Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Note the sea pools where the sand ends. Put your mask in at the edge and psychedelia's right there 


24 April

I have memories from this part of the world. The first was somewhere like 26 years ago in nearby Sodwana, when with psychedelia in our pouches David, Dorfy, Heidi, Mark and some others drove from Joburg for a weekend. David Matthews is he who went on to giddy success with his American band. Know that tune, “Tripping billies”? The words, at least, are from that Sodwana trip.
You don’t really need mind-altering drugs here though, because it all feels incredibly, madly ze’eeep and kano’skelly all by itself. Those sweeping dunes with their population of lime-green succulents tipped with orange; the forest of low trees buzzing above them; patches of the crystal sky trapped in the sea-pools with the haute-couture fishies amidst which we swim ....

After a psychedelic snorkel there's the trippy path through the trees to our campsite

Then again, 15-plus years ago, I was right here in this same Mabibi Camp with my old friend Katy (knee-high Mira was yellow-haired, pink-costumed; Sophia still suckling). The sites are the same sandy, becanopied things they were then, as are the 120-odd wooden stairs to the beach.
Now I’m here with Rehana. We’ve both noticed the dark blue wee fish that’s striped with ribs of bright blue and white. Not unlike R’s cozzie.

Steps to the beach, trees draped in fat spiders

Heard that one about “a happy camper”? Like, “Bliksem is one happy camper who ..." 
What needs to be known, though, is that in the case of real camping, to be a happy camper is to be an ORGANISED camper. Else you’re that strange stressed bunny who hops seemingly in circles rummaging without respite in bag after thereafter box.
This leads to the “unhappy camper”. Which we are rapidly becoming, R & I, save for our vermillion determination to become organised, and therefore, HAPPY campers.



Saturday April 27, 2013

I shan’t bore everyone and myself again with all the details of the near-death of one of our three batteries. Here's a precis. Our fridge’s temperature soared up to 26 degrees Celsius on Thursday morning, which made the chicken smell a bit dodgy.

To resolve this problem we removed our little mat from the bottom of our ladder, dismantled our downstairs room, folded it up and stashed it under a tree. We had been storing all our boxes and bits inside the add-on room. Putting it all back into the car seemed a step too far. We'd have to take it out again when we returned after seeking help at the nearest powerpoint. We have a battery charger in the car, but it only ran off mains electricity -- and there was none at the Mabibi campsite.
I remembered the women at the entrance of the campsite, from whom we bought firewood every day, who offered to wash our dishes and clothes and guard our campsite from the monkeys when we were at the beach snorkelling. 
I went to the gate and negotiated with a young mother who brought her infant and ensconced herself in one of our comfy chairs for the afternoon. Our goods under the tree would probably not be carried off by a troop of avaricious monkeys. Turn your back on them for a second and they'll take off with any possession they can grasp.
We stashed the tent away on the roof and drove through the soft sand to Mbzwana, 30 kilometres and an hour’s drive away. The owner of Go Boy Steel Gates and Baglars let us plug our battery charger into his switch hanging on its wires. So kind, he said yes immediately when we explained what we needed and wouldn’t set a price. But the battery wouldn’t kick into life.

Hoping against hope that this is the cure

So on Friday we packed up again, hired another monkey guard and drove down the sand and gravel road to a cashew nut plantation – the first place I spotted with an electrical supply, hard to miss the red Coke cooler in the tuckshop facing the road. 
Again, we were allowed to plug in the battery charger, with everyone refusing to accept payment. The fridge has been a constant nine degrees today. Inshallah, it shall remain so until tomorrow, when we pack up for the third and last time - in five days! - and leave South Africa for 11 months.
We read in our trusty 4x4 book that a battery that is near depleted sulks and does not readily accept a charge when it's offered. Well, now we know. Julia says that I must not regard this as time wasted but as time spent learning, but I am struggling to find zen in the struggle to keep a battery going.
Where zen can be found is in the rock pools, 134 steps below our campsite. Except for our first day at Mabibi, we’ve snorkeled for at least two hours every day. We go down to the pools at 8.30am – which, believe it or not, has not been a struggle for Julia and Rehana who love nothing more than sleeping till noon. By 9pm we’re yawning, by 10pm we’re asleep. This trip was supposed to be about changing the way we live, and boy have we already changed radically.

