Oh I love to try new things!
I met a fellow Niume blogger online. You know how it goes. You have a couple of minutes to check out everyone else’s stuff, so you click through a few links and read and enjoy, and get ideas and inspiration, and seven hours later your errands aren’t run, your chores aren’t done, and your family are feeling hungry and confused. But at least you know that there are yellow and pink striped fish in a pond called ‘Kululalaling’ somewhere on a remote island in the Indian Ocean, you know how to strain syrup from an aloe plant to make your own heal balm, you know that so-and-so only writes about sport or politics and you’re euphoric from all the beautiful photographs of sunsets, sunrises, flowers and beaches.
On one of my wanderings through the blogs on Upwork, I stumbled upon Ginny Stone.
Originally the attraction was purely geographic – we are both from South Africa and as it turns out we both live in the Jo’burg area: a very broad term used to describe the agglomeration of municipal areas that share the same dialing code, but run as independent little cities in one metropolis. If you’re curious you can read more about it in a blog I wrote about South Africa: https://niume.com/post/59211.
Just make sure you come back here when you’re done – don’t get lost out there in the ocean of blogs.
The first of Ginny’s blogs to grab my attention was about rebounding; the kind that involves a trampoline, not a broken heart.
My husband has a health issue that requires him to rebound daily. I tried it and enjoyed it but (shock, horror, gasp [and blush]) I can’t do it for long because it makes me leak. The gynie says it’s normal for a woman my age … big sigh.
Anyway, moving on swiftly, I commented on Ginny’s blog and she responded (this is a wonderful habit for all bloggers to get into – if someone takes the time to comment on your blog, at least take the time to respond). Ginny told me to try hula-hooping instead of rebounding and she sent me hte link to a blog she had written about it.
Following her instructions I went to the hardware store and bought 5 metres of 25mm irrigation pipe and a connector to make a giant hula-hoop.
For the next few weeks the hula-hoop became my ‘thing’.
Every day for about an hour I would sway away and let the giant hoop encircle me. I found that listening to music while I hula-hooped was most enjoyable.
Songs by the Goombay Dance Band with their island style rhythm and Michael Bublé with his soft-jazz croon where my favourites.
I found hula-hooping mesmerizing, therapeutic, downright addictive.
I have a busy schedule and fitting in an hour or so of hula-hooping ate away at my reading and writing time – but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. At one stage I went to the hardware store and bought material for a second hoop and at times I swayed them simultaneously.
Why the desperate need for the hula-hour? I have no clue. I can only think that it’s because the year was winding down to an end and it had been a rather shitty year. Hula time was ‘me’ time – nobody could get within 3 metres of me and with my headphones on I was removed from the real world.
Gavin, ever the practical one, said that the constant movement of the giant hoop around my waist was going to erode my middle-bits; he feared I would become a stick-woman. I tried to explain that I was not made of sand and the hoop was not a stream of water, therefore no erosion would take place.
Although the fluid movement of the abdomen, hips, and legs will reduce centimetres, it’s because of the muscle-movement and not because of any eroding properties of the hoop.
In the month that I used the hula-hoop almost daily for about an hour a day I lost a few centimetres around my waist and my posterior and thighs firmed up a tad.
We went camping and I asked Gav to take a series of photos and videos of me with my beloved hoop. I chose a nice river-side background and proceeded to play model while my dear, patient husband followed my instructions and took short videos. My goal was to post a series of videos of me doing various hula-moves to demonstrate how different actions worked different body parts. I had big ideas about YouTube tutorials and starting a new craze.
Sadly, I’m not model material and YouTube is full of hot young women with bouncy boobs, wearing tiny clothes while they hula-hoop to sexy music. Some of them have three hula-hoops going at once.
My dreams of becoming a hula-sensation were dashed and I realized that, as much as I enjoyed the hula-hoop, I was in fact wasting time. I was tired of listening to Son of Jamaica, Feeling Good and Sway, I missed reading and I missed writing and I could probably tone my flabby abs quicker if I stuck to cycling and did a few crunches and a quick planking exercise.
So just like that, the phase was over. The giant hula-hoops have been claimed by my dad, not because he wants to be the next YouTube sensation (although a 70 year old man with a hula-hoop may just get more hits than a middle aged woman), they are made of irrigation pipe and my dad is an avid gardener… waste not want not.
Or in my case: waste not time on your waist.
PS Check out Ginny’s blogs
It’s one of life’s ironies that my sense of adventure pounced on me at this stage of my existence.
Why now, when my body doesn’t want to cooperate?
Well it cooperates I guess … but, boy oh boy, I know all about it the next day!
Inside of me there is a 20 year old that wants to ride a tube and learn how to ski behind a boat, climb to the top of a waterfall, clamour to the top of a rocky outcrop, swim beyond the breakers in the ocean, play in the waves with my inflatable kayak, and ride my mountain bike through the bushveld where there are trees and valleys and hilltops with a view.
But there’s a problem. I’m not 20. Not even close.
When I was 20, I was sewing and learning how to bake and be all domesticated.
Now I’m very much on the wrong side of 40 AND I’m as clumsy as … ummmm … I can’t think of anything to describe the clumsiness that is me.
I blame it on my lanky frame. I’m tall, maybe that affects my centre of gravity.
I am most likely to trip up, slip down or drop something; more than anyone else I know.
Once, while camping with good friends, I was contemplating climbing a very tall cat-ladder to get to the top of a lookout tower which was opposite our campsite. The view over the bushveld would have been awesome from up there.
I voiced my thoughts, only to have my husband and my friends say, “No!” in sync like a well-rehearsed trio.
You see, they know me.
They’ve seen me walk into a pole, trip over a wire railing, fall out of the boat, fall into the boat, fall off the jet-ski, burn myself countless times while cooking, knock beverage glasses flying, spill bowls of food, need I continue?
They also, just weeks prior to our camping trip, saw my face a few hours after falling off my MTB.
Read my previous blog “I met Mother Earth, her name is Sandy” to find out more about that misadventure.
For me, it was as simple as ‘climb up the ladder and appreciate the view.’
