Foghorn (Type G)

2020-07-13

Low Head is the name of a small settlement at the mouth of the Tamar River, on the north coast of Tasmania. To get there, you go through George Town and past the “yellow house” (I don’t know why it is called that). There is something called the “Low Head Experience”, which sounds a bit dangerous.

The mouth of the Tamar has some dangerous reefs, so from 1804 there has been a lighthouse here. The current Low Head Lighthouse (LHLH) dates from 1888:

But what’s that little hut next to it? It contains a powerful Fog Horn, as the weather here is often foggy. If you climb over the fence and stand in front of the hut, when the fog horn is sounded at noon every Sunday, you’ll understand why they put the fence there to stop people doing that. You can hear that foghorn 20 miles out to sea.

The fog horn is a Type G Diaphone, made in 1929 by Chance Bros. of Birmingham UK (who are famous for making the huge glass lenses of lighthouses). Here’s how it works: air is compressed by a 20hp engine and stored at 2 atmospheres pressure in a huge tank, and then let out through this circular thing – below. Inside that, there is a piston that oscillates at 180 Hz, producing a loud sound – bellow?

This is the last working Type G in the world, and indeed for a while there weren’t any at all, as even this one fell into disuse. Ships have GPS navigation now, so lighthouses are not really needed. However, this one was restored by volunteers, after they had found a skilled foghornist. The sign by the hut says:

Early in 2000 a group of volunteers, led by Bruce Findlay and Terence Terry and a ranger from the Tasmanian Government Parks & Wildlife Department inspected the installation through the murky window of the padlocked shed and decided to rehabilitate the Foghorn. Sounds simple, but the story of what it took to reawaken the Foghorn is a tale of amazing tenacity and a refusal to be side tracked by apathy. The project required dogged determination to locate the retired artisans with the necessary skills and confidence to make the Foghorn sound again.

The required manuals were finally located in a disused shed at the Portland Bill Light Station on England’s south coast. The local team was thrilled to learn that the Low Head type “G” diaphone was the only one of its type in the world that potentially could be made operational. The system had been beautifully designed and had used precision engineering. The internal parts looked to be in perfect order.

In April 2001, with a hammering heart and bated breath, the electric compressor was started up, the pressure vessels brought to operating pressure, control valves opened and the timing motor started. And several seconds later the magnificent roar of a thousand elephants echoed through the area.

And you, dear reader, can play the sound for yourself; click on that square bar-code (or on THIS LINK), and be amazed at the blast.

Now, imagine my amazement, when two weeks later I was with 20 cyclists on a ride around Queenscliff and there was, would you believe, another Type G foghorn! (although not working). I just had to stop everybody, and give them a lecture about it.

Anthology

2020-07-12

Our house suffers now and then from a plague of ants. We put down various commercial ant-baits but none of them seem to work. There are different sorts of ant, with one tiny species living entirely in our coffee-filter machine. Mostly we cohabit in peace, but sometimes there are ant eggs in our coffee. Another species has been invading our kitchen for 10 years; but now that we are replacing the kitchen, the old cupboards were demolished two weeks ago, and I have found Ant HQ, inside the electric doorbell that sat on top of the cupboards.

Every time somebody rang the doorbell, there must have been panic in there, with ants saying “Oi! Ouch! Stop it!”

None of this is surprising, since ants have dominated the planet for the last 50 million years. In some future eon, when the ants come to compile an Ant History, they will ask “What were those large bipeds that were stomping around for a few thousand years? … well never mind, they’ve all gone now”.

I read a science fiction story where somebody decided that ants would evolve faster if their colonies were not subjected to the cold conditions of winter. He put blankets over an ant mound. Next summer, the ants were driving around in little ant cars.

Anyway. We had some Borax in the house, useful for (a) poisoning ants, and (b) for absorbing stray neutrons from a nuclear power plant that is in meltdown. Every home should have some of this stuff – especially homes with an atomic pile – and three of our own homes have hosted this very packet. Because its use-by date is 1989, which predates even our house before this, where we lived (with ants) for 20 years. It is even older than the 1999 Hoi Sin Sauce that I never got to try out. Come to think of it, I took this photo, in order to prepare this blog entry, nearly three years ago … I really must get on with my life, but I’m having so much fun.

I recall my father had a book “Leiningen versus the Ants” which I surreptitiously read when I was in year 6. Another boy at my school – his name was Peter Smith – talked about the nightmares he had had from reading it, as his father owned the book too (it was probably one of those Book of the Month Club offers). Basically Leiningen is a lonely farmer in South America whose farm becomes overrun with man-eating ants; they overcome his water barriers even when he fills them with burning petrol, but (spoiler) he eventually prevails by opening a sluice gate and flooding his entire property. Probably doing more damage to the property than the ants would have done.

This was made into a major 1954 film “The Naked Jungle” starring Charlton Heston, with Eleanor Parker as his new wife. Leiningen is macho and sweaty, and sits holding a whip across his lap. Mrs L is perfectly made-up, coiffed and dressed and looks very out of place on a farm in the jungle (and is not relevant to the plot).

Having seen the whole film long ago I well recall, although I cannot find a clip of this scene, that their conversation included a very blunt metaphor involving Leiningen’s upright piano, which had been damaged by years of tropical dampness. His new wife observed that the piano had become severely out of tune from not being used enough, and, she implied rather heavily, so was something else of his.

I enjoyed the book when I was a kid in year 6, and I have seen the film but it must have been 30-40 years ago. Now in an idle moment of my ant-research I have found that this Leiningen story of mastery and conquest, republished by a book club in 1959 for my father and Peter Smith’s father to buy, and much heralded (there are even school study guides for it) was originally written by a German in 1938. Hooray.

Blog is back

2020-07-11

Gosh, it’s been a while – 6 months, according to one fan – since I actually posted anything on this blog (apart from some cute pictures during the first phase of virus lockdown). But now Melbourne is entering a SECOND phase of lockdowns, perhaps I ought to start this up again. So, let’s start with a manhole cover –

That glorious one is in Kaita Town, Japan – one of many Japanese cities that bothers to decorate their manhole covers – here’s one in its natural habitat:

The pattern reflects the citizenry’s hopes for a better life, so life must be pretty dismal in Kaita Town, although it would have improved enormously since the time when an atomic bomb was dropped upon it. You can not only go there and look at the covers – you can also make a QUILT of the pattern, as Mary Beth Wiesner has done –

How do I know all this? Well, these pictures are from a book. A book that, surely, only I would possess. Resplendent on my bookshelf, between “Five million digits of Pi” and “Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich” sits this tome –

(I joined the book-binding club. They were most welcoming – they said, “Come in – make yourself a tome.”)

More posts coming. About any old stuff; these are almost ready to go: Ants, Oganesson, Cape Town’s manhole covers, Jigsaws, Foghorns (of type G), Potassium aluminium sulphate, Penguin (Tasmania), Eintopf, Terrible hotel in Oslo, Existential despair in Sweden’s suburbia, Gunnar Sonsteby, Cat claws, and the Royal Game of Ur. Special greetings to Andrew, who told me he reads this blog, and to Andrew’s Mum – hello, Mrs T!

Photo 30 – Boat

2020-05-21

Photo 29 – Hotel

2020-05-17

Interior of the Marriott Hotel, Atlanta GA.

Photo 28 – Dune

2020-05-14

Sand dune. Been there for millions of years. Our Namibia tour guide had been coming here for 10 years, and he said it had moved 1-2 inches in that time.

Photo 27- Glienicke Bridge

2020-05-10

This is the Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam, SW of Berlin. During the Cold War it was off-limits at both ends because the Berlin Wall passed down the lake and right over the middle of the bridge – the white line painted on the path marks the place. Captured Soviet and Western spies were exchanged over this bridge, as depicted in so many movies.

That pair of tourists has just done something that once lay beyond the wildest dreams of millions of people – they have crossed from East to West Berlin. Hundreds of people died, trying to do that. And they had no awareness of where they were or what they had just achieved.

But recently we re-enacted that situation, with socially isolated European guests. Here they are on their side – here we are on our side, each faction keeping its possible coronaviruses to itself.

Photo 26 – Library

2020-05-03

Kadychan, an abandoned mining town in Siberia; population 20,000 until 1992. This is, or rather was, the library; the slogan says “Welcome to the world of knowledge”. The Road of Bones motorbike group in 2012 camped in the town. Our bonfire was the only light in this former city.

Algebra in Cuneiform

2020-05-01

Yup, you read it correctly: I have found a book about ancient Babylonian problems in algebra. Here’s problem number 1:

What, you want to READ that? Ok, here goes:

The book has a footnote here, that if you find this sort of thing difficult, then think of how much fun the authors had when they were deciphering this for the very first time. But let’s get out the clay tablets, clean up the wedges and get pressing: here’s a problem you can actually do for homework tonight. The authors have done the first bit for you, by translating it into English.

.

Ah yes, let’s follow the book. And I’m sure that it IS elegant, because the authors said so. But I really must get on with my socially restricted life … ah, time for a cup of tea. I have prepared more photos and quotes to put up yet, in lieu of doing anything useful at all.

Photo 25 – Queenstown

2020-04-29

Queenstown, Tasmania – the soil on whole mountainsides contaminated by mining cadmium and burning sulphurous gases. Seen in the rain, from my motorbike 😦

Well, I was there, so you don’t have to be! The photos may get more grim from here …..

Photo 24 – Farmer

2020-04-24

Barbro’s uncle Lars-Erik, 1984. He lived his entire life in that house, and ran a whole farm using horses and no machinery. He was ploughing the furrow that you can see over to the right, using a team of two heavy Clydesdales when we took this picture. His body was huge (the width of two aeroplane seats) and strong. We named our son after him.

Photo 23 – maypole

2020-04-18

Swedes dancing around the decorated maypole on midsummer day, June 24. Every village has done this for centuries. If ever the tanks come crashing through those trees, these people will still be dancing, and forever.

Photo 22 – Tree

2020-04-16

This is a Quiver Tree, in South Africa.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
And if we let the forests fall
We’ll never see a tree at all

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
Except for these, my sweet refrains
Let’s print them on a tree’s remains

Photo 21 – Rome

2020-04-12

The Forum, in pre-coronavirus days.

Photo 20 – Road

2020-04-11

Via Appia, Rome to the coast, 2000 years old, stones going 6 feet deep and the road is still in continuous use. (It is not deserted due to viruses – it is normally like that; this part is used only by bicycles).

Another Naadam photo

2020-04-09

Genghis Khaan stands on a large platform; the dancers and performers face him, thus having their backs towards the visiting dignitaries and government officials. The national games have only 3 sports: archery, wrestling and horse racing. The archers shoot at tin cans 75 metres away – the judges stand behind the tin cans. The horses are ridden bareback over 15 km by 6-7 year old boys and a big fuss is made of the winning horse, the rider being more or less ignored. The race course is straight, so the horses have to walk 15km to get to the start, which is out of sight of the crowd; here’s the winner.

It rained; I took this picture:

Here we are on that day, 11 July 2006. There are thousands of people and horses in the background.

Photo 18 – Naadam

2020-04-07

The national games of Mongolia, held every July 11-13. An actor costumed as Genghis Khaan, enters the stadium on a replica of GK’s tent drawn by four oxen. I was there – and if I tried to describe the atmosphere at that moment, my keyboard would catch fire.

Photo 17 – this!

2020-04-04

Photo #16 – Museum

2020-04-04

The Guggenheim art gallery in Bilbao. The building is made of very thin sheets of titanium, and it is amazing, but honestly, what were the architects smoking?

Photo 15 – Pole

2020-04-01

Cute picture #15: The “angle pole” in the centre of Australia, where the telegraph lines coming from Darwin and Adelaide were joined together, in 1872, thus connecting the cities of Australia with the rest of the world. The actual pole is at the far left, with horizontal metal bar on top. It is the original 1872 pole, still standing firmly.

Photo 14 – Antarctica

2020-03-31

Spent 9 days there and we had 10 minutes of blue sky, but what views in those 10 minutes.

Photo 13 – Stalin’s Boots

2020-03-28

Budapest – they blew up the statue of Stalin, but his boots were made of strong metal. In time, the locals grew fond of the fiend’s footware and preserved this, in a museum of failed statuary.

Photo 12 – Amphitheatre

2020-03-27

These photos might get less cute and more intellectually interesting – the amphitheatre at Termessos, Turkey. Alexander the Great failed to capture this mountain stronghold city, but it fell into ruin anyway and in about 1300 AD it got shaken down by an earthquake. I was there in 1978.

Photo 11 – car park

2020-03-25

The Riley St car park, Winton, Qld.

Photo 10 – Terraces

2020-03-17

Terraced rice fields in central China.

Photo 9 – Bridge

2020-03-14

Decrepit wooden bridge at Jargalant, Mongolia.  I crossed it in 2006, but I was there again in 2012 and you can see that the second support from the left was sort of missing, and the far section had collapsed such that the bridge can no longer be completely crossed. I pulled 3 large nails out of the wood with my bare hands (thus probably further collapsing the bridge). A new concrete bridge is nearby.

