An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stupidity has a new name...

...and it's the same as mine.

I use my Leatherman tool, Legion of Fans (LOF) every day. Whether it be fixing tonka, opening a beer or extracting a thorn from my sandal (or foot), the Leatherman is an essential item for life on the road in Africa.

You can even, if you are a dufus, use the extremely sharp serrated blade to cut into a slippery, wet frozen plastic soft drink bottle.

Carefully position the bottle on its side and gently saw around the circumfrence of the bottle. See how easily the blade's teeth glide through the plastic?

If, after separating the severed halves of the bottle the ice block inside (essential for your wife's vodka, lime and soda) is still stuck, pierce a hole in the base of the bottle.

WAIT........

DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME. OR IN AFRICA. OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN FACT. ARE YOU MAD?

I upended the bottle, holding it in my left hand, placed the tip of the saw blade against the thickest, slipperiest part of the bottle and pushed down on it. Hard.

As I did so, I clearly remember thinking; "Mr Blog, are you mad? This is a very stupid thing to be doing and you should stop it right..."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!"

My next conscious thought (I have tried very hard to recall them all) was; "F-ck, I hope there isn't an artery in the palm of my hand."

The blood, LOF, the blood. Poor Tonka, fresh from his own traumatic experiences at the hands of Dr C, the Land Rover mechanic, was spray painted with blood. It jetted out, covering the door and shot up as high as the windscreen panels.

I grabbed a tea towel and Mrs Blog came racing back from the loo and reached inside Tonka for the first aid kit.

Herr Doktor, are you out there? Remember, back at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, when you gave me a bundle of military wound dressings for my first aid kit in Africa and I said something along the lines of "what am I going to use these for?" I have an answer for you.

The bulky cotton pad of the dressing, designed for use on, say, bullet wounds, was soaked in about five minutes. By then I was wrapping one of the nice white towels Uncle and Auntry Blog donated to us last year (a kind, but inexpensive gesture, as they had stolen the towels from a hotel in Paris en route to Africa).

The towel, too, was saturated by the time a very nice couple from Johannesburg pulled up at our campsite in their Mercedes. They offered to rush us into the nearby town of Malelane and find a doctor.

It was Saturday afternoon, LOF, in the middle of South Africa's Reconciliation Day long weekend, but even so the doctor said he would be there in less than 15 minutes, when Mrs B called the after hours emergency number printed outside the surgery.

I was feeling very queasy by this stage, and recognising and trying to mentally document all the symptoms of what I knew was shock. People often get stabbed and shot in my books, so I thought that I would buoy my spirits by trying very hard to recall what was happening for me.

Number 1 memory was the complete absence of pain. I had just driven a pointed, serrated blade halfway through my palm and it didn't hurt. Not a twinge. That came later, but for now my hand was just a wet, slippery mass of bandage and soaking towel.

Shallow and rapid breathing - check. Next came the queasiness (I'm getting a little post traumatic queasiness now, just thinking about it).

And then the yawning.

I'd had a biggish night the night before, and had spent Saturday packing up our huge tent, so I had justification for yawning, but I couldn't stop. Then I remembered reading something somewhere years ago in a book about someone feeling very tired as they began to die of blood loss. "STOP YAWNING" I told myself.

At that moment a bakkie (ute/pickup) pulled into the driveway. Mrs B, our Samaritan friends and I all felt much better, until we saw that the occupants were two teenage boys who had probably stolen their parents' vehicle.

"Can you move the car, please," one of the lad said to us, "so we can park."

What were these two disaffected youths doing pulling into the secure parking area behind the doctor's surgery, we all wondered aloud.

The next minute the alarm inside the surgery beeped off and the door opened. There was one of the boys, dressed in T-shirt and board shorts, inviting us in.

"I'm Dr J," he said, adding a nod and a look that seemed to say, "no, I really am."

"And this is Dr G, who will be assisting me," he said, motioning to his 16-year-old friend. They looked as though they had just come from a braai (BBQ) which, this being South Africa on a Saturday, was highly possible. I wondered if Dr G had driven because Dr J was unable to. In fact, I wondered if Dr G had stolen his elder brother's licence, as well as his parent's truck.

"Yissus," Dr J said to his learned colleague as he pulled away the soaked crimson layers of towel and field dressing, "this thing is really bleeding, hey?"

For a moment I felt relieved that I wasn't the most foolish person in the room.

"Where did you get this dressing, dude?" Dr G asked, seemingly more interested in the printed instructions ('this side towards wound') and provenance of the military bandage than the hole in my hand.

"Afghanistan."

"Cool."

"I think we're going to have to stitch this," Dr J said, bringing us back to the matter at hand. My hand.

"This is going to tingle a little bit," Dr J said, readying an anaesthetic syringe.

"HOLY f-ck!" I said, or words to that effect. I had plunged a saw into my palm and not felt a thing, but this tiny needle felt like someone had applied a flamethrower to my hand. (OK, some exaggeration there, but, comparitively, the needle really did hurt).

Blood was coninuing to flow from the wound, so Dr J picked up another needle and stuck it in me. "Check this," he said to Dr G.

"Awesome," Dr G said. "That adrenalin really works, hey?"

I asked what was going on and Dr J informed me that a shot of adrenalin in the area of a wound will slow the bleeding. Useful, I thought, for my research, though I felt I would be a bit more comfortable if I could convince myself that this wasn't the first time either Dr J or Dr G had seen this medical marvel in action.

Dr G probed around inside the wound now that the bleeding had stopped and informed me he couldn't see any tendons, which was a good thing. "They look like... like these little white strings, hey."

I was pleased he knew what he was looking for.

I leaned back, not wanting to watch as Dr J quickly and deftly inserted four perfect little stitches. Next time I checked he was applying a tiny dressing no bigger than a band aid over his handywork.

"Good as new," he said, and gave me some antibiotics and painkillers.

I was impressed. The whole operation had taken less than 15 minutes.

I stood and as I began to thank them I felt a dripping off the tip of my fingers. Blood was pouring on to the surgery floor.

"Uh-o," Dr G said.

"Maybe we need a bandage as well?" Dr J said.

"You think, dude?" I felt like saying.

He re-dressed the wound and I left with a much more substantial bandage, nicely padded out wiht copious amounts of gauze. I felt much better as I could hardly return to the camp ground with a band aid, after having left in such spectacular fashion.

On the way back to camp, with me nicely bandaged and no longer a risk of messing the upholstery, Mrs Blog and I settled into some nice small talk with the couple who had gone out of their way to take me to the doctor and then bring me back to camp. When we all found out what each other did, the lady, S, said; "You're not Tony Park, are you?"

"Um yes."

"I've read three of your books!"

This was great, on one hand, that she had read my books (and bought them as gifts, it turned out), but not so good that she would be able to tell all her friends that she had met me, and that I was clearly an idiot who could not be trusted with sharp objects.

It's five days later now and the wound looks good and the bandage has gone. I'm typing (albeit with a lot of tingling going on), so it looks like Dr J and Dr G did a very good job. I haven't done them justice in this post. Young, they may have been, but they were quick, courteous, efficient and clearly knew some sh-t.

Unlike me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tonka Watch Day 27... and he's BAAAAAAAACK


"Beep beep."

At ease, Legion of Fans (LOF); snuff out those votive candles, untie those yellow ribbons and cancel the benefit concert by a bunch of failing rockstars who think Tonka is a country in Africa or a political prisoner.

If you've just joined us, he's a Series III Land Rover and after 27 days in captivity he is back on the dusty road again, so crack open a cold one.

It was touch and go to the end, LOF. Yesterday afternoon we were summoned the hospital (the garage in the cane farming town of Malelane on the southern border of the Kruger National Park) and invited to take the patient for a test drive.

He started and, even better, managed to attain his customary maximum speed of 78kph on the N4. Woo hoo. Things were looking good, but I did some serious checking under the bonnet, quibbling like a difficult customer and checking hose clamps, springs and wires.

When I was satisfied Mrs B and I got in him and I turned the key. I noticed, pedant that I had become, that the little orange light indicating the glow plugs (sometimes known as heater plugs) were working didn't come on.

No dice.

The mechanics had, I was told, replaced one of the glow plugs, but now none of them was working. Consultant surgeon Dr A was paged and arrived, stat, and after much jiggery pokery with the wires discovered that another plug had burned out.

It was 3.50pm Friday afternoon, LOF. There was no way I was going to leave him in that place another night, and no way we were going to get an auto electrician to come visit.

"Forget it," I said to Dr A. "I've got a spare glow plug back at camp. I'll fix it myself."

And guess what? I did.

A small thing, I know, but it was nice to know that as well as having our Land Rover back I was able to contribute, in a tiny way, to his recovery (leaving aside the fact that all four glow plugs were working perfectly when he went to the mechanic). It was, and I hate to use this word, empowering.

I know, I shouldn't ever use the word empowering, and promise never to do so again, but it was a good feeling, all the same, as I sipped a cold Windhoek Draft in between inserting (installing?) the new plug. Mrs B and I danced a little victory jig when the little organge light came on, and we knew, at last, our first born was safe and sound.

And.... as of this morning, sounding more like a VW Kombi than a Land Rover. It appears in their haste to be free of Tonka the mechanics didn't quite reconnect the exhaust (which may also explain why there has been so little smoke coming out the tail pipe - something I was quite pleased about at first).

But I can fix the exhaust.

I hope....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tonka watch... Day 26 - BACK ON THE ROAD!

...and then off the road, 12 minutes later.