For them, my statement evoked images of a slip, a fall and a messy drop!
I sighed at their reaction and said I would be careful.
They just laughed and my friend said, “You want to do all these crazy, adventurous things, but you’ve got the wrong body.”
His words stung.
He didn’t mean it unkindly. He was speaking the truth.
I do want to do all these crazy, adventurous things, but my body is not performing as athletically and gracefully as I would hope.
Alas. I will not give up.
I’m not old enough to be too old. I never want to be too old.
So I will clamour up rocks and enjoy the breathtaking view from the top of the koppie, even if it means I accidentally land with my palm in a pile of dassie poop when I have to reach out to steady myself.
(Language lesson for those who don’t live in South Africa: a koppie is a small hill, most often consisting of a rocky outcrop. A dassie is an African rodent. It looks like a giant guinea-pig and lives in colonies on koppies.)
I will swim beyond the breakers, even if I have to lug my boogie board along with me … because the stillness of the ocean past the breaking waves is indescribable. And maybe I will see dolphins up close again.
See my blog: Dance with a Dolphin if you want to find out just how close I got to a touching a wild dolphin!
I will continue to enjoy my MTB adventures, despite the fact that I have fallen and injured myself three times – once in our own driveway, before I had even left home.
You see, my body may be lanky, and my centre of gravity may be off tilt, but the treasures I find when I push through and live the adventure are well worth the risk of a possible mishap.
The odds are 1 in 5 that I’m going to hurt myself doing something. Whether I take a tumble off my bike, get dunked by a big wave, or slip on a rock; I’m prepared to take the risk and live the adventure and occasionally it may even be accident free.
Another friend teased me and said that I should have a board up at home that reads, “(insert number) of accident free days”.
What can I say? Never a dull moment.
I will consider my bruises, scratches, scrapes and scars as adventure markings.
Maybe some people look at me, they see my scars and my newest bruise, and think I should try and be more ladylike, possibly a little less adventurous.
Well, I did that for too many years and honestly, life got dull.
So let me enjoy my second bout of youthful behaviour without the added stress of trying to impress the boys and fit in with the girls.
Who dictated that there are only certain times of your life that you can do certain things?
No way. Any age is the right time to have an adventure!
At the end of this month, more specifically, the 26th of September, I will be celebrating my 9 year anniversary in my current job.
That might not sound like a big deal to you, but to me, it’s momentous!
If we were celebrating a wedding anniversary I would be buying my boss a gift made of willow, pottery or leather. Let me stretch the marriage analogy – we have made it past the 7 year itch!
However, 2 years ago (making it the 7th year of my employ), I almost resigned in order to open a coffee shop.
Apart from my marriage, I have not persisted in anything for more than a year or two, because I get bored easily and I like variety.
This fact rings true in my pastimes, hobbies and after work activities.
During the past 9 years I have volunteered as a ‘committee mommy’ at my kiddies’ primary school, I was a junior school youth leader and then a secondary school youth leader at our church, and I started a Sunday evening group especially aimed at teens.
I have dabbled in various arts and craft activities ranging from card making, to mosaic, to making beaded jewellery. I even tried selling my wares at craft markets and such, but sacrificing a day of my weekend to watch people manhandle my creations and “um” and “ah” was not my idea of fun.
My activity levels also fluctuate. When I started this job I was inactive and a bit overweight until I joined a gym and worked out often. I lost weight and got nice and fit. I even started playing squash. Then I got lazy again and did nothing for a while. I put on some of the weight I lost. The inactivity passed, I started swimming and jogging, and now I’ve moved on to MTB riding, but with summer around the corner I feel the pull towards the pool again.
My boss is a quantity surveyor. For those who are not familiar with this occupation I will summarise our services briefly; if you need something built, we’ll work out how much it’s going to cost you, and if it’s a big project, he will manage it for you.
He and I are related through marriage – my hubby and my boss’s wife are cousins.
I had no relevant qualifications when I started this job. A year or so in, I studied part-time for about 18 months through a correspondence college to get some paperwork that states I’m an assistant quantity surveyor.
When I started working in the construction industry I didn’t know there was a difference between concrete and cement.
When I left school I thought I’d seen the last of geometry.
Little did I know that, one day, I’d be using all those formulas for area, perimeter and volume once again. Honest truth – I know what pi is.
Listen up children: “You DO use some of the stuff you learn at school in real life!”
As a quantity surveyor’s assistant, I spend my working hours measuring, counting and calculating, and unbeknown to me, this habit has overflowed into my personal life.
The realisation that the 9 years I’ve worked in this job equates to 20% of my life’s years is as a direct result of the calculator in my brain.
Another startling fact is that I have spent about 2700 hours driving to work and back. That’s almost four months in the car! I have owned 4 different cars during this time.
My excitement about this job started dwindling a long time ago.
“It’s not you, it’s me.” I would say to the pile of papers in front of me.
This job really doesn’t suit my personality. I’m creative and this job is methodical, logical, orderly and precise. I’m light blue with red streaks and this job is grey. I’m a spiral and this job is a square.
My boss is a great guy. In the 108 months that I have been working for him, he’s never lost his cool and never shown any irritation or exasperation, no matter how dom I can be at times. (“Dom” is a wonderful Afrikaans word for “thick”). His calm demeanour hushes my volatility.
I have a great working environment in a very pretty setting.
Our “office” is at his home and I have a view of the garden and the pool. I am his only employee so there is no gossip and no office politics.
There are people I know who would give anything to have my job, yet I swing between gratitude, discontent and guilt.
What began as an adventure soon turned into a dull routine and I found myself working for the money. Shock, horror, gasp. I too have succumbed to the trap.
That reminds me of something Adele Archer wrote.
“I am tied to the trappings of the western world, because of the stresses of the western world.”
I’m trying to break free from the mould and establish a career as a writer; it’s not a lucrative business. In order for me to make what I’m earning now, I would have to write 1000 words every hour, six hours a day, AND get paid for each word.
And then? Guess what will happen? My love of writing will turn into a slog and I’ll begin staring at my keyboard saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I’m getting old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I have touched and held various kinds of wild, or at least ‘unconventional’, animals during my limited adventures:
I have been hugged by an ostrich.
