“When the Going Gets Tough..”

Daisy on the trainIt has been quite busy at my end; three weeks in South Africa and then we had Christmas in Antalya bringing 2015 to a very nice conclusion.  Then barely in to 2016 and I spent a week in London with the family. Daisy continues to grow, charming as ever but increasingly deploying a disarming cunning in pursuit of getting her way.

I collected her from Nursery one day to take her out for lunch. She greeted me with breathless excitement

“Grandad. I’ve got cup cakes.”

“That’s nice Daisy. We can have those after lunch!”

“Mummy says we can have them on the train” says Daisy

And as soon as we are ensconced in the carriage, out comes the foil wrapped package and Daisy is soon nibbling all the icing, lost in cupcake heaven.

Ping! Incoming text from daughter “Btw dad do not let Daisy have the cupcakes before lunch as she will not eat anything else”

The little minx!

South Bank twilightLondon was great.

Dark and cold but for a week, great.

London Zoo for a day (so wonderfully Victorian), the Tiger Who Came to Tea at the Lyric, lunches on the South Bank and Tosca at the Royal Opera.

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. That still works for me but, like Istanbul, I prefer it in small doses.

 

Davraz 2016Back to Turkey for a few days skiing with Trevor the wild man of Sarıbelen and Songbird Felicity, Duracell technology in human form.

We completely lucked out with the snow and had a brilliant time.  And what was truly so great NO AİRPORTS! No security checks, belts off, boots off, laptop out and so on. Just throw it all in the back of the car and 4 hours door to door, through fabulous scenery too. Still a challenge staying upright and the heart is in the mouth at times but when it is good it is very, very good.

Mountains, beautiful coastline, culture and history by the trolley load,Turkey has so much to offer. But with the lunatics knocking at the door, the going, as my title forewarns, is getting tough. And when the going gets tough, according to Edmund Blackadder, the tough hide under the table

Which is where everybody seems to be right now. A tide of bad news stories have made Turkey look a scary place to go for your family summer holiday; the fact that it is the gateway to Europe for a million plus war weary Syrians (over 40 drowned recently in the Aegean sea near Bodrum), a huge bombing last year in Ankara and now another in January in the old city of Sultanahmet, the beating heart of Istanbul tourism, not to mention continuous curfews and attacks in Kurdish areas near the Syrian border.

All of which seems to have cast a general blight over Turkey. If we say we live in Turkey, the reaction nowadays is always one of disbelief, shock, horror where a year ago it was “That sounds amazing!”

But in reality the sun still shines 300 days out of 365, the locals are as friendly and welcoming as ever, the food is great, the harbour restaurants have been rebuilt to a high standard after last years fire and Kalkan’s entrepreneurs are investing  in new and exciting ventures.

This is a big country. It has three different climates (and we have the best one down here). But when you are looking from a distance you have a very different perspective to somebody on the spot.

Reminds me of working as a Deputy Head in Southall, West London in the early 1980s. At the time there were riots breaking out in places like Brixton and Southall; a pub got burnt down because a notorious skin head band (the Four Skins of course) were booked to play. We lived 2 miles away in Hanwell and I was out walking the dog, when a car pulled up and a woman wound down the window.

“Excuse me,” she said “we are thinking of buying a house here but we are worried about the trouble. How near are we to Southall?”

It seemed hilarious at the time because Southall and Hanwell are two miles but two worlds apart. The idea of it being risky in Hanwell seemed ludicrous. But you need to live somewhere to know.

Istanbul is 520 miles from us here in Kalkan, 100 miles further than Edinburgh is from London. And as for the Kurdish heartlands by the Syrian border, they are so far away you cannot make a comparison. Really! Lands End to John O’Groats is only half the distance; these are distant places, far off events.

But they cast a long shadow; even regular English visitors are not rushing to book this year. Owners Direct and Holiday Letting statistics suggest a 50% fall in interest in January. For the first time we have no repeat bookings.

If it was me in England choosing a destination, I would probably feel the same. We did once book a family holiday in Egypt the year after the massacre of 62 people, mainly tourists, at the Pyramids in 1997; an event which caused a huge slump in visitor numbers. A brave decision then? Except that because the holiday was advertised as on the Red Sea I thought I had booked a holiday in Israel. I had not realised that Israel had ceded the land to Egypt some years ago!

Bit of a shock then when the paper work came through. That is why it was so cheap then!

There is a dawning realisation amongst the Turks that people might really stay away this year, whereas a few weeks back the answer you got was much more relaxed.

So time to spread the message; to boldly go and hang the consequences for the rules of grammar. Fortune favours the brave and there will be a lot of hoteliers and owners ready to agree a discount to fill their calendars. And when you get here you will no doubt find a lot of offers and keen pricing as restaurateurs jostle for business.

So spread the word. Summer is coming and it’s going to be fun. Get yourself a deal and put up two fingers to the fanatics and their grim philosophy that they would thrust on the rest of us.

You can check out our villa, Villa Gizem, at https://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/accommodation/p8008802  We have already reduced our deposit to 10% and we will certainly consider offers.

“We love death as westerners love life, so we will win ” the Jihadists say.

Prove them wrong. Come and join the party but safety first; drive carefully on the way to the airport and do not forget the sun cream.

See you on the beach. Nobody ever got a tan under the table.

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Capetown, Winelands and Home

Hermanus is a lovely coastal town. Crime here seems to come mainly from two baboon troupes; according to the local paper these baboon troupes have been causing havoc in the suburbs, with older males teaching the youngers how to open patio shutters etc. Besides being a baboon crime hotspot it is also the capital of whale watching, so we had..well, a whale of a time: spotting them both from shore and on a boat excursion.

Squeeze in for a RideAfter overnighting in Hermanus we take a scenic drive to Capetown and check in to Mandela Rhodes Place Hotel and Spa where we have suites with views of Table Mountain.

A riotous first night on the town ends with one of our party sticking a traffic cone on his head and another squeezing in to a kiddies helicopter (click on the pic to identify); all rather remiscent of the poem When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.

