Following Hannibal across the Alps/Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

Following Hannibal across the Alps/Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

The new route took us through the 11 km Mont Blanc Tunnel – with our history of fear of tunnels. The road to the entrance wound upwards above Chamonix and we took chances to overtake cambions slowly grinding their way up the mountain in the rain. (In European mythology cambions are half-human demons, and now I call the trucks or camions, by the name of cambions. A terror on the roads.)

Before long we were under cover at the toll gate of the famous tunnel. The well-illuminated 11.6 km swallowed up a full day’s budget. But what awaited us on the other side? Sunshine? A view of Mont Blanc? What we didn’t expect and weren’t prepared for was that we were now in Italy. Our GPSs began turning in circles and wouldn’t read the routes because we hadn’t downloaded the maps for Italy. We stood looking around for a little while and watched the dramatic massing clouds over Mont Blanc. The sharp pinnacles piercing the mist. The drama.

We were still sitting in the weak sun at a street café in the lovely Chamonix when it began raining again. We were already tired of rain all morning on our route. Across two mountain passes in pouring rain. We decided right there to adapt and to take a short cut which would reduce our distance for the day on Silver and Blue by 100 km. Easy, and we would arrive at our next stop early.

And then the heavens opened. Now we had to rely on our noses and find our way through a labyrinth of narrow alleys and little villages while we could scarcely see in front of our scooters.

The road immediately began climbing through dark forests. One sharp tormento followed the other and it’s difficult to maintain your balance in rain. Your attention is needed everywhere, because right next to you are misty steep drops and the road doesn’t have railings and shoulders. One wrong judgement…

I always ride with my visor open and my face catches every cold raindrop. I like feeling the freshness and cold against my face. Sometimes the rain is too hard and I have to close it, but then it mists over immediately. Rather push open the visor again with my face in the rain.

And there, through the veils of rain and mist is the sign: Col de Petit St Bernard. It couldn’t be right. In our planning we would only cross the pass two days later. We couldn’t understand it and didn’t know where in the world we were.

This is the famous route which Hannibal of Carthage (Tunisia) most probably took in 218 BC across the Alps in order to attack Rome from the north. The historians Polybius and Livy documented reports on this frightening journey. Hannibal’s forces at that stage consisted of  30 000 men, 37 elephants and 15 000 horses. We had read quite a bit about it all and there we were in the rain on Silver and Blue on that famous route, in Hannibal’s footsteps.

Around three o’clock we found a picnic spot with a little building with a picnic bench under cover. We were already famished, not having had breakfast as we often do while travelling. The wood fire baked baguette with its crisp crust, rillette (pork spread) and tomatoes were just the thing to still the hunger. It was freezing and we added another layer of clothing. We suspected that we were at 1900 m. In fact, this was confirmed just a little way further up the mountain on a sign for the Colle San Carlo.

That was where we encountered our first snow next to the road. First had to take photos and then we rode further. Then there was more and even more snow. Later we found ourselves in a magical world of white that reached up the high mountains. The wet black tarred road gleamed and reflected and everything became a dramatic spectacle of black and white. Later on the snow became white walls on either side of us and we stopped every now and then to absorb the surreality and majesty around us. We had never before experienced something like this.

How would Hannibal and his men have been able to survive here. The cold. There is no food here. No firewood. There was no road. The poor horses and elephants? It’s too much to comprehend.

On the crest there were one or two lonely little restaurants and we could smell wood fires. We stumbled into one of them, dripping, and first warmed our hands at a little crackling wood oven. A lovely young Italian chap explained where we were on his map. And, yes, it was the famous Piccolo St Bernardo we would have sought out later. And, yes, the French border was just a few hundred metres further. And, yes, we were now about 26 km from Bourg Saint Maurice which was near our next accommodation. A hot chocolate drink rounded off the conversation and visit.

Some distance from there stood a giant monument of the saintly Bernard. With one arm extended.

What we didn’t know was that the 26 km would last an eternity. It was a slow, twisting road with one sharp serpentina following on another. The mist was really thick and it was raining hard. We began to feel damp, perhaps also because of fear. We could barely see the road ahead.

Tired and after only 140 km, but eight hours in the saddle, we finally arrived at our airbnb and the rain cleared. We had a lovely flat with Lydia and her husband who, right there and then, repaired an unwilling screw to the cover of Blue’s exhaust that kept coming loose. We fell into bed early with the knowledge that we had actually had a wonderful day. The heights and snow along with the mountains remained in our heads.

A day or two later it was a bright, sunny day without a cloud. We were going to do the Col de Petit Saint Bernard again. We took almost all day to do the 52 km there and back. We rode and stopped, rode and stopped. Stood amazed at the wild flowers, waterfalls, mountain peaks, valleys, mountain villages, roads twisting up the mountainsides. We had a picnic surrounded by snow. Stood and looked at Mont Blanc that towered above us at 4808 m. We looked at the iced-over lake where it is thought that Hannibal had camped with his men before descending into Italy.

That night we knew that we had experienced the best of Europe. But, little did we know what awaited us the following day. We got up early to pack because a daunting 240 km to Saint Pierre de Chartreuse lay ahead of us.

Met Hannibal oor die Alpe

Ons sit nog so in ‘n trae sonnetjie by ‘n straatkafee in die mooie Montreaux toe dit weer begin reën. Ons is al moeg vir die hele oggend se reën op die pad. Twee bergpasse in gietende reën oor. Net daar en dan besluit ons om aan te pas en die kortpad te volg wat ons roete vir die dag met Silwer en Blou met omtrent 100 kilometer korter gaan maak. Net so, en dan is ons vroeg by ons volgende oorstaanplek.

Die nuwe roete neem ons deur die 11 kilometer lange Mont Blanctonnel – met ons geskiedenis van tonnelvrees. Die pad na die ingang kronkel bo Montreaux uit en ons steek gewaagd om blinde draaie die stadige cambions wat die berg in die reën uitkruie verby. (In die Europese mitologie is half-menslike demone cambions, nou noem ek die lorries, camions, sommer cambions. ‘n Verskrikking op die paaie.)

Kort voor lank is ons onderdak by die tolhek van die geroemde tonnel. Die goedbeligte 11.6 kilometer sluk ons hele dag se begroting in. Maar wat wag aan die anderkant? Sonskyn? ‘n Blik op Mont Blanc? Wat ons nie verwag het nie en waarop ons nie voorbereid is nie, is dat ons toe onverwags in Italië is. Ons GPS’e begin tol en wil nie roetes lees nie omdat ons nie die Italiaanse kaarte afgelaai het nie. Ons staan vir ‘n rukkie rond en kyk na die dramatiese wolkemassas oor Mont Blanc. Die skerp bergspitse wat in die mis deurslaan. Die drama.

Toe maak die hemele oop. Nou moet ons op ons neuse staatmaak en deur swaar reën en ‘n labirint van nou paadjies en klein dorpies ons pad vind en jy kan skaars voor jou kan sien. Dit voel later ons ry deur agterplase en net as jy dink die pad loop teen ‘n houthuis dood sien jy die klein bordjie:  Pré-Saint-Didier. Die rigting waarheen ons mik.
Die pad begin onmiddellik deur donker woude klim. Die een skerp tormento volg die ander en dit is moeilik om jou balans in die reën te hou. Jou aandag moet oral wees, want hier langs jou is mistige afgronde en die pad is sonder relings en skouers. Een verkeerde oordeel….

Ek ry altyd met my visor oop en my gesig vang elke koue reëndruppel. Ek hou daarvan, om die varsheid en koue so teen my gesig te voel. Soms is die reën te hard en moet ek dit toemaak, maar dan stoom dit dadelik toe. Ry dan maar weer so met my gesig in die reën.
En daar deur die vlae reën en die mis staan die bord: Col de Petit St Bernard.

Dit kan nie wees nie. In ons beplanning sou ons die pas eers oor twee dae ry. Ons verstaan nie, en weet nie waar in die wêreld ons is nie.

Dit is die beroemde pad wat Hannibal van Carthago (Tunisië) in 218 VC heel waarskynlik binne 16 dae oor die Alpe gevolg het om Rome aan te val. Die geskiedskrywers Polybius en Livy het verslae oor hierdie angswekkende tog gedokumenteer. Hannibal se mag het uit 30 000 soldate, 37 olifante en 15 000 perde bestaan. Hieroor het ons baie opgelees, en hier is ons in die reën op Silwer en Blou op die geskiedkundige roete, in Hannibal se voetspore.

Hier teen drie-uur kry ons ‘n piekniekplek met ‘n huisie met sitplek onder dak. Ons is al rasend van die honger, want ons eet nie ontbyt wanneer ons reis nie. Die houtoondgebakte baguette met sy harde kors, rillette (varksmeer) en tamaties is net die ding om die honger te stil. Dit is nou baie koud en ons trek nog ‘n laag warm klere aan. Ons vermoed ons is op 1900 meter. Inderdaad ook so, want die Colle San Carlo se bordjie staan ‘n ent verder teen die berg op.

Dis waar ons die eerste sneeu langs die pad kry. Neem eers foto’s en ry aan. Toe raak dit meer sneeu, en nog meer. Later is ons in ‘n towerwêreld van wit om ons wat opslaan teen die hoë berge. Die swart teerpad glim en weerkaats en alles word ‘n dramatiese skouspel van swart en wit. Die sneeu raak later wit mure om ons en hou ons kort-kort stil om die onwerklikheid en magtigheid om ons in te neem. So-iets het ons nog nooit beleef nie.

Hoe sou Hannibal en sy manskappe hier kon oorleef. Die koue. Hier is geen kos nie. Geen vuurmaakhout nie. Daar sou geen pad gewees het nie. Die arme perde en olifante? Dit is te veel om aan te dink.

Op die kruin is daar een of twee eensame restaurantjies en ons ruik die reuk van houtvure. Ons val een binne, druppend, en warm eers ons hande op by ‘n stofie wat knetter. ‘n Gawe jong Italianer verduidelik vir ons op ‘n kaart waar ons is. En ja, dit is die beroemde Piccolo St Bernardo waarna ons sou kom soek het. En ja, die Franse grens is sommer ‘n paar honderd meter verder. En ja, ons is nou sowat 26 kilometer van Bourg Saint Maurice wat naby ons volgende blyplek is. ‘n Warm sjokoladedrankie rond die gesprek en kuier af.

‘n Ent verder staan daar ‘n reuse monument van die heilige Bernard. Met sy een arm uitgestrek.

Wat ons nie weet nie, is dat die 26 kilometer ‘n ewigheid duur. Dit is ‘n stadige kronkelpad met die een skerp serpentina op die ander. Die mis is dik en dit reën kliphard. Ons begin klam voel, miskien ook van vrees. Jy kan skaars voor jou sien.

Moeg en na net 140 kilometer, maar agt ure in die saals, kom ons uiteindelik by ons tuiste en klaar die reën op. Ons het ‘n heerlike woonstel by Lydia en haar man wat sommer dadelik ‘n weerstandige skroef aan Blou se uitlaat regmaak wat aanmekaar loskom. Ons val ook sommer vroeg in die bed met die wete dat ons eintlik ‘n wonderlike dag beleef het. Die hoogtes en sneeu met die berge bly in ons koppe draai.

‘n Dag of twee later is dit ‘n helder oop dag sonder ‘n wolkie. Ons gaan weer die Col de Petit Saint Bernard doen. Die 52 kilometer heen en weer neem ons byna die hele dag. Ons ry en stop, ry en stop. Verkyk ons aan die wilde veldblomme, watervalle, die bergpieke, die valleie, bergdorpies, paaie wat teen die berge uitkronkel. Ons hou piekniek in die sneeu. Staan en kyk na Mont Blanc wat 4808 meter bokant ons uittroon. Ons kyk na die ysmeer waar daar opgeskryf is dat die Hannibal en sy mag daar kamp opgeslaan het

Daardie aand weet ons, ons het die beste van Europa belewe. Maar min weet ons toe wat die volgende dag op ons wag. Ons staan vroeg op om in te pak, want ‘n allemintige 240 kilometer tot by Saint Pierre de Chartreuse wag op ons.

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The weather looked fine from the balcony in Bagne.
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Then the rain started.
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Pastoral Switzerland
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Geared up against the rain and cold
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Bitterly cold at 1527m, but many cyclists did the pass in usual cycling gear.
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A pretty mountain village
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A long-time dream: Chamonix
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Hot chocolate and dreams in Chamonix
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Beautiful Chamonix with its Belle Epoque, Victorian and Art Noveau architecture
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Mont Blanc lies there!
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Somewhere the rain stopped at 3pm for breakfast and lunch…
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The first snow came as a surprise. We had to stop for a picture.
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And then this!
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Some more hot chocolate and heat from a fire, please
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Not good – rain and snow
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A little chapel
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The rain just never stopped
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At last. Welcome!
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Lydia’s lovely Airbnb apartment in Mâcot-la-Plagne awaited for us for a couple of days.
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The view, and some cherry trees with lots of delicious red cherries.
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The traditional village of Mâcot-la-Plagne
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A walk in the forest
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The Isère
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Cherry trees all over
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One of the villages scattered along the valley
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Pensive mood along the Isère
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Flowering hay 1
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Flowering hay 2
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Mountain church

A daytrip return in glorious sunlight

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Scary, the switchbacks on the St Bernard Pass.
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Where elephants plodded
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We stopped at every turn to take it all in.
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Mount Pourri (3779m) and Aquille Rouge (3226m) towering over the valleys where Hannibal led his elephants and horses
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Could that be Mont Blanc?
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Valley and heights 1
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Valley and heights 2
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Little villages and churches
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Pastorality
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This is St Bernard country.
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Higher up
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And then the snow again. In sunlight
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Layers of snow
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Monument for St Bernard
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Roads and lakes, with a chapel
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The ice blue
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St Bernard’s monument and the hotel
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Vivid spring gentians
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Picnic in the snow
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The monument again
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Cyclists and bikers
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The highest point
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And there is Mont Blanc! 4810m
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And again!
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Watching marmots
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The lake where Hannibal camped and where the elephants drank water
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WW2 fortifications
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A last glimpse of Mont Blanc
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A real wild violet
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Where we stood two days ago in rain
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Going home
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Bikers and chapel
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A marmot
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Ice and water
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On top of the world
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Ski village
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Irises
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And lupins
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Church along the way
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Lake Malawi: Call of the fish eagle

Lake Malawi: Call of the fish eagle

Rol af vir Afrikaans
Scroll down for pictures

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Boatsman Nixson gives one long whistle. Throws a fish across the water in an arch. It floats because a hollow reed has been pushed through its mouth into the length of its body. A fish eagle answers. The sound of Africa. High-pitched long followed by two shorts. That mystic sound cleaves open the water, forests and heavens.

From the trees there is movement. A fish eagle leaves its nest in the tallest baobab tree against the densely forested hill on the island, spreads its wings and begins to sweep closer. For a moment I can see every black feather as they spread open and curl upwards. The proud white head and breast maintains the course at a high speed. Eyes glow. There is the rush of wings. Feathers bursting through air. Then the spread claws clutch at the fish. One mighty swoop. Like a swing dropping down and barely touching the water.

Then everything freezes. Dreams, imagination, wishes, photos in magazines, TV programmes. That single moment is etched into the membranes of my brain forever. Clearer than a photograph.

