An hilarious account of my parents trip to Victoria Falls June 2014, as told by my dearest farmer father and epic storyteller, Jimmy Truter:
“June 26 and Dickie turns over at a rather spirited 60 and the children very generously decide to club together and send the two doddering old codgers off to the heart of Darkest Africa in search of the” Cloud that Thunders”. Now this is a bit more challenging than meets the eye. I mean somehow these two “Karoo skilpaaie” have to be gotten through Oliver Tambo airport and customs and somehow not land up in a cargo plane headed for Kazakhstan among bits of Rhino horn and bicycle spares. Ah but the Karoo bethinks many a plan in dire need and lo we fall back on local expertise. Poor Wayman and Hanalie (adopted brother and sister-with or without consent) are co-opted into this scheme vaguely sold to them as a trip to establish the agricultural conditions in Robbie`s backyard, Wayman being the Regional fundie on matters agricultural and seasoned air traveller to boot.
So now matters start taking on a more serious sort of stance. Everybody now has to become legal (or as near as), with passports and yellow fever and whatnot. There follows various trips to Port Elizabeth, The Friendly City and the ques are long and the officials seem hell bent on proving that The Friendly City is not friendly. I suppose one could raise the odd eyebrow at this lot from the Karoo. Dickie informs the nurse giving the Yellow fever injection that it is okay, she, Dickie will” sommer” give Jimmy`s injection, after all she was a nurse once (graduated in the same class as Florence – I think her surname started with an N- Nightingale yes) and Jimmy is so busy putting up the power line he can`t come to P.E. today, so just sign there please. The nurse signed but the last report indicated that she is still in a state of protracted shock making feeble motions with her hands and whispering “I can`t believe it”. At last the Passports arrive and for once everybody that must be male is and only Hanalie`s photo looks as if she had serious issues with the photographer.
Dates are set, tickets bought, bookings made, Dickie sees the chiropractor, Hanalie the eye specialist, Wayman fits in a quick practice run to Pretoria to test the airline`s abilities to do this thing right you know, and Jimmy starts hyperventilating because no matter how he tries to convince everybody of the importance of finishing the power line first, no one takes the least notice.
The final week arrives, local calls are made nightly and topics discussed include things like, are you taking a raincoat ( no Boet, I haven’t got one) to Jis did you see the list of things you can do at the Falls. Whow, the expectation builds, the prices quoted look quite affordable until it is pointed out that we are talking Dollars (U.S. Dollars), so don`t get your tail feathers up. With Karoo innocence some Glen tea bags and a bit of Hullets sugar goes into Jimmy`s suitcase and coffee into Dickie`s. What about the kettle one would ask- I suppose we thought we`d be able to entice a local to lend us his and so we would make a mopanie fire somewhere near the foyer or something. The senility shows when we start counting “slapies” left.
Friday 24 October dawns, the day is overcast, according to Jimmy the power line project is about to be concluded, departure time for PE is set at 12pm. Breakfast is quick, everyone on the yard is given a last farewell (there won`t be time later on) and so it is off to finish the power line quickly. At 12h30 Dickie calls “How far are you Love?” “Just one more pole”. A few more phone calls , all reasonably friendly. At 15h00 the Paw Paw and the fan get together, friendliness and the power line don`t understand each other anymore. Jimmy gets his ass over to the house in a jiffy and cleaning is superficial. I get my shoes and socks on somewhere between Olifantskop and Paterson. The bakkie has a blow out near Nanaga. Tyre change is frantic, now we still have to get a new wheel and buy a set of binoculars, and deliver two sheep and have tea with Boet and we still have to fit in one “slapie”. I have a bad feeling about this “slapie” since we arrive at Nola`s house at20h00 to have supper. Nola and Kieth are hard working citizens and enjoy early supper, and understandably are bent double from hunger by the time we breeze in. However our hosts are forgiving, supper is great and they consent to drop us off at the airport at an ungodly hour in the early morning.
