Monday, August 6, 2007

south africa 2007

Johannesburg is now a reasonable simulation of hell. LA-style traffic, an hour to drive 6 miles at any time of day after 5am, plus carjackings (5000 in the first 6 months of 2007, 52000 violent robberies, and that’s just the official police statistics). Life is lived behind razor wire plus electrified fences, and with regular security patrols (300 000 private security personnel in the country, only 120 000 police). We didn't get carjacked or robbed even once, pretty good going I thought.

It's no longer possible to run in Joburg. I got two different points of view: the one said don't do it unless in a group of three or more, the other pooh-poohed that as mere lily-livered timidity and said just take off your wedding ring and watch, don't wear expensive sunglasses or new shoes, and you'll be fine, just fine. I didn’t try it, too much of a coward. Instead I ran in the Waterberg (met bushbuck and sunbirds), near the Kruger Park (met baboons, zebra, kudu and impala, heard hippos and lions on the other side of the game fence), in Cape Town on the slopes of Table Mountain (met baboons, too many of them, a bit nerve-wracking), and in the Drakensberg (nothing but a beautiful silence).

One of our friends has a game lodge in the Waterberg, in the north near Botswana. We spent a weekend with them up there in palatial luxury. Our bedroom had a view of the waterhole so we could sit in bed sipping tea (delivered to the door, naturally) at 6am, watching giraffes etc also having their morning drinks. The kids slept in a central lodge, so we had the bedroom to ourselves for once, also nice. The downside is that the occasional rinkhals or Mozambique spitting cobra makes its way into the shower looking for cool and damp. One unfortunate girl met a rinkhals there, and leapt out the window, hanging from the window ledge one story up until rescued by one of the rangers. She doesn't go to the bush any more, funny that.

My brother-in-law Peter has fractional ownership of two holiday houses, one near Crocodile Bridge entrance to Kruger, the other in the Berg, so we got weekends in both of them, how kind. The drive to Kruger is nasty, single-lane toll road (?) full of heavy traffic to/from Maputo, but once out in the bush it's still beautiful. I made small square cooking fires in a corner of the huge firepit at the house, using that marvellous hard heavy bush wood. Sitting out under the Southern Cross with a beer while hippos grunted in the pools of the Crocodile, Saffrica seemed quite appealing again. We stole some sugarcane from the plantations on the drive to the gate the next day, C eyed it with suspicion but after biting into it, said with surprise 'this is really good'. Saw four of the five, including a big pride of lions lolling about, but no leopard of course.

We even got to the beach in Cape Town, had a 70 degree day in midwinter. C declared 'it's a perfect day for the beach', so we went to Boulders beach where are more penguins than I’ve ever seen before. It’s now part of Table Mountain National Park: they claim to have stopped trawling for pilchards in False Bay, so there’s been a population explosion of the jackass (now called African) penguins. C was getting very frustrated building a sandcastle, we were trying to help when he yelled 'but it works with snow !' and the rest of the beach laughed. CT is still very pleasant and mellow, house prices are insane, and for the first time in my recollection the private security firms are in evidence. Pete’s house in Kalk Bay bought for R180k is now worth R3-4m.

Out in the Drakensberg (now a Unesco World Heritage site) it’s still pleasant too. The house we stayed in is on a ridge above the D'berg Sun hotel, hike out the front door and into the little Berg, very nice indeed. There were even trout in the hotel dam. We did some kid hikes, to Cleo's Pool where there was a bat in a cave, and up on to the first bump of the little Berg. I'd forgotten how perfect the silence is up there. There's always a jet overhead in the US, no matter where you are. If you want to hike anywhere in the Heritage Site, you have to pay a ‘community guide’ to accompany you – not sure if you could pay them but not take them along. Fair enough I guess, it’s one way to get the tourism dollars into the local community, all of which helps protect the resource.

The trout dam had deep clear water and lots of anhingas. Tough fishing, had only a floating line and some beadheads courtesy of Peter. Used the beadheads as weight to trail a Mrs Simpson or small olive Hamill's Killer, nothing all weekend on the beadheads, only on the nondescripts. I have no confidence in beadheads actually – might get the stockers, or perfectly wild fish, but for the hard-hammered populations that I usually encounter, I don’t believe in them. (Same thing with crankbaits here in the US, everything has a confounded rattle, so the original Rapala is the only thing worth spending money on). Lost a strong 14" the first morning after two blank hours. A fat 16" that evening while trolling from the rowboat. #1 son started to practice fly casting, good show. Next morning went to a fishy corner over by the wall, missed a take first cast, then a chunky 17" off a long cast, first pull tightened into him. Frosty ground and crisp early morning, fish running strong and leaping high. Then a bouncy 12" hit hard right by my feet. Nothing else despite trying for another couple of hours.

Interestingly they’ve just passed a law that makes it an offence to catch and release a trout, R200k fine for doing it. Catch and kill is OK. This is a side-effect of a law concerning alien and invasive species, both carp and trout are considered alien invaders. Not sure how that will pan out.

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