Bedside Tale

I advertised my ‘entire bedroom’ for sale on Gumtree. It now resides 15 kilometres away in another suburb with a delighted new owner.

By ‘entire bedroom’ I mean queen sized bed frame, bedside tables and table lamps. My husband was slightly puzzled when I began moving everything out of our bedroom but agreed that the bed had to go. The jarring creaking from the dodgy frame was grating his nerves too. We never loved it enough to fix. After the delivery, he was uncomplaining that he had to sleep on the floor that night. Or that the entire contents of his bedside drawers were now unceremoniously dumped into a basket on his side of the mattress. He’d done it all before.

Our first bed was one of those parental hand me downs. That finally went to the tip after moving countries and living way past its sell by date. The second was a brand new ensemble that saw us through 14 years and three children until it started to bulge in all the wrong places and quite frankly, lose its bounce.That one was finally discarded during a council curbside collection which I thought was the perfect opportunity to get rid of our old ensemble base.

We slept on our lumpy old mattress on the floor for a while, and I searched in vain for an affordable alternative. In desperation and without much forethought, we eventually bought a family member’s ‘hardly-slept-in’ bed. They failed to mention that it squeaked rather profoundly every time the unsuspecting sleepers rolled over. After a lick of white paint, it looked part French country, part rustic beach shack but there was no denying it was a farce. Even with a makeover, there was no hiding its unspectacular bulk furniture warehouse roots. A new mattress made it slightly more comfortable but no less robust.

We tolerated the bed for years until the very moment when I woke up one morning and decided the bed and co. had to go.

I dressed it rather beautifully complete with decorative cushions and even included the accompanying side tables (second-hand, a testimony to my foray into French linen chalk paint). In generous act, I threw in the colonial style table lamps to compensate for the squeaky bed.

By the looks of things, I undercharged. A dead giveaway was the deluge of calls I received minutes after listing my bedroom for sale. The first caller was happy to buy unseen. She even insisted on paying me right then and there. For $140, who wouldn’t?

So the sale was done and the new bed and accompaniments ensconced in a delighted new owner’s home. My bedroom became hers.

The search began for a new and final bed. The timing, as it happened, was perfect. ‘Solid wooden queen-sized bed frame’ was all that the online ad offered. It was love at first sight. One hundred bucks later and we had sealed the deal.

We collected the frame that same day after a 40-minute drive. A bevy of energetic children of various ages greeted us and their laid back dad brought up the rear. He grinned as he explained he and his wife were upgrading to a king-sized ensemble solely to accommodate the nocturnal visits from their four young charges. Their old bed had been a gift from the children’s grandmother, so parting was bittersweet. I loved that it was loved.

Back home our grand new bed was ceremoniously assembled. It was a bed with substance. Sturdy and solid as the ad inferred. It had a few minor marks and knocks etched into the solid legs and bed head. It told the story of busy young children, family and life. A bed built to last – a bed that would sit quite comfortably in an old farmhouse.

The first night’s sleep was sound as the bed. Not even a gentle creak. Even the morning view outside was more profound from its lofty height. I rather think it’s going to be a keeper … definitely a bed tale with a happy ending.


Jessamy Owen is a freelance writer for JournoNews.

A Naughty Thing Called Life Documentary

Growing up in the mid 1970’s as a young schoolboy in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I vividly recall Edouard “Spyk” Gheur arriving from Belgium as the ‘new kid’ in class at the school we both attended.

It’s hard to imagine during those innocent, carefree years we spent as classmates that years later his life would take a radical detour into the world of hard living and drugs, which almost cost him his life.

Thankfully he lived to tell his story and warn others of getting into drugs in his autobiography, ‘A Naughty Thing Called Life‘, which has received rave reviews in the UK and around the globe. In the coming months, well-known Indie film maker and producer, Mark Brown, will start filming a documentary revealing a visual play-out of Spyk’s life as his story unfolds.

To show your support for filming Spyk’s visual documentary, visit the IndieGogo campaign and make a contribution.

Spyk” featured as JournoNews.com’s first ‘Off the Cuff‘ guest in September 2012.

http://www.papaspyk.com/

Travels with my son

Thomas and I are incredulous. And it’s not because we are soaked through our clothes, from the spray of Victoria Falls. No, we are gobsmacked because we have just seen our first fifty trillion dollar note.

We are standing outside the Zambezi Blues River Cafe, a shady haven of a restaurant in the small town of Victoria Falls, having just strolled up into town from the falls. A very charming man is asking for R100 in exchange for a large wad of Zimbabwean dollar notes.

In his substantial pile are a couple of fifty trillion dollar notes, a few for five hundred million dollars and some for two hundred thousand dollars. My favourite is the pretty purple note for fifty million dollars.

”Will this money buy us a coke and a hamburger at the Wimpy?” I ask the man, thinking it’s worth a hundred bucks just to be able to touch such large denominations.

”Of course,” says Mr Charming and the deal is done.

”Here Tom, have fifty trillion dollars,” I say nonchalantly, tossing him a note as we make our way in the lunchtime heat to the local Wimpy.

I have come to Zimbabwe with Thomas, who is seven, because I wanted to be the one to show him Victoria Falls, to instill in him a spirit of adventure, a passion for the African bush and an enquiring mind. ”Will there be DSTV in the room?” is the main concern of this soccer mad boy.

Our plan is to spend three days seeing the falls and taking in the majestic 2700 km long Zambezi River, to see some wildlife and to bond.

On the way back, we are booked on to Rovos Rails’ train for a three-day journey  from Vic Falls to Pretoria. The train, famous for its food and known as the most  luxurious train in the world, will take us through the Hwange National Park in Botswana, through towns like Francistown and Gaborone and on to Pretoria.

My only real issue is whether we will be able to maintain the necessary table manners for such luxury, but we have been practising.

Apart from a rather vociferous spat over the use of my camera next to the imposing statue of David Livingstone and one violent altercation over manners during dinner at our hotel, we have, so far, survived quite well together on our African adventure.

Picture 205
I have fielded his questions about our trip to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World: ”Why is it called Victoria Falls?”

”They are named after a queen of England.” ”Oh, was her name Victoria Falls?”