Saturday morning is cold and overcast, we dress warmly. What did Oupa say about going to the Zuurberg- “If the sun is shining take a coat and if it is raining make up your own mind!” Good advice for Zuurberg, halfway through the day I wondered if Oupa ever went to Central Africa. Anyway we see Wayman and Hanalie entering the airport just ahead of us and all fears of negotiating the proceedings pertaining air travel evaporate. The only excitement at P.E. airport is a mild flap when the beeper shouts at the metal in Wayman`s leg. Scattered cloud make it impossible to see the landmarks around Kommadagga and we land without incident at O.T. International. Jimmy notices that humans consume airline food in the same way that battery fed hens eat.
At JHB airport Wayman has a tradition to conclude before we move on. We are introduced to the concept of “Virtual Vegetables”. After braving an entire week`s food at Agri SA conferences he feels obliged to return to normal diet Via an enormous plate of so called veggies in the shape of the biggest plate of “slap chips” you ever saw. So for breakfast Wayman has” veggies”, the rest stick to the more conventional (little suspecting that this is the start of the” big feed.)” After eating, luggage is booked in and we take on the folk at customs. Wayman, Dickie and Jimmy sail past but when Hanalie comes through the bells start ringing. Evokes strange emotion- do we walk on pretending we don`t know her or do we turn on the offcialdom with knobkieries and sort the matter out that way? The seasoned traveller keeps his cool and so enquires after the difficulty. It seems that the two bottles of 100ml bath salts contained in her hand luggage presents a dire threat, so the man with all the contacts (Wayman) disappears on the SA side to find some place to rest these infernal bottles until his return. The remainder of the party waits with some misgivings while all other passengers to Livingstone file past and disappear into the bowels of the great building. Eventually, after the CID had given up on him, Wayman appears stating that he had successfully disposed of the offending stuff. Somehow a lingering suspicion crept in suggesting that my old cousin used this opportunity to have a last cigarette before the impending flight.
As we now raced down an endless corridor to the debarkation place it was noted that the toilets we were passing were the last before destination Zambia. But the loudspeakers were calling for the Truter party of four, so off we went. On arrival at the checkpoint we were told that the plane was a few minutes late. This causes serious debate- Dickie and Hanalie are not sure if they can make the return journey to the ladies in time. Eventually nature decided for them and the most uncomfortable sprint I have ever seen took place in front of our eyes. 800 meters were never covered with more determination. And so the big bird eventually closed up and amid ever rising temperatures we set sail, as it were, for One Zambia, One Nation. This time we had window seats and excellent visibility, marvelling at the vastness of Botswana and the almost complete absence of human habitation. The ground was obviously very dry- the rainy season had not yet started and it was in a thirsty Livingstone that we alighted, being met by Gideon and his bus to take us to the Zim border. Gideon informed us that the slogan One Zambia- One Nation might be a trifle misleading since there were 76 tribes in Zambia each with their own language and culture. Amazing, after all how different can so many tribes really be? He informed me that old President Kenneth Kaunda is in his nineties and still jogs. Also amazing I thought, and he loved it when I told him that he also looked like a long distance runner, which he confirmed.
At the border we were shepherded through customs very efficiently and the next bus was ready to take us to the Kingdom Hotel. The Kingdom is a hotel built in the classic Sol Kerzner mould. Luxury oozes from every pore- starting with peppermint “waslappie” to rub over your face for the heat you know- ending who knows where. Once we were checked in I had this unstoppable urge to put on shorts and since it was middle of the day a bit of a lie down seemed in order. Fortunately Wayman, being made of sterner stuff, decided to go walkabout. At 15h55 he stumbled upon the offices of the company who had booked our Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi. He was informed that the boat was leaving at 16h00 and if you missed the departure the money spent was lost. It seemed as if the company would arrange a bus to fetch us but Wayman departed at a gallop in the midday tropic sun to rescue the sunset cruise- the numerous police present all over Vic Falls were perplexed- some thought he had been robbed , others wanted to chase him in case he had robbed someone – in the end the sun and good sense prevailed and in the tradition of Africa nothing was done, so all were happy, if not perplexed.
