Category Archives: TRAVEL



Sometimes everything works in your favour. Just for once!  Such was the case when Nina & I visited the Postberg Flower Reserve within the West Coast National Park  last  week. The Reserve is only open during Flower Season, in August and September, when our fabulous Spring wildflowers pop out. So I thought I’d share our lovely day with my readers. And also to show the more positive side of South Africa instead of the usual drama and disasters that blights our country.

Firstly here is a  pic of my faithful photographers standing in a field of flowers.  As I have said before  we’re the perfect combo – she likes to take pics and I  like to go on outings

.I couldn’t resist this pic – the carpet of purple flowers was gorgeous. Thanks to the strangers who provided perspective for Nina’s pic.


This was the one and only patch  of cerise flowers we saw – a genuine shocking pink!

Not so dramatic, but still beautiful.  If you look carefully at the two close-ups you will notice more tiny flowers in the pics. The white background is a mixture of sand and pulverised shells.


What a glorious day we had!









imagesSouth Africa is not an easy country to live in.  The challenges are enormous,  ranging from the ever present threat of crime, to rising cost of living due to the drought, to our desperate water shortage here in the Western Cape.

So  I am delighted to share   a heart-warming story  from the  tiny town of  Phalaborwa, situated in Limpopo Province. Phalaborwa is small – population approx 13 500 ,  close to the famous Kruger National Park . It’s bushveld terrain. Hot, dry,  and thorny.

My sister and her husband recently drove up there  to attend her father-in-law’s funeral and help her mother-in-law sort out the paperwork and business affairs that are the inevitable result of a death. . Her in-laws   have lived in Phalaborwa for over 30 years.

Oom* Koos was old, well into his eighties. I never met the man, but always relish  the story of how he opened up his garage early one morning, and was literally bowled over by a leopard charging out, desperate to get back to the bush! A true  Bushveld story. How or why the leopard spent the night in Oom Koos’ garage, I don’t know. But you get the picture.

My sister told me that the town was unbelievably  supportive of the newly widowed woman. Apparently her car needed fixing urgently, and the local garage repaired it, but refused to charge her, saying “repairs were on the house”.

Likewise, when my sister and Mrs Fourie went to the local SPAR to order plates of sandwiches and snacks for the after-funeral tea, there was the same generosity. “No charge”.  Let me be clear – the family did not in any ways ask for discount or assistance, this was the spontaneous response from the SPAR Manager. “No charge – it’s on the house”.

During the week that my sister was in Phalaborwa, she told me that neighbours arrived daily, with cooked meals, forfour people,  three times a day! Not just the next-door neighbour, but different women on a daily basis.

Now that’s true, old fashioned neighbourliness. Wonderful  to discover that generosity and kindness are alive and well in the far North of South Africa! Finally some good news. Let’s all celebrate the notion of neighbourliness, sharing and kindness.  Our country needs it.


*Oom – respectful title bestowed on older men . Afrikaans origin






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I decided to catch Cape Town’s MyCiti bus into town, to attend the Open Book Festival, held in the CBD. After all, I have my pre-loaded bus card, so why not?  Fighting city traffic and hunting for a parking never appeals to me. The bus had to be the better option.

All went according to plan from my local stop, to the City terminus. What a good idea this was! Now all I had to do was find out where to catch the last  bus  to take me to the Festival venue at the Atholl Fugard Theatre. So I approached the nearest MyCiti official and asked which bus I should take to the District Six Museum, knowing that it was around the corner from the Fugard.

I know I said District Six Museum but what the official heard was only the first part.  She told me there was a District Six stop. So: I boarded. The bus ploughed up Adderley Street, into Darling Street, past the Castle, and up the hill to Cape Town Tech. At which point I had a nasty sinking feeling. I knew that my intended destination now lay half a kilometre behind me, but the bus forged on. Sure enough, there was a District Six stop, but it wasn’t where I needed to alight! By now, we were too far advanced for me to jump off and  walk quickly to the theatre. Sometimes you just gotta relax, and admire the view. Which I did, for the next half hour.

