Monday, April 29, 2013

Load 'em up!

We return now to my travels to Soiuth Africa - and today we look at 'acceptable loads'.

What - in your opinion, would constitute 'overloading'?

Well - first off, whatever fits on your head is a standard load....

And what do you do when you have too many passengers to fit in your taxi? The system is simple - for half price, they can stand in the doorway and just hang on! This vehicle was travelling at 70kph when photographed - how far they were intending to travel like this is anyone's guess!

How many cattle can you get onto a truck, side by side? The obvious answer is 'three'. Apparently!

Pack 'em in , Mr Farmer, pack 'em in!

Here now - a pick-up truck - half-loaded. The general rule of thumb seems to be that when your goods touch the roof of the vehicle - then you have adequaltely loaded it. But..... what happens when you don't actually have a roof on your vehicle?

The sky is the limit!

This is not to say that considerations for safety are thrown to the winds (providing you exclude the lack of rear-view mirror, that is). This fellow had, if you look carefully, placed a warning triangle in a prominent spot - to warn fellow motorists that he was actually a vehicle and not some sort of mobile mountain!
Ah yes - loading limits? The limit, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder!
Have a great day.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

An afternoon in Nyanga - part 2

So - the second in the Nyanga series.

Just upstream of the snot-coated slide is a waterfall which flows into a large pool - so large in fact, that it is 10 feet deep in places, and despite the freezing water temperatures (winter is definitely coming to Africa right now - and the waters of Nyanga are cold enough all year round to play home to trout) and with total disregard as to the creepies that might share it with them, the younger children all plunged in.

This is swimming as it should be - and childhood as it should be. Never mind Gungnum-style - this is 'growing up' Zim-style.
Of course - once you get to the waterfall - you have to sit in it - don't you?

Then there was the game involving diving from the bank and catching onto the branch of a tree that overhangs the pond - and swinging on it. (Just in case you had skin left on your palms after grasping at rocks all afternoon)

The water temperature cannot have been much above freezing - and my eldest daughter and wife were unable to conceal their incredulity when the younger children first dived into the frigid pool!

What sissies they were!

Of course - I didn't swim myself, but I had the heavy responsibility of taking photographs. Had that not been the case, I am almost sure I would also have dived in.

Have a great day!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An afternoon in Nyanga - part 1

I will return to our travels in a couple of days - but today and tomorrow I would like to share with you an afternoon in the Nyanga mountains of Zim.

On Sunday we took the children to Nyanga - these are the mountains that run along the eastern border of the country, and it is here that our highest peak, Mount Inyangani is found. We visited friends and they have a 'river' running through their property - not quite the Mississippi (which I learned to spell properly at Junior school) but a decent enough body of water. Despite almost freezing water temperatures, the kids took along swim-wear, and so the afternoon was set.

The river tumbles over a small ledge, and then over some fairly smooth rock, before falling away at the bottom.

At the bottom of the smoothish rock is another waterfall that tumbles over a steep precipice.

The rocks were covered with a very slimy, green algae - and the whole rock face was treacherously slippery where the water flowed, making walking very difficult. However, it did mean that the kids could slide down it at great speed! This is what we call a 'slide'.

The only important thing to remember is that you should stop before the drop at the bottom! A hugely fun afternoon was spent slipping and sliding down the rocks.

And - how to describe this slime which provided such a fine afternoon's entertainment? Because it certainly was slippery. We tried several descriptions....

- as slimy as a frog?
- as slimy as a snail?
- as slimy as a slug?

Fortunately we found just the right description... the algae was as slimy as.........

That's right - as slimy as snot. You got that right first time!

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Drive" - the game of death and destruction at an arcade near you.

So today - traffic on our roads.

With the discovery of diamonds in Zim, there is now a steady stream of heavy mining equipment being moved into the country from South Africa - most of it being transported by road, and these heavy transporters can prove to be quite difficult to overtake, simply because they are so large.

An added little test when driving in Zimbabwe is the fact that the oncoming traffic frequently drives on the wrong side of the road. In Zim and in South Africa, as in Great Britain, we drive on the left hand side. However the engines used for ploughing fields ready for planting are very often approaching in your lane, making life very difficult indeed.