Yesterday we arrived at Lake Malawi at Monkey Bay. Blessings waited for us at the Zambian border. We were a little startled. He stood next to a shiny black station wagon, much like a hearse. Some or other new Toyota that we have never seen before. He is a skilled driver and drove us quickly and safely between goats, dogs, cycles heavily loaded with bags of flour, pedestrians and broken down cars. At two or three of the ten police road blocks (yes, I counted them, and Blessings laughed at me) we had to present our passports. The officials are all efficient and friendly and asked how we were. The young ladies in uniform are all slim and well turned-out.

We drove via busy Lilongwe and were amazed at the Saturday morning busyness with markets and masses of people manning little stalls on pavements. Everything from coffins and gravestones under corrugated iron stands, to sugar cane and animal skins in the open. Now and then the traffic came to a halt and we saw the poverty and struggle for survival close up. Everyone here tries to make a living. It’s surprising that the city is clean, without rubbish, in spite of the numbers of people.

After six hours of driving through villages and pastoral landscape we crossed a mountain range along a slow, twisting mountain pass. On the other side awaited a different world. Isolated and primitive and a poverty-driven existence. Mostly mud huts surrounded by clean-swept erven under large wild fig or baobab trees that tower over everything. Small fields. Stony hills.

The black hearse turned into our destination behind a reed fence – Funky Cichlid. For the following five days we became a part of a hedonistic existence on the lodge’s wonderful wide veranda which literally hangs over the edge of the lake. We were prompty levelled with other hedonists from here and all over the world: a British woman, born here, who returned after her husband’s death to work in poverty relief here. Muscled ones, tattooed ones. Guys with dreadlocks and lost in the music on their headphones. Intellectuals who sit alone in studied singleness with cigarettes that are never smoked. Skinny ones and fat ones. Young ones on honeymoon and keen to display their new shiny rings. Backpackers. A giant rambo-style individual from Durban who has lived here in the bush for years and still speaks Zulu and Afrikaans. Disgusting old South African men hanging about with hip local little girls and take cellphone photos of each other. A pleasant New Yorker who works for UNICEF joins us and we click immediately. He provides hours of good company. A lovely tall, slim girl of Kenyan heritage who grew up in California, is here to retrace her African roots. All of them and more.

In the evenings a big bonfire is made on the beach. Drummers come. Africa stirs.

On our first morning we went out on a boat. Hugging the coast of the mainland at first, we were amazed at the size of the fishing industry here. Acres of little fish spread out on racks to dry in the sun. The skipper turned away towards a forested island which rises high above the lake. 15 Fish eagles live there. There it was that we floated about and fed the birds.

Afterwards followed a snorkelling session to swim between the famous turquoise, wite, yellow and dappled cichlids. (There are 850 fish species in the lake, the riches fresh water collection in the world.)

For the rest we indulged in blissfulness. Sat on the veranda for hours with its incomparable view. Followed young people swimming or rowing to the nearest island. We chatted about. Read and wrote. Took walks in the traditional village with a train of hawkers and children following us. Walked back along the beach where washing and bodies are washed. Teeth are brushed right there. Naked children play and swim in the water.

The days are lazy. The sun sets early. We eat various delicious curries, goat and fish, with the aromatic local rice. Here in the warmth of Africa where drums soothe us to sleep at night.

But all is not right in paradise. On our last morning we discovered that Kenya Air had brought our flight forward without notifying us. We had already missed the flight. Drama in many acts. Fortunately Nathan, the lodge’s manager, was there and he took over. We had to re-book and they managed to make an even bigger mess of everything. Once again we had to book with great effort and slow internet. Guesthouses and hotels had to be cancelled. Car hire had to be cancelled. Plans had to be adapted. Blessings’ hearse had to be re-booked… But, here we go! In spite of travels and disasters!

Malawi: Die roep van ‘n visarend

Die bootsman Nixson gee een lang fluit. Gooi ‘n vis hoog en ver oor die water. Dit dryf, want ‘n riet is deur die bek van die dooie vis se bek gedruk. ‘n Visarend antwoord. Die klank van Afrika. Skerp, met een lang fluit en twee kortes. Die mistieke klank kloof water, woude en hemele oop.

Uit die bome is daar ‘n roering. ‘n Visarend verlaat sy nes uit die hoogste kremetartboom teen die digte koppie van die eilandjie, span sy vlerke en begin nader sweef. Ek sien vir ‘n oomblik elke swart veer soos dit verder oopvlerk en teen die punte opkrul. Die trotse wit kop en bors hou teen ‘n vinnige spoed rigting. Oë gloei. Daar is ‘n geruis van vlerke. Vere wat lug oopklief. Dan gryp die oopgesperde pote die vis. Een magtige swaaibeweging. Soos ‘n skoppelmaai wat vinnig verbyswaai en net rakelings water raak.

Dan stol alles. Drome, verbeelding, wense, foto’s in tydskrifte, tv-programme. Daardie een oomblik word vir ewig onder al die membrane in my brein vasgebrand. Duideliker as ‘n foto.

Ons het gister by Monkey Bay aan die Malawimeer aangekom. Blessings het ons by die Zambiese grens ingewag. Ons skrik. Hy staan by ‘n glimswart stasiewa, soos ‘n lykswa. Een of ander nuwe Toyota wat ons nog nooit voorheen gesien het nie. Hy is ‘n behendige bestuurder en stuur ons vinnig en veilig deur bokke, honde, fietsers wat swaar gelaai is met sakke meelsakke, voetgangers en stukkende motors. By twee of drie van die tien polisie padblokades (ja, ek het hulle getel, en Blessings lag vir my…) moet ons paspoorte uithaal. Die amptenare is almal flink en vriendelik en vra hoe dit met ons gaan. Die jong dames in uniform is slank en mooi.

Ons ry via besige Lilongwe en verkyk ons aan die Saterdagoggendrukte met markte en massas mense wat stalletjies op sypaadjies beman. Daar is van doodskiste en grafstene onder sinkdakkies, tot suikeriet en diervelle in die ooptes. Nou en dan kom die verkeer tot stilstand en kan ons armoede en ‘n sukkelbestaan van nader sien. Elkeen hier probeer ‘n lewe maak. Verrassend is die stad skoon en sonder vullis, ten spyte van die baie mense.

Na ses ure se ry deur dorpies en landelikheid steek ons ‘n bergreeks oor met ‘n stadige en kronkelende bergpas. Aan die anderkant wag ‘n ander wêreld. Afgesonderd en primitief met ‘n armoedige sukkelbestaan. Modderhuisies meestal, en skoongebesemde werwe onder groot wildevye- of kremetartbome wat oor alles uittroon. Klein landerytjies. Klipperige koppies.

Die swart lykswa draai in by ons bestemming agter ‘n rietheining – Funky Cichlid. Vir die volgende vyf dae word ons deel van ‘n hedonistiese bestaan op die oord se heerlike wye stoep wat as’t ware oor die meer hang. Ons word baie gou gelykgemaak met lewensgenieters van hier en oor die hele wêreld: ‘n Britsevrou wat hier gebore en wat teruggekom het na haar man se dood om hier armsorg te doen. Gespierdes. Getatooëerdes. Manne met dreadlocks en verlore in hulle musiek op oorfone. Intellektueles wat alleen en bestudeerd sit met ‘n sigaret waaraan nie juis gesuig word nie. Maeres en dikkes. Jonges op wittebrood wat graag hulle trouringe wys. Rugsakdraers. ‘n Rambo-agtige reus van Durban wat al jare hier in die bosse bly en wat nog Afrikaans kan praat. Walglike ou Suid-Afrikaanse mans wat rondhang met hip plaaslike meisietjies en selfoonfoto’s van mekaar neem. ‘n Aangename New Yorker wat vir UNICEF werk sluit by ons aan en ons kliek dadelik en hy sorg vir ure se goeie geselskap. ‘n Mooi lang en maer meisie van Karribiese herkoms, wat in Californië grootgeword het wat haar Afrika wortels kom opsoek. Almal en nog meer.

Saans word vuur op die strand gemaak. Tromslaners kom. Afrika in beroering.

Die eerste oggend is ons uit op ‘n boot. Eers kuslangs. Staan verstom oor hoe groot die kleinvissiebedryf hier is. Morge en morge se vissies lê op stellasies om uit te droog. Die skipper swenk na ‘n bosbegroeide eilandjie wat hoog uitstaan. Daar woon 15 visarende. Dit is waar ons ronddryf en die voëls voer.

Daarna volg ‘n snorkelsessie om tussen die geroemde turkoois, wit, geel en bont cichlids te swem. (Daar is 850 visspesies in die meer, die rykste vaswater versameling ter wêreld.)

Verder gee ons onsself oor aan die saligheid. Sit vir ure op die stoep met ‘n onverbeterlike uitsig. Volg jongmense wat na die naaste eiland swem of roei. Ons gesels rond. Lees en skryf. Gaan stap in die tradisionele dorpie met ‘n hele trein van venters en kinders agterna. Kom strandlangs terug waar wasgoed en lywe gewas word. Tande word ook sommer net daar geborsel. Kaal kindertjies speel en swem in die water.

Die dae is lui. Die son sak vroeg. Ons eet verskillende soorte heerlike kerries, bok en vis, met die aromatiese plaaslike rys. Hier in die warmte van Afrika waar tromme ons snags aan die slaap sus.

Maar alles is nie wel in die paradys nie.Op ons laaste oggend moet ons ontdek Air Kenya het ons vlug vervroeg sonder om ons in kennis te stel, en ons het dit alreeds verpas. Drama in vele bedrywe. Gelukkig is Nathan daar, die oord se bestuurder, en hy neem oor. Ons moet herbespreek en hulle maak ‘n nog groter gemors daarvan. Weer ‘n keer met groot beslommernis en stadige internet bespreek. Gastehuise en hotelle moet gekanseleer word. Motorhuur is in die gedrang. Planne moet aangepas word. Blessings se lykswa moet herbespreek word… Maar hier gaat ons! Reise en rampe ten spyt!

Border post between Zambia and Malawi

Blessings waited for us in a shiny hearse-like vehicle for the 250 km trip to Lake Malawi

Small villages dotted all along the way

I counted 10 police check points along the way.

Taxi rank

Some villages are vibrant and busy.

Bicycles are main means of transportation

Take your goats for a walk…

Piles and piles of cheap clothes

Our home for the next few days. Funky Cichlid [siklit]  – named after the fish in the lake. It is the hub of all socialising in the area. We spent many, many hours chatting to all on the bar deck.

We became friends with the hawkers of this beach stand.

The golden hour

Drums and a bonfire

A neat yard and a huge frangipani tree

A typical house, on the main street of Cape Maclear

Restraunt

Morning chores – washing of clothes and cooking utensils in the lake

Our guide for the day is a well-informed Nixson.

A magnificent wild fig tree

Beach meeting

Drying racks for fish

While the mothers work, the boys catch fish

The beach view is of a factory

Hamerkops and egrets

Fishermen

Fishermen and their makoros

The fishing village of Cape Maclear is never-ending

No fish today, but firewood

On our way to Thumbi West Island

The ever present nature conservation officers – collecting park fees

Nixson preparing fresh fish to lure the fish eagles

Ready for action

Nixson, the fish eagle whisperer

And here it comes!

Perfect!

What a magnificent moment which one will never forget

Picnic on the rocks after a snorkelling session

The famous blue cichlid

Another golden hour
Like an impressionist painting
Baobab trees everywhere
The main street of Cape Maclear
How do you transport six bags of maize?
No mosquito repellent…
Serene
Welcome!
A communal kitchen
Admiring fresh produce
Fixing fishing nets
Washing pots and pans
Drying of fish
Venturing on the outskirts
We want to play!
In the maze of mud and grass houses
Wild fig tree
Broken leg
Fishing village
Only unmarried men are allowed to wash in the lake
Freedom
Constructing a fishing net
Young men
The beauty of the lake
Drinking fresh passion fruit juice at one of the other lodges
Drying baobab fruit- cream of tartar
Discussing serious matters
The only drinking water in town is available at scattered water points
Baobab street
Familiar face – child walking with fish in a basket
Last sunset
Blessings, our transfer guy with whom we spent many hours on the road
Lake Malawi: Market day and the little girl

Lake Malawi: Market day and the little girl

Two motorcycle taxis took us slowly between little mud and reed houses to the local market. At the far end of the little village of Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. There we found an Africa we are insulated against with our shopping mall culture and Woolworths packaging.

On arrival we were a little disorentated and overwhelmed at first, like when you arrive at a completely strange and incomprehensible place and you can’t find your direction. The noise of tinny African Bob Marley music from all sides exacerbated my loss of balance. Also the smell of ash and wood fires, old meat, old oil, old rubbish. An old existence.

Friendly guys approached us because they wanted to escort us. It’s very nice of you, but we want to explore the market ourselves, because we knew they were going to cling to us and push us in directions and places where we didn’t want to be. This is something we have learned.

We walked in the direction of an open piece of land. An earthy informal square of bare sand. Piles of clothes lay about like great bundles of dirty washing. Women stood bent over rummaging through and picking out items, throwing to one side, lifting it up and stirring it through. We didn’t feel like the crowded narrow, dark market alleys as well.

A very small runny-nosed little girl came and took Anuta’s hand and held on. We began to walk and the little girl happily went wherever we did and wouldn’t let go. We asked some folks if they knew the child and where her house was. Would Anuta be accused of child trafficking? No-one seemed at all concerned. She would find her home again, they said. We twisted and turned away from the market, through a labyrinth of mud and reed houses, looking for the fish market. The little girl held on.

Later we reached the outskirts almost on the beach, but her little hand remained quietly and completely at ease in Anuta’s. At a tiny shop we bought her a lollipop. Immediately, as if by magic, a horde of wild little children surrounded us, also wanting a lollipop. When she had the sweet in her hand, she took off at speed and disappeared behind the first grass screen. About two years old and already so streetwise…

There is another kind of activity where the little fish are dried next to the lake, supplying protein to the country. The night’s catch is boiled briefly in woven baskets in salt water and then spread out on the drying racks. There are little fish wherever you look and we wonder what will happen one day when there isn’t a single fish left in the lake.

Anuta didn’t feel like entering the steamy half-light of the narrow market passages where bodies and smells become one. I braved it, looking carefully where to tread as I moved with the slow flow of humanity. Music blared from every stall. Reggae. African Beat. Bongo Flava. Owners guarding their stalls, sometimes behind chicken wire to protect their goods. Sweets, cooldrink, oil, sugar and salt. Fresh produce originating from the small fields surrounding the village is sold at open stalls. Mostly sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, chillies, leaves, eggs. Dried beans, maize and rice form the staple diet. Scooped up in your hands and sold by measure or weight.

On the edge of the market are the eateries with their black kitchens – Sheila Cussons’ poem comes to mind. ((Die swart kombuis het balke/die mure is berook/in ‘n groot gekraakte erdebeker/woon bedags die nagskof-spook)(The black kitchen has beams/the walls are smoked/in a large cracked earthen jar/by day lives the night shift ghost) The walls have a patina of smoke, ash, fat, oil and evil spirits. Piles of meat lie on dirty wooden blocks covered by a veil of flies and wait to be either sold or fried in old oil. Also thick slices of sweet potato – the only bright spots in the darkness.

Here everything is about existence. About survival. About food in the stomach.

Our taxi guys stood waiting unhurriedly by their motorcycles to take us back. We climbed onto the seats and they steered the bikes deftly along the dirt roads. Back to Funky Cichlid where we were staying for a couple of days. Where coffee and crunchies awaited us. Served on a nice clean tablecloth.

