Fairy Tales

I don’t really enjoy driving on dirt roads. But they’re oh so much fun. That being said, until fairly recently, most roads were dirt roads. Driving to Kruger National Park would mean a few hundred kilometres of dirt road. If you decided to take a slight detour, you probably would have had to get out the car, open a gate, drive the car through the gate, get off the car, close the gate and only then drive off. Cars actually were developed to work on dirt roads. And cars actually do work pretty well on this surface. The key is to know how to drive your car on these surfaces. That being said, the vibrations can wreck your car if the vehicle is not in tip-top condition. Anyway, it’s quite an amazing experience driving at close to 100kph and attempting to move the steering wheel and receiving no response at all from the car. I had 25km in each direction of this today. Furthermore, this included a rather steep mountain pass. Talk about fun…

Nieu-Bethesda is magical. Perched at the end of this 25km dirt road that begins around 30km North of Graaff-Reinet on the N9, it’s probably the most beautiful town in South Africa. Earlier on in this trip, I was told the town is like a Gilmore Girls town. It’s actually so much more amazing. The town is vastly inaccessible. The dirt road I took in getting there is the “good” road with a back-entrance being another dirt road that’s 30km from the N9. This seclusion has resulted in the town developing an aura that I honestly can’t properly write about in words. Unlike the clinical office blocks of Midrand which are cleaned on a weekly basis, the beauty of these buildings exists in a symbiotic relationship with the environment. The weather adds to the charm and the vegetation wonderfully accentuates the town. Inside you feel as if someone has removed you from the stress of the world and placed you into a dream. It’s a town best explored on foot. I naturally, and because I saw a few dogs walking around, explored it by car.

Being a guy, there was no ways that I was asking for directions and the first thing I did was search for the brewery. Instead, I found two unmarked labyrinths. These did freak me out just a little…

Around 80 million years before the dinosaurs, the Karoo, and particularly this portion of the Karoo was home to mountains higher than the Himalayas. Dicynodon and Aulacephalodon roamed the forests, dominated by Glassopterii in the valleys below. The towering mountains allowed for a lush eco-system beneath it bathed by meandering rivers. The sediment of these riverbanks provided the ideal climate for fossilisation. Any animal that got stuck or died on these banks invariably ended up as a fossil. The mountains around Nieu-Bethesda are teeming with fossils from this the Permian Age. The town has its own museum, the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, which has an amazing selection of fossils that have been found in this, the Karoo Supergroup. Most fossils were unearthed by the renowned palaeontologist Dr. Robert Broom (who later unearthed the fossils of early humans in the Cradle of Humankind) and James Kitching. Kitching had a knack for identifying fossils and as a result of him finding a Karoo Therapsid in Antarctic; he established the notion of continental drift – something that has vastly helped mankind to understand the planet. The museum also has a step-by-step guide on how to become a fossil – something you should take heed of it you would like beings that in 250 million years time to dig you up and display your bones in whatever display cabinets they use then. The highlight of the tour, though, was an actual demonstration of how a fossil is recovered from rock. Using a pneumatic dentist’s drill, excavating fossil from rock is a painstaking job that could take several years. And yes, these palaeontologists have to sit and use this tiny drill on a rock the size of a football to recover a bone from rock that has the exact same colour as the bone. One slip up and well, the fossil is destroyed…

The town’s centre piece is the world renowned for the Owl House. Although from the name, one would think that this is a sanctuary for these magnificent birds, it actually is an entrancing artwork created by one Miss Helen.

Born in 1898 in the town, Helen Martins returned to Nieu-Bethesda after a messy divorce to take care of her ailing parents. Upon their death, she experienced depression until one day; she embarked on a single-minded mission to bring light into her life once again. Using meagre resources, she and a local sculptor transformed her dreary house into a magical playground with owls, colour and beauty. Outside her house are the cement sculptures depicting owls, people, far away lands and the nativity. The beauty is intense yet eerie. These enchanted figures protected Miss Helen in this universe that she created for herself.