In front of us at one stage was a bus - with the front side panel flapping madly in the wind. We could not overtake for fear that the panel could fall off at any moment and lodge between our eyes, and so we had to stay behind him - a good 20-car lengths back in fact.

Incredibly about a mile later, as the bus turned of the road ahead of us - the side panel actually fell off and lodged beneath the tyre (tire - for you Yanks out there!). How often do you see a bus self-destruct in front of you - and how often are you holding a camera at the ready in the expectation the bus will fall apart before your very eyes? We were still behind him when he turned off and the angle of the wheel was enough to cut the last threads that had held it attached to the bus. The sound of fibre-glass being ground to powder beneath his wheels made the bus driver slam on anchors rapidly - much to the alarm to the usual cows, chickens and goats that are in attendance at every stand of shops along the way! What are the chances of catching the action on film?

Well - believe it or not.....

So now the question is this - with all these real-life hazards on our roads - do you not think that there is more than ample scope for an "app" featuring a strip of tarmac, and oncoming cattle, self-destructing buses and huge unwieldy transporters as hazards to be safely negotiated before you reach the next 'level'?

Maybe so - and I do believe it would sell - but the problem is that the makers of such games would never, in their wildest dreams, believe that such obstacles would be accepted by the public as part of a normal day out on the road! Can you believe it?

Have a great day!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Zimbabwean taxis.

So today we look at Public Transport on the highways and byways of Zimbabwe.

We have many and varied forms of transport - the most common being what we call a 'bhasikoro'. Those are the things Lance Armstrong takes steroids to ride. But it is in the arena of public transport that we excel - so today we will cover taxis, and tomorrow buses.

This is a picture of a taxi rank. You can see the taxis lined up under the trees!

And here is a fully loaded taxi - about to pass over Birchenough Bridge (This bridge - when constructed, was the largest single-span suspension bridge in the world at the time! I bet you didn't know THAT about Zimbabwe?). Note how the taxi driver has his hand flat on the accelerator!! (Some of the modified racing versions can get from 0-15 in 60 seconds flat!)

Our taxis have many disadvantages - they are slow, somewhat wet in rainy weather, and the motors tend to poop when you are least expecting it! But............tell me how many taxi passengers in Britain, America and Russia (where 21 people, incredibly, follow this blog every day!) are as happy as our passengers here in Zim?

How many?

Zero - that's how many!

And there is one other advantage to having this type of taxi.

When one of your motors dies on you, you take it out of the taxi, pack it up in a box, and then sell it to a Retail Company called "Tesco" which is in England.  Apparently they process our taxi motors, and then sell them on to the adoring British public as something called 'Beef Lasagna'.

Hard to believe, but true!

Have a great day!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More signs from our travels

Different signs evoke different reactions, depending on the perspective of the viewer. Here are a few signs - all but the first from our travels to South Africa - and all evoking different responses....

The first is from London - and while it will be of no interest to those folk living outside of Zim - for us we were really proud to be at the Olympics. This is taken from along the Marathon route (before the idiots of the world decided that marathons were a legitimate bombing target) and our runners acquitted themselves very well indeed - especially in the men's marathon.

The next is something that caught my eye - simply because we don't have 'drive-through' takeaways in Zimbabwe. And because I found humour in the sign! (Despite the atrocious Americanised spelling of the word 'through'!)

Now - the next pic. This is, to me slightly scary. Is this a huge repository of teacups, plates and bowls?

Nope - this is proof of the rapid Chinese investment in Africa - going largely unnoticed by the Western wold. Apparently the Chinese are far and away the second largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe - and they have been present here for not much more than 5 years - while Caucasians and Asians have been here for well over a century. This pic was taken in South Africa and is of a wholesaler. They bring to Africa people and cheap sub-standard goods, and take away our gold, diamonds and other natural resources

Then this sign - on a shop in Rutenga. The questions to be asked here are:

a) What do you think the Owner of the shop was doing when he thought of the name for his business?
b) Do you think he has spelling difficulties in line 2? Has 'The Family' really spread its tentacles that far into Zimbabwean society that they now have a shop in Rutenga?
c) Then line 3 - did you suddenly realise he is not a bad egg after all?