Malawi: Markdag en die dogtertjie

Twee motorfietstaxi’s ry ons stadig tussen die modder- en riethuisies deur na die plaaslike mark toe. Aan die heel anderkant van die dorpie Cape Maclear aan die Malawimeer. Daar waar ons ‘n Afrika vind waarteen ons met ons shopping mall-ingesteldheid en Woolworthsverpakkings beskut is.

Eers is ons met die aankoms ‘n bietjie verward en oorweldig, soos wanneer jy op ‘n heel vreemde en onverstaanbare plek aankom en jy nie jou rigting kan kry nie. Die geraas van blikkerige Afrika-Bob Marleymusiek van alle kante gooi my verder van balans. Ook die reuk van as en houtvure, ou vleis, ou olie, ou vullis. ‘n Ou lewe.

Vriendelike manne nader ons, they want to escort us. It is very nice of you, but we want to explore the market ourselves, want ons weet hulle gaan aan ons klou en in rigtings en dwing waar ons nie wil wees nie. Het ons geleer.

Ons mik na ‘n oopte. ‘n Aardse informele plein van sand. Hope klere lê oral soos groot bondels vuil wasgoed. Vrouens staan gebukkend en soek uit, gooi eenkant, lig dit op en krap deurmekaar. Ons sien nog nie kans vir die drukte van die nou en donker markgangetjies nie.

‘n Baie klein vuil snotneus dogtertjie kom vat aan Anuta se hand en klou. Ons begin stap en die dogtertjie tou saam en wil glad nie haar hand los nie. Ons vra rond, is die kind verdwaal? Gaan sy ooit weer haar huis vind? Gaan Anuta van kinderontvoering aangekla word? Niemand is gesteur nie, sy sal weer haar huis vind, sê hulle. Ons kronkel later weg van die mark, deur ‘n labirint van modder en riethuise, opsoek na die vismark. Die dogtertjie klou.

Later is ons aan die buitewyke en byna op die strand, maar haar hand bly heel rustig en ongestoord in Anuta s’n. By ‘n winkeltjie koop ons vir haar ‘n suiglekker. Dadelik is daar ‘n skare wilde kindertjies by wat ook wil hê. Toe die kleintjie die lekker in haar hand het, trek sy weg met ‘n spoed en verdwyn om die eerste grasheining. Omtrent twee jaar oud, en alreeds streetwise…

Waar die kleinvissies aan die meer uitgedroog word is dit ‘n ander bedrywigheid wat proteïne aan die hele land verskaf. Die nag se vangs word in mandjies in baddens in soutwater gekook en dan op die droogstellasies gesorteer. Daar is vissies net waar jy kyk en ons wonder wat die dag sal gebeur wanneer daar nie meer ‘n enkele vis in die meer oor is nie.

Anuta sien nie kans vir die bedompigheid en skemerte van die nou markgangetjies nie, waar lywe en reuke teen mekaar skuur. Ek durf dit aan, kyk mooi waar ek trap terwyl ek in ‘n tydsame stroom beland. Uit elke stalletjie blêr musiek. Reggae. African Beat. Bongo Flava. Eienaars wat waak by hulle stalletjies – soms agter ‘n sifdraad om sy ware te beskerm. Soetgoed, tandepasta, koeldrank, olie, suiker en sout. Daar word handel gedryf in vars produkte wat op die klein lappies grond buite die dorp gekweek word. Baie geelpatats, tamaties, avokado’s, rissies, blare, eiers, en ek sien selfs eiervrug. Bone, mielies en rys is stapelvoedsel. Dit skep jy handevol en word dit per maat verkoop. In houers of met ‘n ou weegskaal afgemeet.

 

Aan die soom van die mark is die eetplekke met hulle swart kombuise – gedagtig aan Sheila Cussons se gedig. (Die swart kombuis het balke/die mure is berook/in ‘n groot gekraakte erdebeker/woon bedags die nagskof-spook) Die mure het ‘n patina van rook, as, vet, olie en bose geeste. Daar lê hompe vleis op ou vuil houtblokke met ‘n sluier vliëe en wag om gekoop of in ou olie gebraai te word. Ook groot dik skywe geelpatats – die enigste helderheid in die donkerte.

Hier gaan alles oor bestaan. Oor oorlewing. Oor kos in die maag.

Ons taximanne staan rustig om ons met die motorfietse terug te neem. Ons klim agterop en hulle stuur die motorfietse behendig oor sandpaaie. Terug na Funky Cichlid toe waar ons vir ‘n paar dae tuis is. Waar koffie en koekies op ons wag. Bedien op ‘n mooi skoon tafeldoek.

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Motorbike taxis!

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There Anuta goes!

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The nightshift ghost lives in a black kitchen…

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At first we were a bit disorientated.

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Deep fried sweet potatoes

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Would you booze here?

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Like dirty washing

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Welcome!

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A very small runny-nosed little girl came and took Anuta’s hand and held on.

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Nobody knws who she is…

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Boys play soccer, and the little girls still holds Anuta’s hand.

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Through a labyrenth of mud houses and reed fences…

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The lollipop!

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The busy fishing harbour

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Drying fish under a cloud of flies

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Cooking the fish

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Young men hanging around

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Burglar bars

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Sign writing or graffiti?

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The colors

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Mobile phone shop

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No, not sorting washing…

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Beautiful African loth and colors

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Peanuts are an important part of the African diet

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Which cut would you like?

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Ols fashioned scale still working

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Beans, maize and rice

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In one of the narrow alleys

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Beans and more beans

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In another alley

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The shopkeeper

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Farm produce

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CBD

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The butcher

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Even the goats go shopping

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Selling maize

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Another black kitchen

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Transporter

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Baobab

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Sugar cane is very popular

 

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I am the strong local tailor

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Boston’s fine art

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We are amazed by the wood carvings

Zambia: Going to town in the heart of Africa

Zambia: Going to town in the heart of Africa

Rol af vir Afrikaans

Our guide for the day is Saliem, a bright young man with a lovely sense of humour. He works as a wildlife guide at the Wildlife Camp South Luangwa, our home for 10 days. His knowledge of birds, fauna and the area makes him excellent company.

Trade and barter is an old Africa tradition. It forms the heartbeat of settlements which has been absorbed into the DNA of the inhabitants. We experienced this again here in the large informal village of Mfuwe in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia. A busy place with only one tarred road flanked by giant wild mango, avokado and syringa trees, little shops, houses and open air workshops.

First we followed a dirt road through varying thickets, forests, plains, across rivers, and later past one or two rice paddies where people were bent over, busy harvesting. Groups of fishermen were on their way to the river. Closer to town there were maize, groundnut and vegetable fields worked and farmed by locals.

Mfuwe is poor, but busy and colourful. The people upbeat and friendly. It was school holidays and the streets were filled with children and young people wandering, playing, doing odd jobs. Young boys transport bags of rice and maize on bicycles. The little ones sit under trees sorting rice and maize or beans, surrounded by chickens gleaning bits left behind. Others man their little shops or stand around in groups, chatting. Workshops for bicycle repairs or where furniture is made are in the open air in the shade of trees. We watched in amazement how cyclists transport huge loads of charcoal, groceries or a passenger – cycling past without looking about. Because there are no state subsidies or grants, everyone has to work to stay alive.

We stopped every now and then at stalls selling brightly coloured cotton cloth which the women bind about their waists as long skirts. We were looking for smaller designs and subtler colours.

I asked whether I could take photos and every time the friendly response: No problem! We felt at home here in the heart of Africa with its warm people.

We had lunch at Tinta’s Grill. A simple traditional restaurant. On the menu was chicken and fish in various forms, mostly accompanied by msima (pap) and sauces. We decided on pan-fried bream, with the tasty local rice and vegetables. As a side dish we ordered a traditional dish that looks and tastes like marog which I remember from my childhood – a wild green leafy plant which is prepared with onion and tomato like spinach. But, here they flavour it with groundnut powder.

On the return trip Saliem spotted a couple of Thornicroft giraffe which are indigenous to the Luangwa Valley. Smaller than their southern cousins, with triangular patterns and the appearance of wearing long socks. We turned off and drove to a pan where they stood in the shade of large trees. Waterbuck, impala and long-legged baboons grazed and foraged peacefully alongside each other. Closer to us was a group of sacred ibises and hammerheads. Suddenly the ibises flew up noisily. I heard a loud noise above me and got a fright when I saw the giant bird with its long, sharp red beak and wide white wings swooping very close over my head and preparing to land with open wings – a saddle-billed stork. A graceful experience. The hammerheads were unperturbed. Saliem explained that they don’t eat the same food as the storks. So they are ignored.

I don’t ever want to forget today.

For this photo blog I took photos of shops. Also a few cyclists.

Dorp toe in die hart van Afrika

Handeldryf en uitruil is ‘n ou Afrikatradisie. Dit is die hartklop van nederstettings wat in die DNS van die inwoners ingeënt is. Ons het dit nou weer hier in die groterige en informele dorpie, Mfuwe in die Luangwavallei van Zambië, gevind. ‘n Bedrywig plek met net een geteerde teerpad, geflank met reuse mango-, avokado- en seringbome, winkeltjies, huise en opelug werkswinkels.

Ons gids vir die dag is Saliem, ‘n wakker jongman met ‘n heerlike sin vir humor. Hy werk as ‘n natuurgids by die Wildlife Camp South Luangwa waar ons vir 10 dae tuis is. Sy kennis van voëls, diere en die omgewing maak van hom ‘n goeie gespreksgenoot.

Ons ry eers grondpadlangs deur wisselende bosse, woude, vlaktes, oor riviere, en later verby een of twee ryslande waar mense besig om gebukkend die rys te oes. Groepe vissermanne is op pad rivier toe. Nader aan die dorp is daar mielie-, grondboontjie en groentelande waar mense werk en bewerk.

Mfuwe is armoedig, maar besig en kleurvol. Die mense opgeruimd en vriendelik. Dit is skoolvakansie en die strate is vol kinders en jongmense wat drentel, speel, of werkies verrig. Jongs seuns ry sakke meel met fietse aan. Jongetjies sit onder bome en sorteer mieliepitte of bone, terwyl hulle omring is deur hoenders wat ‘n pit of twee aas. Ander beman hulle klein winkeltjies of staan in groepies en gesels. Werkswinkels waar herstelwerk aan fietse gedoen word, of waar meubels gemaak word is in die buitelug onder die koelte van bome. Ons verkyk ons aan die fietsers wat met groot vragte houtskool, opgestapelde kruideniersware, of met passasiers verbytrap – sonder om rond te kyk. Omdat hier geen staatstoelaes is nie, móét almal werk om aan die lewe te bly.

Ons hou hou kort-kort stil by die plekke waar helderkleurige katoendoeke wat die vrouens om hulle middelywe vasbind en soos lang rompe dra. Ons soek na ontwerpe in fyner patrone en subtieler kleure.

Ek vra of ek foto’s mag neem en telkens is die vriendelike antwoord: No problem! Ons voel tuis hier in die hart van Afrika met sy gulhartige mense. 

Ons gaan eet middagete by Tinta’s Grill. ‘n Eenvoudige tradisionele restourant. Op die spyskaart is daar hoender en vis in verskillende gedaantes en souse. Ons besluit op gebraaide bream, met die geurige plaaslike rys en groente. As bykos bestel ons ‘n tradisionele gereg wat lyk en proe soos marog wat ek uit my kinderdae onthou – ‘n wilde blaarplant wat met uie en tamatie gekook word, soos spinasie. Hier met fyngemaalde grondboontjiemeel gegeur.

Met die terugry sien Saliem ‘n paar Thornicroft kameelperde wat inheems is aan die Luangwavallei. Kleiner, driehoekpatrone en dit lyk asof hulle langkouse dra. Ons draai af en ry tot by ‘n pan waar hulle in die koelte van groot bome staan. Waterbokke, rooibokke en langbeen bobbejane wei rustig saam. Nader aan ons wei ‘n swerm heilige ibusse en hamerkoppe. Skielik vlieg die ibisse met ‘n groot geraas op. Ek hoor ‘n gedruis bokant my kop en skrik toe ek die reusagtige voël met sy lang, skerp rooi snawel en met wye wit vlerke vlak bo my sien verbysweef en regmaak om oopvlerk land – ‘n saalbekooievaar. ‘n Sierlike belewenis. Die hamerkoppe bly onverstoord. Saliem verduidelik dat hulle nie dieselfde kos as die ooivaar eet nie. Hulle word verdra.

Vandag wil ek nooit vergeet nie.

Vir hierdie fotoblog het ek foto’s van winkels geneem. Ook ‘n paar fietsers.

Zambia: On Safari

Zambia: On Safari

Rol af vir Afrikaans
Scroll down for photos


The snorting and grunting of hippos here near your tent has you lying awake now and then during the night. Lions roar across the river causing the earth to shudder. A hyena’s sad whooping is closer. By daybreak the hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo of the ground hornbill rises above the cacophony of hundreds of other birds in the bush. A fish eagle calls with three sharp notes – a long one followed by two shorts – that another day has broken here in Africa. The good Africa where man, bush and animals have existed for centuries following their own rhythm and course.

How did Livingstone manage to travel overland? We travelled in two 4×4 vehicles to fit in all we needed. There were good mattresses, tents, and everything one would need for luxury camping. What would Livingstone say about that, I wondered. In Mfuwe we turned off and followed a narrow road which ran through primitive settlements here and there, each with its patch of maize. There were also attempts to grow cotton, sweet potatoes and beans. The inhabitants move slowly. No haste. The cyclists and motorcyclists also move slowly along the bad road. During the rainy season, these villagers are completely cut off from the outside world.

Every few kilometres there is a communal water pump where brightly coloured containers are filled with water. The older women balance big buckets on their heads. The young ones transport them by bicycle, either riding or pushing them along. Somewhere Dawie stopped to check his new gopro camera. A young girl hauling water in yellow containers on her bicycle also stopped to greet me. I noticed that the saddle was broken, hanging at an angle. The conversation went as follows, following a pattern I had noticed when the friendly Zambians initiate a greeting:

Hello, how are you?
I am fine, and how are you?
Fine thank you, what’s your name
I am Gerard, and what is your name?

I couldn’t follow what she said very well. But it was good and enough. We had met each other and now we were friends. Some of the young boys held up their thumbs and when our thumbs touched, a bond was established.

The convoy had to cross a couple of rivers. The wheels of the game vehicle had to be locked into low range before creeping down steep banks and up the other side. I jumped out each time to capture the crossing with my camera. For me,  crossing a river has always felt like crossing a border. To a new world.

People and civilisation were left behind. Now we were in the wilderness. The sandy tracks wove through Africa at its most beautiful with tall, slim mopanis like cathedral spires. We brushed past man-height yellow grasses. Another kind of touching. Another kind of bond.

Closer to the rivers it is denser and the trees have bigger leaves. We saw sausage trees hanging heavy with fruit – mainly used medicinally to assist mothers to produce more milk and, wait for it, to enlarge girls’ breasts! Also giant wild mango trees, jakkalsbessie, hardekool and tamarind, to name a few. All monuments. Now and then we could see the Luangwa River through the thickets. Long-legged yellow baboons, puku, waterbuck and impala grazed on the flood plains in between hammer head, sacred ibis and guineafowl. On the banks grey-green crocodiles and hippos stirred as we passed.

