Saturday, June 28, 2008

More on the first voyage of the Hennie H

The first voyage with our new Hennie H proved to take considerably longer than we expected. In fact I only managed just over a third of it before having to make tracks back to Rotterdam to go to work. The whole journey was probably about 275 kilometres, of which I managed to stay on board for around a hundred, but they were a hundred very beautiful kilometres for all that, and passed through some of the most idyllic green and lush countryside.

It took so long because there were so many bridges and locks to wait for. What amused both Koos and I was that even though the bridge keepers only only started at 8.00 in the morning, they stopped for lunch between 12 and 1pm and then closed again at 5, so where we had planned long days of faring, we were forced to keep to 'office hours'. Had we not been in a hurry, this would have been fine, but sadly, it meant that at Zwartsluis, just over the provincial border into Overijssel, and with still the bulk of the journey to go, I had to go back to Groningen by bus, train and taxi to fetch the van.

That was an adventure in itself. Being a Sunday in a rather traditionally protestant neck of the woods, there weren't many buses running, so I took the first one that came along with its end destination as a railway station. Having no clue where I was when I arrived in Steenwijk, I was relieved to see that the trains did at least go north to Leeuwaarden in Friesland, and then I just trusted to luck that I'd be able to get a train from there to Groningen to its east. Well I was lucky - but when I arrived in Groningen, I had to take a taxi to somewhere for which I had no address, but just a description of where we'd collected the boat. Crazy, I know but absolutely true.

While I waited at the taxi rank, I rehearsed my speech to the driver. "Take me to my car, please," I imagined myself saying with great aplomb. "And where would that be, madam?" the driver would respond. "Dunno," I would say breezily. "Just find it please, my good man!" And off we would go.

The reality was a hilarious ride round the suburbs of the city, stopping and asking a dozen or so different people if they could identify the landmarks I had in my mind. What wasn't so hilarious was the price of the fare when we finally found the van. As I still haven't 'fessed up' to Koos, I won't mention it here, but suffice to say, it was probably not quite worth the entertainment value after all!

Back at Zwartsluis again, I spent Sunday night on board, and then watched Koos leave for the next leg home before driving myself back south with Sindy. I have to say she was mightily relieved to be back in the car, as the journey on board was utterly miserable for her. Still, I would have loved to continue the journey with Koos as he found it heavy going on his own, despite the stunning scenery he passed through on the way.

As a taster of what I experienced, here is a link to a slideshow of the photos that I took on the section between Groningen and Zwartsluis. I'm sure Koos will show you more on his blog though....soon!

But until then, here are some photos of Koos arriving at the Oude Haven on Thursday afternoon. If you look at the last two, you can just see the Vereeniging's stern to the far right of the photos - the green end with the red stripe. The Hennie H is now moored up two boats along, ready to go on the slipway tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hennie moves south

Thursday morning at 6 a.m. Sleep still lies heavily on me, but Koos is bright. Too bright. And too cheerful. Oh my. Why am I sitting in the car heading up the highway to Groningen next to this impossibly lively man, when I should still be sleeping, peaceful in the knowledge that I still have an hour or more before I have to haul my carcass out of bed.

By 9.30, I understand. I see our new little barge, Hennie, for the first time and it is sweet. The experience I mean. But then so is Hennie. A little shabby it is true. Grubby and spotted from the sap and fall-out of overhanging trees; badly in need of some TLC and paint, it is nevertheless a little charmer and we are about to embark on our first ever trip on this extremely old, but lovely little craft. Still, it isn't just a tocht as they call it here. It is a major voyage. We have to travel nearly 400 kilometres on our new acquisition before we reach its intended destination, and we have not even done 400 metres on it before. A nerve wracking thought to say the least.

