Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stalactites and masala-fingers, March 26th

I found rock hard evidence for the “taste is in the fingers” theory today. We went into the Wonder Cave in Sterkfontein, and our guide warned us; “Do not touch the Stalagmites or Stalactites”. Fair enough, we had no problem with that… but the reason! Apparently the stalactites are growing from minerals in the water that drip from the ceiling of the cave. Those minerals will not be able to hold on and build further on the rock-formations. The oils and grease on our fingers will make the minerals slip and slide like Bambi on the ice, off the rocks… It’s like killing the rocks! They will stop growing. Imagine you could do that with a single touch. Clean hands or not – doesn’t matter… It’s the masala-fingers once again! The oils and the masala is still there, coming on and on from your pores.

The taste is in the fingers

We’re eating chicken curry… a late night leftover snack. It’s caro chicken, burning hot! Like true Indians my mother in law and Sevika eats with their fingers… Nothing strange about that, I’m so used to it… and the chicken curry you just have to use your fingers. Sevika is worried now… marinating the fingertips in the hot curry… She is afraid to take the lenses off… worried that the eyes will burn… I know the feeling. Done exactly the same thing with both Tiger balm and camphor cream on my fingers. Not very pleasant!

A saying about Indian cooking strikes me: “The taste is in the fingers”. Eureka! The apple landed right in my head. It’s like cognac… In a 15year old cognac you put a small bit of 20 and 25year old cognac… and mature it in the oak casks. The flavour from the casks and earlier vintages set their imprint/character on the new vintage cognac. The same way Indians do it basically. The one day they eat chicken curry… and dip the fingers nicely in the oily spicy dish… with all the flavours of the masala. Next day it’s briyani time… or mutton curry… A good Indian cook, like my mother in law, will have to use the fingers whilst cooking of course… Ready marinated from the chicken curry the day before, the fingers are doing the cognac thing to the briyani… sort of gives it a vintage tuch to the food. Marinated oak casks or fingertips – same thing! Imagine all the curries, oils and masalas on the fingers through the years! I guess that should add a vintage stroke to the curry. That’s why it’s not all about experience and age with a good cook either… it’s just there, in the fingertips!

Just thinking of people from other cultures where you can sense a halo of garlic around them. Obviously because they’ve eaten garlic and now they’re sweating garlic like crazy. It’s the same principle again. Chow garlic the night before, and you can add garlic naturally to your curry or lasagne or whatever. It’s already in your fingers! Oh - but keep the fingers above the duvet!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Umkomaas /Mkomaasi River

According to the history King Shaka Zulu came home from a long travel with his Impis. They must have fought a juicy battle somewhere… why else would you travel with a whole platoon (Impi) of feared warriors. As they were passing the outlet of the river they saw lots of juvenile humpback whales breaching in the surface. They were so fascinated and watched it for quite some time. Shaka then gave the river the name Umkomaas, which means something like: “The river where the cow whales breach”.

More suiting the last few days than ever I'm sure with the giant waves (5-9m high!) that have "stricken" the Durban coast lately. I bet the whales have been washed far up the river... or on the beach...

The Japanese way

Japanese people are funny people. They are short and they work very hard. They’re like ants, the way they struggle to bring necessary supplies to the anthill. The Japanese have been in the forefront of the car industry and developed some amazing philosophies in production, logistics and economy. Toyota is a prime example. From their plants emerged the “kanban” and “just in time” and other philosophies to improve efficiency and competitiveness. Right product at the right time and at the right cost etc. Machines and robots were brought in to take care of huge parts of the production process… and a lot of people were replaced. It was nothing personal, just money. Only time and numbers are counting. Feelings were taken out of the equation. Factories around the world today in all sorts of industries have implemented these same philosophies… they couldn’t afford not to. The Japanese people are truly impressive. I am even more impressed when I see Japanese people on vacation. How the hell do they have time to go on vacation in the first place in all their efficiency and highly pressurized work market? Yet again the answer is efficiency of course! They probably have two weeks of vacation every ten years, in which they have to fit everything they have dreamt of. The tightly packed schedule is an exhaustive read… and mine and Øyvinds speed vacation here in SA is peanuts in comparison. On vacation they see everything through the camera lens. Not because they are professional photographers, but because they have so little time and have to immortalize the impressions for the next ten years to come. This philosophy has not been given a name yet as far as I know. Well implemented it is though. Elephants, Rhinos and Giraffes are rare species in the Norwegian woods, and must thus be captured in digital format and immortalized for all cost. To make the park rangers work extended hours or risk being locked up inside the park with lions and hyenas over night is a small price to pay. Øyvind took no less than 2700 pictures of birds and animals. That’s vacation through a lens… now he is safely back home and can start enjoying the captured moments I hope.

Shaka Zulu, Holy Olav, Caesar… and Bob???