Yes, we were told he was ready to go and after ponying up an amount of money so great that I am ashamed to mention it here, Mrs Blog and I took Tonka out for a test drive on the N4. With B-doubles full of sugar cane trundling around us and suicidal minibus taxi drivers screaming past at 140 kph the newly 'repaired' Tonka managed a staggering 20kph before I was able to turn him around (at some risk to Mrs B and I) and limp back to the garage.

Legion of Fans (LOF), are you as sick of Tonka Watch as I am? I doubt it. However, once he is back on the road, for good, I will get back to tackling the big issues, such as plastic shoes, German safari fashions and monkey pooh. I promise.

Today's lessons in motor vehicle repair:

1. Don't pay until you've done a test drive (duh, I hear you say)
2. Don't believe any mechanic who says, "one week, 10 days at the most".

The latest train of diganostic thought is that it's the injector fuel pump. Never mind that there was nothing wrong with the injector fuel pump when we took Tonka to hospital, or that he was doing his customary and health 80kph maximum speed on the way to town.

The only good news amid all this tragedy is that I am rocking along with book seven, which is now about two-thirds of the way through.

Oh, and SILENT PREDATOR has been picked up by my very good friends TEA Publishing in Italy, for translation and release next year. It will be called "Cacciatore Silenzio" (or something like that) which means "Silent Hunter". Who'd have thought Cacciatore meant 'hunter'. I always thought it meant 'stew'. I love the Italian language, even if I don't understand it, almost as much as I love all the people in Italy who have bought my books so far.

In other news just to hand... plans are afoot for my next round-Australia tour, to promote Book 6, which is due out next July/August. Guess what?

Yes, South Australians, roll out your churches and your serial killers... I expect to see plenty of both when the Blog roadshow rolls into ADELAIDE!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tonka watch... Day 20. And some shameless self promotion

Ag, shame. When I'm feeling down, Legion of Fans (LOF) - like, for instance, when my Land Rover has been in the workshop for 20 days - I like to read nice things about myself.

I can't help it. Not only does it cheer me up and feed my ego, it also makes it seem like I'm actually making much more money than I really am from my books. A morale booster, if you will.

So if you go here to the news section of my website you can read a very nice review of SILENT PREDATOR from my very good friends at the Australian Defence Force newspapers, and an excellent story from my local newspaper here in South Africa, the Lowvelder (or Laevelder, as the delectable Inspector Sannie van Rensburg would say).

Incidentally, Charlize Theron, if you're doing a spot of self googling and would like to make a movie back home in Sarf Efrica, you could do a lot worse than mention SILENT PREDATOR to some of your Hollywood producer friends. You'd be a walk-up start for the part of Sannie.

What do you reckon, LOF?

* Special bonus feature: The story from the Lowvelder includes a rare shot of the elusive and internet-shy Mrs Blog. Go stalk.. I mean, go check her out now!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Tonka watch... day 18

Engine in... engine out.

Day 18 and we are still Land Roverless, Legion of Fans (LOF). An air of weary resignation hangs over the campsite as Mrs Blog and I wait with varying levels of patience for news of poor Tonka, the usually-trusty Series III Land Rover.

He's just across the Crocodile River from us, in the town of Malelane. It's nice, in a way, being so close, so we can pop in every now and then and check on him in hospital, but maddeningly frustrating in other ways, knowing he's a hippo hop away and there is nothing we can do for him.

Tonka's engine continues to confound the experts. The chief mechanic, Dr C patiently explains new theories about what's going on in that steel heart of Tonka's every few days. I nod and go "hmmm" in that thoughtful way that men do when being told something they know nothing about and have no hope of comprehending.

The engine has been in and out a couple of times already. Sometimes it doesn't start, and on the occasions when it does it issues huge clouds of smoke. Piston rings and timing belt have been replaced, along with other bits and pieces I have never heard of. There is talk, this weekend, of pulling out the crankshaft (or was that camshaft?). I don't know.

Dr C will be working Sunday, although he has to go to his wife's cousin's wedding in Pretoria on Saturday. Yesterday (Friday) after discussing a whole bunch of stuff with me that went in one of my ears and out the other, Dr C slid his car keys across the workshop counter to me. "Take my bakkie (ute for the Australians, pickup for the north Americans)."

"I can't take your truck, man," I said to him. We had our trusty VW Polo, "Polly" (we had to give her a name - couldn't help it) from Avis parked outside, I explained (though I left out the bit about her name).

"You're paying a fortune for that thing. Take my bakkie," he insisted.

Try as I might I cannot imagine a motor mechanic in Australia handing over his personal vehicle to a foreign tourist customer. It was a nice gesture and, since we're into stereotyping here, allow me to say a very South African one. When the chips are down, as they occasionally are on safari in Africa, you want to bump into an Afrikaner.

So, Mrs Blog and I are now riding high (literally) in Dr C's late model Toyota Hi-Lux. I'm loyal to my Land Rover brand, LOF, but I'm not a snob. Some of my best friends are Toyota owners. I must say, the Hi-Lux is quite nice, if you like air conditioning, power steering, fast reliable engines and that sort of stuff.

So touched, were Mrs Blog and I by Dr C's gesture that we decided to wash out the load carrying compartment of the bakkie this morning. There was also the presence of a cloud of flies to consider, as well. Dr C is a hunter and on close inspection we found several signs that something dead had recently been carried in the back of his truk.

Playing at CSI Bushveld we inspected hair and tissue samples and decided it may very well have been an impala. There was also a bullet casing, which I picked up with a stick and bagged for ballistics. Mrs B took it down to forensics.

Our temproary Toyota sits outside the tent as I type. It's a sleek, speedy brute, but it is not our Tonka.

Tonka has no aircon, no power steering and no fast reliable engine (no engine at all, in fact, as of last night) yet still we wouldn't trade him for all the Toyotas in Japan. Why, I don't know? It is, as they say, a Land Rover thing, and until you've experienced it you can't understand it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Proverbial Pirates


If you've just joined us, allow me to introduce you to one of the Pirates of Pretoriuskop, a band of manky, mean, thieving vervet monkeys who live in Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

I thought, for a brief few seconds, that I might be guilty of embellishing the Pirates' pursuits, in the name of trying to get people to read this blog. Was I being unfair, I wondered, in my portrayal of their wicked ways and dastardly deeds?

The answer to my questions came just the other day, when Mrs Blog and I caught up with some good friends from Johannesburg, who had come to Kruger with some other friends of theirs from Polokwane (the city formerly known as Pietersburg) and Serbia (the country formerly known as Yugoslavia).

The Polokwane people told me that while at Pretoriuskop a vervet monkey had gotten into their bungalow. As well as the usual scenes of devastation (food raided and consumed, coffee jar opened and upturned, etc) there was a terrible smell.

Vervets, as you may know from reading this blog or your own personal experience, like to add insult to injury by leaving a calling card at the scene of their crimes. I asked the guy if the monkey had left a little message on a table or on the bed.

"No," my new friend replied (he is now a very good friend, as he bought one of my books) "it was on the walls. All over the walls."

He and his wife had left the ceiling fan on, while out on a game drive.

The monkey had, indeed, left his message, but he had been up in the rafters of the thatched roof at the time.

"You don't mean..." I began.

Yes. The proverbial had, indeed, hit the proverbial.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tonka thanks you


Thanks to all of you who have publicly or privately sent your best wishes to Tonka the Land Rover in his time of need. A special mention must be made of Grommit, Tonka's internet pen friend, who even sent a get well card (above).
Grommit is a Series IIa who lives in Australia and one day he hopes to visit Africa. Grommit's mummy and daddy, Jess and Alastair, would do well to read my last post about naming vehicles, but I fear it is too late for them. Anyway, thanks to all of you.
And in news just to hand... The Malelane Land Rover doctor advises that he decided to replace Tonka's piston rings (whatever they are) while he was busy fixing everything else wrong with Tonka's heart (engine), however the spare parts supplier sent him the wrong size rings. Tonka will be in hospital until early next week. He is in good company, though, as there is a Land Cruiser in the bed next to him.

A Land Rover is for life, not for Christmas

“Never give a vehicle a name,” a wise man once said to me in Zimbabwe. “When you name them they take on a personality, a life of their own. And then you start to worry about them.”

Legion of Fans (LOF), let me tell you, never a truer word has been spoken.

Our baby, Tonka, is still in hospital, but is due out tomorrow (Friday), hopefully. In other words, the mechanic at the local garage reckons he will be finished with the repairs to the engine of our ageing 1984 Series III Land Rover tomorrow.

Apparently some teeth have broken off the cam shaft (or is that crank shaft, I’m not sure?) and he needs a new timing belt. According to the doctor the problem was serious, but fixable.

When I was younger I was cruel to my cars. I went through a succession of vehicles and not one of them had a name. I used to treat ‘em mean, LOF, though I can honestly say they were never very keen to have me as their driver.

First there was the magnificent 1968 XR Falcon station wagon that my parents gave to me when they bought a newer model. It went from lovingly-cared-for family car to rusted out barely-mobile wreck in the space of a few short years.

I had a two-door Volvo (yes, a Volvo, but it was quite sporty) which was totalled in an accident, but even if it hadn’t been run off the road it would have died within a year of my constant abuse.

When I scraped the side of my 1984 XE Falcon (at eight years old, the closest I ever came to owning a new vehicle) I didn’t even bother getting the bodywork fixed and it, too, began to corrode. I barely made a tenth of the purchase price back when I sold it.

I rarely looked under their bonnets; never checked the tyre pressures; wouldn’t have had a clue how to change the oil or a filter; and never took them to a garage for servicing.