Photo 8 – Graveyard

2020-03-13

Graveyard, mostly 1860’s burials, overlooking the pioneer gold-mining town of Walhalla, in the hills 100 miles east of Melbourne. One gravestone bears the dignified verse: “Not my own; the Lord accepts me / One among the ransomed throng / Who in Heaven shall see his glory / And to Jesus Christ belong”

Photo 7 – Dalhalla

2020-03-13

Dalhalla, central Sweden – a stage for music concerts, built on the floor of a defunct open-cut mine, deep in the forest. (The name is a pun on “Valhalla”)

Photo 6 – Farmhouse

2020-03-11

Southern Sweden, on a balmy summer evening. I swear that I have not photoshopped this image. As well as the farmhouse, only the nearby clouds reflect the light of the setting sun.

Photo 5 – Hut

2020-03-09

Abandoned Hut, Svalbard, north of the northern tip of Norway.

Photo 4

2020-03-05

Village market in Liberia, 1981, pre civil war. What was remarkable was the sound – a gentle babble of soft voices.

Photo 3

2020-03-05

The Volga river, somewhat north of Moscow, on a summer’s evening.  The blue colour in the lower part of the sky is the Earth’s shadow, rising up after sunset.

Photo 2

2020-03-04

A series of my photos that I think are inspiring for one reason or another; #2, trees outside Wangaratta at sunset.  Not photoshopped, but this colour lasts only for 1-2 minutes.

Rue du Brexit

2020-02-01

Greetings to you all on this day of Brexit. My own island is on fire, but now we have torrential rain, with dust from Mildura in it. Everything that gets wet in the rain, is now orange.

Those pesky French have named a street “Rue du Brexit“. Maybe it’s because the poms will “rue” the day it happened … but let’s have a look at it on Google Maps – ah here it is:

It is a very minor road, and note where it leads to – it brings you back to where you started from.  Rue du Brexit is in an unpleasant locality, opposite a car breaker’s yard, with wasteland and an animal sanctuary whose address is “1295 Chemin des Anciens Abattoirs” – say no more!

Google Street View shows the desolation around the small, blue Rue du Brexit sign in the middle of the picture.  A wall, possibly built by Donald Trump, hides the car yard on the right.

But cheer up, at least there are five manholes, although they aren’t quite in Brexit Street itself.  These are of a design commonly found, but the nearest one is different; it is labelled ERIC.

Eric the manhole cover.  Bonjour, Eric, comment ça va avec toi?

So, where exactly is this futile loop of a back street?  Zooming out, we see it is down the river … down the Rhône from Avignon, which has a famous bridge that stops halfway across the river.

And nearby are other cities similarly symbolic of Brexit.  There’s Nimes, now a quiet town but noted for its ancient relics of a vast global civilisation, now decayed and lost.  Arles, where van Gogh went mad.  And the Camargue …

….. aaarrghhh

Bergen (2)

2020-01-15

Ah, Bergen, jewel of western Norway, with its characteristic manhole covers. Behind the church are cannons, formed into a fence, as a memorial to the Battle of Alvoen. Atop each cannon is a cannonball. Nobody (except me) has noticed that the balls won’t fit into the cannon. And the cannon are mounted vertically, instead of the more usual “horizontal” position.

This mighty conflict lasted for 57 minutes on 16 May 1808. The hostile British, exasperatingly, had parked a frigate in the fjord. The infuriated Bergensers, in an early example of asymmetric warfare, sent out their entire naval force, consisting of five rowing-boats like this, with a single small cannon sticking out the back, and men who had had 3 weeks’ training.

Despite British mirth, the boats opened fire on the frigate, killing 12 British for a cost 5 on their own side. And they nearly captured the frigate. Note that word “nearly” … nevertheless they shoo’ed the frigate away, and then did a whip-round of the local wealthy merchants, and built three more of those little boats, with which to terrify their enemies.

We took to the hills around Bergen and walked for a day or two, getting some arty photos like these:

But this is not us!

Bergen(1)

2020-01-14

Got the Hurtigruten ferry to Bergen. The ferries are a bit pricey but a good way to navigate up and down Norway. They have improved a lot since the days when their business was delivering goods and mail, with only rudimentary facilities for passengers. This is one of the lounges:

Bergen used to be the capital city, and maybe still should be. It’s noted for the quayside with commercial warehouse buildings all done in wood:

But enough of this, let’s get to the bizarre stuff. There is a statue commemorating the city’s derelict street people, and a leper museum:

A baton-tossing competition, and by the lake there are arty silver cubes that are almost impossible to photograph:

And the food. Arghhh, just look at this menu; the cat food is probably the best thing on it, but the “veiled peasant girls” might be worth trying.

Molde (2) – The Atlantic Highway

2020-01-12

So there we were, in Molde, central Norway, for three days. Three weeks before, we were touring Svalbard (Spitsbergen), which has 5,000 polar bears and they are a nuisance. You can’t walk around unless someone in your party has a rifle; and if you see one, you shoot it first and then you have to fill in a form explaining what the gunshot was about. Every shop in Longyearbyen (the only town) has a stuffed polar bear in front of it. There had not been a fatal bear attack for 15 years – that was the good news – the bad news being that it happened on the main street of the town.

Anyway, there we were in Molde reading a newspaper, and guess what, two men had been out camping on Svalbard just after we left, and as they slept, a bear ate them.

The headline reads “Torn out of the sleeping bag”. Ho well … we got a boat tour one afternoon to visit a nearby island, Hjertoya –

That is nearly all the buildings on the island. If there was a fire, it would take the fire brigade an hour or so to turn out, so they are very concerned to manage fire risks. The diagram below shows not only all the buildings, but also all the fire-extinguishing resources.

The caption reads: Fire extinguishers, gas storage, buckets and forest fire-fighting things, fire pump. Here’s a natty church door:

But I have not yet got on to the big thing we did in Molde, which was to see the Atlantic Highway. This is a major road that connects remote island villages, with many bridges and going out over the sea at points. (Norway is fabulously wealthy; they are now planning a 49-km highway further along, that will go underwater).

You can get a $100 tour to see this, or you can get a local bus for $1.50, from a bus stop, similar to this one:

We piled aboard and sat in the two front seats of the bus, which have a great view forwards through the windscreen. Terrific sightseeing of the road, the bridges, the sea, the coast – the best $1.50 we ever spent – so I took a lot of photos. The driver saw the camera and said “Ah – tourists.” And he pulled the bus over into a lay-by and stopped it, got us out, and gave us a guided tour of the Atlantic Highway, pointing out everything visible, including his own house.

That’s our bus standing in the lay-by, with the other passengers waiting while we got our guided tour.

Back to Norway – Molde (1)

2020-01-05

Now I will resume the description of our trip in 2010, lately interrupted by descriptions of my plans for cycling there in 2020, aardvarks, cheese, etc. After visiting Svalbard, far northern Norway, and the Lofoten Islands, we returned to the mainland at Bødø and headed south. Overnight train to Dombås – here’s the full Moon (the wrong way up, as this was in the northern hemisphere) and then a cute mountain train down to Åndalsnes on the coast, with views like this.

Åndalsnes was the site of a major British landing in WW2. The Germans invaded Norway on 7 April 1940 – the British considered this a nuisance because they had made their own plans to invade on April 10. A German ship sailed into Oslo by night with four crack commando teams, tasked with capturing the radio station, the parliament, the King, and the gold reserves. Due to a commendable initiative by the Norwegians – worthy of a story in itself – only the first two teams succeeded; there was time for the King and the gold reserves to leave Oslo for an unknown destination. Åndalsnes nowadays is a touristy little coastal village, with flat agricultural land and a cafe that sticks out onto the water.

We came by bus into Molde. In the town centre there is a huge underground cavern, shown above. This is now a car park, but it came in very handy in April 1940, for the storage of any kings and gold reserves that might have been in the vicinity – before the British came to collect them. The local ferry company has put up this memorial, in front of the ship in the town’s park:

“The Møre & Romsdal Ferry boats carried the king, Norwegian and British troops, and the gold holdings, in the early morning of 11 April 1940. MRF also provided crews and equipment to help the #11 infantry regiment. On April 17-25 fifteen of our largest boats put British troops ashore at Åndalsnes. All missions were carried out without loss of personnel, despite constant German attacks.”

The wartime atmosphere was distinctly icy in Norway; they invented the term “the cold shoulder”. Vidkun Quisling collaborated with the Nazis to run the country. This is the prison wall, where he was shot in 1945:

King Haakon VII spent the whole of the war in Britain, broadcasting to his people in Norway. Every year since, in gratitude, the tallest tree in Oslo is felled, sent to London, and put up in Trafalgar Square. A post-Brexit Britain could form a powerful economic and cultural alliance with Norway – just like in Viking times – but the Norwegians don’t need to bother.

Molde also has a football team; during our stay they were at home playing Stuttgart in the UEFA league and the morale in the town was incredible, fans in the streets, cars honking all day, etc. Everyone was delighted at such an important European team visiting. When Molde scored two goals to level the score, the atmosphere in the streets was right off the planet. But 6 minutes later it went much quieter when Stuttgart scored a third goal and proceeded to win 2-3. We went out for dinner; the streets were eerily empty, and we were the only people dining.

Yes, Molde was a very quiet place. And very peaceful, except I suppose for football fans burning in anguish at losing. We spent 3 days here. Our motel room had a view out over the sea; the 9 pm ferry passed right outside the window.

We spent a day walking in the hills. Nearby, although we didn’t see these, is the silly hairpinny road of Trollstigen, and a sheer mountain wall Trollveggen that is iconic among mountaineers.

Route #1 is the easy way up. Routes #2-#9 are the fastest ways down. Preferably with a soft landing on the snow at the bottom. My last picture shows what the Eiffel Tower would look like, if it were brought here and placed on a miraculous and invisible platform, and if a large black sign were erected beside it.

Cheese

2019-12-29

Some stories about cheese – a foodstuff that predates recorded history. Jars of cheese (well, whatever it was, it’s cheese now) were found at Saqqara, predating the building of the Pyramids. The Odyssey (8th century BC) describes the farming activities of a Cyclops: “We soon reached his cave, but he was out shepherding, so we went inside and took stock of all that we could see. His cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses, and he had more lambs and kids than his pens could hold…” – note that the cheese is mentioned first.

Despite its ancient origin, the first manufacturing of cheese on a large scale was in Switzerland in 1815, and more successfully in the USA in 1851. “A large scale” might be what they weighed it on, but it would not be big enough for a whale; you’d have to take that to a whale-weigh station. Pies, on the other hand, are best weighed in yet another place: somewhere over the rainbow (“… weigh a pie…”)

SKEPTICAL CHEESE

Crikey, I have digressed already. I was going to describe the recent Skeptics Conference when I billeted three skeptical guests in my house, who developed an unfounded belief – and odd thing for skeptics to do – that, despite evidence to the contrary, there was not enough cheese in my house. We all rushed out and bought as much cheese as possible, from three different Cheese Shops.

I am still trying to chomp my way through the 10-12 different sorts that arose. Yesterday I sprinkled the Parmesan on some food while dining outdoors, but evidently a breeze was blowing because today I found specks of cheese on the table, the fierce Melbourne sunshine having driven out the oil, which had sunk into the wood of the table top. Curses!

MARITAL CEREMONY CHEESE

At my daughter’s wedding – you should have come to that, if you want to be in my gang – there was no Wedding Cake but instead an artefact was presented to the guests that consisted entirely of cheese. (terrible grammar) It had three round tiers, was wedding-cake sized and shaped and consequently contained about enough cheese to sink a battleship, as my mother would say. The uneaten cheese was later chopped up into about 20 portions and frozen, and 4 months later the family is still trying to eat its way through these.

Hey, if ever you’re (a) in Kyneton and (b) short of cheese, do drop in to see them. But now, let me tell tales of some cheeses of the world.

SWISS WATCH CHEESE

Here’s a Swiss Watch whose casing is made of the finest Swiss Cheese, as a homage to all things Swiss and a protest at the inflated prices of silly wristwatches. The watchmakers H.Moser had trouble finding a cheese hard enough – and expensive enough, as the watch costs [intake of breath] 1,081,291 CHF (A$1,587,746). The price is really a reference to the founding date of Switzerland: 1 August 1291. They made only one such watch. Perhaps they ran out of cheese.

RUSSIAN CHEESE

After the troubles in the Crimea in 2014, the rest of Europe embargoed all export of dairy products to Russia. Putin responded with contempt and even ordered the bulldozing of existing imported dairy stocks within Russia:

There was an immediate cheese panic; some smuggled cheese came in from Finland, in car tyres (I hope, in the spare tyres) –

– and a year later, a gang of cheese smugglers was caught and their stockpile of 470 tons of cheese, most of it carefully and fraudulently mis-labelled, was destroyed.

