Plumes of steam flew in the cold air dancing from the tops of each pipe in rhythm with viennese waltz, obscured by the passing wooden figures rising up and down as if they were looking over the heads in the crowd, looking for another to partner them in their spinning and prancing cavalcade dance. Children screamed in delight as their horses spun around and around to the music.
I stood in my raincoat, turned against the winter rain but entranced, three feet from the turning platform, close enough for each strident note to pound at my chest. Cream and gold and red gleaming horses flashed past my eyes and in my memories dancing together, the now and the then. Allowing this daydream to persist was a luxury that I had not enjoyed since the old days and I stayed there a long time. It was becoming a backdrop against which I felt sure that something else was about to appear, like the ‘boket in a photograph taken with a wide aperture setting. A closer subject began to make itself known, sharper and slowly distinct.
A large black steel ketch formed in my eye or in my head, it’s vast white sails taught against the trade winds. The horses becoming creamy tops to the waves still dancing to the Austrian waltzes.
I am going to see someone on the square again. Every year since I started visiting the old Showmans Fairs here, the same thing happened; an old friend, a flashing idea of someone from the past. I came here for this perhaps; to find my ghost of the past. What better place and time? The enigmatic fairground in winter, swirling colours and winds, sparkling lights against the dark leaden sky. A place of mystery for children and romantics alike.
Like a hammer, a heavy hand struck my shoulder at that very instant, timed with my visions and thoughts. The shock blasting away the images of the sea and horses just as the waltzing horses slowed to a halt in both the ride and in the raging sea. I turned around and felt the blood rising in my cheeks and a reddening in my neck under my turned up collar.
“Salut petit mec” he replied in that permanent Breton accent of the old fishermen. It had been thirty seven years since we last saw each other in the Canary Islands and it now, suddenly seemed that the years had evaporated. We were back on the deck of his ‘Dioul Du’ – The Black Devil.
“So why are you here” we both asked at the same time. Half a smile nearly appeared on his always tight mouth. “For the Ocean Racing Committee. You?”
“I am here for the Showmans Fair. I always come. But I am surprised to see you, there was no news, for years, I heard…..”
“No don’t listen to all that merde” he snapped. “I am here now. And you, you were always the showman, n’est-ce pas”
“But you were on the Big Tour no? Solo Circumnagivation?”
“Yes I did that and I finished and now I am here for the committee” He was irritated.
“What about the ketch? Where is she?”
“We left her in the Ivory Coast”
“Yes, I thought so but we all had so many possessions on board her, memories too”
Well now they had all gone years past, there was nothing left of those days. Only one question remained.
“Why did you abandon the Atlantic crossing Claude? You could have found new crew when we left you in the islands. Only another 30 days to go. No, you left the ocean and headed for the Gold Coast. What was going on?”
Claude remained silent and began to turn his head away.
“I don’t think that you ever planned to take us all across, did you?”
We had planned for months the voyage to Guadeloupe, to look for work and adventure. We had all dreamed of the life in the sun with our partners and our babies in tow; the sailing, the sun and the island life.
“What happened in Gran Canaria Claude? What was in the sealed containers in the aft cabin? Why did you go into the conflict on the West Coast?”
He was turned away now, looking into the crowd as though he had seen something or someone out there or perhaps his regard was more distant and his mind on other times and places. This great broad man turned his sea beaten face slowly back towards me. His eyes were wet. His lips moved as if to speak, another flash of white and gold, between them in a second – before he stopped. Claude turned away again and began to walk. He never turned back, not at sea, not in life and not now.
Only that once.
The next day the Fair was over and my mind came to rest on these events. The sky had cleared and the temperature had risen a degree or two. Wandering around the empty fairground I tried to remember all that had happened on that great steel yacht, long ago dissapeared. What had happened between us all on board and in port. Why had I met Claude again now, here in Saint Malo?
I found a telephone.
“Ici le Gendarmerie Maritime, bonjour” Yes Monsieur, un instant je vous prie? I waited for the officer to come back to the ‘phone with the information that I had requested.
“ Non Monsieur we only found the wreck of the black yacht floating 100 nautical from Ouessant. There was no-one on board, nothing, no sign of life.
Monsieur I can confirm categorically that Monsieur Claude Olivier was lost at sea 10 years ago.”.
There is certain sweetness in the air as it touches my body. It is the 10th of September 2022 and the season is changing. am not sure that we have a spring and autumn up here on the plateau but we do have a winter and summers. The sun, risen since earlier this morning, far south of the usual behind the trees, late morning rise, is now setting warmly, well into the southern quadrant and still heating the exposed skin and flowers. It’s almost comfortable to come into the house without putting something on, This is 1760m Highveld and the temperatures change with the sun angle and the shade.
I spent nearly two years regularly visiting the harbour village of Kalk Bay on the peninsular of the Cape of Good Hope and which sits comfortably in the northern nook of False Bay (Die Blou Dam). Many of my images were originally made with digital media and in colour and the results were initially very satisfying. For this reason, and for the pleasure of the fishing people of Kalk Bay, I produced a small book with many of these pictures; “Fishermen – Kalk Bay”. This is available at Kalky’s on the harbour and at the KB Modern in a very limited edition.