They were nameless, faceless machines. Hunks of metal. There was an unspoken compact between my cars and me. We both knew it would be a short, sharp relationship, and a very one-sided one at that. I knew each of my cars would be worth nothing by the time I came to sell it, and that’s the way I drove and treated them. They responded in kind.

What an awful person I was.

It wasn’t even Mrs Blog who brought about a change in me. We owned a Metro in the UK, which we left a crumpled wreck after I skidded on ice on the way to work one morning and rear-ended a Peugeot. We didn’t shed a tear for it or even spare it a moment’s thought. It was a three-hundred quid car that had lasted a year, and on that basis it was probably the best value for money car I’d ever owned.

And it didn’t have a name.

Then, one blustery London day in 1998, after perusing three Land Rover Magazines and making about two phone calls, we travelled to the charming suburb of Watford and met Andy, a backyard Land Rover nut, who had put together ‘Dodgy’ out of a collection of wrecks and second hand parts.

‘Dodgy’ had been christened by Andy’s family, who found him to be, in the parlance of Arthur Daily, a very dodgy motor indeed. Looking back on it, you would have thought that even two unsuspecting Australian tourists might have had second thoughts about buying a vehicle called ‘Dodgy’. I recall Andy’s glance at his son when he told us the vehicle’s name – it was the unspoken version of a clap about the ear-hole.

Yet Mrs Blog and I were smitten. From that first rattle of the engine and that first belch of choking black smoke, we knew that this vehicle needed to be ours. To the amazement of our friend Ray, who drove us to Watford, we bought it. Him, I mean.

Certainly, there was no way we were going to ship a vehicle half way around the world to Africa and then criss-cross the continent in something named ‘Dodgy’.

“He needs an animal name,” Mrs B decided, as he was soon to start life anew as a safari truck.

“He’s yellow underneath,” I said, scratching away at Andy’s shoddy (there is no other word for it) green re-spray of Dodgy. Apparently Dodgy (or, at least, selected parts of him) had started life as a bright yellow short wheelbase Land Rover, owned either by British Telecom or the AA, which both used canary-coloured cars. “He’s like a Tonka Toy,” I added.

“Tatonka!” Mrs P announced with an air of finality.

We had watched and enjoyed one of Mr Kevin Costner’s few successful movies, Dances with Wolves, and remembered the Native American word for buffalo – Tatonka – and Kevin’s ludicrous impersonation of one around the camp fire as he seeks to charm his Indian maiden.

So Dodgy was born again, as Tatonka, which subsequently proved too hard to explain to the many people we met on our travels in Africa. So he now goes by the name of Tonka, and it seems to fit him well.

And it became a he, with a sex as well as a name. We couldn’t call a Land Rover by a girl’s name, as that would be just cruel (though Tonka did once meet a very spic and span Series IIa pick-up with a girl’s name. We had high hopes that they might get on, but this particular vehicle, named Helga or Brunhilde or something like that, was as butch as the two ladies who were driving it).

Perhaps it’s because Mrs B and I are childless (Ag, shame, I hear all you mummies crying) that we have taken our little Land Rover so wholly into our hearts. Certainly, if Tonka has been a child substitute I’m not complaining, because even with a new gearbox and overhauled engine he is still a good deal cheaper than private school fees.

In 10 years he has taken us from the icy waters and biting winds of the Skelton Coast to the white sandy beaches of Lake Malawi and the Indian Ocean coast of Mozambique. He has survived charges by black rhinos and elephants, been crapped on by monkeys and even stabbed once, in the foot (not tyre) by a would-be car thief in Harare, who Mrs Blog and I foiled.

He has rescued Land Cruisers from muddy bogs in the Zambezi Valley and saved an African family of five from being marooned on the shores of Lake Kariba.

I know now, with the benefit of a decade’s driving experience in Africa in Tonka, that the only times he has been stuck in the mud and sand it was my fault. With better driving and lower tyre pressures these instances would not happen again.

I know Tonka like no other vehicle I have ever owned. I have changed his oil and his oil and fuel filters. Mrs B (who has an excellent mind for diagnosis) and I have fixed problems with the fuel system and the alternator on the road. I remain blissfully unaware of the white man’s magic that occurs inside the actual engine, but Mrs B and I have made it our business to find out how some of the easily accessible bits of him work.

When he goes into hospital (as he tends to, about once a year), Mrs B and I become worried and depressed. It’s not even about the doctors’ bills – we accept those as part of life – it’s about being separated from him. He is our life support system in the African bush, every bit as much as our Visa card is his.

We know he is getting old, even for a Land Rover, and we must think about his future. Selling him is certainly out of the question. We have discussed, quite seriously, the idea of buying property in Africa to have somewhere where Tonka can see out his days in peace and dignity, perhaps as a game viewer or farm runabout.

The other day, while Tonka was in intensive care, minus his engine, Mrs B and I snuck away to a Land Rover dealership in the Lowveld to become acquainted with some newborn Land Rovers and some slightly older orphans.

“We won’t be getting rid of our bab… I mean, Series III,” I said to the salesman. He smiled. “But we’re thinking of getting another one, to take the load off our current Land Rover.”

“I understand,” he said, and I think he really did.

Driving back to the car hospital in our rented VW Polo, Mrs Blog and I discussed the merits of the brand new Defender Puma 110 Hard Top, versus a low-mileage Defender with a robust 200Tdi.

I knew that if we bought a new vehicle we should be prepared to harden our hearts. Life would be so much easier, I thought, if I could go back to treating my cars like shit – as machines designed with planned obsolescence in mind. When it reached the end of its usefulness I would sell it and buy another one. Simple.

Then, in the way that old married couples do, Mrs Blog read my very next thought out loud.

“If we got a new one, what would we call it?”

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two pictures, two thousand words.

I'll blog all about it when I am up to it. For now, say one for Tonka.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama free zone

Hey, I'm happy for the dude and all that, but you'll find absolutely no mention of him here

Instead, you'll find me, at my Getaway blog, talking about what makes a good campsite. Go there and post a comment. Make it look like I'm popular.

In other interesting news to hand... it's official Legion of Fans (LOF) I have a big head. I finally bit the bullet and went to an optometrist the other day, in Hazyview, near the Kruger Park. Quite an apt location as my view of pages has been hazy these last few months (yuck yuck yuck).

Anyway, turns out I do not have some rare disease that is causing progressive blindness - I'm just getting old. Also, did you know, LOF, that the average distance between human eyes (according to my optometrist) is 65mm, yet my eyes are a (frankly staggering) 75mm apart.

You knew it all along - my head has swollen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Commando!

"Aaaaargh!" Mrs Blog just screamed.

Mrs B is lying on our mattress in the tent while I sit here, blogging while pretending to be working on my seventh novel.

"What?"

A snouted dog-like face just appeared beneath the fly sheet of the tent and fixed her with evil red eyes. A second later I heard the grunting - not her, I hasten to add.

Baboon. Commando.

As I type (coming to you live from Africa, Legion of Fans) I can hear shouts of anger, panic and fear in Afrikaans and English echoing around the rest of the camp ground. The weekly raid has begun and all we can do is sit and wait and pray that it will soon be over.

If the ververt monkey is (as I have claimed repeatedly) the pirate of the primate world, then the baboon is the commando.

Pirates (as in human pirates) are bad, OK. Vervet monkeys are also bad, with their thieving, destructive, poohing and weeing ways, but, like human pirates (fictional ones, at least), there is something about them that is strangely redeeming. There is something devil-may-care and oddly cute about the vervet. It's the cheeky look on his face as he takes a dump on your tent, or the way he swings almost casually from branch to branch while effortlessly evading the rock you have just thrown at him. And their kids are cute when they're little.

The vervets plunder the campsite with the impudence and agility of Erol Flynn stabbing his dagger into a sail and sliding effortlessly down its face (oh, how I would like to do that in real life). If they could throw you a cheeky salute before bounding off to steal another banana or have sex with their sibling, they would.

Not so the baboon.

If the vervet is a diminutive, lithe hairy Flynn, then the baboon is an un-waxed Stallone or Schwarzeneggar.

There are no antics in a baboon raid, as there are in a monkey mission. No cunning diversions, no hide and seek, no play, no pauses for throwing eggs at one another.

Their arrival is heralded by a scream (in this case, the diminutive Mrs Blog) or the screeching sound of twisting metal as another baboon-proof rubbish bin fails to live up to its name.

"Hut, hut, hut, hut, hut," they grunt, urging each other on like members of a SWAT team. While one does the bins another rips into a tent - and I do mean rips. Baboon Blitzkreig is a thing to behold.

A tourist bravely picks up a pebble, raises an arm to throw it at a baboon.

The baboon squares up, and stares the would-be defender in the eye. He barks: "You want a war. I'll give you a war you won't believe."

Undeterred, the simian Stormtrooper snaps the metal band that holds the garbage bin to the steel post and up ends it.

Maximum destruction and minimm distraction. These are the hallmarks of a commando raid. Their credo: hit hard; hit fast; cram cheek pouches full of oranges, bread and koeksisters; and leave no marshmallow behind.

The baboon commando will retreat in the face of a determined counter-attack by armed men (they are sexist in the extreme and do not fear women campers at all. Fact: baboons will surround lone female humans. I have returned to a campsite to find Mrs B encircled, wooden spoon in hand and trembling). However, they will return at the first opportunity, sometimes minutes later, if they know there are still bins to be raided or eskies (cooler boxes) to be pillaged.

They pick their days and times well. Sometimes it's a Sunday, when most of the camp cleaning staff have a day off, but the bins are full after the departure of the weekend crowd. At other times, like today, it's a quiet mid week morning, just before the bin man does his rounds.

They continually communicate, after a fashion, as they sweep through the objective.

