REVIEW : Mieliepop Songtuary, Tolderia Estate. 26-28/10/2012

01/11/2012.

I’ve been very fortunate to attend most of the top music festivals in South Africa with The Sick-Leaves during the past 6 years. After releasing Breaking Away in January this year I decided to do something fresh musically.  Hence my side project, Tenkai Pennies (with Andra Cilliers) was born.  After making it on to the line-up we were extremely excited to play at this year’s Mieliepop Songtuary festival, at Tolderia Estate, close to Lothair, in south east Mpumalanga.

After a longish drive from Pretoria I arrived at the festival round 4-ish on the Friday afternoon. It looked spectacular. Tents and cars were lined up on both flanks of the man-made dam and the stage looked mightily impressive. I’ve been to this place countless times before in my life since 1982, when back then there was nothing except a spruit, veld and trees. I don’t think the owner, Andre van Rooyen, at the time, could have envisaged the amount of time, energy, money, toil and love he would pour into Tolderia over the next 29 years to create this world class estate.

Even before the dam was built our families would have social gatherings at the “grot” / cave. Back then it looked nothing like it does today. Access was through the veld, there was no concrete, everything was natural. After the dam was built a semi-permanent gazebo was erected on the eastern side next to the dam wall. A bit later the “old / main house” was built on the northern bank of the dam, which was a massive improvement. As a kid this house fascinated me endlessly due to it’s northern wall being a massive sandstone rock. The huge lawn grew ever larger over time and a heated swimming pool and fake cave was built later on adjacent to the house.

The next phase of development would be the current festival site. The spruit from the waterfall to the dam was dug deeper and wider to accommodate a motor boat.  Then the fake cave, bar area and swimming pool followed, with the 4 luxurious lodges being the most recent development. May I add – EVERYTHING that’s man made at Tolderia was designed and built by Andre van Rooyen. It’s quite astonishing if you take a minute to think about it.

After pitching my tent I met up with everyone else and made a dash for a viewpoint to capture a photograpgh of the setting sun painting the clouds pink. Overcast weather was predicted for the rest of the weekend so I knew this was probably my only chance to get a good picture of the site.

Mieliepop Songtuary 2012, Friday evening. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

For me Friday night’s highlights were Mechanics Of Happiness, who impressed with a tight melodic rock set; the exceptional Shotgun Tori who delivered an emotional vocal rasp so vicious that it sent the moon cowering behind the clouds; and Howlin Shibanski‘s slick and dirty blues.

We played at 10pm. The crowd was fantastic, but a right nightmare was had on stage. LOTS of technical difficulties. The show must go on though and we did the best we could. A special thanks to Brenda Burnit who helped us out on percussion and mandolin and to Andra of course who is a pro. It’s a real privelege and joy to share a stage with her.

The Aidan Martin Band (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The next morning I waited for the sun to nuke me out of my tent, but it never happened. Typical Ermelo “oosteweer” (overcast and drizzly weather) was on the menu for the day. With our show done I could relax and take some photos. We made our way to the stage mid-morning and were treated to an Uriah Heep sound check. Amazing to behold. Naming James played an energetic and well received set to get the crowd going. I made a dash for my tent to catch a quick afternoon nap; a huge amount of lost sleep during the week had left me feeling worse for wear. It didn’t last long though as I was woken by that magical sound of a blues/rock trio. A super tight guitar and bass riff of immense swagger got me scrambling to the stage and I was just in time to catch the last bit of Aidan Martin‘s set. What a band. It’s beyond me how this guy is still so anonymous. But that will change soon. To me they were the musical highlight of the weekend and I’m bummed out that I couldn’t see his whole set. He struck me looks and soundwise as a cross between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin during 1970. It’s as if he has been kept in an ice tomb for 42 years and unleashed upon us in 2012. Top bloke as well.

The Smoking Mojos (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The Smoking Mojos were hugely anticipated and they delivered their double axe blues with precision and passion. Two power outages during their set must have been horrible for the band, but this only seemed to increase the crowd’s appreciation and love for them.