By prior arrangement we used the Zikomo Safari Camp as our base. They hadn’t opened yet for the season, but the site had been prepared and the fire for hot water had been lit. Dawie and Jacholeen are well-organised and very soon our tent had been pitched under a huge shady tree and the camp set up for maximum convenience. A big kuier, laughter and chatting by the campfire – built of mopane wood of course – could begin. Armed with various remedies against mosquitoes.

Through the night we awoke every now and then to listen to the sounds. The hippos grazed just below our tent on the flood plain. I heard other suspect sounds, but was poked fun at the next morning. It’s not strange for lion and leopard to wander between the tents at night…

We were up early on the first morning and on our way. Dawie and Jacholeen sat in front in order to rest their cameras on the bean bags if needed. One of the loveliest sights of the day was the flight of saddle-billed storks circling over us next to the river. I counted about 30 and then lost count as they glided in circles just above our heads on their wide white wings. Before us lay the biggest group of hippos I had ever seen in one place. I counted to almost 50 and became confused again. One by one, crocodiles slipped from the banks into the water. Cameras clicked and clicked and again I wondered what Livingstone would say now.

We also saw the Thornicroft giraffe that only occurs here. Smaller and with darker triangular patterns. Between hoof and knee the skin is light-coloured as if they are wearing socks. Proud, elegant animals. They watched us curiously and dropped their heads to smell us. There were also the Crawshay zebras with their surprisingly different stripe patterns completely covering the entire body, including ears and right down to the hooves.

In an open space along the river we stopped for a late breakfast. It’s moments like this that you would want to remember forever. The adventure, the river, the herons aiming before pouncing. The call of the doves. More hippos grunting and crocodiles basking in the sun with their open mouths, antelope standing about. And then the aroma of bacon, eggs, tomato and pork sausages. All against the background of the wide river, tall straight trees and the expansive pale blue African sky with banking clouds.

I want to press my palms into the red-yellow dust. But then it must be the good Africa.

  • The camp, situated on property belonging to the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia, was begun by Herman Miles in 1992 and is still operating. It  offers you a front seat from which to enjoy the beauty of the Luangwa Valley. The wide river is right on your doorstep. The camp, a large extended complex, offers a variety of accommodation – from camping to comfortable, convenient chalets. All shaded by mopani, African ebony and tamarind.
  • South Luangwa Wild Life Camp: www.wildlifezambia.com
    www.luangwaphotosafari.com

Zambië: Op safari

Seekoeie se gesnork hier naby jou tent laat jou kort-kort deur die nag wakker lê. Leeus brul oorkant die rivier dat die aarde sidder. ‘n Hiëna se droefgeestige getjank is nader. Teen dagbreek staan bromvoëls se whoe-whoe-whoe-whoe… uit bo die gedruis van honderde ander voëls in die bosse. Visarende roep met drie skerp note – ‘n lange gevolg deur twee kortes – dat nog ‘n dag hier in Afrika oopgebreek het. Die goeie Afrika waar mens, bos en dier vir eeue lank ‘n eie ritme en gang het.

Soos ‘n Livingstone van ouds is ons op safari.  Hier in Zambië se Suid-Luangwavallei – die suidelikste vallei in Afrika se groot skeur en een van die drie top wildsbestemmings van hierdie kontinent.  Ons is saam met my susterskind, KleinDawie, waar hy en Jacholeen die Wildlife Camp* bestuur. Hulle is ook beide ywerige wildsfotograwe.

Hoe het Livingstone dit reggekry om oorland te reis? Ons pak die reis met twee 4×4 voertuie aan om alles ingepak te kry. Daar is goeie matrasse, tente, en alles wat ‘n mens nodig het vir ‘n luukse kampeerdery. Wat sou Livingstone sê?, wonder ek. In Mfuwe draai ons weg en volg ‘n nou pad wat hier en daar deur primitiewe nedersettings loop waar elkeen ‘n lappie mielies het. Ook pogings om katoen, patats en bone te kweek. Die inwoners beweeg almal stadig. Geen haas. Selfs dié per fiets of motorfiets, want die pad is sleg. In die reënseisoen is die paaie onbegaanbaar en is dié mense van die buitewêreld afgesny.

Elke paar kilometer is daar ‘n gemeenskaplike pomp waar water in helderkleurige plastiekhouers getap word. Die ouer vroue balanseer die groot emmers op hulle koppe. Die jonges ry of stoot dit aan per fiets. Ek sien in die verbygaan ‘n ou skewe skotskar met twee osse wat ook water aanry. Iewers hou Dawie stil om sy gopro na te gaan. ‘n Jong meisie wat ook water met helder geel houers aanry op haar fiets aanry hou ook stil en groet my. Ek sien die saal is gebreek en hang skeef. Die gesprek gaan soos volg, het ek die patroon al agtergekom wanneer die vriendelike Zambiërs altyd eerste groet:

Hello, how are you?
I am fine, and how are you?
Fine thank you, what’s your name?
I am Gerard, and what is your name?

Ek kan nie mooi hoor wat sy sê nie. Maar dit is goed en genoeg. Ons het mekaar ontmoet en ons is nou vriende. Van die jong seuns hou hulle duime uit en wanneer ons duime mekaar raak word ‘n verbond bevestig.

Die stoet moet ‘n paar keer riviere kruis. Die wiele van die oop voertuig moet eers gesluit word om die skerp walle stadig af te kruip en anderkant weer op. Ek spring elke keer uit om die oortog met my kamera vas te vang. Die oorsteek van ‘n rivier is nog altyd vir my soos die oorsteek van ‘n grens. Na ‘n nuwe wêreld.

Mense en beskawing word agtergelaat. Ons is nou in die wildernis. Die tweespoor sandpad vleg deur Afrika op sy mooiste met hoë slanke mopanies, wat soos katedraalpilare staan. Ons skuur teen die menshoë groengeel grasse verby. ‘n Ander soort aanraking. ‘n Ander soort verbond. 

Nader aan die riviere is dit digter, ruier, en die bome het groter blare. Ons sien worsbome in volvrug, wat medisinaal belangrik is – dit help moeders om meer melk te produseer en, wag hiervoor: om jong meisies se borste groter te laat word!  Ook reuse wilde mangobome, jakkalsbessie, hardekool en tamarinde, om maar ‘n paar te noem. Almal monumente. Nou en dan sien ons die Luangwarivier deur die digtheid. Op die vloedvlaktes wei langbeenbobbejaan, puku, waterbok en impala rustig saam, tussen hamerkop, heilige ibis en tarentaal. Op die walle bak vaalgeel krokodille en seekoeie roer effens wanneer ons verbygaan.

Daar is vooraf gereel dat ons die Zikomo Safari Camp ons basis sou maak. Hulle is nog nie oop vir die seisien nie, maar daar is reggemaak en die vuur vir warm water alreeds gestook. Dawie en Jacholeen is goed georganiseerd en een-twee-drie is ons tent onder ‘n groot digte boom opgeslaan en die kamp gerieflik ingerig. Die groot kuier, lag en gesels by die kampuur, van mopaniehout natuurlik, kan begin. Gewapen met allerlei rate teen muskiete.

Deur die nag is ons kort-kort wakker om na die geluide te luister. Die seekoeie wei net onder ons tent op die vloedvlakte. Ek hoor ander verdagte geluide, maar word die volgende oggend uitgelag. Dit is nie vreemd dat leeus en luiperds snags tussen die tente rondloop nie…

Ons is die eerste oggend vroeg op en in die pad. Dawie en Jacholeen sit voor sodat hulle lense op boontjiesakke kan rus indien nodig. Een van die mooiste gesigte van die dag is die swerm saalbekooievaars wat langs die rivier oor ons sirkel. Ek tel omtrent 30 en raak deurmekaar soos hulle net bokant ons koppe al in die rondte met hulle wye wit vlerke sweef. Voor ons lê die grootse klomp seekoeie wat ek nog bymekaar gesien het. Ek tel tot naby 50 en raak wéér deurmekaar. Op die walle glip krokodille een vir een in die water. Die kameras klik en klik, en ek wonder weer wat Livingstone nou sou gesê het.

Ons sien ook die Thornicroft kameelperde wat net hier voorkom. Kleiner en met driehoekpatrone. Bokant hulle pote is die huid wit en dit lyk asof hulle sokkies dra. Trotse, elegante diere. Hulle hou ons nuuskierig dop en laat sak hulle koppe om ons te ruik. Daar is ook die Crawshay zebra’s wat verrassend anders lyk met hulle strepe wat anders lê.

By ‘n oopte langs die rivier hou ons stil vir ‘n laat ontbyt. Dit is sulke oomblikke wat jy vir altyd wil onthou. Die avontuur, die rivier, die reiers wat wik en wik voor hulle toeslaan. Die geroep van duiwe. Nóg seekoeie wat snork en krokodille wat oopbek in die son bak, kleinwild wat sku rondstaan. En dan die geur van spek, eiers, tamatie en varkworsies. Alles teen die agtergrond van die breë rivier, hoë regop bome en die wye vaalblou Afrikalug met wolke wat begin pak.

Ek wil my palms in die rooigeel stof druk, om ‘n verbond met dié kontinent aan te gaan. Maar dan moet dit die goeie Afrika wees.

  • Die kamp, geleë op eiendom wat behoort aan Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia, is in 1992 deur Herman Miles begin wat steeds hier is. Dit laat jou in die voorste ry sit om die prag van die Luangwavallei te geniet. Die breë rivier is as’t ware reg op jou voorstoep. Die kamp, ‘n heel uitgebreide kompleks wat ‘n verskeidenheid van akommodasie bied – van kampering tot heerlike en gerieflike chalets.  Almal in die skadu van mopanie, Afrika ebbehout en tamarinde.
  • South Luangwa Wild Life Camp: www.wildlifezambia.com
    www.luangwaphotosafari.com

We spent ten days with Dawie and Jacholeen at Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa. Gerard armed with Peaceful Sleep instead of G&T
Dawie modified this game viewing vehicle specifically for photographic safaris.
Gerard had to walk across to gauge the depth of the crocodile-infested water and take action photos while he was at it.
Jacholeen is a calm, calculated 4×4 driver.
We had a whole audience of happy children to cheer us on our way.
Soon we had left civilization (!) behind us and only the beautiful bush surrounded us.
A cathedral of tall trees
This motorcyclist hooted for us to pull over so that he could overtake us. Motorcycles are the second most popular means of transportation after bicycles.
Within minutes the camp was set up and ready. Gerard seems to think he did it single-handedly.
A peaceful moment before the supper fire is lit.
Jacholeen thinks of everything – so super organized!
Afternoon coffee coming up
Our first sunset at Zikomo was stunning.
Dawie lovingly tending his tamboti fire
Jacholeen is also handy with selfies. Dawie seemingly unimpressed
Dawie has just locked the wheels into low range.
Splitting sandbags, some poles and strips of plank and you have a bridge of sorts.
Lovely to see an open grassland after the closeness of dense bush
Two acclaimed wildlife photographers at work. Two months before they lost identical equipment when their boat was overturned by a hippo in the Okavango Delta.
A flotilla of hippo. We counted more than 50 in a small area.
No limits to moving about on foot, but only when you can spy the surrounds to be sure…
A puku, a local antelope
This bend in the Luangwa River is set in a park-like landscape.
The bonnet served as a working surface for breakfast preparations.
Jacholeen had things firmly in hand, but Anuta couldn’t resist interfering.
The aroma of frying pork sausages combined with beautiful nature
Bush breakfast
These sandbanks in the mighty river will eventually become one as the water level drops.
Jacholeen manoeuvres skilfully on the return journey.
The young girl who stopped to meet Gerard. Three fifty litre containers of water on a bicycle on a bad road
A settlement alongside the road

Some of Dawie’s photos

Aubusson on the Creuse

Aubusson on the Creuse

16 July 2018 – After a sad farewell on this brilliant Sunday morning to the beloved Geay family at Maury in the Auvergne, we headed north with a mission – to reach the Tapestries of Aubusson in the Marche Province of France just after lunchtime. About 137 kilometres more or less north. When we crossed the Dordogne River, we knew we were leaving something of ourselves behind. Again.

The high Central Massif mountains flanked us to the east and later it was the flat plains of Northern France where we could pick up speed. We stopped at a market in a quaint village and knew that it would be the last time that we would buy bread, cheese, meat and tomatoes on this journey. The last time we would ask questions and do a tasting before we buy. The last time we would watch the stall holder wrapping the precious produce with care. Tomorrow will be Belgium…

I must add that there was frenzy in the air. Later in the afternoon it would be the 2018 UEFA Europe League final between Marseille and Altético Madrid. (We always follow the Europe finals on our travels.) The blue, white and red flags were all over. Hanging from windows and buildings. People swinging flags in streets and from hooting and revving cars. Pubs were overflowing in anticipation. And for us, from a torn and broken society, a wonderful experience to be part of a united nation. (We always support the guest nation.)

We reached Aubusson in time and headed immediately to the tapestry museum on the banks of the Creuse River. Listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

An unknown world unfolded before our eyes, and we were transported to another world. Beauty. Mastery. We moved from one masterpiece to another and tried to take in as much as possible.

‘The Aubusson tapestry manufacture of the 17th and 18th centuries managed to compete with the royal manufacture of Gobelins tapestry and the privileged position of Beauvais tapestry. Tapestry manufacture at Aubusson may have developed from looms in isolated family workshops established by Flemings that are noted in documents from the 16th century.

Typically, Aubusson tapestries depended on engravings as a design source or the full-scale cartoons from which the low-warp tapestry-weavers worked. As with Flemish and Parisian tapestries of the same time, figures were set against a conventional background of verdure, stylized foliage and vignettes of plants on which birds perch and from which issue glimpses of towers and towns.” (Wikipedia)

Later we strolled to the workshops, further down the river. We found the buildings with open doors. Deserted. Nobody to be seen. We had the enormous place to ourselves and I had time to take nice photos of interiors, wools, textures and colours.

We booked into our accommodation on the banks of the river, in the old part of the historical old town – a huge old house and our room was on the 4th floor. You climb through a maze of passages and creaking narrow stairs, pass fat cats sitting on landings and mirrors and bric à brac on shelves. The cheerful British owner is obviously a collector of cheap porcelain figurines. The view over the river, the stone bridge and the clay roofs was worth the effort of climbing all those narrow steps.

The owner invited us to watch the final game in the living room. When the final whistle blew and France won the series, the village exploded. We went down to the little town square. It was just noise. Exuberant people singing, shouting, laughing. Swaying flags. Jumping up and down. Hanging out of hooting cars or drinking and singing on open trucks. We were lucky to find a spot to sit and be part of this happy and festive mood.

At twilight, we took a last walk over the cobbled stones. France at its best. A village glowing in the last light. Old buildings, slightly battered. A murmuring river. A stone bridge. Narrow alleys. Faint light falling through windows. Old desires and dreams being satisfied.

Farewell

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The Geay family in front of the farm houses. We usually sleep in the one on the left. Circa 1652

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The Lot River is a couple of kilometres away

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The old bridge house

Dordogne

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Beautiful Argentat on the Dordogne. Early morning.

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Flags in place for the final of the European cup

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Lunchtime!

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Pain, fromage et tomates s’il vous plaît

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Along the way

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The Central Massif

The Nave of Tapestries

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Tapestry museum

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When you walk into the museum, this horse is a big surprise. We expected stuffy old tapestries.