Stallone Baboon: "Wadda wadda wadda," grunting and pointing at a cooler box left unattended outside a tent.

Schwarzeneggar Baboon: "Ugh." (rips off lid) "Hasta la vista, esky."

Eastwood Baboon (staring at national parks ranger armed with catapult, while continuing to rummage through bin): "Go ahead, make my day." (turns head a fraction so that rock from catapult flies past ear). "A (hu)man's got to know his limitations."

Jean-Claude Van Damned Baboon (picking up a piece of ververt monkey pooh, left on Ouma's tablecloth outside caravan after the morning's monkey business, and tasting it): "Merde. Allez, mes amis. Time to 'ow-do-you-say, exfiltrate."

They leave with same military precision as their infiltration. Single file, taking it in turns to climb the chain link fence, hand over hand until they get to the electrified strands. At this point they leap, clearing the live wires, and land like parachutists on the other side.

Behind them are trembling camp wives, gesticulating men, crying children, torn tents, scattered debris, smoking camp fires, overturned bins, empty eskies.

"The horror, the horror," I breathe.

Schwarzeneggar Baboon: "We'll be back."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Aandag, asseblief! Book signing in Nelspruit!

I'm on the road again. Sort of.

Following my sellout tour of suburban and regional libraries across Australia (except South Australia) and New Zealand I am heading into the fray once more, to shamelessly promote myself.

The South African leg of my round-the-world promotional tour for my latest book, SILENT PREDATOR, includes the following dates:

- Book signing, Exclusive Books, Riverside Mall, Nelspruit, Saturday November 15, from 10am to 12pm, and...

And, well that's about it.

However, I am very pleased to be signing books at EB Riverside Mall as it is a very lekker book shop with very nice sales people and they do excellent coffee in their cafe.

Mrs Blog is planning on taking all four of her changes of clothes to the Mall on the day of the signing, and will buy some hair extensions from Game while she is there. She plans on making several appearances in different guises, pretending to buy books from me so it looks like I am being mobbed by attractive (if short) women.

So, if there is anybody in the Lowveld actually reading this I urge you to come along and meet me and buy a book. Please!! (I'm not going to beg... oh, all right, I will if you ask me to).

SILENT PREDATOR is set largely in the Kruger Park and Mozambique, though some action also takes place in Johannesburg, so if you're a local you'll be able to identify with lots of the places in the book.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

SNAKE!

You'd be forgiven, Legion of Fans (LOF), after spending some time reading my blog (get back to work, the lot of you), that the most dangerous thing that can happen to you in Africa is being hit by a falling monkey turd, or harrassed by immigration officals at obscure border posts.

Not so...

When we arrived at Tinga (I won't put the link in again as I don't want to rub our good fortune in too much) I said to the head guide, Mr Q, who was hanging around reception: "Hey, did you hear about the dude who got nailed by the lioness?"

The news at the time was full of the story of Kruger Park trails ranger Rudi Lorist who had been mauled by a lioness while leading a walking safari. Realising the lioness had cubs, and was therefore very protective of them, Rudi had tried giving her a wide berth, but she went for him anyway. She charged him and Rudi got a shot off, hitting her in the lower jaw. Sadly, she died, but not before raking Rudi's arms with her upper teeth. Happily, father-of-two Rudi and all his tourists lived.

"Yes, dude," replied Mr Q, "here's his brother." And sure enough, there was Rudi's brother, who is the manager of Tinga's Narina Lodge. Small, dangerous, world here in the Kruger Park.

I've been on plenty of walks in the Kruger Park and other parts of Africa and even went tracking lions in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. There was nothing about Rudi's story that turned me off the concept of walking in lion-infested bushveld. Far from it. As sad as it was that an animal died, Rudi's training saved his life, and possibly the lives of the people in his care.

I'm not scared of much at all, in fact, LOF. I've parachuted and bungee jumped, spent time on warlike operations (which is what we call going to war these days - although admittedly I spent my time in Afghanistan sitting at a desk typing and drinking coffee and listening to my iPod), been chased by a black rhino and had lions sniffing around my tent in the middle of the night (OK, that was a bit scary). Me, I'm not even scared of spiders or mice.

However, the one thing I am truly, utterly, deeply, madly petrified of (other than death) is snakes.

I can't think of any more words for scared, but if I could I would insert them. Mortified.

I wear boots and socks in the evenings, I keep my tent flaps zipped up all the time and I even roll our bedding up each morning just on the off chance that some snake might have found a way around my defences and snuck in, to lay in ambush between our sheets.

So, imagine, if you will, my surprise when the other night, after consuming a good deal of beer and red wine, I approached the ablutions block in Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park at about 9pm and discovered a thick bootlace wrapped around the door handle.

"Odd," I may very well have said out aloud. Why would someone wrap a thick bootlace around the door handle of the toilet block? Even odder, LOF, was what happened next. As I reached for the door handle the bootlace started squirming.

When I (and this will tell you how drunk I was) touched the door handle, the bootlace reared up and struck at my hand with its small pointed head and tiny but sharp fangs.

Clearly, this was no bootlace.

'Snake,' I thought to myself, looking down at my hand as I kicked open the door. I walked into the ablutions block and thought I should find something I could use to knock the small snake off the door handle and shoo it into the grass, lest some other unsuspecting drunkard be attacked.

And then I stopped.

In the middle of the empty ablutions block I looked around me, catching my reflection in one of the mirrors. What's wrong with you, Mr Blog, I asked myself? Why aren't you crying like a little girl and running around in circles? You have just been attacked (kind of) by a snake and here you are, standing calmly, thinking of ways to shoo it away.

'It must be the booze,' I replied to myself.

I found a mop, and carrying it by the yucky end I went back to the door, kicked it open and brushed the snake on to the stoep (as we call the verandah or patio here in Africa). It squiggled around a bit, finding it hard to gain purchase on the slippery concrete, to I nudged it with the end of the mop some more.

"Off you go," I said to it, and burped.

It was a small snake, but like a little man it was full of anger and aggro. Instead of realising its lucky break - that I wasn't going to kill it (as I probably should have) it reared up to its full 20 centimetre height and started striking and attacking the end of the mop.

"So much for being more scared of me than I am of you," I said to it. "Off you go, you disgusting little thing." I pushed and prodded it - the snake continuing a fierce rear guard action all the way, until it finally realised it couldn't kill the mop, or me, and it slithered away.

I went back inside, replaced the mop and thought I had better see to myself. I inspected the knuckle of my right index finger and saw that I had recieved a tiny, but noticeable scratch. The skin wasn't broken.

It occurred to me I should wash the wound but then as I was holding my finger uder the water I remembered an Army lecturer from some decades ago telling us not to wash the wound if bitten by a snake as if it turned out to be a dangerous one then the traces of venom could be used to identify it if the body of the snake wasn't handy. Not being particularly environmentally-friendly in the Army (in the olden days at least) we were also taught to kill a snake that bit us, if possible, for identifcation (and manly payback) purposes.

I remember, as a wide eyed, slightly terrified 19-year-old infantryman wondering how I would be able to kill a snake that had just bitten me. Surely I would have passed out from fear or be crying my eyes out by this stage.

"Damn," I said out loud. Not only had I failed to kill the snake, I was washing away the venom that might identify it. How would the doctors know which anti-venom to administer? Perhaps I might die here in the Pretoriuskop ablutions block.

This was more the real me. "Mrs Blog!" I called (using her real name, of course). She was next door in the ladies. "Err, come in here."

"What, what?" she squealed, knowing something must be wrong.

"OK, first, you won't believe this. There was a snake on the door handle and I chased it away and didn't kill it and I haven't panicked or cried or anything." I was quite proud of myself.

"And...?"

"Oh, and it scratched me."

She said she was off to find the camp's night duty manager and would call a doctor. Feeling remarkably calm, very brave and still quite drunk I said, "No, don't bother them."

Mrs B insisted and I insisted back, but I won the day, until I started walking out of the ablution block. I felt my finger start to throb. A weird, pulsing, constricting kind of numbness started shooting up the inside of my arm. I felt the gland in my armpit swell and pulsate. "Um, maybe you should call the manager, after all."

We walked the short distance back to our tent and Mrs B called the duty manager. While we waited for him to arrive I supervised her in wrapping a pressure bandage around my arm from armpit to hand, to slow the passage of any poison. The army training was kicking in and the alcohol was kicking out.

"I want a beer," I said.

"You'll get no such thing," she replied.

I felt I needed to return to my prior level of intoxicaiton, lest I revert to type and start crying and weeing my pants, but she would have none of it.

The night duty manager, a very nice man named Philip, arrived a few minutes later. He asked me to describe the snake and then called the senior ranger on his cellphone. He spoke rapidly to the ranger in Shangaan. I only a know a few words but I picked up "nyoka", which means snake in various African dialects and, to my great concern, the word "cobra" in English.

Gulp. "Cobra?" I said to Mrs B.

Philip passed the phone to me. It sounded like the Ranger and his family were watching TV. He advised me to sit still and wait and see what happened. He would also get Philip to call the doctor. "Um, OK," I said.

Philip called the doctor and from the background noise on the end of the line it sounded like we had interrupted a dinner party.

"It's highly unlikely you've been invenomated or that it was a deadly snake," the Doctor said. I wondered how he could tell all this over the phone, but it was nice to hear someone say all that anyway. I also recalled from my military training that you should always reassure the patient they are going to be OK, even if they have been bitten by a Taipan (certain death sentence) or had their stomach blown out by a mortar shell.

"Just sit still for an hour and call me back if you develop any neurological signs."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Tingling around the lips, numbess, spasms... that sort thing..."

