Johannesburg, South Africa

Spent the last few days down in Kroonstad in the Orange Free State. Had the opportunity to travel the 2 and 1/2hours south from my host, Henk Visagie and his family, in an effort to reach a few people I wanted to see as well as shuttle Henk’s youngest son, Roux, to spend a few days with his grandparents.

Roux just turned 6 last month but due to his Afrikaans genetics is the size of boys a few years older. Henk and Christina’s boys (Andries, 9, Jaco, 7 and Roux, 6) have all been mainstays in my visits to South Africa a few times a year. Living in on the outskirts of Johannesburg, they have served as hosts to me once I land into South Africa from the US. What a pleasant weigh station it is – 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a pool and a big yard. Argent, the live in jack or all trades, has become a fast friend, as well. The reception I get is always one I look forward to each time I disembark the plane from the US.

My plan was to stop and see a high school friend, Clay Taber, who now lives in Johannesburg with his family. He, his wife Anne and their two girls came over 3 years ago to follow his career path as an investment banker. Stints in Prague, London and Canada came prior to his descending upon the African continent.

Roux was most exuberant to be visiting his Ouma and Oupa as they are called in Afrikaans. The night prior, when he found out I was heading to Kroonstad, Roux motioned me over to the couch for what he called a “private chat”. There he asked me if he could accompany me to Kroonstad. His parents agreed as long as Roux assured them he would be on good behavior for the lunch I had planned with Clay.

The rest of the family were gone to work and school when I awoke and Roux had his bag packed and sitting by the car as I peered out the window on the way to my shower. The little man was fired up. Questions and comments abounded as Argent opened the gate and we headed south.

The drive to the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton was about 45 minutes. Clay was awaiting us. After the introductions were made Roux certainly took the instructions seriously from his parents as he sat and ate his ham and cheese sandwich and slurped down his milkshake with hardly a word. He posed quite the contrast to his rebellious and high energy package he is at home and in school. Was a little worried about him at first but once the meal came to a close, Roux started to loosen up a bit.

Pleased to have heard that Clay’s business ventures were proceeding well after a slow start and a partner change. Land lease operations in Botswana and Mozambique combined with a bigger grain mill and storage facility in Uganda have started to yield Clay some substantive results.

Roux and I then drove further south for another 2 hours. The little man was full of talk and stories until about an hour out of town when the ham, cheese and milkshake began to wind him down. The next thing I saw was his body splayed across the back seat and he was in a powerful sleep.

Henk had told me Roux would know the way to his grandparents’ house once we reached and Kroonstad. I woke Roux probably too late given he had but a minute to wipe the sleep from his eyes before guiding me straight to the proper address.

Mr. Visagie was awaiting us as we arrived and Roux bolted into his grandfather’s arms and through the house in search of what his grandmother always offers – a piece of chocolate on the bed pillow. Henk’s father and I had met prior so our transition and conversation was quite easy. The time was about 3PM and I then asked Mr. Visagie to call his brother in law, Johan Klopper to arrange a time we could visit to discuss touring options for travelers coming through the Orange Free State. Johan rang back quickly and came over. We mapped out a few details and cut through some issues we had been discussing prior via the internet. Never can trade some quality face time for what can sometimes be misunderstood via the phone or email. After about an hour and a half Johan left to drive to another meeting.

The Orange Free State is a location of great interest to me in South Africa. This province is home to much of the Afrikaans white community in this country. The land is flat, with a few koppies (small hills) dotting the landscape, the primary vocation is that of a farmer (the orginal Afrikaners to travel north from the Cape in the early 19th century were “boers” or translated to “farmers” in English and the hospitality is high. Have always thought the culture with the greatest similarity to Us southern hospitality is the Afrikaans culture. These people are quite extroverted and friendly with a keen interest in keeping their friends, family and anyone they might meet along the way well fed, well entertained and well looked after. The Orange Free State attracts fewer visitors due to its agricultural lifestyle but the hospitality and the animal parks along the way are worth the effort to make a go of it.

Mrs. Visagie arrived home a short while later and began to prepare an evening meal of a poikie. Traditionally Afrikaans, a poikie is simply a series of ingredients cooked in sequence in a cast iron pot over an outdoor fire. Much like a stew in the US, a poikie is put together in stages, with the meat being cooked first, then the vegetables and perhaps some pasta and cheese in the end. Any meat and any vegetables can be added but the combination of those ingredients all brewed up together in the same pot and slowly heated over a fire makes for an exceptional final product.

The eldest son, Bram, his wife and their 3 children came over to enjoy the evening so it turned into a full house quickly. Roux greatly enjoyed the evening with his cousins and grandparents. Bedtime came to me and I took it with ease.

Sunrise is early in South Africa given they do not participate in daylight savings time. The day’s first event called for a visit to Boskoppie Lion Breeding Farm on the outskirts of town. This place was created by the Swart (means “black” in Afrikaans) family and is home to over 150 lions ranging in ages from newborns to ageing, long maned males. The lions are spread out in enclosures all over the property with the adults given some room to roam about. This visit (as I have been fortunate enough to have been here a few times prior to see the lions) was being made to enquire about bringing over my nephew, and perhaps some other similar aged teenagers, to participate in the volunteer program at Boskoppie. Volunteers from all over the world come to manage the operation, spending most of their days cleaning enclosures, feeding the lions and yes, playing with the smaller cubs. My past opportunities to come here have yielded me a few chances to interact with the smaller cubs and it is a glorious experience. To think those little balls of playful fur will, in some cases, turn into 450 pound males is hard to believe.

While I sat down to speak with the manager, Hayley, a Brit by birth, a Swiss volunteer took Mr. Visagie and Roux for a tour of the facilities. My brother wants to find a program for his son to follow in a visit to South Africa so I am working on a plan to make that happen. Thoughts about 7 days in Kruger Park, then a few days ay de Wildt Cheetah breeding project, followed by 7 days at Boskoppie and perhaps another week on the Oosthuizen’s cattle farm could make for an exceptional month long journey to a new and exciting place in the world. I am biased but I believe it could be of attraction to many parents in the US. All went well with Hayley and Roux came back quite exhilarated with his time with the lion cubs.

Drove back into Kroonstad and swung by Mrs. Visagie’s office. She was not there so I opted to take her husband and Roux to the local steak restaurant, Mustang, where we dug into some wonderful lamb chops, calamari and steak – all for a very reasonable price. Mrs. Visagie has an interesting job but that may well be for another column on another day.

Not long after we got back to Visagie’s I was asked by Johan if I wanted to join him at the shooting range as he and his son compete in shooting competitions throughout South Africa. This activity sounded like yet another one not to miss so Andre drove me out to the newly built range. The setup was impressive with 10 – 12 shooting stations, a newly built cover and a fresh pit has been dig for expansion. I used Andre’s rifle to take shots at targets ranging from 100 to 200 meters away. Johan and Andre took note of the wind and offered instruction on where I should aim to accommodate the wind coming from left to right. The first few shots I took were off the mark and it was then that Johan taught me something I did not know – there was an element of a mirage having been in effect. We have all seen mirages before, perhaps on a warm day’s drive or in the distance as the heat rises from the pavement. I’ve never encountered a mirage effect when hunting but after a few thick headed moments I realized why. In the US we are seldom hunting in the warm temperatures required for mirages to appear.

Johan and Andre recommended my 200 meter shot be adjusted 4 – 5 inches to the right to compensate for the mirage. My first shot was peeled off and my hosts turned out to be exactly right when my shot hit the metal swivel target soundly.

Another full day spent with my Afrikaans friends in pursuit of bush activities.