However, I found some lack of satisfaction with the perfect medium of digital colour and decided to complete the entire 15 images for a new exhibition in black and white. I began shooting with a wonderful Nikon F100, one of the latest and most capable 35mm film cameras produced by Nikon. I have many of these images still to be printed! This ease of practice still did not generate a feeling of accomplishment.
In January of 2016, I found a 1983 Hasselblad 501c from a very well known photographer who had decided to close down her Silver Hallide facility; the whole kit had never been outside the studio and was in perfect condition. The famous Hasselblad is a square (6cm x 6cm) medium format camera. Focusing; exposure and film manipulation is entirely manual and in fact quite physical! This was the trigger that I had been lacking and my shooting schedule took off with unexpected verve. This included a 15 hour stint on a 12m line-fishing vessel in quite rough conditions (with a heavy manual camera). By October I had the first 10 images printed and framed and every reasonable image printed as a rough proof in my own darkroom.
The final prints were made by the world renowned Master Printer – Dennis Da Silva at The Alternative Print Workshop in Johannesburg. All images were printed on Ilford Fine Art silver hallide paper, signed and numbered (Only 10 images of each will be produced). Dennis and I spent 20 marathon hours in the darkroom to finish this collection. This exhibition should really have been in the name of Dennis De Silva. I just took the pics.
Finally there were 15 images hanging at the notoriously delicious Olympia Cafe (You have to try their Yellowtail) and I was given the space for the whole month of February. I think that the Olympia Cafe is by far the funkiest Art Space in the Cape. Do try and visit some of the shows there.
You can see more of the images in B&W and Digital Colour at: renepaulgosselin.photoshelter.com
The second part of our epic Trans-Lesotho Trek ~ 300kms across the entire Kingdom.
The Second Leg.
Then day four; Our first great river crossing over the Makhaleng River (The place of the aloes), fortunately with a high level bridge supplied, a good pull up the other side to Ha Griffith (the 19c Acheif Magistrate) and over the first hills and dales towards the looming Maluti Mountains. The Ribaneng River Camp, reached with a healthy 6 hour hike was a pleasant shady glen well watered and good grazing for the horses. It was here that Mick was washed away downstream in a raging torrent on his last Trans-Lesotho Trek. Tonight we bathe in the river’s gurgling tranquility and tomorrow we attack the formidable “Slide Your Arse Pass”, difficult for both horses and humans.
The going is tough the very beginning at 07.00 in the first cool hours of the day we begin the ascent from 1807m already breathing heavily after the first 100m to Ha Khotso, the little village at the foot of the pass. The path is a ‘bridal path’ and maintenance has been typically abandoned for too long. Climbing the 500m over rocks, loose gravel and giants steps is exhausting, then on reaching the top, there is another 5 kms to go with another 300m to climb! Near the crest of the first ascent a pack horse stumbles and looses it’s load. There is great concern amongst us until Konono helps the animal up and inspect him carefully; he is fit and well, just scared.
Our compensation for this climb; a magnificent view down across the Ribaneng Falls and back across the valleys with a line-of-sight to Malealea Lodge the we see of ‘home’ for the next two weeks. The horses find their heaven in grazing the special long sweet grasses of the highlands. The word ‘horse’ is an anagram for ‘heros’ and they show this throughout the trek.
That night, yet another beautiful camp site on the Ketanyane River at 2352m and it is getting colder.
Mojalefa has the tea ready and is already celebrating his son’s birthday. We join him for tea and warm up. Early nights from now on to escape the cold and the fatigue.
The fifth day dawns early, from this height we see the sun at 5 o’clock. At seven the walkers are on the path. The guides and horses have their daily routine of finishing the packing and catching up with us in an hour or so. We leave the very pretty village of Ha Pontšo to the south and climb again away from the sentinel geese and the waving hands of the villagers.
Only another 6 hours or so to the next little rest-over at Semonkong Lodge; The Place of Smoke.
The lodge (2195m) which snuggles at the foot of a ravine cut in the eons of time by the Maletsunyane River (The place of little deer), was established by men of the Fraser Trading period as a convenient fly-fishing cabin. It has become an internationally known place for adventure travel and especially for the highest commercial abseil in the world at 205m. The Maletsunyane Falls must surely be the most photographed feature in Lesotho and is a must-visit if you travel through this magnificient mountain kingdom. Access is so easy today by tarred road but we have walked our first 100km to get here!
The Third Long Leg.
Back on the trail after some pleasant respite, the team heads off on day 7 towards the next great barrier; the Senqunyane River Valley. We look up at the looming mountains but our first stop is just outside the town and sets the pattern for the next week; buying up the local spinach “morogo”. Then the usual series of ups and downs: Likorolo Ha Elia, a great steep climb to 2500m then down 100m and up 100m to Ha Tanielle and then the long slog down treacherous gravel and wet slippery rocky paths, 890m to the great river at 1648m. The rain, welcomed in the hot afternoon cooling our blistering feet but also our nerves and thirsts. This was our longest day so far; 25km covered in 8,5 hours.
Day 8 starts with a ‘pleasant’ 600m climb; we are now beginning to get a little fit, up the well marked vehicle track that our friends have tested last year; the locals remember the 4×4 vividly. We walk the ‘road’ easily in the pleasant company of another traveller, a shepherd who tells of all the latest news in the area. The guides and horses catch up with us soon and we check the route. All is well after our first 6,5km but we soon have to quit the easy going, off the path again and down what my previous guides have described “only for Basotho and not for beginners”.