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Wonderful to see young people mastering the art o tapestry

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Tapestries can be playful

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This work, Millefleurs à la licorne, is the oldest known tapestry from the region. 1480 – 1510

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Foliage of cabbage leaves – 16th Century

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Armida in Rinaldo’s arms – 17th Century

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Armida takes Rinaldo away in her chariot – 17th Century

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Venus at the forges of Lemnos – 1760 – 1770

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Daphne and Chloé’s wedding – 18th Century

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It looks like an old master…

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…until you get closer…

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Le Cobusier!!!

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Goats and flowers, Dom Robert 1973

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Jean Lurçat (1892 – 1966) was a major influence in the renewal of the art of tapestry. Some of his pieces are 7m long. In this tapestry, Claires, his taste for poetry of his generation can be noticed. He borrowed the words of Senghor: “All these light green blue/green light blue hours”. On the left is a lion with a sun like head, often found in Luçrat’s pieces. It symbolises the Sun-God-Lion. “The world does not consist of separate elements which would be the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom, the mineral kingdom etc. Each one of us is born from minerals or from plant beginnings, etc. and we live, develop, branch out like trees.”

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And guess? (Tolkien nè?)

The weavery

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The village and the football final

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Lowveld and Highveld/Laeveld en Hoëveld

Lowveld and Highveld/Laeveld en Hoëveld

The rain is late this year and the veld and animals are struggling. Mopanie trees still retain a curled leaf here and there. River courses and watering holes are empty and dry. The veld has been trodden bare. In the late afternoons, clouds begin to gather, but remain only a promise. Most of the animals have moved on and the Klaserie carries a lonely, desolate air.

We visited my old school and family friends, Egmont and Maureen Furstenburg again on their Lowveld game farm close to the Kruger National Park where an elephant broke into the compound earlier that week in order to access the green inside. Where zebras snort through the day. Where a leopard comes sniffing in the late dusk. Where night birds call through the night. Where the cry of a hyena makes you sad and the howl of a jackal takes you back to your childhood on the farm. Where bush louries begin their scales doh-doh-doh-doh early in the mornings and swarms fly from tree to tree to warn everyone against danger. But it is the bush shrike that we hear first in the mornings with that mysterious long hollow call that has you wondering. One night we also heard the mighty roar of a lion. In the distance.

delicate perception
when first light breaks through
and the birds awake

The Africa rhythm lasts through the day. Morning coffee on a thatched veranda, sitting still to watch the birds bathe, watching the river course through binoculars for any movement, chatting and remembering old memories and acquaintances, riding around on the dirt roads in search of game. Becoming quiet when the sun sets behind the Drakensberg and the last melancholic sounds of day die away and Venus brightens, near the new moon. And then the great inevitability, sitting under the stars alongside a big fire and listening; and spinning yarns.

Lowveld starry night
tambotie fire aroma:
meets peace for the soul

a starry parade
on a gigantic scale:
bright galaxies

new moon tonight
hanging askew in an ink blue sky:
silver umbilical chord

Egmont is an expert on birds and trees, amongst others. We drink in every word when he identifies bird sounds, near and afar, or points them out. We hear all the bushveld bird names again: bontroklaksman, bruinkopvisvanger, waaistert vlieëvanger, blousysies… We stop below or next to trees. Knoppiesdoring, worsboom, maroela, huilboerboon, tambotie, appelblaar, witgatwortel…. and we stand amazed at the lovely and original common names.

A few days later we moved across to the Highveld. Philip and Louisa Stoop’s farm near Carolina. Where the heaven is wide open and the sky a faded blue. Where grasslands fade into the haziness.

oh yes! The Highveld
is like rarified blue poems
wind mills word for word

Goedeverwachting is a farm for people, friends, chats, chickens, cattle, birds, dogs, blesbuck and wise folk. We start the first chat session over coffee and rusks before sunrise and celebrate a golden 50 years of friendship. Re-read student newspapers of 50 years ago that Louisa has kept and we recall the dead, the living and the forgotten. Work through piles of photo albums. Refresh the memoires – with Louisa who never forgets a single detail. Mostly we laugh, but also talk about serious things. Every night we get to bed around midnight and sleep until the hadidas fly over. When day is still breaking.

hadida calls
travel far through wide spaces
heavenly writings

One morning we walked 8 km, to the big road and back, surrounded by wide plains.

The pantry groans with koeksisters, ginger biscuits, bokpootjies and Louisa’s winning rusks. Fresh bread is baked. We eat organic meat – slaughtered on the farm. Mika, the cross boerbull, and I start a relationship and I whisper to her eyes. In the mornings we are angry with her, because she has, once again, pulled up pot plants and the yard is strewn with the evidence. Then she rolls her eyes and we forgive her. Sara, the wise one, prepares krummelpap that tastes best with sour milk and brown sugar.

In the evenings I take photos of the highveld sun behind the bluegums. Also of the chickens that become restless and start looking for a roosting spot. I can’t stop watching the wild geese calling raucously as they fly to their nests. I listen to the hadidas and jackals – ancient sounds of Africa.

the sun seeks a resting place
in the seam of trees
avoiding the drought

behind the bluegums
the jackals hold a séance
howling invokes old ghosts

Lowveld and Highveld, so different. Bushveld and savanna. Mountains in the distance and rolling plains reaching for the horizon. Thickets and clearings. People and people.

Hoëveld

Die reën is vanjaar laat en die veld en diere kry swaar. Mopaniebome het hier en daar ‘n verdwaalde opgekrulde blaar. Rivierlope en watergate is droog en leeg. Veld uitgetrap. Laatmiddae stapel wolke op, maar dit bly beloftes. Die meeste diere het weggetrek en die Klaserie dra ‘n eensaamheid, ‘n verlatenheid, saam.

Ons kuier weer by my ou skool- en familievriende, Egmont en Maureen Furstenburg, op hulle Laeveldse wildsplaas digby die Kruger Nasionale Park waar ‘n olifant vroëer die week deur die heinings gebreek het agter groenigheid aan. Waar kwaggas deur die dag runnik. Waar ‘n luiperd laatskemer kom rondsnuif. Waar nagvoëls heelnag roep. Waar die huil van ‘n hiëna jou droewig maak en die tjank van ‘n jakkals jou terugvoer na jou kinderdae op die plaas. Waar die bosloeries al vroeg soggens begin toonlere dô-dô-dô-dô-dô en in swerms van boom tot boom vlieg om almal teen gevare te waarsku. Maar dit is ‘n spookvoël wat ons soggens eerste hoor met daardie misterieuse lang hol fluit wat jou laat wonder. Een nag hoor ons die magtige brul van ‘n leeu. Veraf.

brose belewing
wanneer eerste lig deurbreek
en die voëls ontwaak

Die Afrikaritme duur deur die dag. Oggendkoffie op ‘n grasdakstoep, stil sit om te sien hoe voëls kom bad, met ‘n verkyker die rivierloop dophou vir bewegings, gesels en ou memories en kennise oproep, met die stofpaaie rondry en wild soek. Stil word as die son agter die Drakensberge sak en die laaste daggeluide melankolies wegsterf en Venus helder word, naby die nuwemaan. En dan die groot onvermydelike, om saans onder die sterre by die groot vuur te sit en luister, en om slim stories te verkoop.

laeveldsterrenag
met reuk van tambotievuur:
sielsvrede ontmoet

sterre paradeer
op oorweldigende skaal:
helder galaksies

nuwe maan vanaand
wat skeef hang in nagblou lug:
‘n silwer naelstring

Egmont is ‘n kenner van voël- en boomkenner onder andere. Ons hang aan sy lippe soos hy elke ver en naby voëlklank herken en uitwys. Ons hoor weer al die bosveldvoëlname: bontroklaksman, bruinkopvisvanger, waaistert vlieëvanger, blousysies… Ons staan stil onder of langs bome. Knoppiesdoring, worsboom, maroela, huilboerboon, tambotie, appelblaar, witgatwortel…. en verwonder ons aan die mooi en oorspronklike volksname.

‘n Paar dae later skuif ons oor na die Hoëveld. Philip en Louisa Stoop se plaas naby Carolina. Dit is waar die hemel wyd is in die vaalblou lug. Waar grasvlaktes wegraak in ‘n wasigheid.

wragtag! die Hoëveld
is soos ylblou gedigte
wind pomp woord vir woord

Goedeverwachting is ‘n plaas vir mense, vriende, gesels, hoenders, beeste, voëls, honde, blesbokke en wyse mense. Ons begin soggens voor sonop al kuier met koffie en beskuit en vier ‘n 50-jarige goue vriendskap. Herlees studentekoerante van 50 jaar gelede wat Louisa gebêre het en herroep die dooies, lewendes en vergetelinge. Werk deur stapels foto-albums. Verfris die memories – met Louisa wat nooit enige detail vergeet nie. Ons lag meestal, maar bespreek ook ernstige sake. Elke nag klim ons kort voor middernag in die bed en slaap tot die hadidas verbyvlieg. Dan is die dag nog besig om te breek.

hadida geskreeu
trek ver deur wye ruimtes
hemelgeskrifte

Een oggend stap ons 8 km tot by die groot pad en terug, omring met wye vlaktes.

Die spens kreun van koeksisters, gemmerkoekies, bokppootjies en Louisa se trefferbeskuit. Vars brode word gebak. Ons eet organiese vleis – plaasgeslag. Ek en Mika, die basterboerboel, begin ‘n liefdesverhouding en ek fluister in haar oë. Soggens is ons kwaad vir haar, want dan het sy weer in die nag potplante uitgetrek en die plaaswerf lê bestrooi. Dan rol sy die oë en vergewe ons haar. Sara, die wyse, maak krummelpap wat op sy lekkerste met suurmelk en bruin suiker smaak.

Saans neem ek foto’s van die hoëveldson agter die bloekombome. Van die hoenders wat onrustig begin raak en slaapplek soek. Verkyk ek my aan die wildeganse wat skorrend nes toe vlieg. Luister na die hadidas en jakkalse – oer Afrikageluide.

die son soek rusplek
in borduursel van bome
sku vir die droogte

agter die bloekoms
hou die jakkalse séance
tjank ou geeste op

Laeveld en Hoëveld, so verskillend. Bosveld en savanna. Berge in die vertes en rollende vlaktes tot teen die einders. Ruigtes en ooptes. Ménse en ménse.

In the Klaserie:

Hilltops

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The wide open spaces between the indigenous trees of Egmont and Maureen’s Hilltops lodge

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A magnificant knoppiesdoring, like a monument, gives dappled shade in the hot summers. Acacia nigrescens

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The chairs are already out, the fire burning, and waiting for a long night under the stars. The boma roof is a master piece, designed by Egmont, an engineer.

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The open living room. As African as you can get.

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‘Our’ rondavel where we usually sleep

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An indigenous cactus is a focal point

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The feng shui, the spatial arrangement and flow of energy is perfect….

Textures of the Klaserie

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The combination of bone, horns, dry river bed, savanna and bush is another perfection with a spiritual presence.

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There is just this magic about an mighty African bush sunset

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The traditional potjie. Slow food at its best.

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A herd of about 300 buffaloes moving towards the water hole near the neigbour’s camp

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The interesting colour of the fever tree – Vachellia xanthophloea

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I grew up with the raasblaar, fluisterbos, or bushwillow, and an old favourite. The dry seeds make a noise in the wind. Combretum zeyheri

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The view towards the river with its huge green trees along the river banks

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No, it’s not me. It was an elephant!

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And another elephant scar. Elephants are over populated and they cause big damage to the area

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Drolpeer. Dombeya rotundifolia, the dikbas or “South African wild pear”. An old favourite as well.

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My father was an aloe expert and collector and he could identify almost any species immediately. He had, if I remember correctly, 148 of the South African species in his collection. I took this photo in remembrance of him, who would have turned 100 years old in two weeks’ time. Dis vir jou, Pa.

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A lucky charm on the dashboard of the Land Rover

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A typical winter scene in the Lowveld. But with this year’s drought it looks worse.

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Mopani trees and leaves

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Always a treat to be with  Maureen and Egmont with his vast knowledge of the veld, animals and birds

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Anuta in the woods

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Visiting the neighbours

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Tree trunk 1

T

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Tree trunk 2

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Aloe 1

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Aloe 2

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Aloe 3

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Drought

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A dry water hole

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Red sand

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A safe lookout point

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Raasblaar

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The dry river bed. Only elephant spoor to be seen.

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A strange photo. I don’t know what happened. But I like the eerie atmosphere.

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The kudu or impala lily. Always a shock to see this bright colour in an almost colourless landscape

Animals of the Klaserie

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The banded mongoose. Almost tame. They come to get their daily eggs.

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I almost missed this kudu.

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The hyenas come at dawn to wait and watch. The one in the front is almost tame and takes food gently from your hand.

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The korra, as we used to call the Grey hornbill, brings back many memories.

The people

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Egmont, friend since schooldays, still with the sharp naughty twinkle in his eyes. A walking encyclopedia

 

Goedeverwachting

Wide open skies

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We all know the Afrikaans poem In die Hoëveld by CM van den Heever. Here is an English translation by Nikita:  In the Highveld where it’s open and heaven’s wide up there Where herds of tall grass frisk about the veld Where you can breathe freely and believe in God Stands my little house which I’ve left for money And If I sit here in the tunnels of the mine, dreaming About the Highveld wind, wide and free Then I hear the sound of my tracks, saddle and bridle At dusk when riding to the livestock. On the Highveld, where it’s spacious, where you can see far off (The wispy blue brings a lump to your throat) Stands my little house, waiting for me about a year or ten Where the little deer play on the slate tombstones But if the tuberculosis gets worse and I hear the last wheeze I then wander to the Highveld wind And in the moonlight I seek all the most beautiful places Where I made clay oxen as a child.

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Golden dawn

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Solitary road

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Like a silk painting

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The clouds are building up for a Highveld thunder storm

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With Louisa and dogs on a morning walk

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Another fragile silk painting with blesbuck

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There is something melancholic about an farm gate

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The sunsets are always spectacular due to all the African dust in the air

 

Animals

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I am the owner of this farm…

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And I keep an eye on all the happenings in the yard

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Philip has a couple of the indigenous Nooitgedaght horses. All descendants of the registered Moskou stallion. They are known for their good temperament and the Stoop children, Gideon, Louise and Philip junior, are all good horsemen.

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The curious blesbuck

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I became a dog whisperer…

The people

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We celebrated a golden friendship of 50 years. Louisa and I met each other as first year students in Pretoria and a loyal friendship followed. We still have almost daily contact with each other. She introduced Anuta to me as well. What a privilege to have friends like her and Flippie.

 

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Louisa was the secretary of the student newspaper while I was the art editor. She kept all the copies of the four years and I spent many hours working through them again. What an insight in the minds of students of the late 60’s and early 70’s. And to read all the drama, ballet and opera reviews I wrote then – when you think you have all the knowledge.

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Sara, the wise one. preparing pap.

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In a relaxing mood with afternoon tea, coffee and cookies

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Organic meat: short rib and home made farmer’s sausage and a wonderful pap tart

 

 

My relationship with Matisse/My verhouding met Matisse

My relationship with Matisse/My verhouding met Matisse

Rol af vir Afrikaans en foto’s

My relationship with Matisse began in my childhood. The olive green set of the Afrikaans Kinderensiklopedie by Albertyn. I couldn’t get enough of him and Chagall, Picasso, and the other impressionists. I studied the works in detail and they are etched into my memory.

The first real encounter with Matisse was the little church, La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, which he designed. We were on a six month cycling trip in Europe and had planned to visit Vence and St Paul de Vence near Nice, specifically to visit the church. We were tattered and worn after months in the sun and cycling around 90km every day. Even across the French Alps. With tent, sleeping bag, mattress and ketel, et al.

