Category Archives: TRAVEL



(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.


Photo0013 Photo0022



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april 2009 006

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.

Garden 2013 001

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 !




Papkuilsfontei Farm boasts a wild olive tree, over 600 yrs old ! We were on the farm to look at flowers, but it was a cloudy day so hardly any were out – (the Spring flowers blossom under sunshine, but grey skies send them back to bed again. I know the feeling!) However we admired some ruins , remains of houses built, by the original settlers. Then we visited a magnificent waterfall, charging down the rocky sandstone cliffs. We lunched at the Farm’s Visitors’ Centre and our Tour Group had some fun trying on  their collection of hats. Put a man in a floppy, pastel coloured hat – a sight to behold; no picture, alas.

Doorn River Waterfall, a few miles north of Ni...

Doorn River Waterfall, a few miles north of Nieuwoudtville on the road to Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape, Soutafrica Română: Doorn River Cascadă, Nieuwoudtville, Provincia Noord-Kaap, Africa de Sud Afrikaans: Doornriviervalle in die Hantamstreek, naby Nieuwoudtville, Noord-Kaap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We saw a waterfall at Papkuilsfontein Farm yesterday, and  visited another one 7 km outside of Nieuwoudtvillewe– so unexpected, no sign of a river in the surrounding countryside, but suddenly a respectable sized waterfall emerging from a hole in the sandstone cliff, carving a gulley, water plunging a long way down to the rocks below and rushing away in a stream of bright green water. There was a low retaining wall of stone, and a winding footpath along the cliff-top, and from another vantage point one could finally see the small river which suddenly emerged from the rocks and turned into the waterfall. The sun shone, the flowers bloomed, and I stood watching birds spiralling up and away on the thermals generated by the falling water – their wings flashed orange on the underside, in contrast to the black silhouette, making a magic moment.

But the thing that really says small country town to me is the windmills. In the early days they were very necessary suppliers of water, drawn from deep underground acquifers. I love to see the grey blades turning creakily against the high blue skies. For some reasons, windmills are always grey – whether it’s just bare galvanised iron, or whether it’s the manufacturer’s colour choice, I don’t know. In fact, Nieuwoudtville boasts a Windmill Museum. Apparently there are only two in the whole world, the other one being in Arizona, both areas renowned for their aridity.

The windmill display at Loeriesfontein, in the...

The windmill display at Loeriesfontein, in the Northern Cape, South Africa. There are 23 old water-pumping windmills on display here, within the “Fred Turner” folk and culture museum. Often referred to as the “Windmill Museum”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a number of B & Bs catering to the tourist trade. They range from the excellent to the adequate. We were lucky enough to stay in an excellent one, with super-helpful hosts and generous meals (see Swiss Villa, in part 2). Running a B&B in a tiny town means that major shopping has to be done in van Rhynsdorpover 100kms away, so there’s no popping down to the shops to do a quick pick up of forgotten custard powder.
There’s also a brave attempt at a new coffee shop/curio store a few kms out of town, its called the Blik Bazaar and offers handstitched tray cloths, home- made rusks, fig rolls, quince rolls, cleverly made trinkets from re-cycled tins, hand-made bits and bobs. You can sample the traditional rooster-koek, but you need a strong set of teeth to tackle them, and don’t on any account, ask for tea. It’s dreadful. The Afrikaaners make good coffee, but they don’t understand tea – unless its Rooibos tea, of course, which most Ceylon tea drinkers dislike.
Chris, our genial B&B host , told me Nieuwoudtville actually has a Pigeon Racing Club – it only has three members, mind you. He also told me there is no resident doctor, only an elderly nursing sister who has officially retired, but still dispenses good advice.
Nieuwoudtville’s an interesting place to visit, if you’re after peace, quiet, clear air, and glorious Spring Flowers. But I wouldn’t like to live there.

Spring flowers near Loeriesfontein in the Nort...

Spring flowers near Loeriesfontein in the Northern Cape of South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Nieuwoudtville is busy for two months of the year, August & September, the famous Flower Season .

Ursinia cakilefolia carpet

Ursinia cakilefolia carpet (Photo credit: Sericea)

The town itself is spread out, due to the large size of the plots; they looked to be about 1 acre each, at the least.  There’s a main street  called Voortrekkker Road of course, which has a Slaghuis/Butchery  (this area is famous for its mutton), there’s  a branch of ABSA, fenced off with stout green bars , but no other banks.  There’s a hotel, which I didn’t investigate, but it looked dark and gloomy, a squat one-storey building.  And the usual Dutch Reformed Church, and I think I saw a Post Office.  A couple of Algemene Handelaars/General Dealers, but none of the customary chain stores that you see in most other South African towns.

