Flying in 1973

As a 17-yr-old in 1973 I flew from Jo’burg to Rio de Janeiro, then on to New York. This in an SAA Boeing 707 – a narrow-body, four-engined jet airliner built from 1958 to 1979, the first jet to be commercially successful. Dominating passenger air transport in the 1960s and remaining common through the 1970s, the 707 is generally credited with ushering in the jet age’. Wikipedia also says that 10 of them were still flying in 2013! Here’s one:

SAA 1973 Boeing 707

I flew on via Chicago to Oklahoma City, where I was met by Apache Rotarian Robert L Crews III.

I knew very little about flying and maybe that’s just as well.

I now know this:

January 1973 in FLYING

  1. January 2 – Attempting to land in Edmonton, Canada in blowing snow, a Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 707 carrying 86 head of cattle and a crew of five, crashed and caught fire. The entire crew was killed. The cattle? Who knows.

  2. January 2 – Released from a psychiatric hospital days earlier, 37yr-old Charles Wenige hid in a lavatory aboard a Piedmont Airlines plane after it arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. When all the passengers had disembarked, he emerged and pointed a .45-calibre pistol at a crew member, demanding access to the liquor cabinet and to be flown to Canada. After two hours of negotiations, he agreed to release the stewardesses in exchange for a meeting with a psychiatrist and a priest. An FBI agent advised Wenige to tuck his pistol away in the priest’s presence. When Wenige did that, the agent overpowered and arrested him.

  3. January 4 – As a Pacific Western airliner prepared to take off from Vancouver, Canada with 18 people on board, a passenger, 26yr-old Christopher Nielson, drew a gun and demanded $2 million in cash and to be flown to North Vietnam, threatening to blow up the airliner if his demands were not met. During negotiations he allowed most people to disembark, leaving three crew members aboard the plane with him. Police then stormed the plane and arrested him, finding that he was armed only with two toy guns.  

  4. January 5 – The mandatory security screening of all airline passengers began at all airports in the USA.

  5. January 12 – The 197th and final American air-to-air victory of the Vietnam War.

  6. January 15 – President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to all bombing, shelling and mining of North Vietnam.

  7. A Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways crashed after the right main landing gear collapsed while the plane was landing in high winds in Nigeria. It was the deadliest aviation accident in history at the time.

  8. January 27 – A U.S. Navy plane was shot down over South Vietnam – the last American fixed-wing aircraft lost in the Vietnam War.

  9. January 27 – Frontier Airlines hired the first female pilot for any modern-day U.S. airline, Emily Warner. On the same day, the airline also hired its first African-American pilot, Bob Ashby.

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Air India!

On the way back at the end of that year, I flew in an Air India 747 – my first jumbo jet! – from New York to London. On the plane I read in an abandoned newspaper that Air India had been voted World’s Worst Airline – again.

I have since learned this: ‘The years 1971-1973 were very bad for Indian Airlines. The 1971-1972 Pakistan War didn’t help. The airline reported a 45 million rupee loss in 1973, the carrier’s largest to that point. Exacerbating the aforementioned crises was the continual strike being waged by labor. Management, concerned by growing labor costs and inefficiency, eventually locked out many of its workers, operating only a skeleton schedule with a non-union workforce’.

I notice groping is a problem on Air India and they now keep plastic handcuffs to bopha the culprits. I feel I have to report with some regret that none of those sari-clad hostesses groped me, despite their promises:

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World Trade Centre

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan were opened in April 1973. I didn’t see – or consciously notice – them in December 1973. How unobservant is that!? And I must have seen them – I went up the Empire State building and looked around. Maybe I was staring at Central Park and the river?

Manhattan


bopha – isiZulu for bind, tie up (pronounce “bawpah”)

Being Bland in Africa (one branch . . )

Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful work sniffing out the Bland family history.

Today he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born in 1799 in the UK (well, England, I guess!) and arrived at the Cape in 1825. He settled in Mossel Bay, where he became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. The grave is hidden in thick bush on a farm in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal. 