I shall never forget walking into the chapel. The sun fell through the blue, turquoise and yellow glass windows onto the white marble floor, walls, baptism font and lectern. Sacred. All our exhaustion drained away.

He himself said:

Imaginez le soleil se déversant à travers le vitrail il lancera des reflets colorés sur le sol et les murs blancs, tout un orchestre de couleurs.
L’intensité d’une seule ligne noire peut équilibrer l’impact des vitraux de couleurs.
Dans la chapelle mon but principal était d’équilibrer une surface de lumière et de couleurs avec un mur plein, au dessin noir sur blanc.

Our next encounter was in the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Anna Skoblova was one of our tour guides when we cycled from there to Moscow, and also our guide at the hermitage. She was an expert on the Spanish School, but our interest was nog aligned. Too dark. Too large. Too heavy. To far removed. Too much Goya. And she kept on and on until I eventually told her that there were other works in the museum that I would like to see. The most important works on my wishlist were Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Dancers by Matisse. She said we should hurry, we were running late for another appointment. At the mercy of a Russian.

How do you run in the Hermitage, past halls with Rodin sculptures, Van Goghs, Vermeers, Rubens? And you can’t stop and look. We did, however, stop in front of the Rembrandt. The Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, was so touched by the painting that he wrote his well-known book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. He began his narration where he stood before the painting for hours. He wrote that it was clear from the painting that the most difficult conversation had to be with the son who remained at home. Ah, it opens up so many stories! The one who didn’t travel …

I digress. But then we began to run further, feverishly. Hall after hall filled with masters which we glimpsed from the corner of an eye. And there, at the end of one of the passages was a last hall, if I remember correctly. And there hung The Dancers. Those five dancing figures in powerful red, against a green landscape and deep blue sky. Primitive. Rhythmic. Liberating. Hedonistic. Larger than lifesize. One only ever sees it on postcards. Tears started flowing…

And so Matisse always remained at the back of my mind. Years later there was a large Matisse exhibition in Taipei. We travelled for hours by train, bus and taxi in sweltering island heat to get there. I have just remembered that when we got into the taxi, the battery was flat and we had to push start it, sweating and cursing. Anuta now remembers it as being around a bend. And now I remember she was wearing a cool, loose, blue dress… At the museum the queue was already around the block. And we slowly moved on in the tropical sun. Purchased the rather expensive admission tickets and when we entered the first hall, the viewers were standing 12 deep in front of each work, with chilli and garlic breath. In that choking heat. Sounded like a carnival. Matisse in town!

You know how I can get into a huff. Stormed the ticket office and demanded my money back. The frightened pancake face little girl immediately refunded our money … In the end, never got to see Matisse on an island. But, we bought handsful of poasters and cards which I framed and hung against the walls in our flat. All the cutout sea patterns. The dancers, sketches. All of them. Still in a box back home and I look through them now and then.

This morning we left Vendeuil in the lovely Oise Valley where we stayed over in a house where two rivers meet – on our last leg of the trip. The garden was full of crystals and buddha sculptures and an invitation to a séance lay on our bed.

But our greatest need this morning was to find petrol. Both tanks were empty. But it was too early and places weren’t open yet. We rode from village to village, later not even noticing the beauty, later in circles and I was damp with cold panicky sweat. But, wait, that’s another story.

With full tanks and more than an hour lost, we took the road further up in the well-watered Oise Valley. Old brick villages, creeks, canals, lakes, willow trees and every now and then I saw these Monet paintings appear. Later it was Van Gogh’s golden wheat fields – it was harvesting time. That was when this haiku came to me:

geel en blou ontmoet
vasgelym op horison
hemel op aarde

yellow and blue meet
glued at the horison
heaven on earth

We were still riding along, knowing that the trip was at an end, it was our last day in France for this season, last day on Silver and Blue and the day was so beautiful and good to us. We strolled through one of the American war cemeteries. Stopped at a column honouring Napoleon where he stood during the Battle of Montmirail in 1814.

And then there was the sign pointing towards the birthplace of Matisse. In a small town nearby. But, we aimed for the next big town, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, where there is a Matisse museum.

And weren’t we richly rewarded! A conclusion. Almost a circle. And then, again, that coincidence. Synchronicity. If we hadn’t been looking for petrol, we would have taken a different route  … there we stood before Henri Matisse and greeted him like an old acquaintance whom we have followed across many parts of the world.

Beautiful exhibition with bronze suclptures, sketches, glass, paintings, cutouts.

My verhouding met Matisse

My verhouding met Matisse het in my kinderjare begin. Die stel olyfgroen Afrikaanse Kinderensiklopedië van Albertyn. My verlees aan hom en Chagall, Picasso, en die ander impressioniste. Ek het die skilderye haarfyn bekyk en dit is in my ingebrand.

Die eerste regte ontmoeting met Matisse was die kerkie, La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, wat hy ontwerp het. Ons was op ‘n ses maande fietstoer in Europa en het beplan om Vence en St Paul de Vence naby Nice te besoek, juis vir die kerk. Ons was gehawend en voos na maande in die son en elke dag se om en by 90km se trap. Selfs oor die Alpe. Met tent, slaapsak, matras en ketel inkluis.

Daardie instap in die kapel sal ek nooit vergeet nie. Die son het deur die blou, turkoois en geel glasvensters op die wit marmervloere, mure, doopfont en kateder geval. Soos ‘n heiligheid. Al ons moegheid het weggeval.

Hy self het gesê:

Imaginez le soleil se déversant à travers le vitrail il lancera des reflets colorés sur le sol et les murs blancs, tout un orchestre de couleurs.
L’intensité d’une seule ligne noire peut équilibrer l’impact des vitraux de couleurs.
Dans la chapelle mon but principal était d’équilibrer une surface de lumière et de couleurs avec unmur plein, au dessin noir sur blanc.

 Ons latere kennismaking was in die Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. Anna Skoblova was een van ons fietsgidse toe ons van daar na Moskou getrap het, so ook ons gids by die Hermitage. Sy was ‘n kenner van die Spaanse Skool en ons het nie ‘n saak daarmee gehad nie. Te donker. Te groot. Te swaar. Te ver verwyderd. Te veel Goya. En sy hou net aan met praat en praat, tot ek later vir haar sê daar is ander werke in die museum wat ek ook graag sal wil sien. Op my wenslys was Rembrandt se Verlore Seunen dan Die Dansersvan Matisse die belangrikste. Toe sê sy ons moet gou maak, ons is al amper laat vir ‘n ander afspraak. Uitgelewer aan ‘n Rus.

Hoe hardloop jy in die Hermitage verby sale met Rodinbeelde, Van Goghs, Vermeers, Rubens? En jy kan nie stilstaan en kyk nie. Voor die monumentale Die terugkeer van die verlore seun kon ons darem stil word. Die Nederlandse priester, Henri Nouwen, was so aangegryp deur die skildery dat hy sy bekende boekie, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming geskryf het. Hy begin sy verhaal waar hy ure voor die skildery staan. Hy skryf dat dit duidelik in die skildery is dat die moeilikste gesprek moes wees met die seun wat tuis gebly het. Oe, dit maak so baie stories oop! Die een wat nie gereis het nie…

Hoe dwaal ek nou af. Maar toe begin ons koorsagtig verder hardloop. Saal na saal vol meesters sien ons net so uit die hoeke van ons oë. En daar aan die einde van een van die gange is ‘n laaste saal, as ek reg onthou. En daar hang Die Dansers. Daardie vyf dansende figure in sterk rooi, teen ‘n groen landskap en ‘n diep blou lug. Primitief. Ritmies. Bevrydend. Hedonisties. Groter as lewensgroot. Mens ken dit mos net van poskaarte. En daar begin ek huil.

So het Matisse maar altyd in my agterkop gebly. Jare later is daar ‘n groot  Matisse-uitstalling in Taipei. Ons reis vir ure in swetende eilandhitte per trein, bus en taxi om tot daar te kom. En skielik onthou ek nou, toe ons in die taxi klim is die battery pap en moes ons die dit eers al swetend en skellend aan die gang stoot. Nog so om ‘n draai ook nog onthou Anuta nou. En onthou ek ook nou sy het haar haar koel en wye blou rok aangehad… By die museum staan die tou al om die blok. En ons skuif stadig aan in die tropiese son. Koop die nogal duur toegangskaartjies en toe ons binne die eerste saal kom, staan die mense12 diep voor elke skildery met rissie en knoffelasems. In daai verstikkende hitte. Klink toe soos ‘n karnaval. Matisse in Town!

Julle weet mos hoe kan ek my opruk. Bestorm die kaartjiekantoor en eis my geld terug. Die verskrikte pancakeface girlkie gee toe dadelik ons geld terug… Toe nooit vir Matisse op ‘n eiland gesien nie. Maar koop toe handevol posters en kaartjies wat ek toe raam en teen ons woonstel se mure hang. Al die uitgeknipte seepatrone. Die dansers. Sketse. Hulle almal. Nou nog in ‘n boks tuis en kyk so nou en dan daarna.

Vanoggend ry ons op die laaste been van ons reis van Vendeuil in die pragtige Oisevallei waar ons in ‘n huis bly waar twee riviere in die tuin bymekaar kom. Tuin vol kristalle en budhabeelde en op ons bed lê ‘n uitnodiging na ‘n séance.

Maar ons grootse behoefte vanoggend was om petrol te kry. Albei se tenks is leeg. Maar dis te vroeg en plekke is nog nie oop nie. Ons ry van dorpie na dorpie, sien die mooi later nie meer raak nie, en later in sirkels en die koue panieksweet slaan my uit. Maar dis ‘n ander storie.

Met vol tenks later en meer as ‘n uur verlore val ons in die pad verder op in die waterryke Oisevallei. Dit is ou baksteendorpies, kreke, kanale, mere, wilgerbome en nou en dan sien ek sulke Monetskilderye opslaan. Later is dit Van Gogh se goue koringlande en dit is juis nou oestyd. Dis toe díe haiko by my besoek:

geel en blou ontmoet
vasgelym op horison
hemel op aarde

Ons ry nog so, wetende die reis is verby, dis ons laaste dag in Frankryk vir hierdie seisoen, laaste dag op Silwer en Blou en die dag is so mooi en goed vir ons. Ons gaan stap in een van die Amerikaanse oorlogsbegraafplase. Stop by ‘n Napoleonsuil waar hy in 1814 gestaan het met die Slag  van Montmirail.

En toe is daar die bordjie wat die geboortehuis van Matisse aandui. In ‘n dorpie daar naby. Maar ons mik toe na die volgende groot dorp, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, waar daar ‘n Matissemuseum is.

En is ons nie ryklik beloon nie. ‘n Aflsuiting. Amper ‘n sirkel. En weer daardie toeval. Sinkronisiteit. As ons nie na petrol gesoek het nie, het ons ‘n ander roete gevolg… Daar staan ons voor Henri Matisse, en groet hom soos ‘n ou bekende wat ons al oor baie wêrelddele gevolg het.

Pragtige uitstallings met bronsbeelde, sketse, glas, skilderye, uitknipsels.

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La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence, Provence

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From the outside the La Chapelle des Dominicains De Vence appeared very ordinary.

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Inside is where the magic happens.

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The simplicity is stunning.

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Matisse also designed the altar, candle sticks, furniture, altar cloth, chandeliers, priest’s robes – everything in the chapel. The reflections on the white marble floor are stunning.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg

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Its collections, of which only a small number of items are on permanent display, comprise over three million items – including the largest collection of paintings in the world.

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“The frenzy of the pagan bacchanalia is embodied in the powerful, stunning accord of red, blue and green, uniting Man, Heaven and Earth. How rightly has Matisse captured the profound meaning of the dance, expressing man’s subconscious sense of involvement in the rhythms of nature and the cosmos! The five figures have firm outlines, while the deformation of those figures is an expression of their passionate arousal and the power of the all-consuming rhythm. The swift, joint movement fills the bodies with untamed life force and the red becomes a symbol of inner heat. The figures dance in the deep blue of the Cosmos and the green hill is charged with the energy of the dancers, sinking beneath their feet and then springing back. For all its expressiveness, Matisse’s “Dance” has no superfluous emotion, other than that required by the subject. The very organisation of the canvas ensures that. Instinct and consciousness are united into a harmonious whole, as we can feel in the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces, and in the outlines of the figure on the left, strong and classical in proportion.” – Hermitage

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The scale of The Dancers was a big surprise. Imagine, walking into this room and there they are…

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For me personally, Rembrandt’s most emotive painting.

Our rented and furnished apartment in Hsinchu

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…with the brightly coloured Matisse prints against the wall

Le Cateau-Cambrésis

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This building in Le Cateau-Cambresis houses the Matisse museum.

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The museum doesn’t only house works by Matisse. Here Anuta is studying a magnificent Mark Chagall.

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Sculptured panels ranging from the realistic in the foreground to a freer style further along.

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A number of Matisse sculptures on display from realistic to impressionist

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Painted tiles

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Matisse sought to extract the essence with a few strokes. A room full of these paintings were on exhibition.

On the way to the Oise Valley

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Van Gogh landscapes all the way

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We passed many chateaux on that day.

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A lasting impression: avenues of trees, forests and wheat fields.

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A column for Napoleon erected where he stood during the Battle of Montmirail in 1814

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The Oise-Aisne US Cemetry between Soissons and Epernay in Champagne. More than 6000 soldiers are buried here. All these men died for the fatherland… 

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Our last airbnb in France in the Monet-like setting. Two rivers meet here. 

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We eventually found petrol in Saint Quentin after nerve-wracking hours of running low.

 

 

Songs of the Auvergne/Liedere van die Auvergne

Songs of the Auvergne/Liedere van die Auvergne

(Scroll down for Afrikaans and Photos)

This story begins in May 2012

After a few hectic days in Switzerland with Peter and Daniela during which we had to pack in so much (a visit to the Paul Klee Museum in Bern, designed by Renzo Piano, a rush to the Fondation Beyeler Museum in Basel, also designed by Piano, to see an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s work, breakfast high up in the snow white Alps, forest visits, climbing towers, having Silver and Blue checked, repairing torn clothes …) we eventually left Hinterkappelen on the Wohlensee. The GPS was set to travel all the back roads which took us across so many landscapes. Through farmyards, little villages, and all the while with the Eiger and Jungfrau as backdrop. Great and even greater than one remembers them. But, it was still with a little relief that we crossed the French border and we could feel at home again with the familiar road signs, the slight disrepair, the imperfect roads and fields a little less manicured. And, of course, everything is cheaper here.

Suffering and struggling is part of a journey and it is those incidents which test you to the ends of your endurance that you remember and re-tell.

We never travel without duct tape. It came in rather handy when I hit a curb stone at about 40kmph and fell to one side and Silver went flying in another. My protective rain gear was torn to shreds. Thank you, duct tape. Thank you, gloves, boots and helmet. My clothes were now held together with duct tape and it looked rather bourgeois and I blended in with the rustic French.

And so it came that we turned from the route along the Rhone River on a sunny day with a smile on our faces and crossed the Haut Savoie, dry this time. But, alas, on the other side of the first mountain range the blackest, heaviest, cold clouds awaited us. And the wind pushed our visors up against our noses. There was no shelter on the narrow mountain road and we raced up and down the mountain until we ran into the lightning and thunder.