Inside, the house sparkles in a cacophony of colour. Crushed glass has been applied to every wall making the house sparkle. This is amplified by the strategically placed stained glass murals, lamps and mirrors.

I leave the house in awe. Outside, I purchase a little concrete owl made by a ten year old boy to mimic the creations of Miss Helen. Nieu-Bethesda took my mind to a world that you don’t believe exists. It’s exquisite. And I say yet again, it’s a town that has a beauty that I cannot explain. Do yourself a favour and visit this town – it will make you believe once more…

Musings on the Valley of Desolation

I recently read an article in Wild Magazine – the magazine to accompany the Wild Card that gets you entry into all the National Parks for a year. It had a picture of a baboon eating an animal it seemingly killed. I knew that baboons are omnivorous and are capable of murder when the need arises. Most people do think they only eat fruits and berries but the reason why we are told to keep away from these animals is exactly because of this – they ARE capable of killing!

My last post about the Valley of Desolation was just pictures – the stunning beauty of this geological formation required it. Getting those pictures was quite a mission in itself! The drive up to the valley – the actual “valley” is at the top of a mountain meaning the Valley of Desolation is actually what is below – is amazing. It’s a mountain pass cut in the 1920’s for the cost of around R2000. I’ve had arguments with people on the value of infrastructure especially roads and the way used to determine how much money a piece of road has generated. Seeing that since the 1920’s, several millions of people have driven up to the valley, I think it’s safe to say this road HAS made the municipality a fair share of money. Back to the road, it’s a breathtaking drive cut as close to the mountain as you can get. On the one side of the road –sheer rock face. On the other – a verge-less sheer drop. Put one tyre wrong and you are no more. No correspondence will be entered into. Luckily, the road is well-kept tar but yikes, the hairpin bends on nasty inclines test every driver. If you have no care for natural beauty, I suggest going up the mountain just for the drive.

Reaching the summit, I had the normal task of sun-chasing. I crave sunsets and well, I didn’t want to miss this one! The Valley of Desolation has several lookout points and a hiking trail that takes you to most parts of the summit. The summit is pretty big and the hike would normally take you almost an hour to complete. Seeing that I got there late, I ran up this superlatively rocky hiking trail with my off-road sandals that aren’t really meant for off-road use and my short sleeve t-shirt worn in the middle of winter. I got to the first lookout point, and was frozen in awe. I took quite a lot of pictures there and spent a great deal of time just sitting in silence admiring the wow. Oddly, for maybe 20 minutes, I was the only person there. I guess you could just call that perfect. However, the viewpoints’ placing meant that I would miss the sunset – a cardinal sin punishable by death. The hiking trail appeared to go to the far end of the summit. I ran. I approached a fork and took the path less travelled as the other led to the parking lot. Well, it appeared to be a path. I ended up with a magnificent view but alas, it was a dead end with thick tree cover with many crevices and no real view of the sunset.

I stood for a while admiring the view and figuring out what to do next. The quiet is pierced by the unmistakeable bark of a baboon. I’m in awe, yet again. That awe is interrupted by a second bark by the same baboon. This time, it’s closer. My brain jolts and I wonder whether there is a reason for the bark getting louder. The third is unmistakeably MUCH closer than the other two. A large grey speck appears in my field of view. It hits me. I bolt! I keep running through the non-path through undergrowth and low branches. I can hear the barks following me! At this point I am freaking out and going over situations in my mind. The baboon has the advantage of living in this wonder of nature and does know the area better than I do. I keep running whilst the baboon barks from the shadows. However, the intermittent barks aren’t getting louder – which is a good thing. By this time, I am on the path and my odds of escape are better. I get to the other side of the trail as the barks trail away. I encounter some people and everything is safe.

I did trespass on the kingdom of the emperor of this valley. It has been his to rule for many years – and before that, it was his ancestors that saw over this glorious land. When one enters his kingdom, one must respect the kingdom and its way of life. I got away and perched on a rock on the other side of the valley. In the distance, he still barked – signalling to all those in earshot that he is the true ruler.

