A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Day Four – Anticlimatic walks and as far south as we can get

sunny 24 °C

Went for a walk to see the great Storms River Mouth crash down dramatic waterfalls in a hellfire of fury into the ocean only to get there and find the bridge to the view point was closed. We got close and even though we didn’t see it, I could sense that it was amazing. Got back to camp and told some Dutchies that the walk was pointless, they schmiled as Dutchies do and carried on regardless.

Nipped into Plett for some beach fun and laughed at the beginner surfers missing every wave. I can’t surf either, but I was dry...

Went to Knysna and bought some world class Argentina flip flops for two quid, leftover from the world cup no doubt but a definite result.

Somers almost lived the dream with her 5.7km coast that broke all the rules I laughed as we then got pulled over again for Police Engagement #3 this time they were very polite, and although they had clipboards and there were lots of them I think they just wanted a chat.

Anyways, today was largely a day of driving, but we have internet access and are camping ten kms from the southernmost point in Africa, superlatives will abound tomorrow, for now its dark and we have beers that need drinking.

Posted by ibeamish 11:38 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Day Three - Addo Elephants and where on earth is East?

sunny 22 °C

The next morning we took a leisurely breakfast and drank the juice of some freshly pressed freshly picked, home grown navel oranges grown on and Alysons’ Farm. The supply chain from here ends in Waitrose in the UK, eat your hearts out! The foals, in the paddocks surrounding the house, were on their third or fourth breakfasts by this point. All around us the smell of jasmine fought a sweetened war against the citrus that had been so strong the night before. Our parting gift from the Price family was a crate of grapefruit fresh from this years’ harvest. If this is traveling in Africa; it’s going to be hard...

From here we went, literally, just round the corner to Addo. Elephants of all size in their hundreds, at the watering holes, youngsters tussling, babies splashing and bachelors swimming (One deffo had a go at backstroke.) Kudu grazed and we got some cool photos as well as a few big leopard tortoises doing their thing, which I think is just walking, slowly. Another days driving ended in Storms River Mouth Nature Reserve where we watched the sun set whilst our food cooked on the braai and we drank some bubbly to celebrate the (eventual) successful start to our journey.

At this point, bellies full and slightly drunk, we stared up and saw the Southern Cross (star formation) in the clear night sky. So as lovingly patronising as ever I asked Laura which way we were facing, and how could she prove it. She correctly said south and pointed to the cross, result! Some more star gazing led to the question of which way does the earth turn. An hour later we had one of the aforementioned grapefruit, now skewered, adorned with some expert ‘world map’ artwork to explain why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It took some convincing that ‘east’ isn’t a place and that even if you live in the most eastern part of the Far East you can still be west of the rest of the world.

As a footnote, I also broke the coasting record with a cheeky 4km stretch on entering the Garden Route. You can’t imagine the extreme excitement that ensued. Worth mentioning, and it’s happening as I write but is really in tomorrows’ blog, Somers has just managed a 5.7km run entirely in neutral, on the road from Plettenburg Bay to Knysna. Sadly however she dipped to an entirely unacceptable 48kmh so there’s no praise for her here. Rules are rules.

PS. Tomorrow we’ll be making time by heading west.

Posted by ibeamish 11:23 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day Two - In search of Rennie

sunny 25 °C

We found a new pet dog this morning who was very cute except for the mange. Obviously dogs need walking so we went for a walk in Coffee Bay. We did get bored of the dog a little bit and to be honest I’m not sure it was true love she gave us. Either way it had become mutual. We had to leave. With that we drove to ‘The Hole in the Wall’, but plans to swim through the ‘hole’ were shelved when we saw the four metre waves coming through it...

Spent the rest of the day driving down the N2 through the Eastern Cape and crossed the Great Kei and Great Fish rivers through some stunning Eastern Cape scenery with undulating hills and lush forest transacted by winding rivers in their cliff lined valleys.

Already our fuel economy is improving, mostly because we’ve invented the game, “Who can coast for the longest without dropping below 80.” Naturally I’m winning with a 3.1km dream ride down the Great Kei Pass. Its early doors so watch this space.

Police encounter #2: We got pulled over for what we thought was speeding (technically ‘super-coasting.’) One look at the English passport, two different facial expressions, (neither of which belonged to us and both meant confused) and we were back on the road.

As the sun dipped behind the rolling hills of Addo Elephant Park we arrived at the great Rennie Prices’ citrus farm. A raconteur and joke teller of note, Rennie welcomed us to the home he shares with his wife Alyson and their children. We sat on their veranda sipping pina coladas, the rich sweet smell of citrus blossom filling the air, as one half of his prized cows’ arse slowly roasted in the oven.