If you are planning to behave badly when you get your pension you can read Jenny Joseph’s famous poem here

Next day dawns bright, even if we do not. Most of us are taken on a tour of the Cape, right down to the famous point, the graveyard of many a seagoing barky and the place where the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet.

It is a great day, taking in the naval town of Simonstown – Nelson docked there as a midshipman on his way home sick – the blowy old Cape Point itself and flocks of African Penguins at Boulder Point.

I feel it is time I finished this South Africa mini saga, so I am going to give you a whistle stop tour of the final week.

Stellenbosch is posh; a day out organised by  K and L’s old friends Rob and Shelly. Stunning scenery, reek of old money (check out the Delaire-Graff outfit for a fuller flavour), wine, more wine and a very clever lunch – Springbok carpaccio with green peppercorn icecream: that kind of thing. Superb.

Robben IslandNext day to Robben Island, home for 19 of a 28 year sentence for Nelson Mandela and many of his ANC brothers in arms. We walk in the footsteps of a legend: terrorist > freedom fighter > world statesman > saint. Quite a journey in one life.

Food for thought and I am not talking sprinbok carpaccio.

Talking about food, tonight we are booked in to Marco’s African restaurant. Stuart eats half a sheep’s head (because he can) with an appetiser of African worms. I get up (they made me) and play along with the totally excellent marimba band. Succeed in not making an arse of myself, for which the large crowd of diners are genuinely relieved, not to mention our gang. The dancers and band are incredible. Africans certainly rock.

Next morning is free and I walk to the Victoria and Alfred (sic) waterside and just enjoy the sense of an historic foreign city. We are booked in to the Mount Nelson Hotel for tea which is Cape Town’s poshest gig.  A taste of colonial luxury at an affordable price; cucumber sandwiches, canapes, bubbly, the whole bit in an  exquisite setting.

Next two days out of town in ritzy Franschoek, a wine town founded by French Huguenots fleeing Catholic persecution in France. It is a beautiful place although I am uneasy about the crowd of black people outside the magistrate’s court and am assaulted by a feeling of them and us.

I never have that feeling in Turkey, although it has exploded under the pressures of ethnic tensions enough times in the past and I am well aware that you never know what people are really feeling. Neighbours turn, whether it is in Nazi Germany, Hutu dominated Rwanda or gavvur Izmir (once Smyrna).

20151124_180124We are staying in delightful (there’s a surprise) accommodation; cottages on working wine farm LaBourgogne. Gorgeous! And on the second night we have a final braaı. The girls dance and sing on the lawn to the sounds of “Love Shack” and so terrifying is their rendering that next morning there are molehills everywhere; the poor little bastards have panicked done a runner.

All in all a great stay. The Cape winelands are very beautiful and remind how much the European heritage settlers are invested in this country.

Back to Cape Town and the Nelson Rhodes Place Hotel for our final couple of days. Time is passing on winged feet now.

20151122_081622Still stuff to pack in; our penultimate day dawns clear and we head for the cable car that will take us to the top of table mountain, one of the must-sees.

Often capped by cloud, its stately bulk seems to define Cape Town. Even today vision is limited by cloud but we have enough visibility to enjoy the ride and a tour of the craggy peak.

It has been an early start but we are not done yet either, as half of us have put our our hands up for a township tour in the afternoon.

This is a divisive issue as some feel that it is not morally on to tour the poor households of black folk. Whereas I do not see the difference between looking at the homes of the poor or those of the rich and I am ready enough to do that; both are doing it for economic reasons. I am genuinely curious because we have spent three weeks in this fascinating country but the corrugated slums that sprawl along the side of the motorways stand as a kind of silent reprimand. An aspect of South Africa that I have no insight in to at all.

Our guide is excellent. He is from the township and knows everybody.

We leave our bus behind and enter via a pleasant community hall; I am wondering whether we are going to get a sanitised version. In fact we do not, although it is one of the better townships. Most of them you probably could not visit. We penetrate quite far in and enter some fairly awful places; kids playing in cinder heaps, three families sharing one room and a fairly dark hole where we shared a pot of the local hooch with some locals.

What is a surprise is that on the edge of the township are modern, brick built residences, inhabited by professionals. Mostly with far less razor wire and bars than you see in the average urban and suburban dwelling. It had never occurred to me but if people earn some decent money they do not all want to leave the townships where they grew up and move quick as a flash to a white suburb (and probably be blanked by their neighbours). The story of the townships, like most, is a little more nuanced. Much is grim but the people still have spirit and we all know that loneliness – the blight of the rich West – is just as pernicious as poverty, do we not? Yet more stuff to chew upon.

I am grateful for being given the opportunity to share a little of this off the trail South Africa and from my heart I wish the country well in its journey towards the Rainbow . It will not be easy. It will not be quick.

And thank you again to Krap Tours and Chairman and Lady Rice (they have been so nice) and to all the characters with whom the Special and I shared this trip.

I leave you with my attempt at a poem – written at Storms River Mouth

Africa

The thundering thrash and crash
The spume whipped frenzied ocean’s
Restless, angry motion.
The scattering baboons’ angry howl
And cheek by jowl
Stately giraffes glide
It’s a fantasy ride
Roll up for the fantasy ride.

Big beasts, towering mountains
Big numbers, who is counting
Big scenery, drama, its mystery
Where begat man, where started History
The dark beating heart
Blood red, flame-lit cavestone art

Where? Where but?
Africa.
Cry Freedom! Cry fear
Shed a tear
For the Rainbow Nation
Feel the elation, difficult creation.
Feel the fear and come near.
Near to my fire.
Come.
Come, hear the drum.
For Africa is we all.
Africa is the call
Of an ancient voice
Dancing now to a new strain
White man, black man, Boer trekker
Durban Muslim, Desmond Dekker
We all find we here
As the flame red sun over African skies
So the new nation. Arise!

Nkosi Silelel’ iAfrica

Click to hear

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The Garden Route

Yellowwood trees are tall and, unlike me, flexible, which apparently is what you want when you hang a cable and harness between them at 15m and launch a human being along it; especially if that human is Little Stewart. Other trees have a tendency to snap.

