1. One fine evening on the Kwando...

(English)

“At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too much, and talk wisely but not too much.” -  W. Somerset Maugham.

 The place

 The Caprivi Strip is one of colonialism’s oddest legacies. This elongated territory juts out for 450 km from the rump of Namibia, and is surrounded by Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. At its eastern tip (MpalilaIsland) the four countries share a common boundary. Being very flat and surrounded by big rivers like the Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi, a large part of the Caprivi consists of flood plains.

 The territory was ceded to Germany, along with the island of Heligoland, in 1890 in return for Germany acknowledging Britain’s claim to Zanzibar. It was named after Count Leo von Caprivi, the German Chancellor (prime minister) from 1890 to 1894, who had negotiated the exchange. The Germans were hoping that the access to the Zambezi they thus obtained would enable them to project their influence eastwards (and possibly link German West Africa with Tanganyika, another German possession). As it turned out, the Zambezi was only navigable as far as the Victoria Falls, named after Kaiser Wilhelm’s grandmother!

 As can be expected when borders are drawn at the whim of colonial rulers, some nations are summarily divided at the stroke of a pen (e.g. the Ovambo and BaTswana) and others forced together in an artificial way (like the Black Christians and Arab Muslims in many West African states, not to mention the Sudan). The Caprivi Strip is predominantly inhabited by Lozi-speaking peoples (the BaSubia and Mafwe) with ethnic and cultural ties to Zambia, as opposed to Namibia. An obvious manifestation of this is the Caprivians’ skill at boatbuilding and fishing – hardly common pastimes in an otherwise bone dry country. Since independence in 1990, Namibia has had to stare down a small but determined secessionist movement in the area.

 The territory was largely a backwater during the border war between South Africa and the liberation movements. The South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) was and is dominated by Namibia’s majority Ovambo nation, and most of its operations took place in the Ovambo heartland far to the West. SWAPO and the various Zimbabwean and South African liberation movements did have a presence in Zambia, however, and launched occasional rocket and mortar attacks on the border town of Katima Mulilo. For South African servicemen a posting to Sector 70 (the Caprivi) was a picnic compared to the dangers and hardships of Sectors 20 (Kavango) and 10 (Ovamboland). Their task was basically to fly the flag and discourage dissidents from armed resistance. Conditions were even safe enough to go camping and fishing in isolated areas during one’s free time.

 Unbeknown to the majority of troopies (and even most Permanent Force officers and NCOs) some of the toughest fighting men ever seen in Africa were quietly going about their top-secret business in a remote corner of the Caprivi Strip. The SADF’s elite Reconnaissance Commandos (known colloquially as Recces) had established two Forts (as they liked to call their fortified bases) in a nature reserve along the Kwando river, which forms the border between Western and Eastern Caprivi. The southerly base was called FortDoppies, and was the more conventional of the two in the sense that training and preparation for operations took place there. The other fort was called Saint Michel, after the patron saint of paratroopers. It was an altogether more sinister place.

 The South African government was a firm believer in the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. It reasoned that destabilising the so-called Front Line States it would make them less enthusiastic about openly supporting the liberation movements. As will be described in Chapter 2, South Africa supported RENAMO in Mozambique, but this was a minor sideshow in comparison to the effort and expense it poured into propping up the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA had been the smallest of the three movements fighting for independence from Portugal, and had initially been regarded with distaste by the South Africans as it preached a pseudo-Maoist creed. After the pro-Russian People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) assumed power with massive Cuban support, things changed. UNITA had one thing the SADF required of its proxies: staying power.    

 The leader of UNITA was a charismatic individual called Jonas Savimbi. He had a Doctorate in sociology and politics, had spent years in Switzerland and spoke four European languages as well as three African ones. He had received extensive guerrilla training in China, and proved himself to be both skilful and brave during the struggle against the Portuguese. After the MPLA victory, Savimbi re-packaged UNITA as a staunchly anti-communist movement in order to attract Western support. He became the darling of both Republican hawks in America and the National Party government in Pretoria.

 Since Jamba, UNITA’s capital, was situated near the Kwando river in the far south-eastern corner of Angola, Fort Saint Michel was a useful conduit for men, arms and equipment. Because the area was a no-fly zone to all but the South African military, it was also ideal for clandestine meetings and other hush-hush activities. So scared were both friend and foe of annoying the Recces that practically no other humans ever ventured into the reserve. In fact, elephants (which were heavily poached in Angola and Western Zambia) cleverly sought refuge there, as did other rare animals like the endangered African wild dog and roan antelope. Largely thanks to the sanctuary provided by the two Recce forts during the war years, the area around the Kwando is today a popular and bio-diverse eco-tourism destination.

Getting there

 During my 16 years in the South African Air Force, I did my fair share of tours of duty in northern Namibia. Some of these consisted of flying tours as crew on signal intelligence planes (mostly DC-4s known as the ghosts) but more often as an operations or air intelligence officer. Having had my fill of dry, featureless (not to mention fishless) Ovambo, I was thrilled when I was sent to Air Force Base M’Pacha in the Eastern Caprivi as an Ops/Int officer in mid-1986. The base was a mere 20-odd kilometres from the mighty Zambezi, home to the Tiger Fish (Hydrocinus vittatus) and numerous other game fish.

 Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would head for the river with fellow anglers. Our favourite spot was Hippo Camp, downstream from Katima Mulilo. Here we would fish, braai, quaff beer and get up to the mischief that young men get up to after one too many. A favourite dare at the time was Caprivi Roulette, which consisted of stripping down to one’s birthday suit, and wrapping a piece of tin foil around one’s willy. After a quick swig of something strong to provide the necessary Dutch courage, the challenge was to then swim about 50 metres to a nearby island without being bitten by a tiger fish! 

 Between fishing and fooling around, I had plenty to keep me busy on the base. I was responsible for briefing the command team about any events of military significance in the Namibian and Angolan conflicts, as well as the Total Onslaught against South Africa. Apart from this I was also in charge of the physical security of the base, as well as public relations and media liaison. One of the perks of the job was having tea with Dr and Mrs Savimbi in the small VIP lounge while their plane was being refuelled en route to Jamba.  

 It was the M’Pacha’s proximity to the Recce bases along the Kwando that led to the events described below. Because it was the only airfield in the area that could accommodate large aeroplanes, clandestine flights carrying large numbers of people and/or heavy equipment would arrive at, and depart from, the base - almost invariably at night. My role was to keep the people in transit and non-essential Air Force personnel apart from each other. In order to keep up the pretence that the SADF were not involved, Recce vehicles used a special gate on the far side of the runway so that they did not have to drive through the base. The ground crew and I were also not allowed to either wear uniform or speak Afrikaans during such interaction.

 The occasional joint ventures (and our reasonably competent contribution) led to the Operations Co-ordinator and I becoming acquainted with a few of the Recces, including their legendary commander, Colonel Jan Breytenbach. We were particularly chuffed when, as a token of appreciation for our support, the Colonel invited us to attend the annual formal dinner at Fort Saint Michel on St Michael’s day (29 September). The Archangel is a popular patron Saint: Apart from mariners and policemen, he is also regarded as such by paratroopers, whose number includes the Recces. In those days, an invitation to The Fort for The Dinner was a huge honour and privilege, particularly for Blue Jobs like Adrian and me. The bulk of the guest list were hard core fighting men who had been at war since the early 1970s. They included senior Special Forces and Parachute Battalion officers, and many operators still on active duty, including some former Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts veterans the SADF had employed.  

 A Recce friend of ours suggested that, as the dinner was taking place on a Friday night, we should come and spend the weekend with him. He knew that we were both keen anglers, and had therefore secured the use of one of the Fort’s Zodiac inflatable boats so that we could go fishing on the Kwando on the Saturday. It was therefore with eager anticipation that we set off from M’Pacha after lunch on the 29th

 The road towards the rest of Namibia was known as the Golden Highway because of its tan sand surface. It was reasonably straight, but by no means a monotonous drive. For much of the way huge indigenous trees lined it, and there was the ever-present prospect of (literally) bumping into elephants. Although we did not see anything more dramatic than some cattle and goats along the main road, our luck took a turn for the better soon after the Saint Michel turn-off. As we came round a bend, we were confronted by a massive herd of jumbos blocking the road. As we jerked to a stop, we noticed an open Land Cruiser pick-up truck right in the middle of the herd. There, all by himself sat the Colonel! Unsure of whether the great man needed help, Adrian asked what was going on. The Colonel’s response? “Just counting my cattle, son!”

 The meal

 Although the setting was a camouflaged prefab mess hall, the dinner was one to remember. All the traditional formalities were observed, except – for obvious reasons - that the guests were dressed in fatigues, rather than mess dress. All the standard courses served at SADF formals were served, and I can honestly say that the food was as good (if not better) than the fare dished up at officers’ clubs back home. When I mentioned this to one of our hosts, he smiled knowingly and told me that the chef at the Fort was originally a sous-chef at a top hotel in Luanda, who had fled the workers paradise when the MPLA took over.