On our first day we went for a long walk on Mabibi's warm beach

The best time to snorkel is at low tide, which ends at about noon. The rock pools, exposed to our eager eyes when the sea pulls back, offer a landscape of reflections, reef and colourful fishies. I boasted that I had seen a red fish, which Julia disputed. This morning though, in between the black fishies with white dots on their tails and the orange and blue and yellow darting littlies, I spotted a big green one with thick red stripes.
I couldn’t think of a better place than Mabibi to start our snorkeling expedition up the east coast of Africa. But this morning, I was pulled short by something Julia said. We got cold after being in the water for three hours and found a shallow pool to wallow in, where the water was piss warm. Julia said, “this is what the Red Sea is going to feel like”. 
And I realised that, enchanted as we’ve been by the couple of hundred fishies we had seen in the pools that morning, we’re going to be gobsmacked when we see the hundred of thousands on the reefs in the Red Sea.
Our nights have been tranquil, the air is soft and so is my skin and my hair. The Milky Way above us is not as low and distinct as it was in Lesotho. But I can achieve zen about the absence of the web of stars because it is caused by the bright yellow moon rising behind my left shoulder. 
When I go to bed at night I walk across a patterned carpet on the sand, created by the moon shining through the milkwood trees that form a canopy over our campsite.

Computer-soft hands protected by Gaillard's gloves


1.     As already mentioned, campers are early to bed early to rise people. At coloured campsites during apartheid people played Lionel Ritchie and Whitney Houston very loud till late at night, but we haven’t met such a campsite yet.
2.     Bourgeois computer fingers get scratched and bruised and burned almost every time you do something. Almost everything in our lives has a zip, clip, bungee cord, clamp, ratchet, bracket, cap (I’ve already lost one), screw (I’ve already lost one), lock or a peg. I haven’t tripped over a tent line yet, but that’s only because we don’t have any.
3.     Everything takes much longer to do. And you can only do one thing at a time because if you lose your concentration, it will take even longer to remember where you put what and what you were doing while you lost it.
4.     You take pleasure in trying to be the most organised person in the universe. Spending hours packing things away is a delight.
5.     No more en suite, dishwasher, washing machine, iron, house help or cupboards (we have half a drawer each, for all our clothing for one year).
6.     Food tastes better. After driving for hours to stand in the hot sun while your battery sulks, the only meal you can muster is boiled eggs on toast. Sitting at a campfire, dripping mayonnaise down your chest, you savour every mouthful of that sandwich. No egg has ever been more perfectly boiled.
7.     Eating in the dark without messing is hard. (We’re in the dark because one battery has died and we’re scared to switch on any of our many lights on the car. But we have head torches, thanks to Gaillard, and roaring campfires)
8.     You’re out in a world where there are no high walls, burglar bars, alarms and armed response but you sleep like a baby with a only a tent zip between yourself and the world. You greet everyone who passes your tent with a trusting smile and hope your trust is returned.
9.     Darkness is softer than Eishkom’s light and provides you with acres of space between yourself and anything or anyone who may be out there.  A chorus in the church hall; a roaring sea, a nearby road are your only markers.
10. You become more you. I caught a whiff of my underarm after swimming all morning and being in the heat for the rest of the day. I can’t remember when last I smelled so ripe. It made me smile and proudly share my new way of being with Jules.
11. You are completely unfazed by the reports that a family of scorpions has been spotted a few times in the ablution block. When you've got to go, you enjoy that shower so much you forget to look down.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Can't hardly believe what we've drawn on the map in the Broukhaert kitchen


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Julia’s looking like a Scottish golfer, resplendent in purple and blue argyle socks pulled up to just below her knees. Her purple pants are tucked into the socks – her version of mosquito repellant clothing.
I’ve just had a shower and lathered myself in citronella aqueous cream. Thank goodness I like the smell, it’s going to be our fragrance for the next eleven months. I love the smell of mosquito coil, packed in many, many boxes - it's the smell of holidays (I frequent warm places, love the equator). I hate Tabard, but we have loads of that, in all its variations.
We can't take anti-malarials on a journey of 12 months. We might become suicidal, or murderous, or both and Julia's skin will be stripped of the little UV protection it has. So at dusk the rule is cover up and slather the bits exposed to the biters.