The urgent banging on the door woke Jimmy and Dickie from such a deep sleep that the only information that got through was the urgency of the mission. Jimmy hung his shoes around his neck and tried to put the binocs on his feet but somewhere between madness and idiocy managed to bundle a protesting Dickie out the door and down the passage as if the room was on fire. We did get to the bus and then the boat on time- the fact that our hair was not combed seemed a small price to pay. Upstream from the falls the river widens in a relatively shallow course divided by islands. The boats (there are a goodly number of them) all are flat decked sightseeing vessels and the boat captains enjoy showing the animals along the bank. The splendour of a Zambezi sunset is worth every bit of the sweat it cost Wayman- what an incredible experience! The amazing rainbow cocktails served on the boat were too much for even the tea totalling squad to resist and if Jimmy was a bit more noisy than usual I`m sure the locals attributed it to his uncombed hair. Got to the hotel to learn that Western Province had won the Currie Cup- a disappointing day for Marnitz Boshof.
Sunday morning saw the Kommadagga gang hit the streets of Vic Falls hell bent on wringing the best deals out of the locals peddling various combinations of adventure deals. Wayman championed our cause and some serious bartering ensued. The White water rafting was judged a bit expensive and seemed to involve quite a bit of time in the sun. There are a number of devil daring stunts involving bungee leaps from the 109 year old Zambezi bridge to zip rides across the Zambezi gorge, all of which we declined ,not wanting to soil the equipment unnecessarily. Ultimately a helicopter ride and a bout of tiger fishing on the Zambezi was settled on. With the finances concluded a bus arrived to take us to the Heliport, Wayman flew in front with the pilot, who evidently enjoyed being photographed by Wayman since the flight went around the falls quite a lot longer than what we were led to expect. The other three were bundled into the back along with a Russian couple out from Leningrad- seemed to think the heat was better than their cold. A helicopter flight really does put the geography of the falls in perspective and would be recommended to any would be visitor. The water level is at its lowest this time of year, and still is the most amazing stream of clear water you could imagine. Apparently the rainy season starts about now falling somewhere in the highlands of Northern Zambia and the water level in the falls reach its fullest level in the months May through July.
After the flight a midmorning rest seemed a good idea and in the early afternoon followed the walk along the bank to where David Livingstone`s statue stands next to the Devils Cataract. Awe inspiring seems such an inadequate way of describing one of the most breathtaking creations God saw fit to bless humans with. In light of the time at which David Livingstone discovered the falls one wonders if there was any way to accurately describe to Queen Victoria the magnificence of the waterfall her name would be linked with for ever after. She certainly could not fly out to see them- one wonders if she ever saw a photograph of them. The walk along the front of the falls was a leisurely affair- much posing for photos and talking to anybody polite enough to listen. Livingstone Island has a drop of 107 metres vertically – apparently David Livingstone lowered a bullet tied to a piece string to measure this –I was just wondering if he specially carried a roll of string in his “trommel” just in case he discovered a waterfall of say, 109 metres. Wonder what else he had in his “trommel”? But I suppose the “Versatiles” carried quite a lot of kit- not like we`d need on a 4×4 trip such as petrol and such , but sort of like bullets and knives and Silver cutlery and white serviettes and a spare bush hat so you could lift your hat when Stanley showed up saying “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” (Silly idiot, who else was out there- Elvis Presley?)