You can’t leave the summit – especially whilst witnessing the extraordinary palette that the sky presents to you. The winter sky, however, erases all light with great swiftness. My new found friends and I make our way to the car park. Well, except, this doesn’t go as planned and we veer wildly off-path. The light disappears faster and faster but we eventually find a path. Jumping into my car, I face the splendour of the mountain pass with more failing light. Moreover, the scenery on the descent marvels the mind even more – the panoramic view of Graaff-Reinet at night was truly stunning. I reach the bottom safely – but by then, it is night. I think to myself about my horrifying experience (it was for me – don’t judge me!!!) at Hluhluwe a few years ago where we were in the park after dark with buck jumping over the car. All of a sudden, a magnificent Eland crosses the road in front of me, then another. I’m in awe, yet again. Two others are scared away by the light and I use this opportunity to get to the gate, which I got to just in time.

Why I hate National roads

Leaving Gariep Dam, I had the choice of taking either the N1 or the R58. Seeing that the detour to the power station was scheduled later than I expected, I took the National route from Gariep Dam to Colesberg.

This stretch was a meagre 44km in total. And, I mean, even though it is the country’s premium National Road, how bad can it REALLY be? Here’s my list. It is that bad!

• It sucks.
• Traffic!
• No real scenery.
• You are speed restricted. Not that I condone travelling over the legal limit but on a National Road, you can have three lanes and the speed limit will be 80kph. Furthermore, traffic cops are everywhere and even if you aren’t travelling fast, you always end up braking when you see one of them meaning a less efficient drive.
• It sucks.
• There is no risk travelling on a National route. Everything is shown to you like a pre-schooler. There is no chance of you hitting a cow as the freeway is fenced off with electric wire that can make a medium-well steak out of said cow in seventeen seconds. Every hazard has a sign warning you about the hazard and a sign warning you that you are going to see a warning sign. You don’t need to calculate how much petrol you need seeing that there is a garage every five kilometres.
• Caltex Star Stops, Engen 1-Stops, Shell Ultra Cities, Total Petroport and whatever they call those Sasol jobbies. Excuse me whilst I go puke.
• You can’t just stop in the middle of the road and look around in awe at nature’s beauty.
• Construction never ever ends.
• It sucks.
• Rest stops are designated. It doesn’t matter that there is an exquisite view of a dam and mountain at one point – the freeway dictates that you must stop 2km down the road with a marvellous view of a koppie with half its side levelled out.
• BMW X5’s – these don’t take R-roads. It will damage their 4×4 suspension and there is nobody on those roads to cut off.
• You can’t travel at 80kph when you want to enjoy the view because said BMW X5 will have its bright lights, fogs and stadium-strength roof-mounted spotlights glaring at you if you do.
• It makes you sleep.
• It sucks.
• If you are on a single-lane freeway and encounter a truck, you’re screwed. The traffic means that you are following that truck all the way to Beitbridge (even though you just got out of the Huguenot Tunnel!)
• Too many sign posts telling you everything you don’t need to know and more.
• Mountain passes are WAY too tame. Van Reenen’s Pass is easier than driving up my driveway and the Tsitsikamma Toll Route, um, it bypassed SEVEN mountain passes.
• Did I mention it sucks?
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Chasing the sun around the Lake District

For some odd reason, the route around the Gariep Dam is called the Gariep Lake Route. As far as I know, a lake is a natural body of water whereas a dam is enclosed by a dam wall made of some sort of structure – be it man-made or made by beavers in North America. Whatever the reason, the drive around the dam is one of the most amazing drives in South Africa.