 Another pleasant surprise was the wine list: we were served much-prized KWV wines and port. The KWV (Co-operative Wine Farmers Association) was South Africa’s parastatal wine and spirits producer, and its output was either exported or sold to members. A KWV quota was therefore a valuable commodity, with huge snob value. In the military, access to KWV products was mostly confined to military attachés and elite units like the Recces.

 While the whole meal was of a high standard, my favourite dish was the main course of Tournedos Chasseur. Considering that the Fort was at the end of a logistics supply chain that started in Pretoria, the filet steak had travelled about as far as the distance between London and Warsaw Undaunted, the chef had turned out tender, tasty steaks with a rich chasseur sauce. The sauce had that rich deep flavour that only much-reduced quality red wine can provide. As the late Keith Floyd famously said, if the wine is not good enough to drink, it is certainly not good enough to cook with!

 According to the Officer as Gentleman textbook, guests at a formal dinner are neither allowed to get up nor smoke until after the Mess President had proposed a toast to the State President after dessert. On this occasion, the rule in question was not going to be observed. A loud argument broke out between to former Selous Scouts, with both men accusing each other of having been more interested in poaching game than fighting the enemy. As it was clear that fisticuffs were imminent, the Colonel wisely asked the Mess President to propose the toast immediately, even though dessert had not even been served. Thus relieved of the strictures of military etiquette, we adjourned for a smoke break outside while the two adversaries settled their differences in school yard fashion. As they were taken to the sick bay for running repairs, the rest of us went back in and finished our dinner.

 As if the evening had not been surreal enough, our hosts had organised special after-dinner entertainment. All the guests who were willing and able were issued with a fishing rod, a large chunk of raw steak and a bottle of KWV red wine. We were then transported to the banks of the Kwando in a troop carrier, where a very exclusive angling competition took place. The quarry was the sharptooth catfish, a largely nocturnal scavenger capable of attaining 100 lbs (45 kg) and thus a formidable quarry for an intoxicated angler with light tackle. Despite lines being broken, casts going astray and anglers falling into the river, we did manage to catch and release a few bemused catfish, and a good time was had by all. 

 Adrian, Pottie and I still had a hard day’s fishing ahead of us, and chickened out in the wee hours. After a few hours of deep sleep, regularly interrupted by someone’s loud snoring, we woke up bleary-eyed at around six. To me, the mark of a real fisherman is his ability to shake off a major hangover when it is time to go fishing. We made the grade, even though our enthusiasm was much attenuated. There was one problem though: a massive elephant bull was blocking the driveway! There was nothing we could do but open a regmaker and wait until the old tusker had finished demolishing a few trees and wandered off…

 Making it at home

 Tournedos is a French term for a thick slice of steak from the centre of a fillet. The dish is relatively simple to make – it boils down to frying slices of fillet in butter, and serving it on toast with a mushroom and wine sauce. Like most simple recipes, the key to success is using the best quality ingredients.  

 Preparatio time: ½ hour.

Cooking time: 30 minutes.

Serves 2 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinot Noir or Bordeaux blend.

 1 Finely-chopped medium onion.

125 g Chopped button mushrooms.

50 g Cake flour.

1 Cup dry red wine.

1 Tablespoon tomato purée.

½ Cup of beef stock.

4 Tablespoon fresh cream.

1 Tablespoon brandy.

3 Tablespoon olive oil.

4 Tablespoon butter.

Two slices of white bread.

Salt and black pepper.

2 Sprigs of flat leaf parsley, chopped.

2 Fillet tournedos, about 250 g each.

  • First make the sauce. Melt 2 Tablespoon butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a piping hot saucepan, and sauté the onion in it. Add the mushrooms, and fry for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with a small quantity of cake flour to help thicken the sauce.
  • Whisk in the red wine, tomato purée and beef stock, and cook until reduced by half.
  • Add the cream and brandy and heat through.
  • Set aside in a warm place.
  • Heat the remaining olive oil and butter in a large saucepan, and fry the two slices of white bread until brown and crisp.
  • Keep the fried slices of bread warm as well.
  • Turn up the heat, and fry the tournedos for about 2 minutes per side.
  • Season with salt and black pepper.
  • Arrange the meat on the toasted bread, pour over a generous quantity of the sauce, and garnish with chopped parsley.

 Being quite a rich dish, it is best served with a salad and plain vegetables like steamed asparagus and/or baby carrots boiled with salt, ginger and mint.

 “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.” – Lord Wellington, commenting on his troops before the Battle of Waterloo.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

(Afrikaans)

Die biesies bewe langs die Kwando...

Die plek

Tydens die Grensoorlog was die Caprivi-strook meestal vreedsaam, behalwe vir enkele wegstaanbestokings van Katimo Mulilo vanuit Zambië. So rustig was dit dat ‘n mens in jou vrye tyd self slangs die Zambezi kon gaan kampeer en hengel! Die gemiddelde infanteris, marinier of lugmaglid was salig onbewus van die mees gevreesde soldate in Afrika so te sê ongesiens in hulle midde doenig was.

Die SAW se Verkenningskommandos (alombekend as Recces) het uit twee “forte” diep in die ruigtes langs die Kwando-rivier – die grens tussen Wes- en Oos-Caprivi – geopereer. Fort Doppies, Suid van die “Golden Highway”, was (in Recce-terme) die meer konvensionele basis. Dit is hoofsaaklik vir opleiding gebruik, asook afspringpunt vir sensitiewe operasies in Suidoos-Angola. Noord van die pad was Fort Saint-Michel (vernoem na die beskermengel van valskermtroepe) - veel meer van ‘n “mag-nie-sê-nie” proposisie.

Die PnP (PW & Pik) regime se antwoord op die Totale Aanslag was een van “my-vyand-se-vyand-is-my-vriend”. In die praktyk het dit beteken dat Suid-Afrika buurstate wat die “Struggle” ondersteun het in eie munt terugbetaal het deur rebelle aldaar by te staan. Boonop is binnelandse opponente van die ANC en PAC (veral Inkatha) ook gebruik om die wêreld vir hulle warm te maak.

In Angola was Suid-Afrika se junior vennoot Jonas Savimbi se UNITA-beweging. Hoewel dit die kleinste van die drie Angolese “bevrydingsbewegings” was (en boonop aanvanklik Maoistiese geluide gemaak het) het Dr Savimbi oor die jare bewys dat hy ‘n hardnekkige kanniedood was. Hy was ‘n charismatiese karakter wat, toe die MPLA met Russiese en Kubaanse steun aan bewind kom, UNITA “herverpak” het as stoere anti-kommuniste, en só gou die guns van konserwatiewe Amerikaanse politici (en die Boere) gewen het.

Fort Saint-Michel se nabyheid aan Jamba, Savimbi se “hoofstad” ‘n G5-skoot stroom-op met die Kwando, het dit ‘n logiese oord vir geheime samesprekings en ander kattekwaad gemaak. Lede van pro-Suid-Afrikaanse bewegings - plaaslik en buitelands – is ook in uiterste geheimhouding daar opgelei in guerrilla-taktiek en –strategie. Die reservaat was ‘n totale spergebied, en nie eers Lugmag-vliegtuie is toegelaat om daaroor te vlieg nie. Die teenwoordigheid van die Recces was so ‘n effekiewe afskrikmiddel dat selfs wildstropers die area vermy het.

Grootwild soos olifante, renosters en buffels (wat meedoënloos deur UNITA en korrupte Suid-Afrikaners gestroop is) asook seldsame swartwitpense, bastergemsbokke en wildehonde het vinnig aangevoel dat die reservaat ‘n veilige toevlugsoord was en daar gaan skuil. Kol Jan Breytenbach, die legendariese bevelvoerder van Saint-Michel, het ‘n passie vir die Caprivi se dierelewe gehad, soveel so dat hy eers ‘n leeu en later ‘n luiperd hans grootgemaak het. Hy het ook dikwels met die owerhede koppe gestamp oor hulle argeloosheid jeens wildstropery. Grootliks danksy die Kolonel se toewyding het die oewers van die Kwando se biodiversiteit behoue gebly vir die nageslag. 

Tydens my 16 jaar in die Lugmag het ek talle “bostoere” in die Operasionele Gebied onderneem; soms as Elektroniese Oorlogvoeringsoffisier in die DC-4 bekend as “Die Spook” en ander kere as Ops/Inligtingsoffisier. Na verskeie besoeke aan die droë, gevaarlike (en vislose) Owamboland was ek hoogs in my skik toe ek in 1986 vir drie maande na Lugmagbasis M’Pacha gestuur is! Die basis was kwalik 20 km van die magtige Zambezi, tuiste van die Tiervis (Hydrocinus vittatus) en ander roofvisse. Naweke het ek en my trawante die pad gevat en by Hippo-basis, stroom-af van Katima Mulilo, vleis gebraai oor ‘n paar biere en gehengel. ‘n Gunsteling-tydverdryf was “Caprivi-roulette” waartydens deelnemers poedelkaal, en met ‘n strategiese liggaamsdeel toegedraai in tinfoelie, die 50m na ‘n nabygeleë eiland moes swem sonder om deur ‘n tiervis gebyt te word... 