That sort of thing? What about, like, paralysis, necrosis, organ shut down, that sort of thing? I felt the doctor needed a little more info, so I repeated the bit about the numbess in my fingers, the shooting, throbbing sensation up my arm, the swelling in my glands...

"Hmmm, he said, that could just be..." He seemed reluctant to finish the sentence.

"Psychosematic?" I ventured.

"Ja," he replied, with a you-said-it-not-me tone, "psychosematic."

I thanked him and relayed his Rx to Mrs Blog. 'Lie down for an hour and see if you die.'

Mrs Blog laid me to rest on our foam camping mattress, propping my banaged arm up with one arm. She relented and acceeded to my last wish, to have a beer, and I propped myself up in bed, with a beer in one hand and an excellent Deon Meyer book in the other.

When the lip tingling, necrosis and organ shut-down began I would know that I had died happy, in a beautiful place, with the woman I love, a beer in one hand and a good book in the other.

I would go out knowing that when it came to the crunch I had looked the snake in its tiny beady eyes; I had been environmentally PC and not killed it; I had confronted my worst fear in life; and I had not peed my pants.

After an hour, with no change and me feeling absolutley fine and (once more) pleasantly inebriated, Mrs Blog (who was also quite drunk by now) and I made a joint decision to remove the bandage, just to see what happened (you can see how pissed we both were). I braced myself for the rush of poison into my system, but nothing happened.

Philip stopped by the next morning, and the next evening, and the following morning to make sure I was still alive, which was very nice of him and I assured him, as I will do again this evening when he drops by, that I am 100 per cent alive and well.

And still terrified of snakes (when sober).

What about you, LOF? What are you scared of, you bunch of nancy boys and girls?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eye raising experiences with the pirates

Remember this cute-as-abutton little criminal, Legion of Fans (LOF)? He is, or was, the Pirate Broken Hand, a member of a particularly scuzzy band of piratical primates that inhabit Pretoriuskop Camp in the Kruger National Park.

In all my travels on the Dark Continent I have yet to come across a band of scavengers as mean, as cunning, as low down and as dirty as the Pirates of Pretoriuskop. Vervet monkies tend to be a problem wherever you travel over here, but the Pirates sailed through the trees in a league of their own.

We had a love-hate relationship, me and the pirates. I loved to hate them and would spend many hours, while washing monkey pooh off my tent or assisting Mrs Blog in stitching rents in the fly where someone's foot had trampolined through, coming up with novel ways of making the pirates walk the plank - for good.

But I am sad (just a teeny bit) to report that this year there is no sign of the leaders of this beastly band. As far as I could tell the pirate crown was jointly held by Broken Hand (above) and his brother, One-arm-one-leg (OAOL). OAOL was so fast that I was never able to get a picture of him. He was a will'o'the wisp who had lost his left leg and left forearm in some kind of accident.

He was the brains of the outfit - the first one to learn how to open monkey-proof bins (and him, a mobility-challenged monkey - quite amazing). He had also perfected the skill of decoy-and-ambush. Many a time I watched him hamming it up for a bunch of tour group tourists, sitting there all cute and helpless, the little armless and legless beggar, waiting for scraps of food and posing for photographs. All this time the heavy mob - Broken Hand, Blue Balls and the rest of the scoundrels, would be raiding the tourists' open-top safari vehicle, stealing their lunch boxes and crapping on their seats.

But they are gone. Broken Hand and OAOL are no more.

I doubt there has ever been a pirate who died of old age and although I haven't been game to ask the camp staff I fear that Broken Hand and OAOL may have been tried and executed under Rule .22.

I've never killed an animal in my life (well, there was that mouse in the back of the land rover) but there has been many a time I wished I had a .22, during a monkey raid. But my sights, LOF, would have been firmly fixed on that fellow camper or tour group attendant who was feeding the monkeys. They are the real criminals in this piece. When people feed monkeys, monkeys go bad. When monkeys go bad, national parks people have to shoot monkeys.

On a brighter note, the Pretoriuskop troop of monkeys is alive and well and flourishing. I've noticed lots of evil-eyed little babies clinging to their mummies' bellies, paying particular attention to lessons about how to open rubbish bins and how to select branches overhanging the very tops of tall dome tents so that when you pooh it is virtually impossible for the owner of the tent to clean it off without removing the entire fly sheet.

A safari guide told me that if you raise your eyebrows - theatrically - at a vervet monkey it will take it as a sign of aggression, and back off. I'm not totally convinced by this (and suspect the guide may have been having a lend of me) as I have tried this tactic a few times and had very mixed results.

The other day I did my best Groucho Marx at a young apprentice Pirate and he scampered off, tail between his legs. When I tried it on a grown male (son of Blue Balls by the size of his gonads), he climbed one branch higher up the tree, fixed me with a killer stare, raised his own eyebrows at me and started coming down towards me. I backed off. Vervets are tiny - a fully grown one is less than half my height if it stood erect - but they have sharp teeth and a pugnacious attitude that would do any little human man proud.

My most vexing encounter using the eyebrow method, and one I still haven't fully recovered from, occurred last year when a large party of Australians gathered at Pretoriuskop to celebrate one of Mrs B's significant birthdays.

Responding to shrieks of panic I found four of our lady guests bailed up inside their bungalow with a large blue-balled male vervet (the original Blue Balls, I believe) staring at them through their window.

Cautiously I approached and arched my eyebrows, as high and as confrontationally as I could.

The monkey stared back at me, lay back on one elbow, crossed his legs and proceeded to develop the largest, pinkest erection I have ever seen on a monkey.

I'm careful, these days, about how and where I raise my eyebrows.

As to the pirates, I don't know whether Broken Hand's hand was actually broken or if it was a genetic deformity due to inbreeding - these pirates don't get out of the camp much and they've always had a bit of a thing for their sisters in the troop.

The other day I saw a young male monkey limping as he scampered away from the rock I had pitched in his general direction. He paused atop a garbage bin and began working at the lid, using his supposedly injured appendage.

Dead pirates tell no tales, but I'm sure the legend lives on...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Scroll down for some new pics

Confusing, this blogging caper, Legion of Fans (LOF). I've just posted some new leopard pictures but because I started work on this post on Sunday, October 19, and archived it as a draft it has slotted itself into that date. If you wish to view, then please scroll down to "Goose, you big stud" for some pictures of spotty cats.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Achtung, Namibian branch!

Attention, Namibian branch of the Legion of Fans (LOF)... you know who you are, all one of you.

DH, can you please email me at mail at tonypark.net

I tried sending you a message by my email bounced back, so I must have the wrong address. I want to set part of my next book in Namibia and have a couple of research questions that I hoped you might be able to help with.

I thank you.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

See me! Hear me!

OMG, I am such a big head. Not only was I just doing a bit of shameless self googling (now that I am back in reasonable internet contact in South Africa), I've just been watching myself on an internet video!

No, it's not me with Pamela Anderson, it's me speaking at Sutherland Shire Libarary in Sydney's southern suburbs.

So, if you missed my recent tour of library visits or if, as in the case of the entire state of South Australia, I missed you, and you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time, then click HERE and see me giving my talk.

(If you did see me, then don't bother, as I gave the same talk at every venue. Also, Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram, if you've found your way here via a bit of self googling then... sorry).

Goose, you big stud...

Been catching up on things these past few days, Legion of Fans (LOF) after our near-incarceration experience at the border, and three days of gluttonous luxury at TINGA PRIVATE GAME LODGE , but more about that in a future post.

For now, I just wanted to bring you up to date with the latest piccies from the trip. Mrs B and I have been doing some downloading and came across a few leopard pictures from our time in the Okavango Delta that I don't think I've shared with you.



This handsome chap (above) is called Goose (for reasons unknown) and he is one of a couple of leopards Mrs Blog and I encountered during our stay at a luxurious (I mean, hard-working, spartan) research camp in the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately, Goose sports a GPS tracking collar (which is how us researchers find our animals), so I have had to crop him rather dramatically to keep the collar out of the pic.
Goose had been feeding on the rather smelly carcass of a giraffe that had died of natural causes when we found him, and then proceeded to climb a tree, which is where I took this pic. He spied some impala nearby from his branch and slunked (slank, slunk?) down the tree and stalked them for about four metres before rolling over on his side and falling asleep. "Goose!" I wanted to rail at him, "you big pussy!" (a prize, LOF to anyone other than Jimbob who can pic the fill-um from which these Goose references come).

Moving right along, here is the cute-as-a-little-killing-machine baby leopard ner Xakanaxa that I mentioned in an earlier post. This pic has not been doctored... he his running vertically.





And here he is with his Mummy. Awwwwwwwwww.




And here, finally, is Clarence the Cross-eyed Leopard. He's actually the same one that featured earlier being hassled by a pair of diminutive jackals. Pussy.

We are 10,000, Legion of Fans!

In fact, we are 10,018 according to an email I received from sitemeter.com the other day, Legion of Fans (LOF). That is, there have been 10,018 visits to this blog since I started it in... well, whenever I started it.

How about that?

OK, it may be that the split is me: 5,000 visits; Ali G 5,000 visits; and the rest of you: 18, but, what the hey... it's a milestone.

So, from me to you, a big Tatenda, Dankie, Grazie, and thank you, whether you're a regular or you've just dropped in looking for those naked ladies in Gorilla masks. I love you all, LOF and without you, well, I wouldn't be here doing this instead of working now, would I?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Alive and well and grateful to be in the R of SA

Greetings, Legion of Fans (LOF) from Letaba Camp in the Kruger National Park, where I am exceptionally pleased to say (big head that I am) that the camp shop is (finally) stocking my books! Well, they're stocking SILENT PREDATOR at least, which makes sense because as you should very well know much of the action is set in Kruger.