When Øyvind was here and we were down in KZN (KwaZulu Natal) I was giving him some of my own knowledge about the Zulu history. When Shaka Zulu came up in conversation I recall comparing him with Harald Hårfagre. Harald Hårfagre gathered the whole of Norway under the rule of one king. He traveled the country and recruited the chiefs around and fought the ones that resisted. Pretty much the same as Shaka Zulu did as far as I’ve heard.

Shaka was very persuasive in his recruitment… join me or die. I guess it’s the only way to do it… When Holy Olav (another great Norwegian Viking king, Olav den Hellige) came home to Norway after a raid… and a crusade, he was a converted Christian. Very excited about his new belief, he now wanted the whole of Norway to convert as well. It was very easy! Olav traveled around the country and gave the heathens two options. Convert or lose your head. Soon the whole of Norway was fanatic Christians. “God” had conquered Norway and replaced Thor with the hammer and all the other gods in the trees and rocks. I don’t know how big a role religious beliefs or spiritual stuff influenced Shakas cruelties though. Maybe his personal Sangoma made him take out a competing Sangomas tribe or something like that. In a case of hard resistance I’m sure Shaka had some gutting to do after the preceding stabbing and killing. Beautiful Killing!

I have to get my Norwegian history straight here, coz I’m mixing and confusing the kings here… although I know quite a few were taken out by some close and trusted people. Shaka Zulu was so hard against his own people that he turned some of them away and against himself. His half brother killed him in a big plot. Pretty much like Caesar: “… you my son Brutus”! It’s like copy and paste, same story all over the place, wherever you turn!

I’m looking at a map of KwaZulu Natal here, showing all the known mission stations in the area. Amazingly there were quite a few Norwegian mission stations in the heart of Zululand… in the area in and around Hluhluwe where Øyvind and I were driving around. Maybe these were descendants from Holy Olavs disciples? And not maybe, but quite likely they had a discussion with Shaka over a clay pot of local beer… giving Shaka insight in the successful Viking way. Wow, I’m overwhelmed with my own facts and findings here! And people say the world is small today…?!

If the world really did “shrink” a lot since then… and my “copy-paste theory” still applies, then Bobs (Robert Mugabe’s) relatives are terribly overdue in this end of the world! Maybe there is light in the end of the tunnel after all… coz Tsvangirai sure didn’t convert to Mugabeism and he is not decapitated yet! Maybe ignoring history will be his end?!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sunset/night-drive, March 14th

When we arrived in Lower Sabie Lodge in Kruger, it was just in time for the night-drive that we had ordered. All the other people were waiting in the game-drive vehicle, so we had no choice about seats. As the driver was giving his briefing I quickly scanned the other people. The left side was balanced with six couples, men and women. On the other side – our side, were two girls… and their boyfriends/husbands. The rest were men. Men with men! … and then me and Oyvind. Suddenly I missed my wife and children, almost like a statement. We were obviously on the gay side. I felt really bad. It was almost as if I saw the whole thing with homophobic (Nevans) eyes, something that I think I’m not. In my life I’ve worked with quite a few gay people, and been totally relaxed about it. No problem with it today either – just an urge to tell people around that I’m actually not, even though I’m sitting on the skew side… with Oyvind. Still, with a skew and a straight side, the car showed no signs of lopsidedness. The car went straight.

As we started the drive, we were watching the animals like all the other couples… both on the skew and the straight side. At least for a short while as long as the sun was up. As it was getting darker and harder to see, we had to use powerful torches to scan the bush for animals. In addition to the front lights and torch that the driver was controlling, there was one more in the back on either side. On my seat… and it was stuck in the side so that only the person in that particular seat could use it. I thought how bloody lucky can you be when you’re the last one to arrive and choose seat? It was a big deal, a good thing! My eyes are trained for hunting in the deep woods in Vang in Norway, and who else could be better qualified for this thing than me. I experienced some proud moments as I started to swing the torch around. It was an important job… and a prestigious one too… coz now I could actually make a difference for the outcome of this trip… be a good torchbearer and see tons of animals, or not! Proudly I could see all the heads in front of me turn to whatever I pointed the torch at. They could actually not see a single thing other than what I was showing them. I could feel a sense of power and responsibility, like a ranger light… or light ranger.

But then we saw bush, bush and more bush… and no cool animals. I was starting to feel the pressure. We saw some small animals… a couple of snakes… and an owl. All the time I was in charge of directing the light on the creatures so that the other ones could get some good shots with their cameras. Steady and focused… and all the time searching! No relaxing and enjoying. For each time a small animal was localized and lit up, it was like a unison cry from all of them: “… is that the best you can do? Show us the lions, the cheetahs and the leopards”! There was no actual sound, but it was still there… loud and clear and sending to my receiving frequency to make me sharpen up. It was like a fax that is repeating the same fax over and over again – and I was tiptoeing in the receiving end…

As time was running out and the predators were still absent I could feel all the angry looks piercing. I was clearly to blame for this, and I was feeling really unpopular! Maybe we should change camp tomorrow… and make a silent escape. Instead we stayed strong… and stayed.

