 years of travel in Africa. We saw:

- lions (two males and then, later in the night, a posse of lionesses out shopping for meat)

- rhinos (by the score, or so it seemed)

- spotted eagle owl

- and, to top it all off, a leopard.

Age is an interesting thing. I am three years older than Mrs B and while she was concerned - quite rightly, I suppose, in her mind - for the well-being of the cheese-spattered ladies, I couldn't care less. If people choose not to have a good time, that is their problem. No one on the birthday safari was rude or abuse to them (though the cheese incident may constitute assault in some jurisdictions). One of the great things about getting older is not giving a F*%$ about lots of things.

Interestingly, too, some of the most raucous behaviour and inappropriate commentary during the drive came from the back seat, which was filled, to capacity with Mother Blog, Ali G, their travelling companions M and A, and several empty bottles of white wine. Good on them, I thought, though I did have to lower my head behind DiTLW's when Mother Blog started shameless flirting with the driver/guide.

Still, a fun time was had be all - well, most.

Mrs B likes lions, so here are a couple we saw on the night drive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

SAVE a rhino and hear me talk about my clutch plate!

I'm honoured, Legion of Fans, to be able to help out the SAVE organisation in their worthy work of saving (hence the name) Africa's endangered rhinos.

Rhinos are one of my favourite animals and I can identify with them. Their eyesight is poor; they spend large amounts of the day doing nothing; they have large bellies and spindly legs; they like to pooh in the same place every day; despite their size they mean you know harm; and their chief interests in life seem to be eating, sleeping and copulating.

Yes, LOF, if I was an animal, I think I'd be quite happy as a rhino.

That is, if I lived in the Kruger National Park, of course, like this chap.


If not, I'd be in serious trouble. Rhinos are in danger throughout Africa, thanks to the enlightened ways of certain Asian and Middle Eastern gentlemen who seem to think that rhino horn is a better alternative to paracetamol for a headache (it's not, contrary to popular opinion, used as an aphrodisiac) or a handle for a dagger. I know what I'd do with the pointy end of a dagger if I met anyone clasping a rhino horn handle.

Speaking seriously, which I rarely do here, I had some terrible news the other day from my mate Ross. His friends, who Mrs B and I have met, own a game farm in Zimbabwe and someone broke into their property recently and killed their rhinos in their enclosure. Even though the rhinos had been de-horned, the animals were still slaughtered for the stubs that remained.

Bastards.

Anyway, thankfully there are still good people in Africa and abroad who are dedicated to the survival of these magnificent creatures and, as I said before, I'm honoured to be able to help them out.

My very good friends at SAVE, NSW Branch, are holding a dinner dance on Saturday, February 9, at 7pm at the Hunter's Hill Sailing Club, Merrington Place, Woolwich. And I, LOF have been invited to speak.

The cost is AUD$80 per head for a three course dinner and South African beers and wines. For Hunter's Hill and a venue with harbour views this is pretty good value, I reckon. As well as being a supporter of rhino causes, I'm also a big support of South African Breweries so I'm looking forward to downing a few Castles as well.

If you do wish to attend (for the South African booze, rather than hearing me speak) you should contact theafricanqueen@bigpond.com Dress for the evening is "cocktail with an African twist", which sounds interesting. I can hear my pith helmet screaming from it's wardrobe prison.

I don't know what I'll talk about, but here's a special offer for readers of this blog. For every one of you who attends (sidle up to me and mention you are a legionnaire) I will spend one minute less than I had planned to talking about Land Rover repairs and clutch plates. So there, the gauntlet has been laid down - come along to the SAVE dinner and help save a rhino and stop the audience from falling asleep.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

And I'm like...


Mother Blog and Ali G arrived in South Africa this week - phase one of the Great Australian Invasion, which will take place when no fewer than 23 people gather, Legion of Fans (LOF), to celebrate a significant "zero" birthday of Mrs Blog. We're not talking 30, and we're not talking 50 (and neither are we talking 10, Black Mustarfa). Decorum, and my wife, prevent me from saying which birthday it is.