In 1971, a marvel that showcased South Africa’s engineering skill was opened. We’ll forget that the project was given to a French company for a moment as I tell you about the Hendrik Verwoed Dam (now called the Gariep Dam) – built in the Ruigte Valley; the dam wall stands 88m high and is almost a kilometre in length. The amount of enclosed water is staggering. Think of the distance from Amanzintoti to Verulam. Now think of how far apart Durban is from Pietermaritzburg. The mighty Gariep Dam is larger than this…

The round trip is a “tourist” circuit consisting of the R701, R390 and the R58. The circuit is quoted as being 134km long – I honestly feel it is much longer. The road is spectacular. It is a perfectly tarred masterpiece stretching out to the horizon in this most amazing land. The sleeping Free State greets the remnants of the magestic Maluti. Together, they dance and meet in this beautiful valley – a valley now that is pivotal in allowing millions of South Africans to quench their thirst and live.

The road is just great. I’ve thought long and hard on ways to describe it but I just can’t do it justice…The route starts outside Smithfield on the 70km or so drive to Bethulie passing the Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve. On the way, I was greeted by maybe five potholes and probably the same amount of cars. Climbing over each hill is a signal for you to hold your breath. Emerging on the horizon is beauty that you have never experienced before. Go over the next hill and the beauty is outdone as the giant snake of the Gariep pulls you closer and closer. I’m sure those stunning posters of roads leading into mountains are taken here and not at the foot of the Appalachians and Rockies! Although a day earlier, I felt scared because of what unknown fears lurked on the sides of the N12 outside Kimberley, the fear of this road was far greater. In all its beauty, this road defined “alone…” A cry for help goes unnoticed and unheard. It is here where you truly experience yourself and your reality.

The Gariep has this natural sense of mystery, power and greatness. Starting in the Drakenberg, this river, also know as the Orange, is the lifeblood of South Africa. Downstream of the Gariep is another mega-dam, Vanderkloof, home to South Africa’s largest hydroelectric scheme. Even more downstream is the wonder of the Augrabie Falls. Further downstream is the river mouth at Alexander Bay. Here, the mighty Gariep releases her diamonds into the Atlantic. Visit Alexander Bay and you’ll see how important these diamonds are to people…

Anyway, the Gariep is home to an ambitious project. South Africa is a drought country – the water we have is precious and not abundant. Not a year goes by without warnings (that we don’t heed) about South Africa having serious water shortages within a few years. The Gariep has a water tunnel on its eastern shores that connects to the Great Fish River that nourishes the Eastern Cape. Its use is similar to the Lesotho Highlands Project at Sterkfontein Dam in KwaZulu-Natal – when water is sparse; it is transferred from the Gariep to the Great Fish to provide the province with water.

I’m a sucker for dramatics and I was hoping to experience awe at the first sight of water from the Gariep. This, obviously, never did happen. After a quick stop in Bethulie to offload, I set about remedying this by embarking on another infamous sun-chasing mission to capture the sunset over the Gariep. My destination lay 60km away on the south-eastern banks of the Gariep at a hamlet named Oviston. The R-roads are infamous for their lack of shoulders, cat eyes and fences. With knowledge of the cow incident still pretty fresh, I speed on hastily as the sun falls. It light bathes the land in a lazy orange that intensifies as the sun retreats more and more. I push on…

I reach Venterstad and soldier onto Oviston as the orange glow deepens. Looking back, darkness encroaches. I start to panic and wonder if I will make it in time. I (obviously) have never been to the Gariep before and I have no knowledge of the terrain that I will encounter at Oviston. I wonder what the view would be like and if this mad trip was worth it. I reach the town and the waters edge. On one side of the dam, the sun kisses the horizon with its most intense shade of orange. On the other is nature’s most beautiful view…

I sit on the rocky banks, perched on a rock gazing at this site. A heron calls from the distance as the sun extinguishes over the Gariep. I smile 🙂

I linger. In actual fact, lingering could spell my death. I have a half an hour drive back to Bethulie on a road strewn with cattle and untold creatures of the dam. Obligatory on all routes travelled at night is the car without lights. It amazes me how people travel with minimal vision. In this wilderness, the hazards multiply. I easily pass them and approach the Bethulie Bridge. I am home and safe – a relief. However, the Bethulie Bridge has something in store for me…