Now of course I understand why that specific seat was left empty for the last people to arrive. Nobody wanted that ungrateful job. Not only that, but it’s a hard job as well. To do a good job you’ll rather stand than sit, and you’re concentrated like hell. In fact I should actually be paid as well for taking on such a hard job!

Bushwalk, tale of the dung! March 16th

Bushwalk is a really cool thing where you go with a ranger with a big gun. They take you on a tour to see some animals, and hopefully track down something interesting… and if you’re really lucky you’ll see a lion, cheetah or a leopard.

The first thing we learnt was the difference between the dung of a white rhino and the black rhino. Animalwise it’s got nothing to do with colour. White rhino can get up to 3 tons and the mule is wide, whilst a grown black rhino is somewhere between 800kg to 1,2 tons and the mule is more pointed. Big difference in size and weight in other words. Dungwise… the white rhinos dung looks pretty much like horse dung… with lots of fibre… just bigger loads. The black rhinos kak (Afrikaans for shit) is more reddish in colour with small wooden pieces cut in a 45 degree angle. Very useful to know. The black rhino is a lot more aggressive than the white one. They are both territorial and can coexist in the same territory. They don’t fight with each other, only with other rhinos of the same sort. Apparently they don’t interbreed either, so you won’t get a grey rhino!

Then we saw the hyena’s faeces… which is white with loads of calcium after all the bones it consumes. The cape buffalo makes dung like the cows at home in Norway. It’s black on the outside… and green and mushy on the inside if it’s fresh. On and on we went… all sorts of small and bigger pellets from antelopes, Kudu, Giraffe and more…

It was pretty much a big tale of the dung! Oh… we did actually see an animal as well. It was actually quite cool, I’ll give them that. We saw an elephant, and it came quite close… maybe 15metres away from us before it turned. So we did see something. The dung by the way also resembles that of the white rhino, just bigger heaps.

Another funny thing that you learn from own experience when you enter Kruger is that the speed limit is 40 or 50km an hour. Hardly anybody exceeds that limit. Not because they are afraid of knocking something, but because it’s uncomfortable. There are speed bumps all over the place… not tarred ones that you are used to, but loads of elephant and rhino dung.

All in all we had a great bushwalk. Although we saw more dung than animals, it was not a kak trip. It’s exciting, and I can recommend it! Just, if safari in a vehicle is hot, then this is beyond purgatory!!

Stricken again…

Safari is hot! Damn hot!! You can pay big bucks for some comforting and charming chalets… but when you go out and want to see the animals… then you can forget about comfort. You can come straight out of the shower, but before you go around the first bend you feel sticky again.

Venturing into the jungle you think of Stanley and Livingstone and the pioneers that first set their foot in these areas. Unshaven for days I feel I could be pals with the guys and member of a very exclusive club. It’s a dirty, sticky and smelly club. Nothing can glorify it and its nothing for women. This is for real men! Driving on tarred roads though, you feel happy you don’t have to cut your way through the thicket with a machete. I’m satisfied with tracing their tarred footsteps…

Last week when we were driving around in Hluhluwe it was very hot. This is also in the coastal region, so you got the humidity factor on top of it. When you multiply the two and then again with 1000 and subtract the sunscreen factor (Formula: (temperature x humidity x 1000) – sunscreen factor), you find the net discomfort factor! The aircon is of course running full speed… but with the windows open it doesn’t even say hello! As we were battling with the heat and trying to enjoy a herd of elephants I suddenly got hooked up in the fact that something was missing in front of the car. I was filming across the front and thought to myself… shouldn’t that proud star on my Mercedes be in the way now? Never mind the elephants. It’s gone!! F***ing bastards… someone ripped the star off my car! Oyvind was very quiet… for a long time whilst I kept swearing over my molested vehicle. Then, after an hour or so I realized that I’m in KwaZulu Natal… with Oyvind… and we hired a Toyota Tazz at the airport. The Merc was still safe up in Joburg with the star intact, and Oyvind laughing his guts out. I could have a good night’s sleep now. Not so bad… never been interested in cars to the same extent as many other guys, and it meant f**k all to me to have that star in front. So why I suddenly so focused on it?!