And:  ”Will Robert Mugabe be there?” ”I don’t think so.” ”How do you know?”

We are based at the gracious Stanley Livingstone Hotel, where we spent our first day unwinding on our verandah and keeping a running list of all the game that come to drink at the water holes, just outside our room. So far we have seen baboons, warthogs, zebras, kudi and impala and an endless array of birds, from storks to hornbills to nightjars.

We take our trillions and walk to the Vic Falls Wimpy, which has a smashed window but is still operating from a side kiosk. When I slap my fifty trillion dollar note on the counter, the woman serving us refuses to take it.

”We don’t use that money any more,” she says. ”Only US dollars and South African rands.”

The newspaper vendor won’t give me a copy of The Herald. No, not even for fifty trillion dollars. The men selling nyamanyamas and tigers’ teeth don’t want it either. They are far more interested in our rands – or Thomas’s Arsenal cap. Or any spare clothes we might happen to have.

I realise we have been duped by Mr Charming and that, quite simply, Zimbabwean money doesn’t work any more. I later learn that, not long after a 100 trillion note was introduced in January, and the currency became a laughing stock, the government decided that all business in Zimbabwe will be conducted in other currencies.

Our trip, since flying in from Johannesburg a few days ago, has been action-packed: We have spent a morning watching wild game from the back of elephants, and an evening watching the sun set from a boat on the Zambezi River.

Thomas has already seen a number of crocodiles and the gape of an angry hippo in the wild, beautiful Zambezi.

Friends and colleagues who visited Vic Falls a year or two ago painted a grim picture of dire poverty and need outside the fenced-off resorts. But the over-riding sense is that the worst is now over for Zimbabwe.

Take, for instance, the lobby at the Shearwater adventure company, where we bump into people from Jo’burg, Germany and Japan, signing up for the bungi jumping, river-rafting and game drives which the company offers. It’s hard to keep people away from the roar of the Zambezi.

We have experienced nothing but friendliness, humour – and indeed, optimism from the local people we have met so far – the hotel staff, the guides from Shearwater, the traders at the markets and the other locals. We have discovered, to Tom’s delight, that Zimbabwean men are as crazy about soccer as he is.

Like Tendai, the waiter at the Stanley-Livingstone. He might not be an Arsenal man like Thomas, but, in between placing white breadrolls on our plates with silver tongs, he has Thomas rivetted with his view on English soccer teams and a promise to kick a soccer ball in the hotel gardens. We later learn that Tendai is anxiously waiting for news of his baby daughter, who was one of a large group of infants who have become seriously ill because of a botched government innoculation drive. ”They gave the babies the wrong vaccination. Lots and lots of kids are sick,” he says.

He promises to keep us posted on her progress. ”That’s Zimbabwe,” he shrugs, walking off to fetch our next course.

We put away our wad of Zim dollars and I fork out some rands for a few newspapers, all of which have, as their main story, the news that one of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF vice-presidents, Joseph Msika, has died at the age of 85. Later, we see flags flying half-mast at police-stations and other government buildings.

We meet our guide, Ben at the Shearwater headquarters for our next adventure – a night game drive in the 6000 hectare Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve.

We are part of an interesting group: A Japanese vet, a young couple who work in banking in Harare and a glamourous Zimbabwean woman who works as a diplomat in an east Asian country.

Our driver, Mike, is a laugh a minute and full of bush anecdotes. Thomas joins Mike in the front seat of the vehicle and, before long,  is acting like the main man, giggling helplessly at Mike’s banter.

Zebras, Mike tells us, are just donkeys in pajamas. When we see a warthog scuffling not far from a group of four buffalo, he says, ”there you go, you’ve seen the big five”. He stops the vehicle in the dark and whispers: ”There’s a lion on the road.” It turns out to be a telephone line. Thomas loves that.

He tells us that elephants, who eat an enormous every day, can grow to a weight of 7000 kilograms. Our jolly group erupts with joy when we drive past a group of elephants which includes two babies.

Mike tells us that elephant dung, mixed with water or burnt and inhaled, is a great pain reliever, especially for women in the throes of labour.

”I used it when I was in labour,” says the diplomat, from the back. ”It was wonderful. I hardly felt any pain.”
As it gets darker, Ben hands out some thick blanket jackets and we settle in to an evening in the bush.

More warthogs, elephants, buffalo, baboons, zebras. In the middle of the reserve, we almost drive into two men with guns slung over their shoulders. ”Poachers,” we gasp. ”No, they are members of the anti-poaching unit,” says Mike.

”When it comes to poachers, we shoot first and ask questions later,’ he adds – and Thomas, enthralled, gives a macho shudder. The Stanley & Livingstone Reserve is particularly proud and protective of their black rhino, particularly as they recently produced some babies. We are on high alert to spot the babies, but tonight we are out of luck.


We stop at a simple camp, where a bush supper of kudu stew has been prepared for us. We sit under the African moon, over a few beers and we talk.

”I don’t know how we survived 2008,” says Ben. ”There was a time when the governor-general was just printing money.

The people in our little village were all so confused, we did not know what to do. Shopkeepers were baffled. Businesses refused to take the money. We just gave up. For about four months, there was total confusion. People did not know how they were going to live.”

Then Ben and the Harare banking couple compare notes on the past few years in their country, its recent humanitarian crisis, the cholera outbreak which killed more than 3000 people, the hyperinflation  and the desperate nationwide shortage of food.

”I wasn’t paid for seven months,” adds the ambassador, who is back in Zimbabwe for her annual leave. ”How do you survive like that? Luckily I have a child working in London. Without that help, I would not cope. I have a son at university and a girl still at school.”

But the Harare bankers believe that, since dollarification and the slow but steady political changes, things are turning around.

The death of Msiki – who succeeded the late Joshua Nkomo in 1999 and who famously called opposition supporters “imigodoyi” (useless dogs) is perceived as another small step towards wrestling power away from Mugabe.

”There are still big problems. Civil servants only earn a hundred dollars a month. That doesn’t even cover their costs. But business and economic activities are picking up in Harare. International companies are trickling back.

What will it take to pull Zimbabwe back to its rightful place in the world, I ask. ‘With our education and our natures, we will do it,” says the young banker.

