Categories
3_USA 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia travel

Bugged by Bugs in a Red Bug in Canada

north america map

Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.

A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite young high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior, and involved in Rotary exchange student selection. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a dinkum character, say no more. Liked a beer.

We headed north to the Canadian border. Five laughing, happy peeps in a VW bug. It wasn’t a squeeze at all, we were having so much fun. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” Yeah, we’re American, chimed Sherry, Dottie and Dale. He stepped back and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”.

“Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said.

“Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.

On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. That’s the only time I’ve seen a head of state in the flesh ever. And one’s enough.

Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed out the driveway, swung, and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! We could hop back into the red bug and bug off to the pub. Poor Sherry’s prize red VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!

Dottie, Dale, Jonathan, me and Sherry in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come!

Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed and told ‘I’m Sorry, You Can’t Camp Here,’ but by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it!

Canada Mountie, Patrol Car

Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada
– Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) –

Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Beautiful.

Then, suddenly, we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods. All names may not be exact or current – these are 45yr-old memories!

We planned a three-night trip, but after one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of the hordes that were hovering and zeeeee-ing outside! Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs!

But what beautiful country:

Lake Woods 3

As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast, so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where it’s still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.

They dropped me off and buzzed off into the sunset, three lovely ladies and an Aussie with who I had just spent one of the most unforgettable times of my life. That REALLY was special. So uncomplicated and relaxed and unstructured (unless Sherry was planning as we went – she was! I bet you she was!), and free and friendly. Wonderful people.

map Road Trip USA Home to Apache 1973

My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot on this leg of the trip!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia travel

Thank You Ernie!

Ernie van Biljon wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I got to go to America as a Rotary exchange student back in 1973.

Thanks Ernie van Biljon, for seeing to it that I made it to America! 

What a lovely man. He should have lived to a hundred.

Rotary held their interview and selection sessions at Greystones outside Estcourt (where I had attended a Veld & Vlei leadership course earlier that year):

Greystones Veld&Vlei

Which three countries would you like to go to, they asked?
America, America, and America I replied – and I want to go to a small town, not a big city.

Well, they selected me anyway, but decided, “OK, smartass,” and dispatched me to Apache, Oklahoma, population 1500.

“There are two strict rules” they told us sternly: “No Falling In Love; and Strictly No Driving while you’re there.”

Of course not . . .

Well, I got none out of two right but it was just infatuation; and the owner of the Chev Camaro covered for me in Apache; and the owner of the VW Beetle covered for me in Canada. Turned out I double-failed at both the Two Commandments. I broke them and I was useless at them.

Thank you, Ernie!

~~~oo0oo~~~

For Apache Adventures, see here

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions travel

Woken by the Tamboekie

Harrismith was not richly endowed with pubs. It had kroegs, but pubs, not so much. So before the Holiday Inn brought mid-West America to the Vrystaat vlaktes, we were forced to drink and drive.

In those days the Road Safety slogan was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk.

Not as snappy as Speed Kills but nevertheless a very valid slogan.

Favoured watering holes were Little Switzerland on the Oliviershoek Pass and, because after a skinful you want to actually negotiate a whole mountain pass, the Royal Natal National Park Hotel.

One legend of Harrismith District Mobile Imbibing was Rob, whose surname will remain a secret because he might have become sensitive to this well-deserved reputation earned during his lengthy youth later when he was probably telling his own kids to BEHAVE themselves. And Speed Kills, and Wipe Your Feet, and Two Drinks is Enough, and Abstain until you’re Married, you young ‘uns, and other things that would have raised a knowing grin on the faces of his old friends if they had overheard this theoretical speech.

I mean, his rollovers (how many?) culminated in his lying on his neck on the roof of Steph’s white VW Beetle and when Steph said “Rob! Are you OK?!” he murmured “Shh! My favourite tune is playing” as he adjusted the radio tuner which had gone off a touch as the vehicle bollamakissied.

de Witts VW Beetle upside-down

Speaking of pubs, booze, cars and road safety:

The Catholics have it all wrong when they appoint Saints.

I mean NOT ONE of the barmen who put up with our shit has been nominated as far as I know – and they should be. They really deserve sainthood. Like the Little Switzerland barkeep who watched as we emptied the fine display of pampas grass in the foyer, stuck the stalks up our naked rears, set fire to the fronds and ran around the hotel corridors where innocent paying guests were slumbering, yelling “Flaming A’s! Call the Fire Brigade!” A pram was commandeered in the mock fire-fighting response – enough said, a grown man in a pram going Whee! Whaa! Whee! Whaa! – A fiasco.

Also a sainthood for Mother Mary, who loaned me her grey 1970 Ford Cortina to take an Aussie Exchange student there one night.

cortina 1970
like this one

On the way back I thought I heard faint snoring and a swish-swish-swish sound from far away. I woke up to find I was going along at a fair rate with tamboekie grass hitting the windscreen, Yabsley the Oz asleep on the seat next to me. I slammed on the anchors and got out to look. I didn’t have a clue if I’d gone off on the right or the left of the road, but following our track back through the long grass we found the road above the pass, reversed and wound our way home much soberer. Had I killed Michael Yabsley I’d have changed the course of Aussie politics, as he went on to become an MP and the Aussie Liberal Party’s federal treasurer.

There should have been a law against drinking and driving.

I do tell my kids to BEHAVE themselves, but I have a hard time keeping a straight face.

——-ooo000ooo——-

I found a 1963 video of Royal Natal National Park.

——-ooo000ooo——-

kroeg – males-only bars

bollamakissied – somersaulted; rolled

Categories
3_USA 7_Confessions

Fresh in the USA

Fresh from the City of Sin and Laughter, OFS, where I’d spent my first seventeen years, I arrived in New York with great expectations.

I was READY – more than ready! – to see the big wide world. After landing we – the gang of South African Rotary Exchange students -were bussed to a hotel in Queens. Someone – a Rotarian, I guess? – checked us in and then left us to go to bed for the night. Early the next morning we’d be boarding different planes to the various states we’d been assigned to.

Go to bed?! Fuhgeddaboudit!

But most did! I was horrified. “Excuse me, no WAY I’m going to bed”. Only one other guy (was he Gary or was he heading to Gary, Indiana?) joined me and we went to the night porter. “Right! Where can we go for a night on the town, sir? We want to go for a walk, which way shall we head?”

Oh, I wouldn’t advise you did that, he drawled, I’ll get the hotel bus to take you someplace.

So off we went, noses plastered against the windows, fascinated. Our personal chauffeur dropped us off at a brightly-lit truck stop and asked when we wanted to be fetched. “Three Ay Emm” we said, pushing our luck. Check, he said without blinking. So we sat and watched a New York night go by drinking beer and eating burgers n fries till he fetched us as arranged.

After three hours sleep, we were taken back to JFK where we split up. Some of us boarded a HUGE helicopter for the hop over to La Guardia airport from where I would be going on to Oklahoma, OFS – uh, USA.

Sikorsky chopper JFK airport 1973