From this first summit of 2200m we will slip and slide 547m down the hottest and most uncomfortable descent of the trek, to the Mansonyane River Valley and finally all jump into the chilled waters in this acadian landscape. It impossible to leave and we snatch a power sleep in the rare shade of the Cheche bushes (Leucosidia Sericea), and then swim again. Even the guides jump in the river this time. It’s very hot and we know what awaits; ~ the hardest climb of the adventure, the longest and the hottest. We leave under the afternoon sun from 1721m and begin the 7km pull up 600m to the 2250m Camp above the Methalaneng River. The slope is 67% in places. Another 25km covered.From our windy camp site the views are powerful to the west and south even before the setting sun throws a mantle of red and orange glows over the Maluti mountains. But the evening solar wind picks-up and hurries two of us into a large tent, made ready for the cooks. An intricate but not delicate dish emerges half and hour later and everyone leans against the blasts and gusts, no chance of a table.
It is the 9th day. Another range to cross (2568m) and another very steep run down into the next river. Each new valley opens up a new adventure and a new sense of excitement. We really are beginning to conquer these slopes and have time and energy to eat up the landscapes with our eyes. Here the Khutlo se Metsi River is crossed on booted foot, the rains have stayed away for more than the farmers would wish. This river is a tributary to the legendary Lesobeng River (The place of the eye) which we now begin to discover from well above the first of it’s magnificent gorges. We search in vain but see no eye; a natural sandstone bridge, well documented by the historian David Ambrose. Slowly around a never ending series of contoured curving paths, and in the soft sleepy heat of the afternoon, the town of Qobacha approaches. A sudden crash of noise from diesel engines, cars, machines and people dashes our walking state of mind into alertness. The change is hard to bear. We loose the guides and horses to shopping and find a quiet path away from the bustle; only a few more kilometres to the school and another camp site with a river but this one comes with a crowd. The school is just finishing and the children are over the moon to see these foreigners walking for fun! They sometimes walk miles just to get to school. The children stay as late as they can until mothers shout for homework to be done and water to be carried, from rondavels above our beckoning river. Any chance of a wash now? Well we can at least wash our socks and hope that the rain stays away and that the farmers don’t hear us hoping aloud. It rains only lightly on the washing so everyone is happy or rinsed and cooking can begin.
We are over half way at 172km from the start and now we will stretch our legs over some long days, but first a pleasant walk along the Lesobeng, still searching for the bridge and none of the locals can help. The path follows the river at a tolerable height for my vertigo. For some reason the old British bridle path stays on the other side going up and down careless of the hiker. We stay more on the level now than ever before and enjoy this most beautiful of river valleys. Until the guides and horses catch up that is. Then it’s over the river and up and up again to finish at an early camp site after only 16,9km ~ an easy day. Although we calculate that the other path could have been an hour quicker! But the guides are on horses so they must know and we gracefully accept and enjoy this extra-ordinary site called Khomo ea Raha (The cow that kicks) as the river makes a hard right turn at this spot, like a dog’s leg. The slow winding river takes the name of an ‘old man walking’ , Khokhoba in sesotho. The old man is cold here at 2484m, rain comes with fireworks after bed-time and we all marvel through our nylon walls at the repertoire of the sky. Big water barrels are being thrown about up there in the clouds and some of it is running under the tents.
And after such a theatrical night another beautiful day awaits on day 11, high altitude fresh air and water and a good breakfast. Our first climb to 3000m awaits. Over easy contoured hillocks and well marked paths we hesitate a little before leaving the “Old Man” and heading away south east up another picturesque little valley. This one has it’s own herd of Grey Rhebock which streak off up into the kranses as soon as they get our wind. The valley becomes a mountain again and the slope stiffens to 40% and then summits at a breath taking 3km above the sea. We almost feel we should have sight of the escarpment of Natal but that will escape us for days yet. For the moment we need to concentrate on our longest knee breaking descent; 17 kilometres and 1200 meters down to the Koma Koma bridge.
At last the great Senqu River, a milestone and landmark on this special hike. The Senqu (a khoi word of unknown origin) is known to most as the Orange River which takes it source high in the Drakensberg/Maluti Mountain near Mont au Sources. On leaving the borders of Lesotho it becomes known also as the !Xariep. We are camping next to this major river, still at 1788m and it has a long way to go to the Atlantic Ocean. A new bridge, built beautifully, in the last year now spans the river and replaces the old low level bridge. It is a token of new levels that will fill the river as far back as the Katse Dam on the Malibamatso River, far upstream, when a new dam is built across the Senqu. This will be the first on this river in Lesotho, but not the last. Respectfully and full of awe we cross the new bridge and begin, on day 12, the slow road climb up to the shops at Makunyapane, then leave the main road and find the track for Pitseng. Our third 25km day takes 7,5 hours and we are exhausted and cold at the 2515m high secondary school. Not too much time cooking and in bed by six thirty. The wind chill must take the temperature down below freezing, a far cry from the 37 degrees of day 2. Tomorrow will be the longest day. We have covered 242km.