Not much to report, I'm afraid, since I left you in the midst of some important research and beer drinking in the Okavango Delta. That's because there is not much to see beween Moremi and Kruger - just MMBA - miles and miles of bloody Africa. Botswana, with its stable government, urbane and progressive president, strong currency, and enviable health system, also boasts the longest and most boring drives in Africa.

The verdict is in on the Okavango, by the way. It definitely is worth a visit. On our last night living the life of spartan baked-bean-eating researchers we went for a drive along the Gomoti River floodplain and I don't think I've ever seen so many animals of so many dfferent types in the same place at the same time. Hard to find the words for just how beautiful it was, so you'll just have to go there and have a look. If you're not a qualified wildlife researcher groupie like myself, then check out Moremi Tented Camp which has a safari operation in the same concession, on the edge of the actual Moremi Game Reserve.

It was with a heavy heart that we returned to Maun, Donkey and Goat Pooh capital of the world, but we beat it out of there pretty fast, staying at the divinely clean and funky Planet Baobab at Gweta, en route to Francistown and the Republic of South Africa.

Planet Baobab, with its immaculate campsites and bar chandeliers made of empty beer bottles, is owned by a Mr Ralph Boussfeld, scion of one of the great safari families of Botswana. He had his own wildlife show on cable for a while called 'Uncharted Africa'. Ralph is a good looking devil (if you're into blokes) and each of the episodes of Uncharted Africa somehow managed to feature a shot of him nude (from behind), usually diving into some crocodile and hippo infested river or waterhole.

Mrs Blog was a big fan of Ralph Boussfeld, for reasons that escape me. (However, on thinking about this I remembered a scene from "The Saint" starring Mr Val Kilmer. Long term readers may recall that I suspect Mrs B has a bit of a thing for Val and there is a scene in the Saint where he is impersonating a world-weary long-haired South African traveller who owns a game farm in Africa. I remember thinking at the time that Val looked like he was doing - or attempting - a Ralph Boussfeld impersonation. Soon after that scene, where he meets the delectable Elizabeth Shue - hubba hubba - I believe he also bares his buttocks).

So, imagine if you will, Mrs B's excitement when she rushed back to the campsite saying: "I've just seen Ralph Boussfeld, I've just seen Ralph Boussfeld, I've just scene Ralph Boussfeld."

"Are you sure?"

"Well he had the phone in his hand and he was saying, 'hello, it's Ralph Boussfeld here'."

"Was he nude?" I asked.

"No, but I hung around for a while in case he decided to strip off and dive in the swimming pool."

Sadly, Ralph remained clad I didn't get to see him or (even more sadder) his wife, who is reportedly an ex super model.

From Planet Baobad, at Gweta, to the brder of Botswana and South Africa in the Mashatu Game Reserve there were no more naked men or supermodels, though still plenty more donkeys and goats.

Stayed in a beautiful campside called Molema, on the edge of the Mashatu Reserve, on the banks of the Limpopo River. It was well kept and on the drive out to the border we saw Eland (something you don't see everyday) and two porcupines - something we've only seen three times in 13 years.

The next morning we reported at the tiny border crossing of Pont Drift, where one crosses the international boundary by driving through the dry sandy bed of the Limpopo.

Hmmm how to put this next instalment... if at all.

The South African Department of Home Affairs now has files opened on Mrs B and me, so I have to be very careful in how I put this (lest their crack unit of internet surfers is monitoring me).

The lady from home affairs at Pont Drift was very....... efficient. So efficient was she that she decided to give me a seven-day visa in my passport because I had been so very polite and acquiescent when she informed me that under no circumstances was she going to grant my wish for a 30-day visa.

Mrs Blog was also very... understanding... but fortunately the large crowd of police who had gathered outside the immigration office to witness our... polite... discourses with said official, eventually decided not to arrest us and lay charges.

Dr Tammie Mastson, who I will mention again in future posts as she is an all round good chick, is an Australian who worked as a wildlife researcher for a number of years in Zimbabwe and Namibia. She wrote an excellent book called 'Dry Water, Diving Headfirst into Africa' which I commend to you all, even though it is not published by my very good friends at Macmillan (though she is writing another book, this time for Macmillan). In Dry Water Tammie says you know you are having an 'adventure' when you have stopped having fun.

Pont Drift was an adventure. My own definition of an adventure is 'last year's nightmare'. Roll on next year, I say.

To cut a long story short (and maintain my tenusous hold on my South African visa) I can report, hand on heart, that the Department of Home Affairs staff at the regional office at Musina, 100km from Pont Drift, where we had to go to apply for visa extensions, could not have been more helpful, friendly, compassionate, honest and obliging if they tried.

So here we are. Street legal in the Kruger Park, Tonka chugging along in fine (if somewhat smokey) mettle, and swimming pool and an esky full of cold beers waiting.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Done like a wild dog's dinner

(WARNING: AN ANIMAL WAS HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS POST. NASTY PICTURES BELOW)

You know that scene, Legion of Fans (LOF) in my fourth book, SAFARI, with Michelle Parker and Fletcher Reynolds? No, you filthy minded lot, not the open air bath tub scene, the one where they follow a pack of wild dog (painted hunting dog to my conservation-minded friends) when they're chasing an impala.

If you don't know what I'm talking about then you clearly haven't read SAFARI and have no business being here as there are no pictures of naked ladies wearing gorilla masks on this blog (not yet, at least).

Anyway, in the said scene Michelle takes Fletch in hot pursuit of a pack of doggies as they expertly chase, coral and bring down an impala.

Well, bugger me if that didn't happen to Mrs B and me last night!

We are currently staying at a predator research camp on the boundary of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Getting an invite to a research camp conjured up scary thoughts of ragged canvas bell tents and intense young things with too many copper and elephant hair bangles living on sadza, two minute noodles and baked beans.

Imagine our surprise, then, LOF, when we emerged from two hours' bush driving to find a neat row of permanent safari tents with en suite bathrooms, well appointed kitchen (loaded with food and grog, AND a swimming pool! To top it off, as this is an official research establishment we have to go game viewing (with our own private tracker) in the mother of all research vehicles, a lavishly appointed Land Cruiser fitted with every gadget known to man. Best of all, we have to ride around on the (padded) roof.

So there we were, 'researching' this pack of Wild/painted dogs, with Windhoek Lagers in hand (us not the dogs). Two game viewing vehicles full of American tourists were nearby and they were also intently studying the dogs, in between telling each other about the snow in Wisconsin and how one of their sons was studying radiography and had met a nice girl. Another was asking their guide if a rhino was the same thing as a hippo.

But after they could take no more of Africa's second most endangered predator (some wolf thing in ethiopia is the most hounded hound on the continent) they cleared off, leaving us to our beers, peanuts, and important research work.

Being a research 'team', we were allowed to stay out after dark, so we hung around until just on dusk the seven puppies and 12 adults got up and at em. We followed them at a respectful distance as they trotted down the sandy road to the airstrip that services the resarch base and Santawani camp.

Once on the airstrip they assumed attack formation (just like they did in my book, I noted with some relief, as I have never actually seen this happen in real life). The alpha female picked up the scent of an impala and led the way. A couple of other adults branched off as flankers and the chase was on.

Our guide had to put foot (as we say in southern Africa) just to try and keep up with the pack now. Just as we caught up with them Mrs B screamed "on the left" and we say the last death throes of the hapless grass eater.

It was over, literally, in seconds - the killing bit, that was. The pups, interestingly enough, were given first crack at the carcass, and they got stuck in - literally - climbing their way inside the body of what was left of Bambi. Not nice, LOF, but real life ain't.

We watched the whole thing, from start to finish, when the adults came in to clean up all the crunchy bits. A sneaky little jackal came sauntering through the bush and loitered around the site of the kill with intent to steal a morsel for himself, which he did.

Amazing stuff. The skill, co-ordination and effortless teamwork of the dogs; the mercifully quick death (unlike a buffalo we saw killed by lions, which took two hours), and the interesting way in which the hounds divvied up the spoils.

Mrs B and I will not be returning to Australia. We have decided to become researchers and live at our rugged, spartan base in the bush.






Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Slide night II, Botswana

And so we travel, via computer and armchair in your case, to Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana, courtesy of my very good friends at the Africa Safari Co. and my other new very good friends at Xakanaxa Camp.



This leopard wandered in the territory of a couple of very cranky black backed jackals and they harrassed him for about half and hour. I don't know why he didn't just eat them.

That's my boy... near Xakanxa



Being poled through the delta. Who is that mysterious woman in the dark glasses behind me?



Yes, the Okavango Delta is a very pretty place.

Slide night

OK, by popular demand (that's you, Redcap), here are a few piccies from the current safari...

Starting in Kruger, early on, we have...


Cheetah, near Pretoriuskop in the south of the park... and people say there are no animals around Pretoriuskop...


Croc and Birdie at the Sweni Hide, near Satara



The Lilac Breasted Roller which is, in case you didn't know, the national bird of Botswana. A nice segue into the next post, I think...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Safari tip number 34. Don't swim in the Okavango in the morning

Greetings all, again, from the goat's bum of Africa, Maun.... Wrote this garbled post a few days ago.

Heading up-country back into the Delta again tomorrow for four days at a predator research camp. Yes, I do lead an interesting life. The things I do for you LOF. Anyway, thanks very much to all of you who commented on the recent posts, and all you lurkers as well. (pics to come, redcap, as we say in the trade). Read on:


Woke up feeling a little fuzzy this morning, Legion of Fans (LOF) after a few too many Windhoek Lagers last night, so I thought a refreshing dip in the mighty Okavango River might be in order.

