TRANSKEI TRANSPORT

The ubiquitous mini-bus taxis are a common form of transport for rural people to get from where they live to the towns and back. Notice how this village hugs the main road. If you look carefully, you will see a tractor parked outside the rondavels on the far right.

By contrast, these horses have been in-spanned to pull a home-made wagon loaded with blue gum (Eucalyptus spp.) poles needed both for building homes and for firewood. Many of the homes we passed used outside fires for cooking or heating water for doing laundry.

Once off the tarred roads, the camber and corrugations of some of the dirt roads are such that vehicles travel on the wrong side of the road. The vehicle on the right has passengers inside the canopy with their luggage piled on top of it.

During the dry season dust is an enormous problem – after passing us, the vehicle ahead vanished in a cloud of dust! Mind you, that is probably preferable to the muddy conditions in rainy weather.

At least there were tangible signs of this rural road being resurfaced.

Some less used roads are merely tracks.

While others – this photograph does not do it justice – almost defy gravity.

‘Choose your rut’ is an option that all too frequently requires a quick decision on the part of the driver. While you are doing that, watch out for the donkeys too!

Watch out for goats too!

NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.

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TRANSKEI VILLAGES

Once out of the main towns, typical Transkei villages hug the hilltops where the houses look like scattered petals from afar.

Some houses appear to be isolated some distance from each other. Here is a homestead at dawn.

Many houses are clustered close to the roads, as seen in the photograph below. Note that a few of the demarcated fields have the remains of last season’s mealie crop in them. Some of the dwellings here would have access to electricity – as you can see from the poles marching along the edge of the dirt road. Most of the houses here have been built in a fairly modern style and you might note that even the rondavels are roofed with corrugated iron instead of the traditional thatch.

This is a very typical homestead: two thatched rondavels and a rectangular dwelling with a slanted corrugated iron roof. The metal structure on the right of the photograph is an outside toilet and the pile of wood in front of it would be used for cooking fires. The doors are all stable doors. This is one of the few homesteads near the Swell Eco Lodge that used electricity. Note the enclosed vegetable garden and the laundry drying on the fence posts.

Further inland, these houses are close to one of the main roads. Note the use of a green plastic rain tank in the background and the variety of housing styles that have been used.

While the traditional rondavels appear to be giving way to more modern designs, the former provide a wonderful view, clustered as they are on a hill, when seen at sunset.

NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you want a larger view.

CHILDHOOD GAMES: SOFT BALL

We all found it very exciting when soft ball was introduced as a sport in our primary school. Given that the Sheba Gold Mine Primary School, from Grade 1 to Grade 7, probably never numbered more than forty pupils, it proved to be a wonderful game for boys and girls to play together. Getting used to the shape of the bat took some doing, but once we had got the hang of the game it was time to pit our skills against other primary school teams in the area.

I can no longer recall how successful our motley team was. Strange as it may seem, winning was never such a big deal. Far more exciting was being able to travel to places such as Malelane and Komatipoort. There was no school bus and the safest form of transport the mine had available for us was – wait for it – the dynamite/explosives truck!

Arriving in such a vehicle made us the laughing stock wherever we went. None of us minded though: it was high off the ground and was open at the sides, at what would have been window level, with strong bars across these openings. Hard benches had been fitted inside around the sides. All our kit rolled around on the floor in the middle and the dust rolled in the openings as we travelled along the dirt roads until we reached the tar.

During the early 1960s it was common to see mountains of citrus destined to rot as the blemishes on the skin of the oranges made them no good for export under what was then the well-known Outspan label. When we played at either Malelane or Komatipoort, we were usually allowed to take home as many oranges as we could carry once our soft ball games were done. These golden orbs would roll this way and that on the metal floor. Many oranges were devoured during our home journey, the golden juice dripping onto our chins and making our fingers delightfully sticky.

Playing soft ball against the primary school at Skukuza, in the Kruger National Park, was especially thrilling and was usually combined with some competitive tennis. What can be more exciting to a primary school child than visiting the Kruger National Park – in the dynamite truck – and overnighting in Skukuza? I still clearly remember the scary thrill at the sound and sight of spotted hyenas knocking the lids off the metal dustbins outside our dormitory accommodation at night. [Note: My brother has reminded me that the openings of the dynamite truck were covered with chicken wire for our safety when we visited the Kruger National Park.]

For me then, the game of soft ball opened the door to a range of adventures and life experiences.

A TRIO OF TEAS

Good tea, special tea, out of the ordinary tea, deserves a special teapot and cup.

Today I offer a trio of teas I have enjoyed from my collection. The first is a natural black tea produced in Mauritius under the Bois Cheri label, which is meant to be akin to English Breakfast tea. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the taste of other varieties, for I found this tea to be a little on the ‘thin’ side so that it requires a longer than usual brewing time to extract a reasonably strong flavour from the tea bags.