Jeremy Loops (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Over the course of the weekend the most love and adoration, for a local artist, was reserved for Jeremy Loops. This guy knows how to work an audience and had them eating out of his harmonica and loop pedal in a matter of seconds. He specializes in feel good music and it’s perfect for festival vibes. The only criticism I can direct at Saturday’s line up order is that he didn’t play just before Uriah Heep, as BCUC was a bit of a downer. I headed for the hill across the stage and took some magical shots of the festival ground bathed in darkness.

Stage. Saturday night. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

The funniest moment came when Uriah Heep’s entry music started to play. As I stood next to the sound and light desk, their lighting engineer was as livid and animated as a cobra in its last death throws of a losing battle against a badger. The MC was hanging around on stage and he wanted her OFF. It was funny because it shows their professionalism in producing a flawless show and how much the aura and visual appeal matters in rock’n’roll. The band rode to the side of the stage in an old 60’s Volkswagen Combi that was led by a Harley. They were all dressed in clothes displaying biker insignia.

Mick Box / Uriah Heep (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

What a show these elder statesman of rock gave! They weren’t here for an African safari, they were here to entertain. It was a real treat and experience to have backstage access and see them perform from such close quarters. Mick Box pretty much stands still throughout the performance, but delivers brutal guitar riffs and scorching solos without batting an eyelid. What impressed me most was how massive their guitar-organ/keyboard sound was. The arrangements are flawless and their vocal harmonies pitch perfect. The crowd must have been one of the smaller ones they have played to in their illustrious career, but they genuinely seemed to enjoy every moment on stage. A top show and one I’m very glad I saw.

Dan Patlansky (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Dan Patlansky had the unenviable task of following Uriah Heep and he did a stellar job. He never ceases to amaze me. There seemed to be a bit of anger in his playing that gave the show an extra edge. Whether it was due to his slot being moved from before Uriah Heep to after, or the stage hand trying to remove his carefully placed sound deflector (in front of his amp) just before the show started, I don’t know, but it was great to see that emotion. When it comes to the blues he’s very much THE GUITARIST in SA right now. Phenomenal. Credit must also go to his band who is rock solid behind him.

I own this place. (c) Eksteen Jacobsz

Sunday came too early and it was all over. I want to congratulate the organisers on running a near flawless festival that is very much still in its infancy. It’s hard to comprehend how many logistics there are to keep track of, how many problems arise during an event like this and how they immediately must be addressed, solved and fixed. My hope is that this festival won’t become too big and that it will retain its exclusive feel. Here’s to Mieliepop 2013.

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AAD 2012 / AFB Waterkloof / 22-23 September

28/09/2012.

It’s been a week since AAD (Africa Aerospace and Defence) 2012 hit the city of Pretoria with all its might. This biennial show has been held in Cape Town recently (due to improvements being made on AFB Waterkloof’s runway) and it was a treat to have it back in the capital.

3 Days before show day, taken from where I live. Silver Falcons and Gooney Bird.

On first inspection of the program I was a bit disappointed as there didn’t seem to be any displays that you couldn’t see at other airshows during the year. I was pleasantly surprised though on show day as there were numerous stand out displays that let gasps of wonder and disbelief spread like a runaway veld fire through the crowd.

SAAB Gripen takes off from a wet and windy Waterkloof AFB.

Taking a back road through the affluent suburb of Waterkloof on Saturday morning I missed the mad traffic and had no trouble to find parking. There was rain and thunder in the air, which didn’t bode well, and as I made my way to the entry gate at 9am some people were already making their way home!!! Armed with only a t-shirt and camera gear things weren’t too pleasant as rain started to come down hard but luckily it lasted only for a few minutes.

Rooivalk doing its thing.