”There is definitely a feeling of hope in the air,” he says. ”What I really hope is that Mr Mugabe lives to see what we are going to achieve after he’s gone.”

For more information on the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel, contact www.raniresorts.com.

Rovos Rail at www.rovos.com or call 012 315 8242. E-mail reservations@rovos.co.za

Our Bridge to Brisbane Glory

I’m not quite sure what brought it on.

Perhaps it was turning 46 – edging towards a half century and a last chance to cling to a glimmer of youthfulness. The seed was planted by my gorgeous Kiwi friend with the toned, tanned legs and a penchant for Boot Camp.

“Come on, it will be fun!” she enthused. Fun?

I mulled it over for a few days and then an old spark of competitiveness was rekindled. Perhaps this old girl wasn’t so old after all.

We decided five kilometres would not suffice – far more challenging was to commit to 10km in the annual Bridge to Brisbane run.

There is nothing particularly profound about running a 10km race. Seasoned athletes regard the distance as a mere training run — a little jog to get the circulation going.

And it’s not as though I’ve never run the distance before. I am not, what one would call, a complete novice. I have run the distance many, many times. In fact, if I should be so bold, in ‘my running days’ I have run a lot further.

At the peak of my running years, I ran the Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town — pounded the breathtakingly beautiful (if you had any energy to actually look) scenic route for 56km. Regarded as the most picturesque ultra marathon in the world, the route follows a more or less circular route, starting in Newlands, through Muizenburg, Fish Hoek over Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek, eventually finishing at the University of Cape Town campus. I still have the T-shirt to prove I finished and survived to tell the tale.

I ran two marathons prior to that — and countless 10km, 5km and 21km fun runs and Executive Relays. Hardly a weekend went by when I wasn’t participating in some sort of running event. I even did the Capital Climb one year — a gruelling 15km climb from Pietermaritzburg’s City Hall to World’s View — then a fast trot down again.

But then I got married and shortly afterwards, had my first child. The lack of sleep during the ensuing years and children meant that running held about the same appeal as sticking drawing pins into my eyeballs. I still exercised, but now out of a feverish need to get babies to sleep rather than the enjoyment of a morning jog.

Over the years, I gave a half-hearted attempt to rekindle my running flame but it never quite seemed the right time to start again. So I walked instead. I had, in essence hung up my running shoes without much fanfare at all. It was simply time to call it a day.

And yet, here I was, once again, preparing to do my first race since arriving on Australian soil 13 years ago – my first race ever since a fun run some 19 years ago. And so began my haphazard training schedule. I was interested to note that where I once ran come rain or shine, middle age had turned me into a decidedly fair weather runner. Too cold — no, I’ll give it a miss today. Too hot — no way, couldn’t possibly go out in this heatwave … coffee and a chat, you asked? Yes please. I was the princess of excuses.

Weeks went by and I wasn’t exactly clocking up the mileage. But I did have a secret weapon. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac and the only way out is up a hill so steep and long it takes my little Yaris a few gear changes to reach the top. The undulating terrain thereafter means that no run is a walk in the park. There is no reprieve. I figured that running up this hill and the hillocks thereafter meant my output was at least double those training on a flat route. So when I ran 2km, I mentally doubled this distance. My maximum training run was around 3km in length but I convinced myself this was actually 6km in terms of energy expenditure.

The date loomed. I was still not that concerned as I was certain my body would remember it was once an efficient running machine. I was totally optimistic that somehow, my muscles would obligingly snap to attention and carry me the distance with ease. Compared with 56km, 10km was a breeze. This body would surely not let me down.

Apart from the scant training preparation, there was the small matter of running shorts. I hadn’t donned a pair for at least a decade and a half — was I courageous enough?

My decision to apply lashings of fake tanning lotion was partly for reasons of vanity and partly for the good of all in the race — my running partner in particular would be blinded by the reflection of my lily-white freckled pins, I reasoned. There was no way I was going to look like a reflection waiting to happen.

Politically incorrect it may be but there is no getting around it; a tan hides a multitude of sins. I cannot think of a single person who doesn’t look better with a tan other than the porcelain-skinned Nicole and a few other alabaster skinned souls.

There was a slight concern, however. The last time I had attempted to fake a tan, was while camping at Moreton Island. My beauty therapist sister-in-law had offered an all-over spray tan which looked great for approximately 10 minutes until I began to itch. I spent five sleepless nights scratching. There were enough sand flies to carry away the entire campsite but it was not the annoying bugs that were the problem, it was the fake tanning lotion. I was clearly allergic. I don’t find camping exactly comfortable at the best of times but enduring a night of scratching took it to an entirely new level of discomfort.

I had tried several brands thereafter with the same result. As insane as it may sound, I decided to take my chances and lather up. This, in spite of a friend’s rather brutal observation that it wouldn’t really matter anyway because no-one would be watching the middle aged woman with white freckly legs. She was absolutely right but vanity prevailed. I would take my chances and fake tan – and bare the consequences later.

The day dawned after a rather restless night of imagined itches and panic at not waking on time. I had forgotten how early one had to rise to get to a 6.25am start – particularly to a race attracting 45,000 runners! I had set my alarm for a ruthless 4.15am, allowing plenty of time to rendezvous with my running partner whose gracious husband had agreed to drive us to the start.

I left behind three sleeping children and a husband groaning with the body-aching effects of flu.

“Do my legs look orange?’ I asked as he raised his throbbing head to whisper goodbye. Had running turned me into a ruthless narcissist? I would address that later. Right now, there was a race to run.

Traffic was sparse as we drove through a sleepy city until we reached the outskirts and approached the start. It soon became snail pace as a steady stream of cars merged. Most carried eager beaver runners and there were the occasional bleary-eyed, bemused party goers befuddled by the uncharacteristically large flow of Sunday morning traffic.

We finally reached a point close enough to walk to the start and joined a sea of fellow runners in an assortment of outfits and sporting a variety of body types. There were plenty of freckly white legs, I noted. And they were not being herded into their own category.