The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite. Hugh says you can still read the inscription on the gravestone – it’s indistinct, but there’s no doubt that it’s JBA’s grave. He says it was “quite a moment” for him – JBA was buried there 156 yrs ago and Hugh wondered when a Bland last stood at that grave.

Hugh put two proteas on the grave; then laid his shadow next to his (and our) great-great-great grandfather and took this pic:

JBA Bland's grave

Harrismith Branch of the Blands –

After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland, born in 1836. He trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the second – JFA II.

This started “our branch” of the Blands, The Vrystaat Blands.

John Francis Adam Bland II married Mary Caskie, who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith. They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank was the oldest, called JFA the third;

Hugh found out that JFA the first died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in the lost metropolis of Senekal, Vrystaat. In Harrismith Granny Bland buried her husband JFA II and four of her five boys, including JFA III – what a tragic life. She did live long enough to know us, her great grandkids before she died ca 1960. We knew Bunty, the only child who outlived her, very well. He died in 1974 and joined his father JFA II, his mother, and his four brothers in the family grave in Harrismith.

JFA III married Annie Watson Bain – our granny Annie Bland. They farmed racehorses and clean fingernails on the farm Nuwejaarspruit outside Harrismith on the road to Witsieshoek, towards the Drakensberg. He died ca 1943 while my Mom Mary and her sister Pat were still at school. Pat died in 1974. Mom Mary then looked after Annie until she died aged ninety in 1983. Mom Mary is still alive and well. She turned ninety in September 2018.

( I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here! Also that cousin Hugh will tell us what happened to the misguided Bland branch that didn’t go to the Vrystaat, but got lost and ended up in Zimbabwe).

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Must add:

Pat Bland – married Bill Cowie; daughters Frankie & Gemma; Bill worked in Blyvooruitsig on the gold mine; Wild Coast fishing trips

Mary Bland – married Pieter Swanepoel in 1951

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Bland sounds so bland, but the surname is thought to derive from Old English (ge)bland meaning ‘storm’, or ‘commotion’.

 

Mother Mary Memories

Mr Pretorius was a new teacher in Harrismith. This is back in the ‘forties. One Geography lesson he asked a question and the answer he wanted was the town “Heilbron”.

Johnny Priest (chosen perhaps because the teacher knew he wouldn’t know?) answered “The Free State” at which Mr P lifted his eyes to the heavens, rolled them and sighed sarcastically “Why don’t you just say The Union of South Africa?” at which Johnny hastened to say,

“I meant the Union of South Africa”.

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High school teachers Mr Coetzee taught Afrikaans and Mrs Coetzee taught English. One day in matric she asked Linden Weakley a question. He was slouched low in his chair with his legs stretched in front of him and crossed, his feet almost under her desk. He was a languid chap, Linden. He answered as he was, not moving. “Uncross your legs” she said. So he did. “I mean GET UP!” she said, more sharply this time.

Once Mom was playing tennis with Linden when their opponent got cramp in a leg. Mom, ever helpful, went to the net to tell him to how to cope and what to do ti get rid of it. “Let him keep his cramp” said Linden “I want to win this match!”.

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Outside toilets

Toilets were outside, well away from the house, usually at the back border of the yard where the alley ran past so the ‘Night Car’, or ‘Honey Cart’, could get to them easily. If you had a big yard it could be a long walk. Mrs de Beer used to say theirs was “Halfway to Warden”!

“Oh, the embarrasment”, says Mom, “of meeting the Honey Cart at night when walking home from the bioscope!”

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Mom’s doctor in Harrismith was Dr Hoenigsberger, who was married to Janet Caskie, an Australian cousin of Mom’s Granny Bland. He was the government doctor (district surgeon) and part of his job was to attend to the inmates in the Harrismith Gaol. On the way back from there one day he hit the bridge over the Kakspruit and landed up in the spruit below the bridge. He was taken home, a bit shaken.

Later one of his friend phoned the house and one of his sons (Leo or Max) answered. “Hello, is the doctor in? We want him to come around and play bridge with us” said the voice.