I played with lion cubs who thought I was a chew toy.
I spent an hour with cheetahs. I got to pet them and feel their raspy tongues when they licked me.
I played with a mischievous meerkat.
I gingerly rubbed my hand over an African python that wasn’t big enough to swallow me, and I touched a crocodile while it wasn’t looking.
None of those experiences compare to holding a critically injured Impala for almost an hour while waiting for someone to come and help the poor animal.
We recently visited a game farm that offered mountain bike trails that wound through the bushveld, promising an assortment of game to be viewed. My husband, son and I were very keen to go exploring as the MTB bug has bitten (and if you read my previous blog you will remember that I tried to bite back … but I failed and I falled*). *I know, I know, that is a made-up word*
We set out from our caravan at about three in the afternoon. The game farm has several fenced-off areas as they also keep cattle, so we had to stop twice to go through some gates.
As we approached the third and final gate, that would give us access to the actual game reserve, we saw a group of male Impalas throwing themselves against the fence in an attempt to get to the other side.
For those of you who are not familiar with South African wildlife, an Impala is a small antelope that can jump very high. They are very common antelope, we see dozens of them every time we go to the bush.
In Afrikaans an Impala is called a Rooibok, which means ‘red buck’. They are also referred to as the McDonald’s buck because of the “M” pattern on their rump and the fact that you see one around every corner.
Back to my story…
The buck were unable to jump over the fence as it was erected high enough to stop them, but they were trying very hard, and in their vain attempts they were hurting themselves. We decided not to go through the gate, instead we cycled towards the buck, hoping to chase them back into the bush. It was so horrible to see these animals continuously and mindlessly throwing themselves against the fence. The wire kept catapulting them back as it recoiled against their barrage. Finally we were close enough for them to notice us and they ran away into the shrubby, thorny bushveld until we couldn’t see them.
We were just about to turn back to the gate when, a few hundred meters in front of us, we heard a crash! and we saw another Impala buck trying to jump over the gate at the other end of the enclosure. We watched in horror as he charged at the gate, leaped into the air and hit the gate with such force the fence reverberated. He then fell to the ground. We rode as fast as we could and as we got nearer we saw that he was struggling to stand. Justin (my son) and I were the first to reach him.
We cautiously approached the struggling animal because we were sure he was going to spring up at any moment. We didn’t want to get in the way of him and his horns. He wasn’t able to get up though. We knelt down and held him still in order to prevent him from hurting himself further. I held tightly onto one of his horns and rested my hand on his head, Justin held his body. By now Gavin (my husband) had reached us, so I asked him to please ride back to the main office at the campsite and get some help.
The poor Impala had done a lot of damage to himself. He had completely skinned the top of his nose, right up to his forehead, and his nose was bleeding. He kept struggling, scraping his front legs on the ground in his attempt to stand, and that’s when I noticed that his back legs weren’t moving.
I cried while I tried to soothe the frightened creature and wished with ALL my heart that I could speak ‘animal’ and get him to understand that we were trying to help him.I told him he had really hurt himself and he needed to lie still because struggling would only make it worse. His huge, soft, brown eyes with a delicate line of lashes just gazed at me incomprehensibly.
Justin and I could hear his heart beating.
After a while Gavin came back … alone. He told us that the owner said we must just leave the buck, he’ll come “sort it out” later.
When Justin and I let go of the Impala to see what would happen, he kicked and lashed about so much with his front legs that he was beginning to turn around on the ground. I saw that if he continued like this, not only would he be extremely confused and stressed, but soon his horns would get stuck in the wire of the gate. Justin and I got down on our knees and held him still again. I told Gav that I thought the Impala had broken its back and I just couldn’t leave it alone until someone came to help. Justin and I kept talking soothingly, trying to calm the poor buck. Our legs started cramping and going to sleep because of our posture; but every time we tried to re-adjust our position the Impala would get a fright and start to struggle again. In the meanwhile Gavin rode all the way back to camp to update the farmer.
Eventually I saw Gavin cycling towards us again. When he reached us he said the farmer was on his way, and that if the buck had broken its back they would have to shoot it.
I cried so much my tears fell on the poor little buck’s cheek; every fairy tale I’d ever heard came rushing into my mind and I thought desperately, “why can’t my tears be magic and heal this dear creature?”
Within minutes of Gavin reaching us I saw a white bakkie heading our way. For anyone who is not from South Africa, a “bakkie” is a pickup truck, a utility vehicle. It is pronounced “buckie”.
In broken English the farmer thanked Justin and I for staying with the buck, and he encouraged us to continue cycling as there was a large game farm to explore.
I didn’t feel like riding. I wouldn’t have seen much any way – I was crying too much. I absently followed Gavin and Justin back to the caravan.
Later that evening, while we were sitting around the campfire, we chatted to a few of the young game wardens. They told us that after the incident, the farmer had given them instructions to hang feed bags from the fence to discourage the other Impala from jumping against it.
As old as I am, the first person I phoned after the sad episode was my mom. Her words were very encouraging; just what I needed to hear, “you were meant to be there to comfort that buck.”
The first three words of this blog it read: “I have touched…”
Now I can honestly say, I have touched and I have been touched.
We drove through the gates of our nearest adventure park feeling very smug. One week prior we had arrived with our two bicycles inside our Chrysler Voyager; like real beginners we were.
This time we were one step up as hubby had purchased a fancy bike rack that attaches to the tow-bar. No more having to take wheels off so the bikes could fit inside the car – no siree: the Hennings had arrived and they looked the part!
Our sixteen year old son was no longer too embarrassed to be seen with us, so he tagged along for the ride.
It had been seven days since Gavin and I tackled our first off-road mountain bike route. We finished the 12,4 kilometre trail and spent the next few days waxing lyrical about the adventure and our ability to complete the ride; albeit it an average speed (oh, the irony of the word!) of 12 kilometres per hour. Now we were back, son in tow, to triumph over the trail once more.