Meanwhile, some enterprising Russians have begun a legitimate, hugely successful cheese-making enterprise. They are so happy with Mr Putin and his embargo that they have dedicated a new cheese to him – with his name carved into the rind –

– but all attempts to present a round of his cheese to him have failed. At maybe 100 different Putin events, the cheese-bearing manager has wangled his way in, but every time Putin’s security staff have promptly confiscated the offending fromage. They must be getting tired of feasting on it, after hours.

NORWEGIAN GOAT CHEESE

Gjetost is a very nice, brown, slice-able cheese made from Norwegian goat’s milk. They make it only in Norway, because that’s where Norwegian goats are found – along the fjords. Because if the goats were up on the fjäll and not in the fjords, they’d wander over to Sweden where the food is cheaper, and become Swedish goats, and who wants Swedish goat cheese? Thinking of Norway, I’d better resume my account of our Norway trip of 2010 … must get around to that. When I have finished writng about cheese. And the mention of fjords, and cheese, inevitably leads me to this –

VENEZUELAN BEAVER CHEESE

The celebrated Monty Python cheese shop sketch was written by Graham Chapman, but John Cleese and most of the Pythons did not find it funny at all, except for Michael Palin, who laughed so much that he actually fell to the floor. The above-named cheese is the only fictional one among the 43 cheeses named in the sketch. In a later on-stage version Cleese added “Stinking Bishop” to the end of the list – a real cheese that was invented after 1972. The audience, knowing by heart and having mentally ticked off all of the 43 cheeses, roared with joy at this departure from the canonical script.

In a two-player game derived from the sketch, the Customer has to name different sorts of cheese, and for each one the Shopkeeper must give a fresh excuse as to why he doesn’t have any.

CHEESE IN SPACE

The first flight of Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket carried a secret payload. Speculation ran riot … but after a successful landing this was recovered and found to consist of cheese. It is the only sample of cheese that has been into space.

Or, for a spaced-out cheese, you can 3-D print your own cheese, adding as many holes as you like:

ASTRONOMICAL CHEESE

If there are no clouds (and no Moon) it’s good to sit under the night sky and look at the stars; in summer you can hang around in a T-shirt all evening. The Astronomical Society of Victoria has a dark-sky site near Heathcote in mid-Victoria, with big telescopes, a radiotelescope, kitchen and accommodation. ASV members go there to get away from the Melbourne street lights (and before they get to the Bendigo street lights). Last December I booked the on-site accommodation and went up there on my motorbike with no telescope, but I brought binoculars, star-charts, folding chair, a nice bottle of red wine, and cheese and crackers. It was a very hot day so my poor wine was like hot coffee, and of my three sorts of cheese, one melted and one was unsuitable for handling in total darkness. However, I enjoyed the Cheddar. The stars and galaxies were wonderful to behold, I drank the bottle of wine and then I observed many double stars, and the Tahbilk Nebula. I wrote an article for the ASV magazine about this experience, with guidelines for an astronomical cheese policy. Basically, you want a firm cheese that does not make crumbs and that you can cut and handle in the dark. This was a polished and wonderful article and I was going to submit it for December’s magazine this year, but meanwhile the ASV committee, noting that people were having fun up there, has banned alcohol from the observing area.

A MISERABLE NEW YEAR

This reminds me of what happened in Edinburgh Gardens – a large public park near my house. One New Year’s Eve, 15,000 revellers turned up and on 1 January there were huge piles of bottles and litter, no extra bins having been provided. It cost $30,000 to clear it all up. The City of Yarra council anguished over this – the local residents, especially the very rich ones living around the edge of the park, were furious – so, a year later, they hired fencing and security guards and closed off the whole park. This cost $240,000. And nobody had any fun. Anyway, a Happy New Year (and decade) to both my readers.

Orycteropus Afer

2019-12-22

Those who know me personally, will surely know of my obsession with the first animal in the encyclopedia, orycteropus afer, the humble aardvark.

Where this particular obsession came from I do not know, I’ve had it since at least 1983, but in mid 2019 Barbro and myself booked a holiday in southern Africa where we expected to see all the major animals: lion, rhinoceros, elephant, zebra, capybara, nilgai, walrus, nematode worm, gryphon, roc, dhole, etc. and of course there’d be a chance, on a dark night and near some ants, to meet an aardvark in person (or, more accurately, in aardvark).

In all the South African tourist places, the street stalls have huge displays of animal models:

As I wrote earlier, these displays take 2-3 hours to set up and the same to take down again, and there is never any model of an aardvark. Not much call for one, they would say, but I am calling for one, and word travels fast so as I walked all over Cape Town, every stall holder was shouting “aardvark! aardvark!” at me. Here’s some fridge magnets, and last of all, right at the end, a single orycteropus afer appears and concludes the display.

You can see why nobody makes an aardvark model – the animal is incredibly ugly, with huge snout, ears, and tail, which would easily break off if modelled. The museum in Swakopmund had a stuffed one:

My hopes soared when we came to the Kalahari Reserve and this kid’s letter was on display at the ticket office:

And as we crossed the reserve, and indeed all over the veldt, we passed very many ant hills, a delectation of the animal now under discussion which must therefore appear in abundant numbers when it is dark. Note the holes in the anthill in the second photo.

And that last, grey anthill also has many holes where aardvarks have been putting their snout and tongue in. It is possible that several animals dine at once, in which case there must be some sort of etiquette as the tongues meet inside the mound. A sort of afer-linguoidal version of ‘footsie’. The tongues, being very long and thin like a shoelace, could get entangled, leading to social excuse-me’ing, tut-tutting and implications of a possible later sexual liaison. One may imagine the scene … but preferably one should not, because (a) it would be dark and (b) this is a family blog.

The lowly status of this solitary nocturnal animal is reflected in the placing of the only book I could find, which was in a kids’ bookshop …

… in an obscure dark corner, away from the other books. All our tour guides emphasised that because aardvarks are nocturnal, very shy, and have amazing senses of hearing and smell which can detect a human at 10000 paces – especially a noisy, smelly human – it was going to be difficult to see one. So imagine my joy, in the Okavango Delta, at coming across an actual burrow with the animal deep within it –

Here I waited and waited, in joyous anticipation of antagonising the anteater in the burrow’s anteroom. (I looked in the dictionary). But this was in the heat of the afternoon, a long time until midnight, and I was noisy and smelly.

So, despite my decades-long obsession with the aardvark, which has traumatised my children and earned the derision of my colleagues, despite extensive travel in the animal’s homeland, despite being chased across Cape Town by failed aardvark vendors, despite my buying the fridge magnet and the kids’ book, the aardvark was not given to me. Curses!! I am doomed to spend my life without ever seeing this animal of my fevered, manic dreams.

How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

2019-12-17

The universe holds many mysteries, including why fitted sheets exist, and how to fold one. These questions are of course predicated on the assumption that fitted sheets exist, and undoubtedly they do because we have several in our house. Why they are there, I do not know, so we’ll have to move on to the second question. This of course begs the question as to whether fitted sheets NEED to be folded at all; I am happy to bunch them up and throw them into the cupboard, hastily closing the door. But I perceive there is a mental challenge here, worthy of the inquiring intellect, so let’s see how to do it.

My dear wife and myself collaborate to fold our sheets after they have been washed, every Christmas. On this festive occasion, we grab a corner each – of the sheet, that is – and having verified that we are not holding diagonal corners we proceed to fold the sheet in half, in half again, and then lengthwise at which point my wife ends up holding the entire sheet and I leave her alone to finish the folding and put the sheet in the cupboard, wherever that is.

That’s for a plain sheet; for a fitted sheet, we don’t even know whether to hold it at the corners or where the seams end, the internal corners as it were, and the process usually ends up with her holding the whole thing and looking confused and lost. Or maybe she is just bewildered by existential despair, and is wondering why she ever married a man who has no idea how to fold a fitted sheet. So now I have done what any real man would do – I googled it and looked at Youtube videos, mostly featuring cute ladies in the bedroom. With a sheet. A fitted sheet.

In this video the lady stands like an avenging angel:

You see, you put each hand into a corner and hold it up, and the hangy bit in front MUST hang that way round, with the pocket away from you. The sheet then sort of folds itself in a miraculous few seconds.

Another video is much more to my liking – You just have to watch this one, to appreciate this way of folding sheets. Everybody else puts the sheet on a table at one point, but our table has clutter on it so this method might work for me. Her end result looks like the one that I did earlier.

Teresa Sanderson points out that you must take the sheet out of the washer/dryer first. That’s a good idea. But while the sheet is spinning in the dryer, if you were to force the door open and poke a stick in wouldn’t the sheet wrap itself around the stick?

Here’s a mathematician (in a very nice but echo-y house) folding a fitted sheet. At 1:24 he points out that since he already has a folded fitted sheet in front of him, this sheet must have earlier been folded. I will give the proof: Let F be a folded fitted sheet. Then F is folded. And F is a fitted sheet. Therefore, F is a folded fitted sheet, Q.E.D.

His method is very logical:

  1. You go out and BUY a fitted sheet
  2. Note that it comes already folded, in the packet.
  3. Therefore, you can unfold it, carefully, and see how the folding was done.
  4. Following those steps in reverse, you then fold it again.
  5. Voila, a folded fitted sheet.
  6. If step 5 is a scruffy result, cheer up because you had the answer in step 2.

To close with a quote that I saw the other day, but I can’t find the source again. “Would I do that? Would I do that? I’d rather have my teeth pulled … I’d rather fry in hell – look, I’d rather put a duvet into a duvet cover.”

Frantic Weekend

2019-12-01

Been awhile since the last post, eh … part of the reason being that my mate Richard came down from Sydney for a few days, and we had a frantic Blokes Weekend. After finding a coffee in a hitherto unexplored suburb on the way in from the airport, we headed for COSTCO, where we spent $477. Or rather, he spent it – he has a Costco card and I don’t, so he had to pay for everything. I can thoroughly recommend not having a Costco card. Bought vodka, whisky, food, computer gear, and peanuts, which come only in 40-oz drums (1.13 kg) …

… and Vegemite, which comes only in 1-kg buckets; I bought one 2 years ago and have just finished it off, with supreme dedication and effort. In the evening there was a Mexican evening at Melbourne Uni, $80 for all you can eat and drink. We tried to get our money’s worth … I think (memory is a bit hazy). The next day we got a tram and train to Oasis Bakery (Richard thinks the Melbourne public transport system is cute and efficient), plundered numerous Op Shops and $2 shops, bought a garden hose in ALDI, bought a mobile phone case and a magnetic holder in a shopping mall, bought a new pair of spectacles at the Reject Shop (these are very good, and only $3), and in the evening we scoffed a terrific Sri Lankan meal, all you can eat for $15, and yes we got our money’s worth, but we still hoe’d into the peanuts when we got home.

Next morning, we went out to find some bread, the local bakery does a good Big Breakfast so we had that, but then only some tatty little loaves were left on sale, we bought one of those but then we diverted to pass another bakery on the way home, where we bought another loaf. Which, when we got home, we proceeded to eat all of. Along with more peanuts. Went out to tour some book shops, and I bought 4-5 books. Had a brilliant Pakistani curry in the evening, and watched parts 1-3 of Chernobyl, drinking the vodka of course. One needs to get into the vibe of these Russian films.

Then Richard took a fancy to my fridge magnets, so after another giant breakfast (pulled pork burger, eggs on toast) we got the 86 tram to the local Magnet Shop …

… which is cunningly disguised as a Rug Shop, but don’t let the rugs scare you off, and bought a dozen or so magnets. Now, that 86 tram takes you everywhere – to Smith St, where we had lunch at Nando’s and went into the classy Op Shops nearby, then to the Melbourne Museum where we spent the afternoon. Outside it, in the pouring rain, there was a surreal Work of Art possibly called “Umbrellas”.

Normally umbrellas are held open in the rain, but these were all closed. The story was, that there was a major Year 12 Exam being held in the historic building behind, the schoolkids all turned up with umbrellas but were not allowed to bring them in. At teatime we got yet another 86 tram, into the city to visit Jaycar Electronics, then we interviewed Michelle, of Victorian Skeptics, for Richard’s blog …

… came home and played with my M-209 cipher machine, surfed the web and downloaded the M-209 application, had a giant BBQ of fish, watched the rest of Chernobyl and finished the bottle of vodka, moving on to severely deplete my best whisky. And we finished off that 1.13 kg drum of peanuts.

On the final (and peanut-free) morning I took Richard to the airport, but we saw an urgent post on the local Facebook page from a lady asking how to remove the shop’s tag from her son’s new jacket. She brought it around and we tried with our new magnets, with the help of microscopes, Youtube help pages, zoomed digital photos, hammer and chisel, etc. After two hours of effort, we had 100% failure so she took it back to the shop, which might have been a better idea in the first place.