Julia the camp camper

We’re camping at Mabibi in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Once again, we left in a mad rush, packing things into the car wherever they could fit before we headed out of Durban.
We dumped the heavy, bulky orange plastic bag masquerading as a “lady-friendly” jack, so we have a lot more space in the car. After three hours of struggling with the damn thing under the supervision of my cousin Gaillard, all we did was lift the body of the car; the wheels stubbornly stayed on the ground. We now have a teeny tiny Japanese jack that lifts the wheels in minutes.
We got the most spectacular support during our ten days in Durban. The Broukhaert family – Nick, Sue, Oliver, Sophie and Rosie – put us up for nine days, and nine-year-old Rosie was an absolute star when she and Sue sewed cloth bags for us to store our electrical equipment.
The entire family promised they would love Pikachu. This is the end of her journey, for now.

Rosie presents a perfect cloth bag

Gaillard was magnificent – our hero, Julia calls him. He made a special tool to get our spare wheel out from under our car; then he found ours and showed us how to use it (in daylight and the dark). He made sure we knew how to change a tyre, figured out how our awning works in two ticks, got our inverter going, fixed the fatal fault on the spare wheel bracket fitted the day before we left, gave us the best head torches and a bag of lappies.
Annie, Julia’s mum, bought us 2 000 socks and organised a fantastic farewell party. She has a knack of collecting very interesting friends and some  were seasoned travellers with excellent advice.
By the time we left Durban I was a frustrated and very anxious. Frustrated by the shopping, day in and day out. Julia says that if South Africa’s GDP spikes in April, we’ll be responsible. I was also anxious because, exciting as our adventure is, there was another round of saying goodbye.
If Pikachu could speak, she’d probably be echoing Ruhi’s refrain every time I phone him: “When are you coming to fetch me? I want to go with you in the big red car.” Africa beckons but I shed bitter tears every time I say goodbye to my family. 
Julia drove out of Durban and lowered the tyres when we left the tar; I was useless. My only contribution was finding a lollipop stick she could press into the tyre valves. But I took over the driving from there and splashed mud on the bonnet while I got us through a few dongas and up and down a few small soft dunes to Mabibi.
The campsites at Mabibi resemble every coloured camping site designed during apartheid. Every site has its own patch of sand with not a blade of grass visiting. But after I ditched my shoes and succumbed to the sand, I started enjoying the talcum softness under my feet. Unlike coloured campsites, I have yet to spot a fly, none came calling, even when I left meat in the open!
I have a feeling that the beach below us is going to be one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed. Most of my experience with beaches till now has been in Cape Town – despite all the travelling I’ve done. I have a feeling that the Indian Ocean and I are going to become warm friends.

Mabibi beach, and Jules
We only had a brief taste of the beach today – we spent hours organising our car and our camp – which is now far more capable of supporting the lifestyle we are intent on enjoying.
I used the gas stove for the first time and Julia figured out how to add the skirt to our rooftop tent. We now have a room downstairs, and a tidy little mat at the bottom of the ladder to our bedroom at the top of the car. 

Our second room, more coming ... 

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Can hardly believe I drove down from there!


Monday April 15, 2013

“We’re doing it!” Jules and I often exclaimed to each other during our Lesotho meander. What we mean by this is that we’re finally on the road, we’re finally living our dream and we haven’t crashed or burned yet.
I knew as we came down Sani Pass last Friday that I would need time to digest what we had just done, but I didn’t expect to dawdle this long over writing it down. We’ve been in Durban for four days already.
It’s hard to describe coming down that pass. One thing I know for sure is that Jules and I are now 4x4 drivers. Just one more thing to learn – driving in sand – but that’s a problem for next week. We made it down the Sani Pass and we have a car that could take us down.
I think the best way to come down that pass is the way I did it. In the passenger seat for the worst part, clutching a just-opened can of coke in the one hand and a small dog in the other. I couldn’t reach for the dashboard or hold onto the door handle for dear life.  I could, however, frantically pump my foot up and down under the cubbyhole, searching for a brake pad that wasn’t there.
I didn’t know where to look. I was terrified when I peered under the dashboard on the driver's side and saw Julia wasn’t using the brakes, the car was actually holding onto the road and keeping us from dropping down the sheer precipice centimetres away from two of its tyres.
I couldn’t look at the road ahead of us. Not another switchback, and this one so narrow, with a cliff face jutting into its corner. I think there were only six switchbacks on Sani Pass, but it felt like sixty.
When I managed to pry my eyes away from the sheer drop below us and Julia’s shoulders in my lap and she tried to help the car round a brutal corner, the view was indescribable. I can’t string it all together in a sentence that will do it justice, but these are the individual elements: snow clinging to the southern slopes of a high peak; waterfalls cascading down brown boulders; streams of water crisscrossing the gravel and stony road; proteas in bud; the smell of rich loam and sharp fynbos; green slopes spotted with sheep and the ice rats Pikachu’s so obsessed with;  a stream that becomes a fat river rushing down a gorge.