 M’Pacha was die enigste vliegveld wat swaar transportvliegtuie kon hanteer, en tydens die Laat Tagtigs het talle klandestiene vlugte het snags daar geland en opgestyg. Die “studente” van Fort Saint-Michel was dikwels die passasiers, en ek moes dan toesien dat hulle nie met die Lugmagpersoneel in aanraking kom nie. Die Recce-voertuie het gewoonlik sonder ligte by ‘n spesiale hek oorkant die aanloopbaan ingekom, en – om ooglopende redes – is ek en die grondbemanning verbied om uniforms te dra of Afrikaans te praat.

Die okkasie

Ons samewerking het mettertyd daartoe gelei dat die Senior Ops-offisier en ek Kol Breytenbach en een van sy offisiere redelik goed leer ken het. Groot was ons verbasing (en opwinding) toe die “Bruin Man” ons nooi na die jaarlikse formele ete by die Fort ter viering van St-Michielsdag. Beroemde name in die SAW, asook verskeie veterane van die Rhodesiese SAS en Selous Scouts was tradisioneel onder die gaste. Ons twee gewone “Blou Jobs” was dus bevoorreg om die gastelys te haal!

Ons Recce-skakeloffisier (‘n mede tiervis-junkie) stel toe boonop voor dat ons die naweek by hom moet spandeer. Hy het bygevoeg dat hy reeds een van die Fort se Zodiac-rubberbote bespreek het sodat ons ‘n paar van sy “geheime” kuile op die Kwando kon bereik. Ons het ons nie twee keer laat nooi nie. Vol verwagting het ons toe die Vrydagmiddag in die pad geval. Die “Golden Highway” is so verdoop weens die goudbruin sandoppervlak, en loop vir lang ente pylreguit deur die Caprivi-bosveld. Ons hoop om ‘n olifant te sien het beskaam, en beeste en bokke was al dierelewe langs die pad. Kort na die afdraai van die hoofpad is ons verveling blitsig daarmee heen toe ons om ‘n draai kom en amper in ‘n enorme trop olifante vasry!

My kollega het gelukkig sy bakkie net-net betyds in ‘n stofwolk tot stilstand gebring, en die olifante het hulle ook nie vir ons vererg nie! Toe die stof gaan lê en ons tot verhaal kom na dié noue ontkoming sien ons tot ons verbasing ‘n oop Land Cruiser-bakkie in die middle van die trop staan. Stoksiel alleen sit Kolonel Breytenbach daar, omring van seker 100 olifante en (soos hy dit stel) “tel sy beeste”.   

Die ete

Ten spyte van die bra spartaanse eetsaal en gaste in gevegsdrag in stede van menasiepakke, was die formele ete die Vrydagaand ‘n onvergeetlike ondervinding. Die spyskaart sou die outeurs van “Die Offisier as Heer” welgeval het, en ek kan eerlik waar sê dat die gehalte van die kos menigte offisiersmenasies in die “States” in die skadu gestel het. Toe ek hardop wonder waar die Fort se kok opgelei is, glimlag on seen gasheer skalks en verduidelik dat die man op sy dag sous-chef by ‘n top-hotel in Luanda was wat die fout gemaak het om die verkeerde party te ondersteun.

Die hoogtepunt van die ete was m.i. die hoofgereg: Tournedos Chasseur met gebakte aartappel en groente. Wat  die murgsagte beeshaas so spesiaal gemaak het, is die feit dat dit bedien is aan die einde van ‘n logistieke kanaal wat in Pretoria begin het. Die vleis is dus naastenby so ver as van Londen na Warskou gekarwei!

Die streng etiket wat aanvanklik geheers het, het net na die hoofgereg in die stof gebyt toe twee aangeklamde oud-Selous Scouts mekaar luidkeels van wildstropery begin beskuldig het. ‘n Vuisgeveg was duidelik op hande, en die Menasiepresident, Kmdt Bert Sachse (self ‘n oud-Scout), het wyslik besluit om summier die heildronk op die Staatspresident in te stel. Volgens gebruik mag gaste eers opstaan en/of rook na die heildronk, en danksy Kmdt Sachse se inisiatief kon die res van ons toe buite gaan rook en die klimaks van die twee Scouts se geskil dophou. Uitgewoed skud hulle toe hande, en drentel siekeboeg toe vir herstelwerk terwyl die res van ons gaan klaar eet! 

Asof die aand nie alreeds surrealisties genoeg was nie, kondig ons gashere na ete aan dat daar spesiale laataand-vermaak gereël is. Alle gaste wat nog tot fisiese inspanning in staat was, word vervolgens uitgereik met ‘n stewige visstok, ‘n homp rou beesvleis en ‘n bottle KWV-rooiwyn en sonder seremonie op ‘n troepedraer gelaai wat ons na die oewer van die Kwando-rivier vervoer het. Hier sou ons meeding in ‘n uiters eksklusiewe hengelkompetisie: wie kon die swaarste skerptand-baber vang?

Hoewel Clarias Gariepinus nie almal se idee van ‘n sportvis is nie, is hierdie baster-roofvis (wat meer as 100 lb/45 kg kan weeg) ‘n formidabele opponent vir ‘n aangeklamde hengelaar met ligte gerei op ‘n maanlose nag! Ten spyte van gekruisde lyne, kraaineste, leeggestroopte katrolle en ‘n paar manne wat in die rivier geval het, was die kompetisie ‘n reuse-sukses – verskeie tamaai babers is geland, en al die hengelaars het dit oorleef.  

Adrian, Pottie en ek het nog ‘n harde dag se “regte” hengel voor ons gehad, en wyslik skuins na middernag die aftog geblaas. Na ‘n paar uur se onrustige slaap (drie beskonke manne kan ‘n klomp balke saag in ‘n uur) het ons omstreeks ses-uur traag opgestaan. Fanatiese hengelaars het ‘n wonderbaarlike vermoë om die ergste bang-babelaas baas te raak as dit tyd is om te gaan hengel. Ten spyte van uiters onwillige liggame was ons geestelik reg vir die dag. Daar was egter ‘n problem: ‘n massiewe olifantbul wat Pottie se oprit versper! Ons moes noodgedwonge maar ewe gedweë ‘n “regmaker” geniet en wag dat die ou grootvoet klaar wei en aanbeweeg. Afrika is nie vir sissies nie...

Col & Mrs Breytenbach; late 1980s

The author after an Electronic Warfare sortie.

An elephant in the Kwando near Ft St-Michel.

Terry, the honorary Recce, with some real ones.

Tournedo Chasseur with all the right trimmings.

2. The Xai-Xai Spur: REALLY fresh flatties!

(English)

“A hen that struts like a rooster is often invited to dinner as guest of honour.” – Sinhalese proverb.

The place

Mozambique and South Africa have had a love/hate relationship for centuries. The ‘love’ part was probably most pronounced between World War II and 1975, when the Portuguese finally abandoned their dreams of a Greater Lusitania. Mozambique (formerly Portuguese East Africa) was a place where White South Africans could go and enjoy Tropical Africa without it feeling too African. The cuisine and culture was reassuringly European, and the mores sufficiently lax to allow some adventurous souls to stray off the Verwoerdian path and have liaisons with dusky locals – something the ‘Immorality’ laws back home would have punished swiftly and harshly.

Apart from the White oligarchy experiencing the joys of basking in its subtropical sun, eating peri-peri prawns and chicken, quaffing vinho verde and (some) tasting the forbidden fruits of gambling and other vices, Mozambique offered another benefit – cheap, productive labour for South Africa’s booming mining sector. Mozambicans, in particular men from the Shangaan tribe of Gaza, were highly particularly prized for their brains and work ethic.

The ‘hate’ part has lasted longer, and had a far more marked effect. After the collapse of Portugal’s fascist

regime in 1974, Mozambique’s predominant liberation movement, Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) was quick to seize control of the newly-independent state. It wasted no time in turning the country into a ‘people’s republic’. Frelimo also started to overtly support liberation movements in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. The Rhodesians retaliated by organising, arming and training

disaffected Mozambicans in order to put pressure on the government and deny ZANU (Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union) freedom of movement.

The resistance movement, called the National Resistance of Mozambique (Renamo), was initially rather ineffectual. Its ‘successes’ (mainly the blowing up of key infrastructure) were often actually the work of Rhodesian special forces. Things changed swiftly after the collapse of Rhodesia in 1980. Renamo became the protégé of a far mightier patron – the South African Defence Force (SADF). With far greater resources at their disposal, Renamo was able to escalate their activities to the extent that Southern and Central Mozambique was racked by a full-on civil war.