Steven Spielberg would make a wonderful gothic horror film of it. Two old people forging ahead on scooters on a narrow road, with mountain faces scraping past, waterfalls across the road, vertical precipices – and no place to stop or to shelter. Later we were drenched, our waterproof gloves and suits no longer waterproof, water dripping into our boots, our hearts level with the tar, and still no shelter or safe spot to stop. Too dangerous because visibility was only a few metres. After many kilometres and many turns and much fear, there was a lonely bus stop where we could shelter. We were wet to the bone and frozen stiff.

There we stood, miserable, and all we could do was watch and panic. When the worst was over, we continued. But, ugh, just try pulling on a cold, wet glove … Just over the first rise we ran into a terrible hailstorm that turned everything into a snow landscape. Can you imagine what hail sounds like on your helmet and rain suit? Fortunately a few cars crushed the hail stones. I imagined our slipping on those loose, slippery hailstones…

Soaked, we arrived in the lovely Puy En Velay at 7C and so frozen that I couldn’t even write my name in the register.

The next day:

We sat outside in brilliant weather, in front of a stone farmhouse in the Auvergne which was built in 1668, according to the date above the hearth, and where we were to sojourn for the week. It is situated in an ancient stone hamlet, Maury, in one of the country’s most beautiful regions here on the edge of the Central Massif. The collection of houses has belonged to the family of our friends Robert and Marie-Thérèse* from the start and it is still in the posession of the same family.

My head couldn’t get around the joys and sorrows of generations and generations here. The births and deaths, marriages, the celebrations, because these French have a knack of turning every occasion into a feast. Under these beams, on these stone floors, between these thick walls. We had the house to ourselves and Robert and Marie-Thérèse were in their own house next door. Built in the Napoleonic era. Neighbour Juliette’s big grey cat adopted us immediately and didn’t leave our side for a moment. Talked non-stop. Unfortunately in Occitan which we didn’t understand…

That day was 8 May and the commemoration of the end of the Second World War. Even in the smallest towns it is celebrated in grand style with bands and marches and large wreaths. Red, white and blue French flags flutter everywhere. That afternoon we visited Marie-Thérèse’s sister for champagne and cherry tart and she told us of how, when she was seven, the bells began to ring and they had to go to the square to celebrate the end of the war.

It was becoming a joke by now: every time a new president is elected in France, we are there – Giscard d’ Estaing, Mitterand, Chirac en now Hollande. Here was great excitement that Sarkozy was out, because he had created a scandal because he didn’t drink wine and had ordered sandwiches during a meal with George Bush. Then Marie-Thérèse would hold her head and say: Non, non, non, un Français ne le fait pas – a Frenchman doesn’t do that.

 But the sun always shines elsewhere. The Auvergne has always enthralled writers and composers. Sections of Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, which I read again and again back home, is set here. It is something about the rolling green English landscape with oak trees and forests. But, it’s wilder – not so tame. A landscape that stirs the emotions.

Robert and Marie-Thérèse are walking encyclopaedias when it comes to French history, culture, traditions, food and wine, and more. Robert’s father wrote an authoritative French Wine Encyclopaedia which is considered to be the bible of wine. M-T cooks regional country food using her grandmother’s old, delapidated recipe book. Visiting a butcher, bakery or cheese and wine shop with them is an experience. Questions are asked about every product and the shopkeepers are so well-informed about everything they stock.

Occitan, an ancient Romance language, is still spoken by a few people in the region.  Canteloube made it known through the folk songs he noted down as the well-known Songs of the Auvergne of which the entrancing Baïlèro is the most familiar – Pastrè dè délaï l’aïo…Dio lou baïlèro lèrô, Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Every day we rode to a different destination and as the lovely, soft landscape floated past and the wind was in our hair (we remove the helmets on quiet country roads) I allowed the music just flow over me.

Yesterday we visited the beautiful chateau of Montal and the curator took us through the sad place, step by step. Dreadful history. But it’s interesting that the Mona Lisa and other paintings from the Louvre were stored in the diningroom during the Second World War.

We travelled along the Dordogne River for a day and visited Rocamadour. An important and impressive abbey complex that drips down a mountain face. It has been an inspiration for writers, poets and composers over the centuries. The famous Black Madonna can also be seen there (we have seen so many black madonnas in many different places…) A number of French kings and other luminaries have already undertaken pilgrimages to Rocamadour. One has to see it yourself to comprehend the scale of the huge complex.

We felt privileged to be surrounded by the refined civilisation, tradition, culture and lifestyle here in the Auvergne.

July 2018

Robert en Marie-Thérèse once more awaited us. Maury was still the same. We were accommodated in the same house. To sleep under those beams and commune with the spirits of those who were conceived, born and died there, was given us again.

We slipped into the rhythm of the ease and hospitality of the French and chatted until almost midnight every night. The weather was wonderful and then we sat outside and gazed at the ink blue night sky. Some of the family from Nantes and Lyon also arrived and it was lovely to see everyone again. During the day we walked in the gorges, to other villages and allowed the Auvergne to grow on us again. Meals were abundant and wines selected with care. Robert told us that in his parents’ home, there were sometimes up to 11 courses, in a very specific order. But every meal is preceded by aperatifs and Robert would come out of the house with dozens of bottles from which to choose. Our favourite became a gentiane which is distilled locally from this wild flower.

One day we rode to a neighbouring town to enjoy frogs’ legs, or so we thought. It turned out to be a whole extensive menu.

* We met Robert and Marie-Thérèse Geay in Russia in 1994 when we cycled together from St Petersburg to Moscow and immediately connected with this exceptional French couple. A few years later Robert cycled with us through Provence and the murderous Cervenne for six weeks. He is a man who knows his food and wine. He taught us to eat and drink regionally. Later M-T joined us in Orleans and we cycled the Loire Valley and Brittany as far as Brest. They have visited us in South Africa and we have visited them in Paris, where their base is. Robert is now 77 and still cycles long distances. He even cycled the Silk Route from Paris to Shanghai…

Ek gaan haal die storie in Mei 2012

Na ’n paar woeste dae in Switzerland by Peter en Daniella waarin ons so baie moes inpas (‘n besoek aan Die Paul Klee-museum in Bern wat deur Renzo Piano ontwerp is, ’n gejaag na die Fondation Beyeler-museum in Basel, ook deur Piano ontwerp, vir ‘n uitstalling van Gerhard Richter, ontbyt hoog op in die spierwit Alpe, woudbesoeke, torings uitklim, Silwer en Blou versien, klere lap . . .) is ons uiteindelik uit Hinterkappelen aan die Wohlensee weg. Die GPS is gestel om al die agterpaaie te ry wat ons deur soveel landskappe geneem het. Deur plasewerwe, klein dorpies, en die hele tyd die Eiger en die Jungfrau as agterdoek. Groter en nog groter as wat ’n mens dit onthou. Maar dit was tog met verligting toe ons oor die Franse grens ry en ons weer kon tuis voel met die bekende padtekens, die effense verval, die onperfekte paaie en die lewe en landerye nie so gemanikuur nie. En natuurlik is als goedkoper hier.

Swaarkry en sukkel is deel van ’n reis en dit is insidente waar jy tot jou uiterste getoets en beproef word wat jy onthou en oorvertel.

Ons reis nooit sonder duct tapenie. Dit het nogal handig te pas gekom toe ek so teen 40kmpu ’n randsteen tref en val dat ek doer trek en Silwer in ’n ander rigting. My oorpak in flarde geskuur en geskeur. Dankie, duct tape. Dankie, handskoene, stewels en helmet. My klere is nou oral gelap en dit lyk nogal bourgeois en ek smelt heel gemaklik in by die boerse Franse.

Maar so verlaat ons op ’n sonskyndag die roete al langs die Rhonerivier met liedere in ons harte oor die Haut Savoie wat ons tog één maal in baie reise droog sal deurkruis. Maar, o wee, anderkant die eerste bergreeks wag die swartste, swaarste, koue wolke ons in. En die wind druk van voor sodat jou neus later plat teen die skerm is. Daar is nêrens skuilplek op die smal bergpad nie en ons jaag die berg op en op tot ons die wolke en bliksemstrale en donderslae tref.

Steven Spielberg sou ’n wonderlike gotiese riller daarvan kon maak. Twee beurende oumense op skoeters op ’n nou pad, met bergwande wat rakelings verbyskuur, watervalle oor die pad, afgronde, en nêrens stilhou- of skuilplek nie. Ons is later deurdrenk, ons waterdigte handskoene en pakke nie meer waterdig nie, water drup by ons stewels in, ons moed plat teen die teerpad, en steeds nêrens ’n veilige stilhouplek nie. Te gevaarlik omdat die sig ’n paar meter is. Na vele kilometers en baie draaie en angs, is daar ’n verlate bushalte waar ons kon skuil. Ons is tot op die been nat en bevrore.
Daar staan ons bedremmeld en al wat jy kan doen is kyk en paniek. Toe die ergste verby is, is ons weer verder. Maar oe, steek jou hand in ’n koue, nat handskoen . . . Oor die eerste hoogte tref ons ’n verskriklike haelstorm wat alles in ‘n sneeulandskap verander. Kan jy jou inding hoe klink hael op jou helmet en reënpak? Gelukkig het  ’n paar motors die hael op die pad fyn gery. As ek net dink ons moes op daai los, gladde haelkorrels gly . . .

Druipnat het ons teen 7°C in die pragtige Puy-en-Velay aangekom en so bevrore dat ek nie eens my naam in die register kon skryf nie.

Die volgende dag:

Nou sit ons buite in skitterende weer voor ’n klipplaashuis in die Auvergne wat in 1668 gebou is volgens die datum op die vuurherd, waar ons vir die week tuis is. Dit staan in ’n oeroue klipdorpie, Maury, in een van die land se mooiste dele hier op die rand van die Central Massif. Die dorpie behoort aan ons vriende Robert en Marie-Thérèse se familie. Sedert die begin is dit steeds in dieselfde familie se besit.

My kop tol oor geslagte en geslagte se lief en leed wat hier afgespeel het. Die geboortes en sterftes, huwelike, die feeste, want hierdie Franse het ’n flair om alles in ’n fees om te tower. Onder hierdie balke, op hierdie klipvloere, tussen hierdie dik mure. Ons het die huis vir onsself, en Robert en Marie-Thérèse* se huis is langsaan. So in die Napoleontiese tyd gebou. Die buurvrou, Juliette, se groot grys kat het ons dadelik aangeneem en los ons nie vir ’n oomblik alleen nie. Gesels aanmekaar. Ongelukkig in Oksitaans, wat ons nie verstaan nie.

Vandag is 8 Mei en die herdenking van die einde van die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. Tot in die kleinste dorpies word dit luisterryk met orkeste en optogte en groot blomkranse gevier. Oral wapper die rooi, wit en blou Franse vlag. Vanmiddag by Marie-Thérèse se suster gaan champagne drink, met kersietert, en sy vertel sy was sewe toe die klokke begin lui het en hulle na die plein moes gaan om die einde van die oorlog te vier.

Dit raak nou al ’n grap. Ons is elke keer in Frankryk wanneer ’n nuwe president verkies word – Cisgard d’ Estaing, Mitterand, Chirac en nou Hollande, het ons almal beleef. Hier is groot opgewondenheid dat Sarkozy uit is, want hy het ’n skandaal veroorsaak omdat hy nie wyn drink nie en toebroodjies bestel het by ’n ete met George Bush. Dan hou Marie-Thérèse haar kop vas en sê net:

Non, non, non, un Français ne le fait pas – a Frenchman doesn’t do that.

Maar die son skyn altyd elders. Die Auvergne het nog altyd skrywers en komponiste aangegryp. Gedeeltes van Divisadero van Michael Ondaatje, wat ek tuis oor en oor lees, speel juis hier af. Dis iets van die rollende groen Engelse landskap met akkerbome en woude. Maar dis wilder en nie so tevrede nie. ’n Landskap wat ontroer.

Robert en Marie-Thérèse is wandelende ensiklopedieë as dit kom by Franse geskiedenis, kultuur, tradisies, kos en wyn, en wat nog. Robert se pa het ‘n gesaghebbende Franse Wynensiklopedie geskryf wat as die Wynbybel voorgehou word. Sy kook uit haar ouma se ou half verflenterde resepteboek landelike kos van die streek. Om saam met hulle slaghuis, bakkery, kaas- en wynwinkel toe te gaan is ’n ondervinding. Daar word oor elke produk uitgevra en die winkeliers is so ingelig oor alles wat hulle aanhou.

Oksitaans is ’n Romaanse oertaal van die streek en daar is nog mense wat dit praat. Dit is bekend gemaak deur Canteloube wat van die volkswysies opgeteken het as die bekende Songs of the Auvergnewaarvan die meesleurende Baïlèro die bekendste is – Pastrè dè délaï l’aïo…Dio lou baïlèro lèrô, Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Ons ry elke dag iewers heen en as die mooi en sagte landskap so verbygly met die wind in ons hare (ons haal die valhelms af op die stiller paaie) dan laat ek die musiek so oor my spoel.

Gister die mooi chateau van Montal besoek en het die kurator ons vir ure stap vir stap deur die hartseer plek geneem. Verskriklike geskiedenis. Maar interessant is dat die Mona Lisa en ander skilderye van die Louvre gedurende die Tweede Wêreldoorlog in die eetkamer geberg is.

Ons is ook vir ‘n dag al langs die Dordognerivier en ook by Rocamadour aangegaan. ‘n Belangrike en indrukwekkende kloosterkompleks wat teen ‘n berg afrank. Dit is deur die eeue ‘n inspirasie vir skrywers, digters en komponiste. Die beroemde Swart Madonna is ook daar te sien. Verskeie Franse konings en ander bekendes het al pelgrimsreise daarheen onderneem. ‘n Mens moet dit self sien om die afmetings van die groot kompleks te begryp.

Ons voel bevoorreg om hier in die Auvergne so omring te wees deur ’n fyn beskawing, tradisies, kultuur en leefwyses.

Julie 2018

Robert en Marie-Thérèse wag ons weer in. Maury is steeds dieselfde. Ons gaan weer in dieselfde huis tuis. Om weer onder daardie balke te slaap en snags met die geeste te gesels van hulle wat daar verwek, gebore en geserf het, is ons weer beskore.

Ons val weer in die ritme van die Franse se gemaklikheid en gulheid en gesels byna elke nag tot middernag. Die weer is heerlik en ons sit dan buite en verkyk ons aan die inkblou naglug. Van die familie van Nantes en Lyon daag ook op en dit is heerlik om almal weer te sien. Bedags gaan stap ons in die klowe, na ander dorpies en laat die Auvergne weer op ons groei. Die etes is oordadig en die wyne word met sorg gekies. Robert vertel dat in sy ouerhuis daar soms tot 11 gange was, in ‘n baie spesifieke volgorde. Maar elke ete word eers met ‘n aperatif voorafgegaan en kom Robert met dosyne bottels waaruit ons kan kies. Ons gunsteling raak ‘n gentiane wat ‘n plaaslik gestook word van die wilde veldblom.

Die een dag ry ons na ‘n naburige dorp om net te gaan paddaboudjies te eet, het ons gedink. Daar is dit toe ‘n heel uitgebreide spyskaart.