This time, however, I was feeling apprehensive about the ride. I felt mentally unprepared; unphsyched. What’s worse than doing a 12,4 kilometre mountain bike trail for the first time? Doing it the second time. You see, now I knew what I was in for. The first time I was blissfully ignorant of the challenges the course would command.
Approximately 4 kilometres in, I was huffing along thinking that this was actually perfect material for my next blog:
Your second MTB trail is as daunting as giving birth to your second child!
Allow me to elaborate. When you have your first child you read all the right books and go to prenatal classes and attend little mommy-to-be groups. You prepare yourself for the arrival of your little babe; blissfully unaware of theactual pain and the reality of getting that little one out there! It doesn’t matter how many people you speak to or how many books you read – nothing can prepare you for the real thing. So when baby number two comes along, you know exactly what to expect because you’ve gone through it before.
With these thoughts making a noise in my head I rode along, quite distracted; wishing I had a voice recorder so I could voice-note my ideas for the blog; really not paying much attention to the route at all.
The people who designed the track were very thoughtful. They built sand embankments on the sharp corners so cyclists don’t have to slow down much; instead one just goes whizzing around the corners against the embankment. The people who designed the track were very thorough. They designed the route to include open grassland, hills and dales and off course forested areas. What’s a mountain bike trail without trees ‘ey?
Bearing in mind my lack of focus and the fact that I am naturally a rather clumsy soul, I whizzed around one of the aforementioned embankments and entered one of the forested areas.
It wasn’t a big tree. Why it was more of a sapling really. However, it bore some sort of grudge I’m sure. The timber troublemaker leaned in as I drove past and clipped the handlebar of my beautiful bike. One minute I was whizzing through woods, the next I was gliding towards the ground.I remember my face hitting the ground. I didn’t have time to think of any swearwords. When I came to my senses Gavin was bending over me asking what happened.
I was very dizzy and my face really hurt. The fact that I didn’t have any grazes or cuts on my hands proves that my face broke my fall. Ouch. The look on Gav’s face made me want to panic. How bad did I look? I felt something loose on my tongue. I automatically assumed I had broken a tooth. In a most unladylike manner I spat the tooth out, only to discover it was a stone. I have never been so happy to spit out a stone.
After rinsing the sand out of my mouth and my eyes I told Gav we could carry on and complete the rest of the route. My enthusiasm didn’t last long. The wind stung the grazes on my face and I felt very lightheaded. Thank goodness Gavin has a good sense of direction so we could take a short-cut back. The sort-cut was, however, still over one kilometre long.
And why? oh why? I ask with sand in my eyes, why did the thoughtful(?) and thorough(!) designers of this off-road track leave the steepest, slipperiest climb for the very end? Needless to say I made it back to the car or I would not be writing this blog.
In conclusion I have learned some lessons from my fall. May I list them? Sorry for you, I am a list-maker.
1) Never, ever ride without a helmet. If I had not been wearing my helmet I can only imagine what would have happened. As it is I was out of sorts for a week with mild concussion and I still have scabs on my face.
2) Concentrate! I know I’m a woman and multi-tasking is a thing we women do, but writing a blog in your head while thinking about giving birth while riding at a relatively fast pace past a vindictive tree is not clever. When there are wheels involved it is best to focus on just one thing… staying alive. Do you have the Bee Gees song stuck in your head now?
3) Carry a small first-aid kit. I didn’t even have a tissue with me to dab up the blood; I had to use my T-shirt, Rambo style. Considering that I take a small truckload of medicine and medical supplies with us whenever we go camping, I cannot believe I didn’t think of this one sooner.
4) It’s best not to ride alone. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one.
5) Tree roots are intertwined with shrub roots which are in turn intertwined with grass roots. Don’t let these foilaged fiends fool you. They talk to one another. They gossip amongst themselves and have long memories. You saw the Ents in The Lord of the Rings. Well this was a revenge attack.
I remember when I was about ten years old, I rode my bicycle into a tree… oh wait, that sounds familiar …
While on holiday in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, my son Justin and I spent a lot of time in the sea. I am not a strong swimmer so I take my boogie board with me wherever I go.
Something happened on our last morning on the beach that has made me determined to learn how to swim and to use swimming as a form of exercise so I can be fit next time we go to the sea!
Justin and I were at Humewood beach, we were quite deep – passed the breakers. Earlier in the week we had visited the same beach and we had swum out to the last pillar and back three times during the course of the morning while it was low tide.
This particular day it was high tide and we were in line with the first pillar. Justin was diving under the water and I was just floating on my board in the swells.
Beyond the breakers there’s a wonderful calmness. The crashing of the waves is a quiet rumble behind you so your ears can pick up noises that would otherwise be drowned out by the sound of the waves.
Justin said he could hear dolphins whenever he went under water, so I put my head under to listen. I could also hear them squeaking and clicking. It was incredible to hear it in real life!
After a few minutes I noticed some activity in the distance, some boats and rowers where gathered together to the left, towards the harbour. Then I saw the dolphins!
A pod of about 30 dolphins was heading our way! I shouted to Justin to look and told him to swim to the last pillar because they were heading in that direction. Justin had his flippers on and he’s an excellent swimmer. I on the other hand was a bit like a turtle with its shell under its tummy! I paddled with my arms and kicked with my legs with all my might; but having recently studied maths with Justin I knew perfectly well that the speed, distance and time formula was not in my favour!
Justin reached the pod as the last dozen dolphins were making their way past him and he turned to watch them go. I was a few meters away, watching the last three dolphins – hoping I could still make it – when I saw one of the dolphins change course and start heading straight for Justin!
I called him and as he turned around the dolphin swam right next to him! Justin put out his hands and stroked the dolphin on its back!
By now I was in tears! I was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the experience and so disappointed that I hadn’t quite made it in time. The look on Justin’s face was priceless! He was in awe. I reached him after the last dolphin passed and he rested on my boogie board as we watched the pod, the rowers and the small boats head out towards the Hobie beach pier.
Justin said when he was so close to them he was quite afraid because he didn’t realised how big dolphins really are. We couldn’t believe he had touched a dolphin in the wild.
We floated there for a while to catch our breath as the dolphins disappeared from our site behind the gentle swells.