Forboding; it is day 13. It is still cold at 07.00 departure and there is a five kilometres contour to follow around the valley before we even loose sight of the school. We climb 300m but it is still cool and the day looks good. Then a contoured path stretches out like a snake along a never ending range of mountains, we can count perhaps 10 or 12 peaks ahead of us. Over which one will be the valley of our camp site. This question burns in our mind all day. Walking above the 2700 contour, the path is moving from the north of the east-west range and then turning back onto the south side. The views of the Mashai River are difficult to behold without dizzy spells, I keep my eyes on the mountain-side and avoid looking down. Taking photographs is a head spinning challenge. We are two, sometimes three hundred meters above the river and if the slopes are vertical in places then the path chooses that spot to become slippery.
At Ha Solomon, one of the only two villages we pass today, the path drops down 300 again. We have a low level lunch in a goats pasture. And as though we had taken some quality from the beasts we climb the rocks again, perhaps a little more agile than yesterday. Soon the only souvenir of the valley is the drinking water, smokey from the generous gentle lady’s hut with a little after taste of plastic. But this is all the water we will find at nearly 3000m altitude . The day seems to go on longer than we could imagine and at every turn of a contour our hopes are raised by the perception of a ‘nek’ where there maybe a way down. Or perhaps it will be the next one. The air is cool but the sun is burning at this altitude. Everyone has ‘hotfoot’, a condition that encourages blisters and misery. Water is going to be a problem soon. At 24km we peak again at 2900m. At 27km we are again at 2956m and then the last nek appears and we at last seem to cross to the north of the range and the image of camp flashes in and out of our hopes. At 30km we go down and peak again at 2928m and then loose sight of the guides and horses in the mist. Not happy, Mick and I have lagged behind and the ladies seem to be well ahead not out of sight of the guides but we cannot see either. Horse spoor is all we have to go on and our gait is tired and unsure as we descend into muddy slopes and slippery paths. We have to go down 380 meters to find at last the ever smiling Ramphe, waiting for us. The ladies were well ahead and almost in the camp. Ten and a half hours and 34 kilometres, this is a killer day even for the under sixties in our group! We could not cook for lack of energy. The guides had the kettle going and tea was all we could handle. (The wine had run out some days ago.) Then an instant soup and the sleeping bags called. We all slept 10 hours, almost as many hours as the walk, and woke incredibly refreshed. The human body has always it’s surprises, we were ready for the next 16km hike and the 14th day.
What we could now call a ‘good’ climb started the day. Within the first 7km we had risen from 2546m to 2940m and that was nearly the last big one, but there is always another and four more peaks were lined up for us on the 16 kms passage. To help us on our way, a group of herdsmen caught up with our troup and kept us company. They had walked all of our 34 kms yesterday but they had started 12 kilometres before our camp site, at the Makunyapane shops! The old man was on a well kitted donkey, his son on foot and they were driving a few dozen sheep and goats. That is why the Basotho think we are mad to walk for pleasure. They at lest were going to Sani Top in search of a wife!
This part of the track was the closest we were to come to the cliffs of Natal until we reached Sani Top. From the Majoe Matso to the Pitsaneng we were never more than two kilometers from the border. This is the most photogenic, breath taking part of the 300 kilometre walk and soon the escarpment itself would be unveiled for us. Dropping into the Pitsaneng River, we were greeted by more and more herdboys and some of the largest kraals we have ever seen, with rooms for hundreds of animals. The boys all kept their distances despite the appeal of our other worldly looking goods and food. They seemed to keep watch on our little camp all night aided by their faithful and motley band of hounds. One of these seemed to attract the attention of our Ramphe who was in the market for a canine companion. He casually walked over to the group of lads who were watching our show and the negotiations began, with great circumspection. Eventually a price was announced but it was too much for our friend; 600 Malutis, five times the price in the village. One more attempt was made later in the evening using some enviable garment as bait but it seems that the beautiful little black mongrel puppy was of too much value to his current owner. These dogs are indeed tough and marvellous creatures.
This last camp had us all full of thoughts and emotions. We had been together now for more than 18 days and walking together for 14, our last day ahead of us. We hang onto our sleeping bags, lagged behind with the ablutions and the folding of gear. Endless cups of tea were brewed as though all the thirst of the hundreds of kilometres came upon us in these last hours! It was our last camp! There was no rush to leave it either as the final stage is only 9,5 kilometres. But leave it we did and waved to all the cavorting young herdboys who still could neither understand our cause nor sell us a dog. And up again past the back of Hodgson’s Peaks and up to the top nek of the Sekhokong Mountain Range at 3100m. From there the view was the most exciting one can imagine, for we were above the Natal Escarpment and looking down onto the back of the Garden Castle and to the north we could clearly see the road works on the Kotisephola Pass (Black Mountain) and the fine new wide gravel road down to Sani Top. The end in sight! Well nearly, as there is always another mountain to cross. At a lower level a few more hills and a little mist took us within a few kilometres of Sani. At the 300 km mark some celebration was allowed, briefly though, for the morning was getting on and we knew that the pub was open and four Maluti Beers were waiting. The beers were at 2874m above mean sea level and that is where we were heading; after 302 kilometres, 94 hours of walking, 12000 meters of uphill and 11000 meters of downhill over 15 walking days.