Ali G - a regular poster on this blog and fellow bloggers' sites - is, I can now reveal, actually my stepfather. He and Mother Blog bought me the above "whatever" T-shirt, which I love so much that I only removed it (at Mrs Blog's insistence) after three days.

And so, LOF, we segwe, as I knew we must one day, into the thorny realm of Safari fashion.

Apart from my "whatever" T-shirt I am no style icon, LOF, and nor have I ever pretended otherwise. However, I am big-headed enough to be quite judgemental about what others wear, particularly when on safari in Africa.

Beware, if you are planning a trip to the dark green continent, of those trendy high street camping stores, specialist safari outfitters, or, worst of all, airport and safari lodge souvenir shops. It's a jungle out there, LOF, a veritable dripping green fashion hell, teeming with leopard and zebra print, barely concealed by a veritable forest of camouflage clothing.

Having the right clothing in Africa is important - and not just for creating the desired apres game viewing or hunting image. It may save your life.

When walking in the veldt, where dangerous game could be lurking around the next bush, it's important not to wear colours that scream "I'm a tourist, come and kill me", such as white, yellow, day-glo orange, or hot pink. Khakis, greens, and even dark blues are the colours of choice, here.

It confounds me, why, whenever we front up for a bush walk in the Kruger National Park with armed rangers, that the European tourist who happily wears head-to-toe camo or khaki when driving around in their rented Volkswagen Chicos show up for a close encounter with the Big Five wearing a floppy white vinyl hat that would have looked good on, say, Twiggy or Petula Clark. You couldn't blame an elephant for trampling that hat, or the head that thought it OK to wear it - on the grounds of fashion sense alone!

Natural hues are not compulsory when lounging around the rest camp or sipping sundowners by the waterhole, though green and brown are very practical colours - particularly if you are drinking Creme de Menthe, or eating chocolate ice-cream. These colours hide stains very well, and if you do dribble something (as Mrs B and I are want to do after one too many beverages) then you can pass the resulting mess of as trendy camouflage.

Here at Park Safaris the rule as regards leopard, cheetah or zebra skin is simple - we say no to fur or any animal print (with the exception of lingerie, of course).

Mother Blog and Ali G had put a lot of thought into their safari ensembles for the two weeks they will be staying with us. I suspect Mother Blog had invested the most thought as they arrived at Kruger's Malelane Gate wearing complementary T-shirts and matching three-quarter length jeans. Mother Blog's T-shirt was emblazoned with a bold "Je Suis Avec Stupid", and an arrow, pointing sideways to Ali G's shirt, which read, "Stupid".


Next day they fronted, like a pair of Japanese honeymooners, in matching safari gear.

Full marks, I gave them, for the baggy green T-shirts, which are the last word in practicality while travelling and camping. The three-quarter length khaki cargo pants scraped in - not too many D-rings; no zip off legs; no scribbled unintelligible writing. They even knew how to accessorise, with matching insulated safari coffee mugs from the Skukuza Souvenir Shop and Tacky Merchandise Emporium here in Kruger.

Re the three-quarter pants, I have to say that I like my shorts African style - short, and I make no apology for this. I know this is very un-trendy in the rest of the world, but here in the scorching summer it is perfectly acceptable for men to wear (green) hotpants.

Ali G is a terrific bloke and I like him a lot (especially for posting lots of comments on both of my blogs, which makes it look like people actually read them) but he did, however, let the side down badly two nights ago, when he and Mother Blog (Pink long-sleeve T-shirt - acceptable for evening wear - and long green flared trousers) dressed for dinner. He committed the cardinal sin, LOF, and he was unrepentant about it.

Sandals and socks.

What sets us (well, most of us), as Australians apart from our European ancestors is a firmly held belief that socks should not be worn with any form of open-toed footwear.

"But it's comfortable and cool, and it keeps my feet clean and you said I had to wear socks to keep the mosquitos from biting me," protested Ali G (he will have right of reply here).

All well and good, Ali G, but that doesn't make it right. If he buys a pair of those other tragic fashion disasters, "Crocs" (which are, at the end of the day, plastic clogs, so I rest my case) while he is here I may just have to shoot him.

