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SOUTH AFRICA
                                


INFO and DIARY              2015-16   

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Diary
1, 2, 3, 4  

I had an invitation to visit a project in South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and hopefully work on it, in the future. It might involve a nursery, a small botanical garden, routes in the unspoiled wilderness and information about the plants and animals found within the area, for the guests.
At this first visit, I will photo-document the entire area before any alterations takes place. I will visit the nearby tourist sites and valuate them for further cooperation. I will make up a rough plan for the entire area, placing the individual components in a way that appreciate the natural landscape and at the same time gives easy access to each. Finally, I have to make up a plan for the vegetation, aliening it with the natural occurring species.
 Realising how little I actually know about South African highland plant's, I figured I might do a tour around the premises.  While literature list various characteristics within the flower, they fail to list the growing conditions for these plants. That is what I need to know, and it seems like visiting the original habitat, is the only way to learn.  
I've been on a South Africa round trip, a small trip up north from Namibia and been living in George for half a year, but here are still so much to learn and explore.

I will be able to observe, measure, learn and understand the plant's preferred conditions in the wild. I will analyse light, pH, humidity and concentrations of nutrition along with other factors like ventilation and animal interaction. This is a very little studied subject, and with the array of species found in a relative little but climate diverse area, this area offers a perfect study.

At the same time, I hope to be able to collect material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping Oxygonum.  Along the way, I will visit the wild and unspoiled nature, scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour from South Africa through Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Republic of South Africa is a huge country in southern Africa. It is bound by Namibia to the west, Botswana and Zimbabwe to the north, while Mozambique and Swaziland is found to the east along with the Indian Ocean and to the east the Atlantic Ocean. It covers 1,221,037 km², measuring roughly 2000 times 1000 kilometres, and it feels significantly bigger, driving its roads!
The interior of South Africa consists of a vast, in most places, almost flat, plateau with an altitude of between 1,000 meters and 2,100 meters highest in the east, sloping gently downwards towards the west and north, and slightly less so to the south and south-west. This plateau is surrounded by the Great Escarpment, whose eastern, and highest stretch is known as the Drakensberg which I will pass.
I also do a trip along the coastal belt, below the Great Escarpment. This is hotter, drier and less intensely cultivated than the Highveld above the escarpment. The KwaZulu-Natal – Lesotho international border is formed by the highest portion of the Great Escarpment, or Drakensberg, which reaches an altitude of over 3,000 meters. The climate at the foot of this part of the Drakensberg is temperate. The south and south-western parts of the plateau  and the adjoining plain below is known as the Great Karoo, which consists of sparsely populated scrubland. To the north the Great Karoo fades into the even drier and more arid Bushmanland, which eventually becomes the Kalahari desert in the very north-west of the country. The mid-eastern, and highest part of the plateau is known as the Highveld. This relatively well-watered area is home to a great proportion of the country’s commercial farmlands, and contains its largest conurbation (Gauteng Province). To the north of Highveld, the plateau slopes downwards into the Bushveld, which ultimately gives way to the Limpopo lowlands or Lowveld.
Despite a population of more than 55 million citizens, here are quite some nature. I have done numerous tours around mainly the desolated areas, and this time, I plan to go along The Garden Route along the south-eastern coast, and up the eastern coast through Lesotho to Swaziland, and back from Botswana through the central part.

MONEY: The currency is South African Rand. 1 DKK=2 ZAR. 1€=14,77 ZAR.

CLIMATE: South Africa is in a subtropical location, moderated by ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country and the altitude of the interior plateau. These account for the warm, temperate conditions so typical of South Africa. It's a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm; the world average is about 860mm. While Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.
Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes – such as Australia – mainly because of its greater elevation above sea level.
Over much of South Africa, summer, which I hit, is characterised by hot, sunny weather –
often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African smell in the air.
Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, is the exception, getting its rain in winter - which I hit.

ANIMALS and PLANTS:
Due to the share size, but also the altitude and climatic variations throughout the waste area, animal and plant life is numerous. Huge, semi-un-disturbed areas, national and private parks offers rich opportunity to enjoy it.
The plants in South Africa I especially want to find, beside from the Oxygonum are some of the awesome and numerous caudiciforms, found here.