Whew, what a weekend! The weather was stinking hot (40*), then cold (we put the house heating on), with torrential rain, hail, and howling gales. And then hot again. This was a couple of weeks ago, however there’s a Skeptics Conference coming up in 5 days so now Richard is coming back for a whole week! Arrrghh!

Nothing is Impossible

2019-11-04

They say that nothing is impossible, but that is not true – I have done nothing on this blog for a whole month! The Norway ride for June 2020 is now fully booked out. I will restart the blog any day now. Meanwhile, here are two trays among the 10-15 trays of fish in the breakfast buffet in a Norway hotel in 2010.

Bicycle tour UPDATE – early Oct 2019

2019-10-08

Further details have now come in from the tour company. The tour cost has been reduced to A$5,800 per person. Start date is 14 June 2020 at Tromsø; a second group would start on 20 June.

Click this link to see the full tour details:  NNorway day by day.pdf

There are still vacancies at this time. So far we have 10 bookings; if we end up with less than 20 then the second group will be cancelled. The tour bookings will be finalised by 7th November, whereupon a $300 deposit will be requested; the remainder of the cost in April 2020.

Somebody who has just done this ride in 2019 has written a most excellent blog, which you can visit by CLICKING HERE. She had 13 days of sunshine before it rained!

Norway is an expensive country but this tour is excellent value and must be by far the cheapest way to visit it! There will be 24-hour daylight with views of the Midnight Sun, weather permitting – but due to that, you will not see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – that is for winter only.

Extension tours before/after the ride come to mind include: boat or train to Trondheim, cute train to Molde, boat to Bergen then train Bergen to Oslo with cute extension to Flaam, boat to Narvik then train to Kiruna (in the far north of Sweden) … Your flight will go via one of Oslo, Helsinki, London or Frankfurt. You can easily fly to Spitsbergen, Iceland, the Faroes or Shetland, etc. The Nobel-prized author Knut Hamsun set his stories in a totally cute fishing village just north of Bødø, which you can ride to.

The riding is easy/medium (40-60 km per day) with no big hills – 200m at worst, although the bridges over the sea have a mighty hilly shape. The ride is self-guided – there is no leader and we will not meet anyone from the tour company (and there is no sag wagon). There are 12 road tunnels on the ride, all excellent condition and fully lit; you trigger a warning sign to motorists that a bike is in the tunnel. The route is mainly coastal, with little traffic; it goes over low passes among the wild mountains of Arctic Norway, so hard riders can ride up and down those if they wish, or ride over the hills instead of using the tunnels.

The overall cost of $5,800 will include:

* Maps, tour descriptions
* Hotel 1 night in Tromsø
* Bike hire with pannier (e-bike extra $500)
* Luggage transfer every day
* 13 twin-room accommodations and breakfasts
* 12 packed lunches and thermos of coffee
* 12 evening dinners
* Bicycle ferries between the islands
* Packed lunch, hotel and farewell dinner in Bødø
* A refundable contingency allowance of about $300.

If you don’t want any of the above, the cost of the item will be refunded. Please call me 0414 991231 or email steve(at)steveroberts.com.au to express interest in this tour.

 

BICYCLE TOUR 2020 – Arctic Norway

2019-09-09

Barbro and Steve Roberts (0414 991 231) have arranged a two-week bicycle tour in Norway, all above the Arctic Circle, under the Midnight Sun, in June 2020. The tour is for Whitehorse Cyclists members only.

The riding will be easy/medium – 40-60 km per day (but you can ride all day and night) – e-bikes are available but the highest elevation we will reach is like 200 metres o.s.l. – the ride mostly follows the coast and goes through passes between the tall mountains. Weather is changeable, from sunny to seriously overcast, and can be rainy – the land sticks out into the North Atlantic Ocean – temperatures hover around +12ºC but do not go below zero at night. There will be 24-hour daylight, with views of the Midnight Sun when the clouds happen to clear.

The tour is self-guided – they provide the bike and the maps, they book the hotels for us, and they bring our suitcases to the hotels. The tour starts in Tromsø and ends in Bodø; see previous posts on this blog for our own visit to these places in 2010. You can fly to these cities via Helsinki or Oslo, or get the train, or the Hurtigruten coastal ferry. There are many options for extension tours before & after the bike tour, including to Bergen, Oslo, Iceland, or remote Svalbard (Spitsbergen).

This tour is a private copy of two commercial tours – click on the company’s pages: Arctic Coast and Lofotens. There are also good independent videos of the actual tours, cycled and described by the widely travelled Darren Alff: click HERE and HERE.

There will be two groups of riders; the respective tour dates are 14-27 June, and 21 June – 3 July 2020. The itinerary will be:

  • Starts: Tromsø – Quality Hotel Saga
  • Sommarøy – Arctic Hotel
  • Mefjord – Brygge
  • Hamn i Senja
  • Marmelkroken
  • Sortland Hotel
  • (we can’t stay in Svolvaer – already booked out)
  • Nyvågar – Rorbu cabins
  • Gimsøysand – Lofoten Links Lodges
  • Kremmervika – Rorbu cabins
  • Reine – Rorbu cabins
  • Bodø – a hotel – tour ends

The hire bikes are left at Bodø. The Rorbu cabins sleep 4 in comfort and we generally stay 2 nights in each cabin.

Ballpark figure for the cost is AUD $7,000 plus $2,000 for return air fare. This includes bike hire, ALL THE FOOD!, ferries, and luggage transport every day. Extras that are not included: single room supplement, alcohol, insurance, e-bike.

Expressions of Interest are now sought (click to email me) and must be in by 31 October; the two tour groups will then be formed from those chosen and announced on 7 November.

Bodø

2019-09-09

We caught the jet boat from Svolvaer and arrived in Bodo at 9am; our train would leave here at midnight. Now, what to do for 15 hours in Bodo? The main street looked cute:

And there was a kids’ paddling pool with a walrus in it:

Of course, the pool would freeze over in the winter. Two churches, damaged by the Nazis and rebuilt during the post-war austerity of the 1950s (when Norway was a poor, backward country – very hard to believe now):

The font in one church has that natty Font Cover, and apparently there is a light globe under the font, not for illuminating the Nether Regions, but because the water in the font freezes over in winter and they were having to crack through the ice to baptize anyone. Actually, those incandescent heat-emitting light globes are very non-PC now, so there should be some other way of heating the font by now – and carbon neutral, I hope. By burning wood, maybe – which, surprisingly, is carbon neutral as the trees absorb CO2 as they grow – the priest could stoke it up and preach a sermon on the Fires of Hell. (A town called Hell being just down the road, near Trondheim.) And cook up some soup, or make a fondue.

Inside, the church has an austere Lutheran decor, and the two dates when the church was consecrated on this site are in Roman numerals over the side chapel entrance. The two dates: 1030 and 1955.

But what else to do? I bought a Bag of Prawns for lunch, and ate them all.

I recalled our honeymoon in Trondheim, just south of here, in 1977 – yes that is me, a much younger and more abstemious man, eating (or, strictly, savouring and about to eat) a single prawn, from the bag which was the only food we could afford to buy in the 2-week trip. We had brought cans of beans over from England, and we lived off those.

But back to Bodo … having seen the church and the paddling pool with a walrus in it, and having scoffed all the prawns in a prodigal orgy of 21st-century gluttony, what else do to? We went into the tourist office. “Not much to do here” they said. “Have you seen the church and the paddling pool with the walrus in it? Oh. Well, the only other thing is to go and watch the tide coming in.”

So, we got a local bus to the bridge of Saltstraumen, 30 km away, beneath which the strongest tidal current in the world flows twice a day, and we gazed upon the Maelstrom. Not a maelstrom – The Maelstrom. Great eddies and whirlpools of water all over the fjord – an unforgettable sight.

There was that man in his little row-boat – but when he saw the whirlpools he fled like a bat out of hell –

Every day of this trip, there was a little miracle. Yesterday, Dopey executed by Hitler; today, this. Tomorrow, Andalsnes, then Molde and Bergen .. but we now interrupt this blog to describe my Arctic Norway Bicycle Tour of 2020, which is just now being finalised.

Svolvaer, in the Lofoten Islands

2019-09-08

The Lofoten Islands stick out sharply into the Atlantic Ocean, and Svolvaer is their biggest town. You can ride a bike to Reine and Å – yes a village called Å, which they speak of with ‘awe’ … but we had no transport so were stuck in Svolvaer; we arrived by boat and left by jet-foil two days later. It was a cute town, with a market square in which a sort of small fun-fair and market was operating.

All around the town, covering the countryside, were huge wooden fish drying racks. But our visit was not during the fish season, because they were all empty. Or maybe nobody dries fish like that any more. It is probably illegal.

There were many wooden fishermen’s buildings and wooden walkways between them, even on poles over the water (saving on land tax?) from the old fishing days when the town must have been a frantic, bustling hive of activity.

Oddly, there was a very good World War 2 Museum here. Norway of course was occupied by Germany on 7 April 1940 but continued to run sort of normally, with Germans being given the “cold shoulder” by the locals (this is where that expression comes from). More of that anon, but the museum had a lot of WW2 stuff, with many personal things pertaining to the way of life during the occupation. Here’s the tea kettle from a sunk British battleship, and a shell casing from the guns of the Scharnhorst.

And Christmas tree baubles with swastika and SS symbol … how very festive … Baubles with Christmassy pictures of Stalingrad would not have sold very well. But look what you can find at art auctions –

– this Alpine view for example, signed in 1940 by A.Hitler, a minor artist. When the picture was taken out of its frame, watercolour sketches of Pinocchio, Dopey, Bashful and Doc were found hidden behind it.

Hitler was very fond of Snow White – everybody was – and owned his own copy of the film from 1938 (well, from 1938 until 1945). He apparently wished that the Germans would make films like that. I would strongly agree … Pinocchio, Dopey, Bashful and Doc were executed by Hitler in 1938, as indeed were a number of other people.

If only the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts had been kinder in awarding their scholarships in 1907 and 1908 … these sketches were gifted to Eva Braun and eventually were stored in the tunnels under the Obersalzberg. I don’t know what these sketches were doing in the very good Lofoten War Memorial Museum, in Svolvaer, but there they were. Being a sort of Hitler aficionado, imagine how I felt when I came upon them at random.

Tromsø to Svolvaer

2019-09-06

Tromsø is on its own little island, and the airport is only about 5km from the town (look at the scale at bottom right). Even then, when we flew back in from Svalbard, I thought I’d be stingy and get the public bus instead of the expensive taxi. So we piled onto the #45 bus at the airport, it trundled off into the suburbs and then the driver stopped, in the middle of nowhere, as one of the two bus doors would not open. He then decreed the bus to be undriveable and threw all the passengers out, into the tundra. (And drove off.) So we got our taxi after all. On top of the bus fare.

This is one of the many Hurtigruten ferries, and it is unique in being the only one to be on land instead of the usual “in the water” mode of travel. We travelled by Hurtigruten ferry – (not this one – another one) … and by taxi, as you will see, from Tromso to Svolvaer.

I must say that these names are difficult to type correctly: T,r,o,m,s,o falls off the keyboard in the wrong order, and has an ‘ø’ in it (Norwegian for ‘island’), and Svolvaer is not only impossible to spell or type but has the letter ‘æ’ in it. “vær” in Old Norse means “fishing village” and “svalr” means “chilly, cold” – be warned.

The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters, 3 extra, like Swedish. These are æ, ø, å, and of course they have to be written differently from the Swedish å, ä, ö – and in the wrong order. On top of that, there are two Norwegian languages – Bokmål (“”book tongue”) and Nynorsk (“new Norwegian”) and people have to be educated in both. This map shows where the two forms are spoken –

– and the grey areas are where something else is spoken. Norway is a long, thin country and the black areas, being outside Norway, do not matter, being either underwater or part of Sweden.

So. We boarded our Hurtigruten ferry at midnight and steamed off southwards. We had a cabin with two bunk beds, but in the morning Barbro fell out of the upper one (which was quite difficult, as the cabin was only a few inches wider than the bunk beds in it) and broke a finger. “Hmmm” said the Purser, who must have coped with this crisis before “You can get off the boat at Risoyhamn, get it looked at by the local doctor, then get a taxi to Stormarknes and pick up this boat again from there, 3 hours later.” The map below shows the Hurtigruten ferry route. I have marked where Oslo and Stockholm are, but Hurtigruten haven’t.

This Cunning Plan went well, except we had to wait to be seen at the bush clinic at Risoyhamn, so we were in a panic in the taxi. But we made it by a few minutes. And, the taxi fare was … er … $400.

The ferry steamed its way between the islands. The view and weather changed by the hour; here are some views, covering a time span of 3 hours; the first one is kind of abstract.

