Friday, 24 March 2017

Orange River adventures

What do paddling friends do when they return to SA after working abroad for a few years? They organise a group of friends to head to the Orange River for the weekend. And so it was that I spent the long weekend on the Orange River at a delightful spot - Egerton River Camp - just upstream of Hopetown in the Northern Cape.

Celliers used to go here often many years ago. Back then it was a fairly rustic spot. New owners took over a few years ago and they upgraded the facilities to create the most charming place. The property is a game farm so in addition to having the river with a great stretch of rapids to paddle, there are beautiful antelope to view.

We arrived a day ahead of our friends - both Celliers and I had it in our heads that we would leave to drive there after school got out on Friday. We were actually only booked in from the next day. We only realised this shortly before getting into our car but as it was packed and we were so totally ready to head off, we phoned the owner Amie and he said we were more than welcome to come early.

This turned out to be so in our favour. We got there just before dark on Friday night and woke to a quiet and peaceful Saturday. They had spotted a roan antelope cow with an injured leg and had called in the vet to assist. We went out with them to find her. They darted the antelope and the vet took a look at her leg, which had a massive cyst on her 'heel' joint. The vet drained it, cleaned it, added treatment and gave the animal the tranquiliser antidote. Where the poor thing was hardly able to stand on her leg, she could get up and walk on it. We saw her again the next day, walking with the herd and feeding; and again before we left. It was very special to be up so close to this large and beautiful animal. And to touch her.

On the drive in, I'd spotted a trig beacon. As a number of buffalo bulls had been moved into this camp a few days before, Amie wasn't keen to let me free range in that section of the property. He took Celliers and I out there with the plan that he'd drop me near the hill - in the open grass where no naughty buffalo were hiding - and I could run up the hill while they drove around in search of the animals.

It was excellent fun heading up and the view from the top was superb. I waved to them on the other side from where I'd started. Apparently Amie sends workers up there with a radio occasionally; they look for game down below and radio through the location. Amie says he drives around and waits to see them at the top. This is the first time for him that anyone (me) has gotten to the top faster than it takes him to drive around. Very funny. 

While waiting for them at the bottom I made a great find - a cluster of tortoise eggs that had been dug up and raided by some kind of critter. This egg was still whole. We expected the egg to be a stinky one when cracked but it was actually quite fine but clearly unfertilised. 

The whole weekend we had incredible game sightings with an assortment of springbok colour variations, roan, sable, blesbok, giraffe (two on the property), red hartebees, buffalo, gemsbok... and a pair of white rhino that had been dehorned the week before. What a treat to see them close up!

Of course, we were there for the river too. On Sunday morning I was in the raft taking the children down the river. It was a nice way to check out the river and to paddle with friends. The next morning I went down on the sit on top whitewater kayak. On the rapid that I was most likely to flip on, I thought that I had made a clean run - through the more challenging section - when a wave zapped me and sent me swimming. I really have a lot of work to do on staying in/on a kayak. 

A really great few days with special people. Egerton is a place I look forward to going back to. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Back to my blood donation schedule

In early December I went to donate blood at our regular mobile clinic here in Parys. I was deferred (not allowed to donate) when a drop of my blood failed the haematocrit test, which is done every time before you donate.

The test is nothing more than taking a drop of blood from a finger prick and dropping it into a container of copper sulfate. The drop of blood is required to sink to the bottom - if it floats or hovers to descends too slowly, you fail. I've failed the test a number of times over the years but when this happens, the clinic takes another drop and runs it through their testing machine (much like the glucose-testing machine that diabetics use - just bigger). My iron levels have proved good each time. The test isn't absolute; just a general screening process and it is quick and inexpensive.

In December, neither of their machines were working and thus I got deferred. Of course, SANBS always has the health of the donor as a priority and so they completely did the right thing in deferring me; my health would have been at risk if I really did have low iron.

I was only expecting the mobile clinic to be in town next Tuesday as they come through on the second Tuesday of every month. On the way to paddling I saw their banners and popped in on the way home from the river.

Ruben came through with me - he likes the cookies and juice and is quite fascinated by the process. While my bag filled, one of the SANBS staff explained to Ruben about the testing of blood and the need for donors. His eyes were glued to her as she spoke (I couldn't hear properly from where I sat; but I did watch his face). When she was done she finished with, "Now you see why blood donors are so important". He nodded and added, "Really interesting!".

I'm starting him young - Ruben is only 8 now but by the time he is 16 I hope to have cultivated a committed donor.