THE GEAR:
Besides from the technical gear, I only bring a few items and cloth. I have learned to do with little,
and I guess I will be able to pick-up even more, if I want to. I do rent a small car to use at the project, and a huge 4x4, completely equipped with camping gear and expedition hardware. 
The total weight of my brought stuff is kept down on 4,5 kg in the bag, including the 1,5 kg Mac and the technical gear which is reduced to 271 grams. Two kg on me, including the rather heavy boots and jacket. It can all comfortable be tossed into my new 25 L back-pack. One might argue, driving in my own car should not mean the luggage have to be reduced, but I don't want to "flash" a lot of gear, nor carry it into hotels - or leave it in the car!

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

28-29/11. After a short flight to London with SAS, I continue on a night flight with Virgin and reach Johannesburg in the morning, just to wait three hours for my connecting flight to Port Elizabeth. Spend part of the night, watching the new Jurassic Park and the new Mad Max. Most suitable with the adventures I have planned: Wild animals and driving in the dessert. Considering I already have spend 38.000 DKK/€5000, I sure hope this will turn out the adventure I'm looking for.

I reach Port Elizabeth at the expected time, and within ten minutes, I am through immigration, and meet Cingiswa at Budget. She is attached to the Ubuntu project, and will drive with me to the farm. After five minutes, we have a brand new, but tiny Chevy Spark, and hit against Bathurst (I would have preferred an older car, with plenty of scratches and dents, covering those I give it). We make a short stop at an open supermarket, and shop what is needed at the farm. I pay 1000 ZAR, but we have bought six kilos of meat among many other things. South Africans tend to eat significantly more meat than others, I know. Vegetables might be a quarter of a tomato - just for show. 
The road leading east is fantastic! Huge, green hills with plenty of diary-cattle and giant Euphorbia trees and four meter tall Aloes. It is a 150 km drive, and we get time to be aquatinted. She is a real skilled woman and have a great sense of humour. I see several buffalos and large antelopes along with some ostrich. We drive along the sea, and passes some of the huge sand-dunes. I try to capture it all, but these huge landscapes only appears as a green line on my photos.
A short stop at a farm-stall to buy some bread and the tea, which I forgotten.

The last ten kilometres to the farm is gravel road - not what the Spark is made for - but it is a rental - but without insurance. We find our way through two huge fences, and meet with Xolea, who take care of the inside and Bulelani, who is in charge of the premises.
Xolea give me a short tour around the buildings. Several houses and quite some stables, henhouses, goat sheets and  - other sheets. In general, the buildings are in good condition. Many new roofs and newly painted. The boys tell me, they are a bit bored (mainly because they don't have a transport to the town, I guess), and I make up a few projects for them, to begin with. (They don't complain any more):
The view from the terrace is absolutely breathtaking. Within the farm, two canyons lies in this direction. The one behind run down to the river. The vegetation seems quite undisturbed, and the number of invasive plants are limited. Massive flowering yellow Acacias and blue Jacaranda trees, red Aloes and many more indigestive plants are in full flower. Numerous birds are singing, and I'm told 200 species have been seen here. The neighbours peacocks have gone awole, and seek refugees here. Pretty but so noisy!  I am looking forward to explore this area. The owner; Bo calls, and we have a long chat about the use and possibilities.
As it darkens around seven, the temperature drops from 25C to below 20C. I make a cup of tea, and just now; remember how Rooibos tea taste, and wished they have had something else in the farm-stall. I find some other tea in the kitchen; Green Rooibos tea: Even worse!
I work until nine, and then I figures: Bo have spoiled them; cooking supper for them, I guess. I have to make my own.

30/11 After a good nights sleep, I wake up with a feeling someone is watching me. It is a peacock, right outside my window. I'm the first one up, and I enjoy the birds sinning at the terrace. The entire valley is covered in mist, but soon, the first beams of sun break through.
The wide range of large and colourful butterflies start to swarm, and the monkeys are raiding the shadow house - again. A small herd of kudus crosses the clearing on the hill in front of the house, and I might see some warthogs in the bushes. Here are also the larger bush-pigs, which unfortunately don't fear humans. They resembles huge boar, but are even more aggressive.