“No, I think he’s had enough bridge for one day” answered the son.

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Wealthy Casper Badenhorst was apparently very tight with a dollar. Had plenty, spent little. When Harrismith people free-wheeled downhill in their cars they would say “Ons ry nou op Casper se petrol”.

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Sr. Mary Bland Boksburg

After matric Mary went to do nursing at the Boksburg-Benoni hospital. Older sister Pat had gone there three years before, with Janet. Pat was highly regarded by her colleagues and she took Mom to her first ward, ward 10 in the old block to introduce her to the nurse already there, Nurse Groenewald. The ward was on the fourth floor and they got into the old rattle-trap lift but no go – it was out of order. She found out it was often that way.

So they started off up the stairs at speed. Mom got to the top out of breath. She soon got fitter and learnt to run up  those steps with ease.

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“Ons ry nou op Casper se petrol” – We’re riding on Casper’s petrol

 

 

Long Lost Letter

Donald Coleman was my good mate and older side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash, alone in the car, around 1975. I have no detail of what exactly happened.

In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.

It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page. Probably page 2 of a 2-page letter, plus a scrap of envelope addressed to:
poel
rrismith
e Free State

A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope, but the date part of the franking was missing.

I suspect it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.

The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said:

This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412.

              Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year.

              It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you.

                        From your mate
                             Donald

Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny one changing your to you).

So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!

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I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Was it a Harrismith find? From when?
That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. Suspicion: Did my folks open it and not pass it on!? Very unlikely.

UPDATE: I searched the old desk again and found the rest of the envelope! It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, and Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School.

20141130_081257.jpg

I asked the old man. He said he had bought the desk at Cannon and Finlay auctioneers in PMB some time AFTER 1971. So the mystery remains. SO glad I found it anyway!

World Firsts

Or – Firsts in the Vrystaat (well, sort of . . . Firsts For Us! There you go).

In our little world:

  • We invented Hijacking – of the Orange Express (check post)
  • We invented Streaking – in Kimberley (check post)
  • We invented Drifting – on the athletics track in the park (check post)
  • We invented Selfies – in Oklahoma (check post)
  • We invented Kidnapping – on birthdays, anyway*
  • We invented self-driving cars

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Tobogganing – We didn’t invent tobogganing in the Vrystaat, but we thought we maybe invented summer tobogganing. We did it on old car bonnets that we found in the dongas east of town between King Street and the new bypass, which wasn’t there yet – just veld. Cardboard boxes worked too, but had a short lifespan. These guys were doing it in 1872 in the snow. OK, we were in the 1960’s – not cardboard on grass, but upside -down car bonnets down dongas.

But we did invent Mountain Biking, we were sure. MTB’ing on our dikwiel fietse in and around those same dongas ca 1966 to 1970. Ramping, jumping and gooi’ing squares. Along the dongas and across the dongas. Maybe those fietses weren’t really built for that kind of action (no shocks, flimsy mudguards), as the mudguards caught on the wheels and got scraped up into weird shapes. We find the excessive use of helmets these days puzzling.

History according to wikipedia: The original mountain bikes were modified heavy cruiser bicycles used for freewheeling down mountain trails. The sport became popular in the 1970s in Northern California with riders using older single speed balloon tyre bicycles to ride down rugged hillsides. See! We were first!

Bicycle Dikwiel deluxe.jpg

HijackingThe earliest documented instances of maritime hijacking were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. OK, that was before us. Train hijacking? OK, there was this military raid that occurred on April 12, 1862, in Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army commandeered a train and took it northward toward  Chattanooga Tennessee. If you look closely, one of the raiders does look a bit like a Venning;

train-hijacking

StreakingWhen and where streaking started is unknown. A 1967 article in the student paper at Carleton College in Minnesota laments that streaking was a tradition during winter when temperatures were well below freezing. OK, so we were in 1969, maybe they beat us. Anyway it seems Lady Godiva beat us all to it:  An English noblewoman who, according to a 13th century legend, rode naked – but covered by her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. In later versions of this legend, a man named Tom watched her ride and was struck blind or dead. The name ‘Peeping Tom’ for a voyeur originates here;

DriftingAlthough the origin of drifting is not known, Japan was one of the earliest birthplaces of drifting as a sport. It was most popular in the Japan Touring Car Championship races. Kunimitsu Takahashi was the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. But first there was us in the late 60’s in a black front-wheel-drive Saab! The venue: the streets  of the metropolis of Kestell and the athletic track in Harrismith. Steph at the wheel! Deftly dodging the bluegum tree stompe specifically placed on the track to deter hooligans. In vain.