Gaza province was particularly hard hit. Because of its proximity to both South Africa and Zimbabwe, the railway lines and bridges in the area were tempting targets for saboteurs; first the Rhodesian SAS and Selous Scouts and later SADF Reconnaissance Commandos. At the time of our visit in 1993, the only means of crossing the Limpopo river was via a pontoon bridge erected to replace the blown-up original.

The end of the Cold War finally brought respite to the long-suffering people of Mozambique. The demise of the Soviet Union (which had backed all its enemies to some extent) gave the Pretoria regime sufficient confidence to initiate direct negotiations with the African National Congress and its host nations in 1990. South Africa also ceased its support for Renamo while Russian aid to the Frelimo government dried up at about the same time. The loss of their respective patrons meant that the two antagonists simply could not afford to continue fighting, and forced them into negotiations about a political resolution of their differences.

Getting there

At the time of our visit to Xai-Xai, Mozambique was approaching the end of its civil war. This did not mean, however, that all was shipshape and Bristol fashion! The security situation was dodgy, to say the least. Although an armistice of sorts had been agreed to by the belligerents, heavily armed renegades (who made a living out of armed robbery) were still at large. As white South Africans, Mozambique’s state security services associated us with the destabilisation of their country, and we stood little chance of receiving any sympathy from them in the event that we got into trouble. Just to make it more interesting, three decades of continual conflict had also all but destroyed the country’s infrastructure, including the roads we had to travel on.

So why, I hear you ask, did you go? In a nutshell: It was cheap. In a country which, at the time, competed with Cambodia for the dubious honour of officially being the poorest in the world, even fiscally challenged individuals like me could get by. You could, after all, get 14 000 Meticais (the local currency) for a South African Rand on the black market. I had been dating Jakki for about five months, and had wanted to wow her with the most exotic vacation I could afford. Pursuant to this, I started to read travel magazines with more interest than before in order to find an affordable resort with white sand and lots of palm trees. Fate

derailed my plans, though. Due to an administrative overreach on the part of the Receiver of Revenue (as the SA Revenue Service was known at the time) about half of my already meagre Air Force salary was being garnished until I could prove to the Receiver that I didn’t owe any back taxes. I was therefore grateful when my sister and brother-in-law invited us to join them on a camping trip in Mozambique. At least we would be sharing some of the basic costs.

My brother-in-law had come up with the idea after doing some civil engineering work in Mozambique. In the process he had got to know two young South African expatriates who were running a camp site at Praia Do Xai-Xai, and ‘booked’ a camp site over a few beers. Since I had fond childhood memories of the beauty of the area and its coastline, I was quite excited about the prospect of sharing the experience with the woman I secretly planned to marry!

The plan was to be largely self-sufficient. We would cook the bulk of our meals ourselves on a gas cooker, and take frozen food in a refrigerator that could run on either gas or electricity. The fridge would also play another important role, which was to provide us with cool drinks and ice – essential items in the subtropical heat.

Because his work often took him into the ‘sticks’ my brother-in-law’s company car was a Land Rover, which was the ideal vehicle for our purposes. While it was by no means luxurious, it could handle poor roads, and had enough torque to haul a heavy load. And what a load it was! Because most of the Land Rover’s interior would be taken up by passengers and the precious fridge, we needed to utilise the roof carrier maximally, as well as towing a trailer for additional cargo capacity. In addition to all of this, we took along a Volkswagen beach buggy as a fuel-efficient means of transport once we got to our destination. This would also be towed to Praia in order to save fuel.

We were truly a sight to behold. Crammed into a short-wheel base Land Rover were four adults, two children and a refrigerator. The Landy towed the beach buggy, which in turn towed the small trailer containing our luggage. At various points along the way we noticed people taking photos and video of our gypsy caravan!

Since the main road between the SA/Mozambican border at Ressano Garcia and Maputo was apparently in particularly bad shape (and ‘daylight robbery’ by bandits a real possibility) we opted to take a detour via Swaziland, and entering Mozambique at Namaacha. Bumping along the rutted, pockmarked track from Namaacha to Boane and Maputo, I shuddered to think what the alternative route must be like.

One of the tragi-comical features of our tortuous progress from Namaacha to Maputo was the efforts of enterprising local children to earn pocket money by pretending to ‘repair’ the road. We would round a corner to find youngsters busily filling deep craters in the road with soil and stones, and asking for the equivalent of a toll fee. We soon realised that, as soon as we went round the next bend, they would remove

the ‘patching’ even quicker than they had inserted it in preparation for a repeat performance. Given our precarious financial position we agreed that any future compensation would consist of food, rather than cash.

The scars of Mozambique’s violent past were everywhere. Burnt-out military trucks, armoured cars and even tanks could be seen in places along our route, and many of the buildings we passed in towns and hamlets were pockmarked by gunfire. Adding to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere was the fact that the rural population seemed to think that buildings abandoned by the Portuguese were still haunted by them. As a consequence, many perfectly sound buildings were not occupied by the locals. Instead, they would plunder useful bits like corrugated iron, doors and beams and use these to erect shacks nearby.

On arrival at the camp site, we were in for a shock. Faced with a sharp increase in the rental fee charged by their landlord, our two hosts had done what any reasonable entrepreneur would do in their position – pass on the cost to the consumer. In one fell swoop, our daily accommodation costs had more than doubled. This meant that the money we had budgeted for discretionary spending had been all but wiped out. Eating out would become the exception, not the rule, and my fishing tackle and spear gun suddenly assumed far greater importance than mere sporting equipment – they were now integral parts of an impromptu survival plan!

After long and careful consideration, it was decided that our budget allowed for each couple to have one ‘romantic’ restaurant meal by themselves during the course of our time in Praia, with the other pair babysitting my two nieces. Provided our budget allowed it, we would also all have dinner together towards the end of the trip. We had a choice of two venues – ‘Fawlty Towers’ or the ‘Xai-Xai Spur’.

The former was in fact the local hotel, which was not known for its efficient service, and the latter was a little eatery housed in a thatched shack on the beach, called O Golfinho Azul (The Blue Dolphin). It was my brother-in-law who had first dubbed it the ‘Xai-Xai Spur’. Back home in South Africa, the Spur chain of franchise restaurants was (and remains) the archetypical family restaurant, serving no-nonsense food at reasonable prices, including grilled chicken.

As it turned out, both couples opted to have their ‘fancy’ dinners in the hotel’s dining room. When our turn came, Jakki and I had enough money for a beverage (a local beer for me and a Coke for her) and a main course each. For once fortune favoured us: the line fish of the day was Rock Cod (known as ‘Grouper’ in America, and Garoupa in the Indo-Pacific). This firm, tasty fish was really fresh, and our grilled fillets were served with boiled potatoes and a surprisingly good green salad. For obvious reasons, we lingered over our meal to maximise the pleasure.

The meal

Mozambican food is to Portuguese food what the lambada is to ballet. Its fusion of European, African and Indian influences results in dishes with far more ‘oomph’ than the rather bland traditional Portuguese fare. Because ports like Maputo and Beira were replenishment stations for Portuguese vessels en route to and from the spice emporiums of Goa and Malacca, spices (and particularly chillies of the Capsicum species) quickly became embedded in Mozambican cooking. Interestingly, the hot chillies which provide the heat to so many Indian dishes are not indigenous to the Sub-continent; the Portuguese brought them there from Brazil.

It is also not coincidental that people who live in tropical climates consume such vast amounts of hot chillies. Chillies actually cool you down by promoting perspiration. Even more interestingly, the burning sensation caused by eating chillies stimulates the release of endorphins – natural painkillers that produce a sense of well-being in humans. Fortunately capsaicin, the alkaloid compound that causes the burning effect is not addictive. In fact, regular consumers of chillies develop a resistance to the capsaicin and eventually need ever more and hotter chillies to experience the same effect.

The two signature dishes of Mozambican cuisine are ‘LM prawns’ (named after Maputo’s colonial-era name, Lourenço Marques) and ‘Frango Grelhado’ or grilled chicken. Since butterflied prawns are by no means unique to Mozambique, the chicken is in my view the more authentic dish. It is a far cry from European-style roast or rotisserie chicken. For a start, Mozambicans prefer small, lean chickens to large plump ones. Another noteworthy point is that the authentic dish requires an adult chicken of slender build, rather than a baby chicken – the Portuguese colonists referred to these scrawny free-range chickens as ‘Frango Cafreal’ (natives’ chicken). The chickens are ‘spatchcocked’ (split lengthwise and flattened) and barbequed over open flames.

The essence of a good ‘flattie’ is the basting, typically consisting of olive oil, lemon juice, loads of garlic, and – crucially – peri-peri. This fiery paste consists of fresh chillies - Mozambicans favour a small variety (a variety of Capsicum frutescens or Bird’s Eye Chilli) which is picked while still green and therefore hotter than when ripe – which are finely chopped, salted and marinated in olive oil. A word to the wise: do not try to impress people with how much of this liquid dynamite you can eat – it will leave you unable to speak and shedding more tears than a mourner peeling onions!