That is all you need to know about zip wiring and actually there were times when I wish my acquaintance with it had been as limited. It is unexpectedly quite nerve wracking, as ten of you inch around a tiny platform, wriggle in to place before launching into space, trusting to African engineering.

The Squire, who has returned from winning Rorke’s Drift the Replay but has no head for heights and is sitting this one out along with the Princess, who considers such things infra dig. And they muss up her hair.

The rest of us are making our way across the tree canopy with varying degrees of nervousness; two of the team lose their bottle (this is a sensitive blog and I like to protect people’s names so let us just call them Mel and June) and need help. However, they regain their nerve and complete the course unaided. Given that the definition of courage is overcoming your fear rather than not having any in the first place, the day is theirs.

On via the splendours of the Garden Route, lush green rolling farmland – think rural Devon meets highland Scotland – and scenic all the way to Knysna, our overnight. First it’s an oyster bar for lunch.

The Sauvignon is soon flowing, a band is playing and before we know it the less restrained of our party, Smiley Sue leading the charge, are singing along. They are indeed a gnat’s hair away from dancing on the tables when we are saved by the arrival of the food. The Princess has never had an oyster before, so has ordered one just to try it.

Swallowing the salty bivalve is not everybody’s idea of heaven; it is something of an acquired taste. The Princess’ technique is not good  and her first attempt results in the recently deceased mollusc slithering down her chin and into her cleavage. However, second time is a success although the face she pulls suggests she has just swallowed ferret’s urine.

We check in to Yellowwood Lodge which is another superb pansyon set in glorious semi-tropical gardens; the house is in the Dutch style and immaculately cared for. Our evening gig is a spin on the lake on a paddle steamer (fake but fun). More beauty than a chap can handle and then the women head for home and the men head for a drink, although once again I am pressed beyond my normally sensible quota by my more hotheaded companions (will they ever learn restraint?).

Goodbye Knysna , after another modest breakfast of cereal,  two eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, jam and coffee , cue the music Laura “I Should Be So Lucky! Lucky etc..” Aaagh! Hit the road.

This time we are heading for an ostrich farm, for the whole deal; we learn about their habits, check out ostrich products, pet the babies, even ride them (see video) and finally enjoy an ostrich steak for lunch. Having narrowly escaped death on the zip wire nothing is going to get me on an ostrich. They are like camels on two legs. Avoid. Watch the video here

20151116_163225On to Cango caves, a warren of tunnels opening into massive and natural halls which are a phantasmagoric tangle of stalagmites and stalagtites. Once used as a venue for evening concerts, these were abandoned because the visitors would stray off limits and snap off bits of stalagmites to decorate their semis in New Maldon or Bogenhausen or wherever.

I know where I would like to put a stalagmite or a stalagtite and you do not have to be a sodomite to work out the answer.

After the splendour of Cango caves we are off in search of our accomodation; the lucky people are the long established Afrikaner owners of Oue Werf (pronounced Urggh  Vooorrgh) Country House and Manor. This is a really charming (yawn!) spot set in fabulous grounds (groan) and..need I say more?

Also the manageress is extremely beautiful, friendly and welcoming.

Oue WerfEvelyn Waugh said “Only ugly people need manners, the pretty can get away with anything.” Our hostess, whose name eludes me, obviously did not read the book. She is grace itself and keeps a wonderful table; the ostrich steaks are done to perfection and we are soon doing what we have been training for.

Honours go to Smiley Sue and me though because we swam in the dam; this is what we would call a lake or pond, although it sits somewhat between the two; a ponke perhaps? That has a nice Afrikans ring to it. İt is murky, squidgy underfoot and home to god-knows-what ponkelife.

However, I am keen to impress our hostess and a bit of anxiety is a small price to pay as I hurriedly complete a lap or two before our excellent supper. Afterwards I am forced to stay up with Ken and finish the bottle, whilst the more fleet footed head for bed.

It is a lovely stay and we part from our hostess with genuine regret. Start the vehicles, the girls strike up with “You’re the One that I Want – Ooh, Ooh, Ooh”. Go! Just go!

We have a lovely scenic drive ahead of us through Dutch heritage country,the mountain scenery a lustrous back drop for the rich rolling farmland and captivating towns with names like Oudtshoorn which you do not say so much as vomit.

End destination is the whale watching capital, Hermanus.

Bring it on.

Sit back and enjoy.

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South Africa; the party divides

It is Day 6 and Squire Denby is off on a personal mission to visit Rorke’s Drift, the site of the eponymous battle in defence of the mission station there during the Anglo Zulu war. The heroic encounter was the subject of the film Zulu starring Michael Cain. Nigel is well prepared (“My name is Nigel Denby”).

A car arrives for him and two vans arrive for us; we will be driven for the rest of the tour in two groups with Ken and Laura at the respective wheels; Laura’s (“Do You Wanna Be In My Van, My Van?”) Van contains the singers and White Van contains the rest of the party, which is mostly male and therefore generally quiet, except for the odd snore or one liner, example;

“What do lobster thermidor and blow jobs have in common?”

“You don’t get either at home.”

I am happy to be in White Van.

DrakensbergWe are on the road to the Drakensburg. Cue Wikipedia; “The Drakensberg escarpment stretches for over 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the Eastern Cape Province in the South, then successively forms, in order from south to north, the border between Lesotho and the Eastern Cape and the border between Lesotho and Kwa-Zulu Province”

Sounds f**k off does it not?

And it is. Krap Tours have billeted us in Giants Castle, within the gates of the national park, hedged around by castellated, craggy mountain that give rise to the name. This is another stunner of a location. We are in elegant wooden chalets and the Special and I have landed the bridal suite, alluringly named the Bridal Bush. Anyone for lobster thermidor?

We ceiebrate with a cracking Braai, in the best Kalkan epicurean tradition kicking off with kingclip en papillote. However, there is a really serious amount of woodsmoke around and when we eventually  return to the Bridal Bush we are totally kippered. Lobster thermidor is off the menu.