This church saw some good drifting in its day

Selfies – I took my selfie in 1973 in Oklahoma, which was WAY before it became popular.

ApacheOK73 (8).JPG

selfie-1839-robertcornelius  serious-selfie

OK, this Robert oke did it in 1839, and this lady had better equipment – in both ways.

.

Kidnapping – Tuffy started kidnapping in 1970 but these fellas kidnapped this bride 100yrs earlier in 1870:

bride_kidnapping-1870

*Birthdays: Tuffy started the tradition of birthday kidnapping, grabbing a birthday boy and bundling him into a sleeping bag, tying the top closed. Then driving him somewhere and dumping him to make his own way home. When it was Tuffy’s turn we simply dumped him out of the sleeping bag into the pool at the du Plessis’ place as he happened to be born on the Winter Solstice, 21st June, shortest day of the year. Oh, yes – and the coldest! So he didn’t have a long walk home, lucky fella. Funny thing is, he didn’t thank us . . .

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Rally Cross – Tim Venning in the blue Triumph 2000 roared around and between the old popular trees and oke trees and other trees on the far side of the Harrismith President Brand park across the Vulgar river. Just when you thought he had to go straight he’d cut left between trees and hare off on another tack. People watching might have dreamt up today’s rally cross.

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Self-driving cars – Or cars fuelled by one kind of inflammable substance while the drivers were fuelled by another. Old hat. Elon Musk was still growing pimples.

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donga – Dry gully or arroyo, formed by the eroding action of running water; fantastic cowboy movie scenery;

gooi’ing squares – slamming on the back brake while throwing the bike on its side, skidding dramatically while looking nonchalant; chicks swooned;

dikwiel fietse – fat- or balloon-tyred bicycles; Chicks swooned over ous who rode them;

ous – handsome young rakes; cool cats;

 

Down the Grand Canyon

1984 was one of the very few years since 1960 that Colorado river water from the Grand Canyon actually reached the sea. High snow melt pushed it past the point where golf courses and old-age homes drain it of all its water and so – at last! – the waters of the Colorado reached the beautiful estuary at Baja California and flowed into the Sea of Cortez again!

Unknown to many, 1984 was also the ONLY year Mexicans would have been able to taste Mainstay cane spirits, distilled from South African sugar cane, mixed into that Colorado river water. Well, recycled Mainstay and river water, as the Mainstay that reached the sea had first passed through the kidneys of a mad bunch of South Africans that Chris Greeff had assembled to paddle through the famous American Canyon.

That’s because we were on the river sponsored by Mainstay Cane Spirits and South African Airways. The ‘Mainstay’ we drank was actually an SAA Boeing 747’s supply of tot bottles of whisky, brandy, gin, vodka, rum – and Mainstay cane spirits. We decanted all the little bottles we could find into two-litre plastic bottles to help the stewardesses on board with their end-of-Atlantic-crossing stock-take. We had resolved to drink the plane dry but man, they carry a lot of hooch on those big babies. Maybe in case they end up with all 350 passengers happening to be as thirsty as paddlers are? Here we are in Atlanta with the loot. Note the Mainstay sticker on one bottle held by our host Dave Jones, a paddler himself, for the US C2 team (?check):

Mainstay Colorado trip

Fifteen canoeists from South Africa joined our guide Cully Erdman and his delightful partner JoJo on a trip down the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to the take-out on Lake Mead three hundred miles downstream. We were accompanied by one other paddler, an Argentine José who was ticking off his bucket list, having climbed Everest. Five rubber inflatable rafts carried the food and the ‘Mainstay’ and hundreds of beers, plus a motley assortment of rapid riders from America and SA. Talking of motley: Us paddlers ranged from capable rough water paddlers to flatwater sprinters to happy trippers to complete novices. Some had Springbok colours, others had a lot of cheek.