Posted by ibeamish 11:10 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Day One - And they’re off...

all seasons in one day 22 °C

We awoke in all too familiar surroundings. In our bed. In our bedroom at the McVeighs.

But today was the day. We had a date booked with Trevor and Norman at Allied Auto Electric at 660 something Old North Road but more about them shortly.

Firstly we had to depart. Now, with Amanda McVeigh involved, this was never going to be a ‘through the back door in the dead of night’ kind of an affair. If the car started it would be an improvement. And Redvers didn’t let us down, turn key/familiar chu-chu-clink-clink/jump start again (with new method involving bridging the terminals with a spanner)/ and back in the game. Unorthodox start aside, we were mobile again.

As we crept forward, up the tree lined driveway, the electric gate slid aside. Our South Africa flag billowed from the passenger door. Our British Union ‘Will and Kate’ commemorative Flag billowed proudly from the drivers’ window. As we breached the gate, the children McVeigh (James, Toosh and Ruari) emerged toting streamers which exploded from either side of us. As Titi (the eldest of the kids,) ever centre stage, proudly exclaimed “Goodbye!”

An hour later we were with Trevor. First of all let me tell you. If you ever have a problem with your cars’ electrics and you happen to be in Durban, go to this man. Over the next two hours about 16 years worth, and seventeen kilometres, of DIY Landrover electrics were stripped from old Redvers and his brain was rewired with a few gizmos to make him think straight when we wake him up on those cold dark mornings. He can now run the fridge, charge the laptop (I’m writing while we drive across the Transkei) and, most importantly, when we turn that key, he roars to life with a guttural verve that only a two and a half litre injected turbo diesel engine can. On starting he still manages to kick out his standard plume. (The kind of stuff you’d expect to appear from the fireplace as Dick Van Dyke falls out of the chimney and says ”’Ello Mary Poppins!” )

With the brain functioning, Redvers was a new man. We parted company with Trevor and Norman, armed with a few electrics related tips should we come unstuck over the coming months.

We were off! And what a start, we broke from the gates like a champion unleashed on his maiden run. So quickly, in fact, that Somers ignored the traffic officer marshalling his subjects at the Umgeni Road/N2 junction. At this point in time, somewhat fortunately I had jumped into the back to sort our stuff out and make sense of Redvers’ inner belly.

As Somers drove past the floundering officer she had to stop for the oncoming traffic. This pause was time enough for (Traffic) Officer Johnny ‘I love the black man’ Durban to catch up to us. His arrival began with him angrily announcing that he had been ignored and would be charging the small lady sat in the drivers’ seat of our not inconspicuous, jerry can and spare wheel crowned, behemoth that screamed ‘tourists in Africa.’ The lady protested, politely explaining that she hadn’t seen him. “I’M TOO BLACK FOR YOU AREN’T I! THAT’S WHAT IT IS, I’M TOO BLACK, I’M GOING TO CHARGE YOU. IT’S BEACUASE I’M TOO BLACK!” he screamed inches from Somers’ face whilst flapping his police book like a granny with a winning lotto ticket. A pause. “Don’t talk rubbish,” came Somers’ perfect retort. This was enough to confuse Officer Johnny and with close to perfect timing I entered the stage from the back. (The beauty of window tints is that no one can see you lurking.) I jumped into the passenger seat and joined the argument. “What’s going on?” He started on again about being black, which to be fair, he was, but up against two poms his will broke, “Oh, just go,” he announced waving vaguely in our intended direction of travel. We pulled off and left him playing with his fake aviators and whatever else he needed to scratch. And so Police Engagement #1 came to a satisfactory end. (I think we were too white for him...)

A good days' traveling through the Transkei with excitement added by a few near misses with the local wildlife as we arrived at Coffee Bay just after dark. Of these, the cow was not technically a miss. She trundled across the road on a blind corner and seeing our lights, carried on as normal. Thinking I’d stopped, (I hadn’t quite,) I may have gently tenderised the rump steak region on that one and she deffo went to ground. Redvers survived and so will the cow.

We stayed at the Coffee Shack had a few beers and world class pizza then hit the hay in a rain storm.

Posted by ibeamish 11:03 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

The False Start

sunny 19 °C

After a quiet 'leaving do number 6' on tuesday night we spent forever on getting Redvers ready. I didn't feel good.

The boys at Landy Centre serviced him and put in some brakes that slow the moving car down which will be a joy. The guys at 4x4 megaworld installed some pimped yellow shock absorbers and the springs kindly donated by Thys Le Roux, hero. A chap called Hugh put a Turboflo in our air pipe which makes a vortex. This use of the word vortex means that it can only be a very scientific explanation, the shortened version is that Redvers can now achieve warp speed with apparently reduced emissions. (Our emissions being roughly equivalent to that of a 1910 coal fueled power station.)