The higher we ascended, the more  spectacular the views. First the narrow streets of Woodstock, gentrified cottages and  pricey eateries; then the hodge-podge of shabby Salt River shops and backyard dwellings.



Ahead were the narrow, narrow streets of Walmer Estate, which our bus driver tackled with verve , causing me  to feverishly repeat my mantra. Up and round and round, to the  windy heights  of University Estate, a fantastic view of the harbour far below – vessels, oil rigs, cranes, and the Atlantic.

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Down, down we plunged at breakneck speed towards the maelstrom of Salt River  traffic circle which is a crazy roundabout of trucks, bakkies, cars, motorbikes all converging on a mammoth traffic circle – I clung onto my seat grimly as our Lewis Hamilton-wannabe driver charged round the circle,  back up into Salt River Main Road which I knew  would ultimately lead us  back to the City terminus.  But not before we’d missed several cars by a whisker in Salt River, and had an altercation at the bottom end of Adderley Street, where the road narrowed down to one lane and a cheeky white Corsa thought it would nip smartly in front of our bus … The Corsa lost out, defeated by a storm of angry hooting from our driver.


I think I used up my day’s allocation of adrenalin, but I loved seeing the flower sellers in Trafalgar Square, loved the cypresses and green grass of the upper mountain slopes, the harbour views, the tatty peeling charm of Salt River – and miraculous to report, I boarded another bus, got off at the correct stop, dashed up Harrington Street and made it to the venue in time. Phew!Blommemeisie-5_380_430_80






(Book Review)

While browsing at a Charity Book Sale, I found a battered copy of  A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush  by Eric Newby, which I’d never read, and knowing it was a classic, I bought it. I don’t know why, but somehow I had an ingrained  notion that it was a boring stuffy account by a military man, a leftover from the famous British Raj; and for this reason, I had always passed over the book on sale tables or library shelves. Was I ever mistaken!

Initially the preface put me off : it’s written by Evelyn Waugh and I thought : oh dear, this is going to be about two limp wristed chaps being precious about the scenery.  Wrong again. Which just goes to prove how mis-leading assumptions nearly always are.

Eric Newby received a cable from  his friend Hugh Carless (a career diplomat in the British Foreign Office) stationed at the time in Rio de Janeiro, pithily asking: CAN YOU TRAVEL NURISTAN JUNE?  The year was 1956.  Newby – somewhat oddly – was then working in the London haute couture trade. Prior to that he’d been an army officer, and prior to that had lead an adventurous life travelling around the Mediterranean, plus time sailing.  In 1938 when he apprenticed aboard the Finnish windjammer Moshulu and took part in the “Grain Race” from Australia to Europe by way of Cape Horn.

But a mountaineer he wasn’t; so far as I could see, no experience at all, and yet his chum Carless was inviting  him to the wild mountains of the Hindu Kush, north-east of Afghanistan.

I had no idea where Nuristan was, and the maps in the book were hopeless. Whilst they showed the mountain ranges which Newby climbed, they gave no clue as to the whereabouts  of the peaks in Asia. I hauled out my giant Rand McNally Atlas and peered at the maps of North India, Pakistan, Afghanistan to no avail. I did find the words ‘Hindu Kush’ spread out over an area of North eastern Afghanistan, but the area then known as ‘Nuristan’ seems to have vanished.

Once Carless returned to England,  preparation time for the expedition was short. There was equipment and rations to buy, visas to organise, tickets to be bought. Newby’s wife accompanied them as far as Istanbul, and then reluctantly returned home – a good thing, in view of what followed.