Today in Kruger it was also damn hot. Not so humid, but just stinking hot. We woke up in the morning and saw an elephant across the river. We saw it eating and working its way slowly upriver. When we returned for lunch after a gamedrive, the elephant was level with the restaurant and we watched it coming across the river, splashing water with the trunk and then mud. This is normal practice for everybody in malaria infested areas… against the bugs… but also sunprotection! I’m sure we shot a gigabyte of pictures, as it came closer and closer. I started filming with the videocamera and was completely engrossed with the situation. Then, as I looked at the camera I thought to myself. Something is missing here… where is the f***ing battery? I started looking for it on the sundeck… then over the railing and into the abyss down towards the river. No battery in sight. Oyvind also looking now, both desperate, coz both knew there would be plenty of more stuff to put on film. One more look at the camera I could see that the LCD screen was still running..? How could that be without battery?! A closer look revealed that it was actually the open space for the LCD screen to fold in and close. The revelation was followed with silence, utter embarrassment and the laughter from Oyvind.

In retrospect it is quite clear to me what happened. At least it is one out of two possible scenarios. One - that I was “stricken” by the sun or the heat… or both. Sunstroke or heatstroke… or whatever you call it stricken. Being a Viking from the cold north only increases the likeliness of such a stroke. The second one is malaria… and that I was in a state of delirium during these two incidents. Early stage, I’ll give you that, but Oyvind will probably agree who has put up with me for the last 2-3weeks. Both very possible and likely… considering that I’m following Stanley and Livingstones footsteps… and knowing what those guys had to deal with. I had it coming, for sure.

Kruger Game Reserve, March 14th

On our last leg from Joburg to Kruger, we heard on the radio that a ranger had been attacked by a herd of elephants. The car was thrown around and the ranger was in hospital, but not killed at least. Driving inside the park we saw plenty of elephants ourselves. They were really close too… but no worries. Late in the day however, as we were driving back to camp for the day, we saw a lone bull elephant on the main road. Like normal we stopped in safe distance to watch it for a while. From the other side came another car, and it stopped a bit closer than we did. Suddenly the elephant went running in full speed towards that car and flapping the ears and swinging the trunk around. The car stood still, and the elephant stopped a couple of metres away from the car. I guess it was a bit grumpy and wanted to pass across the message to “leave me alone” or something like that. The elephant then went into the bush and disappeared, so the car left… and we also started driving to pass the scene.

About 50-100 metres ahead as we had just passed the place where the elephant was standing… there it was again, right on the side of our car. Now it was walking along the road just in front of us. We gave it a few metres and followed slowly in what we thought was a safe distant. Then suddenly it turned… swung the head and the trunk in our direction and came running full speed towards us and flapping the ears to make it look even bigger. I was filming with the video camera whilst Øyvind were taking pictures… but now Øyvind was shouting: “back up, back up…”! It was an endless process of fumbling and getting the car into reverse… and finally back up. The videocamera was filming in all directions now. We could both feel the pulse in the temple of the head and the adrenalin was literally pumping out of the pores in our skin. The elephant stopped, just like with the other car and went into the bush again. We left the place quickly now, quite happy to avoid physical contact. I think Øyvind also got a lasting memory from the experience.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sangomas and muti... more superstition!

A sangoma is a witchdoctor. The sangoma is a highly respected guy, and if he can’t help you then nothing can. At least that’s what a lot of people still believe in South Africa. Once my wife's old maid got sick it was not even an option to go to a normal doctor, only the sangoma could help! It is easy to judge all sangomas as quacks, but I’m sure they have some tricks up their sleeves that can actually help. Maybe they’ve got some herbal stuff that can ease a cold and some other lightweight things. Help them once with a sore throat, and they believe you can cure everything… then you can start milking the cow. Sangomas are rich! Very rich!!

I see a parallel between the sangomas and the gurus in India… they are incredibly wealthy. A friends parents once knew a guru in India and had close contact with him. He died, but they kept contact with his family and got invited to stay with them in India whilst they were on vacation. Coming there they were brought into the slum areas, and they were already regretting that they accepted the invitation. However when the shabby looking gate opened, a whole different world was revealed. The ground outside the house was marbled, and the house was a pure luxury resort! No need to tell, they enjoyed the stay immensely. The gurus are incredibly wealthy, like the sangomas. The only catch for both of them is that they have to stay in the poor areas… coz that’s where they got the support and can accumulate their wealth. Small sacrifice.

Sangomas can some times prescribe you some really weird stuff. The best example is the health minister of South Africa. Although not titled a sangoma, she is in the same line of profession and a “sangoma wannabe”, and in the very sangoma elite! AIDS apparently is an easy fix! You just have to put some extra beetroot and garlic into your diet, that’s it!! The good thing about this prescribed medicine is first of all that it is natural with no synthetic additives. Second you can get it in all the grocery stores around, and some people might even find it in their own back yard. Third, and the best part: the prescription was given blank through the media to every naughty guy around and in dire need for exactly that medicine… and you pay nothing for the prescription!! What the hell are people paying millions upon millions in AIDS research for?!

