EXPLORER EXTREMES

 

 My scariest adventure with Explorers was Night Rafting on Tugela Gorge in December 1989.  An attempt to compress what should have been a three-day trip into two days predictably ended with the last stretch up to Jameson's Drift being run in the dark.  We knew the worst rapids, Horrible Horace and Four-Man Hole, were behind us, but it was still stomach-churning stuff to find yourself paddling into rapids blind and with no warning.  Mike Bradford, anchoring one boat, summed it up best with repeated cries of "This is f***ing dangerous!"

 

My biggest sense of the great initiative of Explorers was cruising across Lake Kariba with outboard engines attached to inflatable rafts in December 1991 - this after the same rafts had been used, under paddle power only, to run the famousZambezi stretch below Vic Falls. 

 

The most amusing attempt to explain Explorer presence came at the end of that trip, camping in an open lot in Kariba town.  An officious Zimbabwean policeman asked Mike Slater who we were.  Mike told him we were squatters, at which the policeman said squatting wasn't allowed in Zim.  Mike then said we were refugees from the apartheid system in SA.  The policeman said South Africa was much better now - apparently implying we couldn't be refugees - but he'd go and find out about us.  We never saw him again. 

 

The most cavalier - and justified - dismissal of an official warning came a few days later, at Zim's highest peak, MountNyangani in the Eastern Highlands. . A sign warned hikers not to start an attempt to scale the peak any later than noon, as they might imperil their lives.  It was now 2.30 in the afternoon.  Mike Slater, again, sniffed at this and set off.  I accompanied him to the peak, and we were back down again in two hours after an easy stroll up and down.  Mike observed that the warning sign was a disservice, as it would encourage brisk walkers to think they were potential Everest mountaineers.

 

The most remote training run I've done - in a running career that has extended from central England to Cape Agulhas - was on the 1995 Explorers trip, led by Graeme Battersby, to northern Namibia and Botswana. . We camped in Kaudom reserve, which has no facilities whatever.  On a rest day, I jogged the eight kays from our campsite to the entrance and back.  For company, I had a Lilac-Breasted Roller that kept flying on and perching two trees ahead of me.

 

The most moving moment with Explorers was on the same trip.  We placed a memorial plaque to Duncan Longmore and Kirstie Klingenberg close to the point on the Kunene River where they'd drowned in 1990.  I often wonder how many people have read that plaque since.

 

The most de-stressing, as opposed to distressing, tripwas to Khutse game reserve in Botswana in 1993.  Like Kaudom, there is nothing there, and we simply relaxed and enjoyed the utter peace and tranquility of the Kalahari.  Brian Tucker commented that he would challenge any business executive, however harassed, to spend time in Khutse and not feel he'd got rid of all his stress. 

 

The most profound sense of history I've ever had on a trip was a visit to Mozambique Island during one of Mike Slater's Mozambique trips. A large stone fort and decaying Portuguse villas tell you Mozambique Island was the seat of the Portuguese colonial presence long before Maputo (formerly Lourenco Marques) was founded.  I can now confess that I purloined a cannonball from near one of the 18th-century guns at the fort,. and still keep it as a memento.  My only excuse, Your Honour, is that there is absolutely no attempt by the locals to preserve the fort as museum or any sign that its historical significance is recognized.

 

Slightly more recent history was invoked when I ran a trip to the Battlefields of northern KwaZulu-Natal..  Nick 'Thatch' Wade distinguished himself as child-minder on this trip when he was entrusted to look after the kids of the girlfriend of the curator of the Rorke's Drift Museum.  Thatch took them on the bushy trek from Isandhlwana to Rorke's Drift, and managed to lose them. 

 

Also historical was Chris Kirchoff's 'peri-urban dinner' at a British blockhouse from the Boer War on the heights above Hartbeespoort Dam.  We toiled almost as hard as the British soldiers of 1901 to carry the trestle tables, chairs and food up to the top.  But I remember this trip more for Frank Wimberley trying to sodomize himself with a flagstaff bearing he Union Jack - probably trying to show his Boer sympathies.

 

But that wasn't the grossest thing I've seen on an Explorer trip (if you don't want to know, skip this paragraph) This came at a well-lubricated formal dinner at Vaalwater, when I passed out, and later woke up with somebody's puke on my suit.  The chunder artist remains unknown, at least to me, but Vaughan Davies was rampaging around roaring something incoherent like "Rum-dee-dum!" and Pete Kirchoff was also in good form. after consuming various substances.

 

Also gross, but far funnier, was Mark 'Washing Sox' Washington's interpretation of the term 'birthday suit'.  He applied this on several occasions, but the one I remember was during a formal dinner at the Amphitheatre.  Sox swam in the Tugela's headwaters near where it plunges over the cliff as the Tugela Falls, wearing only a bowtie fastened around his manhood.  The time of year was autumn, the water was freezing, and Sox emerged with just a limp bit of pink sagging under the bowtie.  I don't think any of the 'wenches' around (as we used to call girls in those pre-PC days) was particularly excited.

 

Explorer trips have been loaded with laughs, but perhaps my funniest memory comes from the joint WEES-ESSA trip held on the banks of the White Umfolozi to mark WEES' 15th anniversary in 1999.  The cricket match on the Sunday was the most hysterical one I've ever played in.  When you batted, the wicket-keeper and close-infielders were free to hold on to your bat, severely impeding your strokes; and when you tried to take a run, the bowler and fielders manhandled you to the ground. like loose forwards tackling a centre at rugby.