Anyway, the two would-be mountaineers managed to squeeze in a 3 day trip to the mountains in Wales, to receive some hasty training by an experienced mountaineer, but that was the extent of their technical knowledge.  At this point I shook my head in disbelief. In the preface Waugh witters on about the charm of British eccentrics and gentleman explorers. He wasn’t wrong. My jaw dropped when I read that Newby had been unable to source proper mountaineering boots prior to departure, so off he went equipped with PLIMSOLLS (a.k.a. takkies) and unbelievably, wore them on the descent. His boots were mailed to him and never reached him. Naturally he suffers terribly from blisters due to the unsuitable boots he does manage to find.

When I think of modern expedition equipment, state of the art clothing and  kit, plus NASA space-style dehydrated foods – these two survived on tinned food, chiefly Irish stew, and on one occasions dined off a one pound tin of strawberry jam, and a tinned baked apple pudding. The mind reels.  Finding provisions en route was difficult. The area was sparsely populated, and the locals lived on very little, without much surplus to offer travellers. And when the mountaineers  did eat local food, the inevitable result was severe diahorrea.

Carless’ old and trusted cook was to have accompanied them up the mountain, but he only remained with the expedition for a short while, due to a commitment to his existing employer. Thereafter catering was a hit and miss affair. Mostly miss. Carless was completely disinterested in rations, food or cooking.

They hired a guide, plus two men, to look after the baggage and horses, (the poor old horses had a dreadful time of it, both animals and men were literally skeletons by the time they staggered out  of the area.)

In the event they didn’t succeed in reaching their goal, the summit of Mt Samir. 700 feet below the summit of 19 000-plus feet , they took the wise decision to descend, whilst they had sufficient light. And even then, it was perilous. So near, and yet so far.

En route they encountered wild tribesmen, bandits, mullahs, primitive shepherds none of whom could speak the Farsi (Persian) or Urdu spoken by the  climbers. All the local inhabitants spoke ancient  tribal dialects, and the tale is sprinkled with historical graffiti about Timur (Tamerlane) and Alexander the Great. This mind you, only 70 years ago! Nuristan at that time was beyond remote, and I suspect that the passing of time has not brought much by way of modernisation to the Hindu Kush.

When the climbers were not traversing rocky slopes or treacherous windy roads bordered by precipices, they were descending the cliffs to river valleys, watered by icy rivers , bordered by willow trees.  Apricot and mulberry trees provided fruit, wheat was grown. There were cattle, also flocks of sheep. The Nuristanis were renowned makers of butter, and bartered quantities of butter for other goods, but this meant  their men had  to cross mighty mountain passes, carrying enormous goatskin bags of butter to trade.

Reading Newby’s account is like taking a giant step back in time, maybe as distant as the Middle Ages, so far as his account of the land and its peoples is concerned. As for it being an account of an expedition, a journey of exploration, well, I’m not so sure. Part of the blurb on the back jacket says : Impossible to read this book without laughing aloud … the funniest travel book I have ever read.  (The Observer). I didn’t find the book hugely funny – most of the time I was aghast at their foolhardiness, their unpreparedness!

Maybe The Times Literary Supplement sums it up best: A notable addition to the literature of unorthodox travel … tough, extrovert, humorous and immensely literate.’

I’m definitely keeping the book, I like the fact that is battered and worn – kind of like the two men who walked over the Afghanistan Mountains.






*(JAPAP: This acronym stands for Just a Para & Pics as opposed to text only Just a Para. The Writing Drought continues).

One of the many things I love about living in Cape Town is the fact that during Spring it’s like living in a gigantic garden, which you can simply enjoy without any of the hassle of weeding, watering, fertilising, snail control and so on. I snapped these pics with my trusty Nokia, en route to the Library. The flowers were growing on the roadside, and on the beach. Spring in Cape Town is wonderful!