AIDS is a big deal here in South Africa! Where you find high numbers of HIV positives or AIDS victims, you will also find a high consentration of Sangomas. Naturally the Sangomas are getting very experienced and very good in these particular areas. When you do a lot of research within a field, then the remedy will eventually be discovered by some smart guy. It’s like: "search and you will find…"! No harder than that really. And, all roads lead to Rome… and the paths to the cure of AIDS did indeed go different ways. If you do experience some distress because of AIDS you can simply find yourself a young virgin girl and rape her. This prescription is of course mainly targeted at men. A pure virgin will cleans you and drain the AIDS from your body very efficiently, and it’s not a terribly unpleasant medical treatment. This is a broadly used and accepted prescription among top Sangomas and can thus be called the highway…

Then you got the more every day kinda medicine – muti! Muti means “magical medicine”. I've been very lucky to observe part of the early production process of muti. It started a few days before, when a young humpback whale got squeezed out from the family pack and killed by tigersharks. The carcass of the whale was washed ashore in Sodwana Bay where I was diving at the time. For a few days the carcass was lying there for scavengers and germs to do its worst under the stinking hot sun. The smell alone was an unforgettable experience. The stench alerted the lokal village and Sangoma about the newly arrived raw material. The Sangoma immediately sent out his assistants to collect the "gold". A whole village of people were cutting out chunks of fat and grease and meat. They were using bags and baskets, or in true African style balancing the chunks on the head with slimy stuff dripping all over. The villagers were of cause motivated as this would eventually become life saving muti for their family and friends.

My wife told me how the ultimate “raw materials” are collected. When she was a young school kid two kids disappeared on the way home from school. The two boys were found in the woods a couple of days later with all
their vital organs removed from their bodies. This was a typical muti-kill. To serve the masses you must be ready to sacrifice a few, that is always a leader's dilemma... or a Sangoma's!

Sharks and lutefisk, March 13th

We went to Natal Sharks Board in Umhlanga to watch a dissection of a shark, whatever they picked up from the sharknets the same morning. Sharks Board is a legend and one of the leading institutions in research around sharks throughout the world, so it's absolutely a place to go for people interested in sharks. This day they were showing a dusky shark and a 2,5m Spinner shark. The spinner shark got its name because it is often caught by anglers, and when it jumps high out of the water it spins around.

Measuring age of a shark is pretty much like counting the years of a tree in the woods. You just cut the spine and count the thin lines from the inside and out. Every new year makes a new ring. I’m quite impressed that the sharks also got a 12 months calendar system… unlike dogs and cats and such, where you have to multiply with 7 to find the equivalent of human years.

Sharks are commonly perceived as not to be good for eating! This is because sharks contain a lot of ammonia, mostly in the blood, and therefore require some preparations before you can fry it. Since ammonia is a form of acid you need some alkaline to neutralise it, so people dilute the shark-steaks in milk for 2-3 hours before frying it. This is of course not strange at all for us Norwegians. We don’t have fish that are already full of ammonia or alkaline or anything, so we add some. The fish is actually soaked in alkaline for several days (some times 2-3 weeks) to get the acquired sharklike basis. Basically you have a perfectly edible fish, then you soak it in poison… very logical! Then after poisoning our food, instead of using the antidote.. we wash it out thoroughly in water until it is safe to eat again (traditionally placed in a cage and put in a stream, where the flowing water could wash the alkaline out. Why go through all that trouble??

Hluhluwe backpackers

Hluhluwe Backpackers is run by David and Tina Davies. David is a boer guy and Tina is from Germany. Both of them do game drives in Hluhluwe and Umfolozi and are very passionate about their work. For three years now they have run the place, situated very nicely in the heart of Zululand and at the very doorstep of the game reserve.

David used to be a manager for another lodge in the area, but he was playing with the thought of having his own place. Every day he used to drive past this house, but back then it was only walls, and no roof. After some research he found out that it was the local Zulu chief that owned the property. David paid the chief a visit and brought a bottle of whiskey to start the negotiations. They made an agreement, and David could start building his own backpackers as he had dreamt about.

The walls inside the house were completely covered with anthills, so the first thing they had to do was clean the place out properly. They hired some Zulu guys for R10 per day (probably subsidised by the Zulu chief) and got the job done. Then they built the place up and created the charming atmosphere you experience there today. But before they could open up, the chief and the local Sangoma (witchdoctor) had to hold a ceremony and bless the place. Hluhluwe Backpackers is therefore today holy ground for the Zulus. No Zulu will dare to enter that property, and it is probably one of the safest places to be in the whole of Zululand, maybe South Africa.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sugar, honey honey… March 10th

Stopping by that sugar-managers house today was quite interesting. There was a lot of talk about sugar and the production process. Think I must beg for a guided tour there some time. The sugar cane goes in at the one end, and comes out as crystallized sugar in the other end 8 minutes/hours later.