Anyway we made it to the hospital for a farewell fanfare and after much hugs and kisses we climbed aboard, strapped in and prepared for lift off. The key turned, chu- chu- clink clink clink. Bollocks.

Just as our crescendo peaked Redvers was dead. Laughter, photos, disappointment.

We are however brainiacs and using such genius skills, jump started him (just about) from the second battery. We spent all afternoon with an autoelctrican called Trevor and even went for a ride in his dads landy. He's connected a gas line into the fuel line so he burns butane and diesel which is proper boss because now his car does 15 to the litre and 0-100 in about 8 seconds. I also nearly wrote off an old dear in a corolla doing 80kmh round a badly judged corner... Redvers can do 0-100kmh in a leisurely downhill one and a half minutes.

We phoned John McVeigh and asked if we could have one more leaving party, and a bed.

If at first you don't succeed...

Posted by ibeamish 10:55 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

In the beginning and shortly after

all seasons in one day 9 °C

After a whole world of boerwors, biltong and braaing we've decided its time to start heading for home in a round about way.

Somers and I purchased Redvers (General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG, wikipedia him,) on Boxing Day 2010. He's a 1995 Land Rover Defender 110 300tdi two seater rest of world edition. He weighs two tonnes when loaded, does about 10k's to the litre and he's an absolute beast. He can cruise on the motorway at 100kmh (just) which is almost as fast as some of the slow cars round here and he can haul his ass over two foot boulders and up properly steep stuff, unless of course the steep stuff is just a normal hill in which case he just slows right down.

It took about 8 months to register him in our name. This involved a fair amount of graft including a two hour queue in Pinetown traffic registry before Somers had our application form rejected. Her inquisitive nature led her to ask the ignorant young lady, who at this point was filing her nails, what was incorrect on the form. The direct consequence of this line of questioning was Somers being forcibly ejected from the building by armed security. First world country they say...

Anyway things got better and the list of repairs to Redvers has increased no end:
- fixed air blower thingies inside
- fixed rear door lock
- built a super boss drawer for him
- batteries not charging properly so replaced alternator (myself, mechanical hero...)
- forgot to put radiator hose back on after replacing alternator which led to it sitting in a naughty place and getting a big hole in, all the radiator fluid on the floor instead of the radiator (less of a hero)
- fixed radiator pipe with gaffer tape (hero)
- replaced said radiator hose but mistakenly pulled off the steering fluid pipe in the process (less of a hero)
- bought new steering fluid and learned how to bleed the steering system
- serviced him myself (winner)
- forgot to check the brake pads during my service (see later blog for hero status)
- new batteries (he uses two)

Obviously we're aware that Redvers being a Landy means that he's quite like a pedigree dog. You look at him and know exactly what breed he is but he's almost always sick and requires constant treatment. In his case his brain (electrics) isn't what it used to be and he will occasionally be found to be flat for no reason, his heart (engine) seems reliable but has been known to stutter occasionally and often fibrillates in cold weather and his eyes (lights) only work if the connections happen to be functioning that day.

With this in mind it was imperative that we test him out properly. So we loaded him up and went to Lesotho. Famous for having the highest low point of any country in the world and I'm sure many other fascinating facts also.

On the way we stopped off at Winston Churchills capture site, he was in an armoured train when it was ambushed by the Boers.

A bit further on we hit the Drakensberg Mountains and climbed Cathedral Peak (3005m) before sleeping overnight in one of the caves. Someone had kindly but fresh straw down for us!

Next day we drove up Sani Pass, "[The pass] requires above average driving experience... has occasional remains of vehicles that did not succeed in navigating its steep gradients and poor traction surfaces, and has a catalogue of frightening stories of failed attempts at ascending the path over the Northern Lesotho mountains." There were a couple of heart quickening moments when Redvers popped out of Low Ratio and when we started slipping backwards on the ice but we made it up in time to see the Boks get bloody lucky against the Welsh. (Somers' parentage and the fact that I can almost see Wales from my house determining our support.)

We got to our village at Molumong and set about arranging a pony trek. Our host informed us that the guide was away om holiday. The next morning however he had found the guides' brother who thought he would be able to help. We felt uneasy as we pointed out that he had no horses. In return he explained that this wasn't a problem and if we gave him an hour he'd have some ready. A couple of hours later and we had a guides brother, some ponies and an adventure on our hands. My' four year old' pony was clearly Cushing-oid, about fifteen and a bit disappointed to have me on his back. Somers was in her element and had fared better with a horse that looked like it might survive the trip.

We trekked down to the Orange River through peach blossom lined villages, past ladies washing their clothes in the streams whilst youngsters played in the dirt before running to the white folk to utter the oft repeated words, "Give me something!" We replied "Hello!" everytime and it seemed to confuse them for long enough to make our horse-backed escape good. That evening we stayed overnight in a Rondavel in the hills before riding back the next day.