Bulelani turns up, and offers to take me for a walk. The common gravelroad is actually running within the farms premises, and we follow it towards the river. I still - quite unsuccessful - try to capture the fantastic view over the bush-covered hills. I have slightly more success with the flowers, plants and smaller animals.
We walk through massive Euphorbia trees, some with a stem exceeding half a meter. Giant Aloes flanks the road, which winders it way through the huge hills.
We meet the neighbour, whom seems to be a great guy. Then we reach the river, which is surrounded with palm-trees. Bulelani is eager to head on, but considering how fare we already have walked, I recon just documenting the farm, will be a challenge. Walking outside it might be interesting, but will have to wait.
On the way back, we make a loop to the historic church; St. Stephen's', within the farm. It is more than 300 years old, and still in use, and without looking for the oldest gravestone, I find one from 1891 - some may be older. The most recently I see, is from 2007. Kind of fun a atheist have bought a church.

Back at the farm, people are ready for a shopping tour to Port Alfred. Cingiswa have some meetings with the accountant and a lawyer. We also go to two malls. I need some working boots, trousers and sunglasses, and we need a bit more food. We take another road, with might be shorter, but is gravelroad almost the entire way to town. The Spark is not really into 20 kilometres of rough gravel! Never the less, we get to the town, and get most things sorted out.
Back on the sealed road - and only twelve kilometres of gravel. I got a feeling of, the surroundings are awesome, but I have to have my eyes on the rough trail constantly.

I start clearing the area around the farm from loose building materials, trash and other unnatural materials. It is real hard to engage the boys. The household litter have been building up, and I'm not going to drive it into town in my new rental. Might not be environmental right to burn it it all, but I lack alternatives.
It is a nice sunny but windy day, and as I try to gather the burning material, the wind shifts and I loos quite some of my hair and several centimetres of my moustache. Bummer!
Then Cingiswa ask me to drive back to town. The money she transferred to her son have not reached him, and she have no receipt. Of cause, the transfer have gone through when we finally reach the shop. Back again, I clear some more, but keep my distance form the fire.

Late afternoon, Bulelani offers another tour, and Xolea and the dog tags along. He hadn't even seen some of the buildings, and never been out in the wild parts. It is down hill in front of the house, then around the first hill and down to the river. We passes a wide range of interesting plants, including several species of Euphorbias, Aloes, Asteraceaes and  - succulents. A huge Cycas, flowering bulbs, Asparagaceae, Sansevierias, Portulaca afra, huge Pelargoniums, Fabaceaes, Cucurbitaceaes with fruits (Coccinia sessilifolia) and many more interesting plants. Here are also ten centimetre millipedes, huge beetles, some termite nests, crab-spiders, more butterflies, the remains of a huge snail, lizards, skinks and the tracks from deer, pigs, kudus and huge dens, made by the warthogs. It is almost dark when we get back, but I do a bit more cleaning, and sort out the tin cans and glass bottles. They have to be brought down town. At least, they are clean now.

While Xolea cook and the others watch TV, I unsuccessful try to get the charged internet stick to work on my computer. Then I write diary and start on the photos. Great dinner with chicken on a bed of potatoes, corn, peas and carrots with beaked beans.
While working afterwards, I can't help noticing; My hair is not the only thing gotten burned today: I am pretty red on exposed areas. Once again, it is getting way to close to midnight before I'm finish - or rather quit.

1/12 Cingiswa ask me to drive her to East London, 140 kilometres up the east coast. I got a few hints for what to do in the area, and figure; I make a day of it. It is another perfect sunny day, with temperatures between 25 and 30C. The boys tag along, and we leave before eight.
Close to the farm, we encounter a little tortoise in the middle of the road.
We follow the coast the entire way, crossing one big river after another. Massive hills offer plenty of green grass for the diary cows, and here are not any cities along the road. Just a few tiny Mpondo villages and huge resorts. We drop off Cingiswa on the other side of the city, and she can hike from here, almost to the Mozambique border.

The first site I thought about seeing is the aquarium, but I recon the boys don't care. The next site can't be found by my GPS, same with the third. The fourths should be a reserve, but what the GPS leads us to, look more like a dump-site. I give up, and ask the boys, what they want to see. A mall it the first, and while they buy stuff, I find a holder for the GPS and some internet time.
Then Xolea want to go to a specific beach, but don't know where it is. We find another on the GPS, with a bit similar name. The GPS start to act weird, but after a few pirouettes, we find the water. Defiantly not the right beach: It is only skinny, white chicks. Xolea is forced to watch them, while Bulelani and I go for a work in the bush-covered massive sand dunes. I find a bright yellow terrestrial orchid and some Sansevierias.
When we finally make it to the beach, we turn back along the water. It is a perfect sandy beach with warm water, and still only a few skinny, white girls.