The sugar cane industry in SA is a purely Indian thing! Thus they also favoured the Indian engineers to fix this and that on the mill. Once they had a Indian guy over to get water brought from 2km away into the mill. He was streetwise, and not an educated guy at all. The way he worked however impressed everybody. He also managed to bring the water into the mill using no pumps or compressors or anything like any engineer would be expected to use. The aqueduct or whatever he made works well even today, and saved the mill lots of money over the years. They were so happy with the guys work that they bought him a white horse when he wanted to get married. In India they have more than 400 mills around the country, so the sugar-mill engineers are very sharp over there and therefore highly appreciated over here! The Tongaat mill was the second mill established in South Africa, but is today the biggest producer in the country.

I also learned that there is more to sugar than just white or brown. Actually brown sugar is generally healthier, and contains more nutrition. In Tongaat Hulettes Sugar alone they produce about 300.000 tons of sugar in a good year… and about 30 different varieties. To make the white sugar they use chemicals, and in the process they wash (bleach) out much of the healthy nutrients.

Back in the days white sugar was considered much finer than the brown sugar. When people got visitors they used to hide the brown sugar and bring out the exclusive white sugar. Today, however it seem to have changed… and the brown sugar is found everywhere in the cafes and coffee shops. Brown sugar is in fashion.

The sugar cane normally requires 18months of growing to reach the full size and maximum capacity sugarwise. Today however, because of pressure in the industry, they cut the sugar after 12 months mostly so that the farmers can get their money back faster. The canes are therefore not as thick and nice as they used to be.

When the sugar production started in KwaZulu Natal in the 1860’s, the conditions were perfect for growing the canes. It is an understanding in the industry however that the ideal “belt” for growing canes has moved northwards to Mozambique and Kenya. Why? Because of global warming! The “belt” seems to have missed Zimbabwe though! Not because of global warming – but because of Bob. The land and the natural recourses was easy to steal and redistribute, but stealing the machinery to work the land was probably harder to justify.

Wildebeest – clown of the jungle!

During the first 5 years they grow their dominance in the group. After that they get kicked out of the herd and become lonely independents wandering around. Unlike cats they are not very playful in their young days, but gets much more playful when they are old and on their own. Thus the name: "clown of the jungle". Older wildebeest are even known to attack lions. David, our landlord for the stay even saw one single wildebeest attacking 3 lions in a group. Smart or loony... some wildlife experience!

Safari, Hluhluwe and Umfolozi, March 8-9th

Coming back from Mozambique we found accommodation as close to the park as possible. That way we could be at the gate when they opened up at six o’clock in the morning. The first day we saw some giraffes and some rhinos and lots of Impalas. We drove past a place where lions had been spotted, but the grass was just too bloody high for us to see anything. It was generally a good game-drive, and we got a feeling for some good spots in the park, but yet we didn’t have a really close encounter with any of the big guys. Until, right at the end when we were speeding like crazy to get to the gate, knowing that we were already too late. Then, suddenly two big rhinos decided to block the road very effectively. The female looked really nervous and agitated, running back and forth and throwing the head… and the horn around. I got the picture in my head of a matador pierced by the bull in the arenas in Spain… then we backed the car, thinking that we were the reason for this behaviour. Suddenly as we were sitting there looking and waiting for an opening I was aware of something in the side of my vision. A hyena was standing next to the car, only two metres away from me. It was looking at me, then the rhinos… walked a bit and all the time checking out the situation. Obviously this was the culprit, causing the distress. Just by the look of it I could feel the hair in the back of my neck was rising and we wound up the window… just enough so that the jaws of the beast couldn’t fit through the opening. With the powerful body and the dark big eyes it looked like pure evil… Even though it was a fraction of the size of the rhinos… I had no problem understanding the rhinos. Eventually we got out, and we had spent the entire day only in the Hluhluwe part. We had already decided we needed another day to cover Umfolozi as well.

The next morning we decided to just check out some of our favourite and most promising spots in Hluhluwe before we were gonna shoot down to Umfolozi. It turned out that we saw a hell of a lot of elephants, rhinos and water-buffalos in one place that we got so hooked up that we were still there at lunchtime… and far away from Umfolozi.

As we were driving towards the southern part of Hluhluwe the vegetation got less lush and more dry and open. We found it easier to spot the antelopes and the buck… hundreds all over the place… but we had the feeling that the really big guys preferred the thick bush where they could hide away. Further along, that theory had to be dumped when we saw herds of giraffes, rhinos and buffalos. Again we got hooked up and had to prioritize the really big ones only… in order to make it out before closing time. Still there was plenty of areas we did not cover in Umfolozi, and we could easily have spent one or two extra days there.