The return journey was one full of misery due to my having the sorest arse ever known by a heterosexual man. We had however paid our guide the evening before. This meant that today would be three parts shopping trip to one part look after the tourists. We went to the local shop where our guide bought himself a beer, a new hoody and joked with the owners as he filled his saddle bags with all the goodies he could find.

Beers sounded good to me so I bought a big one and went outside to play footy with the school kids. After failing to wow them with only six keepy ups and a now frothy beer i reverted to trying to take them all on. This soon turned into a hundred black kids versus the white guy, unfit, out of breath and drinking beer I was struggling a bit so i ended up running headlong into the most concentrated group of about twenty 8-12 year olds. As bodies scattered and kids screamed and, most importantly, I got hold of the ball. This was my moment, I turned and legged it as fast as I could toward goal screaming Premiership narrative as I went. Eight year old's tried to keep pace but this aging striker was in his prime. The one unlucky kid in goal wasn't even playing football but that didn't matter as I put my foot through the ball and rifled it dead centre just past his ducking head.

I turned around to see a hundred slightly confused children, I smiled, held up my beer and let out a half hearted breathless roar before doubling over and coughing profusely. The kids loved it and were straight back over to carry on.

We got back to Redvers at about three, got in and set off to Mokhotlong where I'd seen an old landy that we could get a spare wheel from. The cows in the scrapyard had to be pushed away before the bargaining began but I after that, the fact that neither of us spoke a word of the others language didn't seem to matter. I got the wheel for R100. Under a tenner. Boom. The wheels' removal took a while and so it was half four before we set off again.

Earlier in the day, we'd seen a gravel road with 'a bit of 4x4 track' in the middle that could get us to Katse Dam, so off we went. Thirty kilometers later it was dark and we were driving though ruts over a foot deep with random boulders scattered here and there. Now Lesotho is a mountain kingdom and a road through a mountain pass normally has two steep sides one going up and one going over the edge and straight down. Neither of these are ideal camping spots. Eventually we did find a flat bit, on top of the mountain at 2800m. With no wind, no rain and only ridiculous 4x4 track behind and in front of us we decided to strike camp, in the back of Redvers, with the fridge, the gas bottle and stove, all our bags and countless other useless cr!p that we were gradually realising wouldn't be essential on our trip. (Including Somers' electric toothbrush...)

One hour into out peacefull sleep the winds arrived and brought with them the rain, the sleet and the thunder and lightning. We lay open eyed at the top of the mountain somewhere in the middle of the storm in the biggest lightning conductor for thirty kms in any direction. As dawn approached we started him up and got going. We still had 70kms to go and the first thirty was on 4x4 track. We averaged 7 kmh for the first 24 kms crossing fields and rivers and even crashing into a boulder when I was temporarily bemused by Somers filming sheep, goats, donkeys and cows all grazing together. We managed to pack stones under the car to build a ramp which we could drive up and over the boulder to ensure the trip continued.

We hit Katse Dam, a big wall holding back lots of water, and actually fully amazing for what its done for Lesotho and after a tour of the aforementioned big retaining wall we carried on o cross a pass at 3100m and then begin our snaking descent back towards the border.

This is where my earlier statement about the brakes comes into play, (hero status is revoked forthwith and transferred to the Somers.) For a while Redvers had been a bit smelly. We couldn't work out if it was brakes, gears,clutch, engine or just tyres on road but we were getting a little anxious. Also he was a bit rattly near the front right wheel. Ignorance is bliss and Somers was driving so I carried on videoing some stuff. Somers was using the gears for our descent to take the pressure off the brakes which was going very well, until we started picking up to much speed on a steep section coming into a tight corner, as Laura pressed the brake it went loose and despite continued pumping just wasn't working anymore. I was still looking back at the video of me crashing into the boulder. "Hon, the brakes aren't working!" she stated in only mild alarm as she slipped it into second gear and the engine roared us back to thirty k's an hour. "Impressive Somers," lack of brakes however slowed down the rest of the days driving with only one notable 'near incident' at a crossroads for which we couldn't stop. We got back through the border near Buthe-Butha with some hand crafted paperwork and slept before crawling back to Durban the following day.

Redvers is currently being serviced, new brake pads, new brake assist vacuum thingy and tomorrow he goes to have his new shocks put in. Practice trip over wehad our penultimate leaving braai, at which Amanda (McVeigh) cooked some delicious tomato and brie dish, and fillet steak until I was sweating from my eyes.

We leave for Cape Town via Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and the Garden Route on Wednesday morning, Redvers being out of hospital of course.

Posted by ibeamish 04:38 Archived in Lesotho Comments (0)

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