Through our Parys parkrun I have been able to meet many people in town and most times I bump into people I know at the clinic. This evening I saw Yolande and Hein, a lovely couple who are regular parkrunners. They also ran my Forest Run last year. They were there to donate too.

I asked my nurse if their turnout had been good today. "Parys - this town never lets us down," she replied.

I'm pleased to have added to our numbers today.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Dancing with children

At the beginning of the year I joined a local Wednesday afternoon individual dance class (no partners required). My friend - same age as me - started attending last year and was keen for more adults to be there. Another friend - 10 years older, very sporty and competitive - joined with me in January. We're the oldest people in the class as the rest of our classmates are in primary school.

There are three 45-minute classes in a row that start shortly after school comes out. Our first time there we did all three to get a feel for the dance disciplines.

The first class includes styles called energy (like aerobics), slow, hip-hop and bhangra. The second is Latin American styles (including jive - my favourite) and the third is contemporary and jazz. I'm really enjoying the last class.

There are some magnificent images of contemporary dancers on Google images. I don't look like this when I dance; but I'd like to.
My friend, who has been there for a year, goes to the first two; my other friend and I go to the second two.

For the first few weeks I really felt the moves in my feet and Achilles. I've acclimatised to the movements; now I only get nailed by stiffness from the contemporary routines that have us rolling around on the floor and dropping into splits (I can split so I do the lesser 'jazz split'). For the moves that require us to kneel on the hard floor, we tuck socks into our 3/4 tights as protective knee pads.

What has charmed me most about the class is how we have been wonderfully accepted by our much, much younger classmates. They may call me 'Tannie' (a respectful term in Afrikaans meaning 'auntie' given to a woman older than you) but they also give me a warm greeting (often with a hug) and they readily interact with me in class. I sometimes bump into them in town, with their parents, and we give each other a friendly hello.

This class is sweet and refreshing and I certainly don't feel like I'm three decades older than my young classmates.

Compost progression after nine weeks

Although I've only recently let you in on my composting adventure, I've had a growing composting obsession for the past two months. I toss stuff into my YOLO Compost Tumbler, I tumble it, I stare at it and I marvel at the organisms that are doing their thing to reduce organic matter to brown, earthy compost. You just don't get to do as much looking when the composting action is happening deep within a heap.

On Sunday, I spent some time with my compost. After nine weeks, my YOLO is less than half full. The volume goes up and down as I add material and then it starts to decompose and the organisms work on it and so the level drops. I'd say I have less than 20 litres of the 45-litre volume. I emptied it out into our wheelbarrow.

To give you an idea of what is in here...

  • nine weeks of onion skins - I use an onion or two almost every night (say an average of one a day for nine weeks - that's skin and bits from 63 onions)
  • lots of crushed egg shells - from what must certainly be over 120 eggs
  • cardboard from at least six 30-egg egg trays
  • rind from a large watermelon
  • rind from a sweet melon
  • lots of peelings from butternuts and other pumpkins (at least 7 to 10 of them)
  • gem squash skins (cooked) - a good number of them
  • lots of banana peels (my household eats bananas 1 to 3 of them a day)
  • off cuts from celery, tomatoes, carrots, baby marrows, potatoes, apple cores and other bits
  • rooibos tea leaves (lots!)
  • a few tea bags (I'm still testing out the composting of tea bags - so far no evidence remains of the bags that I can see; I'm throwing in a bunch tomorrow)
  • some coffee grinds (the rest go to my worm bin - the worms are boring compared to my YOLO)
  • at least a 1/4 tumbler volume (not compacted) of dry leaves from autumn last year
  • two vacuum-bag contents
This is what I have tossed into my YOLO. My family has probably added some other stuff.

For weeks I've been reading websites about composting. Compost tumblers are definitely faster due to better aeration (from the tumbling), heat (closed container) and that new material is mixed in with old. It's more efficient. But I don't believe websites that report that you'll get compost in two weeks (yes, some do). It will actually take weeks to fill, especially if you're only using kitchen scraps. And then once it is full, you stop adding new material and then leave it to mature. That takes a few weeks more. Looking at the state of my compost as it stands now, 6-8 weeks to maturity would be fair. 

Of course rate of composting depends on environmental conditions (sunny South Africa or sub-zero Alaska) and what you've put in your tumbler. I'm torn between wanting to leave my compost to mature and an interest to see just how long it will take me to get my YOLO to the point of being almost full.

I've got a tub of new material - banana skins, mielie cobs and full tea bags - to throw in tomorrow. I'm interest to see what happens to the cobs.

Between recycling plastic, paper, glass, tins and my compost, we have less than a plastic shopping bag of trash each week for a household of four.