We drove down to this

At the bottom of Sani Pass, after we climbed out of the car to unlock our diffs on the front wheel hubs (kwaai ho!), driving on the tar was tame. We were doing it!

We camped on Friday night on a farm outside Himeville. The owner, Kelvin Strachan, had driven to Somalia a few years back and was a veritable mine of information. He asked us to look for his grandfather’s grave, in Alexandria. He was also Kelvin Strachan, and had died in World War ll. Which reminded Jules that she should look up her great-uncle who died in the war. John Bryant is buried somewhere in Nairobi. If anyone has any relatives who need looking up in their war or other graves, we’re available.
We’re now in Durban, doing a last bout of car fixing and shopping. We’re headed for Mabibi, in northern KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday to snorkel till our skins wrinkle and to learn how to drive on soft sand. Still doing it.

Julia running to join us for the victory photo

Julia ran faster this time

Saturday, April 20, 2013



11 April, Thursday

Elemental – there’s a word for our Sani Pass stay. 
Water (running and frozen), Air (thin and ka-ka-ka-kold), Earth (a flower friendly, part-thawing, part-frozen marsh), and Fire – now warming us in the Sani Pass Lodge Backpackers’ lounge.

The night before

The morning after

Thinking of Scotland ... and Jenny

The mist chased us indoors

Elementary, too, are our backpackers’ quarters. Or so would say us creatures who are used to inhabiting THAT world of comforts. En suite, en tertained, en tap, that kind of thing. Nod if you know what I mean. 
It’s all good here, though, elementary in the elements – the blankets are supreme – but here’s a thing. The doors outside each of the backpacker’s rooms – there are four rooms – all have a bolt that can be secured from the OUTSIDE. IE in a trice you can be locked IN.  Same goes for the door to the whole building, and the door to the ablution block next door (resembling a cattle barn). Troubling…
The generator’s out now, it being past 10pm, and in the backpackers’ lounge Rehana considers the fire. How the tiniest of blue flames tickle at a wooden block – a tree, still so generous in its warm last moments – and flares into orange or else dies black, depending on its fortune. 
Piccca, exhausted after being the most exuberant mountain dog (liberated finally from the shackles of soft suburban life) is flopped here on the couch between us. On the dark couch opposite snores the old Big Black Dog who lives in this village, whose massive wise old head seems too big for his starved body to carry. But carry it, he does.


Thursday, 11 April

I am also on this trip so I should get a chance to have my say. I’ve been very anxious for more than a month, there was so much change at home. My humans packed all their things away. They left my bowl in the same place. Zarina arrived, with her children and my parents and my brother. 
Then my humans went away and they didn’t take me with. I was worried, I tell you! I was asking myself am I going to sleep outside, with my family? But my humans came back again and I slept in my usual place, under the duvet between their feet.
I have a big English vocabulary. I understand what it means when humans say they are going. Go and going were the first two English words I learned. When they put all their new stuff into that big car, I knew immediately what was going on. They were going. I had to go with them.
They put me in the big red car and they kept me with them when they started their going. I found a spot on the backseat, in my bed with the sheepskin cushion, and fell asleep in the warm sun shining through the back window.

I'm going with!