After a long walk of 20 minutes I finally made it to show centre and was just in time to catch the Gripen; the SAAF’s newest jet fighter, acquired in the controversial arms deal. It’s not as pretty or mean looking as the Mirage III, but will fly circles around it all day long. This aircraft flew numerous times during the two public show days and is growing on me as it always impresses. Maybe that’s because it is flown by the legendary Lt. Col “Blokkies” Joubert. An idea for a future show might be to do a six ship formation of this aircraft…

Cheetah D on the second day, in a tight turn with afterburner.

Denel’s Cheetah D ripped up the muggy sky soon afterwards. Although I’ll always prefer the Mirage IIICZ, this two-seater variant also has some serious grunt and show-stopper appeal. It may not have the tight maneuverability of today’s new generation jet fighters like the Gripen, but its classic delta wing lines and sentimental history makes more than up for it.

The brilliant Nigel Hopkins in his MX2.

A highlight performance on both days was Nigel Hopkins in his MX2. This amazing pilot stole the show with his energetic and tumbling aerobatic display. The Pitts Special and Harvard teams were solid as usual, but they seemed a bit out of place and over familiar. Props (excuse the pun) to the organisers though for only allowing one Harvard team to display. It’s more than enough (Take a hint future airshow organisers).

The Silver Falcons break away from SAA's Airbus A340.

A big feature and highlight of the show was the Silver Falcons flying firstly with SAA’s Airbus A340 and later with their newest team member, Goonie Bird, a turbo prop Dak. I’m at risk here of being severely critical, but I didn’t think the Silver Falcons flew their best shows ever at AAD 2012. There were quite a few instances where a member of the team would be noticeably out of formation. Nobody’s perfect and we all have our off days, but I have seen them fly tighter before. The photo opportunities of them and the A340 together were fantastic though and their break up split with it on both days were picture perfect.

The SAAF's Kasac participates in the Mini War demo.

The crowd swelled as the sun broke through the clouds at 1pm. The afternoon show’s main attraction was obviously the Mini War Demo. The Gripen pair against the Hawk was spectacular, but I can’t help to think how brilliant the display would have been if they could have replaced the Hawk with the Cheetah D.  A lot of thought, planning and money must have gone into this demo as it included the whole shebang; from the jets, air lift support, helicopters and tanks to the foot soldiers. This demo was a little boy’s dreams come true, but I did feel for the babies in the crowd who had to endure numerous loud explosions. (Who brings babies to these events???!)

The only two flying Vampires in South Africa.

Zimbabwe’s K-8 was overwhelmingly underwhelming. I would have much rather preferred anyone of the following: F-15, F-16, F-18, Eurofighter, any Mig or Sukhoi, or the Mirage 2000, thank you very much. The same goes for the L-29. Boring jet. The Impala at least looks much better and has nostalgic value. The lack of a foreign jet fighter was a big disappointment.

Menno Parsons' P51 Mustang Sally

Mustang Sally has avoided me ever since she started to participate in South African airshows, but at last I was able to lay eyes on this incredible machine, flown by Menno Parsons. Trying to obtain a decent static display photograpgh was impossible as dozens of people were either clambering, posing or draping themselves on or over her. I was surprised to see how relaxed Menno was about all this physical contact his plane had to endure. I had to wait until sunset (when the crowds had already dispersed and she was towed across the runway) to take her picture. His displays were beautifully flown, accentuating the lines and sound of the Mustang. It’s also incredible how fast this airplane is.

Cheetah, Gripen and Hawk formation.

The day ended with two jet formations : the first being two Vampires, an Impala and that hideous L-29. The second was made up of the Cheetah, Gripen and two Hawks. Why does the Gripen ALWAYS follow in these formations…surely they can switch it around to give an alternative photo opportunity.

Day 2’s weather was much improved with wide open blue skies and virtually no wind. The crowd dwindled in the afternoon, but it suited me just fine as access to the crowd fence became much easier. The sound system was very good and clear, but the same can’t be said of the South African commentary. Many a time when a break or something unusual was about to happen, there would be no warning and when they DID warn of an impending highlight (the Gripen flare on day 1 comes to mind here as well as the announcement that the Mustang had left the base after her display only for it to land a few minutes later) … NOTHING. Reading stats of an airplane from a piece of paper is also a waste of time and unnecessary.