We'd hoped to reach Rotterdam by today, but it wasn't to be. The actual account of the first part of the trip will come tomorrow. For now, I will leave you with a couple of the two hundred photos I took, not to mention the 40 minutes of film I captured which will now have to be edited for smooth public consumption. Watch this space for the real story.....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Roaring of the sands

Maryssa at Die Oog in Kuruman
A week in my home land is never enough. Five days is even worse, but they were five days of intense absorption. Not only of the brilliant sunshine that characterises southern African winters, but of the sounds, smells and eye-stretching glory of hundreds of kilometres of nothingness. Nothingness that consists of rolling hills, sparsely covered semi-desert, acacia trees and red, red earth.

A large part of South Africa is taken up by the Kalahari Desert, which spreads its palm and extends its fingers across the centre of the country. I have a special and enduring passion for this region. It's what I always see in my mind's eye when I start yearning for my southern home, so I was especially pleased when I learned that Maryssa and Craig were going to be spending a year in Postmasburg, a town of approximately 30,000 inhabitants, right in the middle of the Northern Cape, for which you can read southern Kalahari.

The journey there and back would have been a once-only-and-ever had I not already known what I was going to. I left Rotterdam at 12.00 midday on Friday the 6th and arrived with Maryssa in Postmasburg at 7.30pm on Saturday the 7th. Taking into account the five hour wait at Cairo airport for my connection to Johannesburg (not too hot at all by the way), it was still an incredibly long journey. In Jo'burg, I met up with my dear friend Moira, who came and met me for coffee and chats at the airport. There was then a one and a half hour flight from Joeys to Kimberley, and after that a two hundred kilometre drive to Postmasburg. According to Maryssa, it is 1000 kms from everywhere - Cape Town, Jo'burg and even Craig's home in Natal are all just about 1000 kms from Postmasburg. Sounds like a good name for a book doesn't it?

During the time from Saturday evening to Thursday morning, Maryssa and I packed it in. We went to Witsand, a nature reserve where we cycled 10 kms to see the Dunes known as the Roaring Sands of the Kalahari. Apparently, when the conditions are very hot and dry, any disturbance will make the sands emit a roaring sound, but being winter, it wasn't hot enough when we went. The trip there was something else. Unwittingly we took the long road on the outward journey, which despite being untarred dirt track the whole way, was quite good. We decided to take the shorter way home though. 70 kms sounded quite a saving on 110. Big mistake. The road was more like a river bed than a road and took us through a terrifying mountain pass with a descent which had me bracing my feet against the floor even though I was the passenger. Maryssa took us down in 1st gear, mainly because the brakes were distinctly iffy, and we were sweating with relief when we finally negotiated the hairpin bend at the bottom of the mountain and went safely on our way again. Nevertheless, the road didn't improve much and it took us more than three hours to do the homeward run!

Then Monday was Postmasburg day, so we shopped, had haircuts and visited numerous of Maryssa's friends and colleagues at the hospital where she works as a Pharmacist. On Tuesday,we went to Kuruman, the town founded around one of the first mission stations in South Africa (established by Robert Moffat and his wife Mary in 1821)and site of a natural spring, known as die Oog (the Eye), which given its location, is a very special oasis indeed. After leaving Kuruman, we went south to the Wonderwerk caves which have some terrific examples of Bushman paintings. I enjoyed that brief episode very much, not only because I am fascinated by the Bushmen, but also because I had a spirited chat with the concierge, a local man named 'Neelis, who could only speak Afrikaans, so I just spoke Dutch with an afrikaans accent and it worked perfectly. I guess my primitive Dutch is good for something now, anyway! Wednesday was another home day with all sorts of missions to complete and then on Thursday morning, it was back in the bakkie for the two and a half hour drive to Kimberley and my long, somewhat arduous flights home.

Bushman paintings at Wonderwerk

'Neelis standing proud for his photo opportunity

Now I am back in Zeeland with Koos and Sindy, and very pleased to be here. It's good to see the lush green and exuberant growth after a week in the desert, and I know that this is my home now. Even so, I always leave a piece of myself behind. Maybe that's a good thing.... I can always go back to find it again. And I will.

Click here for pics of the Roaring Sands trip. Most of these were taken by Maryssa.