First there were cars to hire, long drives and then ‘outfitting’ with kit for the trip.

Outfitting was also needed for supplies and Greeff put himself in charge of catering for the liquid refreshments. He was good at maths back in Parys se hoerskool so he did some sums: Seventeen kayakers plus some rafters times 12 days times 10 beers each is, lessee . . . . . OK, and then for after breakfast we’ll need . .  . .

Apparently the yanks thought he’d grossly over-catered and they were worried about how they were going to carry the left-over beer out of the canyon at the end. That’s if the rafts stayed afloat. Well, ons sal sien . .

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (8)
Our river guide Cully shows us how. He has done it before.
GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (30)
Herve, George & Jojo with her bikini ON

Some twists in the tale: My boyhood kayaking heroes had been the van Riet brothers, Willem and Roelof, who won the Dusi three times just as I was first learning about the race ca 1970. As I started to participate in the race in 1972 Graeme Pope-Ellis won the first of his eventual fifteen Dusi wins. Both Willem and Graeme were with us on this trip, along with other paddling legends I had met in my recent entry into the world of canoeing. Having ‘paddled lonely‘ from 1970 to 1982, I was now rubbing shoulders with legends!

Another twist: In the year I first saw the Colorado river after walking/running down the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim to the Colorado’s swiftly-flowing clear green water, 1973, Willem had launched a boat at Lee’s Ferry, done an eskimo roll and come up with ice in his hair, causing him to postpone his trip. Now he was back, eleven years later – in the summer! And so was I.

The trip was put together by yet another iconic paddler Chris Greeff, winner of more kayak races than I’d had breakfasts. One of the craziest races he won was the Arctic Canoe Race on the border between Finland and Sweden. About 500km of good pool and drop rapids in cold water. When he arrived at the start with his sleek flatwater racing kayak (the others had wider, slower, more stable canoes) the local organisers thought ‘Ha! he intends portaging around all the rapids!’ They had heard of the Dusi and how mad South Africans run with kayaks on their heads, so they amended the rules: Every rapid avoided would incur a stiff time penalty. Chris grinned and agreed enthusiastically with their ruling: He was no Dusi runner and he had no intention of getting out of his boat!

Later:

On the trip, our American kayak and raft guides kept asking us about the sponsors stickers we had attached to kayaks and rafts. SAA they understood, South African Airways, but what was this “Mainstay” stuff? Ooh. you’ll see! Was all we’d say.
At ___ rapid on Day __ around the camp fire we hauled out our two-litre bottles filled with a suspicious amber liquid. THIS we said, was that famous stuff!

The first thing about Mainstay was its medicinal properties. Toekoe had turned blue from too much swimming, but after a slug of Mainstay he got his colour back as the before and after pictures clearly show:

As more Mainstay was swallowed, hilarity and a bit of insanity ensued. I have a picture frozen in my mind of Willem sprinting past me, running nimbly across the pontoons of a raft and launching himself in the darkness into the swift current of the Colorado running at 50 000cfs! Yee-ha!! Like this, but at night:

Willem with Mainstay

IQ’s soared:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (65)
George, Allie, Swys & Toekoe, full of Mainstay. Toekoe had turned blue from involuntary swimming in the cold river, but the hooch restored his colour.

Besides the SAA loot Greeff had also arranged for beers on the trip. John Lee tells the story:

I recall how  our Yankee rafting crew were somewhat taken aback at the rather large drinks order they received prior to the departure from Lees Ferry! Despite the huge stocks, somewhere downstream in the depths of the Grand Canyon, to their utter disbelief, the only liquid left was the raging Colorado River. Stocks had run dry .