After spending as much time as possible under the rain fallout and admiring the rainbows (bearing in mind that “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun)” we eventually made conversation with some German folk resting under a tree. Here Hanalie surprised us all by conversing with them in German- in fact she might have surprised herself also- apparently not having spoken German for a very long time. And so we advanced to a place where we were well placed to watch the Bungee jumps off the Vic Falls bridge. A few daring types did jump and if their shrieks were anything to go by, I would assume that the laundry would have been a busy place afterwards. The bridge is quite something. All 3400 tons of steel were pre manufactured in the UK in 1904, shipped out and assembled on site. I have great regard for the engineer who surveyed that construction- just spanning the huge gorge is a nerve racking thought.
The evening meal was a real roll out of old fashioned splendour- any and everything was to be had- brought back memories of sitting under the telephone table as a child, crying like a stuck pig with a half-eaten “kooksister” in every hand . When asked why I was crying, I was reported as saying “Ek wil nog he ,maar ek kan nie meer nie!” Heart patients would do well to avoid over long stays on that menu. And just to show that there were no hard feelings we decided to do the breakfast run the following morning. My word, same story. Good good man real goood!
But I run ahead. When Wayman was wrestling prices with adventure toting dealers he managed to arrange a Tiger fishing trip for the two of us at 06h00 on Monday morning. To be collected at the Hotel and taken to the river to do this thing we had looked forward to for so long. So at six o clock bells Wayman and I stand outside the hotel and the porter for the morning shift is there to see that no wayward thing befalls us. We are duly picked up by a mini bus, the hand brake of which was stuck. So on the way to the rondevue with Darkest Africa`s fighting fish we were treated to an insight into the sleepy quarters where the busses overnight. To be honest, I don`t think it looked so different to any other bus depot I’ve come across. So, to the river with the boat kitted out and ready to go. The trip gets off to a shaky start- after 50 metres downstream the engine stalls. The river is quiet, to our right, an elephant bull stands on an island doing whatever elephants do at that time of a morning on the Zambezi. The youngster is very polite and apologizes for any inconvenience. After a short while he manages to get the engine going again. We are going downstream and I want to know if we go right to the edge of the falls. It turns out we don`t-so fishing and White water rafting evidently don`t mix.
Under the staring eye of a teenage crocodile we are each handed a rod and a lure. This trick involves casting and reeling in. The lures land all over the place. Our guide is polite and retrieves the lures from the most bizarre places. I am suddenly reminded of the “would be hunters” that escape the concrete jungle to take on a Kudu bull. Like the hunters who wave their rifles, loaded or otherwise, under your nose to point out the all to obvious, so I find myself wondering what the guide thinks of our proficiency. But he tries. In a mud gully about two metres from the bank we try a new trick. A red worm is baited and dropped overboard. Almost immediately Wayman has a bite. He reels in a fine example of the Karoo tiger (Barber) all of about 1kg. Shortly thereafter excitement grips at my throat as the rod tip dips. I brace myself for the strike. The struggle is brief. The bass I land is about the size of two match boxes.
We now go to catch “live bait” in the form of Kapenta. This trick is different. You actually see the fish you want to catch, roughly a foot under the surface. The fact that they are as big as a fair sized “paddavis” does nothing for Karoo confidence. Anyway our guide demonstrates how to do it and in no time has ten to tie on. On the way to new waters we troll lures behind the boat. Mercifully we don`t have to cast since it seems as if casting is not our particular strong card today. The next place is about 30 metres from a family of hippos. Whether hippos snort, chortle, bark or fart I haven`t decided, but I decided that the spot selected probably was the best on the Zambezi, I mean why else would any sane person sit around in a little boat with a proven dicey engine, hurling little helpless Kapenta fish around, while the biggest hippo bull in the Zambezi is telling you your fortune in unmistakable lunges, dives and bellows? So we do this pretending thing. I pretend to be interested in the over grazed banks of the river, wondering how one gets there without tangling with scaly reptiles in the event of hippomania. (Walking on water seemed to present all sorts of new possibilities.)