Runners stretched as far as the eye could see and I noticed with some panic that the toilets had a 200m queue of runners both ways. I would take my chances and ‘knuyp’. Weak bladder would have to be disciplined. There was another rather worrying condition I had to contend with. In the past few weeks I had been grappling with the pesky remains of Guardia, a stomach bug that caused running of a different kind. I was slightly panic stricken at the thought of having to find a loo in the middle of industrial Brisbane.

Entering a race of such magnitude can be rather a let down, I discovered. There we were all dressed up (some of us tanned) and with nowhere to go, yet. We shuffled for half an hour before finally being able to break into a reasonable trot. Some new technology since I last entered a race meant that our little magnetic disk we had tied to our running shoes only activated our time as we crossed the start line.

The first few kilometres went rather smoothly, in spite of being passed by a woman at least 20 years our senior.

“She probably has the time to train,” my partner in crime reassured.

Not so assuring were the comments she relayed from a passing motor cyclist heading in the opposite direction.

“I’m sure he said ‘Go fat bottomed girls!’” exclaimed my friend breathlessly, within earshot of a passing male jogger. Perhaps he was deflecting the sexist remark or was simply a quick thinker – or perhaps my friend did indeed hear incorrectly but as he passed, the fellow runner said, “the guy on the Harley? No, he said follow the yellow brick road.”

Now I don’t know which story is correct, but someone is telling a tall story. “Fat bottomed girls” sounds nothing like “follow the yellow brick road” if you ask me.

As both of us should be so lucky to be fat bottomed girls, we ignored the comment and passed a batman lookalike and two nubile fairies complete with pink wings. We waved to a troupe of beaming women on bongo drums.  A kilometre later and we encountered a group of vegetarians with a placard encouraging us all to become vegetarians – ‘It’s easier than you think. Become a vegetarian’ read one innocuous sign. I felt honoured they’d decided we were healthy candidates for their cause.

We were both faring well. So far so good. No need to walk yet. And no gurgling stomach. At the outset, we’d given ourselves the option of bailing. Well, not actually stopping, but walking. This was a fun run and we would only run as far as we were able. No more. If that meant walking the last five kilometres, so be it. We were passed the age of worrying about what others thought, weren’t we? But there was no harm in trying, was there? “Remember, if we can do five, we can do ten, I muttered breathlessly as we edged over the 5km mark.

Competitiveness prevailed and we didn’t walk, save for a few short stops at the water tables and yours truly for a few squirts of sunblock at the sunblock station – oh and a few strides up a particularly nasty incline. I commented that there were not crowds of people to cheer us on – and the area was rather industrial, save for the small stretch along the river. I noted that apart from being a fair weather runner, I had also become a fair scenery runner. My next run if there was one, would perhaps be through a forest, or a dappled glen….

We reached the 9km mark and all was well apart from increasingly painful legs. Yes, my limbs had remembered they once ran 56km at one stretch, but they were also recalling the pain. We heroically ran the last kilometre, crossing the finish line with rather little fanfare. No strains of Chariots of Fire, simply a loudspeaker voice telling us to keep moving as there were thousands others filing into the stadium behind us. But we had made it.

Later that day, showered and sated, comforting cup of tea in hand and ensconced in a comfy armchair, family fed and watered, I sent a text message to my running partner:

“Can’t walk. Legs itchy. How r you?”

She replied: “Stiff as a board but satisfied and proud we did it!”

Me too!

© Lois Nicholls

Have you caught the ‘grey and yellow’ recently?

“You use the train?” she asked me, looking down her nose through her readers. Amassing me with the ‘them’ who relied on the grey and yellow carriages in the Cape Peninsular.

I love the train, the carrier of personal worlds and private realities.  I remember my first trip, the first time I engaged, not as a tourist going to Simonstown, but as a commuter.  I’d moved offices and decided if I expected my staff to use the train, then I should too.

So I boarded at Claremont station one sunny afternoon.  At my naïve best, I didn’t realize the class split by carriage between first and third class.  In the first five minutes, two rather dodgy looking teenagers were engaged in argy bargy that was accelerating beyond using their elbows.

The fierce interruption by an elderly ‘tannie’ (auntie) further down the carriage, pried the one youngster away with her eyes to a seat safely beyond ‘punching distance’.  At the next station, I changed carriages only to find myself sitting opposite two prolifically and amateurly tattooed young men who glared at me for the duration of the journey.

It was with relief that I arrived safely in Muizenberg.

I now know that the carriages closer to Cape Town are first class and I head for their safety every time I use the train.  This week I opted for a train ride into the city rather than face an hour of traffic on a rainy Cape Town morning, plus the R50 parking bill.  I love the oneness of it all.  It makes us all equal – no vehicle icons to set us apart.

Thousands of personal worlds gathering on a track – going somewhere, their thoughts the journey, the station their destination. A perfect analogy of enjoying the journey, but still getting to your destination.

In a country with our racial history, where we live in the shadow of apartheid and where those that have drive cars, catching the train is a leveler and reminds me of my humanity and the common challenges that I share with my fellow travelers – working mother, wife, step-mother, spiritual ‘journeyer’.

It’s public transport day in early October, maybe I should start drumming up some support!

Kim Barty owns and operates Trojan Horse, a specialist Cape Town PR and communications business.

My Freedom Day triumph

With Cape Town's picturesque Table Mountain in the background two swimmers take part in the famous Robben Island to Bloubergstrand race (Photo courtesy www.capeswim.com)

Five, four, three, two, one … By the time our relay team eventually started the 7,5 km race from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand on Sunday, the suspense had become unbearable. Already the race had been postponed by a day because of rainy weather. Now, our 10.30 start had been delayed by more than three hours because of serious fog. We were not amused. Being full of adrenalin with nowhere to go is no fun.

We had dropped our first swimmer to catch the ferry to Robben Island and then launched our boat at the Waterfront. We set out — the remaining three swimmers, our skipper and a second — to the island. Things were not looking good. The fog was so bad that we could barely see in front of us. Our GPS helped. Then came the interminable wait.

“Freedom Swim delayed due to fog. Wait for next SMS.” Then: “Fog is lifting. Expect an 11 am start. Wait for next SMS.” Then further delays until we ran out of jokes, rusks and conversation.

Tension set in.

At 1.36 pm our first swimmer — 16-year-old Western Cape water polo player Nicholas Melck — ran into the water from the beach at Robben Island as we watched anxiously from our boat.