At least, LOF, Ali G had the decency to wear black socks with his sandals, so we might have got away without too many people noticing in the restaurant. I did, however, see a couple of Germans and Poms nodding appreciatively as he strode down the platform at Kruger's Selati Train restaurant, which has a big old colonial-era steam locomotive as its centrepiece. Mother Blog was too busy saying things like "Be careful of my Limoges" and posing for picutres in the bar carriage to notice her husband's fashion faux pas.

There is so much camouflage clothing in Africa at the moment that it's easy to trip over fellow campers. Camouflage is, to inject a military metaphor, a minefield.

Yes, it's trendy and practical (when hiding from rampaging rhinos and lip-smacking Leos), but like flamethrowers and hand grenades, Camo is a two-edged weapon.

Mrs Blog has very fetching little US Marine Corps Middle East Theatre of Operations (I know my camo) mini skirt, which I had to bark like a Drill Sergeant to force her to buy. She doesn't regret it, and neither do I, for as well as being practical and made of sturdy military-spec material, it's also strangely arousing.

She went into Cape Union Mart (a South African safari clothing store of note) a while ago to spend some of her birthday money in advance of the big day and tried on a very respectable (not too short this time) US Army Jungle Leaf pattern skirt. It looked good (damn good), although she pointed out to the shop assistant that the hem had come undone.

"No, madam, that's the new fashion, to have the hem undone."

Well, LOF, let me tell you that Mrs B acted every one of her not insubstantial number of years when she retorted: "Well, I don't care if that's the fashion, it looks jolly untidy young lady and I won't be seen in a garment that is not properly hemmed" (or words to that effect). She bought it, anyway, and spent most of the other day sewing it back together.

When it come to camo, LOF, the rule is as simple as it is timeless. Less is more. Mini-skirts are better than full body-length Rhodesian Light Infantry jumpsuits any day, and it's always best to team an item of camouflage with something brightly civilian.

A couple of weeks ago a tourist from a certain European country that will remain nameless reported for duty at zee camp site next to us in Pretoriuskop dressed in head to toe matching camouflage. Worryingly (for someone who knows his camouflage), the pattern was very, very similar to WWII Waffen SS issue.

One doesn't want to be trampled to death in the African bush, Legion of Fans, any more than one wants to be shot as a mercenary - or, for that matter, mistaken as a resident of a foreign land.
Tread carefully, LOF. When on safari take only pictures, and leave only footprints (and socks) behind.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The pace of life in Africa

Not in a hurry


Very much in a hurry



Not moving from this spot for all the buffalo in Kruger (also titled: it's good to be the king)

Oh, all right, because you asked...






...and because a beer, a good book (not one of mine) and a hammock are beckoning, here are a few more pictures for your virtual safari...
The bird is a Goliath Heron, taken at Lake Panic Bird Hide (where the Hippo was sleeping under the floorboards). All the others were also taken in Kruger. I think Mrs B took the pic of the cute-as-a-button spotted Hyena.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Safari Chic(o)


Here it is, Legion of Fans, the latest word in rugged, dependable, macho African safari vehicles, Chico the Volkswagen 1.4 Citi Golf.

No photoshopping has been employed here to illustrate the difference in size between Mr Blog and the small-but-perfectly-formed Chico (just a slightly creative camera angle, but you get the picture - 6'6" blogger, 3'6" car).

Stuffed to the gunnels and riding low on his wafer-thin springs, Chico is doing valiant service while Tonka sits, in more than one piece, in hospital just across the Crocodile River from Malelane Camp, where I am currently blogging and drinking.


Dusk is falling and Mrs B and I spotted a leopard today not 200 metres away from where I am now. With a bit of luck we might hear him grunting away in the night.

Malelane's a lovely little camp on the southern border of Kruger. Some locals don't like it, because you can hear the train and the hum of traffic from the N4 freeway, and the see the smoke from the sugar refinery across the river.

Funnily enough, that's what I do like about it - knowing that there are leopards, lions, rhinos and Chicos literally a stone's throw away from civilisation as we know it.