I notice Wayman taking rather long pulls at his cigarette, while pretending to fish normally. I notice that even the Kapenta seem to be pretending to swim because not a single Tiger is persuaded to give chase. As for the guide, he pretends not to notice that we are casting unloaded hooks all over the show, while we all pretend to be watching the far bank exactly opposite the hippos in case we spotted a lone bull elephant or some such thing, of course also keeping a close watch on developments about 30 metres away. Fortunately we either ran out of Kapenta or the guide became bored with the fact that the brave farmers from South Africa had not wet their pants or I dunno what, but after what seemed a long time, the little boat chugged to life and we steadily made our way upstream.
Lure trolling was again tried. Then we stopped to change to worms. Then we changed to lures. Then the sun appeared. Then I think I dozed off and I think nothing much happened. There came a time when the guide indicated that our time was up. To make sure we got our money`s worth we were advised to troll the lures again. I noticed that the boat was travelling at considerable speed. Some random thoughts flashed past. Obviously we had now upped our game and we were going for the Olympic freestyle champions or failing that, obviously the new strategy was to hook unsuspecting fish on the back as punishment for their refusal to bite with the mouth. In the end neither option was applicable and we landed safely, albeit with empty hands.
The bus driver politely asked whether we had managed to “klap” our guide and seemed disappointed when we said no. Tips were handed over and we headed for what we thought was breakfast. We had got as far as the main street of Vic Falls when the bus slowed down to a crawl and our driver started looking about. We wondered what this was all about. Then the man from Yesterday appeared looking rather sheepish. He explained to Wayman that he had charged us incorrectly having short changed himself when working out the Dollar/ Rand conversion. Wayman, ever decent, examined the credentials offered and we duly had to cough up some dough to make up the short fall. I weighed up the possibilities of appealing against the fact that no tiger fish had appeared and eventually decided that I had enjoyed a most memorable morning and yes, pay the man. After breakfast a slow loiter through the shops looking for respectable gifts for the kids. A seeming endless supply of carved elephants, lions, etc along with Billion dollar Zim notes and Two Dollar (R20) cokes were fought off with only temporary success. After examining all the wares in the tourist shops and seeing the slow trading I was glad that I could earn my daily bread in another fashion.
On the way back to the hotel we decided to have a peek into the Old Victoria Falls Hotel. From the outside it looked like any boarding school hostel built in that era, but step inside and you separate the men from the boys. The style is colonial, the customers (patients?) well dressed, formal, wealthy and mostly a bit older. Tea is served in the most delicate china, the sandwiches cucumber, the scones creamed with a strawberry on top. Conversation is muted, waiters have a towel draped over his non serving arm, two massive paintings of king George V and spouse are mounted on the lounge wall and looking out the front door one sees the perfect image of the Zambezi Bridge. All this leaves one with a lingering respect for seemingly timeless values. Smart stays smart.
The afternoon is our last at Vic Falls and we decide to walk to the Big tree. Hanalie begs off and only three tackle the walk in the midday heat. Now understand this clearly. Anywhere in Vic Falls and everywhere there is elephant dung to be seen. Some look a bit fresher than others ,but they are clearly in evidence. So, off we go along the tar road pointing to the tree. On the way green notice boards inform us that we are now in a nature reserve and are entering at our own peril. We examine the peril and decide to go ahead. On the way we pass pedestrians coming from the front. The Mopani trees are leafless and one can see rather better than I imagine you would in the rainy time. We proceed. The silhouette of a big tree is nowhere to be seen. We walk some more. In the distance there is a motorcar with its bonnet in the air. We draw level with the car. A local grins at us from under the bonnet. Dickie enquires the distance to the tree. The answer to the distance question is vague, however it is brought to our notice that on his way to his present position, a short while ago the driver had seen this large single bull elephant making his way to the Zambezi which means he will be crossing directly in front of us at any time.