All in all, we saw masses of animals… but still not that feeling from other smaller parks that the park was so small that the animals were pretty much lined up for you. This was proper wilderness… and I’m sure for Oyvind it was a bit different from Elk-safari in Løten at home in Norway.

Punctuality, planning and closing gates, March 8th

Just a reflection. On the way from Durban to Ponta Do Ouro, we drove through Hluhluwe for a game-drive. We knew we had to be on the border at 15:00, for transfer… but missed it with 45minutes. Coming back to Hluhluwe, we also missed the closing of the gate with half an hour. The gate opens and closes at six o’clock. 12 hours we had, and still couldn’t make it. This was the northern gate (Memorial Gate), manned with quite a few people, and thank god some people there to open the gates for us. Today we had a beautiful plan. The two days we spent in the park before was only in the Hluhluwe part, which is only one half of the area. So today, we planned to just drop by a couple of “good spots” in Hluhluwe, and then head down to the southern Imfolozi part. We ended up spending far more time in “our spots” than intended, coz we saw a hell of a lot of Elephants, Rhinos and Buffalos. By the time we made it to Imfolozi we also realized it was a hell of a big area to cover in only half a day. To leave out a part was of course not an option, so we went on a speedy hazardous drive through the park… only stopping for the big guys, or blocking the road and such.. The fact that the park has got a gate on the southern side made it possible for us to conveniently drop the speed by 10km an hour. Still, when we reached the Cengeni Gate, it was 18:03. Three minutes past closing. Now this was no big gate, looking like a small headquarter or something, not at all! A plain prisonlike gate with chains and two heavy locks, and no people to see! This time I really thought we had to spend the night inside the park with lions and hyenas. We were shouting and screaming and hooting, and finally a black guy appeared from a small shack in the bush. “You are very late”, he said, and put on his gravest facial expression. As he locked the gate behind us I was instantly thinking… where the hell does this road go now???? The map gave the ruthless answer: through every little zulu village and all the small roads where you don’t want to be after sunset… And since we were staying at the opposite side of the park, we had to drive all the way around. 270km in total! Hell, that was a long drive through the black black black South Africa!!

Inspired now, since we were driving through the heart of Zululand, I had to pour out some of my knowledge about the Zulu culture for Oyvind. Among other things about the Zulu’s respect for great warriors and their custom to slit the great warrior’s tummy open as a respectful and honourable gesture. Oyvind wasn’t too impressed or happy… and all doors in the car were quickly closed from the inside.

The place of the beautiful killing

Bulawayo, or originally GuBulawayo by the Matabele/Ndebele. The name meaning, the place of the (beautiful) killing! It was historically a battle between the local Matabele and the white man… No need to tell how that went – beautiful as it was! Bloody story!! This was I believe under chief Lobengulas rule! Great respect for that man!!

Makes me think about one of the Voortrekker groups that moved into the North West… wonder if that wasn’t Matabeleland also? This particular group was led by a guy called Van Rensburg. Ok, according to the map it was not the Matabeleland, but in what is now part of Mocambique (just north of Inhambane). Van Rensburg made a route along the Limpopo river, but the trek ended abruptly in 1838 when all of them were killed. This is where assumptions supersede the facts… and my imagination takes over. But who knows, history is some times a lot juicier than imagination, fantasy and fiction altogether. The guys that Van Rensburg ran into was probably potent killers like the Matabele as well… and I just wonder what name they put on this battlefield… or place of slaughter if you may. I’d die to know the name of that place… graphic and descriptive… If forgotten it deserves a proper name..

And even better still. Lobengula and his men had great respect for great warriors, even enemy ones! A great enemy warrior would be killed and molested like the rest of the bunch… but as a salute they would slit open the guys belly so all the intestines could fall out and attract scavengers. Intestines can reach quite impressive lengths I understand, coz in battlefields you would some times find intestines still attached to the body… but quite far away from it! I knew there was a reason I never chose a military career.


Tokoloshe: (South African voodoo)
The Tokoloshe is a small “man or humanlike figure” the size of approximately 25cm, a figure that is said to haunt people. If you’re in a conflict with somebody, you can go to a Sangoma and get him to send a Tokoloshe to “sort them out”. The Tokoloshe can conveniently only be seen by the person that it is supposed to haunt. A typical thing that a Tokoloshe would do to you is set your bed or the curtains on fire. Another example was a young and terribly overweight schoolkid in rural India… on his way to the outdoor toilet late at night he was kicked up in the air landing on the roof of the toilet, presumably by the Tokoloshe, and could not get down. He was found the next morning on the roof and had to be helped down. However, a Tokoloshe is not invincible. If you manage to fight it and get a hair straw from its head, you’re supposed to have power and control over the Tokoloshe, and thus you must take very good care of it!!