When we turned back we realised just how far out we had swum! We had to swim about 300 metres to get back to the beach.
It was an awesome, unforgettable experience and possibly (but hopefully not) a once in a lifetime experience for people who live more than 600km’s from the nearest beach!
LET ME INTRODUCE THE COUNTRY
Look at a world map for a minute will you.
Find Africa. Now find South Africa.
Yes, yes, all those rumours you’ve heard are correct: South Africa is a country and not a continent. It is a country made up of nine Provinces and eleven official languages.
I was born and raised in South Africa and although there have been times when I have been ashamed of our government – both in the past and at present – I love this country and all of its beautiful people. I have a deep-seated hope that one day all the good in this Land will win through and it will become everything that the true patriots believe it can be! I would like to introduce you to the country that holds my heart.
South Africa is the most extraordinary country because of its diversity within a relatively small area. It is 25th on the list of countries in order of their size. To help you put South Africa’s size into perspective; it can fit into America seven and a half times and it can fit into Australia five times. The United Kingdom however, will fit into South Africa five times.
The widely spread city of Johannesburg has risen up from the African soil to form a concrete contrast between the man-made metropolis ant the surrounding highveld and bushveld.
The shrubby suburbs are vividly different from the topsy-turvy townships.
An aerial view of the city shows how it inches towards Pretoria and is bordered on all sides by other cities that are expanding and bursting through their municipal borders. Due to the fact that so many municipalities border one another so closely, the combined and expanded area of Johannesburg has been labelled an agglomeration and has a population of over 10 million people. To put this into perspective for those of you who enjoy random facts; that means that roughly 20% of South Africa’s population live in the Jo’burg area which comprises 2% of the total area of the country.
The five biggest cities after Johannesburg are Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London.
Because of its situation at the southernmost point of Africa, South Africa has a coastline of over 2700 kilometres (1677 miles). From the rugged cliffs with crashing waves along the Wild Coast to the open, sandy, surfing beaches of Natal and the Eastern Cape; from the temperate waters in Zululand to the frigid waters of the Western Cape; and from Tropical Summer showers on the East Coast to Mediterranean rainfall on the West Coast; our coastline offers abundant variety.
Our coastal areas offer scuba and snorkelling, swimming and surfing, whale watching from shore or a boat ride to see dolphins; you can swim with penguins and for the very brave there is cage diving with sharks.
The Drakensburg mountain range which is derived from an Afrikaans word meaning “Dragon Mountains” because of the way the range rises and falls along the escarpment, stretches over a 1000 kilometres (600 miles) long and at its highest point is 3482 meters (11424 feet) above sea level.
During the short, cold winter months, peaks and other parts of the mountain range become covered in snow offering South Africans a limited window of opportunity to ski. Snow also falls on the Cederberg, Matroosberg and Overberg Mountains which are situated in the Western Cape. During South Africa’s long summer the mountainous areas offer many other activities like mountain climbing, abseiling, paragliding, hiking, fishing, camping and cable car rides.
South Africa boasts the largest ‘green canyon’ on earth, namely the Blyde River Canyon. Situated in Mpumalanga is has lush subtropical foliage and has some of the deepest cliffs of any other canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, the first being the Fish River canyon which is situated in neighbouring Namibia.
Whilst on the subject of canyons I have to mention the Bourke’s Luck potholes; although not great in proportion they are a magnificent display of the decorative, erosive power of water and they happen to be a short drive from the Blyde River canyon.
Most of South Africa’s forested areas are found in the Eastern and Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal and the lowveld areas of Limpopo and Mpumulanga. The forested areas of South Africa make up about 7,6% of the land area. The most famous forest is the Tsitsikamma Forest which can be found in the Eastern Cape.
Once, many years ago, herds of elephants roamed this forest. Now they are found only in protected areas and sanctuaries.
Attractions in our forests include bungee jumping or swinging, zip-lines and canopy tours as well as kloofing, hiking, waterfall tours, mountain bike trails, bird watching and game viewing.
South Africa is a very dry country with negligible fresh water in the form of a few small dams. I use the word ‘small’ because South Africa’s rivers and dams make up less than 1% of the surface area.
The Karoo which derives its name from the Khoikhoi word “garo”, which means desert, is in fact a semi-desert.
The Kalahari Desert is also a semi-desert because the area supports more animals and plants than a true desert. The Kalahari Desert is shared between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Although not a desert in the true sense of its definition, the Kalahari offers many desert-like experiences for holiday makers; including incredible star-gazing, 4×4 dune riding and dune boarding, as well as game drives.
South Africa’s national parks make up 4% of its land area. The largest and most visited is the Kruger National Park which is situated in the province of Mpumalanga, which is a Zulu word for “the place where the sun rises”.
Arguably one of South Africa’s greatest drawing cards is its wildlife.
I am sure I needn’t list them, but I will. First we have the hugely sought after Big Five; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Then there are others like cheetah, caracal, African wild dogs, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, zebra and a wide range of antelope. A visit to one of our national parks will provide hours of game viewing opportunities.
There is so much to see and to do with no more than a two-hour flight between our major cities and their surrounding attractions. If you choose a road trip over flying, as my family and I often do, you will experience all the quaint places in between the attractions. Soon you will discover how richly South Africa rewards those who seek her many treasures.
For those of you who do not have the opportunity to travel, perhaps my blogs will help you discover some things about this country that some tourist have not experienced – because I am not a tourist – I am a South African.
Gavin and I drove all the way down to Natal to buy our new caravan.
We had been looking for a specific model for a long time and finally saw an advertisement for a 2009 Palma with a straight bed at a dealership in Pinetown. By happy coincidence we were invited to a family wedding in Cato Ridge so we decided to fetch the caravan on the weekend of the wedding.
We were not one hundred percent sure we would take the caravan; we considered the fact that there might have been something we didn’t like when we saw the real thing. With this in mind we booked our accommodation at Watervale Lodge and not at a caravan park.
Gavin phoned the owner of the lodge to ask if he had a secure area where we could park the caravan safely for the weekend and he confirmed that he had “hectares of space available”.
