Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wildlife Blog

Just returned from a great trip to Wildest Afrika. My dear Mama always reckoned that the Bundu starts at Bellville – well, she might have been right, tho’ Barrydale could be a stronger contender these days. 

Whatever, the State of the Roads is probably the best bundu indicator. Before you take up Marthinus van Schalkie’s offer of a great holiday in your own country a brief assessment of the roads in different areas wouldn’t do you any harm. We set off from Ceres [why Ceres? – another story] on a grey chilly morning; at Ashton we took an impetuous decision to take the Klein-Karoo route to PeeEee. A good decision, apparently, when we heard that the N2 was stiff with rygo’s – you know, “Delay: 40 minutes. Thank you for your patience.”
This log was swimming in the St Lucia Estuary ...
You can get an enormous and only partly-digestible vetkoek-and-mince roll at a farmstall near Holgate [dunno if that’s “Holl-gate” as in English, or “hollow holes” as in Afrikaans], just short of the N12/N9 junction, which saves you having to stop in Oudtshoorn. It’s also the last take-away stop until Joubertina, apparently. Or Louterwater. Or Noll’s Halt. Or anywhere.

The roads were great until Misgund, which has nothing to do with manure, but means “begrudged” or “denied”. The reason for the name is impenetrably obscure, but it’s where the Eastern Cape and the slightly-worse roads begin. The Langkloof road steadily deteriorates as the speed-limit drops from 120 to 100 to 80 in inverse proportion to the number of potholes, until at last you emerge onto the N2 and you thank Sanral, toll-roads or not, for relatively decent pothole maintenance.
Top left: Duckface. Top right: Don’t call me ‘Duckface’.
Bottom left: A haunch of camelopard: bad tie-dying
Bottom right: Oxpeckers resting after a rough night out.
Fortunately the N2 neatly bypasses PeeEee; the next destination of choice is the Nanaga interchange [should have a “c”-click in there; it seems to mean something about breast-feeding]. Breast-feeding is not necessary at Nanaga as it’s the site of the famous PIE SHOP. A steady stream of traffic cops, police officers and cabinet ministers of both sexes were seen waddling out of the Pie Shop as we approached, giving rise to a new family expression: “pieman” or “piewoman”, for men and women who, though clearly not breast-feeding, might well be several months pregnant. With sextuplets.
Clockwise from top left:
Crowned crane, Wakkerstroom; Grey heron, St Lucia;
Pale chanting goshawk, Graaf-Reinet;
Trumpetter hornbill, Cape Vidal
Fortunately the N2 neatly bypasses Grahamstown: happily, you catch scarcely a glimpse of those ancient spires. Up the hill, past the enormous township, you reach the turn-off to Fort England, and here’s a tip you should take to heart. There are two ways to Kokstad from here: the N2, which fortunately neatly bypasses East London but goes right through the middle of Butterworth, and other unmentionable rubbish dumps, before zipping past Chez Madiba and descending deeply into Mthatha. From here it’s a constipated choke of too many goats and endless rygo’s.

The other way – Fort England/Queenstown/Lady Frere [don’t take the Dordrecht loop – turn right to Lady F] and on to Ugie, Maclear, Matatiele is only 25km further to Kokstad than the N2, and mebbe 30 minutes longer depending on the rygo’s and the goats. It’s a spectacularly beautiful road, mostly in good shape excepting about 10km near Lady Frere, with no huge trucks and hardly any cars [or even taxis] at all.
As above:
Portrait of a Lady: a white rhino ...
Gnus don’t have walls to bang their heads against, so ...
Zebras are reactionary ...
Warthogs are darn scary, specially redheads ...
And then you reach the South Coast, happily bypassed in its entirety by the N2. Fortunately the N2 also neatly bypasses Durban, but enters a region of successive toll-plazas, each one more expensive than the last. After three days on the road you reach Mtubatuba, which you should definitely avoid at all costs, then turn off to St Lucia, where nirvana awaits you.
You always get the feeling that something’s
watching you, when these guys are around
Well, nirvana would have awaited us if it hadn’t been pouring with rain and the damn hippos hadn’t kept us awake grunting and snarling all night, but the next day the weather cleared and we had a great time, walking beaches, chugging around lagoons in boats, stepping over crocs and generally keeping a weather-eye open for bad-tempered seacows.

On the fifth day we visited Imfolozi Game Reserve, a singularly beautiful bit of Northern KZN which resides down a very bad road from St L. It was here we discovered that KZN has the second-worst roads in RSA, as well as indifferent gate-guards at the reserve. Once in, however, we enjoyed a paradise of rhinos, impalas, giraffes, gnus, warthogs and zebras, but the much-advertised elephants were on leave for the day, resting up in their bushy hollows, so none were seen. Our travelling companions – we’ll call them Jughead and Veronica – were great company and a big help in game-spotting, though Jughead pronounced himself uitgewild by the end of the day and we returned to St L for pizza and a welcome game of cards.
Left: Bad advertising
Top Right: ‘Blacksmith plover, get lost.’
Bottom right: ‘Black-winged plover, get lost.’
There’s a pizza emporium in St L that has a resident live singer/guitar player and he’s pretty good. Humming “Bobby McGee” we set off to Cape Vidal, another lekker plekkie if a bit windy, swarming with waterbuck, baboons, samango monkeys and even a couple of interesting birds. Like plovers.

The road north continued to deteriorate rapidly until we reached the Swaziland border at Golele, where after a brief 1km detour the road became absolutely superb and, with few exceptions, remained that way throughout our stay.
Anyone would’ve thought it was springtime ...
these happy couples were spotted at St Lucia
In Swaziland you are not allowed to say anything nasty about the king. You are not allowed to call him a fat, overweight slug, a philanderer and child-rapist, a megalomaniac dictatorial leech upon the poverty-stricken citizens of his country or anything like that, so I won’t. We bought candles, walked, slept, stroked some lekker Rosecraft mohair – – and took a superb road to Piet Retief, where the roads instantly became the worst of all. It’s in Mpumalanga, you know. One big pothole.

To reach Bethlehem you need to cross from Volksrust to Vrede; inexplicably, the only way to get there is down the worst dirt road you ever, ever saw, and it’s been like that for over forty years. You hope for better things at Vrede, but the Free State has the third-worst roads in RSA, where again the only good ones are Sanral’s.
No essay on Wildlife would be complete without a couple
of primates: clockwise from top left, at
Graaf-Reinet; at St Lucia; at Imfolozi.
From Bethlehem we travelled to Graaf-Reinet, and on via Beaufort-West back to Ceres. From the twilight shadows over the Great-Karoo, the sculpted folds of the hills north of the Camdeboo; the great plains of the Free State and the misty swamps of the Eastern Shores; the green, green slopes of KZN, the white sandstone bluffs of the Winterberg, the dark, lovely valley bushveld and deep winding rivers of the Eastern Cape, and everything you can ever think of in the Western Cape – jissie, maar ons land is asemrowend skoon. Its loveliness just makes you ache all over ...

Kaartman, May 2012 

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