When we enquired about where to find a decent peri-peri chicken, the locals (and fellow campers with more ample budgets) were unanimous – the ‘Spur’ served some of the best flatties in Mozambique. This information, coupled to the need for a child-friendly venue, convinced us to head there, rather than the hotel. The ‘restaurant’ was situated right on the water’s edge, and extremely rustic. Conditions were just about perfect - we had chosen a particularly pleasant evening with almost no wind and a nearly full moon. Service would hopefully not be a problem, as we were the only diners for the time being.

Since the Golfinho was not a licenced establishment, we took along our own drinks, including a bottle of decent Riesling which we had hoarded for the occasion. Once comfortably ensconced at our table with aperitifs in hand, we ordered – two flatties basted with medium peri-peri for the men, and two ‘milds’ for the ladies. The two little girls just wanted fries, and lots of them!

As the owner/chef was about to disappear into the rear of the building, Jakki wondered aloud how they managed to keep food from spoiling in such a hot climate without any sign of a refrigerator. Through a mixture of Portuguese, English and sign language our hostess indicated that they only used fresh produce. Reassured for the time being, we poured a second round of drinks. As we were about to toast the success of our first vacation together, the moment was spoiled by loud squawks from behind the shack. Then it dawned on us – our chickens were going to be really fresh…

Despite some initial shock and horror on the part of the ladies, we agreed over another round of Scotch to stay and eat the recently deceased chickens, since a) we did not have enough money to chicken out (sic) and go elsewhere, and b) at least we now knew for a fact that our food would be fresh and unlikely to cause food poisoning. A wise move it turned out to be! The flatties were grilled to perfection, with crispy skin and juicy white meat inside. The peri-peri commanded respect without causing blisters, and there was just enough garlic and lemon juice in the basting to counter-balance the heat of the chilli. The chips were lovely and crisp - done in olive oil, which really added extra flavour.

After our plates had been wiped clean with the last of our paõ (bread), we decided to take stock of our budget. To our delight it emerged that we had enough money left for one more flattie, which we agreed to share. We ordered, poured another round of drinks and went for a walk on the moonlit beach while our ‘dessert’ met her maker. After a suitable wait, we headed back to the Golfinho and quickly devoured the chicken (by now the ladies were brave enough to tackle the medium peri-peri version).

The endorphins triggered by the capsaicin must have worked overtime, because soon after our return to our little bell tent I found the courage to propose to my wife-to-be… and she agreed to marry me!

Making it at home

 In Chez Rossouw, poultry is a staple. If it has feathers and lays eggs, we eat it! As with most things in life, there has to be a First Among Equals. In our case, if forced to choose only one poultry dish for the rest of our lives, it would probably be peri-peri flattie.

 Preparation time: 12 ½ hours.

Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Serves 2 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a well-chilled Portuguese vinho verde or an unwooded Chardonnay.

 Two baby chickens.

1 Cup dry white wine.

1 Cup lemon juice.

½ Cup olive oil.

 8 Large cloves of garlic (crushed).

4 Crushed dried bird’s eye chillies (or 6 chopped fresh ones).

6 Whole black pepper corns.

1 Tablespoon dark soya sauce.

1 Tablespoon fruit chutney.

2 Large onions, finely chopped.

4 Bay leaves.

1 Cup coconut milk (optional).

  •  Prepare the marinade by mixing the wine, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, chillies, pepper corns, soya sauce and chutney in a large bowl. Add the onions and bay leaves, and set aside. (For a milder dish, add the cup of coconut milk and/or halve the number of chillies.)
  • Split two baby chickens in half by cutting through the middle of the breast with a longish, very sharp knife.
  • Flatten them by pushing down firmly on both halves of the breast.
  • Put the chickens in a marinade dish, and pour the marinade over them. Allow to rest for at least 12 hours. If the chickens are not completely submerged, scoop some of the marinade over them from time to time.
  • Start a charcoal fire about 40 minutes before the chicken is removed from the marinade.
  • When the coals are ready, spread them evenly across the bottom of the barbecue. Allow to settle down.
  • Remove the chickens, and strain the marinade in order to remove all solids.
  • Set the braai grid about 20-30 cm above the coals.
  • Place the chickens on the grid skin side down, and baste with the marinade.
  • Turn over and baste the skin side.
  • Keep turning and basting regularly, and remember to leave it on the bony side twice as long as on the skin to avoid burning the skin.

 When cooked (this should take about 40 minutes, depending on the coals and the height of the grid) serve the chickens piping hot with roast potatoes and coleslaw. 

 “Poultry is for the cook what canvas is for the painter.” - Jean-Anthelème Brillat-Savarin.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Afrikaans)

Die Xai-Xai Spur: baie vars hoender!

Die plek

Die verhouding tussen Mosambiek en Suid-Afrika oor die eeue heen is wat in Engels as ‘n “love/hate relationship” bestempel wordDie “liefde” was op sy warmste tussen die Tweede Wêreldoorlog en 1975 toe die Portugese Rewolusie ‘n einde aan die Fasciste se droom van ‘n Groter Lusitanië gebring het Mosambiek was ‘n nirvana waar wit Suid-Afrikaners Tropiese Afrika kon gaan beleef sonder dat dit te “Afrika-rig” gevoel hetDie kos en kultuur was Suid-Europees, en die waardestelsel genoegsaam permissief dat die meer avontuurlustige toeriste die Verwoerdiaanse dogma kon laat links lê so ver dit “ontug” met die plaaslike bevolking betref het – iets wat streng taboe was in die Republiek.

Behalwe vir die genietinge van die vlees – die wit strande, garnale en hoender gerooster met peri-perisous, koue vinho verde, wêreldklas-sporthengel en -duik, en verbode vrugte soos dobbel en veelrassige rinkink, het Mosambiek ook ‘n ander bydrae tot Wit Suid-Afrika se welstand gelewer – goedkoop, produktiewe arbeid vir die snel-groeiende, arbeidsintensiewe mynbousektor. Mans van die Shangaan-stam in Gaza-provinsie was veral hoog in aanvraag weens hulle vlugge begrip en werksetiek; soveel so dat die term “MaChangane” op die myne vandag nog verwys het na enige swarte wat klerklike of geskoolde arbeid verrig.

Die “haat”-fase was veel langer, en het ‘n veel meer blywende impak gehad. Na die val van die Caetano-regime in die Moederland, het Mosambiek se dominante bevrydingsbeweging, Frelimo (Front vir die Bevryding van Mosambiek) onder leiding van Samora Machel blitsig beheer oorgeneem by die gedemoraliseerde Portugese. Kort voor lank is begin met die totstandbring van ‘n sosialistiese “werkersparadys”. Die nuwe leierskap het ook openlike steun begin verleen aan Robert Mugabe se ZANU en OR Tambo se ANC in hulle stryd teen die wit regimes in Rhodesië en Suid-Afrika onderskeidelik. Veral eersgenoemde se posisie is hierdeur erg verswak, en die Rhodesiërs het teruggeslaan deur afvallige Mosambiekers te organiseer, bewapen en op te lei vir ‘n teen-rewolusie. Die doel met die “kweek” van ‘n rebellebeweging was tweeledig: eerstens om ZANU-guerillas bewegingsvryheid te ontsê, en tweedens om die Mosambiekse regime uit te mergel en so hulle vermoë en wil om ZANU te steun te knak.

Die weerstandsbeweging, bekend as die Nasionale Weerstandsbeweging van Mosambiek (Renamo) was aanvanklik nie juis effektief nie. Sy suksesse (meestal die opblaas van fisiese infrastruktuur) was meestal deels of totaal die werk van die Rhodesiese Special Air Service (SAS). Na die val van Muzorewa en Smith se koalisieregering is die voogdyskap oor Renamo oorhandig aan ‘n veel sterker “peetpa” – die Suid-Afrikaanse Weermag (SAW). Wapens, kommunikasie-uitrusting en voorrade is nou gereeld per lug (en soms per see) aan die rebelle verskaf, en hulle vegters is deeglik deur die SAW se Verkenningskommandos opgelei. Mosambiek is teen die middel-80s geteister deur ‘n volskaalse burgeroorlog.

Gaza-provinsie (reg Oos van die Kruger-wildtuin) is veral erg geraak deur die geweld. Ingewig tussen Suid-Afrika en Zimbabwe, was die provinsie se spoorweë en brûe maklike teikens vir saboteurs – eers die SAS en Selous Scouts, en na 1980 die Verkenningskommandos. Ten tye van ons besoek in 1993 was al kruising oor die Benede-Limpopo ‘n Russiese pontbrug wat die opgeblaasde Portugese een vervang het.