The late Christopher Robin and I lived in a strangely elongated property which discretely sat comfortably in a downtown suburb of the capital. A long high and roughly hewn, pink granite wall, ran for most of the length of the farm. For that’s what it was for my father; a farm. The farm he had always wanted. The one he was robbed of, never had and had so much longed for. It was small for a farm so we called it a ‘market garden’. This title conferred a certain professionalism, neither with pretention, nor betraying the actual acreage of the enterprise.
At the very north end an enclave, formed by high pink granite walls, roughy hewn blocks, neatly arranged and perfectly pointed with cement, contained a very special place. It was, it seemed to me, only popular once a year. Early in the spring this little enclave became a hive of activity. In the cool air and slight, acid, sandy and well composted soil, grew the capital’s only ‘Muguet’.
My father sold hundreds of sprigs for that festival of spring, so french and so perverted and stolen from the old religion. All the ladies and girls sported my Papa’s muguet in their hair or in their coiffe and then men squeezed them into the finicky little lapel button holes sewed only by the more discerning tailors of the day.
The real value of these :”Lilies of the Valley” for me was nothing to do with workers day. It was the anchor: ~ Any morning I could walk across the large vegetable garden, brushing against the aromatic lavender and rosemary bushes that hardly hid my silhouette from the rising sun. Quietly on my own I could enter, through a small doorless arch, this paradise in between simple earthbound walls and feel the cool, damp aroma, so powerful when your height puts your nose so close to the little flowers.
If life called, time rushed towards school time and other imperatives tried to interrupt this precious moment, if nothing else, not your body, then your mind and your heart stayed firmly planted in amongst those most sweetly fragranced, small delicate annual apparitions that appeared, strangely every year in the cool calmness and sweetness of our little enclosure. My spirit still inhales these perfumes and feels these delicacies.
This week I arrived in your century. I was stuck for a while in the last one and I am not complaining, the second half was a great innings. We had the sexy sixties and flower power after all.
We had Bob Dylan more than you have probably and we definitely had more of the Beatles for longer. We went to the moon and travelled through space in re-usable spacecraft before you retired them and called for Russian Taxi Rockets. We looked into the Sun and sent probes off to distant planets and some of them have only just got there. But it was still the 20th century.
It is not as though I had not embraced the new world either. I even tried my hand at “technology” with clever home brew antennas and complicated black boxes. A complete room full of 20th century equipment was required to speak around the world and bounce radio waves from orbiting satellites flying 60,000 kms above my crackling headphones. On 1st August 1998 at 10.00 UTC, the ill fated Russian space station Mir flew overhead at 600 kms altitude and I unsuccessfully invited the French Commander down for lunch, carefully adjusting my frequency for the doppler effect. “After a glass of wine” he replied on VHF, as clear as a bell; “I would require a lift back up here”. He was definitely a contemporary. I probably had a computer before your birthday and still have the wounded vertebrae from carrying it from one room to another. So it’s not like I didn’t try. My data disks contained what I told them and never requested an update, a deep scan or a defrag but they did require 6 inch envelopes and a big family to do a little job. There were no viruses on that machine as long as the children , excited at wining at Pacman, did not spittle onto the screen.
The crux of the matter is that I could understand everything up until the dying years of the nineteen hundreds. I could dismantle my car and visualise where everything went and what it did or at least what it was supposed to do when things went well. A noise from any particular point of the rose would indicate to me a noisy bearing so to speak. It could be fixed! It was the era of spare parts and these could be purchased without producing your life history and having your retina scanned. Oil rags were not something that cars ran on, they lived in your pocket, ready for action at the first sniff of a leak. Oil stains on your garage floor were a sign of distinction, wealth even.
The 21st century did not take me by surprise. Oh no, not by any means for I had even laughed at the Millenium Bug scam and switched everything off the day before. The very day of that dawn I stood at the ready, armed with multiple killer sprays before switching on even the toaster. No, the century came unexpectedly without surprise. But I knew what we were in for and I was determined to embrace everything new.
Fourteen years later I could still not leave the house without my oil rag, the most vital accessory for a 1980s petrol engined Land Rover, 400,000 kms old. Other peoples cars smell of strange factory induced mossy by-products, designed to induce feeling of modernity foreign to me; cleanliness, leather-care products, oil and grease free perfumes sprayed into the glove box just prior to closing the deal. Mine has that greasy carpet, burnt rubber, old cigarette, dead rat kind of smell; that’s what people say. Fine with me until the petrol price hits the R14 per soup-spoon level.
It become cheaper to take the Blue Train to Cape Town than to drive my car which needs 450 litres to get there and back. That is probably more than a Jumbo Jet costs per passenger.
So the 21st arrives and with it hope for the eternal driver and traveller; the less expensive kilometre. Solar powered, hybrids, fully electrical cars, hydrogen cells powered and even compressed air cars to be made in a factory in Kyalami. But the price of my petrol climbs quickly to disavow the promises of driving utopia. On the 1st of January 2000 the Brent Crude Oil spot price hovered around the $20 a barrel and on the same day in 2014 the price had climbed to nearly $110.
So from a litre of Super at under R3.00 my poor old Land Rover needed the new LRP at over R14.00 per litre; at 15 litres per 100 kilometres that means R2.25 per km. Her technology is not keeping up with the times. And nor is my pocket money. Something has to be done.