 

cave paintingsToday is the adorable Dorb’s birthday (ask not) and she is showered with presents of a tasteful nature. After a birthday breakfast, a walk through the mountains to see the famous cave paintings, which date back some 20,000 years and constitute a priceless record of the spiritual beliefs and daily life of very early man.

This is where scientists believe man first separated from ape; the start, no less, of the whole shooting match that we know as the human race. Blame Africa. Food for thought which makes a change from thinking about food – which is what we are mostly about on this trip.

This blog is a pretty feeble attempt to convey the breadth and scope of this amazing land and its culture but it is a challenge too far for my penmanship. Just glad to be here.

Two days flash by quicker than a baboon’s arse past your kitchen window and we are on the buses again. Cue the music Laura “The Love Shack. Love Shack Baby!”

Selfie K and IWe are on our way for an eventful stopover at Durban.  This is the lively Indian Ocean coast where mighty surf crashes down. The red flags are up and swimming is for idiots only. So in we go. Some of us anyway.

My fantastic video clip of Little Stewart heading into the frothing maelstrom, then rapidly turning desperately trying to outrun a mighty wave before stumbling, will alas never see the light of day. It has gone to the MP4 graveyard in the sky and I never saw him touch my phone.

Fastest I have seen him move since they stopped calling “Last Orders Please”.

En sortant we notice a big sign warning of the presence of sharks. Time to celebrate life with a glass of grog.

We close out with a jolly meal in the company of the Durban bourgeousie at top restaurant Ile Maurice; french fare at french prices but we are rich and tomorrow we may die.

A nights sleep at our excellent pansyon and early start to the airport to fly to Port Elizabeth, whence we start to drive the Garden Route. Rubber screeches on tarmac and we touch down on time at 10.35. Another day, another two vans. Cue the music Laura.  “Dancing Queen! You are the Dancing Queen”. Get me outta here.

First leg is to Storms River Mouth passing the highest bungee jump in the world.

“Anybody up for it? I‘m paying”.

No takers. Thought not. I do not put my money up lightly.

Storms River MouthWe drive past gently engaging scenery that gradually gets wilder and then Storms River Mouth; the mountain waters drain in to an ocean that is a constant thrashing frenzy of spume whipped water, pile driving down with a force that leaves you feeling mortal small. On land the lush landscape becomes almost rainforest as you climb the gorge. Magnificent.

Set against this dramatic canvas are the wooden chalets and panoramic restaurant lodge that constitute the camp. It is my abiding image of South Africa the Big Country, and I truly love it.

A wild walk along the cliffs and then supper. What could be better in this magnificent setting than a fillet of grilled kingclip, a glass of Sauvignon and great company. I feel very privileged to have at least got the first two.

Come on guys! Only kidding.

Tomorrow it’s time to clip on the harness and do a bit of zip wiring in the tree canopy.

Should be interesting!

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South Africa – Mpumalanga

Today we head back toward Jo’burg. Our overnight destination is Amafu Forest Lodge, which is owned by Dorb’s relatives and is set in magnificent gardens.

En route however we are to visit a cultural village and see an African show, charting the history of the area from early times. That is if Chairman K can ever succeed in getting us from A to B. He has discovered that a large number of the party (those of the skirt wearing gender plus the Squire who is just checking on his wife) love shopping/browsing.

This means that every place we stop for a break, the party disperses like melting snow. When it is time to go, herding cats is the expression I believe and it is really like that; Half the party are not there and when you go to locate them the half that was there go off again, so that when the half that was not there return, the half that was there need retrieving, at which point the half that….and so on.

Krap Tours do not have a strategy for this and so deadlines and timescales are rarely met. Fortunately both directors are being highly paid and they take this in their stride.

20151109_132817We arrive at Nyani Cultural Village, which consists of traditional straw roofed rondavels with a large communal hut, where the performance will take place. Nobody lives in villages like this anymore so it is a kind of theme park. We sit in the communal area and watch the show, which is amazing. Africans exude rhythm; dance and drumming is probably the only thread common to all the diverse countries that make up the continent of Africa. They really know how to shake down and the dancers tell the story of the movement of people in the area up to the present day.

After that it is a finger buffet in the village. Well, when I say finger buffet it is a leg of chicken, some mashed pumpkin and a semolina type mush called pap. The traditional way is to eat with your fingers and roll up a ball of pap to mop up any liquid. I cannot get on with this and end up leaving quite a lot on the plate and the remainder distributed around my body and clothing.

I do get on with the drumming and have a bit of a session with one of the guys afterwards. I love the rhythm and am already in touch with my inner African.

The trip has left me with a hunger to know more about Africa. The Special has bought me a superb book called “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” by Richard Dowden. I am confronting my prejudices and ignorance (I really thought many country people still did live in traditional mud and straw villages like Niyani) about the Dark Continent. Thank you Ken and Laura for opening it all up.

On to Amafu Forest Lodge Hotel for a taste of luxury. The Dorb’s fam will not have us eating with our fingers, I am sure; indeed they have laid on a magnificent braai in their home for us. Corks snap and pop, the food rolls and we sit around the firelight in their magnificent outdoor pavilion to feast and chat. Steve and Leylana are great hosts and either enjoy it or deserve a medal for acting. We close the day reminiscing over 60’s and 70’s bands at my end of the table.

Chairman K and Little Stewart make me stay up and drink more than is good for me (they are beginning to make a habit of this and it is time they took responsibility for their actions). Net result, when it is time to go Stewart stumbles in to the passenger seat barely compos mentis and Chairman K and I plonk ourselves on the tailboard of the truck. Leylana takes the wheel without me noticing she has grown a pair of horns.

“I will take it easy she says” again I fail to notice the trace of irony and dark humour.

Now I am a 64 year old retired UK professional and my idea of a lift home is a fairly conventional one. Ken being a bit of a bloke and a colonial to boot, has grown up with the outback in his DNA. So he perches on the tailboard, immediately relaxing in to some earlier version of himself, for all the world as if we are 10 year old Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn jumping a ride.