En route to Melkbos. Table Mountain in the background. Pic by Jay Heale

En route to Melkbos. Table Mountain in the background. Pic by Jay Heale

Daisies on Melkbos beach

Daisies on Melkbos beach


October 4, 2013 · 7:07 pm


Deutsch: Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) in Südafrika

Deutsch: Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) in Südafrika (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realize I should have posted this account prior to showing off my Nokia pics in my previous post,  but  I was so excited about my pics, I forgot about the journey and the sights along the way. But not to worry – you may join me now if you wish, alas! no Nokia pics to accompany the text. En route to Underberg, I hadn’t thought of using the camera function on my phone.

Because I dislike driving – especially on roads decorated with stray kamikaze goats, who are horribly speedy as they dash across the narrow tarmac; browsing cattle on the verges, wobbly cyclists, over-laden trucks, and huge SAPPI trucks loaded with timber – no thanks, I’d rather pay and take the NUD Shuttle to Underberg. Much more soothing. You can sit in the back and enjoy the scenery.

We whisked along past surprisingly full rivers, but the dry brown hills rising from the rivers were what I’d expected during winter-time. In between the goats on the road I saw the occasional skinny sheep with dirty, tatty wool, which was another surprise. Kwa-Zulu Natal is not really sheep country, the Western Cape is the area for sheep, millions of them.

I enjoyed looking at the small farmsteads and houses dotted on the hillsides. Some were the old, traditional  round huts with thatched roofs.  Others, presumably more modern, were small rectangular houses, many with interesting paint colours notably a deep violet that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a bordello! I can only assume the violet paint was a real bargain on a sale. Government buildings sported new cream paint, with a vivid sky blue trim to prevent mud splashes during the summer rains. The painter must have been an Ndebele, because the borders had been given a traditional geometric pattern effect.

Outside Bulwer I saw scores of school children along the dusty roadside, exiting from school buses – all remarkably spruce in navy track-suits, with a white chevron and gold trim, no hanging shirt-tails or rebellious add-ons. In view of the reports we often hear about rural poverty, this was a welcome sight.

We passed big timber plantations. The spruce needles hang in pretty fringes from the branches, reminiscent of Japanese scenes on scrolls and paintings. The massive timber trucks are neither artistic nor pleasing, as they crawl up the hills at nought miles per hour, belching exhaust fumes, and preventing traffic from passing. There are few stretches of flat road in this hilly terrain. Other heavy duty trucks clog up the roads, carrying agricultural supplies and products, building materials, and who knows what? Impossible to tell.  Surprisingly, I saw hardly any buses or taxis, even deep into the rural areas, where few people own private cars. But Underberg was full of the ubiquitous bakkies and 4x4s, driven by village locals, and also visitors en route to the resorts and parks of the nearby Drakensburg mountains.

As we left Underberg the horizon was decorated with mountain peaks in a soft blue – a series of ranked cut-outs at the edge of the world. Dharmagiri Hermitage lies in the foothills of the Drakensberg, on its own mountain, Bamboo Mountain. On my first night at DG I looked up through the cold, clear sky and marvelled at the stars so very many, and so very bright. Such a contrast to the city night skies down on the coast. How wonderful to be standing outside at night, gazing up at the stars!

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On my recent Writing/Meditation retreat at Dharmagiri in July, I gave myself a break and packed no fancy gadgets, only my trusty old Nokia. It’s not a smart-phone, just a chunky Stone Age Nokia that provides basic services like texting (where would we be without it?) phone calls, a calendar/reminder system and that’s about it. Over the years I’d ignored the little circular lens at the back of the phone – I mean, you look at the screen in the front of the phone, don’t you? Who goes around examining the back of the thing?

However, once I’d retreated to the Centre which offers no radio, TV, newspapers, or internet connection (you really do RETREAT when you drive up the hill) and when the Writing course was finished, I spent another four days on my own, doing more writing, and relaxing. But even I grow tired of reading, and I was written out, and while basking in the mild winter sun is lovely it doesn’t do much for fair-skinned folk – and that was when I remembered that my cellphone had a camera feature.  Now: I’m no photographer. I’m the first to admit this. Furthermore, I have a family who take a keen interest in photography, have fancy camera equipment, and take umpteen photos on every family occasion. So I don’t bother to take photos myself.