However - the presence of the formidable iron grill would suggest this is more of an 'Inconvenience Store'!!!

Have a great day!

Friday, April 19, 2013

No sign of common sense?

First of all - a confession! Yesterdays blog elicited a certain amount of comment - and I was accused of being somewhat economical with the truth. I have to hang my head in shame and admit that I was not entirely truthful with my story. So - here's the truth....

There is no such thing as an 'African Giant tortoise'!

Well done those readers who caught me out on that. It was, indeed, a Galapagos tortoise that Courtney managed to deflate so alarmingly! Everything else contained in the blog was pretty much almost true!

So - today.

One of the beauties of travelling on Zimbabwe's roads is the scope and diversity of signs which accost the unsuspecting motorist, and on a rainy drive there is lots to keep you entertained. Some are road signs, and some are just advertising signs, right out in the middle of nowhere....

It does seem that a little economy was also taken here with the truth because the inhabitant of the trailer was not white, had hardly any meat on his bones - never mind muscle, spoke in more than monosyllabic grunts, and didn't blow his hapless customers away with an anti-aircraft gun and then reduce their vehicle to a ball of flame. At least not in the two minutes that we watched him!

Then this sign - what could it be warning of? Hills ahead? Men hiding in a trench ahead? A python just ate the Seven Dwarfs ahead?

Of course - this sign was an admission by the Roads Department that the road ahead would be slightly bumpy - which was a real understatement! Rather like the Blackpool Roller Coaster - the entire population of our car were soon all crying 'wheeeeee' as we went down the one side of the bumps, and 'oooooh' as we went up the other side! If there is a sign in Zim warning of a bumpy road - pay attention to it!

We then came across this rather strange sign - with a warning triangle, a pedestrian and a cow.

All three of these are standard Zim roadside signs, but there are never more than 2 on a pole at a time. What did this combo mean? What dire dangers were lurking ahead of us that needed such a warning?

So what did the sign mean? The triangle on Zimbabwean signs means 'warning'.

The suggestions of my three daughters were:-

1) Warning - man milking cow ahead
2) Warning - man carrying cow on his head, ahead
3) Warning - someone has stolen the other pole - thieves ahead

My own rather pathetic interpretation was

4) Warning - a fool of a pedestrian will drive his cows in front of your car and try to cause an accident, ahead.

Quite incredibly, not much more than a kilometre later............

Silly fool!

But - we will certainly pay more attention to the signs in future!

Have a great day!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The day the kids broke a tortoise.

Going through photographs for todays blog - I chanced upon a series of pics taken a year or so ago of an incident which remains a rather vivid skeleton in our family closet - the day the kids broke the tortoise. So for today I shall put aside the tales of our South African travels, and 'fess up to a somewhat sordid affair.

This must have happened about a year ago - if not more. And the culprit was Courtney - my youngest daughter. And I must add that it was not the first time that the kids squeezed an animal with a little too much vigour - we had a 'Russian hamster' who had to be thrown away after a particularly enthusiastic cuddle rendered him lifeless!

This is a photo of Courtney as she is today - crossing the bridge into South Africa....

And this is Courtney and her sister Dayna about a year ago - cuddling up to an African Giant tortoise..

Unfortunately they loved him too much - and when Courtney gave him an overly firm squeeze - air started suddenly escaping from his bottom, and he began to lose all rigidity....

The hissing sound of escaping air went on...... and on....... and on............ Until eventually, much to our horror....

We put the (now) much smaller tortoise down, made our way quietly back to the car, and left as quickly as possible. To this day I imagine no-one quite knows what happened to the tortoise - but it was all just a little too much love!

Have a really great day!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A troubled bridge over water. (With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

So - the journey Southwards.

Those of you who have read my book will be aware of the 2 somewhat disastrous crossings I have had at Beitbridge - once without a passport, and once without a car. So - call it psycho-somatic if you will, I have a deep-seated fear of 'the bridge'.