Leylanda scorches off burning rubber and I just prevent my early demise by grabbing on to something, though no idea what. I have largely blanked the next 10 minutes from my memory to protect my self from trauma. I just recall, in a dim and deadly haze, a constant fight to stay on the vehicle while my “friend” is creasing himself with alcohol enhanced laughter at my trouser filling, bowel clenching fight to stay on. Remember the song “And I’ve never met a nice South Africn yet”? Well I thought I had but these people really are just different. A bit of drink, a barbecue, open air and the thin veneer of civilisation just evaporates.

Amafu Lodge departingNext day is 10th November. The day Atatürk died at Dolmabahçe Palace in 1938 and I came screaming in to the world at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Yes it is my birthday and the folks have all clubbed together to buy me one of those protective sheathes woven from dried corn that African adolescents put on to protect their penises when they were sent off unaccompanied in to the forest for a month as a test of manhood.

Am I the only grown up on this trip?

The picture shows Little Stewart and Feisty Mel D in the foreground as we depart Amafu Lodge. We are driving back to Jo’burg today for a slice of city life; staying at Monte Casino hotel, dinner at South African Masterchef’s restaurant (arranged by Dorb’s brother) and a visit to the Casino.

We stop in a small town for refreshments in the historic (1884 so White Man’s history) Rose Garden Café where manicured and coiffured Afrikaner matrons drink tea with their gentleman farmer husbands. Or so I suppose. The air seems heavy with nostalgia and I reflect once more on the mighty challenge this country has to integrate its indigenous and largely dispossesed black population with its English and Dutch heritage European population, who have so much and feel entitled to keep it. Not to mention the sizeable Asian extraction minorities.

They need not just one Mandela but an armful and their main resource seems to be optimism. Enough deep stuff. On to Jo’burg.

Here every house of any substance bristles with razor wire and the obligatory (otherwise no insurance) placard advising surveillance and 24 hour armed response (that seems rather a long time to wait).

Of all the SA cities Jo’burg is the most dangerous. You are a wallet on legs here but we are headed for the secure complex of Monte Casino hotel and a bit of glitter. From Niyani cultural village to Monte Casino; As I said, with Krap Tours you get eclectic..

We have a great night and it is a wonderful way to celebrate 64. Lady Rice’s family join us and I am rethinking the never meet a nice South African bit as they all seem delightful. Dorb’s nephew Ryan advises me, as the party breaks up, to put some money on the 20 spot on the roulette wheel.

Most of the party head off for bed but the lads and one or two of the ladies make it to the casino. Roulette first and I decide to put a couple of chips on 20, which pays out 35 to 1. Incredibly (I mean really incredible), it wins and I am 70 chips (about £40) up straight off. How amazing! Call a sleepy Ryan to tell him the good news.

Unfortunately the chaps make me stay up and drink more than I should and I retire 4 hours later and £30 down. They need to reflect seriously on their behaviour.

Fat chance.

Wonderful day. Now I am 64, will I still be sending the Special a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

Read on to find out for tomorrow we pick up two buses and head South.

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South Africa; the lion sleeps

Hello Summit Lodge and goodbye Summit Lodge. A good breakfast and it is in to the Magic Bus and off to world famous Kruger Park for 2 days safari. But first, hats man! Hats! We stop the bus at a delightful waterfall fronted by a number of tourist shops selling, amongst the ıncreasingly familiar clutterware of wooden bowls, animals, batik prints etc., lots of hats. Is it going to be a beanie, baseball or bush hat? Or should we try something beginning with C?

gods window hatsIt’s a tough decision but we all finally decide and make our purchases. The Special goes for a straw sunhat which looks good in any situation and I go for an “Out of Africa” safari style that looks daft in every situation.

Hats and I have a difficult relationship.

I have the wrong head. But I still have a headful of hair so I do not need a hat whereas you probably do so you can keep your wisecracks to yourself.

Next stop God’s Window, so named because of the awesome view. I could try and nick a bit of text here and there, stitch it together and pass it off as my own words but this is not a travel blog, so I am just going to give you it straight from the southafrica.net website.

“God’s Window is one of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve’s most spectacular viewpoints, with astonishing views over South Africa’s Lowveld (so-named because it is much lower than the high escarpment along which the Panorama Route runs. At God’s Window, majestic cliffs plunge down 700m and, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see over the famous Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on South Africa’s border Mozambique”

Gods Windows 2  Gods window 4

A picture is worth a thousand words. It is almost enough to make me believe in God.

On across this magnificent landscape until we rock up at Kruger National Park, all 2 million hectares of it. Already teeming with wildlife of every shape, size and sexual orientation it is just about to get another 11 every bit as diverse.

Chairman Ken and Dorb (this is Lady Rice’s nickname in South Africa and it is short for adorable which she is unless you have just tried not to pay for your milkshake) have drawn straws to allocate the tented lodges. This is because they could only get two waterfront ones. The river is where the action is, especially as this part of Africa, Kwazulu Natal, is undergoing a lengthy drought.

The Special and I have scored and head off to our waterfront lodge. Rounding the corner I see two baboons mounting our verandah. I chase them away. It is not as if Nigel and Stewart have not got their own lodges.

What a nice place!

No! I hear Chairman K upbraiding me “A cup of tea is nice! A walk in the park is nice! This is amazing”.

We go for three safari tours over the next couple of days and see four of the Big Five including a lion. But I have to say the most spectacular experience is to sit on the verandah in the stillness of the early morning to hear the birds’ rouse out their symphony, whilst just in front of you baboons crash around the foliage screeching at each other, crocodiles drag themselves on to the mud spit to bask and hippopotamuses emerge from the water emitting an unearthly basso profundo gurgle which is nature’s way of reminding you that these – despite their cute looks – are very dangerous creatures. And then a herd of elephants file down to the river. Words cannot convey …

A few pics of our time in Kruger. Click to enlarge

giraffe kruger   African buffalo  elephant and babe Kruger  Our accomodation

 

If there was anything to be seen the Mighty Shadrak made sure we saw it. He seemed to know every other guide on the planet and was always stopping to exchange information and locate where something interesting was going down. A rare eagle and even a lion. If it was there Shadders could find it.

We shared great suppers at the ubiquitous Mug and Bean restaurant on the camp, glasses of grog all round: chilled Castle beers, grassy Chenin Blancs and earthy red Pinotages. Forgive me but we are still on catch up from the Saudi gig.