We head for home, but do a few photo stops along the way. One at a rather famous Mpondo village, scattered around on a huge hill. I find a few interesting plants in the area, among them; a flowering Pachypodium succulentum. Some huge beetles are swarming around a flowering Acacia, but too high up. We do another stop at the "East London, Hamburg" sign, which I have to get a picture of. Don't say we don't get around.
As we leave the bumpy side of the road, the petrol alarm starts. It gone from 1/3 to rather empty in that parking lot. We still have 60 kilometres to Port Alfred, and I can't recall any gas stations between East London and Port Alfred.
Then a small sign indicate a resort have a pump. It does, but without petrol. Fifteen kilometres from Port Alfred, we run out. The third car stops, and Bulelani is squeezed in between a closely packed family.
I start botanising along the road, and find a few interesting plants: Flowering and fruited orchids, Asteraceaes and succulents, several species of Pelargoniums along with a red-footed millipede. Then Xolea tells me a bit about how the South African political system works, and suddenly, and real fast; Bulelani is back with a new, filled spare gas canister. Back in town, I find out this tiny car only make thirteen kilometres on the litre, and I have even been driving quite economic. It is real close to one ZAR a kilometre!
The traffic is real light, and real gentle. The only thing I haven't missed, is the "four-way stops". Port Alfred have its part, and every time I reach one, here are four cars, facing each other. Who exactly is going to drive first, is a mystery to me. The bully, I guess - tend to be me. It will not work in most countries, including Denmark; way too many bullies in the traffic.

Back at the farm, we get a visit from a girl, working on a nearby farm, and Xolea decides to start the brie (grill). He fails, but head on in the kitchen. I start on my accounting, photos and diary after a hot shower. One have to remember when the solar-warmer can be used.
I bit surprised, I can't get my newly bought internet to work. Later, it kind of work, but I guess we are too fare out. I finish up before nine - a truly weird occasion. Guess I just have experienced too little today. Get a great idea, and starting annoying my former friends on Facebook with a few, selected photos.

2/12 It starts out as a cloudy day, and I figures; I can use it to make some more very needed cleaning of the premises. Start with the fireplace from the other day, flatten the building-debris mount, sorting stuff. Then it is the work-shop's tour. Apparently, the "craftsman" who have "worked" on the buildings, used it to store the trash, starting from the door. I dig my way through it, and in the back, a find a some new tools. Bulelani pops bye, and drags most of the litter to the fireplace, and we have yet another slightly toxic bonfire.
Next job is to get the gate fixed. The lack of proper tools make it challenging, but I get it to work. Then I make all the measurements on the healers hut. Well, actually, it is a huge bungalow, measuring thirteen times ten meters. Here are eleven rooms at present, and a new plan is needed.
Also here, the "craftsman" have been messing around. He have torn down some walls and interior, and it is scattered around the lawns. It is like the entire village is covered in mounts of debris and a thin layer of bricks, concrete and parts from the interior. In the outer areas, it is mixed with barb-wire.
I start cleaning the area from the entrance, sorting it into rocks, and alike, metal, glass and things I can burn. It is a great way to encounter the local insects and reptilians! I end up with several cubic metres of concrete and alike, some cubic meters of metal and a fire that last for hours. I get most of the area tighten up, but the area in front of the healers hut will be messed up again, and I only remove combustibles and metal. Bulelani drops bye, and drop some empty boxes on the fire, before he vanish again.
I have worked for eleven hours, only interrupted by a few tea brakes. The working gloves are a mess now, and I have several blisters. The sun broke through at noon, and I have gotten way too much of - again. The underside of my arms look like I've been fighting a huge cat. The result of wrestling barb-wire.

Another cup of tea, a very needed and deserved shower, and I start working on the computer. I get the internet to work via my phone, and upload a lot.
Bulelani is the cook of the day, and we get some great pork with jacked fries, rice and baked beans.
I spend the evening listing to South African soap-TV while I work on the healer's hut. At nine, Bulelani tells me, he want to be driven to East London to morrow morning, before the peacock awakes. The forecast mentions thunder, but I guess, I can try to see some sights, out in the east - This time by coordinates! Can't go wrong...

See the next part of the diary on Diary 2

                    

  

       Diary 1 + 2 + 3 + 4   Map + Plan  Photos         
 

                                                                                 From Addo Elephant park in 2007