The big trick at the start of such a race is to find your swimmers and follow them closely. If they get cold, they need to climb on to that boat and warm up with space blankets and hot coffee — and they need to do it quickly.

Our strategy worked. By sending out our fastest swimmer, we had a head start in front of most of the other boats. With 260 swimmers — a record field for the Cadiz Vista Nova Freedom Swim — we had to take swimming traffic and boat traffic into account.

We were well ahead when we pulled Nick out and sent in our second swimmer, Clare Hugo. A year out of school and a complete natural in the water, she is one of those infuriating people who can swim for hours in cold water, jump out, and carry on with life without a shiver.

Our third swimmer, Michael Melck, put in a valiant swim for 25 minutes. He got out and started that familiar shivering and shaking that, after months of training, we have come to expect as part of the sport.

For months now, every Saturday before sunrise, our little group of swimmers has been traipsing on to Clifton Four beach, carrying take-away coffee in one hand and goggles in the other.

Under the watchful eye of coach Anton Louw, with his orange Crocs, we have swum up and down the coast in a bid to get used to temperatures of 13°C — and sometimes even 10°C. The cold-water training has to be done on top of the endless kilometres we put in at the gym, because if you can’t get used to icy temperatures, you can’t even think of Robben Island.

The idea to swim the 7,5km from Robben Island back to Cape Town first entered my head when I interviewed Louw for a story. A respected coach who trains some of the country’s top swimmers, he had decided to take on a group of drug addicts and show them they could turn their lives around by learning to swim — and work towards a Robben Island crossing.

His philosophy: “If they can do Robben Island, they will know they can do anything.”

Having swum religiously three times a week since I was at school, I immediately signed up with Louw to join his cold-water swimming group and to attempt an island crossing.

Then, as fourth swimmer, it was my turn. There is nothing more agonising than plunging into water that is so cold your head aches and your whole body stings.

It’s not uncommon to feel an almost unbelievable sense of panic. If you don’t harness your mind, you can soon convince yourself you are surrounded by sharks and you are going to die of hypothermia within minutes.

We each swam twice, and for the last 500 metres we all jumped in again to swim the final stretch together.

Our team made it in two hours and 15 minutes. We were all draped with medals and beautiful Robben Island towels, custom-made for all finishers.

We ran straight into the heated tent where we shivered and shook for what seemed ages, then chatted to the heroes of the swim. They were tiny schoolgirl Gigi Hock, who did her first solo swim at the age of 16, and the legends: Theodore Yach who has done 54 crossings, one for each year of his life; Andrew Chin, who swam without a cap; and the inimitable Natalie du Toit, who won the race overall as well as the women’s race and looked as if she had just done a few laps in the local pool.

© Sue Segar

For more information visit Cape Swim’s website

Robben Island with Cape Town's Table Mountain in the background (Photo courtesy www.capeswim.com)

 

Bunyip Springs Farm Stay, Queensland

Bunyip Springs FarmStay offers a choice of accommodation, from excellent overnight accommodation through to longer stays. Choose from the Bunyip Springs Cottage or the Bunyip Springs Lodge.

Both the Cottage and the Lodge are set in home paddocks on the property where guests can enjoy a tranquil rural setting and take part in farm activities if they wish.  It’s the perfect place to give children hands-on experience with the farm animals.

Bunyip Springs Farmstay is located 210kms NW of Brisbane and is only 23km from the top of the Bunya Mountains National Park, view a map of the local area. The Farmstay is also only 5kms from the South Burnett Maidenwell Astronomical Observatory. Why not enjoy the viewing of our spectaular night skies with a farmstay experience.

For any further information on Bunyip Springs Farm Stay please feel free to contact us.

503 Maidenwell-Bunya Mountain Road Maidenwell QLD 4615
Tel: +61 (0)7 4164 6175 | Email | http://www.bunyipsprings.com.au/

DIRECTIONS TO BUNYIP SPRINGS

From the northside of Brisbane travel to Caboolture, Kilcoy, then Yarraman.

From the southside of Brisbane travel as if to Toowoomba but take the exit at Blacksoil

to the South Burnett via Esk and Toogoolawah, then onto Yarraman.

AT YARRAMAN:

  • From this point follow the Bunya Mountains National Park signs.
  • In the centre of Yarraman turn (L) and proceed as if to Toowoomba for 20kms
  • Take a (R) turn at a “T” junction following National Park sign and Kingaroy sign.
  • 11kms further on brings you to the village of Maidenwell.
  • At the Hotel turn (L) again following the Bunya Mountains National Park signs.
  • After 4kms there is a country church on the right and a crossroad.
  • Continue straight ahead down the hill for 1km to Bunyip Springs on the left.
  • The road number is 503.

 

Exotic Quirimbas Archipelago, Northern Mozambique

© Sue SeagarSue Segar, recently travelled to the remote and exotic Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique.