Fear not, chickens, I planned to take the waters within the safety of a river cage swimming pool to protect me from the many crocodiles and hippos that infest the river.

I’m writing this from the banks of said river at the perfectly charming Ngepi Camp Ground near Divundu (another goat’s bum of a town) in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. It’s not all drinking and swimming in crocodile infested rivers, LOF… I am in the process of researching book seven.

Anyway, I went for a dip in the cage yesterday afternoon and found it most agreeable, particularly with an ice-cold Tafel Lager in hand. Windhoek Lager is the Foster’s of Namibia – ie only the tourists drink it – and to mark yourself as a true Namibian you are supposed to drink Tafel. Actually it’s not s nice as Windhoek, but when in Namibia…

The waters of the Okavango, or Kavango as it’s known hereabouts, were mighty fine and cool, clean and refreshing. Apparently we are drinking water straight out of the river here in the camp ground, hardy folk that Mrs Blog and I are.

Stretching and yawning I wandered to the edge of our campsite to take a look at the briskly flowing river. Unfortunately, rather than water fowl and crocodile snouts what greeted me was a raft of soap suds and, if I’m not mistaken, a couple of floating man-made objects, if you get my drift.

I realised that morning time must be when the good folk of Bagani village, a couple of kilometres upstream, perform their ablutions. Perhaps not the best time, then, to dive into the cage, lest the bars act as a solid pollutant trap.

This is a working river, LOF. A living, breathing (at times heaving) thing that provides life to man and animal alike, as well as a fast flowing sewage system.

Don’t get me wrong. Once the burgers of Bagani have finished their morning reading of The Namibian and completed their business the Kavango will be cool, clear and pristine once more, and it will be my pleasure, somewhat later in the day, to immerse myself in it.

There is more about our travels at www.getaway.co.za so I urge you to go there now and beef up the numbers on their site meter, and perhaps post a comment or two on my posts to remind my good friends at Getaway how popular I am.

To summarise the last week or two of travelling:

Zimbabwe – no fuel or food and a shortage of paper and ink to print money, but plenty of animals to be seen in Hwange National Park, where Mrs B and I did our annual game census.

Kasane, Botswana – a charming little ville, as always. Newsflash, African adventurers – the camp sites at the Safari Lodge now have electricity and sites have been demarcated so there is no risk of some German pitching his tent on your doorstep (tent-flap-step?).

Namwi Island Camp Site, Katima Mulilo, Namibia. Katima would qualify for goat’s bum status were it not for the sparkling new Zambezi Shopping Centre, featuring that cool, inviting African oasis that is the Pick ‘n’ Pay supermarket. Forget Christianity, Pick ‘n’ Pay should colonise Africa, bringing light, ducted air con, pepper steak pies and fresh fruit and veg to the darkest reaches of the dark continent. Namwi Island camp site was a beautiful little piece of Afrikaner/Teutonic orderliness in a province of dust, goats, bums and plastic bags.

Nambwa Campsite, Kongola, Caprivi Strip. Wisely, the proprietors of this picture postcard perfect campsite scratched out the number of kilometres on the sign pointing to their little slice of African paradise from the main road. Had we read that it was 15 kilometres from the tar road we may very well have turned back after the first kilometre. I tell you folks, it’s harder than it looks to drive 15 km through deep sand, much of it in low range, first gear, for the four-by-four fundis among you. Mrs B was just about making small potty in her safari pants at some points, but Tonka the Land Rover and I got into it and though the road seemed as if it would never end, it finally did, on a sand island in the middle of the Kwando River. Elephants, hippo and other grass eaters abounded and I do believe I heard a leopard in the evening. Bliss.

Greetings, too, to the extended Martin family of regional Victoria, who met up with us for the Hwange Game Count this year, and a guided tour of places in and around Hwange National Park where the fictitious Michelle Parker (as opposed to the real one) and the equally make-believe Shane Castle and Fletcher Reynolds all had sex with one another in my book, SAFARI. A fun time was had by all – us, the martins, Shane, Fletch and Michelle. We all stayed at the Sprayview Hotel at Victoria Falls after the count and while the bar was open, sadly (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there were no trashy Aussie backpackers present.

The adventure continues…

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bush Tip Number Two – how to survive a python attack

More useful tips from the bushveld... There will be pictures in due course. Signing off now for a while as Mrs B and I cross into the badlands of Zimbabwe... for now, read on...


“When the python bites you on the leg, stay very still. Maybe for up to one, one-and-a-half hours,” said Metsi, our safari guide at Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve, deep in the Okavango Delta.

“I see,” I said, as we watched the 3.5 metre African Rock Python inch its way into a hollowed out log.

Metsi cackled, digressing: “We sometimes stop at this spot for sundowners and people they want to sit on this dead tree. Hahahahahahahaha.”

“So,” I said, bringing him back to the subject at hand, survival in the wild, “when the python grabs you, you stand still?”

“Yes, very still,” he said to me, like I was the dumb kid in the back of the class. “The python, you see, is not poisonous. His bite is like the dog, so it will not kill you.”

All very well, but I don’t know if I’d be standing still for an hour and a half if a Doberman’s jaws were locked on my thigh.

“The python he wants you to move, and when you move he will wrap himself around you, squeeze you, break all your bones and eat you,” Metsi explained matter-of-factly.

“Gotcha.” Good incentive to stand still. I asked Metsi if he knew of any humans who had met their end by flinching under the bite of a python, as I checked the snake’s very large head and very large teeth through Mrs Blog’s binoculars.

“My uncle….” Most of Metsi’s interesting wildlife stories seemed to relate to his uncle, who led a dangerous and varied life, scaring lions off kills to steal their food and generally doing his best to get himself killed as he poled himself around the delta on his mokoro canoe in “the olden times”.

“My uncle,” he continued, “was walking from island in the river to another in the olden times when the python grabbed him on the leg. He stood in the water for one and a half hours with the snake holding on to him. Eventually the snake got bored and let him go.”

I wondered, given Bob’s advice about crocodiles (see my earlier post if you have just joined us) what would have happened if Metsi’s uncle had encountered a curious croc midstream at the same time as the snake attack. How easy would it have been to stroke the belly of the crocodile or tear out its nostril valves with a python chomping down on his calf?

After our encounter with the snake Metsi led us to an excellent leopard sighting. A female had killed an impala and dragged it under a maggigwari bush to devour it. Nearby, in a tree, was her small but perfectly formed eight-month-old cub, who occasionally squeaked to its mother.

So cute was this miniature killer, that Mrs Blog and I were tempted to snatch it up and whisk it away. It bounded out of its tree, ran across to its mother and posed beside her (pictures to come), then hopped back up in a nearby tree, to the accompaniment of a chorus of clicking and whirring cameras.

Metsi informed us that this particular leopardess’ method of hunting was to wait silently in the branches of a Jackalberry tree. Impalas, inevitably, would be drawn to the foot of the tree to nibble on fallen berries. At the right moment this cunning cat would simply drop out of her tree on to the back of her unsuspecting prey.

What, I wondered, would Metsi’s uncle do if a leopard descended on him from out of the blue? I doubt that the time honoured “whatever you do, don’t run” would work in this case.

How to hypnotise and/or kill a crocodile

From Maun, Goat's Bum of Africa, we travelled to the sublime luxury of Xakanaxa Camp in the Okavango Delta. REad on...........

Did you know, Legion of Fans (LOF) that if you roll a crocodile over on his back and rub his belly he’ll fall asleep in your arms?

Quite how you get the croc to roll over so you can begin hypnotising him is another matter, of course, but I’ve learned a lot about these cunning reptiles thanks to Popcorn.

Popcorn is an eight-year-old budding handbag who lives just below the “Beware of Crocodiles” sign by the dining deck at Xakanaxa Camp in the Moremi Game Reserve within the Okavango Delta.

Xakanaxa (pronounced ka-karnaka) is a little slice of paradise inside a big chunk of heaven. It’s amazing that the country that brought you Maun (see my last post, re ‘goat’s bum of the world’) can be host to the Moremi and the delta (or, as we say in Botswana, ‘the swamps’).

While watching Popcorn attempt to catch fish after breakfast this morning, the camp manager, Bob, explained other ways of dealing with troublesome crocodiles. If you can’t get them to roll over, and thus begin the process of hypnotisation (what a great word), simply reach a finger inside one of the nostrils at the tip of the snout and rip off the flap of skin that you’ll find within.
Blog post wolhuter as well.


The flaps act as valves which prevent water entering the reptile’s lungs (do they have lungs?) when they submerge themselves. According to Bob, if you rip out the valve the croc will fill with water and drown.

Of course, there is the other tried and true method of drowning a crocodile, by ramming your fist down his throat, but every young soldier in the Australian Army knows that one, as well as the importance of zig-zagging (a crocodile, a crusty old warrant officer once told me while I was on exercise in the Northern Territory, will easily outrun a man in a straight line, but zig-zagging confuses them. Just how far one is supposed to zig, before zagging, the warrant officer was unsure of).

Having the presence of mind to rip open a nose valve, zig-zag, or grab a crocodile’s epiglottis during an attack is, I suppose, akin to remembering to bite the shark on the nose when it takes hold of your leg.

Anyway, back to the Okavango Delta… errr, I mean swamps. Mrs Blog and I have been to other parts of Africa where the hype sometimes fails to live up to reality. There are so many “wildlife paradises”, and bits of “real Africa” (ie: bad roads, inflated prices and appalling toilets) that it’s hard to separate the pooh from the clay, if you know what I mean.

