Cunene River Pioneers

While clearing out my stuff I found a 1965 African Wildlife magazine we used to subscribe to. It contained Willem van Riet‘s tale of his and Gordie Rowe’s trip down the Cunene river – blind (unscouted) trip down the Cunene! Shades of Powell’s first trip down the Colorado! I took photos to quickly save it here. Small difference between the two rivers: No Crocs in the Colorado!

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Two Colorado River Trips

In 1984 fifteen South African kayakers drifted 300 miles down a full Colorado river through the Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to where the current now dies in Lake Mead, arrested since 1936 by the massive concrete Hoover Dam. Our trip was amazing and awe-inspiring but one couldn’t really call it an ‘expedition’ as we were guided by people who had been there before; and we were catered for, and we were just fifteen of about twenty thousand people who trip the canyon each year. Admittedly few do it in kayaks, most going in inflatable rafts. Some still use dories similar to the wooden ones Powell used on the first float down the river.

THE CANYON: Recent studies support the hypothesis that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago, exposing around two billion years of Earth’s geological history in the various layers as you descend. Current archaeological evidence suggests that humans first reached the Grand Canyon area as far back as 10,500 years ago, and inhabited the area around 4,000 years ago.

In 1540, led by local Hopi guides, Spanish Captain Lopez de Cardenas reached the rim of the Grand Canyon on foot; In 1776 a Spanish priest was taken by a Havasupai trader to his place in Havasupai Canyon, again on foot.

In 1857 a party ventured about 300 miles up the river from the mouth in the Sea of Cortes in a 54ft steamboat to Black Canyon, downstream of the present Lake Mead.

THE FIRST DOWN-RIVER TRIP: The first known trips that floated downstream through the whole of the deep canyonlands were in 1869 and 1871, led by an adventurous one-armed Major with a scientific bent, John Wesley Powell. He kept a diary of his first trip, but no pictures; I have the diary in a beautiful book published a hundred years later:

Powell led a party of ten men in four wooden boats 1000 miles down the Green river, into the Colorado river and through both Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon to below where we finished. As almost always on any continent, local guides – in this case Native Americans – helped them.

– Map Grand Canyon Powell 1869 –

Read much more about this amazing 1000 mile river trip – the first to go all the way through these amazing river canyons – on the Green, and the on the Colorado, Glen Canyon (now drowned under Lake Powell) and the Grand Canyon.

The expedition had little communication with the world outside the valley, leading to rumours they were lost; many reports on the expedition while they were gone were written, mostly made-up and some including obituaries. Powell apparently enjoyed reading his own obituary on his way to New York after the trip ended! What actually happened on the three-month trip is in doubt. New diaries have surfaced that show there were probably tensions leading to people abandoning the journey. Powell’s hero status led to most historians glossing over any doubts. Amazing that one hundred and fifty years later we can still uncover new diaries, new information, new sources – including interviews with descendants of other trip members – that add to our knowledge.

NEW BOOK: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon continues to be one of the most celebrated adventures in American history, ranking with the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Apollo landings on the moon. For nearly twenty years author Don Lago has researched the Powell expedition from new angles, traveled to thirteen states, and looked into archives and other sources no one else has searched. He has come up with many important new documents that change and expand our basic understanding of the expedition by looking into Powell’s crew members, some of whom have been almost entirely ignored by Powell historians. Historians tended to assume that Powell’s was the whole story and that his crew members were irrelevant. More seriously, because several crew members made critical comments about Powell and his leadership, historians who admired Powell were eager to ignore and discredit them. Lago offers a feast of new and important material about the river trip, and it will significantly rewrite the story of Powell’s famous expedition. His book is not only a major work on the Powell expedition, but on the history of American exploration of the West.

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TAKE A TRIP: Here’s a 23 minute video of a six-day raft trip down the canyon on quite a low river. Turn the sound down – it’s just muzak. The footage gives a good glimpse of the magnificent scenery.

Here’s a short report on an 18-day raft trip through the canyon – interesting how the popularity of this adventure means one has to enter a lottery to get allocated your own private trip down the canyon – getting your turn to go may take many years! Apply now!