But, left to my own devices, and admiring the winter scenery in the Berg, I thought:what a marvellous picture the mountain would make, especially at sunset, and dawn. What a pity I didn’t bring my camera.  Yes, I do actually own a camera, but it languishes in my cupboard at home and whenever I go on an outing you can bet that halfway to the destination I’m thinking: drat! Should have brought my camera .. It happens every time. So, as you can see, I’m not camera minded. However, I used a Box Brownie when I was a kid – point and press – that worked for me. Dead easy. Then my Dad (reluctantly) let me use his precious Kodak, which boasted the concertina fold-out lens – this was high-tech stuff, back in the 1950s. Years later I acquired another simple Point&Click camera, still using rolls of film.  What a pest those film rolls were! They had a life of their own and would unroll exactly when you didn’t want them to, exposing the film, and you landed up with even more grainy, light damaged prints of – nothing. For klutzes like me, the digital camera has a lot going for it. Unfocussed pics, wobbly pics, finger trouble and mistaken clicks? No problem! Just press the magic delete key.

I gingerly explored the Media Menu on my phone, found the Camera option, hopefully pointed the lens at the mountain, pressed the Capture Button and voila! See some of the results below.  A  shady pathway,  Bamboo Mountain at dawn, and my favourite picture of Bodhisattva Quan Yin.


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It’s a sunny morning at the beginning of April, and I’m sitting on the deck, looking out at an idyllic scene: a little stream, bordered with bushes, flowers, rushes, marsh grasses, birds flitting in and out of the water,taking tiny sips before flying off again, birds splashing, fluttering, bathing. The water runs downhill, murmuring as it flows over the stones. To me, the sound of softly running water is one of the most relaxing sounds in the world. Where am I?  I’m in Kwa Zulu Natal, sitting in my daughter Helen’s garden, enjoying the morning, the birds, the little stream.

And now, if I tell you that this is a fake stream running down the hill in her garden, you’ll probably think :”Huh? What? Why?”  Look at the pic below and see if you can spot the fakery? Bet you can’t!

april 2009 007

It looks real, doesn’t it? The plants, the water and the birds are as real as real can be. But the river bed, ending in a pond further down the slope, was cleverly constructed by the landscaper, and – believe it or not – the rocks are fake! But to the eye they look like perfectly ordinary rocky rocks – amazing what can be manufactured nowadays. The river bed is edged with rocks in varying sizes which form the banks, the water follows the slope of the ground downwards, culminating in a reed fringed pond.   Initially, the pond was stocked with fish, but this proved to be an abortive venture  –  the hammerkops and herons descended and made short work of those fish. So that was the end of the fish. Sometimes you just have to concede defeat.

On the far bank of the little stream are Marsh grasses, and  down at the pond, taller Papyrus wave their spiky heads. All the plants are indigenous – for instance the lanky yellow flowers, another plant with long stems ending in bushy flower heads  bursting with pinky lavender flowers. There’s one alien plant, a clump of red zinnias, which ‘just volunteered’, the way plants do in a garden.  At the top of the stream the thick vegetation gives a grotto effect, and hides the water inlet pipe. Somewhere down by the pond is a pipe leading to the pump that sends the  water back uphill again.

In the foreground there’s a Leopard Tree, so called because of its spotted bark.The tree trunk is wreathed in canary creeper, the bright canary yellow flowers contrasting against the mottled trunk.

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If you get tired of listening to the river (and I never do) there are plenty of  birds to watch. The Hadedahs parading and pecking on the lawn, for once silent, being fully engaged in their food-hunt.

Fat doves are bullying hordes of LBJs (you know:Little Brown Jobs) on the grass, under the bird-feeder which  hangs from the lowest tree branches of the pigeonwood tree. The birds are pecking at fallen seeds which have spilled from the tray above, amidst all the fluttering and squabbling over the seeds.