USAF KC-135.

All in all though the event was superbly organized. The Computicket system worked perfectly, entry into and exit out of the venue was well marshalled and easy, there was more than enough parking space, toilet facilities were good and the crowd line was long enough so it meant everyone could find a decent spot from where to view the action. There wasn’t a lot of variety food-wise and it generally was overpriced, but I guess you take what you’re offered at events on the scale of this one.

It seems that for South Africans to experience another show of the same standard and scope as that of  1995, we’ll have to wait for the SAAF to turn 100, which is 8 years from now in 2020. AAD 2012 was very good, but in a sense it left me wanting more, which is probably a good thing, right?

More photos on my Facebook Page

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The Sick-Leaves is now on Simfy!!

30/08/2012.

Good news! You can now listen to The Sick-Leaves on Simfy. It’s been a work in progress for the past few weeks by Linda Thompson. My appreciation and gratitude to her.

The Sick-Leaves on Simfy.

The Sick-Leaves on Simfy.

Simfy is like Spotify but a German based site which is now available in SA. If this is your sort of thing then please check out the link, join the service or portal and listen to or favourite the songs.

Simfy is worldwide with the South African site having launched this week. You can register on the site and then pay a monthly fee to enjoy a gazillion tracks.  You can stream all four of The Sick-Leaves’ albums, make playlists, mark the songs as favourites, share artists with friends and share songs played on Facebook.

You can also create radio stations to listen to all the songs from an artist or make a playlist of an artist’s songs. Let us know what you think and tell your friends if you dig it. Happy listening!

The Sick-Leaves’ Simfy page

Register on Simfy

EJ.

Posted in Blog, Breaking Away, Downloads, Eksteen Jacobsz, free music, Last Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Stores | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on The Sick-Leaves is now on Simfy!!



AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

03/08/2012.

Royal Zambezi Lodge, Lower Zambezi Valley : 21 & 22 June 2012, Days 5 & 6

My apologies  as it’s been a while since my last post, but there’s a good explanation. I approached SA Flyer to publish my take on this Zambian trip and to my surprise they agreed, hence the delay as I had to deliver the article. Please look out for it in their forthcoming September issue.

A quick look on the map of the route to RZ.

After a relaxing two night stay at Mcbrides’ it was time to move on to the lower Zambezi valley at Royal Zambezi Lodge (RZ). Before take-off a light breeze blew down the slight uphill gradient of Mcbrides’ strip. It was a tight squeeze to clear the 50 foot tree obstacle at the end of the runway but we managed to safely make it out of there. We had to fly more south than what was necessary past the restricted FLP4 Mumbwa Military Airspace at FL095 before we could turn eastwards.  This little detour made the flight more interesting as it meant we would follow the Kafue river almost all the way to where it meets the Zambezi.

The massive and impressive Kafue Flats.

In its journey east, the river flows sluggishly across a flat plain called the Kafue Flats. It forms an immense shallow flood plain which no roads or railways cross. As the river approaches the towns of Mazabuka and Kafue, sugar plantations and other large agricultural estates have been established on the fertile black soil.

Kafue Dam wall and dramatic gorge.

The river then enters the Kafue Gorge Dam, constructed between 1967 and 1972. It has a power generating capacity of 900 MW. Northern Rhodesia had decided earlier in 1953 to build a dam within its territory, on the Kafue River. It would have been closer to Zambia’s Copperbelt, which was in need of more power, and would also have been a cheaper and less grandiose project than Kariba, with a smaller environmental impact. Southern Rhodesia, the richer of the two, objected to a Kafue dam and insisted that the dam be sited instead at Kariba.