Or join one of the sixteen commercial outfits who’ll take you down the river in their craft, guide you and feed you.

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– Rainbow Arch in Glen Canyon – now underwater –

Above the Grand Canyon the Powell party passed through beautiful Glen Canyon. The feature pic above this post and this one here show Glen Canyon, which is now gone – drowned beneath the waters of Lake Powell. An environmental desecration committed so crops could be grown where they shouldn’t be grown, so golf courses could be made where they shouldn’t be and so lawns could be watered where there should not be lawns. NO MORE DAMS!

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Great news in 2021 that four dams on the Klamath river in Oregon and California are going to be removed, allowing the river to flow free again. And slowly – very slowly – the river and its valleys will hopefully recover. The Glen Canyon dam should be removed, Lake Powell should go, Glen Canyon should be revealed again in all its splendour. Let’s never give up that fight. Crazy to think Homo sapiens 2021 model feels he “cannot” halve the size of his lawn (which he seldom walks on) and so save a river and its valley!

None Pictures

Mom tells me that after I had me tonsils out at about age three, she took me to Kindrochart for recovery for the poor little tender chap. I clung to her skirts and wouldn’t go to anyone, but once when lovely friendly Betty Stephens – a huge fan of us kids – offered to carry me up a hill after I’d run out of poof, I condescended.

Mom also tells that I told on Ma Shannon! She had appeared on the stoep in her nightie and I hastened to tell Mom, ‘Ma! Shannon’s got none clothes on!’ Apparently Ma Shannon tried hard to get me to call her Nana, but I’d not call her anything but ‘Shannon.’

On the way back to the big smoke, driving on the gravel road towards Platberg, Mom was telling Betty about a book she’d enjoyed reading about a Belgian nun – The Nun’s Story – I had the book in my hands on the back seat and it seems I was disappointed in it. So I piped up, ‘. . and it’s got nun pictures.’

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Pic: Kerkenberg from Kindrochart side - from mapio.net

Prices Back Then

Dad: I bought a Russian 12-gauge shotgun, a Baikal. I paid R139. I got it from Musgrave in Bloemfontein.

Internet comments are mostly very complimentary about Baikal down-to-earthness, ruggedness and value: The first Baikal shotguns years ago were side-by-sides; They were not very sophisticated; They are more reliable than their price would suggest; You can depend on them; If you’re on a modest budget then a Baikal is a good first buy; etc.

– I used this to miss guineafowl occasionally ca.1977 –
– guineafowl shoot on Rust outside Warden ca.1977 – I’m 2nd left –

Dad: When Harry Mandy went to Japan I asked him to get me a Canon camera and telephoto lens. He got me a FT QL camera body with standard 50mm lens, a close-up lens and a 200mm telephoto lens for R140.

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Mist or Smoke?

Mom says they loved swimming. All the boys were at the baths – the Harrismith Municipal Swimming Baths about a kilometre away up the hill past the Town Hall.

Some days they’d get ready to go – cozzies and towels over their arms, but Granny Bland would be standing on the back stoep with her hand on her hip, looking at the mist on the eastern end of Platberg and announce firmly, ‘No, you can NOT go swimming. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!’

Culinary Tales 1922 – 2021

Ole man phones at 19.28pm

Listen, if you want to make it to supper you must come quickly but you’ll have to bring lots of money.

His nephew Jack who’s a helluva clever bugger, he’s on a lot of boards and chairman of this, chairman of that. Wonderful bugger, Jack. He still weighs 78kg same as he weighed when he was a fighter jet pilot (Jack must be 78yrs old in the shade).

He brought me some smoked snoek and chips, KILOGRAMS OF IT!

..

He’s on to food – a favourite subject.

..

Oupa worked on the railways.

Working men took a scoff box to work

Guys would take sarmies, meat, tea, etc.

Oupa had a billy can. A blue billy can, the lid was your cup. You know what he used to take in to work for his lunch?

No. What, Dad?