If two days of game driving and boating are anything to go by (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t) then Moremi is, indeed, a very good place to see animals. On our first drive we spent about an hour with a leopard as he began his evening patrol and was harassed by two yappy little side-striped jackals. Next day we had two excellent sightings of a nice big pride of lions complete with several cubs of varying ages.

The landscape here is very agreeable. As well as the waterways and reedy islands there are open floodplains (good for spying animals at a distance) and impressively huge trees. You know you have been in Africa a long time (perhaps too long) when you get excited about trees, LOF, but I have seen Mopanes the size of oak trees! (Are you excited as I am? I doubt it).

What I like about Moremi is that the environment here is so different to other parts of Africa I’ve visited. It’s a bit of a cross between the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa, with patches of Hwange and Kruger thrown in. All that probably means nothing to most of you, but trust me – it’s different enough to warrant a look.

Xakanaxa Camp, itself, is lovely. It has big walk-in safari tents with an open air bathroom out back (I do love me a shower under the stars, with cool beer in hand). The accommodation and communal areas are rustic enough to please the European visitors (in search of zee elusive ‘real Africa’) and luxurious enough to melt the hearts of shallow Aussies (like Mrs Blog and me) who crave a bit of creature comfort after months living in a tent or on the roof of our Land Rover.

I would have liked to have tried out one of the self-drive camp sites in Moremi – there is one just down the road, also called Xakanaxa - but I have yet to meet anyone in Botswana who has been able to get a booking in a Moremi camp site. According to the locals Botswana Wildlife (the local national parks authority) continually maintains all the camp sites are full, yet people in the know attest to the fact that the stands usually stand empty.

To be honest, from what I know of Botswana game reserve and national park camp sites they tend to be overpriced and poorly equipped. Which means, if you want to experience Moremi, it may well be worthwhile saving the pennies to go stay at an up market lodge. Your call, LOF, but as I always say to people who ask me about travelling in Africa, don’t take my word, go and see for yourself.

So, next time I get attacked by a crocodile I’ll remember Bob’s advice abut stroking its belly or tearing out its nostrils, but I won’t know for sure if either remedy works until I try it for myself. I’ll let you know.

Wildest Kruger

Thank you, members of the Legion, for forgiving me. Here, if you have nothing better to do at work, are some more musings from the road. First we go back in time a couple of weeks to when we were in the Kruger National Park. Read on..........

Too chicken to do a self-drive safari in Africa like Mr and Mrs Blog do?

Too fraidy-cat to camp in the wilds of the Zambezi valley, with lions and hyenas sniffing around your tent at night?

Too sensible?

Well, have I got the safari option for you. If you like the idea of camping out in the wilds of Africa – in the bush as opposed to a national parks rest camp – but don’t have the gear, the guts or the gumption to do it yourself, then try a camping safari.

Done me some camping in the last 13 years of travelling through Africa, Legion of Fans (LOF), and it’s fair to say that Mrs Blog and I think we have it pretty well sussed when it comes to living under canvas. (Actually, we live under polypropylene, which is cheaper, lighter and more water resistant than canvas, but I digress).

It was with great interest, then, that Mrs B and I signed up for an organised camping safari in the Kruger National Park in order to see how a professional outfit does life in the weeds.

The Wolhuter Tented Safari, run by my very good friends Thompson’s Safaris of South Africa, is named after pioneer Kruger ranger Harry Wolhuter who famously used his pocket knife to kill a lion that had dragged him (and his horse) to the ground.

The Wolhuter temporary tented camp is off the Sweni Road, near Satara, if that means anything to you. If it doesn’t then be advised that this is Animal Country with a capital ‘A’ and a capital ‘C’.

Our accommodation was in canvas bell tents (perfect for the dry season, though I stand by my earlier assertions re man-made fibres and water resistance), nicely kitted out with a bit of carpet and stretchers padded with not one, but two mattresses.

Mr Blog is padded in all the wrong places, and my hips ain’t one of them, so I do like a bit of blubber between me and my sleeping surface.

The only thing between us and the big, bad, carnivorous creatures of the Kruger Park, however, aside from a few microns of canvas, was a three-strand portable electric cattle fence, wired up to a car battery.

In the Army, many years ago when Mr Blog was a young soldier, we were issued with a piece of equipment called a “Smock, Psychological”. It’s proper name was “Smock, Tropical” (the Army writes everything ass-backwards), but people in the real world would have called it a camouflage raincoat. It was dubbed ‘psychological’ because it didn’t do a very good job of 1. keeping the rain out – it leaked like a sieve; and 2. concealing the wearer – it’s camouflage pattern of black and vivid green made one stand out in the Australian bush like a Dingo’s donga. (Also, for some reason none of us could ever fathom these coats always smelled of vomit, no matter how often they were washed. But I digress, again…)

Anyway, Mrs Blog and I went to sleep on our first night, safe and sound behind our “fence, psychological”.

As I’ve reported in my other blog, at www.getaway.co.za we had quite an eventful second night, watching a clan of hyenas dispatch two impalas in quick time.

Meals, as I’ve also chronicled elsewhere, were top class thanks to the impossibly young and very talented Tish and Scott who managed to conjure up some culinary wonders in a kitchen that also looked like it dated from Australian Army surplus stocks (like my spew-scented raincoat, but with much nice odours emanating).

Around dinner time we had hyenas and a civet (look it up) patrolling our small but perfectly formed electric fence, and during the day a curious giraffe peeked into the camp over a tree and two elephants had a bit of sword fight with their tusks while we watched on from the safety of our wired enclave.

I don’t know if it was the three-strand fence or the stout green canvas, but I felt particularly safe and secure in this little encampment. The sound of lions calling nearby in the pre-dawn darkness woke me, then slowly began lulling me back to sleep as I snuggled under the doona.

If you ever visit Africa, or consider it, some silly people may try and tell you that the Kruger National Park is not “wild”, simply because lots of people visit it, it’s affordable and it has tarred roads and particularly clean toilets.

People who pooh-pooh Kruger usually haven’t been there, or feel compelled to bag it after having spent inordinate amounts of money visiting this place called the “real Africa”. I’ve also been to the “real Africa” and can attest that it has fewer visitors (because it’s so expensive), appalling roads, and very dirty (or non existent) toilets.

As I drifted off the hyenas whooped it up in answer to the lion’s call and somewhere in the distance an elephant trumpeted his own chorus. Not wild in the Kruger Park? Wild enough for me.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody (still) out there?

Are you still there, Legion of Fans?

Have you disowned me because of the shabby way in which I’ve neglected you? I wouldn’t blame any of the five of you if you have. If you’re reading this then you have my eternal gratitude and humble apologies.

I am coming to you live (possibly, if this manages to send, and if I haven’t been eaten by goats by the morning), from the goat’s bum of Africa… Maun, Botswana.

Can there be a more disheartening, disgusting, dry, dingy, dirty, dusty gateway to one of the world’s most famed wildlife paradises? I doubt it.

“Goat’s bum of the world” (armpit doesn’t do it justice, because it’s too dry and much smellier here) is a term I’ve just coined after looking at one. A goat’s bum, that is. There is a family (herd?) of goats in the campsite in which I am now sitting, ankle deep in grubby, smelly sand, leaves and goat droppings.

I’ve seen goats aplenty on the roads of Africa, LOF – even managed to hit one once in Tonka – but never in my campsite. This bleating beast just tried to eat the power cord of my laptop.

Despite my forceful ‘shoo, shoo’ noises this particular goat keeps munching away on garbage in front of me, presenting its shabby rear end. It’s not pretty, LOF, not pretty at all.

The reason I haven’t been blogging for you, LOF, is simple. Money, of course.

I’m being paid to help a very interesting South African chap write his life story. I shall reveal more in due course, but for now I am head down and (human) bum up, typing away furiously.

I have, however, been emailing the odd blog post to Getaway Magazine in South Africa and you can view my intermittent jottings there if you hop across to www.getaway.co.za

It’s not that I value Getaway more than y’all, Legion of Fans, it’s just that I live in hope that because of my dedicated journaling for them that one day the editor will call and say something like: “Mr Blog, you’ve done such a good job blogging for us that we think you should take our sample latest-model Land Rover Defender on a test spin up to the Masai Mara for a couple of months”. Hmmm.

Speaking of Goats’ bums, I recently spent time in Cde Robert Mugabe’s own little African utopia – the Republic of Zimbabwe. You can read about that on the Getaway site, as well. Suffice to say that when locals informed me there was no beer in the shops I beat it out of there across the border quite quickly. At least Maun has beer (there, I said something good about it).

What else to report… ummmm….

Mrs Blog and I had an interesting drunken interlude with a pack of hyenas in Kruger a couple of weeks ago… and you can read about that at www.getaway.co.za as well. Getting the message?

Well, the sun is setting blood red through the pall of garbage-fire smoke, diesel fumes and dried goat’s dung dust that is Maun, LOF… and Mrs Blog has just opened the esky/cold box/chilly bin (depending on where you hail from).

Wherever you are and whatever you call it, there is only one solution for bad towns and bad camp grounds. Strong drink.

Cheers.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION UPDATE: For all of you too lazy to actually read one of my books, good news is at hand. My very good friends at Macmillan have just emailed me to tell me that SILENT PREDATOR is going to be released as an audio book.

I wonder who will read it and, more importantly, will they manage to read the rude bits out loud without laughing? Interesting. Any listeners of audio books out there (Michelle, this is a test to see if you are reading the blog)? If so, I would like comments about how the naughty bits are dealt with. IE: Does the reader put on a “what are you wearing” voice especially for certain scenes, or is it done in a rigid monotone?