Die einde van die Koue Oorlog het uiteindelik die lyding van die Mosambiekse bevolking beëindig. Die val van die Sowjet-Unie (wat al sy vyande ondersteun het) het Pretoria genoegsaam bemoedig dat onderhandelinge met die ANC en sy gasheernasies in 1990 aangeknoop is. Suid-Afrika het ook militêre steun aan Renamo gestaak, terwyl Russiese hulp aan Frelimo naastenby dieselfde tyd opgedroog het. Sonder hulle “borge” kon die twee Mosambiekse opponente eenvoudig nie meer bekostig om aan te hou veg nie, en is begin met onderhandelinge wat uiteindelik in 1994 tot demokratiese verkiesings sou lei.

Die okkasie

Ten tye van ons besoek aan Xai-Xai in September 1993 was die einde van die burgeroorlog in sig, maar alles was nog lank nie maanskyn en rose nie! Sekuriteit was nog glad nie op vredestydse standaard nie. Ten spyte van ‘n amptelike skietstilstand tussen die strydende partye het baie van hulle lede ‘n bestaan begin maak as swaar gewapende struikrowers en niemand was veilig teen hulle nie. Die wetstoepassers wat daar was, was boonop nie juis gretig om wit Suid-Afrikaners (tot onlangs die destabiliseerders van hulle land) te hulp te snel indien hulle in ‘n verknorsing beland het nie. Nog ‘n struikelblok vir voornemende reisigers was die feit dat drie dekades se oorlog die land se infrastruktuur (insluitend die paaie waarop ons sou reis) so te sê vernietig het.

Nou vir wat gaan krap waar dit nie jeuk nie, hoor ek jou vra. Eenvoudig: dit was al wat ons kon bekostig. Vir iemand so platsak as wat ek op daardie stadium van my lewe was, was bekostigbaarheid een van die hoof-kriteria met die kies van ‘n vakansiebestemming! Mosambiek het destyds met Kambodja gekompeteer vir die titel van armste land itv Bruto Binnelandse Produk (BBP) per capita in die wêreld, en een Suid-Afrikaanse Rand het op die swart mark 14 000 Meticais gekoop.

My planne was nie van meet af aan so beskeie nie. Ek en Jakki het op daardie stadium al vir omtrent vyf maande uitgegaan, en ek wou haar trakteer op die mees eksotiese vakansie wat ek kon bekostig. Dus het ek in my vrye tyd reistydskrifte verslind in die hoop dat ek ‘n bekostigbare oord met wit sand en palmbome sou kon opspoor. Die noodlot het egter my kaarte deurmekaar gekrap. ‘n Oorywerige amptenaar by die Ontvanger van Inkomste (deesdae beter bekend as SARS) het haar hand oorspeel en – gebaseer op verkeerde aannames – beslag laat lê op ‘n helfte van my alreeds skamele Lugmag-soldy tot tyd en wyl ek kon bewys dat my belastingbetalings op datum was. Uiteindelik het dit geblyk dat die Ontvanger eintlik vir my geld geskuld het, maar vir die huidige was my finansies diep in die rooi.

In my benarde posisie was dit dus welkome nuus toe my suster en swaer ons nooi om saam met hulle in Mosambiek te gaan kampeer. Ten minste sou ons baie van die basiese kostes deel, en op hulle meerdere kennis van die omgewing kon staatmaak. My swaer het met die idee vorendag gekom nadat hy siviele ingeneurswerk in Mosambiek gedoen het. Tydens sy tyd daar het hy twee jong Suid-Afrikaners ontmoet wat ‘n karavaanpark op Praia do Xai-Xai (“Xai-Xai se Strand”) bestuur het, en oor ‘n paar biere het hy summier ‘n kampeerplek “bespreek”. Dit het nie baie oortuiging gekos om my te betrek nie; ek het baie en goeie herinneringe aan die area gehad uit my kinderjare in die Laeveld. Ek was stilweg optimisties dat 14 dae in die Paradys genoeg sou wees om die vrou van my drome te oorreed om met my te trou!

Die plan was om grootliks self-onderhoudend te wees. Ons sou derhalwe ‘n gas-yskassie met bevrore kos saamneem, en meeste etes op ‘n gas-tweeplaatstofie kook. Die yskas was boonop van uiterste belang as die maker van ysblokkies en verkoeler van bier en koeldrank – noodsaaklike items in die subtropiese hitte. Omdat my swaer meestal in afgeleë areas gewerk het, was sy “maatskappymotor” ‘n kort-asafstand Land Rover-stasiewa – die ideale voertuig vir ons doeleindes. Hoewel nie luuks nie, kon dit swak paaie hanteer (‘n noodsaaklikheid in die Mosambiek van 1993) en ‘n swaar vrag dra. En wat ‘n vrag was dit nie! Omdat die Landie se binnekant net groot genoeg was vir die 6 passasiers en die kosbare yskas, moes ons baie van die vrag óf op die dakrak laai, of in ‘n Ventertjie. “Mnr Venter” is agter aan ‘n duinekewer (“beach buggy” in Afrikaans) gehaak, wat op sy beurt deur die Land Rover gesleep is. Die buggy sou ons hoof-vervoermiddel word na aankoms in “Praia”.

Ons was voorwaar ‘n komieklike gesig – ‘n moderne variant van die sigeunerkaravaan! Vier grootmense, twee kleuters en ‘n yskas was soos sardientjies in die Land Rover ingepak. Die dak het gekreun onder trommels en kratte toerusting, en agter ons het “Herbie” en “Mnr Venter” aangetou. Ons het mettertyd ophou verleë voel wanneer mense fotos en video van ons neem...

Die “hoofpad” tussen Komatipoort en Maputo was destyds kwalik die naam “pad” werd, en daar was gereeld berigte van gewelddadige rooftogte deur bandiete. Ons het dus besluit om ‘n ompad te gebruik – via Swaziland na die Namaacha-grenspos Suidwes van Maputo. As hierdie die beter pad is, het ek vir myself gesê terwyl ons stamp en skud op ’n pad wat aan ‘n maanlandskap herinner, wil ek nie weet hoe die ander een lyk nie! Een van die belewenisse wat my altyd sal bybly, was die ondernemende seuntjies wat ‘n geldjie gemaak het met “padwerke”. Elke nou en dan het ons van dié knapies teengekom wat hard besig was om die groter gate in die pad met klippe en grond op te vul. Vir hulle werk moes dan “tolgeld” betaal word. Ons het gou opgelet dat hulle na ons vertrek blitsvinnig die “vulsel” uit die gate verwyder het sodat hulle die volgende voertuig met dieselfde slap riem kon vang!

Mosambiek se dekades van oorlog het baie letsels gelaat. Uitgebrande motors, vragmotors en selfs tenks was plek-plek langs die pad te sien, en baie van die geboue in die dorpe was vol koëlgate. Dit was ook opvallend hoe baie geboue uit die koloniale era leeg gestaan het: die plaaslike bevolking glo blykbaar dat die eertydse inwoners se geeste steeds daar spook. Gevolglik betrek die povos nie sulke geboue nie – hulle stroop hulle net van bruikbare items soos sinkplate, deure en balke, wat dan gebruik word om hutte te bou.

By die kampeerplek het ‘n skok op ons gewag. Ons “gashere” het in die lig van snel-stygende huur van die perseel besluit om die koste aan verbruikers oor te dra. Die tarief vir ons staanplek was nou dubbel die oorspronklik ooreengekome bedrag. Ons begroting vir alledaagse uitgawes is hiermee summier so te sê uitgewis. Uiteet sou nou by hoë uitsondering gebeur, en my visgerei en pylgeweer het ewe skielik van sportuitrusting na oorlewingsmiddele verander!

Na lang en deeglike oorweging besluit ons toe dat daar darem genoeg geldjies in ons begroting oor was vir elke paartjie om een “fancy” ete elk te nuttig tydens ons tyd in Praia, met die ander twee wat die dogtertjies oppas.

Daar was ook die vae moontlikheid van ‘n gesamentlike “afskeidsete” indien ons begroting so lank kon hou. Ons het twee eetplekke gehad om van te kies – “Fawlty Towers” of die “Xai-Xai Spur”. Eersgenoemde was die dorpie se enigste oorblywende hotel – nie juis beroemd vir sy diens nie – en die ander ‘n uiters rustieke kaia teenaan die strand, genaamd O Golfinho Azul (Die Blou Dolfyn). My swaer het die plekkie die bynaam gegee omdat dit die relatief meer “gesinsvriendelike” van die twee was.