There was very little traffic to be seen.  I noticed a couple of big tour buses, returning from the flower viewing areas, the occasional local in a 4×4, but other than that, only foot traffic – maids walking to work, men loitering on street corners, or basking in the sun on the pavement.  A few kids roaming around, small groups of men at day’s end, overall-clad, returning home from work – which puzzled me. There didn’t appear to be any industry in the town. The pace of life is slow, and the town is very very quiet, which is refreshing for the frazzled city soul.

Some of the houses were in reasonable repair, many needed a coat of paint, and others had a forlorn ramshackle appearance, with clumsy add-ons,  broken down sheds, a hotch-potch of building materials  ranging from brick, to corrugated iron, to who knows what.  Despite the arid landscape and ferociously dry climate, there seemed to be an awful lot of rusty metal scattered about – old farm implements, drums, wrecked cars, and piles of general Stuff (origin & identity a mystery) added to which the sagging, rusty wire strand fences completed the scene of melancholy abandoned small-town ambience.

Many of the residential plots had a few sheep or goats grazing happily on the sweet green winter grass. To my astonishment I saw several goats tethered by stout chains to fence posts, left to graze on the long grass alongside the roads.  Chris, the Swiss Villa owner,  told me that one of the town residents is constantly complaining bitterly to the Police about the tethered goats – whether the objections are on grounds of road safety, or cruelty to animals, wasn’t clear, but apparently she has made it her life’s work! I haven’t seen so many goats for years, they were glossy and fat too, unlike the skinny Zimbabwean goats I saw on last year’s road trip. Those were forced to stand on their hind legs to try and grab a few leaves from the lowest branches of the thorny acacia trees.  By contrast, the Nieuwoudtville goats are in Paradise.  I spotted chickens parading around some of the gardens, one group led by a shiny golden cockerel with his black and white hens following behind.

The peach trees were in bloom – they’re often a feature of small town gardens in the Platteland.  And of course, every vacant plot was ablaze with a carpet of brilliant orange daisies, sprinkled with  patches of purple flowers .  Most of the  sandy streets had clumps of enormous bluegum trees, which must have been eighty or more years old, judging from their great height, and the girth of the trunks, festooned with shards of peeling bark. I’ve always liked gum trees, despite their current eco-unpopularity.  Apparently one tree can consume up to 600 litres of water daily  and it’s obvious that in a dry country like SA, this is not a good thing, but still ..


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In August 2012 I went to Nieuwoudtville, on a Spring Flower Tour.

Vanrhynsdorp wild flowers

Vanrhynsdorp wild flowers (Photo credit: Martin_Heigan)

Nieuwoudtville is remote, an outpost in the vastness of the Northern Cape famed for its  annual Spring Flowers.  It’s isolated, although it does have small towns like Vanrhynsdorp   within a 100km radius, little dots of humanity dotted on the arid landscape.  The Northern Cape is the largest of the Provinces, it might appear to be a vast semi-desert but in fact it has 5  regions ranging from coast to desert to plains – see links.

We drove into the last town in the Western Cape: Vanrhynsdorp My first impression  wasn’t a good one. The sky was a lowering grey, a nippy wind swirled round the Caltex filling station where we stopped to refuel, only to discover the garage wouldn’t accept a fuel card – consternation all round. While our driver argued with the petrol attendant, we all drifted around the forecourt, saw a drunk lurching unsteadily towards us, ignored a woman sitting on the pavement huddled against the wind and puffing on a cigarette – how is it that poor people always seem to find enough money to buy cigarettes?  And booze. From my comfortable middle-class life, it seems incongruous, but as the saying goes walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before you criticise. My overall impression was of an ugly, impoverished small town but on the return journey, when the sun was shining, I noticed some trim and tidy buildings, no social derelicts, and the town looked altogether different. Amazing what a bit of sunshine can do!

Leaving Vanrhynsdorp we crawl up the van Rhyns Pass 950m+  giving us aerial views over the veld and vlaktes almost to the ocean – it’s like flying!  How that road was constructed over the mountain in the early 1900’s beats me – what an engineering feat.

Northern Cape, South Africa

Northern Cape, South Africa (Photo credit: Sara&Joachim)

Once we reached the top of the Koue Bokkeveld Mountain we passed into the Northern Cape Province.  It’s vast, mostly arid and empty.  For instance, our guide at the Hantam Botannical Gardens told us that research shows there are 8 porcupines per square kilometre in the Northern Cape, outnumbering the number of humans per square kilometre!  The reason for the proliferation of porcupines is the abundance of bulbs that grow in the area.  Porcupines love to eat tubers, and the veld in the bulb areas was pitted with small holes dug out by hungry porcupines in search of dinner.  They’re nocturnal beasts, seldom seen during daytime, and famed for their strong, sharp black and white quills which now  appear in curio stores, decorating lampshades etc. etc.


Porcupine (Photo credit: Bryn Davies)

Quiver tree

Quiver tree (Photo credit: Gakige)

On the topic of sharp & prickly: we visited the Quiver Tree Forest, and as the pic shows, it’s an arid area, with endless vistas.


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