However - once through the Zim side - there was the familiar footbridge - over which I had crossed the Limpopo the last two times I had visited South Africa. The footbridge runs parallel to the vehicle bridge (which shuddered and swayed alarmingly every time a big truck went over it), and the great grey-green greasy river all set about with fever trees can be seen in the background...

Somewhat strangely for this time of year, there seemed to be an inordinately large number of Americans crossing the bridge on foot, loaded up with fast food, as always!

But there was still the other side of the bridge to negotiate. And as proof that we did in fact cross the border, I managed to take a photo despite all the warnings not to...........

So I decided that the only solution was to try and get through the South African Customs and Immigration in disguise - just in case someone remembered me from my previous crossings. It is hard to disguise yourself at a border post, but I did my best...........

Strangely this only served to draw attention to myself!

More tomorrow. Have a great day.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Helping out the 'Chicken Guy'!

At the intersections of most cities in Africa, drivers are accosted by various beggars and sellers  of mobile phone chargers for the car (in case you have left your charger at home and need to charge your phone) - all trying to eke a little money out of the passing motorists. This is normal.

What is not so normal was the inventiveness of one fellow we came across in Pretoria who held up a hand-made sign which read...

My cat jumped the wall and Eat my neighbour's chicken Please Help me with Job or Donation so that I can buy a new Chicken For my neighbour

For those folk who could not read - he had added a finely detailed picture of his thieving cat - with extended belly from his huge meal.

We passed by that particular intersection four times every day on our way to and from the pool - at 06.30am, 14.00pm, 15.30pm and 18.00pm - and each and every time - there he was.

On our final day, there was only one thing we could do to recompense him and solve his dilemma. We had watched as various South African motorists gave him a few coins, but this was obviously not enough to buy a new chicken and restore relations with his luckless neighbour. So we decided his chicken problem would hopefully be overcome by the kind and generous Zimbabweans...... even if our solution did leave him looking a little nonplussed at first!

That's right - we bought him a chicken!

Despite all the shopping Malls surrounding us, we were unable to find him a live chicken - which had been our original intention, but hopefully his neighbour will be satisfied, and he will no longer have to stand around the traffic intersection all day.

We passed by that intersection after doing an (illegal!) 'U-turn' some two minutes later and he was busy showing off his brand new chicken to the mobile-phone-charger-selling guy - so we know he was happy!

And you have a nice day too!

I'm back - for better or worse!

I'm back!

Apologies to those who have looked for me - I had to go to South Africa with our local swimming team, and the power cable for my laptop failed on my final night in Zim, which meant I was unable to warn you all that the blog might be a little sporadic. I have now bought a new cable, and am once again "on air".

Your daily dose of 'feel-good blog' is back - and here to stay!

And thankfully after a long road trip plus camera, I have returned with many gems, so the weeks ahead are going to be very blogful! And very full of mombes - or cattle for those reading this in USA, UK, and Russia!

The reason for the trip was a Swim Meet (as the Americans call it) - a Level One Gala being held in Pretoria, South Africa. My daughters Courtney and Dayna had both made qualifying times, and our little town of Mutare managed to send 5 swimmers to compete.

There were well over 700 children swimming, and they came from 8 different African countries,  so the pool was kind of busy. So busy, in fact that they had to allocate 'warm-up' times for the different age groups at the start of every session to stop the children swimming into each other. Even then, the water was busy. This was the pool at 07.15 every morning....

My youngest daughter Courtney took part in the 200m Freestyle - this is a picture of the children waiting on the chairs before the Starter called them to the starting blocks. She is the forlorn blue cap pretty much in the centre:

After her race, Courtney returned to the stands - where she received the congratulations of her sisters. They were delighted with her performance!

And why were they sisters so pleased? Well, with the large number of kids swimming, the chances of a medal were fairly slim. But........not zero!

Yay! Strike one for the good guys from the North! And well done for smiling!

More tomorrow on our many travels - and SOOOOOOOO nice to be back!