The witchdoctors that have the ability to send a Tokoloshe are powerful and extremely rich people. Exactly how they do their tricks are secret of course, and an incredible amount of mumbo jumbo quackery (well, I must admit that that is just one of my assumptions again, so beware). In true researcher terms… this subject should be more thoroughly researched and documented.
Probably only to find lizard tongues, frogslime and snake venom and the works.

Another typical Tokoloshe defence measure is to put bricks under the bedposts so that it elevates the bed... Maybe the Tokoloshe can't reach up or something... so dangerous but small enough to be outmanouvered like that?! Yeah right!!

Hedgehogs are becoming scarce in South Africa I've heard. People are hunting them down to put the skin on the front door. The pins will apparently hurt and injure the Tokoloshe when it knocks on your door. Such a scary little guy, but polite enough to knock on the door before he starts his business? As if that's not enough, he/she is stupid enough to knock on the Hedgehog pins?! Blind also?? Sorry, I'm loosing all respect for Tokoloshe's.

Highway Sheila:

Sheila was knocked down and killed on the road by a car. She did not want to leave this world yet, so she decided to stay in a ghostlike form I assume. I can imagine she was pretty pissed (although not alive) about being ploughed down on the road like that, and that this is the reason she sticks around. Sheila is now patrolling the roads in the area where she was knocked down (and that happens to be on the coastline not too far from where my parents in law live), so that she can haunt the drivers on the same stretch. Maybe she gets some feeling of revenge from it. When she was killed or for how long she will continue haunting people nobody knows. Personally I must have passed the place plenty of times driving back and forth, but not had the pleasure of meeting Sheila. Indren, my bru in law however, claims he once saw a woman’s face in the side window late at night. He believes it was Highway Sheila, and it obviously gave him the creeps. I support him of course… and I’m today a true believer in Sheila!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Sterkfontein Caves, Feb 27th

Went to the Sterkfontein Caves today… which is also called the cradle of human kind. It’s a natural cave with once a lot of stalactites and stalagmites is now cleaned out.. and opened up with dynamite to make it a tourist attraction for people like me and Øyvind. So what is left there when they have cleaned everything out?? Well, it’s most of all a juicy history about mankind.

The cave had no big nice entrance like today, only holes several meters up in the roof and totally impossible to reach to get back out. From the outside, the holes are well covered in bush and perfect traps for animals, hominids and homos and whatever. The missing link, also called Mrs Ples, was found in this cave, and it’s the oldest monkeyman found in the world and in a very good condition. Mrs Ples is believed to be one of many an evidens that the modern day man originated in this area. Mrs Ples was an earlier link than another more evolved monkeyman… that was found in all the worlds continents after pangea was split (The one supercontinent before they split into two, and then later five continents). Since 1997 they have been digging out another “link” called Littlefoot, and in another 3-4 years he might be free from the rocks. In addition to these two “links” they have found lots of human(like) bones in the same cave, as well as hyenas, cheetahs and other wild animals!

Common for all these creatures was that they fell in…. maybe (I’d estimate) a drop between 7 and 12 meters landing on rough rocks. Best case they were seriously injured down there… and had no chance to get out. Or maybe best case if they fell in and got properly pierced by a needle-sharp stalagmite… Stephen King could probably not have made a scarier nightmare-situation than what these creatures went through. But no use comforting them now…

As you are reading this now, you probably feel quite far removed in both time and situation. For me however, it was quite a lot easier to identify myself with the situation. Not just because I was in the cave… but because I was limping around in the cave like a crippled hominid looking up at the only ways out… up there in the roof… and so out of reach. You’ll find water in the cave, crystal clear and drinkable water. So they had all the water to drink in the world, but very little else to add to the diet. Just prolonging the pain and misery..

Actually the water inside the cave is the ground-water level as well… inside the caves in the area it is said to make out an underwater lake stretching 1km. In 1983 a group of 3 divers went in there to do a cavedive to explore. Two of the divers came back up as planned, whilst the last guy lost the rope, got disoriented about the directions and was left inside the cave. This I can also easily identify myself with, as I am myself a diver and had a “stuck in the cave” experience. Luckily I didn’t end up like a tourist attraction though. But this diver did actually not drown in the water as you would expect… No, he actually made it out of the water. But his chummies had left long time ago, probably with all the rock-climbing equipment to get out. So he was left there to wander around in the cave. 3 weeks later he was found… starved to death, estimating that he probably lived a bit longer than a week from drinking just water.

Littlefoot and Mrs Ples probably went through a similarly horrible experience… only a million years ago. Some time after they were long dead, the cave must have been flooded with mud rocks and water… that over time encapsulated and fossilized all the tragic destinies. Only for us to make this morbid gravechamber a museum and call them missing links… maybe they weren’t evolved enough to understand and be offended… for their case I hope so.