Soon afterwards we were over the massive Zambezi valley and headed a bit more south to see the Kafue join the Zambezi. The river then led us all the way to RZ. The tarred 1.2 km runway was a welcome change from the two previous bush strips. We secured the planes and were then taken to the lodge, a mere 10 minute drive from the runway.

Kafue joins the Zambezi.

ZS-SRS on short finals at RZ.

RZ is the personification of a luxurious African safari. It’s simply one of the most delightful and best run places I’ve ever been to, set in one of the most beautiful natural surroundings you could ever hope to find in Africa. All their vehicles and boats are new and in perfect working order. Each activity runs with military precision. As we arrived our schedule for the next two days was briefed to us and we were then shown to our spacious rooms overlooking the Zambezi.

Number 4.

Outside bar. The best place to have a Mosi Lager.

RZ is pricey, but you definitely get value for your money. EVERYTHING’s included. From the activities, drinks, food and snacks to even the internet. The staff are exceptionally well trained and the food is of the highest quality. That afternoon we leisurely paddled down the river in canoes. You might think this entailed a strenuous upstream paddle back to the lodge? Not so; a motorboat waited for us at the turning point. With our drinks order taken we then went with another motorboat upstream for a marvelous sunset cruise. The picturesque Zambezi is quite wide here, interspersed with reed islands (full of wildlife) and shallow sand banks. Majestic mountains to the north signifies the border of the valley.

Guided canoeing. Great fun.

Lone inquisitive buffalo on an island.

Cruising in style.

Fishing was on the agenda for the next morning and we woke at first light to a gorgeous blood red glow on the eastern horizon. Our group of six were split onto two boats. It was extremely enjoyable to be out on the water and I was lucky enough to catch my first tiger fish as well as a few feisty chesas. The other boat had more luck as they caught four tigers between the three of them. A game drive (which turned out like no other before) was scheduled for the afternoon in the nearby Lower Zambezi National Park. Our guide informed us that a leopard with its kill and a pride of lions were spotted roughly 30 km into the park, so we made a dash for it. The narrow dirt road was bad and the going was rough. We saw everything as promised and more. On the way back we had sunset drinks in the open veld with a herd of buffalo grazing nearby. After a 5 hour roller coaster journey we arrived back in camp and were duly confronted by an elephant (in the foyer!) after we had our dinner.

Sunrise.

Tiger Tiger!

Fancy a swim?

Lui-perd.

Twins.

I don’t know whether it was the same elephant but I woke during the early hours of the morning to the noise of an elephant foraging on an unfortunate tree right next to our bungalow. It was in no hurry and in the silence of the night I could hear its bowel movements. After relieving itself (imagine a miniature waterfall) and scratching its bum on the side of our viewing deck, it leisurely moved on.

View from the dining area deck.

Later I woke with a heavy heart as our trip was coming to an end. What an incredible six days it had been. We flew the short hop to Lusaka to refuel and do customs. This was the least pleasant part of our trip as everything at the airport is very disorganized. We climbed out of Lusaka to FL125 and the Bonnie made light work of the 516nm leg to Polokwane. A welcome 20 knot tailwind gave us ground speeds of between 190 and 200 knots and we covered the distance in 2h:45m.

At Polokwane we refuelled, did customs and then parted ways with our travel companions in ZS-SRS as they headed for Pretoria. With an even stronger tailwind we blazed a trail through the sky over Limpopo on our way to Mpumalanga. Seeing the landscape rapidly change beneath us to the familiar sight of the Highveld, it occurred to me just how much we had seen and experienced  in the past six days and how fortunate we are to live in Africa.  Zambia is a truly magnificent country with unbridled beauty and variety.

View more photos here : Facebook photos

For more info on Royal Zambezi Lodge : www.royal zambezilodge.com


Posted in Blog, Eksteen Jacobsz, Hidden Gems, Photography, Travel, Zambia | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on AS GOOD AS IT GETS.



FIRE IN THE KAFUE!

13/07/2012.