On one of those balmy ‘going no-where’ trips around the country I sit looking at the Knysna Louries flying freely and at zero rands per kilometre, from my garden bench in a backpackers. It occurs to me to stay here for a while. Why? Because the backpackers cost R200 a night/day and if I begin the next stage of my journey I will have to pay R700 of petrol, my daily burden with a 3.5l V8 ~ 2000kg motor car. I will have to fork out R3375 one of these days to get back from the Cape! It takes me 5 days to go to the Cape and 14 years to come back to reality. I need an oil rag sniffer that will set me free of the petrol station, diesel even. New technology, small turbo, direct injection, common rail, 100 kw, 400nm and 5 litres per light-year, or an electric car, good for 350km on one fast charge is what we need.
I look at small sedans which are too tempting to car thieves, delivery vans which have no road clearance, motorbikes which have paniers too small for my camera, pick-up trucks which are either too expensive or too rotten and find that only compromise will work in this quest. It’s all very well to have the technology ubiquitous but I don’t see a Tesla or a compressed-air engine anywhere. No hybrids available second hand. No charging stations, let alone solar powered ones, no Re-cycled Vegetable Oil filling stations exist in my real world. And everyone in the city is driving big sedans, fatter four-wheel drives monsters and ugly flashy S.U.V.s which all burn 10-20l per 100 km. I wonder if Nichola T is turning in his grave.
I think that I am going to get some bare chested hippies to paint sexy sixties flower-power motifs all over my gas guzzling go-mobile. Surf’s up. And then tonight; I’m going to get high on petrol fumes and listen to Bob and the Beatles and watch the Soyuz fly past.
Cracking crude oil is still cheaper tech than Crack on the street.
However I did not expect to be invited to the State Banquet as a guest of His Majesty King Letsie III. Frankly I am not really the banquet type and these formal functions scare and bore me at the same time. This event was different because the people are friendly and two lovely people dragged me in by my ears.
In March 2012 some insect must have crawled into my ear and told me to get my book “Basotho People at Work” into the hands of King Letsie. Moreover I knew that there was to be a banquet in November for all of the more important diplomats from Southern Africa. In fact there were to be over 100 ambassadors, high-commissioners and senior VIP’s from as many countries. So it appeared to me, that vision of my book, in the hands of each of them as well as in those of the Basotho High Society.
The path to success was interesting and involved meeting extraordinary people; Mrs. Michele Thoren Bond, the Ambassador to the U.S.A., the most charming, friendly and relaxed ambassador that I have ever met, helped me find the right people to talk to and was so charmingly appreciative of my work. This was despite my dirty boot marks all over her pure white wool carpets. (It was snow and slushy mud time in Maseru!)
Michele’s interest in this project led to Dr. Mathase Nyaphisi, ex Ambassador to many EU countries and for a long time based in Berlin. Ntate Mathase called me several times from Europe and made many long distant calls to assist me in this endeavour.
Eventually after this long haul, I was in touch with another super lady Mrs Itumeleng Rafutho-Labuschagne, Director of the Europe & Americas section of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires and International Relations for the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Thanks to all of the calls and suggestions from all of my friends, I was able to deliver 100 books, personally to the DG on the 23rd of October.
There again the surprises continued; dressed in my safari gear, delivery boy style, I arrived at the government complex in my old landy ‘Mathubathuba’, loaded with the books. Thinking along the lines of “drop off the books and get a receipt and then bugger off quickly” ~ I arrived in the office of ‘Mme Rafutho-Labuschagne. I was charmed and was received like a VIP, despite my lack of protocol and negligent sartorial effort. Even more-so by a colleague from the Protocol Department; Mr. Japan O. Mntambo, Counsellor, Directorate of Protocol. ‘Ntate Japan was enormously helpful with my back-country approach to “society-and meeting-important-people”. Above all Ntate Japan, linguist, expert in Arabic, and fluent in many european languages gave me insights into Sesotho protocol that I could not have found elsewhere.
So when the DG returned and asked if we could take the books upstairs I thought that we going to the store room.
Ntate Japan was making me repeat the phrase~”Mohlompehi Letona Lehabane” and I did so all the while climbing the staircase to the next floor. Entering the large room at the end of the corridor I was greeted not only by the unusual sight of a Cabinet Minister holding the door for me but also by the DG and a T.V. Crew and press photographer. “Mohlompehi Letona Lehabane” I repeated automatically thanks to my Arab speaking friend. “Ke thabile o tseba”… Honorable Minister I am glad to make your acquaintance. Thank the gods for the protocol man.
The T.V. and press thing had been put together in the few minutes that Ntate Japan and I had been whiling away chatting about protocol and having tea. The Minister, Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa was waiting for me and we sat after the formalities and chatted about the Maluti Moutains and equestrian adventures for a good half an hour. From his leather armchair and in his very smart suit he looked at me in my togs and said diplomatically and with no doubt a little humour that he could see that I would have no problem to dress in ‘Black Tie’ so “would I mind if they invited me to the State Banquet?”
Well that was all a very great surprise. Although my sponsor were very jealous as no-one had expected this very formal meeting and handing over of the book ceremony, they were nonetheless envious. I did not care as I had made three new sincere friends.
One month later the real thing is happening. My pictures are on show at the Maseru Sun and they are sitting on the efficient little low-level easels designed by David Randel and laser cut and painted just in time for it all.