Gav and I love time away from home together and decided to make use of the opportunity to turn the weekend into a long one.
We left home (Krugersdorp) on Thursday afternoon and stopped over in Harrismith at Mountainview Inn for the night. The views are always spectacular but in autumn the gold, bronze and red leaves add a warm beauty to the impressive mountain view.
The accommodation at Mountainview Inn is clean, pleasant and acceptable for a stopover or even a short stay to explore the surrounding area. There are at least half a dozen restaurants to choose from, all within walking distance of the Inn.
Early Friday morning Gavin started vomiting. We’re not sure what caused him to be ill. By the time we were ready to leave Harrismith he was not well enough to drive so I drove the rest of the way.
At the dealership in Pinetown we found the Palma and the salesman and after a short debate about the fact that the 2009 model has less packing space in the kitchen than our 1997 Palma we decided we would buy it.
The salesman, let’s call him B, was very accommodating and efficient.
Within an hour or slightly more, our paperwork was done, the money transferred and a travel blanket was fitted to our “new” Palma.
Unfortunately all the activity had not been good for Gav and he was still feeling very weak and had developed a really bad headache.
I had the scary privilege of being the first person to tow our ‘van: out of the dealership, through Pinetown, onto the N3 and off to our lodge near Cato Ridge.
Gav is a nervous passenger at the best of times. Add to this his feeling of weakness, his headache and the fact that I was driving with a rather expensive asset hitched to our Fortuner all made my dear hubby very apprehensive and full of advice.
The trip went without a glitch. The Palma was light and beautifully balanced behind the car – probably because it was empty of all our camping paraphernalia.
While I drove Gav phoned the insurance company and gave them the Palma’s details to add to our insurance policy. They were wonderfully efficient and by the time I had turned off the N3 on to the Inchanga road off-ramp our caravan was insured.
The road to Watervale Lodge was not bad. We’ve towed on much worse roads on our trips to campsites around Britz. It was twisty and narrow and the last stretch was sand but despite Gavin’s worst fears I managed to get us to the gates of the lodge without incident.
We phoned the owner of the lodge so he could open the electric gate and he met us half way up the long, rather steep driveway. The driveway was surrounded by a beautiful garden full of trees and garden beds edged in natural rock. Gavin got out of the car to greet the owner and ask where we should park the ‘van.
Neels, the owner of the lodge, wanted me to pull the caravan into a clearing on the right hand side of the driveway, in front of a big pile of rocks. Gav warned me to be careful and watched with bated breath as I expertly maneuvered the ‘van around the rocks. All we had to do now was unhitched and swing the front of the ‘van to the right and it would be safe and out-of-the-way for the weekend.
I got out of the car feeling quite chuffed at my driving and towing skills and went to stand behind the car to greet Neels and be available to help Gavin swing the caravan into place.
The hand brake was engaged and Gav unhitched the ‘van. At that very minute the caravan began to roll back! Gavin and Neels were still holding on to the front. Neels let go; Gav held on! Within seconds Gav had to let go too because he was being dragged along the ground by the caravan as it gained momentum.
Our perfect Palma plunged into that huge pile of rocks which I had successfully avoided on our way up the driveway while Gav and I looked on helplessly and Neels stood there dumbfounded.
On impact the caravan swung to one side and came to a halt with one wheel up in the air. Gav got up off the ground, all covered in sand and limped to the back of the caravan to assess the damage. I was frozen in place with my hands over my face.
When my ability to think returned to me I reached for Gavin’s cellphone. Not to take photo’s – although now that it’s over I wish I had taken a few.
My first reaction was to phone the salesman who had just sold us a caravan with a broken hand brake! When B answered the phone I explained in detail what had just taken place. He told me very calmly that the hand brake is not designed to stop a caravan from running backwards. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that a device that stops wheels from rolling forward cannot do the same to wheels rolling backwards. B asked me if the caravan was damaged. I replied that I didn’t know as it was still perched on a pile of rocks. I mentioned to B that Gavin had hurt his leg in his failed attempt to hold on to the caravan. I voiced my disbelief at his reason for the dysfunctional hand brake. He assure me once more that it is in fact so. I said goodbye and hung up. I have to mention here that B never made a follow-up call. I’m very disappointed in his apparent lack of sympathy. I honestly expected him to call back a day or two later to find out if Gavin and the caravan were alright. Sadly I think B was too busy counting his commission.
Unbeknown to us, the biggest rock in the pile of rocks was actually just a fiberglass rock put there to cover the bore hole pipe and pump. This artificial rock was broken into three pieces and lay on the lawn a meter or so from the scene.
The smaller rocks had acted as a sort of ramp – boosting the caravan into the air, clearing the bodywork and causing the chassis to crash into the bore hole pipe.
After a minute or two Gavin was able to start thinking rationally again and between himself and Neels and one of Neels’ staff members they managed to build a ramp with the rocks so that Gavin could use the car (note Gavin is driving now) to pull the ‘van off the pipe without severing the cable that the pump was suspended to; and without causing more damage to the Palma.
Slowly, slowly, rock by rock Gavin edged the caravan down until both wheels were on the ground.
Only then did we realize the damage our runaway ‘van had caused to the bore hole.
The impact of the chassis had chopped the top of the bore hole pipe clean off, severing the connections and causing the pump to sink right down, who knew how far into the bore hole. Watervale Lodge was no municipal water connection. Whatever was left in the Jojo tank was all they had until the bore hole pump could be retrieved and reattached.
Unfortunately this all took place late on a Friday afternoon so Neels was unable to reach anybody who was willing to come out and repair the damage. Someone in Pietermaritzburg said they’d come out on Saturday morning.
Neels, his staff and even Gav had a look and tried to retrieve the pump but unfortunately without the right equipment it was futile.
Eventually Gav had to go to our room and sleep. He was so tired and weak because the poor guy hadn’t been able to eat much all day and he still wasn’t feeling well; not to mention the caravan/bore hole incident taking its toll on his already weakened state.
On Saturday the man from Pietermaritzburg didn’t pitch so Neels and his staff struggled all day until just before 3 o’clock when they finally managed to get the pump out, reconnect it and voila – Watervale Lodge had water again.