There were some thirsty, desperate river runners in camp. We were way upstream from the next available beer at Phantom Ranch’s shop on the high rim.

Desperate times call for desperate measures …….

Some of us (hello Felix!) resorted to performing like seals, executing dashing eskimo rolls for passing J-Rigs, and being rewarded with frosties for our efforts!

One Captain (PF) Christiaan Lodewikus Greeff called quietly for volunteers, and assembled a raiding party (call them ‘SEALs’, one was a parabat) to address the situation. This unbeknown to our unsuspecting, law-abiding river crew .

In the dead of night, wearing beanies, faces blackened, they slid silently into the icy waters of the flooded Colorado River and headed into an  upstream eddy towards the distant sounds of happy laughter from a neighbouring campsite .

Reaching tethered rafts, they found the holy Grand Canyon grail ……multiple nets strung from the rafts, laden with tins of sunset amber liquid.

Their return to our camp was triumphant.

I cannot recall the composition of that courageous group. Suffice it to say, that I am certain that it included one Lieutenant A Gordon-Peter (SAB).

The reaction of our guides, later, was somewhat different!

Mules heavily laden with liquor were later cajoled down the treacherous track from Phantom Ranch, and our evenings were once again fuelled with fun, laughter and Willie’s yarns!

In closing, who will ever forget that wonderful mirage in the middle of the shimmering Lake Mead – a very naked, very tall and statuesque blonde River Goddess on a drifting raft ………………… or was it ?

Kayak Colorado Grand Canyon-001
Our wonderful American rafters – law-abiding folk

I dunno – but there was one naked lady I know of: JoJo posed butt naked for a stealthily-taken pic on George’s camera. What a sport, she removed her bikini top and bottom for the gentlemen doing research on just how much trouble George would get into with his wife back home.

1984Grand Canyon (1)

At the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado the Little was flooding and massively silt-laden. We stopped on a skinny sandbank and had mud fights and mud rolls. The muddy water from the flooding Little Colorado (so thick the trout Felix Unite caught looked sadly lethargic) merged with the clear water coming out of Lake Powell and from here on we had traditionally red-coloured water – “colorado” in Latin. I fell out just downstream and got some of that muddy water up my snout. Back in Durban a month later I had to have an emergency sinus washout! As Saffeffricans say ‘Ah neely dahd!’

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff Confluence (1)
Foreground and background: Muddy and warm water of the Little Colorado. In the middle: Clear cold Colorado water from deep down in Lake Powell. Ryan practices the roll that didn’t work in Lava Falls.

Lunch on a small sandbank – Five rafts, seventeen kayaks

Lunch on a small sandbank, Colorado River, Grand Canyon - Five rafts, seventeen kayaks
Legends and me: Graeme Pope-Ellis and Wendy; Wendy Walwyn; John Lee; Cully Erdman; Me in longs; Willem van Riet; Jannie Claassen; Herve de Rauville standing;
Grand Canyon Chris 2
Chris Greeff in CrystalGrand Canyon Chris Crystal-001
Crystal Rapid Colorado.jpg
Me in Crystal rapid

Hikes up the side-canyons:

Map-reading: Jannie Claassen stands left. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right with the peak cap. All poring over the map, plotting the next day! Willem telling us about the MOERSE rapids he went through.
Jannie Claassen stands. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right. All poring over the map, plotting the next day!

?Me and trip girlfriend Wendy in foreground

Bernie Garcin – great mate; and WHAT a campsite!

Bernie Garcin - great mate; - - and WHAT a campsite!!

Happy daze drifting in the current, lying back gazing up at the cliffs and watching the waterline as century after millenium of geological lines rose up out of the water and each day rose higher and higher above us. Willem the geologist would explain some of it to us.

Then you’d sit up and listen intently. Then peer ahead with a stretched neck and drift in a quickening current as the roar of the next rapid grew in the canyon air. The river was running at an estimated high 50 000cfs (about 1650 cumecs). Once you could see where it was, you pulled over and got out to scout it and plot your way through it.