Mcbrides’ Camp, Kafue : 20 & 21 June 2012, Days 3 & 4

So, where were we? We headed North-NorthEast from Sioma for the approximately 1 hour flight to Mcbrides’ Camp in the Kafue National Park. This was an incredible stretch of uninhabited earth to see…mankind is still an outsider in this part of the world. During the whole +- 400km flight we didn’t see a single road, house, railway line or footpath. Only bush. It’s hard to think that there are still places on earth that are unspoiled by man’s relentless advance. This is definitely one of those places.

ZS-SRS overshooting due to Puku on the runway

We soon encountered the Kafue river and I was surprised by how big it was and how much water it had.  McBrides’ Camp is situated inside the more than 2.25 million hectare Kafue National Park ( a bit bigger than The Kruger Park (2 million hectare)) in Zambia and is located in the North East section of the park. Map of Mcbrides’ Camp location. Soon we saw the camp and circled to land at the strip only about 3km from there. ZS-SRS arrived 10 minutes later but they had to overshoot on the first landing attempt due to pukus grazing on the runway. Second time around they safely landed and we secured and covered the airplanes. Unlike Sioma, a jeep with friendly faces was already waiting to take us to the camp.

Sign to the camp at the runway.

Chilling in the shade.

Two kilometres or so from the runway on our way to the camp we encountered a young lion and two lionesses, escaping the mid-day heat in the shade. We arrived soon afterwards at Mcbrides’ Camp where we were welcomed by Chris Mcbride. He told us to be on the lookout for a hippo called Lukas, who was hiding in the camp after being ousted from the pod of hippos lounging on the water’s edge. It took me a second to realise that there was no fence around the camp. This camp was truly in the wild.

Mcbrides' Camp

Veld fire's smoke behind one of the numerous fish eagles we saw.

The accommodation was everything you could expect from a bush camp. Grass tied to a circular fence formed the wall of the hut and a grass roof was constructed over it, with a tent canvas in between to fill the gap.  My room’s door didn’t close properly (not that it mattered, the rest of the hut was open to the elements), so the alarm bells rang out loud and clear – this was snake country. I don’t know what I would have done had I encountered one, but I was a nervous cat in that hut for the rest of our stay. The bathroom was en suite. It also had a grass fence around it and was very spacious, with a tree and the wide open blue sky for a roof.

Cute Squirrel

We had a delicious lunch and then everyone retired to their rooms for an afternoon nap. I stayed on the couch, in the dining area overlooking the river, reading a magazine, when all sorts of birds and a squirrel came to feed at a tree close from where I was lying. This presented me with the opportunity to take my best picture yet of a squirrel. That ticked off my bucket list, it was time for afternoon tea and we were treated to the most delicious hot-out-of-the-oven lemon sponge cake. It’s hard to believe but the afternoon then even got better as we boarded the camp’s river boat for a sunset cruise. It must be stated that this is surely one of the best and most cleverly designed sunset-booze-cruise boats that I have had the pleasure to be on. I’ll let the photo do the talking as words can’t do justice to this magnificent vehicle. World class.

Booze Cruise River Boat

Soon the current took hold of the boat and we drifted peacefully down the Kafue River. It was bliss. With an ice cold Mosi Lager in the one hand and my camera in the other I thought of how incredibly lucky I was to be there at that moment. A few fish eagles made themselves heard and seen and we saw lots of hippo pods, a big crocodile, two massive leguane and numerous species of water birds and a variety of antelope. Nothing though could prepare us for the leopard sighting just before sunset. On the bank, in the clear, lay a leopardess, staring at us with those intense dark golden eyes. A few feet from her was her cub. Leopards are usually solitary by nature and a sighting is usually fleeting. Here were a leopardess and her cub, clear to see as daylight, except, it was dusk. I cursed the lack of light to take photos and hoped we could drift a bit closer, but she was weary and soon disappeared with the cub into the tall grass. A once in a lifetime sighting.

Sunset Cruise on the Kafue river.

Leopardess.