Grey crested mousebirds flash the orange undersides of their tails as they  perch on the mimosa tree branches, they’re eating insects hiding in the foliage.

I’ve seen smart Bulbuls with their black faces topped by black caps and  backs,  with their contrasting pale bodies under the black top feathers.

If I’m lucky I’ll see the Ground Thrush with his bright brown-orange chests, always hop-hop-hopping. They’re such hoppity birds you wonder when they ever find time to stop and peck up something to eat.

The water attracts the Wagtails, eternally chirruping, and eternally jerking their little grey tails upwards. They remind me of warthogs, who always stick their short tails up at 90 degrees before trotting off.

I’m still hoping to see the Robin with his orange chest and  white brow stripe. Helen says they do come to the water, but not that often.

april 2009 003

I can recommend a combo of river and bird-watching as a balm for tired souls, and if you’re exhausted and out of sorts, go and find the nearest river and spend some time sitting close by, doing absolutely nothing. Let me know how your river visit turns out.

(Thanks to Helen Buckle for the pics)


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8 Hours Left To Twiddle My Thumbs

8 Hours Left To Twiddle My Thumbs.

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Passionate nomad : Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Cover of Jane Fletcher Geniesse's biography of...

Cover of Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography of Freya Stark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A not very recent read – read about 5 years ago)

What a woman – what a life – what a story – what a book!  I was captivated right through this lively, well-researched book about the eccentric lady explorer. She was a Traveller and  a writer  – in her heyday in the late 1920s,  until just after WWII.  A dazzling combo of brains – she learnt Arabic plus dialects, Persian, Italian, French and German; became a cartographer, an ethnographer, and a world authority on the Middle East . She exerted charm, virtually a one-woman international charm offensive.  She seems to have accomplished more by charm than anything else, despite her scientific achievements as an explorer.

Freya was small but formidable, and still very feminine,  with a liking for hats and make-up.  Such a contrast to the two Oxfod blue stockings who joined her expedition to the Hadramaut  – it was a disaster.  Frey Stark flitted, flirted and charmed her way through life and the world. She was terribly well-connected and knew (and cheerfully used) everybody.  Her friends needed to be indulgent and long suffering,  particularly her life-long publisher Jock Murray of John Murray Publishers. She produced 22 books, mostly travel, with one book of essays, and then eight volumes of letters privately published.  Mygoodness, but she wrote letters on an epic scale  – in this age of the cellphone/text messages/e-mail one forgets how, in previous years, the letter was a prime means of communication.

Freya Stark had a blind spot concerning gay men: she seemed unable to comprehend the basics of male gayness, and kept befriending, falling in love with and even marrying  one: she was self-willed to an extraordinary degree.  Had she not been so, doubtless her life would have been humdrum.

I learnt about the Africa and Middle East campaigns and politics of WWII, about which I knew zero. Prior to this book I could  just about  recall the names of the famous generals and the great military defeats and victories.  And good old Freya Stark was part of it all.  I’m adding her to my list of the people I wish I’d met. The other person on my list is Aleister Crowley, at one point labelled by the Press as The Wickedest Man in the World.   Thinking it over, how I admire Frey Stark for her grasp of languages (as a child I longed to be a polyglot) her varied travels (I also longed to see distant and exotic places) and I also wanted to become a writer so there’s a strong commonality between us.

The more I think of Freya Stark the more charmed and intrigued I become:  her strategic withdrawals to bed with illnesses when she couldn’t cope;  the longing to be loved and cosseted – haven’t we all been there? and how like her demanding and domineering mother she became, seemingly unconscious of this repeated character trait.  She simply ignored what didn’t suit her or accord with her ideas, and sailed blithely on. How marvellous to be so much one’s own person and be admired (although not universally) for it.  She had her critics and detractors, periods of poverty and depression: but – what a woman, what a life !