As the box suggests, the Bois Cheri tea plantations were established in 1892. It also promotes the fact that this tea is rich in antioxidants. There is a widely held belief that antioxidants can help remove free radicals and decrease cell damage in the body, which apparently makes tea one of the healthiest drinks available.

Another gift was this truly delicious Lapsang Souchong tea produced by Taylors of Harrogate. This intense and smoky tea has always been a favourite of mine, although I have learned to carefully choose who I offer to share it with as the smoky aroma is not appreciated by the unadventurous.

Taylors have been producing tea since 1886 and describe their Lapsang Souchong tea as coming from northern Formosa, where the leaves are dried on bamboo over smoking pine wood fires. This is what imbues the leaves with that delicious rich, smoky flavour. I think the tea bags inhibit the full flavour one gets from loose tea, nonetheless, this tea is the ideal companion to reading a good book!

Closer to home is the Earl Grey tea that is blended for Woolworths in South Africa. Despite my preference for loose tea, these tagless teabags are so full of flavour and aroma that I bought another box on a recent trip to Port Elizabeth.

I have often extolled the virtues of Earl Grey tea, so suffice it to say that I endorse the by-line on the box which, rightfully, claims that this is a deeply aromatic tea with a bold bergamot citrus flavour.

MTHATHA TRAFFIC

Depending on the day of the week as well as the time of the day, you require a lot of patience to drive through Mthatha on your way through the Transkei to your ultimate destination. There are robots, painted road signs, pavements and everything else you would expect to find in a large town that would enable the smooth flow of pedestrians and vehicles. That should … Mthatha is a little different for it appears that drivers and pedestrians follow rules of their own. While stuck in a queue of vehicles waiting to get through the intersection – which can take up to three robot changes – you would probably have time to leap out and purchase a freshly boiled mealie from a vendor such as this, who has set up her ‘kitchen’ on the pavement.

Do not for a moment think that your passage will be quick and easy. Pedestrians tend to cross the street wherever it is convenient for them – regardless of whether the traffic is moving or not. This not only tries your patience, but forces you to be more alert than you would ever be on a highway!

Once the traffic light has turned green for about the third time, and you have made steady progress at a snail’s pace, do not get your hopes up for vehicles appear from any angle to push their way into the traffic.

A view while you wait for yet another change of traffic lights.

Oops – just when you thought the coast was clear! Those pedestrians appeared out of the blue and the battered taxi is rather close!

Did I mention the jumble of people and traffic?

Nearly an hour later you can relax again on the open road.

SWELL ECO LODGE

The Swell Eco Lodge is tucked into such a quiet area along the Transkei Wild Coast that if it hadn’t been for intrepid members of my family I wouldn’t have heard of it – and what a tranquilly beautiful place it is!

This self-catering accommodation is situated within a peaceful rural Xhosa village in the area of Mngcibe, with spectacular views of the rolling hills, the sea and the nearby Mdumbi River – which is great to swim in.

This corner of paradise is definitely off the beaten track, so just getting there is an adventure of its own as one has to follow a series of ever-deteriorating roads to reach it. As we left the last of the towns and the tar behind, the dust became thicker and the roads more populated with livestock.

These included cattle, goats, pigs and even geese.

Once there, we were able to enjoy the pristine beaches mostly on our own, sharing it with goats and cattle – which didn’t bother us at all.

I highly recommend this as a place for complete peace and a recharge of the soul.

ANOTHER LOOK AT AN OLIVE THRUSH

Another early participant in the dawn chorus here is the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus), which makes a variety of melodious calls, even mimicking those of other birds. While these are common residents of the Eastern Cape, my attention has often been drawn to the fact that what is called a ‘robin’ in the USA is similar to our Olive Thrush – both being members of the Turdus family. While I was photographing the co-operative Cape Robin-Chat posing on a branch, my eye was caught by this Olive Thrush on the ground below. Note its extensive rufous underparts as well as the black and white streaking on its throat.

These birds can be as confiding as the Cape Robin-Chats sometimes are; often approaching very close to where one might be sitting to look for something to eat. This one had scuttled in from the undergrowth, head down, until it saw me. It stood upright and, as you can see, looked me in the eye for a moment before continuing with its quest for food. Olive Thrushes detect their prey either by sight or hearing. Imagine being the subject of a look like this:

I have described in other posts how these birds engage in leaf tossing when looking for invertebrate prey on the ground – and use their powerful bills to clear leaf litter from the gutters for the same purpose! If you magnify the first photograph you will see that not only is the upper mandible hooked but it is notched. Olive Thrushes are also fond of fruit and are often the first to arrive to stab at the cut apples I place on the feeding tray every now and then.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to enjoy a larger view.