We had a memorable  breakfast on the verandah, prepared by our in house chefs, Braai Master (pronounced bry)  Chairman Ken and feisty lawyer Mel D.

Be patient, you will get to meet them all. Although at this rate it is going to take me weeks to tell our South Africa story, so let us leave the Kruger behind and move on. It is only Day 3.

All aboard the Magic Bus and in the next post we meet Dorb’s family and share a braai (what’s the matter with South Africans? Can’t they spell barbequeue, barbeacu, barbb OK maybe they have a point).

Baai for now!

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South Africa

The hour has finally arrived and K and I are off, with a group of friends, for a much anticipated 3 week trip to South Africa.

The tour is led by Kalkan power couple Laura and Ken Rice. South Africans by birth and inclination, they only left the beloved country when things were looking hairy and not quite the place to bring up their young family. After a 20 year stretch in the UK where they became big shakes in the milky drink business (geddit) they retired to Kalkan.

So we are in the hands of Ken Rice African Panorama (KRAP) tours, their newest entreprise, for the next 21 days.

We are 11 Kalkanites in total and share a common interest in seeing the world, where possible over the rim of a wine glass. So how we ended up booking with Saudi “We Fly Dry” Airlines is beyond me. Actually it is not. It was cheap. So more money to buy wine. Thank you the Saudis.

The flight from Istanbul is 15 hours with 4 hours in transit at Jeddah, over which we shall draw a discrete burka. Not a country I will be rushing back to.

We arrive at Jo’burg and emerge blinking in to the South African sun which is nearly as warm as the welcome from Chairman Ken who has arrived ahead of us. Also with him and completing the party are Little Stewart, the man who put the wit in to Whitby and his ever patient wife and minder, chatty society hostess June.

Hugs and whoops all round.

Our tour bus awaits. We meet our driver for the next few days, the mighty Shadrak. We are yet to discover that there is nothing that he does not know about African flora and fauna. Not one thing. He knows everything. He is the wikiest of wikis. He is Cleverdicky Wiki, not a bleedin’ thicky and he’s doing … very well (a little tribute to the late Ian Dury).

Krap Tours is my kind of company; Chairman K brings out welcome bags for us all. They contain small bottles of wine, beer can holders (for the guys), Biltong and stacks of other products from the rainbow nation. Then the lid comes off the cooler box.

Grog all round, engage gear and off we go. Saudi Air is already a distant memory.

The journey is a wonder and the first of many such. Ken Rice’s African Panorama reveals itself in rolling verdant grasslands neatly laid out to crops, plunging gorges and distant lakes, the whole bounded by purple blue mountains magnificently spread out against an African sky.

Summit Lodge GraskopWe are on a mission to get to our overnight stop before dark, the small town of Graskop. This is an Afrikans word and is pronounced Grrrrhhhhhhhaskhhhop. It is a phlegm summoning glottal sound that takes some mastering unless you have a heavy cold, in which case it just comes naturally.

We arrive in the gloaming. The lodge is modelled on traditional African thatched rondavels, set in beautiful gardens. We disembark and head to our varıous huts, for the lack of a better word, to establish ourselves before supper. Ours has a heritage bathroom, with corrugated iron walls and a basic bath and strange plumbing but NEVER MIND. This is KRAP tours and you get eclectic, you get quirky, you get luxury (not too much), you get drama, you get wow, you get drunk but you never get boring.

Have you got it? I am getting it and I love it.

With the sounds of an African dusk settling around me we head for the restaurant. Ah, the joys of a wine loving country: crisp sauvignons for £5 in a restaurant. Little Stewart, the Whitby butcher orders a T-Bone and tries to seduce the African cook, the Felicity Bird refreshed by the evening bottle lays down a chorus of constant chirping and the party is generally in mellow mood.

The company directors can relax. We have arrived in very good spirits at our first destination. Tomorrow the Kruger National Park via God’s Window with the promise of seeing some of the Big Five – African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White or Black rhinoceros.

But first the Big Sleep.

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The Oldest Swimmer in Town

I love irony. And although I meet many people who have had the irony by-pass operation, even they would get this one; on one of our practice swims for our charity event to raise money for search and rescue group Akut, one of our swimmers got lost and we had to scramble the coast guard to err… search and rescue him.

Actually even they could not find him but he did turn up in a taxi two hours after we had arrived back. It is a long story.

He is a young Turk from Kaş and came for the first time to meet us, the Kalkan swimmers, and check pace etc. Being very fit, young, a triathlete and possibly because he comes from Kaş, he entered the water and then proceeded to swim rapidly out of hearing range at a tangent to the rest of us. He was soon out of sight too and that was the last we saw of him until the taxi hours later. He probably swam to Fethiye and back. Don’t know. Really! I never quite grasped what happened nor how came it that none of us or anybody else subsequently saw him in the water. Even the coastguard failed to locate him.

This year’s Mouse Island Swim has been way more challenging than the previous four because;

  • We have been working with a large Turkish charity, Akut. This is a charity not much loved by the government, probably because of its independence but much respected by Turks. It made its reputation in the 1999 Istanbul earthquake when it was everywhere saving lives whilst the government dithered. So it is very careful not to offend government sensitivities or complex charity law.
  • We have worked with local Turkish rather than just in the ex pat bubble
  • People from Kalkan and people from Kaş have had to collaborate
  • We had twice last year’s number of swimmers

In fact it was nearly was not the Mouse Island swim. War broke out inside the embryonic local Kaş Kalkan Akut Board about the legitimacy of the established English name ‘Mouse’ Island; the one that sits 5.9 km off Kalkan Bay. Yes! Yes! I know every tour boat and dive boat board shows Mouse Island and Snake Island. Yes! I know that a Google search for Mouse Island Kalkan brings back 32,000 results referencing it. But apparently it is not the correct English language name. No! the correct name is Red Island (Google references 0).

ratThe Turkish name is Sıçan Adası. The Turkish word sıçan actually means rat. However the verb sıçmak  also means “to have a shit” in vernacular Turkish. So sıçan can mean “shitting” as well as rat. Nonetheless Turks and English thought this quite amusing and were agreed that Sıçan Adası Yüzmesi 2015 should go on the front of our sponsored polo shirts. We are even thinking of renaming our swimming group The Shitting Rats with an appropriate logo.