Here’s Lava Falls:

Lava Falls

For days before Lava the bullshit build-up built up: ‘Rain? That’s not rain! That’s the mist from LAVA FALLS!’

Arriving at Lava we hopped out and checked it out, butterflies no longer flying in formation. After scouting carefully most of us went left; a few went right. One – Ryan – went snorkeling straight into the big hole and got chomped, rinsed and spat out. His blue helmet can be seen in the picture if you have a magnifying glass. Our ladies commandeered one of the rafts and rowed it ladies-only down Lava!

At the usual take-out at Diamond Creek before Lake Mead the high water had washed away the road. We had to keep going. Miles later we hit the calm waters of Lake Mead. The river ran out of push, tamed by a damn dam. Paddling was over for most of us! We piled our kayaks onto the rafts and lay on them as they were tugged out by a motorboat to another take-out point on Lake Mead many miles downstream.

Except of course there was now no longer any ‘stream’ – we were on flat water. Greeff and a few other crazies, including Wendy Walwyn, who don’t have handbrakes, brains or limits, paddled the whole flat water way! Holy shit! I drank beer lying on a raft, gazing at the blue Arizona sky.

The Mainstay SAA Team from SA; At the usual take-out before Lake Mead.
On the way, Dave Walker led the singing:

The canyon burro is a mournful bloke
He very seldom gets a poke
But when he DOES . . . .
He LETS it soak
As he revels in the joys of forni- CATION!

and (to the tune of He Ain’t Heavy):

Hy’s nie Swaar nie

Hy’s my Swaer . a . a . aer

We went down the Canyon twice

I always say we did the Canyon twice. Once we would bomb down in our kayaks, crashing through the exhilarating big water; The second time was much hairier, with bigger rapids, higher water and far more danger: That was when Willem would regale us with tales of his day on the water around the campfire at night. “Raconteur” is too mild a word! The word ‘MOERSE’ featured prominently in his epic tales. And this from a man who bombed ‘blind’ down the Cunene River in 1963.

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It Was Like a Military Operation

Bouncing around on the back of a Bedford we would roar to a halt in the veld. Well, really the mixed thornveld woodland somewhere near Pretoria, which should properly be called Tshwane, ancestral home of the Tshwanepoels to which we have land claim rights. But that’s another (important) story.

Seeking the shelter of trees so as not to be too visible to the enemy, we would leap eagerly to the ground, pitch our big tents and carry in the stretchers, placing them in neat rows one left and one right. Then up would go the drip stands, each with a drip hanging down. Sundry balsaks and trommels would be lined up and unpacked and in no time we’d be ready to receive the wounded who had been drilled by the kommuniste nearby, us being an advance field hospital. We were much like this:

field hospital

Well. In theory.

In reality the only thing that happened with any sense of urgency was the roaring to a halt by the Bedfords in a cloud of dust. After that there would be consultation and various opinions about whether to line the tents up like this (maybe east-west) or like this (maybe west-east). And how could we put it here? Look at this big stump in the ground here. The neat rows would be more haphazard and boiling water for tea would be accomplished before any drip stands were placed. It was like a military operation.

Which is not like this:

Army marching.jpg

It’s way more like this:

army-ballasbak

The most organised of the troops was Rhynie. From Durban, natch. As the lorry stopped he would step off with his blanket over his shoulder and his paperback in his hand and immediately stroll off till just out of sight but still well within earshot for a ballasbak. As the Bedfords started up again after we had struck camp and packed up he would reappear in time to clamber on, miffed that us workers hadn’t kept him any tea. Everyone loved ole Rhynie so you couldn’t resent and only admired his gippo‘ing.

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ballasbak – ball-baking; lying back in the sun, basking with your crotch exposed to the warm rays. The sunglass fella is doing it well. In the barracks you’d usually be leaning against a wall, hidden from the corporal’s sight. On a camp the corporal might be next to you, doing it better than you;

gippo‘ing – wisely dodging what you were meant to be doing. The opposite of volunteering; Probably slang from the Egypt campaign in WW2?