Day 57: I drift…

So it’s a Tuesday and we finished up at the plant yet again. This time, though, it was the last day at the Plant. The Electrical Reticulation didn’t really take that long so hey, no more ash-covered overalls (and other body parts) until I need to come here for actual work. We do visit National Control later this week but that’s not really part of the plant. Nevertheless, I did enjoy going up and down the monstrous plant a lot. ANYWAY, back to the blog – today was, well, a drive of necessity I guess. The reasons for this will come up in later blogs but these little roadtrips do tend to allow the mind to float away into the beauty of this amazing country of ours. Now, the one problem was that I had no idea where to actually go as Kruger National Park is WAY to far away for a single days drive and I had gone through a good part of the coal-seams of Southern Mpumalanga. So, North it was and BAM – Groblersdal. Take the N11 to get there and I can do a circular trip by taking the R25 and R544 back. I expected a drive mimicking the elements of the other drives – little did I know that I was in for a big surprise…

I don’t know if anyone remembers that dreaded series on SABC3 called “Avenues.” Avenues are basically tree lined streets and I found this out when I was a kid – one of the trillions of bits of information I did pick up in my formative years which I am rather thankful for. The main road near my house is an avenue and, well, over the years, the trees have been felled with special mention to the one really old tree which was uprooted when they widened the road. I was quite sad when it did happen hey. Anyway, I got to the outskirts of Middelburg and came across several of these avenues. They are really beautiful and have such a sense of serenity to them.

The first revelation of the trip was the greenness of it. Compared to my journeys south, this trip actually didn’t have mine dumps and coal trucks breaking the road to shreds. On the side of the road, I saw this device. Tractors rule!

I saw this brilliant sign on the way. There actually is this bottle store in the middle of nowhere. I actually wanted to stop and get something but, well, I analysed the risk and stayed in my car. Besides, there were dogs sleeping outside.

Another thing I realised during this trip was that South Africa is blessed with this amazing network of National N roads. This road ran around 100km with twists, turns, dips and mountain passes yet there was not a single pothole on the entire route. I will agree though that the N roads are kept in tip-top shape as compared to other roads. The delays between maintenance is shorter than those of R and municipal roads and as a result, some of the R roads, like the one in an earlier blog and the R25 that I encountered later on this trip were in quite bad shape. These are taken care of as is the case with the R544 – the tar was freshly laid upon this barren stretch of scarcely used tarmac. The number of cars that I encountered there was minimal yet the road had been renovated. I have heard somewhere that our road network is one of the world’s best. And yet, people complain…

And then I saw it…the Loskop Dam. All the greenery and curvy, mountain pass type roads of this route had to mean something and the answer was that these led one onto the breathtaking Loskop Dam. The approach to the dam had several signs telling one about this dam but I was not prepared for this heart-stopping sight. The drive, from Middelburg, takes one up and down a mountain pass and then onto a false flat before flinging you back up another mountain pass. When one reaches the summit, the beautiful blue hits brandishes one’s eyes and you can’t help but be awestruck by this site. I was lucky that the day was a marvellous, summer’s day and the dam’s true beauty was not lost. Originally built in the 1930s, it now is around 30km long and is used mainly for irrigation of the farms around Groblersdal and Marble Hall. There is a nature reserve in the conservancy area of the dam with accommodation and what promises to be a rather awesome holiday only about 150km away from Johannesburg! Looking back at the photographs, they really don’t do the dam justice. Guess you just need to visit it for yourself 🙂

This was erected next to the dam wall. Oddly enough, the graffiti in the palm was not evident when I took out the photograph.

Just north of the dam are the vast farms that provide the country with its vital food source. I also encountered the farms that supply McCain with vegetables. Although it is almost a fake greening of the landscape, these farms do give the Northern parts of Mpumalanga this touch of beauty not evident in the South.