Albei paartjies het uiteindelik besluit om hulle “romantiese” etes in die hotel te nuttig, en ewe hard duim vasgehou dat daar ‘n geldjie sou oorbly vir ‘n laaste ete by die “Spur” ook. Ek en Jakki se ete was heerlik, maar die lekkerte is gedemp deur my onvermoë om wyn te kon bestel – dit was óf kos óf wyn; albei was meer as wat my begroting kon verduur. Jakki het dus saam met haar kos ‘n Coke bestel, en ek die alomteenwoordige “Dois Eme” (2 Ms) – Mosambiek se Castle. Ons het dit gelukkig getref met ons ete: die lynvis was geroosterde Garopa (Klipkabeljou of “Rock Cod”). Die wit, ferm vis was vars uit die see en net gaar genoeg, en is op die Portugese styl voorgesit met pietersielie-aartappels, uie en soetrissies, asook ‘n verbasende lekker groen slaai. Ons het tydsaam gesmul, en die plesier so lank as moontlik probeer uitrek...

Die ete

Mosambiekse kos staan teenoor die Portugese moederland s’n soos lambada teenoor ballet. Die eksotiese versmelting van invloede uit Europa, Afrika, Arabië en Indië gee Mosambiekse disse oneindig meer “skop” as die betreklik vaal tradisionele Portugese kookkuns. Hawens soos Maputo, Beira en Mosambiek (die eiland-hawe in die verre Noorde) was verversingstasies vir Portugese handelsvlote onderweg na en van die speserydepots van Goa en Malacca, en speserye het gou ‘n integrale deel van Mosambiekse cuisine geword. Iets wat ‘n selfs groter impak gehad het was die invoer van die eerste brandrissies (Capsicum spp.) waarsonder peri-peri nie moontlik sou wees nie. Interessant genoeg is brandrissies (die hart en siel van soveel kerrie-disse) nie inheems aan die Subkontinent nie; die Portugese het dit daarheen gebring uit Brasilië.

Dit is nie toevallig dat inwoners van die tropiese klimaatstreek so lief is vir kos met brandrissies in nie. Die feit dat brandrissies ‘n mens laat sweet, help uiteraard die liggaam om koel te bly. Verder – en minder ooglopend – stimuleer die brandende sensasie wat rissies veroorsaak die produksie en vrystelling van endorfiene; natuurlike pynstillers wat mense ‘n gevoel van welbehae laat beleef. Capsaicin, die aktiewe bestanddeel in brandrissies, se effek is so sterk dat mense wat dit gereeld inneem mettertyd al meer en meer daarvan moet verorber om dieselfde sensasie te verkry. Nie alles in “Chocolat” was dus fiksie nie...

Die twee ikoniese Mosambiekse disse is myns insiens “LM Prawns” (afgelei van Lourenço Marques, Maputo se voormalige naam) en Frango Grelhado (gebraaide hoender). Geroosterde garnale is egter hoegenaamd nie uniek aan Mosambiek nie – dis eintlik maar die sous wat dit kenmerkend maak. Die “flattie” is ‘n perd van ‘n ander kleur – iets heel anders as Europese styl gebakte of spitgebraaide hoender. Mosambiekers verkies klein, skraal hoendertjies bo vetgevoerde batteryhoenders. Hulle gebruik verder nie piepkuikens nie, maar volwasse hoenders met ‘n klein postuur – wat die ou mense ‘n “werfskropper” sou noem. Die Portugese koloniste het sulke hoenders getipeer as Frango Cafreal (inboorling-hoender). Die geslagde hoender word in die lengte oopgevlek, die borsbeen verwyder en die karkas oopgespalk, waarna dit gemarineer en oor ‘n oop vuur gebraai word.

Die essensie van ‘n lekker plat hoender is die marinade, wat tydens die braaiproses ook dien as druipsous. Dit bestaan tradisioneel uit olyfolie, suurlemoensap, ‘n ruim hoeveelheid knoffel en – heel belangrikste – die peri-peri. In Mosambiek is die gewildste rissie vir hierdie doeleinde ‘n klein variant van Capsicum Frutescens (“Bird’s Eye Chilli”). Dit word meestal half-groen gepluk (dit brand dan meer as wanneer dit ryp is!). Dit word vars opgekap en gebruik in marinades of souse, maar ook oral in klein bakkies bedien as ‘n geurmiddel vir kos. Vir laasgenoemde doeleinde word die rissies fyn gekap, en saam met knoffel en sout in olyfolie gemarineer. Menige macho Suid-Afrikaners het al die fout gemaak om vriende te probeer beïndruk met hoeveel van hierdie doepa hulle kan eet – glo my, na ‘n mondvol egte peri-peri kan jy nie praat nie, en jy gaan meer trane stort as ‘n tienermeisie wat “Titanic” kyk!

Toe ons begin navraag doen oor waar ons ordentlike hoender te ete kon kry, was die plaaslike bevolking (en ander toeriste met ruimer begrotings) eenstemmig – die “Spur” se frango was van die beste in Mosambiek. Toe dit aan die einde van ons vakansie blyk dat ons sowaar geld vir uiteet oorhet, was dit dus ‘n uitgemaakte saak waarheen ons sou gaan. Die restaurant was ‘n klipgooi van die see af, en uiters rustiek. Ons tydsberekening was goed – die aand was warm en windstil, en die maan amper vol. Die diens sou hopelik vinnig wees, siende dat ons oënskynlik die enigste gaste vir aandete was. Aangesien die Golfinho nie ‘n dranklisensie had nie, kon ons ons eie drank saamneem, insluitend ‘n goeie bottel Riesling wat ons vir die geleentheid gebêre het. Sonder om tyd te verspeel het ons bestel: twee plat hoenders met medium peri-peri vir die manne, en twee met matiger sous vir die dames. My twee niggies het vrede met vleiskos gehad - hulle wou net slap tjips hê; so veel moontlik!

Jakki was effens begaan oor die primitiewe fasiliteite, en het hardop gewonder hoe dit moontlik was dat kos in so ‘n warm klimaat nie bederf nie – daar was per slot van rekening geen teken van ‘n yskas nie? Met ‘n mengsel van Portugees, Fanakaló en handgebare het die eienaar/chef beduie dat hulle net produkte vars van die mark gebruik. Voorlopig gerus gestel het ons ‘n tweede rondte G & Ts geskink, en ek het begin om ‘n heildronk op die sukses van ons eerste vakansie saam in te stel. Ek is egter onderbreek deur die paniekbevange gekekkel van hoenders agter die kombuisie. Toe ‘n reeks kapgeluide gevolg word deur stilte, het ons besef ons hoenders sou inderdaad vars wees...

Ten spyte van ons aanvanklike skok (en die weersin van die dames), kon ek en Vic na nog ‘n rondte drankies die vrouens oortuig dat dit totale sin sou maak om te bly en die pas ontslape hoenders te eet. Eerstens het ons te min geld gehad om êrens anders te gaan eet, en tweedens het ons vir ‘n feit geweet dat ons kos regtig vars sou wees. Dit het geblyk ‘n wyse stap te wees. Die hoendertjies was perfek gaar; met bros vel buite en sappige wit vleis binne. Hulle peri-peri het ontsag afgedwing sonder om blase te veroorsaak, en daar was net-net genoeg knoffel en suurlemoensap in die sous om die hitte van die rissies uit te balanseer. Die skyfies was lekker bros, en boonop in olyflie gaargemaak – iets wat my altyd laat terugverlang na die Mosambiek van my kinderjare.

Terwyl ons die laaste sous uit ons borde vee met stukkies " broodrolletjies) het ons vir oulaas oor geldsake beraadslaag. Wonder bo wonder was daar nog geld oor vir ‘n enkele hoender, en ons het besluit om een te bestel en te deel. Ons het terstond bestel, ‘n laaste rondte drankies geskink en ‘n wye draai op die strand gaan loop terwyl ons “nagereg” van kant gemaak is. Die stap het ons aptyte ‘n hupstoot gegee, en terug by die Golfinho is blitsig met die hoendertjie klaargespeel; teen hierdie tyd was die twee vrouens braaf genoeg om die warmer peri-peri te pak!.

Daardie aand in die Xai-Xai Spur het gemaak dat ek altyd sal lief bly vir ‘n plat hoendertjie met peri-peri. Die brandrissies moes ‘n vloedgolf endorfiene ontketen het, want kort na ons aankoms by ons tentjie het ek na twee weke se wyfeling die moed bymekaar geskraap om die vrou van my drome te vra om te trou. Die Capsaicin het ooglopend ook op haar ‘n positiewe uitwerking gehad, want sy het “ja” gesê!

 

A burnt-out truck; casualty of the War.

The "Ghost Hotel".

Our precious fridge.

Fish braai on WANELA beach.

Frango Grelhado - not for the faint of heart...

3. The Serrano's bounty

“There is a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.” – Steve Wright.

The place

Even in a country with a name that means the end of the earthPatagonia is particularly remote. It is a region steeped in legends. Many of its place names conjure up memories of larger-than-life personalities and momentous events – the Strait of Magellan, Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel, DrakeSea and Río Gallegos. It is home to the mighty Andean Condor and the elusive puma (mountain lion). Argentine Patagonia boasts the southernmost city on earth (Ushuaia) and Chile the southernmost town (Puerto Williams).