Here’s one of several bridges between the islands. This is relevant to cyclists because climbing up such bridges will be among the steeper slopes on the 2020 bike ride; we won’t get much higher than that! There is hardly any traffic, or none, and the view from the top of the bridge will be very good and then you can voom down the other side, preferably without falling off as I did in Sardinia.

The ferry diverted to go up a narrow fjord –

– with that father saying “Look over this way son, it is safer”. And we finally arrived in Svolvaer, at tea time. The main things to see here, apart from the spectacular scenery, are the historical WW2 museum and the fish drying racks. Yes, the fish drying racks. More of these things anon.

Tromsø, and giants

2019-09-06

Norway is a land of giants – a southern part of the country is actually called Jotunheimen. There is a strong folk belief in trolls, as scary, large, and dangerous beings; photographic accidents like this one do not help.

Some Norwegians are giants of stature rather than height. Fritjof Nansen pioneered the exploration of the North and South Poles, and was awarded the Nobel Prize, but that was for doing something else. Roald Amundsen beat Capt Scott to the South Pole, and came back not only alive but slightly heavier and fatter than when he set out, having ridden all the way by dog sledge and never having pulled a sledge himself. Thor Heyerdahl wanted to sail a raft across the Pacific Ocean, and was forbidden and told that it couldn’t possibly succeed, but he went ahead and did it anyway.

More of these three men later – their ships are displayed in Oslo – but for now I note that every Norwegian city has its memorials to them. The Nansen memorial here is in a little city park with an eerie silver octopus nearby, so you can give him a funny hat.

Harken now to the story of local lad Eidis Hansen. He was a sickly baby and unwell boy – his parents often came to the church to pray that he would survive and grow up, and they conferred a chandelier to the church in gratitude when their prayers were heard; Eidis grew up and became a fisherman. After one multi-day fishing trip he landed here in town, exhausted and with a sailor’s thirst, but was refused a drink at the pub. Angry, he went down to the shoreline, picked up this red granite rock and dumped it in the doorway of the pub.

The rock weighs 371 kg. And, (after getting his drink) Eidis lived to be 93 years old.

We spent a couple of nights in quite a good Tromsø hotel, on the main street and then we flew to Longyearbyen for a two-week cruise around Svalbard (Spitsbergen), of which more another time. Flew back to Tromsø and got the Hurtigruten ferry overnight to Svolvaer, in the Lofoten Islands – which is where my 2020 bike tour will go too. Here comes our ferry, at midnight. What sights and adventures are to come – and will await my riders in 2020?

Tromsø city

2019-09-04

The photo at the top of all my blog pages is Tromsø Cathedral, built in 1965; here’s the inside:

A massive church organ was installed in 2005, and after attending a concert at midnight one night we walked back into the city, over the bridge that you see in the photo. The sky was cloudy but there was a clear strip along the horizon, so when the sun came down low, its golden dusky sunlight suddenly streamed over the bridge and cathedral. But here’s some more pictures; this is Tromsø’s main drag:

Notice the traffic – there isn’t any. There is a major university (thus, there is a very active social and night life in the city) and an extensive Botanical Gardens, with polar flowers.

The polar regions do have an abundant plant and animal life, but the trees and flowers are quite small. (The trees can be just a few centimetres high; standing on apparently bare ground, you suddenly realise that you are standing in a forest.)

Tromsø has a very good Polar Museum, with relics of Engineer Andree’s disastrous Balloon Expedition to the North Pole (1897), and an art gallery:

Yes, it is supposed to look like that … I built a chook shed once that looked a bit like that, but I got no Architectural Design Prize for it; they all laughed instead.

Arctic Norway – Tromsø

2019-09-03

Tromsø (pop 75,000) is the third largest city anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, after Murmansk (rapidly shrinking) and Noril’sk (you don’t want to go there). You fly via Oslo or Helsinki to get to it, or you can get a (slow) train all the way up the coast, or use the Hurtigruten ferries which ply up and down the whole coast of Norway, every day. The city is prosperous, and the population is increasing rapidly. It has a major university that specialises in Arctic, atmospheric, and global studies.

Norway is a wonderfully well-organised, rich and stable country, split off from being a part of Sweden until 1905. From North Sea oil they have paid off all their national debts, and are channelling their oil money into a public fund that can be used only for public projects; every Norwegian man, woman and child is thereby a millionaire. Nothing needs to be subsidised and some things are taxed, so certain things are expensive in Norway – a cup of coffee is about $8 and a civilised steak dinner $50, plus beer at $15 a glass. Cheap house wine is $80 a bottle. If you have to ask what proper wine costs, you probably can’t afford it.

Barbro and myself, having travelled to Sweden many times (I think I’ve been there 22 times – in 1991 I passed a job interview in Swedish and was offered the job) decided we would make a proper tour of Norway, some years ago. So we flew to Oslo and Tromsø, made our way along the coast all the way down to Bergen and then by train back across to Oslo. We also did a two-week cruise around Svalbard (Spitsbergen), which is a separate story. Now I am going to organise a Bicycle Tour, starting out of Tromsø in June 2020, and this is why I am writing this trip up now.

Tromsø is well above the Arctic Circle, so there is 24-hour daylight in the summer. Its local climate is warmer than you might think, due to the Gulf Stream. Here’s the city and harbour at midnight, and the iconic statue of a fisherman, with smaller depictions of his boat & family:

The city can have a bizarre atmosphere – it has all the shops and cafes of a major city, plus an intense night life partly fuelled by the university students but when you walk around the streets and visit the harbour in daylight at 2 am, there is nobody about.

And, the manhole covers have a reindeer on them.

Existentialist Algebra

2019-09-02

Problem: A flock of sheep stands in a field. One-third of them jump over the fence, 1/5 of the remainder are eaten by wolves, the neighbouring farmer steals half of those left, and then one sheep is abducted by a UFO, leaving 3 sheep. How many sheep were originally in the field?

The Master begins: Let X be the number of sheep in the field.

Acolyte: Master, a question already vexes me.

Master: Ask me your question.

Acolyte: What if X is not the number of sheep in the field?

.

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But this blog page is just a marker to re-start the blog … I have also delayed the forthcoming posts, already written “Manhole Covers of South Africa” and “Things to See in Abu Dhabi” and “Tasmania Motorbike Trip” and “Foghorns of the Bass Strait” – because I am suddenly planning an overseas ride for my Bicycle Club, starting in Tromsø, and I want to write now about a trip to those places, that we have actually done. So hang in here for a series of posts about northern Norway!

And if you want a picture, look at the top of this post! That is Tromsø Cathedral, photographed at 1 o’clock in the morning. I’ve been using that picture for years, so I’ll be taking a fresh photo of it, at 1 a.m. on 14 June 2020.

My Electric Planer

2019-08-24

First, let me recall the joke about the Norwegian who brought his new chainsaw back to the shop “You said this would cut 50 trees in a day, but I can only do 3 or 4.” “Let’s have a look at it, then” said the shopkeeper, pulling hard on the cord and starting up the motor. “What’s that noise?” said the Norwegian.

Now, here is my electric wood plane. I bought it from my friend Brian, a Scottish Jew, so he drove a hard price … but I loved this electric plane. It didn’t half go, reducing the thickness of wood mightily and showering wood shavings all over the room. You could choose whether to shower them to the left or to the right, but shower them you must.

It planed very well for months, but then one day – one day in February, and it’s now August – there was a loud bang, and then it did not plane so well. I turned the blades down lower, I pushed down harder, I turned the blades down lower still and pushed down harder, but still it was doing a very poor job. I cursed and swore … not behaving much like our Saviour, who was a carpenter in his early life. Although, when he hit his thumb with the hammer he would shout “Ow! Me!”

A brief internal examination of my electric plane showed that the drive belt had snapped, so that the cylinder that holds the blades was not rotating at all. No wonder it was doing such a bad job. Never mind, thought I, tra la la, I will buy a new drive belt. With gladness in my heart I looked on eBay for a spare 96.11-51.6074 toothed drive belt – no hope. Nobody had one.

OK, let’s measure it. 60 teeth, 150mm, 15mm wide. After much searching on eBay I found a vendor of a similar belt. Paid my money, waited two weeks, the belt arrived and with bated breath I fitted it to the planer, or rather, I didn’t because it would not fit, despite having the right number of teeth, separation and width. I re-checked the broken belt and counted the teeth twice more – actually it had now 61 teeth because it was broken, but a judicious reassembly made the end two teeth converge.

So I mulled this over for a month or two, went to Africa, came back, did another web search. Now I found a supplier, a single supplier worldwide who was in Poland, and they had, not the 96.11-51.6074, but a belt just like it that was named as the proper substitute. And for only 90 zloty! I put two belts in the shopping cart, but their web pages were entirely in Polish and I could not find the button that said “pay”; soon, I gave up. Perhaps I should use the Google Chrome browser, which translates web pages automatically. Google Translate failed to render the shopping cart page and I couldn’t be bothered to type out all the Polish text.

But now, in a flash of brilliance I realised that I could search on Google for, not the 96.11-51.6074, but the look-alike Polish belt. And I found a supplier of that belt, guess where, at 149 Heidelberg Road, about 2 km from my house.

I rushed over there, bringing the broken belt plus the belt that did not fit, and was served at the counter by an experienced engineer in a brown workshop coat. He looked at my 96.11-51.6074, scratched his head and said “Never seen anything like it in me life”. And he clearly knew all the code numbers for toothed drive belts, many types of which were displayed at the counter.

So he went away to fetch several books about drive belts, thumbed through these and found a look-alike; went off again and brought a whole foot-long tube of Optibelt ZR-120XL, from which belts of any width could be cut, and sliced off two 15-mm ones for me. After six months, I thought that was $23 well spent.

When we tried putting one of these new belts inside the one that would not fit, and vice versa, we saw that the fit was different. Oh, that’s easy, said the engineer, some belts have teeth separated by exactly 5 mm and some are nominally 5 mm but are actually 5.08 mm (which is exactly 1/5 of an inch) so a 60-tooth belt will be a little bit longer. And these German-made planes are using the 1/5 inch belts! Ha! Ha! When Britain leaves the EU what will they use then, eh?

Rushed home, and the new belt fitted. And the electric plane didn’t half go again. Imagine my joy, as I once again covered the room in vast orgasmic spurts of wood shavings – which was further enhanced by noting that there are still engineering companies out there, with men in brown coats doing actual mechanical work. One day they might be “Naismith Engineering – a branch of Guangdong Chungho Toyohita Ltd” and when you call them up you’d get the computerised voice dispatcher and the run-around, finally speaking to someone in India. Later on there might be no building at all, only a web site. But for now, Naismith Industrial Power Transmission, 149 Heidelberg Road, thank you.

Oklahoma City Manhole Cover

2019-08-21

A brief interlude: Someone sent me this photo of the eponymous manhole cover. A caption around the edge of this item, relates the proud recent history of Oklahoma City, including a visit by the Rolling Stones.

The design on the surface of the cover shows a map of the very city in which it is placed. Furthermore, the white dot shows exactly where it is placed – it’s right outside the Cox Convention Centre on West Sheridan Avenue. I can see it on Google Maps Street View.

If ever I find myself in Oklahoma City, I will easily navigate my way by scrutinising the manhole covers.

If I ever get to the USA, of course. Our kitchen calendar: “Today I have decided to not be afraid of the world!” And the world that he does not fear is a world with Europe, Africa, Russia and Australia – but no USA.

Victoria Falls

2019-08-13

The Africa part of our recent rip ended at Victoria Falls, just over the border into Zimbabwe. We would not have entered the country except to see the falls – it costs US$30 to enter the country, $30 to get into the Falls Reserve, plus another $50 to visit the Zambia side of the falls, plus overnight accommodation and dinner, so Victoria Falls generates quite a revenue.

Nevertheless Zimbabwe, which as Southern Rhodesia was famed for its fabulous wealth from gold, is now an extremely poor and primitive country. At the border post, for example –

– there is chaos, a long queue, the officers sit in a temporary building and they write everything out by hand, there being no computers. What was very apparent, here and at the Vic Falls town, however, was a procession of trucks thundering through, carrying heavy mining equipment into Zambia, and trucks going the other way carrying out metallic copper.

A well-organised National Park surrounds the waterfall itself, and a lot of sutff is named after Dr Livingstone, he of the presumption. Here he is, being shot by tourists.

The waterfalls themselves were very impressive, but apparently at other times of the year they are really, really impressive, with 1,000 tons of water going over per second.

The spray is intense, over to the right in that picture and you would get totally soaked. We had to put on our sou’westers, which were made in NZ South Island and are totally waterproof. About 100 metres away from the ravine, the spray stops quite abruptly. You can see the path is wet where I’m standing but dry, two metres ahead.

The sun shines in a cloudless sky, so the waterfall generates a rainbow at certain angles.

There is even a second rainbow, with reversed colours. It is more visible in that second photo, which I have revved up in Photoshop.

The river at the bottom of the falls runs along a ravine with sheer 150-metre cliffs. People sit on the very edge and take selfies.