We made our way back to the camp and had a wonderful dinner. Chris’ wife, Charlotte, had arrived back from Lusaka  earlier the afternoon to pick up supplies from there and was in charge of the kitchen. The food throughout the two days was very good. Sitting at the camp fire afterwards we could see a big veld fire across the river  and the Mcbrides’ told us that poachers started it and would then set their traps afterwards. It made an eerie glow in the black star-filled sky and I tried to capture it by taking a long exposure photo. The effect was awesome and Chris asked if they could use it for their website. Fire in the Kafue photo on Mcbrides’ website.

Armageddon in the Kafue.

We then went on a very enjoyable night game drive. It wasn’t cold and although we didn’t see a lot of game, it was interesting to see the veld at night with the bright stars overhead and the veld fires glowing in the distance. We did however cross paths with a hyena. It sniffed the air and had a good look at us but soon realised that its efforts might well be spent better somewhere else. It’s definitely not a creature I would like to encounter alone at night in the bush.

I woke up during the night to what sounded like footsteps. It was very close by. I thought of the hyena we saw earlier and realised our door didn’t lock, but could be pushed open. After waking up properly I realised it was in fact our hippo friend Lukas, grazing very close to the hut. The whole night I could also hear how lions call each other, not too far from the camp.

After all the excitement and busy schedule of the past three days, day four’s activity came at exactly the right time. A full day boat cruise, 14 kilometres down the Kafue river towards the MCBRIDES BUSH CAMP and back again.  In the morning we had coffee around the smouldering camp fire and realised that each one of us were bitten during the night by some sort of pepper tick, as the Mcbrides’ call them. It didn’t itch too much but made us look a bit ridiculous. We had a scrumptious breakfast and boarded the boat. There was a light breeze on the water the whole day which kept us cool and also directed the forest fire towards the river. This is probably the only way and place the fire is stopped as it seemed nobody was bothered to try and fight it.

Kafue river pano.

The river’s water is exceptionally blue and of a high quality. What South Africa wouldn’t give to have such a mass of water run through it day in and day out. During the day we saw dozens of hippo, a lot of birds, antelope and two elephants. The river’s banks were lined with the most beautiful trees, including the odd and massive baobab. The bush camp was a welcome break where we were treated to snacks with tea and coffee. Soon again we were on our way back upstream towards Mcbrides’ Camp.

Baobab

My dad.

We had a lovely supper that evening and too soon it was the next morning where we had to say our goodbyes. Many thanks to Chris and Charlotte for their generous hospitality and for sharing their extensive and compelling knowledge of the bush. As much as I enjoyed the Kafue and Mcbrides’ Camp, I couldn’t wait to get to Royal Zambezi Lodge in the Lower Zambezi Valley. A bit of luxury lay around the corner.

A quick look at the map for our route to Lower Zambezi Valley.

View more photos here : Facebook photos

For more info on Mcbrides’ Camp : www.mcbridescamp.com

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The Engine Has Failed The Current!

03/07/2012.

Sioma Falls : 19 June 2012, Day 3

Voices stirred me from my sleep at 5:45am. It was still pitch dark. Cosy and snug in my bed I could hear that our boat man had not arrived yet as we had hoped for the previous night. I remember thinking what a shame it was. The chance of ever coming to this part of the world again was remote to say the least, so it seemed I lost out on standing at the edge of  Sioma Falls.

Sunrise at Sioma Camp

I drifted off to sleep, only to be woken agan by the excited voices of our neighbouring tent. It was 6:40. He was here!… I got ready as fast as I could and burst through the tent’s exit to be greeted by the sun peeking over the hills onto a stirring Zambezi. The staff told us that we needn’t worry about transport to the airstrip later as they would take us. What a relief! We boarded the motorboat, duly sat on top of our life jackets and met the river’s strong current head on.