* Ons ontmoet Robert en Marie-Thérèse Geay in 1994 in Rusland waar ons saam van St Petersburg na Moskou fietstrap en kliek dadelik met hierdie uitsonderlike Franse. ‘n Paar jaar later trap Robert vir 6 weke saam met ons deur Provence en die moordende Cervene. Hy is ‘n man wat sy kos en wyn ken. Hy leer ons om regionaal te eet en te drink. Marie-Thérèse sluit later by ons aan in Orleans en ons trap die Loire en Bretagne, tot by Brest. Hulle kom kuier vir ons ons en ons kuier by hulle in Parys, waar hulle basis is. Robert is nou 77 en trap nog lang afstande. Hy het al die Syroete van Parys tot in Sjanghai getrap…

Crossing the Massif Central

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Our daily bread, with either a regional cheese or a thick slice of the most wonderful paté. It was so cold here, we could hardly eat.

HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

Sometimes we could see the snow covered mountains for a moment or two before mist or rain covered it again. It is our 3rd or 4th attempt to cross this region in dry weather! Once we tried it on bicycles, and it became so cold that we used plastic bags around our feet and hands.

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From the shelter of a bus stop. Soaking wet. Frozen stiff. And the heavens just opened. And then the hail came which made it too dangerous to ride any further. What a day, after starting in brilliant sunshine that morning.

Maury

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Maury, the small hamlet that belongs to Marie-Thérèse’s family.

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The building to the right is were the family’s daily bread was baked.

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Masonry detail of a bygone era

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Stone tiles characteristic of the region

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After twilight comes the sacred blue hour – l’heure bleue

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The house on the left is usually ours, originally built in 1668. The main house, centre, was built during the Napoleonic times. The court yard between the houses is where all the summer feasts are held – breakfast, lunch and supper.

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The datestone above the hearth – 16 years after Jan van Riebeeck started a refreshment station in the Cape of Good Hope!

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The family, always around a table

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A local baker bakes this huge wood oven bread for Robert. This is only half of the bread – the other half is traditionally put away in a drawer under the dining room table. The French just love their bread. Always present.

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Robert always delights in presenting aperitif hour.

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Another wonderful time with Robert and Marie-Thérèse. Good food and wine is their trademark.

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The family came from all wind directions for their summer holiday at their ancestral home.

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The previous time we saw Pierre he was a teenager. Now a fine father. How time flies…

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Duck breasts for the barberque!

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The aperitif table! Our favourite was Gentaine, locally made from a wild flower. We brought a bottle home.

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A traditional dish from Marie-Thérèse’s grand mother’s recipe book.

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The neighbour’s (M-T’s aunt) cat is always present.

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Another feast to remember

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Frogs’ legs in a restaurant in La Rouget. Robert did some research to find this restaurant where the best frog legs in the area were served. It is now strictly regulated in France. And the taste? Delicate. The texture is something between rabbit, chicken with a hint of fish.

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Just the entrée

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A cheese board is always present to conclude each meal.

Around Maury

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Lamativie is one kilometer from Maury. The nearest school and public offices are located here.

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Our dream house in Lamative. We saw it many years ago for the first time and started to dream about it… Standing empty for many decades. Owner doesn’t want to sell…

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To the northern side of Maury is the River Cere in a very deep gorge. This used to be the bridge house, now a guest house.

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Bridge, River Cere

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Robert leads us on a hike down the gorge to the Cere. Sometimes we had to use ropes…

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Pastures

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… and forests

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Along the Dordogne

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We visit villages, churches, castles in a dreamlike landscape.

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Every little village, town or city remembers its sons with fresh flowers. Always.

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Saint Cere

Saint Cere is a feast for the photographer’s eye. I took literally hundreds of photos, using my Canon 28-200 lense.

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Rocamadour

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Rocamadour. An important and impressive abbey complex that drips down a mountain face. It has been an inspiration for writers, poets and composers over the centuries. The famous Black Madonna can also be seen there (we have seen so many black madonnas in many different places…) A number of French kings and other luminaries have already undertaken pilgrimages to Rocamadour. One has to see it yourself to comprehend the scale of the huge complex.

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The staircase where pilgrims used to crawl on their knees to the top

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Châteaux de Montal

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Standing on the heights above the Dordogne Valley, this castle was built between 1519 and 1534 by Jeanne de Balsac, Lady of Montal. Never completely finished, this Renaissance masterpiece is distinguished by the exceptional wealth and quality of its sculptures, which stand comparison with those in royal palaces.

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The Mona Lisa was kept in this dining room during WW2!!!

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The monumental staircase

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Goodbye

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Ready to leave in 2012, down to Barcelona. We did camping those days. Tent, mattress, bulky sleeping bags, pots, pans, stove… And the mistake of travelling with short hair. Now we know why the German Harley D drivers have pony tails! We still miss the freedom of camping and all the lovely people you meet in a campsite. Nature lovers mostly.

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It is always sad to say good bye. Especially after a time of bonding with an extraordinary family.

 

Pyrenees: We did the Tour de France again!/Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

Pyrenees: We did the Tour de France again!/Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

 

Spiking the skyline for 430km along the Franco-Spanish border, the snow-dusted Pyrenees offer a glimpse of France’s wilder side. This serrated chain of peaks contains some of the country’s most pristine landscapes and rarest wildlife, including endangered species such as the griffon vulture, izard (a type of mountain goat) and brown bear. Since 1967, 457 sq km has been protected as the Parc National des Pyrénées, ensuring its valleys, tarns and mountain pastures are preserved for future generations. – The Lonely Planet

We just had to return to the French Pyrenees once more. To those heights and passes. To where the original mountain routes of the Tour de France lie. Where your head spins with the serpentines, and the thin air.

Six years ago we also travelled through Spain on Silver and Blue and we were to stay over in one of the national parks of the Pyrenees for a couple of days. They conquered our hearts and we stayed for three weeks. Later we moved over to the French Pyrenees. The northern slopes quite different from the southern ones. Bigger, more impressive, and more developed. The Spanish mountains were wilder and more densely with forest.

Our accommodation was a flat in a ski resort high up against the mountains with a view that made you feel insignificant. We did day trips from there to old familiar places, and discovered new ones. Some were adventurous and you had to steer your handlebars skilfully around the serpentines. Others refreshed your memory.

We especially wanted to return to the Col de Tourmalet (2115m) where the wind almost blew us off the mountainside six years ago. That day when we were so unnerved and had to shelter behind berms every now and then just to settle our nerves. When Lance’s name was still painted across the road.

This time the weather was good to us. Also did the Col de Aspin and other well-known highlights of the Tour de France.

Two things:

There are the wiry young men who pedal up the passes with ease, standing in the pedals and weaving from side to side, and then the older, weathered men and women (very much our seniors!) who also cycle those passes. It looks as if they and their bikes have melded together.

The other thing, we cycled the old Argus a few times, and cycled around 12 000km in Europe over the years. When we lived in Hout Bay, we cycled Chapmans Peak every afternoon in preparation for the Argus, and it’s a little hill by comparison.

The Col de Portet is a 15km climb from Saint-Lary-Soulan up to 2215m with a gradient of between 8.7 and 10.2 degrees. It’s horrific! It’s murder! When we finally reached the top, along came and old man and his wife, much older than we, who had just climbed it. No, they aren’t people. They’re machines.

But, what an amazing privilege to be in those high places. The thin, fresh air, the mountains moving three dimensionally behind each other in your field of vision and open new vistas, like a fold-out story book. The aromas of pines and wild flowers. Sometimes an eagle flanks you and nods its head in approval.

Pireneë: Ons doen dit weer!

Spiking the skyline for 430km along the Franco-Spanish border, the snow-dusted Pyrenees offer a glimpse of France’s wilder side. This serrated chain of peaks contains some of the country’s most pristine landscapes and rarest wildlife, including endangered species such as the griffon vulture, izard (a type of mountain goat) and brown bear. Since 1967, 457 sq km has been protected as the Parc National des Pyrénées, ensuring its valleys, tarns and mountain pastures are preserved for future generations. – The Lonely Planet

Ons moes net weer eenkeer terug na die Franse Pireneë. Na daardie hoogtes en passe. Na waar die Tour de France se oorspronklike bergroetes loop. Waar jou kop tol van die serpentinas, en die dun lug.

Ses jaar gelede reis ons ook met Silwer en Blou deur Spanje en sou ons net ‘n paar dae in een van die die Pireneë se nasionale parke deurbring. Dit oorweldig ons toe so en bly toe aan vir drie weke. Later skuif ons oor na die Franse Pireneë. Die noordelike hange heel anders as die suidelikes. Groter. Indrukwekkender, en meer ontwikkeld. Die Spaanse berge ruwer en woudryker.

Ons verblyf is ‘n ski-woonstelletjie hoog teen die berge met ‘n uitsig wat jou klein laat voel. Ons doen dagritte van daar na ou bekende plekke, en ontdek nuwes. Sommiges is avontuurlik en moet jy behendig die stange om die serpentinas stuur. Ander verfris jou geheue.

Ons wou veral terug na die Col de Tourmalet (2115m) waar ons ses jaar gelede byna deur die wind van daardie berge gewaai is. Die dag toe ons so ontsenu was en kort-kort agter walle skuiling vir ons en Silwer en Blou moes soek om tot verhaal te kom. Toe Lance se naam nog op die pad geskryf was.

Die weer was hierdie keer goed vir ons. Doen ook vir Col de Aspin en ander bekende Tour de France hoogtepunte.

Twee dinge:

Daar is die jong spykermannetjies (padterroriste hier in België genoem) wat die passe met groot gemak staande in die pedale uitrap met die fiets wat heen en weer skommel, maar dit is die ouer verweerde manne en vroue (veel ouer as ons!) wat daardie passe uittrap. Dit lyk asof hulle so in die fietse ingesmelt is.

En dan, ons het die ou Argus ‘n paar keer gedoen, en het oor die jare by die 12 000km in Europa getrap. Maar ons Suid-Afrikaners het geen idee van bergpasse trap nie. Toe ons in Houtbaai gewoon het, het ons Chapmans Peak elke middag gaan trap ter voorbereiding vir die Argus, en dit is ‘n heuweltjie in vergelyking.

Die Col de Portet is ‘n 15km klim vanaf Saint-Lary-Soulan tot by 2215m met ‘n gradiënt tussen 8.7 en 10.2 grade. Dit is verskriklik! Dit is moord! Toe ons uiteindelik bo kom, is daar ‘n ou omie en tannie, baie ouer as ons, wat dit pas uitgetrap het. Nee, dis nie mense nie. Dis masjiene.

Maar wat ‘n ongelooflike voorreg om so in die hoogtes te wees. Die dun vars lug, die berge wat aanmekaar driedimensioneel in jou gesigveld agter mekaar inskuif en nuwe vistas oopmaak, soos ‘n oopvou storieboek. Die geure van denne en veldblomme. Soms flank ‘n arend jou en knik sy kop in goedkeuring.

oorverdowende
kristalhelder bergstiltes
grrrts skeur die velcro

hoë bergstiltes
met die sederboomsuisings
net die rotse luister

suising deur denne
tenore van die gode
of windharpmusiek?

frank dennegeure
kom sit soos gom aan jou lyf
bittersoet harpuis

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We started this leg in the beautiful Saint Jean-Pied-du-Port. A well-known starting point for the peregrinos walking the Santiago de Compostela

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The bliss of early morning landscapes on Silver and Blue

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Cow to Blue: Looking for milk?

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Anuta on Blue against a mighty landscape

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The d’Osseau Valley

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Laruns. It was hot and we stopped to drink a lemonade and to get an internet connection. We paid the price…

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We are now in Tour de France country.

 

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We were running out of time and didn’t stop in the Catholic mecca of Lourdes.

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We saw it coming. Ominous. And then it hit us.

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A photo can’t describe the majesty and greatness of the mountains.

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Silver and Blue did Col d’ Aspin again! The previous time a bunch of Harley bikers laughed at us.

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The vistas are overwhelming.

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Then we remembered the steep road downhill…

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And you glide and glide and the world belongs to you.

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Our home for a couple of days is a ski apartment just to the right of the skil-lift station.

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With a view like this

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We did a quiet road on the Sunday, as there were hundreds and hundreds of cyclists doing the well-known routes. We went up and up…

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Our standard lunch: always a baguette and two tomatoes with a celery salad. Today the mainstay was a slice of pork braun.

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What a setting for a picnic!

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Higher and higher with a feeling of deja vu. The dam wall looks like a scene from a James Bond movie.

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There were many dams up the valley

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Even rhododendrons. One slope was completely covered in pink.

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Scene from a futuristic movie

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We couldn’t travel any further as the road was blocked by a rock slide.

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Water, rocks and cedar trees

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Parking at the dam wall

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Going down the steep road. One serpentina after the other…

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Passing old stone shelters…

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… and ancient cedar trees.

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The serpentinas are never-ending. Check the cyclist. A middle-aged guy.

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There is something about an old ‘padpredikant’. I prefer to take my reading from them, and not on the intrusive new ones.

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Small villages on the way down

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On a bright morning we did the Col de Portet. Pure murder for cyclists.

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The Col de Portet is 16 km with a murderous gradient of between 8.7% and 10.2% over 16 km

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A monument of the big Tour de France hero, Raymond Polidor

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The road through Soulan became a familiar face.

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A better view on our apartment – one of the buildings to the right in the distance.

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Different textures

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A view from our window into the Saint Lary-Soulan valley

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On an evening stroll

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The alpha cow leads the way.

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Up and up to the Col de Portet. Another Tour de France iconic climb.

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Snow tunnel

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Sadly we had turn around… The tarred road stops here and we didn’t want to do off-road again.

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You have to be careful. The cow dung could be slippery and dangerous.

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A very old couple did the pass up and down! Much older than us…

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Gliding down and down… Sometimes an eagle would glide with you.

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Today was the day to revisit the notorious Col de Tourmalet. Col d’Aspin is our first stop after an 11 km climb. There is a sign every kilometre supplying information about the distance, gradient and altitude.

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We took a short detour through this village.

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We stopped every now and then to enjoy the views and to be friendly.

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The monument for Eugene Christophe whose bicycle fork broke while doing the Col de Tourmalet in 1913. In those days cyclists had to do their own repairs. He walked the 10 km to Saint Marie de Campan to fix it himself at the forge. He didn’t win the Tour that year.

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Eugene Christophe is honoured everywhere: “Quite simply, I want to, I want to… the will is the only drug I know.”

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We are at 840 m. The summit is 2115m. A steep climb awaits…

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Ah! There is Mongi!

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Why are ski villages always ugly?

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We arrived at last at the icon of the Tour de France. Many cyclists posing for photos, or getting ready to continue.

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We saw this Spaniard, to the left, with his bicycle and a full load. How on earth did he manage!?

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I Googled him. http://www.biciclown.com – 208000 kilómetros en bicicleta por el mundo, atravesando más de 117 países desde el año 2001. It says, if my Spanish doesn’t fail me, that since 2001 he has cycled 208 000 km in 117 countries.

 

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Well, in our young days we did about 12 000 km in Europe over a couple of years. This photo was taken at Köln’s train station. We crossed the French Alps with this full load… Going down to Grenoble Anuta ‘used’ up a new set of brake blocks!

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This was taken in 2012 on a glorious morning , doing the Tour de France route from Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Luckily we didn’t know what was waiting for us…

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…the wind became stronger and stronger and at the summit we were nearly blown away. Anuta had to grab Blue and hold on for dear life. A frightening experience. Our nervous were shattered. I left Silver for a moment to run to take this photo.

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Six years later…. with mist rolling in.

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We found shelter against the mist and cold behind a wall – for our picnic.

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The steep road going down… Frightening.

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