Groblersdal is the typical small town in Mpumalanga. Next to this liquor store was what appeared like a cross between a pub, club and shebeen. Situated on one of the main roads, this uh, establishment had some banging tunes resonating from the speakers and the distinct smell of Black Label that has been spilled. Did I mention this was at 2pm on a Tuesday…

Just before I took the R25 guiding me towards Bronkhorstspruit, there was this curiosity on the side of the road with around 500m of make-shift stalls on the side of the road with people briskly doing trade of fresh fruit, vegetables and curios. It really did look odd hey. Anyway, just after this flea-market was the turn-off onto the R25. This road starts of in Johannesburg and takes you all the way here. So, whereas most people join the R25 at the other end, I joined it at the opposing end. It greeted me with a dead cow on the side of the road. I did not take a picture!!!

I mentioned the newly-laid tar on the R544, which I branched off onto from the R25. Travelling down the R25 would take you to Bronkhorstspruit which is around 50km away from Witbank towards Pretoria. The R25 would then take you through Kempton Park and onto Johannesburg. It’s not an impressive road by any measure though unlike the road above – smooth roads taking you into the horizon…

I’m not really sure what this monument commemorates. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be some war memorial. Then again, anyone with eyes would associate the old coat of arms and antique shotgun to a war memorial!

This was truly the weirdest thing I have seen in my entire time here. It is, what appears to be, a truck tyre graveyard. Old tyres don’t get retread or melted down to make new ones – they travel from far and wide all the way to Witbank to die in peace on a farm 25km from the town. I somehow thought about the Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King and then realised that apparently Glenwood in Durban is actually an old Elephant Graveyard which explains why there are so many ants there. Not sure how true that is though!

As dusk crept up on me, I concluded my journey by driving into a derelict part of Witbank that I had not encountered before. At this point, one has to use gut instinct and prior knowledge of the town to figure out where to go and how to actually get back home. Nevertheless, as darkness fell and I reached home, it seemed, for once, an ending that I wouldn’t have liked. Whereas the day allowed these gems of realisation to shine on me, I ended up in a dirty metropolis at night with carbon spewing from the multitude of vehicles rushing home after an equally polluted day. I guess everything doesn’t end with a happy end but you need to cherish the memories that you gained on the way – even though they were fleeting drive-bys or short-stops like I made at the various attractions on the way. Nevertheless, it has been something I don’t want to forget J

Day 20: I hate it when I forget my camera

Facebook has caused one really noticeable phenomena amongst young people that was really overlooked before is the photograph. Well, in actual fact, I don’t think that many people actually print out these photographs and display them as was the case before, but the digital still has really seen a boom. These ease of uploading countless pictures up onto the internet for the world to see has meant that having a digital camera or camera-enabled mobile phone is a must. I’ve embraced this fully – I think I’ve uploaded over a thousand pictures onto Facebook already! Anyway, this blog is not about pictures – simply because I forgot my freaking camera!

The site when you approach Duvha is similar to Kendal in the spectacular nature of it all. The one thing I noticed on the Tuesday morning that I drove to Duvha first was that at the turn to the station, it appears as if the station is situated in a valley. How smart – having these smoke stacks rising 250m into the air and then situating it in a valley meaning the mean height of the exhaust fumes is exactly where our air that we breathe comes from! Then, as I drove for another ten minutes, the true nature of this structure hit me. Mind you, the speed limit on that road was 100kph and driving for 10 minutes gets you pretty far! I don’t really know if I can use the word “beautiful” to describe a power plant but it’s something that comes to mind. It really is a hideous structure built purely for purpose and without any real aesthetics taken into account but the monstrous size of it all has this weird beauty to it. It’s kinda like Saturn or something. A bunch of gas molecules that have a strange affinity to each other so they randomly attract to each other and they end up looking real good. Come to think about it, that’s how humans are! Your girlfriend of boyfriend is a bunch of molecules attracted to each other because of some arbitrary code in the DNA and the final product is something relatively beautiful.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!