Sugar water

At night he’d drink a big mug of milk and eat bread.

..

Ouma would cook in the kitchen and dish up in the kitchen.

Six plates. Her and Oupa and four big kids.

You got your plate of food. Don’t ask for more, there was no more. But we didn’t need more, it was a great big plate; we never went hungry. We had to do without some stuff, like new clothes or shoes, but we never went hungry.

..

Oupa and Ouma in PMB

Chickens and muscovy ducks in the backyard.

Ouma made a little pond in the ‘sump,’ the lowest point in the yard in the far corner. She would fill it up with water, about one brick deep, then throw mielies in the water. The ducks like feeding underwater. They bred prolifically and there were always plenty. A big fat roast duck was a huge treat. Only trouble is there was duck shit all over the yard.

Chickens they had to slag. The kids. One would hold the beak and feet, stretch it and one would chop off the head with an axe.

A big game was to then stand it up and let it go and watch it run around, headless.

‘One day Oupa caught us doing it and beat the shit out of us.’

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Early Daze

A re-post cos Mom told me some news today (see right at the end):

My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

I lived there from when I was carried home from the maternity home till when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis. Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely older sister Barbara waving out the window):

birdhaven

1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.

Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondavel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask, “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave Leo a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

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rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

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– 1948 Ford Prefect –

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?

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Today – 25 Sept 2021 – Mom (who turned 93 a week ago today) tells me Kathy Schoeman bought the old Ford Prefect from her and one day they drove to work to see it lying on its roof in the main street outside the town hall! Kathy had rolled it in the most prominent place possible!

Mom Mary 93

Written on the day, posted (very) late.

18 September 1928 plus ninety three years gets you to today. So if you were born then you’ve had around 33 968 sleeps.

Quite something, Mom! Happy birthday, we feel very lucky to have you with us and be able to listen to your stories, and hear your memories and your piano playing. Love you lots!

I listen to the Chopin and Mozart etc you used to play and I say to the expert pianists playing: Huh! You shoulda heard my Mom!

She recently said she thinks the best piece she played was the duet with Una Elphick in the town hall of Beethoven’s 5th symphony

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Mom’s Friends

Phoned Mom yesterday and she started talking of her old friends.

Joey de Beer (Onderstall), Dossie Farquhar (de Villiers) and Ursula Schultz were big and close friends at school in Harrismith.

The picture was taken at their 45th matric reunion.

Ursula used to get comics, or comic books and I would visit her and her Mom and we’d read them. I felt sorry for Ursula and her mother as their husband and Dad was locked up for World War 2 as a possible German sympathiser.

Sometimes us kids would play cards while the ladies played bridge. Mrs Woodcock, Mrs Schultz and maybe Mrs Rosing would play. Maybe Fanny Glick too. Not my Mom Annie, she was at work, running her Caltex garage.

Joey’s sister was Marie de Beer, who became Marie Lotter of Havengas bookstore.

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The conversation wandered on to the lovely stewed fruit Sheila makes for Mom.

Yes, I share it with my tablemate in the diningroom. I call her my ‘stablemate.’

The Concert

Mom Mary told me about the concert in the Harrismith town hall again and there was more detail, which I add here.

Griet Geyser, who played the violin, suggested a tribute concert to her tutor Professor Bloch. Fellow violinist Helmut Brunzlaff and everyone else thought it was a good idea, especially when they added the piano tutors. So it became a tribute to Professor Bloch, Miss Underwood and Miss Thorburn.

Una Elphick and I decided we were going to play a duet on the grand piano – you know they had a grand piano in their flat? It filled the lounge. Well, we chose a challenging piece: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, you know: da da da dum!

We started practicing separately and then we got together and we just couldn’t synchronise – we just weren’t in time. Una put on her metronome ‘tick tock’ but that didn’t help. The only thing that got us going was Una counting out loud. That worked and we got better and better and played it beautifully if I say so myself.

More of the music they and other Harrismith virtuosos played here. Although, that may have been a different concert as that one was in the kerksaal – church hall.

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