At the wedding on Saturday evening Gavin and I were greeted with, “Hey guys! Would you like some whiskey on the rocks? To go with your caravan.”
The damage to the caravan was minor: a few surface scratches at the back, a small dent in the chassis and the drain plug of the water tank was slightly bent.
If our caravan had missed the bore hole pipe it would have been a lot worse. Further down the steep, rocky driveway was the lodge’s main electricity supply shed built out of timber and railway beams. Beyond that was a big hole that used to be a farm dam.
Just imagine the disbelief at the insurance call center if Gavin had phoned within half an hour of insuring the Palma to put in a claim because it had rolled away down, down, down the hill.
What lessons did we learn from this experience and what advice can I pass on to other caravan owners?
1) Ladies: learn how to tow and get involved in the nitty-gritty of the caravan. Learn how to hitch and unhitch. Maybe, just maybe, if I had paid more attention in the past I would have known to warn Gav that the safety chain was off when he unhitched the caravan. Feeling as sick and as tired as he was he overlooked that small yet vital detail.
2) Caravan hand brakes are not designed to stop a caravan from rolling backwards. Crazy but true. So if you’re on an incline put bricks or chock blocks or something behind the wheels before you unhitch.
3) Watervale Lodge is a peaceful place to stop over for a night or two. Neels is a gracious host who cooks all the meals himself and his wife Mary makes the desserts, so not only do you get the comfort of a home away from home you get delicious meals too. If ever you do get the chance to stay there tell Neels that the caravan people send their regards.
We are currently owned by three dogs.
All three were adopted as adult dogs so we cannot be held responsible for their names or their bad manners.
Priscilla has a silky-shiny black coat. She is a small, thin Labrador cross something else with boundless energy and springs in her legs. She is very aggressive at the gate – making up for her petite frame by barking ferociously and jumping more than one and half meters into the air. No-one wants to venture into our garden uninvited. We call her Cilla or Silly for short. She loves Justin the most and her favourite place to sleep is on his bottom bunk. Her favourite toy is a tennis ball and her favourite pastime is chewing. Cilla chews anything and everything from pillows, cushions and comforters to toys, stationery, furniture, cars, bicycles, etc. You name it – she has chewed it. If something goes missing from the house the first place we look for it is on the dog’s blanket in the kitchen or in the dog’s kennel.
The reason Cilla’s first family got rid of her was because of the damage she did to the son’s motorbike. The alarm bells should’ve rung loud in my head when I heard that, but she had already crept into my heart when I saw her and her sister Jessica in a photo on a web-site advertising dogs for free to good homes.
Jessica is, to put it delicately, bigger than Cilla. Not taller, just bigger. She has a red-brown short-haired coat and had the misfortune of having her tail docked far too short when she was a puppy. She is a Corgi cross Fox-Terrier or Jack Russel, or maybe all three and then some.
We call her Jess or Jessi. Her and Cilla have been together since puppy-hood and so had to be adopted together. That was fine by me because I was looking for two young girl dogs, one Labrador and one Jack Russel, when I found them on the website. In their photo Priscilla was standing protectively over Jessi who was sitting under Cilla’s tummy, they looked so cute and forlorn. I had to give them a home.
Jess has a jealous nature and tries to push in if we are giving Cilla attention. She’s a gentle girl though and although she enjoys chewing things after Cilla has had enough, our biggest problem with her is that she leaks wee when she lies down in one place for too long. I know, I know – we really know how to pick them don’t we?
We adopted Cilla and Jess when they were one and we have had them for fifteen months.
The latest edition to our doggie family is Jackie. She is (ta-dum) a Jack Russel! Honestly – some people have no imagination when it comes to naming their pets. We call her Jackie or Jacks and I call her Jacki-nik-nacki.
Jacki joined us when she was two and we have had her for nearly three months so she is the same age as Cilla and Jess.
She is a miniature Jack Russel though – so she looks like a puppy compared to the other two.
We adopted Jackie from a family who are emigrating to Europe.
She is cheeky and has a piercingly loud bark for such a small dog. Her favourite pastime is chasing flies.
Jackie has adopted me as her favourite person. It is quite a novelty to have a doggie so attached to me. She follows me around wherever I go and has the naughty habit of biting me on the heel before I walk into bathroom because she knows I’m going to close the door.
She also has springs in her legs and jumps up to nibble my hand while I walk. It can get quite annoying.
We trained her to sleep in a basket in Cammi’s room and she climbs in and out of the bedroom window when she needs to go outside.
The other two sleep outside and have unfortunately started squeaking at Cammi’s window when they want Jackie to come out and play.
Although not my choice, their names befit them. Cilla is silly, Jess is jealous and Jackie is a jack-in-a-box. They do not like to swim and barely tolerate being bathed. The three of them play well together and rough and tumble anywhere and anytime they have an opportunity.
When our pets become a part of our family we do not know what they are going to be like or how they are going to fit in.
Every one of our pets has their own nature, temperament and habits. Each one has brought with them their own brand of love and affection. In just the same way as the human members of the family add to the flavour of the recipe for a perfectly balanced home environment, so our pets add their ingredients to the mix.
I had to take a chicken to the vet, a couple of times. Not the same chicken though.
As I mentioned in a previous blog we tried chicken farming while we lived on the plot.
This is actually quite ironic because I’m the kind of person that names all living things that come under my care and would never dream of raising anything just to kill it in a few weeks.
Let me start at the beginning though and explain the way it happened.
We bought the plot with the idea of farming and making money. We tried growing spinach, butternut, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon and an assortment of other crops. Our crops were mostly successful, and we found a market for most of our produce in Pretoria and Krugersdorp. After a few seasons we realized that growing crops on our small scale and supplying the middleman was not going to make us rich. We decided to quit while we still had money in the bank.
The problem was we couldn’t just “live” on the plot and not earn money from the land… we had to do something to make money. A friend of ours said we should try broiler chickens. He had worked in a management position for one of the country’s biggest chicken farms. I didn’t even consider it, but Gavin took some time to find out more about the business of chicken farming.