On Wednesday, I was subjected to torture beyond belief. It was enough exercise to last till the London Olympic Games in 2012. This reminds me that I should have an Olympics blog sometime soon! Back to the topic – my group was taken for a tour of the ash dams. Ash dams are one way of disposing of the parts of the coal that haven’t burnt during combustion in the furnaces of the power station. South Africa is unique in that the quality of coal used for power generation is of the lowest calorific value in the entire world. This is why our electricity is so damn cheap in comparison with the rest of the world but it also means the stations take MUCH more strain than any similar station overseas. It also means that around 40% of the coal put into the furnace is not burnt and is left over as ash. This ash is fine like powder and there is 35 tonnes of it coming out of every furnace every hour of every day of the year. And remember, there are six of these per station. So when you have 210 tonnes of waste being produced every hour, it’s something that needs to be sorted out! One option is to sell this ash to cement companies as it makes real good cement but with sheer amount of waste being produced, these companies cannot buy all this ash. The ash dams, hence, are these immense stretches of dull silver that reach out past the horizon. These are a result of a mixture of water and ash being ferried away through pipes away from the station. When we entered the dam area, I was just shocked at the size and beauty of this all. For kilometres on end, one sees this barren beauty with the desert like ambience and quietness. As we walked on, one sees water trickling along this grey matter creating an image of hope even in this desolate wasteland. As we walk further, we approach a large body of turquoise water with a rickety, old wooden pier hastily constructed on one of the shores. The whole ambience has the eerie feel of the chemically polluted Ural Sea in Russia. The turquoise colour, I was told, is a result of chemicals in the coal that are disposed of with the ash. The water, though, is reclaimed and as much as possible is sent back into the plant to help with the removal of new ash from the coal that is being burnt. As with the power plant itself, this cancer on the landscape had a certain beauty attached to it.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!

The beauty, though, was replaced with hate and tiredness. Walking around the Ash dams, well – the “small” part that we explored was a 10km trek! This done in overalls, with safety masks and helmets as well as those uncomfortable, heavy and metal-tipped safety boots! Oh, and it was one of those uncharacteristic hot days in August – Damn you global warming! Though there is some irony in that statement *cough*

After having a bit of a rest, I took a road trip that afternoon to the smaller town of Ermelo. The 125km trip would take me on the N4 and then N11. The N4, let me tell you, is to be avoided as the toll road costs R33-00. Seeing that I travelled on it for maybe 5km after the toll, I was not impressed one bit! Then again, I don’t even like paying for parking at shopping centres but anyway! Apparently there is a back road (I suspect the R555) to Middelburg and then from there, one can just join the N11 down to Ermelo. The drive down the N11 is one that strains the mind. It is straight and when I say straight, I mean like on a 100km stretch, there are maybe five gentle curves with the drive through the town of Hendrina the only time when you need to move your steering wheel more than an angle of 5°. The drive is a brilliant drive through the Highveld with it’s brown Winter coat on. You also pass a road to the town called Amsterdam (wonder if they sell any herbs there) and the immense coal fields of Mpumalanga. The grand scale of these minds and the openness of the Highveld boggle the mind and make this seemingly easy drive much more difficult than one would expect. Then again, my mind thinks too much so maybe that’s why I say that! You also pass the immensely enormous Hendrina Power Station – that with ten generating units (as compared to the six each at Duvha and Kendal) and the eight or so cooling towers. I passed the station at dusk and it was a beautiful site – shining light in the cold darkness of the surrounds.

I didn’t take my camera so I didn’t get a picture!!!

So anyway, the moral of the story is that I need to get a camera. It should be a decent one at that seeing that I want pictures that will look good. I was using a Sony digital the other day and although it’s packed with features and really one of the better ones out there, the pictures didn’t come out as good as I wanted them too. Then again, I didn’t modify the settings but just pointed and shot and hoped for the best. I say that they should just write better code so the pictures undergo better processing before the camera decides how to capture them but what do I know? Lol. Getting a camera would help though – at least this blog will get some pictures!