So Shitting Rat Island in Turkish is fine but – and I am not shitting you – Mouse Island was rejected as an English translation. The local Akut board decided that the Sponsored Polo shirts, which 20 very generous local businesses were paying 1000 TL a piece (not shitting you there either) for us to wear would have to bear the legend Sıcan Adası Yüzmesi 2015 on one side but Red Island Swim 2015 on the other. Now nobody and I mean nobody – not one English Google search result returned a Red Island Kalkan result – has ever used the term Red Island to describe this particular piece of real estate.

At which point I put my neatly manicured big hairy ayak down and said “It’s going to be Mouse Island Swim. Better dead than red.” All of which prompted, a crisis meeting and hot words including the phrase (not aimed at me but another English Akut Board member) “Why are you taking the side of the foreigners?” Hello! We are not on the same side then?

This had all the makings of a classic academic dispute of which Kissinger said “They are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small” .

In the end common sense won the day and it was accepted that Mouse Island would be the term used. However in another of life’s little ironies, the printing went wrong and they only got printed on one side anyway.

The serious point here is that working across cultures is way more difficult than it seems. This is a friendly place and we foreign residents have a great life but we live in our silos, or bubbles, as I prefer to call them. Under the surface there are many more tensions than we care to realise. Tempting then to retreat in to the bubble but that would be the wrong answer.

I am not surprised that a project like this has flushed out all sorts of misunderstandings and resentments but that is always the first step in any kind of rapprochement. Let the dog see the rabbit. Actually the resentments are not just between Turks and foreigners. I learnt that there is a major fault line too between the population of hip Turks from Istanbul, Izmir etc who have settled in Kaş in pursuit of a more laid back boho life and the indigenous Turks. Apparently war is waged in the social media. All the Kaş Akut members are currently outsiders but I hear that is changing.

For me in the final analysis it was a very satisfying and worthwhile process to work together with Turks from Kaş and Kalkan. I hope one or two of the ones I met will become friends. I am certainly thinking of doing the Meis to Kaş swim next year with some of the young dudes from Kaş. We also had a boat team from Kuşadası and from Marmaris along with support from Istanbul. They were a great bunch of people: sophisticated, modern minded and friendly. Having their two rescue craft with us on the swim certainly gave me peace of mind. John – the Only Pole in the Village – Federyzwcyvvzxxwxys has done us all a massive service in creating this opportunity to step up and work together. Hats off to him, I say.

And I like hanging out with younger people when I get the chance. Within Kalkan ex pat circles after all there are generally only two conversations in play

  • The health conversation; various ailments – memory loss, joint pain, mobility issues etc – and health care system, merits of
  • The food conversation; had the most fantastic meal last night at such and such restaurant, detailed inventory of food followed by cost

So breaking out and hanging out with the kids (anybody under 45) is essential for sanity.

Our SponsorsThe Rat Island Swim 2015 has been a great success. We set out to help Akut get established here and the swimmers have raised about 30,000 tl towards the overall total from the event. A great effort.

Despite a poor season 19 Kalkan businesses stumped up corporate sponsorships of 1000 tl, and I have pictured their logos here. There are some great local businesses and I applaud them.

I am also very grateful to readers of this blog who donated generously in support of me or of the swimmers generally. Several made really touching comments about the blog. Definitely makes the effort worthwhile

So Akut will now get off the ground. And if you want to give it is not too late, you can use my Donate button.

In a couple of weeks Special K and I will be leaving Leto House in the care of house sitting friends until late November. We are off to South Africa for three weeks with a few friends, which is really exciting.

So in my next post I shall no doubt have something to say about that as well as an early take on our first winter in the mountains. And of course, against the bleak backdrop of Saturday’s major bomb blast in Ankara, the country will go to the polls in just under three weeks. Who knows how that will play out?

But life in small town Kalkan will go on and hopefully the tourists will continue to support our excellent Kalkan businesses.

In conclusion here are some pictures of the fifth and biggest Mouse Island Swim. As you can see I really am the oldest swimmer in town.

 

swiimers emerging Polo shirted in the water

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Mouse Island Swim 2016 – Donate Page

Thanks to my technically gifted stepdaughter, I have managed to add a donate button to my blog which links to my PayPal account.

If you want to sponsor me or any of the swimmers this year in our swim to raise funds for Kaş4Kids, a registered charity supporting families in need, please click on the button below and follow the instructions. I will publish a list of all donations, along with names in due course unless you request anonymity.




Thank you for your support
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AKUT above the Rest

Where does the time go? Already people in the village are saying that it is Autumn here. Mind you that is Autumn in 34 degrees Centigrade, so not quite ‘Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’. However, sunsets are deepening, colours are begininning to change and the nights are cooler.

In the mountains that is.

Yes, we have loved every minute of an Islamlar summer. Although we have air conditioning we have not once switched it on. Ceiling fans do the job and give a nice Fin de Siècle British Empire feel to Leto House. The Mem Sahib is happy in her hill station and I am insufferably pleased with myself. What few friends I have left are waiting to see me get a humbling when the rain clouds descend, the cold winds blow whilst a gentle sun shines over the coast.

Not that, even in Paradise, all is perfect. Discovered this morning that the ants had raided all the grass seed lovingly sown last night by K the Konstant Gardener: piled it in four big mounds above their nests, the little buggers.

K is livid and has squirted the equivalent of Agent Orange down their holes. It’s war! Hell hath no Fury like a woman whose grass seed has been systematically raided by organised ant gangs.

August has been good though. Slipped off to UK for a week and went family camping for a couple of days in Sussex. Glorious indeed but how I agreed to go on ahead with 3 year old Daisy May to put up the tent I DO NOT KNOW.

“The little D will love a day with grandad all to herself. She is so excited.” Those words were, I think, the sucker punch.