The first place they took me to wasn’t bad, but it was busy. There were seven dogs; ranging from a ridgeback to two small things with ears that were almost as cute as mine. There were sheep. I felt an urge to tell them where to go. But they’re much bigger than me, and they smell funny, so I kept my distance.
We went for a walk, as usual. My humans are well trained. One of the dogs jumped the fence to join us, but he was okay. There were a lot of new smells on this walk. I could smell cold scaly things on the rocks. And warm fur in some of the holes in the clay, but nothing fresh. Still, I love pushing my nose down holes to breathe in the potential of snapping away at a warm furry thing. I think I like that second most, after going with my humans.
We slept on top of the car that night, on a mattress much thinner than the one at home. But my humans brought our duvet and when I crawled under and down to the bottom, I found a softer place; there was a narrow soft layer under the mattress. I reclined full length on it all night long; pushed the human next to me out of the way and to the edge of the room on top of the car.
The next place we went to was better. It was like a park. There were no fences and walls. I could go anywhere, anytime. I checked out the holes between the rocks. They smell of fresh warm furry things. I push my nose deeper. Could they be here, now? They’re not. I’ll come back later.
There’s horses. I tell them where to go, but they don’t listen to me. They don’t even look up when I bark. There’s one man here that I don’t like. My growl comes from deep in my gut every time I see him. I sleep at the foot end of the bed nearest the door. I growl when the stray comes scratching at the door. She’s skin and bones, she scares me.
When we go on walks, and we do that a lot in this place we came to, there’s no leash, no “be careful Pikka!” There’s no pavements and no cars, but you must look out for the horses and the donkeys. You're not allowed to chase the chickens, but it's too much fun. 
The next place we went to had lots of furry warm things. They kept popping up from their holes, I didn’t even need to sniff them out. They drove me crazy. Whenever I ran towards one of them another would pop out of another hole and I would spin around and lose my sense of direction. A few times the tip of my nose nearly touched one. What a place we’ve come to!

 Julia and Pikka enjoying the freezing wonderland, Rehana is trying 

The next day the place was completely different. After we woke up and went outside there was a big grey wet thing that rolled up towards us. We went back inside, my human made a fire and put my bed right next to it. When we went outside the place had changed again. This time, wet white things came down on the ground. My feet were freezing but the rest of me was warm under my yellow Bafana Bafana coat. We went inside and I stretched myself out, full length, next to the fire.
When we went out again the white stuff was crunchy under my feet. I like the sound it makes. It’s not so cold on my feet, and anyway who cares, I’ve just seen a warm furry thing nodding its head at me. I’m off! For once I pretend I don’t understand English when my humans call me to come back inside to the warm fire, where they’ve been sitting all day.



One thing I did expect from this trip was campfire hospitality. And boy, are we getting it. I wanted to buy a two-tone shirt to fit in with the Tokkies and Sarels I expected to meet along the way; fellow members of the Landcruiser family. I knew I would have to improve my rusty Afrikaans and Julia was relishing an opportunity to practice her hanswors, stukkende taal.
From our very first 4x4 campfire, at St James Lodge, there were eager manne ready to share their knowledge. They had come down the road we were going up, Sani Pass. They had done what I was dreading. Words failed us as we tried to explain our dilemma in die taal. Julia asked, so sweetly, “how do you say beginner in Afrikaans?”
They shared their braai coals with us so we didn’t have to make a fire, and their tongs so we didn’t have to search for ours. They shared their knowledge of roads in Lesotho and the tyre pressure needed to tackle certain sections. 
I wanted to ask them how to get to Sani Pass, because our Garmin wouldn’t recognise where we were, but managed to restrain myself. I didn’t want to show them just how little we knew – we didn’t know the way to where we were going next.
We got directions to Sani Lodge at the Mokhotlong Hotel – in a small town down and up the gorge from St James on an awful, awful road. On the main road of Mokhotlong, the Garmin sprung into action and said the only meaningless phrase it is capable of uttering right now: “Continue on highlighted route”.
At Sani Mountain Lodge we’ve been inundated with essential information about our car and its capabilities. We’ve been asking every one who comes up the pass what we need to do to get down. They all ask what we’re driving then say the same thing: “Your car will take you down the mountain”. One of the tour guide drivers said: “just put it H4 second gear, cross your legs on your seat and steer.”  People came up and down the pass all day despite the snow piling up outside.
I doubt very much that there’s been anyone better prepared – theoretically at least – about driving down Sani Pass than Julia and I.
Everybody who steps into the pub at Sani Mountain Lodge came because they wanted to drive the pass. Some come up and down a few times a week, bringing tourists from all over the world to Lesotho where all they see is a very Welsh-looking pub before they leave the country again.  
The 4x4 drivers help us with relish, and most comforting is their admiration, without exception, of our big red car.

I expect to find such generosity at every campfire we find. As soon as I figure out everything our car can do, I’m going to help other novices at campfires.