The programs are printed and the audience is arriving by the limousine load on the great day.
As this was an ‘evening affair’ and even though my rôle was to be Expo curator to a certain extent, I was sure to be confined to the foyer and not invited to the banquet. Long past were my expectations. After all a month was more than enough time for busy diplomats to forget their promises.
Well that was without counting on my good friends.
Camille Perdereau, Consul Honoraire and Directrice of the Alliance Francaise of Maseru and Petri Salo, Ambassador of Finland in Pretoria were at my side at the exhibition of my photographs. They were not having this ‘not invited thing’ and went to investigate like two member of the Famous Five. Returning only a few minutes later to embarrass me for my doubting Thomas attitude; ~ “Your name is on the list”!
So as three musketeers, arm in arm we braved the protocolary reception and eventually found our tables for the evening, unfortunately all at separate places.
“No. 23 Ntate Gosselin” said the pretty young Mosotho in the foyer. I was now without my support team and heading into the unknown. I followed the tuxedo suited usher through the maze of tables and found my place. My friends were no-where to be seen and I was un-nerved. I stood behind a chair, fuming that I should let myself into this at all. I could be in the fresh air talking to everyone about my work and not being a rag-doll here. Then the Ex-Prime Minister of Lesotho ‘Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili arrived a sat down at ‘my’ table with several friends and their wives and things began to look less miserable. Professor Teboho Kitleli, Secretary General to the Red Cross and his spouse a long standin W.H.O. Cadre sat on my left and the Director of UNICEF of my right. It was going to be an interesting evening. No one knew who I was or why I was there!
Well I spare you the detail of the delayed arrival of ‘important people’ and the tediously long speeches. Nor shall I mention the half hour prayer in Sesotho which had most foreign guests a little bewildered.
The evening began as the formalities stopped and the senior ambassadors climbed onto the stage to dance with the choir and show their solidarity with the adorable singers. The wine arrived at the table, the delicate euro-centric dishes were delectable and mercifully small. In no-time at all the singing and dancing and eating and meriment moments were over and His Majesty and entourage were making for the door, no doubt as keen as every-one of us to find the evening air. It was 12 O’clock.
All that was left was to plod along the pavement outside the venue and say one’s adieux to the rare visitors to Lesotho and the even rarer real friends amongst the departing crowd, standing there waiting for their shiny Limousines to whisk them away to who knows where.
Fortunately there are always two friends waiting in the cocktail lounge with ready night-cap of Jamesons.
I am not sure why I undertook this trip. I had left a warm heart behind me and had no excuse for being the hard assed separator. Wether it was about about emerging, resurfacing, coming up for air or simply keeping one’s head above the water I don’t know but I know that I can breathe now. Perhaps it was the sea air. Essentially I felt that I needed to find a place to throw my gear, a place to set up some lighting for my portrait sitters or for myself. The remote village of Bedford, Eastern Cape, came to mind. I was starting from a place which already had the required dimensions but I could not annoy my best friend Mick with extended use of his hospitality at Hill Billy Haven, miles from anywhere, somewhere on the Western Approaches to Lesotho.
My light came in a flurry of silk and straw, scarf and hat in a green old Mercedes late one afternoon unannounced, under the golden evening Free State sky as the sun began to to send it’s signal of beer time. She took my breathe away again. The week-end took on a completely different shade and heart beats became irregular. And then Beer, Ballantynes and Boxed Wine imbibes made the blood heated and nothing could stop the silly state in the Free State. Disaster was on the cards. I drew the joker and take the blame.
On that morning of the 28th of March, we split and I Ieft Mick’s Farm in the Free State and turned right, obviously. South.
I supposed that she went left. Toward the beloved Free State, like Brand and Steyn, Claerhout and Krog, irrevocably. The dry cold winter calls from deep within the beige rock and the burnished mauve grass heart of it’s plains, irresistible to all those with blood and tears in their past.
The long free falling from the highveld to the land of the Settlers is always salutory and it was not hard for me to rest far away, a few nights With the Fairies in Hogsback in the treed and mossy greened Amatola Mountains, cooled by the spirits and the idiom. Walking and dining in Hogsback is easy on two roads and two restaurants. I walked and thought for four hours and dined in each cabaret for as much.
The third day let me down from my high place and to the tee-junction where I flipped a coin and headed towards East London. I had missed Bedford, country retreat, deep in contemplation or by negligence. Was it perhaps just a name in my head?
The little Buffalo city somehow always reminded me of Jersey. I remembered small unpretentious houses in quiet streets with few cars parked, unlocked near their white picket gates, the owners home for lunch. I found only endless streets of walled mansions and face brick suburbs-by-the-sea. A greasy café where eggs are ever plastic and the burnt coffee draws smokey bikers from the suburbs and repulses all else, the only viewing deck over the Indian Ocean. I turned Mathubathuba around and let her big heart roar out of town lest we came close to hitting the big lights.
Instead, I made it in one sleep to my haven the other side of Port Elizabeth at Van Stadens River and walked four hours in the dunes, completely alone and free on a beach that stretches fifty miles to a surfers paradise. Little thatched cottages along the very sand of the beach are kitted out like the old National Parks huts of a by-gone era, comfortably and simply. Hard to leave the next day, I had no idea where this voyage was taking me and vaguely thought of heading back up the N6 to Bedford.Then my family called and said that I am half way there! The Karoo and kids summon.