Note the safety rail – there isn’t one. But the bodies of those who fall over the edge are soon washed away, into Mozambique.

Six of us took a dinner cruise on the upper waters above the Falls, which look very calm and inviting in daylight. Luckily the boat engine did not fail! We got our dinner, with splendid sunset views (ho hum). A hippo on the bank looked disappointed not to get invited to dinner, but the food was nouvelle-cuisine, after all.

This dinner concluded the Africa part of our recent trip. We spent 6 hours at Johannesburg airport and then spent a 3-day stopover in Abu Dhabi, UAE. There are exactly two things to see in Abu Dhabi, but both are amazing; watch for the next two blog posts. And then my poor overworked blog will sag back into its normal state.

Chobe National Park

2019-08-12

Just south of the point where four countries meet (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia), there’s another national park, this one along the Chobe River which meanders over a flat plain at the bottom of a range of hills. Islands are thereby cut off; Botswana/Namibia disputed the ownership of one of them, which was resolved by Dutchmen from the international court in The Hague.

Our hotel had a huge, lofty roof – look at the sheer length of the cross-beams in this structure; they must be 20 metres. I’ve marked a couple of them.

Professional-looking photographers went out onto the river in a special boat with fixed camera mounts, and some serious photo gear.

The park had the usual bird and animal life, here’s two birds, the first one fluorescent blue (and standing on a scattered elephant turd) –

We did several trips, turning out early (before dawn) for the first one. A pride of 7 or 8 lions wandered by, passing about a metre behind our 4WD car.

Our 4WD’s front bullbar included a handy tray that hinged up, so we could place cups of tea on it.

Later we did a boat trip to visit a dead hippopotamus in the water, with many crocodiles hanging around to feast on it. More crocs were on the river bank … I’ve shown crocs already, so I will just show the dentition of this one.

That tired old croc had its eyes shut, but it opened them and gazed upon me with a weary, baleful stare. I stayed on the boat. Rare two-tone elephants from Botswana crossed the river, thereby becoming Namibian elephants –

– and proceeded to cavort in a mud hole that they visit every day. Elephants have very long eyelashes to protect their eyes, as you can see in this close-up of one that was about 5 metres away.

The park, having water from the Chobe river, has comparatively lush vegetation and trees, which showed some magnificent hues at sunset. I swear that I have not photoshopped these pictures.

Botswana village

2019-08-11

We came out of the Okavango delta, a hard day starting an hour before dawn with a merciless two-hour boat “ride” at 35 kph and very cold. Then all day on the bus at full speed, to go into Botswana. It’s a neat country, entirely within the Kalahari Desert and its laid-back, secure way of life is cutely described in the “No.1 Ladies Detective Agency” books. The roads are pretty awful, and there are tiny villages all along.

Here and there, people sell souvenirs by the roadside – little models of the mokoro canoes, and stuff. You can get letters of the alphabet and spell your name out in canoes, especially if your name is Bezadmp.

After a long, long day we approached the border town of Katima Mulilo, signposted here and also from 800 km away.

One of the great ironies of life is that I downloaded this comical photo in 2002, 17 years ago –

and at that time, and ever since, I have thought that I would never actually get to Katima Mulilo, wherever that might be. But now, I was stomping around the actual town!

We arrived at our camp in the dark and the next day set off to visit a nearby village. This is the hut we slept in –

– and in the night, elephants were roaming all around it (their turds were deposited everywhere) and one of the other huts had a hippopotamus actually underneath it! The hotel reception area had large wooden carvings standing around – a 200kg hippo for example – including this counter-hopping game, often called Mankala. It dates from thousands of years ago and covers all of Africa – boards were found in the Pyramids of Egypt. Around here, the game has 4 rows of 8 pots but I know it as Owari from a trip I did to Liberia in 1981, and there it had two rows of 6 pots. I wasted years of my spare time – 1988 and 1989 mainly – programming my home PC to play this game.

In the morning we visited a village, I did not take too many photos but here’s a typical village hut for a family. They have no money at all, but I would not say that they are poor – the village and surrounding environment provides everything.

And that is a typical garden, with small trees that have to be watered. The left-hand tree is there, not for its fruit, but only because the people like its leaves and flowers. So their life is not as harsh as we would judge it to be. Here’s the centre of the village –

– with animal footprints, but you will see that they keep it tidy and have raked the earth. Here’s Barbro and the guide looking at an elephant footprint –

They are wondering why there is only one footprint! Perhaps the elephant was hopping. Or hang-gliding. The village has a swing for the kids –

It’s broken at the moment, they need another length of blue stuff to make two, but note that it would swing out over the village’s garbage heap. The kids must hang on very tightly.

Okavango – canoe and helicopter rides

2019-08-10

At the camp, deep in the Okavango delta, we did a morning walk, mokoro (canoe) excursion and Barbro took a ride in a helicopter. Here we go into the bush – we keep in single file to minimise ground damage – passing by the base of an 800-year-old baobab tree.

An elephant footprint:

– and that’s elephant poo, from a male animal. How can we tell? Because he’s done a wee as well, and the wee trail is displaced, to the left. Here’s an elephant turd, halfway up a bush (for clarity: the elephant turd is on the right).

I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near there when that was done … now, what left these marks?

Those are the marks of the rare helicopter, in which Barbro took a jaunt; her photo of hippos:

Landscapes of the delta:

That last one looks like you are falling into the Mandelbrot Set … some deer running in the very shallow water, and a line of mokoro canoes being poled along.

We rode in the mokoros; here’s two of the punters:

– and that’s them, after they have found out there will be a hefty tip! Poling along, we came to an open lake:

And those 9 or 10 things in the lake are hippopotamuses. You should have heard the bull hippo roaring – loud and aggressive enough to scare away another bull hippo. They are looking cautiously at our canoes, and are mildly displeased. You not swim in this lake, no no no.

Back on land, many of the trees have a parasitic fig growing up beside them –

When the wind blows, the two trees bend and rub together, and fires can start. Now what have we here…

Not the hat, not the hat – the hole! There is an aardvark living down there! I tried to freak out, but this was as near as I ever got to viewing my most fetishised animal. There will be an aardvark blog post later (no … don’t run away!)

Botswana – the Okavango Delta

2019-08-09

Welcome to Botswana, with its free condoms! We are at the top left corner (where the map has grubby fingermarks) and now we go into the Okavango Delta. The river flows into the delta, and all of its water evaporates, so the land is marshy and the water level fluctuates. The delta is huge – you can see it quite clearly if you fill your screen with the southern half of Africa – and it has a terrific swampland ecology with birds, hippo’s and crocodiles.

We arrived at the river bank, probably HERE (when you look at the map, in Satellite View, you’ll realise how handy what3words can be out here), got into a boat and motored down the river for 84 km – yes, 84 km – viewing crocodiles and hippos on the way. Here’s two fish eagles perched atop a riverbank tree.

Birds in flight:

Two more birds.

The riverbank is lined with papyrus, that’s it growing there. You can peel off the skin in strips and make paper out of it (laboriously), but having done that (or not, as the case may be), you can eat the pith and it tastes like coconut.

We went past a group – a pod, herd, dale or bloat – of hippos, who promptly all queued up and plunged into the river … right beside our boat.

In Egypt, the First Dynasty pharaoh Menes (circa 3100 BCE) got carried away. Well, when you’re the Pharaoh I suppose you can get carried away as much as you like, but poor Menes was carried away by a hippopotamus. He had reigned for 62 years, having disposed of all his enemies, but I bet he never thought he’d go like that. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa – they can run fast, believe it or not, and they are bloody powerful. Two alpha-male hippos will fight to the death if they meet.

The crocodiles must be nearly as bad; we often got this close.

Crikey, look at that dentition, but you will see worse yet. After getting tired of looking at the animals, we tore along at 35 kph for a couple of hours (the boat had a 115 hp Yamaha engine) and eventually turned up an obscure, narrow tributary.

Then, after crossing two small lakes we arrived at our camp. It had wi-fi!! so I could see where we were; and, Lord help me, we were in a tent HERE

– marked by the X in the red ring on that map. The sun set over the lake, and the cook laid out some basic but excellent food.

The colours of the lake at sunset were like nothing I had ever seen. I’ve left this picture in high quality for you all, please click on it and use it for your screen wallpaper, as I have.

Across NW Namibia

2019-08-05

Another full day in the bus – we have to cover 5,600 km in this 22-day trip – the picture below shows our group at a roadside rest stop. The blue and white fences are made from worn-out blades of road graders.

Here in NW Namibia, the locals build circular huts with a layered or smooth thatched roof. The roof is built and thatched on the ground, and then lifted into place.

We arrived late in the day at our hotel, beside the Okavango river. The rooms were in separate huts, some (not ours) with a river view … and with mosquitoes. The decking around the main building was plastic and had been oiled, with amusing results for those not falling over.

Sunset on the Okavango, and our group:

My dear wife, either
(a) lit by the setting sun, or
(b) angry, or
(c) embarrassed, or
(d) All of the above.

Etosha NP – Giraffe & Lion

2019-08-04

Still on that day in the Etosha NP – here are some of the hundreds of giraffes.

The giraffe has the highest blood pressure of all the animals, with a specially evolved powerful heart that can get the blood up to the head. When it lowers its head to feed or for whatever purpose, it would go dizzy and faint but for an also-evolved valve that shuts off the blood flow to some extent. The giraffe sleeps lying on the ground but with the head and neck sticking up, and still looking. Lions, you know. When it swallows, it tilts its head back, and more special valves come into play to help with peristalsis.

The skin has that famous blotchy pattern – different on every individual – and the blotches are different and smaller on the legs.

As we drove past a herd of giraffes – sorry, a tower of giraffes, to use the correct collective noun (there’s also a corps, and a totter of giraffes) – anyway, there was a giraffe and another one and some more of them. And, [Jacob!] they took fright, and ran, towards the bus, which was a bit daft, really, but the driver braked, and they ran across the road, in front of us, commas flying in all directions. They ran quite fast, but the camera shows some comical poses.

Now the lions. You can tell there’s a lion (or cheetah or leopard) about, because no other animals are about. They rest for much of the time, and hunt both day and night.

That picture was above the bed in our hotel room – very appropriate, I thought, but Barbro said a two-toed sloth or a dead walrus would be more apt; and that my performance reminded her of Napoleon … but Napoleon’s dead, I replied. Yes, she said. Anyway, to get that picture you’d have to find a lion and then get it angry – angry at somebody else. Photographer’s assistant wanted, good pay and benefits, including widow’s pension.

Here’s two lions, lion down –

A maned lion, walking off into the bush –

Now here’s a great shot of a female lion, or it would be if the camera had not insisted on focussing on a twig in the line of sight.

But with manual focussing I got the above photo. You’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle in these parks, and if you did, you’d want to get back in pretty quick. More and better-depicted lions, in a few days.

Etosha NP – Rhino & Zebra

2019-08-03

We were really hoping to see a rhinoceros. And, [there’s that comma again – sorry, Jacob] we saw four different ones; here they are:


– that last one being behind tree branches until it skulked away, whereupon we got a clear view of its bum. Didn’t they charge you? – not as much as the women posing for photographs in native dress.

Now, here come the zebras.

We got a bit zebra’d out, but they make good pictures.

And finally, some zebra bums to resemble that retreating rhinoceros.

You can see by looking at the bums that the zebra is a white horse with black stripes, not vice versa. In fact we saw two quite different types of zebra – plains zebras here, and on another day high up in the mountains there were mountain zebras, astonishingly agile on the rocky slopes.

Factoid: zoo keepers will tell you that the most dangerous animals in the zoo – after the humans, of course, who are much worse than any other species – are the zebras. They bite hard and don’t let go.

Etosha NP – Birds & elephants

2019-08-02

The park has a thriving bird life, especially around the edges of the salt pan. I forget what that curved-beak one is called, but here’s our friend the bustard again.

And a falcon in mid-flight. If you are wondering how I got the falcon to pose like that, well, I wasted a lot of film, as they used to say. Look at the incandescent colours on this shrike and kingfisher. They are unpleasant to eat, so they advertise themselves to predators.

Two vultures sitting on a tree.

But the heads are on backwards …

Ah, that’s better; the proper vulture pose. Now on to the elephants. These are easily distinguished because they are much bigger and can’t fly. They leave destructive tracks all over the bush, usually with a sprinkling of giant turds.

You can find them easily at waterholes, or just standing around … we got pretty well all elephanted out.

The hotel had its own watering hole, lit by a dim red light; about 50 people were there in the dark and their silence was really amazing – the click of my camera shutter sounded like a pistol shot. Here’s elephants at the waterhole, in almost pitch darkness.

After a few minutes one of the mothers (the big one nearest to the light) decided to walk away, very slowly, and the others all followed. At that point Barbro and me, being tired and a bit fed up, left but of course other animals were waiting in the bushes for the elephants to go away, and they came out to the waterhole by species; next were leopards, which we missed and never saw anywhere else, and then rhinoceros. The procession went on all night.