What do Daniel Craig, David Rothschild and Tokyo Sexwale have in common? Well, one thing, I gathered on a recent trip, is that they have all discovered Mozambique. In particular, they have been captivated by the remote Quirimbas Archipelago, a vast chain of 32 offshore coral islands which runs for some 250 km along the country’s northern coastline.
In fact, so captivated is our new Human Settlements minister that he recently bought his own island, called Quilalea, in this relatively little-known paradise. Till recently, the small island of Quilalea boasted the most expensive luxury resort in Mozambique, but Tokyo, who reportedly bought it for $20 million, will keep it for the private use of his family and friends.
Flying over the islands in a small plane recently, it was easy to see why this compelling archipelago is increasingly being described as the ”New Maldives”. And why the Rothschilds bring their friends and have invested hugely in the area. It explained why Dave Coetzee, a pilot for the Rani group of luxury lodges, threw in his job as a manager in the freight industry to fly small planes in the Quirimbas.
Flying over the islands is, in itself, an experience of wonder. Think of a vast ocean made up of a hundred different shades of blue and green, punctuated by a long string of largely undisturbed pale islands and islets, with just the occasional white-sailed dhow, sailing, fragile and alone in the watery expanse.
The islands, which begin about 70 km north of the historic port of Pemba and continue up to the Tanzanian border, are mostly uninhabited and tourism has made little mark on them.
© Sue SeagarThey are known by discerning divers for their jaw-dropping vertical drop-offs, some up to more than 400 metres. And for the extraordinary size of their reef-fish – including parrotfish, angelfish, cave bass and morays. Bird-lovers come for the lilac-crested rollers, coconut vultures and fish-eagles.
Knackered from a spate of bad news, I decided to pack my bags and regroup in the most remote spot imaginable. Where else then, but Mozambique, a place which has always fascinated me.
The instruction notes on travelling to the Quirimbas islands said any luggage weighing more than 15kgs would be left behind. So, armed with the Bradt Travel Guide to Mozambique, as well as my battered copy of Alec Garland’s cult classic, The Beach and Lisa St Aubin de Teran’s compelling book, Mozambique Mysteries, I packed my lightest clothes, my goggles and a notebook and turned my back on the bleak Cape winter. ”Very, very far north in Mozambique,” was all I said, when people asked where I was going.
An Airlink flight from Johannesburg had me in Pemba at lunch-time. Pemba, which is situated on the tip of a peninsula on the southern side of Pemba Bay, is the capital of Mozambique’s most north-easterly province, Cabo Delgado. (It’s a town which I later explored after my trip to the island and which carries an intrigue all of its own.)
The Italian diplomat sitting next to me couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the view of Pemba Bay, which he said is one of the deepest and most protected bays in the world.
”Did you know that Pemba is the third-biggest natural harbour in the world – after Sydney and Rio,” he said. I had not known that – but was equally gobsmacked by the view of the enormous bay with its wide, sandy, palm-lined beaches. This diplomat, on his first visit to this part of Mozambique, had done his homework – and told me that, despite being off the beaten track, Pemba – with its coral reefs, safe swimming and excellent snorkelling – has enormous potential as a tourist destination. There’s just the small problem of reasonable flights – it’s cheaper for South Africans to go to Mauritius.
© Sue SeagarMy exotic itinerary told me to wait for a light aircraft transfer with CFA Charters from Pemba to Matemo Island – and within minutes, a small group of us were making our way in the heat onto a very light aircraft. The more remote the island, the smaller the aircraft that takes you there, (and the more fascinating the pilot) it seemed. (Dave, apart from having flown in the Inter Tropical Convergance Zone of countries like Gabon, Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone (think horrific thunderstorms with cloud heights as high as 55 000 feet), also managed to take a planeful of people out of Gabon during the coup d’etat in 2003.) He’s also flown in Sudan and carried numerous heads of state and celebrities.
© Sue SeagarAn hour or so later, after a breathtaking flight over the seascape – at times lime green and at others a rich indigo – we landed on the singular island of Matemo on an airstrip that could not have been more than ten metres from the sea.
Matemo is one of the few inhabited islands in the expansive archipelago, which falls under the protection of the Quirimbas National Park. Tourism is carefully managed and the tourism developments are, in the main, exclusive. Think ice-cold cocktails on arrival, a welcoming committee of all the staff – and crayfish curry in coconut served outside under the stars at supper time.
Things were looking up. Maybe the guy who wrote The Beach was right: ”Escape through travel works.”
Matemo is also one of the few islands in the region with an upmarket lodge, owned by Rani Resorts founder, the top Saudi Arabian businessman, Adel Aujan. He founded Rani in the early 1990s, after being overwhelmed by the region’s breathtaking beauty and wilderness. His luxury lodges on Matemo and the nearby island of Medjumbe, as well as one in Pemba – the Pemba Beach Hotel and Spa – offer world-class luxury service and have hosted numerous famous personalities: Not least Gil Sander and the people who own Lacoste. And even our own former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, who chose Matemo as the spot to take his bride, Maria Ramos on honeymoon not so long ago.
© Sue SeagarAfter a stroll on a white beach scattered with bleached cowries, and a swim in the sea, I took up the offer of an island tour of Matemo and learned from our guide, Eliseu, that the Quirimbas Archipelago – and particularly Ibo Island, which was nominated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – has a rich history, made up of a mix of African, Arabian and Portuguese influences.
The islands were orignally mainly made up of fishing settlements. Later, Moslem traders settled there and the area became part of a commercial network which originated in the Gulf of Oman and went down the East African coast. Dhows, bearing goods to barter, would sail down the coast making use of the so-called ”trade winds”.
The next morning, after a languid morning paddle in Matemo’s warm water, I flew on another small airplane to nearby Ibo. Our pilot pointed out the striking star-shaped Fort of St Joao Baptista, built by the Portuguese to keep control over local trade, as we flew closer.
Goats scattered from the grass landing strip as we landed. Soon we were driving through the island’s old fortresses, its cathedral and the once-grand old homes. The authors of the Bradt travel guide describe Ibo as the most fascinating and atmospheric town in the country after Mozambique Island. ”It’s a strangely haunting backwater … the most alluring off-the-beaten track excursion in northern Mozambique.”
Ibo became the main hub for Moslem traders in the 1500s, but, after the Moslems on nearby Querimba Island refused to trade with Christians, Portugal attacked the islands in 1523. By the end of the 16th Century, most of the larger islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago were run by Portuguese traders, with Ibo firmly established as the major town on the islands. By the middle of the 18th Century, Ibo was established as the main supplier of slaves to the Indian Ocean Islands.The island declined when trade moved to Pemba in the early 1900s and is now back to being an island of fishermen.
© Sue SeagarI disembarked at the magnificent Ibo Island Lodge – once the Bela Vista mansion – where a lunch of cold crayfish salad, white rolls and hot coffee awaited.
My hosts offered an array of options to while away the afternoon – I could go for a sail in a dhow or on a beach excursion (tide-dependent, as the little paradisical beach disappears at high tide). Or I could go snorkelling (”it’s better than Mauritius”) or go for a kayak through the mangroves. (In 1760, the Portuguese made the slaves cut a channel through the mangroves from Ibo to Quirimbas Island.). Else I could take a walk from Ibo to Quirimbas Island when the tide allows. I was particularly interested to do the walk to Quirimba Island – as I had heard about a third-generation German family, the Gessners, who have made their life on the island and who run a successful guest house. But time did not permit this, so I opted for the walkabout historical tour of Ibo.
© Sue SeagarOur Zimbabwean guide, Harris, described how, when independence came to Mozambique, the Portuguese elite on Ibo put salt in their car engines and drove them into the sea, how they put sugar in their printing presses and other machinery and smashed their expensive crockery – anything to prevent the locals from inheriting their possessions.
Supper back at the lodge was crab curry, accompanied by a couple of cold 2M beers and an early night with Lisa St Aubin de Teran’s book.
I left Ibo the next day, vowing to go back for at least a week to do all the hikes, paddling and suntanning I had not managed to do. But not without a visit to the local Ibo silversmiths. Since the 12th Century, artisisans on Ilha do Ibo have been hand-crafting intricate silver jewellery reflecting the African, Arabic, Indian and European influences in their design. Today, about 40 silver smiths on Ibo, some working out of the old star-shaped fort and others operating from an old house on the island, ply their trade, still using the ancient techniques.
Next stop was Medjumbe Island, where the Rani Group has, in my opinion, its finest lodge. Its luxury chalets, with muslim mosquito nets billowing over gorgeous white bedlinen, have their own plunge pools and jacuzzis, virtually on the beach.
At Medjumbe, I jumped at the opportunity to go for a snorkel in one of the coral reefs, after which I went bird-watching and saw a large fish-eagle.
My hosts told me there are at least 54 species of birds on the island.
Supper was crayfish and a choice of other fish straight out of the sea, cooked outside in front of us, beside the pool and overlooking the beach.
I left Medjumbe the next day, not before having swum around the whole island – a girl’s got to keep fit.
And then on to Pemba, where I spent one night at Rani’s Pemba Beach Hotel, where Patience, a woman from Zimbabwe, gave me an unforgettable facial.
© Sue SeagarThen, still in Pemba, a few nights of relative roughing it with Brenda – a charming underwater gardener and witch – and her husband, Rudi at the Pemba Dive and Bush Camp, showed me another side of northern Mozambique. Rudi promised me that if he took me out snorkelling on his old boat, I would be swimming with dolphins within ten minutes. I was.
By the time my trip was over, I had a new role model – the gorgeous St Aubin de Teran who describes in her book how, after three marriages and a very interesting life, it was only when she arrived in northern Mozambique (the Quirinthe Peninsula to be precise) that she finally recognised what she has been looking for all her life.
”On my first visit to Mozambique I was curious. By my second, I was in love,” she writes on the cover of her book. I agree.