Then we had a meeting, Gavin and I, and he showed me on paper how much money we could make if we farmed with broilers.
The abattoir was conveniently situated on a plot only nine kilometers away and the day old chicks could be bought in Pretoria. The food was available at any feed and produce store and we had existing outbuildings suitable to rear six hundred chickens in two batches, four weeks apart.
“Let’s just try one hundred and see how it goes,” Gavin encouraged.
So we went out and bought all the equipment needed for one hundred broiler chickens.
I didn’t want the chickens growing up in horrible conditions, ultimately I wanted them to be able to walk around outside in fenced off pens. So we modified the room that the chickens would inhabit and made a pop-hole in the one wall with a sliding door for protection at night. The floor was covered with wood shavings to absorb any messes that they would make while they were inside.
Our first one hundred day old chicks arrived. We only lost three of them and that was right in the beginning. Six weeks later I loaded them into boxes and took them to the abattoir. I met Judy Miles, a truly lovely person, despite the fact that she killed chickens for a living. That afternoon I collected 97 cleaned, wrapped and weighed whole birds from the abattoir and by the end of the week I had sold them all.
Wow! That was easy.
And it wasn’t so bad, the slaughtering part that is, because I wasn’t directly involved.
We went up to batches of two hundred. Our mortality rate stayed around three percent, which is good. We only lost chicks in the first week, and that was mainly due to suffocation while they slept, because despite the heaters, they slept on top of one another.
Our friend that advised us to try farming chickens came for a visit to see how we were doing. He was full of advice. “Your chickens are getting too much light. Cover the doors and turn the lights down. He said the more light they have the more active they are and the less weight they gain. Don’t let them go outside; they’re broiler chickens, not pets. Next thing you know they will have lice.”
Well I wanted my chickens to be active and wanted them to experience fresh air and sunlight, but this was not good for business, I was told.
We did as he advised. The room they were being kept in was gloomy and dull and was getting stuffy. Within a week two of my bigger chickens had died. Hence my first trip to the vet. He did an autopsy and found that the chicken had died of a heart attack, induced by rapid growth.
Well, I didn’t care that chickens that lived in sunlight were not as chubby as those who lived in a semi-dark environment. I wanted healthy, happy chickens that were free to come and go inside and outside, even if it meant they weighed slightly less. My customers were very happy with the chickens they were buying. They were not excessively fatty and had a really great taste, so we opened the rooms up again.
After a few months we were up to batches of five hundred chickens every four weeks. It was quite tiring because at this stage we didn’t have staff and Gavin was employed by an electrical consulting firm and worked a full day.
So it was mostly my job to clean and maintain the chicken houses and make sure they were fed, watered and vaccinated. One of my responsibilities was to weigh five percent of the batch once a week and keep a record of any deaths. This information helped us to establish whether the batch was growing properly or had any health issues.
My parents and my family who lived on the plot were very helpful and often took over one of my responsibilities when I had something else I needed to do.
Besides caring for the living chickens I had to market and deliver the prepared ones. I am not a sales person. I have tremendous respect for people who are successful in sales – it is not easy.
Thanks to some marketing on my part and a lot of word-of-mouth sales from my customers we were soon doing batches of one thousand chickens. About one third of my customers were households who bought small amounts of chicken which I delivered. This was quite time consuming. The other two thirds of my customers were small hotels, restaurants, butchers and spaza shop owners. These big deliveries were what made the business of chicken farming worthwhile.
By this stage we had converted and built more buildings to house the chickens and we had employed David, a wonderful and hardworking man.
As you can imagine such a large scale operation needed a lot of planning. I lived according to the calendar, planning my life around the arrival of the day old chicks and the dispatch of the older ones at six, seven or eight week intervals. There are a lot of health hazards having different batches of chicken at different ages. The coupes housing the different ages had to be about one hundred meters apart and clothing and equipment that was being used in one coupe could not be used in another.
We had implemented an automatic watering system which really helped, except if one of the silly chickens decided to roost under the suspended bowl and tip it to one side. This caused the bowl to empty and the system would automatically keep filling the bowl. There is nothing worse than a chicken run full of hundreds of chickens sploshing around in wet stinky shavings.
By this stage we had grown large enough that the feed company was delivering the food to us, we didn’t have to drive all the way to Pretoria to fetch it in a little bakkie and a trailer.
One month I noticed that my one week old chicks were not gaining weight as they should have been. Then I noticed some of the chicks were becoming deformed and my mortality rate was higher than average. This discovery led to my second trip to the vet with a chicken. I took a dead chicken and a deformed chicken and asked the vet to please do an autopsy. The results of the autopsy were that the chicks were lacking in certain vitamins. After many phone calls back and forth to the feed company and other chicken farmers who bought their feed from the same place we discovered that the feed company had indeed left one of the vital vitamins out of an entire batch of feed. By this stage the chickens were over three weeks old and the mortality and deformity rate was horrible.
Like I mentioned in a previous blog we were losing chickens faster than the feral cats could eat them. So we had to dig deep holes in our open field to bury dozens of chickens at a time.
Once we discovered what the problem was I changed to another brand of feed, but it was too late, I lost eighty percent of that batch. It was such a blow. I had to phone my big customers and tell them I couldn’t deliver. I lost a lot of my big customers over that period of time.
We put in a claim at the feed producer for the feed and the loss of sales. Luckily I had kept accurate records of my previous batches so I had proof of what a healthy batch should weigh compared to the number of deaths I had and how tiny the few surviving chickens were. It took the feed company nearly two years to settle our claim. By then we had sold the plot and moved to town.
Chicken farming was an amazing experience. The sound of one thousand cheeping day olds ringing in your ears; the smell of a freshly prepared coup with clean wood shavings; getting up at four o’clock in the morning to get the chickens to the abattoir before it got too hot; the deliveries to my satisfied customers who quite quickly became my friends and the feeling of achievement that went with running a successful little enterprise.
Will I do it again? No way! But there are parts of it I miss and I do think back to those days with a sense of accomplishment.
In one of my next blogs I will share with you how we met a crocodile farmer through our chicken trade.