Elephants of course are very intelligent; this one evidently knows something.

How do you distinguish an elephant from a strawberry? – It’s very easy, elephants are grey and strawberries are red.

What did Hannibal say when he saw the elephants crossing the Alps? – Here come the elephants.

What did Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father, say when he saw the elephants crossing the Alps? – Here come the strawberries. (He was colour blind.)

I was told that joke in 1963 and have not repeated it since. I’m glad to get it out of my system now, after these 56 years; I hope that some of my readers can tell it in the year 2075. There are more animals to come … but what a day this was, in the Etosha National Park!

Wah-heyyyyy!

Etosha National Park

2019-08-01

This is our trip … now we are on the straight line crossing the blue patch in the top left corner. That “blue patch” is the Etosha National Park, which contains a dried-up river and a huge salt pan, which floods every few years.

There’s even a small island in that salt pan picture, but, the rest of the Etosha Pan is flat, useless, crumbly, salty, sandy soil.

Nothing grows or can grow on the salt pan. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of the Haiǁom people (the name has a click sound in it), and here’s a herd of wildebeest that has gone out onto it.

And, just visible in that photo is a lone male ostrich. Thesse animals are not renowned for their intellectual ability, unlike many other members of the African fauna. A bustard contemplates the arid landscape.

The buffet and a-la-carte meals in the hotels usually include several local animals, notably kudu and oryx, which must be easy to catch and cook. I have not seen loin of lion yet … but the bustard would make a natty dessert – yes! Bustard and custard.

I have no idea what that fox-like animal is. The next ones are a kudu and a caracal. This post now shows a collection of various fauna of the park, before I write separate posts of: birds and elephants; rhinoceros and zebra; giraffe and lion. All of which we saw in quantity, in the Etosha NP.

Now a warthog, and a muntjac.

Africa is a paradise for Scrabble players, with its muntjac, oryx, kudu, zebra, and of course aardvark, of which more anon. Here’s some impalas, with beautiful curved horns.

And yes! Here’s a mongoose … and another one.

Deep in the middle of the park, which is about 100 x 150 km in size, is a small heavily fenced area, the only place where homo sapiens is permitted to get out of its vehicles, urinate, smoke, talk noisily, and leave litter. These specimens were brought in for the animals to look at.

Damaraland

2019-07-31

We said farewell to Swakopmund, with its German-style church and buildings … that last one is the prison, sorry about the quality of the photo but I could not really hang around for a better shot. We passed over 100km or so of the vast Namibian desert – here’s a quarry, note the mirage –

– or perhaps they are trying to quarry the mirage, I mean, it would be valuable to possess one, bottled up – and we came back to the coast, where a 1980s shipwreck is sitting.

Note the ghastly, cold, windy weather … they call this place the Skeleton Coast, and you can have literally miles of beach all to yourself. Then we moved inland, rising back up to the flat plain 900-1100m above sea level which covers nearly all of southern Africa. The weather became hot and dry again.

Amazingly, a man was walking around in the desert in that photo – he’s in the exact centre of the picture. We passed some isolated mountains which are national treasures, notably this one, Mt Brandberg, a huge 20-km sized circular volcanic plug, best seen on the map.

Stopped for lunch in a town called Uis, nearby; there were tin mines here but the ore ran out. The town is stuck with a huge hill of slag and mining waste:

Everyone lost their job when the mines closed, but someone discovered how to make quite good house bricks from the mining slag, and now business is roaring again. This town, Uis, has a story: along the edge of town there are 18 graves (photo taken from the moving bus) –

– from a camp where 18 men made a campfire using the above plant, Euphorbia virosa, which contains an incredible poison – “Bushman poison” used for tipping poison arrows – and the campfire smoke killed them all as they slept. I looked up (with difficulty) the chemical structure of the 12 or so varieties of this poison, and, it was really bizarre [I can put a comma after ‘and’ if I like] but now I can’t find it again.

We skirted the homeland of the Herero people – look at the similar names of the many small villages – in a few places by the roadside some women were trying to sell souvenirs and charge for a photo. Dig the wide-front Herero headgear, still worn by all the women.

In 1904 the colonial German powers tried to exterminate the Herero, poisoning the waterholes and shooting at anyone they met, but this venture failed, with German casualties and later assertion of the strong Herero identity. Finally for this day, we are about to enter Etosha National Park, with its amazing animals, so here’s a dry valley with an elephant track at bottom left.

Swakopmund Museum

2019-07-30

Swakopund had two piers, one wooden and one steel. Both of them decayed into ruin, but the steel one has been restored with wooden decking, and new restaurants installed at each end of it.

We visited at sunset, and knowing that we’d be around here the next night, we booked the best table (which was available, albeit only at 5pm). It’s behind that far-right window. Bloody marvellous meal and excellent world-class service, 3 courses with G&T and the finest wine, $100 for two.

Nearby is the lighthouse, and the town’s museum. This precinct is where the street stalls sell souvenirs.

It takes the stall holder three hours to lay that lot out, every day. But, no aardvark – its ears stick up a lot, so they would break off if you tried to make a model of one.

Translation: “we’ve always tried to keep and show interesting things”. Here’s a German typewriter –

– and not just any old machine; this one has been extended with 5 or 6 calculating engines on top. A mighty beast. But nothing on this –

That is a linotype machine for setting newsprint in metal type. If you type an E, for example, then one metal E is released from a stock of E’s hanging along a wire and proceeds to slide by gravity down the wire and join the already-typed letters along another wire, eventually forming a whole line, which is then welded together. You would not want to make any typing errors.

Believe me, I sat at a desk exactly like that in the 1950’s. (But the school did not have the thumbscrews like the one at bottom right). Even before that, this map of Africa, with unknown areas and coloured-in colonies, dates from 1864.

Namibia has resources of uranium ores, which as that geological chart shows are of numerous types. Roughly, the world’s uranium comes equally from four countries – Canada, Kazhakstan, Australia and Namibia. President Trump tried to decree that the USA must source 25% of its uranium requirements from its own ore deposits, which has proved to be difficult as they don’t have any. This discovery – this anti-discovery – has been the cause of celebrations in Namibia, but they have just sold their uranium mines to China. So, the world’s uranium comes from Canada, Kazhakstan, Australia and China (from its mines in Namibia).

Swakopmund Township

2019-07-29

We did a tour of two of the townships (poor areas; shanty towns) behind Swakopmund. Here’s a market stall on the street – one of the better ones – and women selling cooked meat.

You can buy enough meat for a meal for about 50c. We visited a kindergarten with many happy kids:

This is what the streets look like:

The community water pump (not free; you put a coin in)

A go-ahead enterprise by the local women who have built a house and shop entirely using plastic bottles.

Five men were sitting in the road nearby; I thought they were just hanging around uselessly, but these are the men who fill the plastic bottles with earth and cement. All the bottles come from hotels and pubs.

As you see, the bottle tops make handy pegs for hanging things from. They have plenty more bottles waiting to be filled and form part of some other enterprise.

And here’s Steve’s shop:

I noted that, despite the poverty in these areas, the people seemed to be happier than the folk with any money in the city. They looked happier, and better off for resources and the relative quality of life, than the people with little money in our own culture.

Drive to Swakopmund

2019-07-28

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (which also crosses near Alice Springs) and came to a remote town called Solitaire. The bakery here was run by a character who died in 2014 and is sadly missed. There’s a memorial in the public space in the middle of town.

The same space also has a bizarre set of concrete slabs laid by fans of – wait for it – kcymaerxthaere. Yes, kcymaerxthaere. Try to read the plaque – one of 83 placed all over the world – and then go to kcymaerxthaere.com – good luck. It is a parallel world, by the look of it embedded entirely in the mind of one individual, but maybe it is harmless. “xthaere” is a shape with infinity-29 dimensions (despite the annoying fact that infinity-29 = infinity). Good luck with this. Maybe I could get into it, when I have time. What if 29 were not a prime number?

The road went down through a valley to a flat plain and the trees petered out, leaving, well, nothing.

One tree was left, and then there were no trees. The World Land Speed Record was attempted here. (not where the tree was – I meant further along where there were no trees)

But we came to Walvis Bay! All towns in southern Africa are surrounded by a 5-kilometre annulus of litter, mostly plastic and broken glass, so we knew a town was near. And then we came to this, arrghhh:

And a “traffic light”, whatever that is:

Walvis Bay is noted for a small population of flamingoes along its coast. Here they are:

– and that last one shows a novel ability to scratch the normally unreachable parts of the body. Baboons are everywhere, these are a real nuisance as they take things away and attack anyone carrying any food, or even takeaway coffee. Well, everywhere except Johannesburg, where the ingress of one such animal makes the national news.

One should be glad that there is no worse news to report. Here’s government housing in a dull development area. If you die, you can get yourself planted (illegally) by the roadside.

From Walvis Bay we drove 40km up the coast to Swakopmund. This cute colonial city is noted for its wild turkeys and guinea fowl, which roam the parks. Here’s a warning sign, with turkey.

We stayed two nights in Swakopmund, a lovely German Colonial city. The Germans lost it to the British as part of the WW1 reparations, but the culture here remains German. It has a nice railway station, but the tracks stop a kilometre or so short of it. A bit bizarre, really.

For some days now (and yet to come when we leave here) we have been up at 1000-1200m above sea level. When we checked into our room down here on the coast, we saw that our water bottle had collapsed in the denser air.

Everyone has a 5-litre bottle like this; they sell for $2 in the shops. It’s hot and windy; 5 litres will be guzzled in one day by the two of us.

Sossusvlei

2019-07-27

The sand dunes of western Namibia are the country’s major tourist attraction. It was dawn when we drove into the park; here’s those two hot-air balloons again. A road goes 70 km into the dunes for people to visit the dunes, and with permission to climb some of them. The road goes past this whopper, among others; the tree at bottom right gives the scale.

And some maniacs are climbing another huge dune. Climbing on sand is VERY hard work, so we climbed only two smaller ones. The wind shapes the sand but it does not move this type of dune; our guide has been coming here for 10 years and he said the dunes have moved by a matter of inches. These dunes are therefore millions of years old. Crescent-shaped dunes are another story, however; there are none here, but in a steady wind they move and nothing can stop them. Here’s some wavy patterns in the sand, some with animal tracks:

These dunes have two types of sand: a small amount of a coarse sand, and a very finely grained sand with spherical granules.

Some of our group on top of a dune we have just climbed (from the left); we are about to run down the right-hand side. Sand gets into your shoes; mine are washable and I agitated them in full sinks of water seven times, and sand was still coming out.

A Nara bush, strictly a !Nara bush; very inhospitable. They make cosmetics from it, I hope they take out the spikes first.

Now here’s a famous tree, 900 years old and standing in the salt pan where all the tourists go.

Geoff and myself were very tired after all the dune climbing so we sat on this very inviting tree to take our boots off. Up comes the park ranger and fines us $120 for sitting on the tree. Here’s part of his offences list, and the neatly written summons; you see a typical fine is N$50 for locals – that’s about A$5 – but N$1200 = A$120 for foreigners. We paid at the police post on the way out of the park.

A rain-excavated chasm on the way out of the park.

Long drive into Namibia

2019-07-26

From the Fish Creek Canyon we drove a long, long way into Namibia. The bus goes well on tarmac roads, sustaining the 100 kph speed limit, but on bumpy roads it is noisy inside, and sometimes we get violently thrown about (so we always use the seat belts). Although the bus is basically kitted out, it has everything we need; a fridge, dustbin, water, USB sockets, pockets on the seat in front, and the windows open easily. I got this multi-level photo of an oncoming car in the dust.

Relocated animals, of course, are disoriented so they are asked to drive slowly.

Our driver, however, knows every inch of the road; here he is at work, seen through the hatch in the front of the passenger module.

The landscape becomes f-l-a-t, the road is slightly elevated here and there, and the bus, heading northwards, casts its shadow in the early morning.

We stopped at places that were cute, here for example, where Barbro can stand in the road to gawk at her iPhone.

The rocks up here are a sort of brown mica, crumbling easily and rich in minerals. This chunk of rock bore the wavy marks of the sea bed, but we are 1400m up.

And we entered Namibia. As in many of the countries in southern Africa (now), life is totally organised and stable, with a functioning infrastructure and bureaucracy. Ethnic tribes are recognised, cared for and protected; South Africa itself has eleven official national languages. Namibia has four major tribes; a national election is coming soon and these posters are everywhere:

The people shown are in tribal dress; the third one is the Herero tribe, and later on we are going to drive through that area, and through the area of the fourth tribe. Tribal people actually do dress like that.