Sioma River Camp dining area

The view was stunning. We were the only people on the water and next to the river the numerous and massive sandbanks had a slight orange tint from the early morning sun. We saw a few fish eagles and the odd hut here and there, but it was mostly untamed. Our hero, the boat man, handled the boat and conversation expertly and showed us the spot where a new bridge will soon be constructed  across the river. His English was the best we’ve encountered at Sioma and he knew how to navigate the river so as to avoid hidden rocks and tree trunks under the water’s surface. Due to the rise and fall of the water level during the year the river may look completely different from one week to the next  (something I also saw while white water rafting further down below at Vic Falls).

The captain

Beautiful sandbanks

What make this stretch of river so spectacular is the fact that the Zambezi is forced into a shallow gorge after Sioma Falls, in some places merely a 100 metres wide. This means that you can clearly see the high water marks against the river’s steep banks. The falls are said to be 14km upstream from Sioma River Camp and with a few kilometres to go we started to encounter rapids. Nothing too extreme apart from our captain telling us to hold on before he stormed each rapid. All went well until we arrived at the last rapid before the falls. This one looked a bit more serious and we could see the waves were a bit higher. The water level also probably rose 3-6 feet from below the rapid to the top tier. The captain gave the order to “HOLD ON” and then he unleashed the 80 horses of our nifty little craft. We went straight for the rapid’s throat and hit the waves hard. Water rushed past us at the rate of knots. This rapid wouldn’t relent. It was protecting Sioma Falls from our preying eyes. Suddenly a few concerned voices were raised about our lack of progress. I looked to the right. Yes, not only were we going nowhere slowly, we were in fact going backwards!!!

Now things were a bit precarious. Everyone advised our captain to NOT turn the boat sideways as in their opinion this would add an extra swim activity we didn’t bargain on, without lifejackets on, in a crocodile infested raging torrent. I was sympathetic to this viewpoint; I wasn’t ready to surrender my camera or wallet to the Zambezi just yet. I didn’t look back but it was apparently at this point that our captain’s eyes were very big and white. But he was the captain for a good reason and managed to steer the boat out of the rapid towards a sandbank. His analysis of the botched rapid attempt : “The engine has failed the current.”

The insurmountable rapid

The adrenaline was pumping. Our captain was not only an excellent skipper, but he was also a top notch guide and led us over house sized boulders and through some shrub to the Sioma Fall’s main falls. We were supposed to see the falls the previous afternoon which would have meant a setting sun behind our backs, but we stared straight into the morning sun and it gave the falls a gnarly look. Definitely not a place I would like to go down at. The main falls’ height is very deceptive. Due to it falling over such a wide area it looks shorter than what it actually is, but it’s between 7 and 12 meters high. The falls roared in my ears and it was thrilling to stand right at the edge of it. It was also surreal to see water rushing by underneath the rocks; water gushed through wherever there was a crack, passage or opening.

Sioma Main Falls

Our eventful previous day and the luck involve by actually making it to the falls that morning made the experience so much sweeter. Before we left for Zambia I tried to find as many photos and videos of the falls as possible. Everyone bar none failed to capture the immensity and space. I attempted two panoramas and hoped they would come out OK against the harsh light. Even so, at that moment we were probably only seeing about 10-15% of the entire falls. I reckon it’s impossible to see the rest of the falls by foot and therefore it was such a wonderful privilege to fly twice over them and take it all in. I expect that a lot more tourists will visit the falls once the road from Livingstone to Sioma is completed and that it will move up as one of Zambia’s best tourist attractions.

Main Falls Panorama

Sioma Falls panorama

Filled with content, we made our way back to the boat and revelled in the majestic 25 minute boat ride back to Sioma Camp. The kitchen staff were able to serve us porridge and crumpets for breakfast and then we were transported back to the landing strip in a beat up old Land Rover.  There was a bit of tension in the air as pre-flight checks were made and we taxied to the end of the runway. We were still heavy with fuel and the runway was only 1km long (700m usable and the surface wasn’t good) with trees and a power line a bit further on. We lumbered into the air and then circled over the falls once more before heading North North-East to Mcbrides’ Camp in the Kafue.

Beat up Land Rover

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