Information Box:
South Africans do not need visas to visit Mozambique.
It is recommended to take malaria tablets while visiting the Qurimbas Archipelago.
The official currency in Mozambique is the Metical (MT) = 100 centavos. US dollars are widely accepted. Travellers cheques cannot be changed in Pemba and there is no Bureau de Change at the airport.
A US $3 – $5 per person stamp duty is required when passing through security at Pemba.
When departing from Pemba, all travellers are asked to open their luggage – and bags are searched by an official. This is standard procedure, and partly to check that no shells or other natural items are removed.
There is a strict 15 kg restriction per person of soft luggage, including hand luggage on all air transfers to the islands.

© Sue Segar 2009

Goodwill visit to Central Africa

Flag of the Democratic Republic of the CongoSue Segar spent a week travelling with senior members of the South African National Defence Force on the annual goodwill visit to soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.

We exit the airport building and walk into smouldering heat and a throng of beggars carrying dangly-legged beggars on their backs. We are told to keep walking and not to engage. Go straight to the vehicle, we do not want any diplomatic incidents says the general in charge.

We know that we can be glad we have come through the diplomatic entrance – people have been known to part with hundreds of dollars just to make it through the crooked bureacracy from airplane to taxi.

Welcome to Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Leopoldville, once nicknamed ”Kin la Belle” (Kinshasa The Beautiful), and now known as ”Kin la Poubelle” (Kinshasa the dustbin.)

Whatever you do, do not take any photographs of airports, soldiers, policemen. And, if you think the Parisiens are hostile and unfriendly, try the Kinshasans for attitude.

We climb into the waiting vehicle which proceeds slowly through the boiling cacophony of traffic, towards the city centre. It stinks everywhere. We drive past trucks so overloaded it’s a miracle they haven’t keeled over. Some have goats and other livestock tied tightly to the top of the cargo. We drive past fields and fields of litter, with pools of green, slimy water in between the piles of rot.

At times we strain through the black mud track which the road sometimes becomes. We marvel at the fact that we haven’t skidded into the other cars veering from all directions into our lane.

We drive past rows of delapidated, unpainted buildings with a far brigher past, where rows of clothing hang out to dry. Small brown rivers choking with litter flow down the side streets between the rows of buildings, making their way into the Congo, a river with a flow so strong it could cover the energy needs of the whole of central Africa.

”This place is like … Hillbrow,” says someone.

”Eish, you can’t say that about Hillbrow, says someone else.

We are in Kinshasa as part of the South African National Defence Force’s annual goodwill visit to the SANDF troops who are deployed in Burundi, Central African Republic and DRC.

Every year, senior members of the force, accompanied by key business and civil society sponsors, take a trip to some of the remotest spots on the continent to bring a little festive cheer to the soldiers and to show appreciation for the role they are playing in peace-making in Africa.

Our first stop was the Kamina Air Force base, in the south of DRC and a three-day drive from the nearest international airport. Here, about 50 South African soldiers assist the United Nations with peacekeeping operations. Inside the remote hangar, where soldiers sleep in Weatherhaven tents, the homesick soldiers received gifts of rechargable lights and headlamps, as well as camouflage Bibles from the Bible Society.

With the muffled sounds of Come All You Faithful in the background, the army’s Chaplain-General, Brigadier-General Marius Cornelissen delivered a simple sermon, based on verses from Ecclesiastes, about a man looking for answers to the meaning of life – and feels that he is just ”chasing the wind”.

Then Lt Gen Rinus Janse van Rensburg, the former SANDF Surgeon General motivated the troops, saying they have been described as ”dependable friends” by their host countries in Africa.”You have given hope to locals. You have helped to bring DRC from civil war to sceasefire to democratic elections and towards reconstruction,” he said. He told them the army has arranged to have Christmas packs delivered to their families back home. The soldiers beamed and, over lunch of fried chicken from home, shared anecdotes and photographs of their experiences in Congo.