Look at the languages in the purple poster. The languages around here have click sounds which are represented in text as # // / ! (among others) and we did have a demonstration of these, but we could not really pick them up as they are so alien to us. You can hear them spoken in the 1980s film “The Gods Must be Crazy”. English as spoken actually has two click sounds of its own: one is tut-tut-tut where someone has done something slightly unacceptable, and the other is “tchick” which you say to a horse to get it to move off. (Therefore, horse language has at least one click sound too).

Fish River Canyon

2019-07-24

This deep canyon is surpassed only by the Grand Canyon in Utah. Most of southern Africa is a flat plateau 1100m above sea level; over the millennia, the Fish River has carved out a canyon maybe 500m deep into it.

After days of driving over flat land (with higher bits of plateaux; these lands used to be valley floors, the geological history here is amazing) you suddenly come across this place. Keep the foot poised over the brake pedal when you drive near here.

It’s a long way down to the valley floor but there is a hiking trail, taking more than one day to complete. The sign is sort of ironic, as there is almost a sheer drop behind.

There is more than 180* of views, I can’t get it all in, even with the 10mm lens (used for most of these pictures). Looking the other way we see this:

When you walk on a few metres and look back to where you stood, you wish you hadn’t done that; the land is crumbly and slippery. I suppose I could always get a new wife, but I like this one.

After walking around the canyon rim between its two car parks, you realise that the Fish River takes a mighty U-bend here. And there is also a second U-bend over to the right.

A Quiver Tree.

Posters of the valley floor, and an eagle catching a fish. A Mozambiquan fish, of course, nyah nyah.

Checked in to our hotel which had separate buildings for each room, and a sunset view to die for. These are views from our room; the main hotel is over to the right.

Going camping 2 nights – no electricity – hang in there!

African Sunrise & sunsets

2019-07-23

Once you get away from Cape Town and its SW corner of the continent, with its occasional torrential rain and daily fogs, the weather becomes extremely dry. Like, in the main part of Namibia it did not rain at all last year. Every day has a perfect blue sky and the sunrises and sunsets are therefore spectacular.

And we had a partial eclipse of the Moon the other day. This is about as far as it got. Not very exotic, because we are in the Southern Hemisphere so the Moon is the same way up as seen from Australia. Usually we make trips into the Northern Hemisphere where the Moon appears the other way up. The night sky here also resembles the Australian sky (but there is some haze or dust so the stars are less sharp).

Anyway, concerning sunrises. Ten minutes before dawn the camera makes the sky look like the above – it is actually quite dark but the camera increases the exposure to get some light into the picture (1/80 sec at f/4). If you set it properly and zoom in, the sky becomes an incandescent red colour (1/400 at f/7):

– and the red glow starts to gather into a clump, 5 minutes before dawn. The moment of dawn looks like this (1/1000 at f/11), kerpoww!

And then there won’t be any more photos of the Sun … well, half an hour after dawn, I got this one (1/2000 at f/28) –

– with two balloons. Like my hands, when I was a child, I had a fever – hey, could be a song.

I had the chance to snap the sun setting over the sea, in a hot, dusty atmosphere which cut out a lot of the light. Due to refraction the Sun’s disk still appears above the horizon for a couple of minutes after it has actually set – and the image does not set, it hovers and sort of breaks up and fades away, as the different layers of Earth’s filthy atmosphere refract it. Here we go:

You see it develops evil-looking ears. Also the disc is getting squashed out of a circular shape.

Bits fly off at the top. This is what it actually looked like without zooming in:

And that is the very last gasp, long after the actual disk has sunk below the horizon. Note the red glow gathered into a clump, as with the dawn.

I might be out of touch for a day or two – I have taken hundreds of amazing animal photos, more than I have time to process while on the trip, and you hardly ever get Internet in these bush hotels. Please hang in there.

Kalahari Morning

2019-07-22

Out here in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve it is a dog-eat-dog life. It is easier however to scoff a tortoise:

There’s a headless one at bottom right of the picture. It has been dragged there by the jackal that killed it – probably the jackal in the back of my photo. Here’s another jackal with a bone:

I have no idea what animal can have a thigh bone as big as that. This question does not bother the herd of springboks:

Some wildbeest running. Running seems to be all they ever do.

A beaky bird – I don’t know what species – seen near a Sociable Weaver (q.v.) nest. Exceptionally, I have helped this photo along a bit with Photoshop. Here’s a squirrel:

Now. Do you know what squirrels call humans? Answer(*) at bottom of this post. At last, here is a meerkat.

And that picture is very emotional. The animals, some species at least, are known to mourn their dead. This springbok is having a quiet moment at the place of death of another. I felt that I was intruding so I did not take another picture. Back to the accommodation; here’s the donkey cart that is used to fetch the suitcases.

The accommodation was a series of small houses, one per couple. Each house is very nice, but the toilet has a very hefty door with heavy lock on the inside, and an air horn. So that if robbers invade your house you can rush in there, bolt the door and honk the horn.

(*) and the squirrel word for a human is … taraa … SQUIRREL. Talking amongst themselves they would surely wonder: What are those large bipeds that appear now and then and make a lot of noises, and the noise we hear most often is “squirrel”, “squirrel”?

Kalahari Dawn

2019-07-21

Into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve as the gate opens at 07:30, drive in for about 50 km and then we start to see animals; first, a little scarlet-breasted bird and a falcon.

Plenty of emus, including male and female adults, and the brown-coloured young emus, who walk just as funnily as the adults:

Notice how the emu points his toe before placing the foot. Meanwhile, at yesterday’s watering hole there are (or were) two birds:

A jackal, and a caracal.

Now why are there no animals in this valley? Let’s zoom in:


(look on the ridge above the vertical red line)

A cheetah! From his position on the ridge he surveys two valleys – but I could shoot him from both sides, so here’s the sunlit side:

Two young adult springboks fighting.

You are not allowed to get out of your vehicle in the Kalahari, and Namibian park wardens (and police) will zealously enforce even the tiniest regulation and impose a fine. Our driver gets around this by crawling through the hole in the cab where the back window used to be, into the body of the bus which is really a separate metal box. An exception is made at the official toilet stop – otherwise people would wee through their windows – here you can step out of your vehicle, at your own risk of getting eaten, after reading this disclaimer:


(and imagining the two words “agent” and “indemnifies” missing from the third line from bottom)
More in next post.

Into the Kalahari

2019-07-20

Up early for another long drive. Across the road from our hotel, these men were getting down from the truck to do a day’s work in the vineyards.

That’s the photo, but what I cannot show you is that they were SINGING. About to embark on a day’s back-breaking toil under the merciless sun picking grapes for a pittance of about $5, and they were bloody well singing. I suppose life could be worse.

Now here’s something bizarre we saw on the journey, just west of a town called Upington:

It was so bright that the camera has stopped down to make the picture dark, but the sky was in bright sunlight – and that is what this thing is collecting. Mirrors on the ground reflect the sunlight into the top of the tower, where somehow about 60 MW of electricity is generated. Oddly, being thus lit from all directions, it looks identical from any direction.

Along the road are kilometre markers on the fence, and here these are duplicated by a concrete label stuck into a short concrete-filled tube. I managed to snap this one while our bus sped past at full speed. Isn’t that interesting?

No it is not me, it is a Kalahari Bushman who has found it easier to pose for photos than to eke out a bare existence on what is left of the desert. We gave him some money for posing for this photo. Don’t ask where he puts it.

And so to the entrance to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Reserve – the whites spell it Kalahari – it straddles the border of South Africa and Botswana, with Namibia right alongside. In our 100 km drive in the reserve we entered Botswana about 20 times and South Africa 20 times – the countries have a cordial relationship and manage the reserve jointly. This building is also the frontier post. You write your passport number in a book – no need to have the actual passport, just need to know the number and I have learned mine – and set off. If only all borders were like this. First however a quick look in the visitor’s comments book:

Yes there are ardvak in the park! But I did not see one. They only come out at night, like my teeth.

The map gives no indication of scale. We entered at Two Rivers (bottom of the map) and to drive to Nossob, in the middle, would take an entire hard day. Nossob to the Mabuasehube campsite is about 300 kilometres. So we only got part of the way in, this afternoon, but we will be back again at dawn tomorrow. Meanwhile, on my safari I shot (with a camera):

Ostrich. The adult is black, which is a real nuisance because if you point the camera straight at him, the camera’s central spot meter thinks that it is dark, and cranks up the exposure to wash out the whole picture. Luckily, they are nice to eat.

Oryx – an animal beloved of Scrabble players. We saw lots of these.

Springbok – these come in herds of 20-50 animals. When chased by a cheetah or lion, they run away and can keep running until the cheetah or lion gets tired, which is quite soon – 100 yards, maybe. While running, they stott – they jump in the air. They do this because they can. It is to show to the lion that: I can not only run away from you, but I can gaily jump while I am it, nyah nyah.

A wild cat – a close relative of the domestic cat, native to Africa.

A scraggy old bird, and a herd of wildebeest thundering away. More tomorrow.

Augrabies Falls

2019-07-19

The second day of the trip was another long drive – we’ll get used to these as we have to cover 5,600 km in 21 days – Africa, even just the southern part of Africa, is BIG. Up on the Karoo, the landscape is flat and stony, a gibber plain. I saw some curious striations in the layout of the stones (bare strips just behind the fence), possibly caused by strong winds over a period of decades.

All the big roads have telegraph poles running beside – some even carry multiple wires for telephones. Some poles – two are shown – carried a nest of the sociable weaver bird.

A nest can weigh hundreds of kg, enough to break the pole or tree which holds it. The birds are small (10 cm) and a nest holds 100-200 birds, each with his own room which he has built off one of the vertical corridors.

Here’s a surreal landscape, reminiscent of Upwey Landscape (1964) by Fred Williams, a painting that I cannot stand:

I could have painted that (“But you didn’t!” cries the artist). Here’s our group waiting for a meerkat to come out of its hole.

And that is the meerkat hole, in the middle foreground in the orange earth. This was beside a long, dull stretch of road; our driver spotted the meerkat standing there, and promptly stopped the bus. The meerkat promptly dived into its hole and would not come out.

I could tell there’s something to see near this place, dozens of miles from anywhere becacuse just here, there is litter on the ground – Coke bottles, plastic, cigarette packet etc. So what must happen is, the humans gather in this place (like our group above), and then the meerkat comes out to look at them. Or not. He’s seen humans before and they are noisy and messy, and not very interesting.

There are scorpions in the desert, and you can get different sorts. The place where we had lunch had this helpful guide. If you want to die in agony, pick the scorpion on the left. There were birds here – this beautiful little yellow one – and a terrific view over lunch.

Nearby was the huge Augrabies Falls, the 6th highest waterfall in the world. It’s hard to access (you walk over the rocks) and photograph, and not much water is running at this time. In the rainy season, the whole area is awash with foaming torrents, so you can’t go over to see the waterfall then either.

That coloured lizard was among the rocks. Also we saw hyraxes, also called dassies,. These are native mammals, related to the elephant, but they are easily distinguished because the elephant is much bigger, and grey, and has a trunk. Here are the hyraxes:

Perhaps the plural should be hyraces.

Recall the story of the man who wanted to buy two animals of a particular sort – wrote a letter to the suppliers “Dear Sir, I’m starting a zoo, please send me two mongooses.” That looked wrong, so he tore it up and wrote “I’m starting a zoo, please send two mongeese.” That looked even worse … tore that up too, and wrote “I’m starting a zoo, please send one mongoose. And while you’re at it, send me another one.”

First real day – to Calvinia

2019-07-18

The first real day of travelling across southern Africa. Here’s our group of 8 (minus me and David) having just bought the necessary 5-litre bottles of water.

It’s fairly warm weather (despite it being winter) so you can chomp through 5 litres in 2 days easily, and we are not even cycling, just sitting in a bus. Here they are again, having breakfast.

I like that sign. Four is the “ideal number”, so if there is a 5th cyclist or walker you should delete him/her. Here’s the only nuclear power station in Africa:

And some trees stewing in the fog which is characteristic of this SW corner of Africa. Here’s the tour bus:

It is a HINO heavy truck chassis with the seating module perched on top. It has 22 seats, with pockets in front, they don’t tip and the back of the seat in front of you blocks your vision but you can see well out of the side windows, and rapidly slide them open to take photos. The front two pairs of seats have a front view through a slot-shaped window, but there is also nothing in front of you to stop you when the bus suddenly lurches or brakes hard.

We all wear the seat belts and I have been very glad of mine, several times. They tried having air-conditioning on these buses but the units got smashed to pieces as the bus hurtled along the unmade, corrugated roads which will constitute much of our journey. If you want air conditioning, you open the window. Yes, we are tough … Oooogh. Grunt. Our driver is actually very good, sustaining 100 kph safely on the dirt roads while spotting (and stopping for) every bird and animal that we drive past.

South Africa has all the usual junk foods, McDonalds, KFC etc but they also have WIMPY which is like McDonalds, but with British food. Imagine that. (Divide the prices shown by 10 for AUD).

This is what the Wimpy chips looked like – and they were soggy. There’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England …