Dickie asks if a lone elephant bull poses a threat. The answer given is 50/50. Wayman is in favour of pressing on. A debate starts. The driver very helpfully offers to take us as far as the tree; he is prepared to risk his life and his car for us. We waver. Wayman is convinced he can make it. The driver`s wife and daughter show up. They are just returning from the river having gone there on some mystery trip and now assure us that , yes they did indeed see this lone bull. After weighing up our ability to outpace an elephant it becomes clear that only Wayman is capable of the necessary mobility. For the sake of unity, Wayman is persuaded to get in the car along with us so that the driver can risk his life and car, for us to be deposited at the big tree so that he can then drive off and leave us at the tree to sort out the elephant on the way back, who will now be much more agitated because he failed to get us the first time.
The car is a Ford Figo. The driver, his wife and daughter get in the car. The car is full. Jimmy gets in the car. Dickie sits on his lap. His lap is somewhere between the ceiling and the front seat. Dickie`s head hangs over the daughters lap halfway out the window. Wayman gets in. The door goes on strike. A remarkable thing, the driver’s wife is large. She takes a deep breath and says “Vala i Thanga” (close the door in Matabele, same as in Zulu, same as in Xhosa). The door understands, Wayman understands and making a superhuman effort, swings the door unto his hip with a force that dislocates Jimmy`s eyebrow but closes the door. So off we went. After 400 metres having seen no sign off the offending lone elephant bull we stop wenting. The driver jumps out, opens the door and admid tumbling bodies and bruised egos announces “The tree sir”. Indeed the tree, and yes we have arrived.
Since he was willing to risk his life and his car to bring us to the tree a discussion evolves around the nature of the fee involved. It sometimes dawns on one that you have just been had, hook, line and sinker. Meekly I hand our benefactor three dollar US. He speeds off leaving us to the peril of the tree in company of the mysterious lone bull elephant. To add insult to injury, lo and behold we are offered some more carvings by an ever hopeful vendor who reasoned that anybody who has just survived an ordeal like this, is sure to be gullible enough to buy this infernal rubbish. By the way, he had been sleeping under a tree across the road in mortal danger so that he could offer us this extremely exquisite stuff when we arrived. We were reaching saturation point and slowly it dawned on us that we were getting ready to go home.
That night supper was in the Spur- they have Monday night specials- two burgers for the price of one. We look across the aisle at the casino. Attendants in red uniforms sprawl across the tables- not a single gambler is in evidence. Does this place really pay? We stroll around the empty Casino complex and eventually wander off to bed. Tuesday morning we have a final go at the delicious breakfast, go to our rooms and start practising to be normal people again. Fortunately the hotel assists with this process since the porter who carried our luggage to the rooms is nowhere in evidence on the way out. However it is with a touch of nostalgia that we greet the Kingdom Hotel. For all of 3 days Dickie never once had to think about making food- about the first time in 60 years and despite the all to obvious sagging anatomy of post middle age, we managed to lie on lounge chairs around the pool pretending to be cool and mod. The fact that there was a total absence of “real” bikini talent also did not matter over much since we were half asleep most of the time- made us realise that a break was sorely needed apparently.
The trip back to good ole RSA is over very quickly. The luggage is retrieved and we head off to the return version of “Virtual Vegetables”. The colour returns to Waymans face and we all feel refreshed from our little adventure. Like a good shepherd Wayman points the Truters at the P.E. embarkation port and heads off to collect his rented car. Our paths split here since he has some Agri S.A. matters to attend to and he and Hannalie will stay on for a few days before coming home. The homeward flight is in a deepening dusk – prominently seen are many shiny spots depicting ground dams with water from the departing clouds.
Nola and Keith fetch us at the airport and after a quick cup of coffee we head for home. We arrive home safely and go to bed in familiar territory. As we doze off we give thanks for wonderful children, friends and the opportunity to see the sights we have just returned from. To Julie, Andrew, Berta , Lindy, Wayman and Hanalie- a heartfelt Thank You.”
(These photo’s shown in this post were from my own visit to the Falls back in 2012. The photo’s of my parents and of my family were taken by Natasha Taljard :) )