At Kamina, Major Louis Van Heerden of Hoedspruit described how, in the evenings after work, she listens to Congolese music. At weekends, they visit a creek not far from the base for relief from the relentless heat.

One thing you notice in the South African military forces is the fact that they comprise mainly black and Afrikaans South Africans. You won’t come across many English soldiers in Bujumbura, Bangui or Goma.

There is something deeply moving about hearing a senior soldier – Sergeant-Major Scheepers – telling a room full of black soldiers in a deep rural spot in Africa that ”I love my soldiers and I will do anything for them.”

South Africa has nearly 3000 soldiers deployed in some of Africa’s most strife-torn areas. SA troops have been In Central African Republic since 2007 at the request of the president, to help with military training, refurbishment of military bases and upgrading of the fighting capability of the CAR Armed Forces (FACA). In Burundi – a country which is moving forward since a successful election – the SANDF is largely engaged in a peacekeeping mission with the African Union. In the DRC, where government and rebel forces are engaged in continuous fighting, the SANDF is, among other things, on an ongoing mission to disarm, demobilise, repatriate rebel troops, before helping to resettle and re-integrate them.

Re-integration is something the SANDF had to deal with after 1994, when former combatants had to amalgamate into the national defence force. We don’t hear much about that process, but, according to Cornelissen, it was a profound and almost miraculous process, involving white soldiers washing the feet of their black compatriots and long sessions during which soldiers from across the previous political divide shared stories and wept at long reconciliation sessions facilitated by the force’s religious leaders.

Here in Congo, the re-integration process is still a formidable challenge. While we were there, the talks to end the fighting in eastern DRC collapsed after rebel and government representatives failed to reach a ceasefire agreement after three days of talks in Nairobi.

Fighting since late August between government troops and the rebel group National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) under the Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda has displaced more than 250 000 people in eastern North-Kivu province. Nkunda claims that his four-year-old rebellion is defending Congolese Tutsis from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels and local militias linked with the DRC army.

The North Kivu conflict has its origins in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis, spilling refugees and rival fighters into the DRC.

It is said that the average Congolese person has a meal only every three days, a result of war, appalling delivery of services and general corruption in the country. Some lobby groups blame the war in DRC on influential figures in the industrialised world wanting to access the rich mineral resources of the Congo. A UN expert panel has accused Rwanda and the Congolese governments of backing rebels in eastern DRC.

In Goma, a place which makes Kinshasa look positively civilised, SA’s Colonel Barney Klaasin described how South Africa’s 725 troops in the rebel area below the Nyiragongo volcano have had to deal with a range of war time atrocities, from rescuing child soldiers to seeing people’s heads being cut off and to dealing with women who have been raped and then had sticks poked inside them until they have died.

”We survive by dialogue,” Klaasin said, adding that he has an excellent relationship with both the government forces and Nkunda’s people.

We learn that South Africa has helped to register at least 170 000 former soldiers for the DRC defence force.

”Our people travel for days to remote places to set up demobilising centres for rebels. They sometimes work in very dangerous conditions,” said Captain Sonica Van Rooyen, a seasoned Congo hand, who has worked closely with demobilisation efforts. ”One team was travelling in the river in a boat which started sinking. They had to swim to the other side in the middle of the night. I received an SMS in Kinshasa from the one guy saying, ”nou moet jy vir my bid”. (”Now you must pray for me.”)

General Raymond Mdutwana, chief of South Africa’s advisory group to the DRC’s army, described the almost insurmountable task faced by those tasked with disarming and re-integrating rebel soldiers. The Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) is known as one of the most unstable and impotent defence forces in the world, comprised as it is, after years of war and a serious lack of funding, it comprises various disparate military units.

”What we wished for has failed,” he said of the most recent negotiations debacle. He adds: ”The situation in the east is keeping us busy, so we cannot focus on training. The most difficult aspect of this is the effect it has on civilians. When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

We hear, repeatedly how, as some rebels are demobilised and re-integrated, new rebels groupings are formed and new rebels recruited. A vicious circle if ever there was one.

But General Van Rensburg persists, from base to base, with his motivational message to the SA troops. ”Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God,” he tells the troops in Kinshasa.

I am reminded of the Chaplain-General’s earlier sermon about chasing the wind. ”Then I saw all the works which my hands had made, and everything I had been working to do; and I saw that all was to no purpose …”

Now, in Kinshasa, we are driving four vehicles to a single lane, as the driver wends his way along. A policeman, standing precariously in the middle of the chaos, blows shrilly on an orange whistle and bangs loudly on the vehicle, with a baton. I wonder out loud why these cops even bother to try to control the chaos and what can they achieve with those batons? A Congo regular replies: ”I have seen them crack windscreens with those batons.”

We pass the Stade des Martyrs, a stately spectacle among the mess, which is best known for hosting the ”Rumble in the Jungle between Mohammed Ali and George Forman, and which can hold 80 000 people.

As we drive, a pair of young men in a battered old car decide to dice our bus. Their bloodshot eyes lock with ours and they make hand movements signalling pistols aimed at us, handgrenades being thrown our way. One of them yanks something off the back seat. Without losing that eye contact, he holds the thing up by its tail. It is a massive dead rat, with extraordinary long molars.

While his buddy accelerates to keep up with us, he indicates by pointing at the rat and putting his fingers to his mouth, that he intends eating the creature. Then he throws his head back and roars with laughter.

We pass the national police headquarters, a tall shell of a building, burnt out and non-operational, except for a few people peering out from cooking activities a few storeys up.

We reach the Memling Hotel, where, back in the 1960’s, the mercenary Mike Hoare held meetings with the then Congo government in a bid to get rid of the communist rebel forces.

We walk into the air-conditioned lobby full of businessmen dressed in Brussels-styled suits, and workers from the UN, Unicef and the World Food Programme. The sparkling Christmas tree and the shops selling Elle Decor and exquisite diamond necklaces from Switzerland provide great relief from the potholes, the heat and the beggars outside.

© Sue Segar 2009