That tedious N2 Garden Route can surely not be a magnet to tourists. It is boring to a point of despair and no-one seems to stop or even reduce speed for the Big Tree, (but do so for biltong, beef-burgers and BP) if it were not for a few jewels of Knysna and Natures Valley. And of course the very with-it Wilderness; there are more tales at Fairie Knowes backpackers than I care to tell but they say that it is just the name of the abandoned railway siding. I sat there that evening sipping on my terrace a last paced ration of Ballantynes before it was to be felloniously whisked from me a week later, admiring the passing scenery and the humid tropical growth enveloping the little lodge. Evening around the fire and bar with Digby and a guitar are what it’s all about.
The road and dry heights of the Klein Karoo echoed down through Montague pass and over the Touwsberg. I was powerless to resist, so I packed the car and left the fairies behind. Mathubathuba had her own wings to fly us up the Outeniqua Mountains and over the passes to Oudtshourn,Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Barrydale the little jewel of the Langeberg and gateway to Tradouw Pass. Also the home to my daughter and her familly and their base for adventures around the world.
After four days and nights with the children I managed to catch a mother of a cold and they persuaded me to go to do business in Cape Town. Perhaps for my health. I did, despite my reticence to take Mathubathuba into the big city with all her loads of un-hideable stuff.
Cape Town was not good for my Land Rover as she battled with the excess of air and inevitably with thieves. I saw friends, arranged my printing to be done on request and spoke to the gallery, dined in places with beautiful people and some not so. A few skinny dips in the Indian Ocean and away, back to the Wilderness unavoidably.
If ever one is taken with the idea of a stroll, then the Giant King Fisher hike along the Touwsrivier is a good place to go. If one is of slight nature however, don’t take the “short cut” over the Bosduif Loop! The mountainous route and the “flat” route are both great little 3~4 hour hikes even though the waterfall is quite miserable and not really worth the visit. Leaving the Wilderness after only three days (and not the prescribed 40) was made easier by climbing up to the Village of Hoekwil and trundling along the old road to Knysna through green pastures littered with monochrome dairy cows, tall dark ancient trees and a multitude of zig-zag passes on all kinds of surfaces and with wafts of sweet rural smells which Mathubathuba contrived to collect about her skirts and retain a nostalgic souvenir of the coast.
The idea of going north alway seems to put Mathuthuba’s brakes on and we laboured up to the distant blue Suurberg towards Bedford, resisting the temptation to visit Anne’s Villa again. This was a mistake. Bedford is closed on mondays. No food, no drink, no bed in Bedford. So it was, to the Tuinhuis in Craddock, for dinner with silverware and hordes. Then morning coffee with Chris and Julienne, the Karoo-Spacemen, authors, journalists and independent publishers, was a surprise for me as much as for them. Two new friends who became old ones over a cup of coffee and a few minutes natter on mutual interests; books, photographs and the Karoo! And of course the source of the very water in our cups; ~ Cradocks Great Fish River, supplemented by the Lesotho water of the Orange/Senqu/Gariep River via the famous hand-hewn Orange-Fish River Tunnel.
I took only one picture; ~ that day somewhere near Burgersdorp, on the way back to Mick’s hill billy farm. 6000 kms on a broken spring and shocks and only one image. There must have been another on my mind.
I was held by the arm softly, by a beautiful women whilst my friend Mike Feldman was shooting the drying and sorting of the maize seed at Ha Mantla, near Ramabanta, in the higher area of Lesotho. The lady pulled me around the corner of the village towards her house and asked me to enter gesturing to me to take photographs. I tried hard to concentrate on the milling area she pointed out to me but her kindness had touched me too much and my camera shook and would not focus anymore than my eyes could, filled with tears of unwanted sympathy, self centered melancholy, memories and heartache of a peasant farmer, yearning for the comfort of his origins. I am afraid that these photographs are not a sufficient tribute to the fortitude of this women.
Once a year, His Royal Highness King Letsie II arranges a substantial state dinner. One hundred ambassadors from all around the world are invited to the Kingdom of Lesotho and enjoy the Royal Hospitality and the kindness of the Basotho. Hopefully they will retain a positive attitude towards this small nation and advice their peers to go and have a look at the investment possibilities. My little book, Basotho People at Work will be popped in to the gift pack arranged for each of the dignitaries and I hope it will help to give them that extra little ‘feeling’ for Lesotho. Just in case it needs something more visual, I had Amichai Thabor, the well known image processor and amazing print specialist, print 10 ~ 400×600 images from the book.The prints are all on 290 gsm Entrada cotton rag from Mohave Paper in the USA. Forest Frames made some beautiful 800×600 broad white and deep set frames with all archival double mount board and we have sent the lot to Maseru. So on the 23rd of November, remember, remember, the royalty and ambassadorial entourages will alight and enter the foyer of the Maseru Sun and encounter 10 large brilliant images of Basotho People at Work. A small but stunning pop-up exhibition of images of Basotho and their daily activities. I want them all to make the tears of emotion that I did when I met these subjects and land-scapes. The exhibition will run from the 22nd to the 24th only. Maseru Sun and Cabanas, Maseru, Kingdom of Lesotho.