And she was fantastic company in the car throughout the four hour journey with a break out for lunch. Even this year’s gloomy August weather smiled upon us. The problems began when we got to the lovely little campsite and I could not remember how to put the wretched tent up. With poles bent in to every fantastic combination but no viable structure emerging, I began to despair. Daisy’s only contribution was

“Grandad! I need a poo.”

And not just one either. Couldn’t have been the two bags of Haribos and a Kinder egg that I gave her for lunch could it?

Between wrestling with the giant Rubik’s Cube and rushing Daisy off for yet another No 2, exhaustion began to set in. At which point a German man across the field took pity, came over and soon started to make sense of it all. At which point Daisy, perhaps wishing to save me a journey, bless her, called

“Grandad! I dunna poo on the grass.”

Let us draw a veil.

Thanks to Siegfried the tent got erected and order was restored. Daisy and I were just returning from the local Waitrose with armfuls of shopping when the first daughter and boyfriend Adam arrived. By the time Daughter 2 and mother of Daisy arrived with a curry she had prepared, everything was in order and the corks were drawn. She has obviously learned the way to camp.

Daisy of course loved it and even whispered to me

“Grandad! You’re my favourite”

Cue a lump to my throat and a giant hug. Five minutes later I hear her whisper to Adam

“Adam! You’re my favourite”

I’ve been played! The little minx.

In fact she is working us all; four adults rushing around at the bidding of one three year old. What on earth are we in for in later years? Unbelievable.

The weekend flies by. The rain holds off and it is on to Weymouth to see my sister and a game of golf with her consort. Then back to London for a bit of culture; Impressionist collection at the Courtauld Institute, a Prom at the Albert Hall with an early supper squeezed in at a fab Italian off the Cromwell Road.

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Indeed. Don’t want to live there anymore but it still has allure by the bucket load.

My busy week is soon over. I have really enjoyed it but it is fantastic to get back to the sweep and scope of the Big Country and of course to Special K, who is waiting to pick me up and spirit me off in the Dusty Duster.

And so here we are, September! And once again the swim from Mouse Island to Kalkan Beach is looming.

This will be the fifth year that I have taken part and the fourth year I have organised it.

Funnily enough I recently saw Abdurrahman for whom. along with legendary Kalkan character Joules Garrod, I did the very first swim in 2011 to raise money for a new prosthetic leg. He was back on a scooter!

Some may question the wisdom of that but not me. I was delighted to see him mobile again.

As for this year’s swim. Four years on we number a dozen and are a slightly more earnest bunch now; we train harder, swim a little faster and nobody takes floating fag breaks. Indeed, we cannot even manage a smoker amongst us.

This year we are raising the bar a notch or two further.

We have partnered with KTLN supremo John Fedwitsczryvcitzswvvx (understandably known as John Fed) to support his bid to start up a branch of independent Turkish search and rescue organisation AKUT.

AkutAs far as I can understand these guys are a legend amongst Turks. I will not give you the full story here but you can read it on their website if you are interested http://www.akut.org.tr/en. They are called out all over the globe to rescue earthquake and flood victims. They also cut people out of road traffic accidents, find you lost and freezing on a mountain and even rescue your goat that is trapped on a ledge.

And it will not cost you or even the Turkish government a dime. All finance is raised from charitable giving. It is a very professional outfit. Currently the nearest branches are in Antalya and Fethiye and if it is you trapped in that car or lost on that mountain the extra hour could be crucial.

There are too many bad news stories about Turkey at the moment, many of which impact adversely and unfairly on the hard working business class of resorts like this one.

So let’s create a good news story for Kalkan. Getting a branch of AKUT up and running means equipment, volunteer training, transport and storage premises at the least. It is time to demonstrate that we are not just lightweight locust eaters but are able – holiday makers, residents foreign and local together – to get things done to improve the area we care about.

Earlier this year I was told that, when a swimmer mentioned to a fellow Brit that they would be doing the Mouse Island Swim this year, he received the response

“Isn’t that swim thing a bit long in the tooth now?”

The remark missed its mark. Ironically the intended slight could not have been a bigger compliment.

It is the transience of the ex pat lifestyle that frustrates me most about life here. People come, stay for a few years and go. Few learn the language or engage much with what you might call real life in Turkey. And few things seem to last. Restaurants come and go. Projects and activities often have short lives too. None of us would pass the Norman Tebbit test

So I nurture the hope that people will still be swimming the island and using the money for good projects long after I have retired from the scene

And this year we are making a major step towards that by partnering with the local Akut board. This year the Akut board will be organising a day of activities in Kalkan on Saturday 3rd October. The arrival of the swimmers together on the beach from around 11.00 will be part of that day.

In the evening there will be a thumping dinner and party and on Sunday there will be an AKUT exhibition in Kaş. And much more

For precise details please watch out for news on KTLN.

Here is how you can help the swimmers raise 40,000 tl for Akut;

orange shirt example

  • Sponsoring an individual swimmer that you personally know. This year there are 20 of them, including a small number from Kaş.

Sponsoring a group of swimmers if you want to support more than one individual

  • Helping us find corporate sponsors who we are asking to pay 1000tl to sponsor a swimmer who will wear a tee shirt with their logo throughout the day

Coming along on the day and being part of the fun

I hope and believe that a successful Akut start up will be the beginning of more collaboration between the coastal resorts of Kaş and Kalkan. And because success breeds success I believe it will help forge stronger links between foreign visitors, foreign residents and the local population which will in turn lead to more and different projects to improve the quality of life in our town.

So…

If you want to make a single donation as a group sponsorship for a number of swimmers, you can use the button below to donate straight to my secure PayPal account using a card or directly from your PayPal account.





For transparency, I will publish a list of donations and donors unless you request anonymity. I will also inform the swimmers of your donation so that you are not harassed by all your aquatic friends.

If you believe that you know a local business that might be good for a corporate sponsorship then email me and I will send you a document in Turkish and English setting out the case for sponsorship.

And if you want to be part of the Akut Lykia Festival, I will see you there on Saturday 3rd October from 10.00

Contact chrisdavies_01@hotmail.com

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