Before the opening of the Panama Canal the only way from the Atlantic to the Pacific was either through the Straits or around Cape Horn. When the earth was young, seismic instability causedpart of the Andes mountain range sank into the Drake Sea, thus providing the gap that enabled the intrepid navigators of old to reach the Pacific. Patagonia's southernmost tip remains standing in Antarctica, 800 km further south. When the massive glaciers that covered the area retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel and the gap between Cape Horn and Antarctica opened up.

 The original inhabitants of the area north of the Strait were tall, nomadic hunters known as Tehuelches. When the first explorers came across their exceptionally large footprints, so the story goes, they named the region Patagonia – Land of Big Feet. On Tierra del Fuego and other southern islands the European explorers encountered the Yaghans and Alacalufes whose existence depended on the sea – they hunted seals, fished and gathered shellfish. It was their fires that Magellan’s crew saw at night, and which led to the island being named Land of Fire. Sadly, these original Patagonians have been wiped out by disease, alcoholism and conflict with white settlers.

 Patagonia is actually not one homogenous region, but rather a collection of contrasting landscapes. If one looks at a topographical map of the Americas, the reason for this phenomenon becomes clear. The Andes mountain range in the south and the Rockies in the north are simply the high extremities of a common mountainous backbone that runs all the way from Alaska to Antarctica. The far north and far south are in fact very similar: an archipelago of thousands of small islands parallel to a very narrow coastal strip and a high mountain range. In the Pacific Northwest of the USA and Canada there are temperate rainforests west of the Rockies and dry prairie to the east. In Patagonia the Chilean side is also wet and dense, with dry pampa (prairie) on the Argentine side.

 On the Chilean side the Andes reaches very close to the Pacific, and the narrow coastal belt is dissected by numerous fjords, rivers and glaciers to such an extent that the Magallanes Region of Chile had no road link with the rest of the country until recently. Even now, the so-called Southern Highway remains mostly a dirt track unfit for use by heavy vehicles. It is also not a contiguous road, as ferries have to link many bits of it. 

 Just as Argentina refuses to abandon its claim on the Falkland Islands, Patagonia has been a bone of contention between it and Chile for many years. So much so, that in 1978 the two countries actually mustered troops on the border and war was narrowly avoided. While the original tension was all about chauvinism, the more recent bluster had an economic undertone. Since the 1950s, oil and gas have been extracted in the area, with Chile seemingly having the larger reserves.

 For disciples of St Christopher, Patagonia has far more pleasant connotations. Not only is it home to natural wonders like Torres del Paine, Laguna San Rafael and Perito Moreno glacier, but it is also the hub for excursions to Antarctica and a variety of summertime cruises in the Southern Ocean and along the inner passage between Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt. Without a doubt the biggest attraction is the world-famous Torres del Paine national park in Chile. Its topography is similar to those of the Yosemite, Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks in the USA, but its remoteness makes it really special. As in America, Chilean national parks allow visitors quite a lot of latitude so that camping, hiking and fishing without supervision are all allowed subject to commonsensical guidelines.

 The park features a number of remarkable sights. The best-known are the towers of the Paine massif which soar more than a kilometre into the air. There are other imposing mountains in the park as well, including the Cuernos (horns) of Paine, Cathedral mountain and the amphitheatre of French Mountain. Another sight well worth seeing is the glacier that deposits miniature icebergs made of millenary ice in the turquoise water of Lago Grey.

 If unusual fauna is your thing, then Torres del Paine will delight you. Some of its more illustrious endemic species include the elusive puma or mountain lion, the giant Andean Condor, the endangered Chilean deer (huemul), a loud, hyperactive miniature llama called the guanaco and a small ostrich called the ňandú. Some of the park’s most sought-after fauna are not landlubbers though: the salmonids that frequent its rivers and lakes are world-famous.

 Since salmon and trout were first introduced to Patagonia early in the 20th century, they have thrived to the extent that it has become a mecca for fly fisherman from all over the world. The rivers and lakes of Torres del Paine National Park are no exception – they positively teem with salmonids. The Serrano river is the crown jewel of the park’s fisheries, because it is the highway used by sea-run rainbows (known as steelhead in their native America) and brownies (a.k.a. sea trout in the British isles). Unlike salmon, which hatch in rivers, migrate out to sea and only return to spawn and die, these fish come and go as they please but spawn in fresh water.

 The trout benefit not only from being able to feed on plentiful marine fauna during their stay in the ocean, but also from feasting on pancora crawfish in the river. The large part played by crustaceans in their diet not only contributes to their flavour and condition, but also leads to their flesh having a bright red colour – we found that even the brown trout, which normally have pearly white flesh, exhibit this phenomenon. 

 Getting there

 Given the various attractions offered by Torres del Paine, we would gladly have paid our own way just to experience the place. Fortunately, the hospitality we had experienced during the first half of my tour of duty in Chile was about to be overshadowed during my stint with the Air Force’s Southern Command. On my first working day in Punta   Arenas, I introduced myself to the Brigadier-General in charge. He was a charming Anglophile who had previously served as military attaché in South Africa. After some polite small talk, he mentioned that my reputation as a fisherman had preceded me, and that I was probably keen to do some fishing while in Patagonia. Yes, I replied, but I would make sure that it did not interfere with the training I had to present.

 The General was obviously satisfied with my dedication, and proceeded to give me wonderful news. The pilots I was supposed to train the next week had been assigned to other duties, and would I mind terribly if he ordered me to go and work on my presentations in the Air Force chalet in Torres del Paine? Only years of military discipline prevented me from blurting out something like “Is the Pope a Catholic?” 

 Although the Air Force of Chile (FACH) does not pay particularly well by international standards, its officers enjoy great perks. They and their families are treated in some of the best hospitals in the country, their messes are luxurious and serve exceptional food, and they have several officers-only hotels and holiday resorts where they can relax for next to nothing. For officers of staff rank, there are also exclusive chalets in scenic parts of the country, complete with senior NCOs as manservants. It was one of these that Jakki and I would have to ourselves for a week. Our only expenses would be groceries and car rental.

 As we were on a reasonably tight budget, I enquired as to where I could rent a car at a reasonable rate. I was referred to an enterprising Flight Sergeant who, apart from his day job, also operated an unofficial taxi service. He was prepared to hire his taxi, an old Peugeot 504 called El Feo (Old Ugly) to us for the princely sum of 40 US Dollars a week. The week in question taught me a valuable lesson: if it sounds to good to be true, it normally is too good to be true! The car suffered from a recurring electronic problem which made the engine misfire and occasionally cut out completely. I spent a fair amount of time under El Feo’s bonnet familiarising myself with its circuitry.

 Despite our frustration with our dodgy old jalopy, we had the time of our lives. The road to Torres del Paine took us through incredibly beautiful, desolate landscapes with a few fleeting glimpses of Condors gliding above. We had barely entered the park when guanaco, ňandú and foxes started putting in appearances. The scenery was all we had hoped for, and we were absolutely delighted to discover just how private our cottage was! It was situated right on the bank of the Serrano river in the south-eastern corner of the park, which is not accessible to the public. The only means of reaching it was by manually operated pontoon, so whenever we arrived at the crossing we had to honk El Feo’s horn to attract our butler’s attention.

 The man was a real scholar and gentleman, who was busy writing a book on Patagonia and its history. He was therefore only too happy to volunteer for this duty on a regular basis, for it meant two weeks of relative solitude at a time. He was taken aback (but not exactly unhappy) when we told him we would take care of the cooking and household chores ourselves.

 On top of all our other good fortune, we were blessed with near-perfect weather throughout our stay. This allowed me to fish as much as I liked. My better half soon made it clear that I was welcome to get up as early as I liked to go fishing, as long as I didn’t expect her to join me. And so our routine was settled – I would fish alone until brunch time, after which we went exploring until siesta time. Afterwards Jakki would join me on the water for the evening rise.

 Although we broke no world records in the process, the fishing in the Serrano was good. Apart from the fact that we caught fish every day, we caught a variety of species. Brown trout seemed to predominate, with the occasional rainbow and brook trout in between. I was also thrilled to land a solitary "tiger" trout, which is a brown/brook hybrid. The undoubted highlight of the trip was a feisty 1 kg steelhead trout which led me a merry dance one evening.

 It is very difficult to find adjectives that do justice to scenery we were privileged to behold. Our chalet’s patio offered a perfect view of the Horns of Paine, and depending on the weather and time of day their coloration and texture seemed to change. We strolled through ancient beech forests where Chilean parrots played hide-and-seek with us, and hiked along the shore of Lago Grey, where icebergs detached themselves from the Great Southern Glacier with thunderous roars. And we sought, unsuccessfully, to catch a glimpse of the ghost-like pumas that rule this magical place.

 The meal

 As the executive chef of the family, I tried to avoid repeating the same dishes endlessly. To this end we had brought along some steaks and chicken, as well as a variety of tinned fruit and vegetables. I had also factored in living off the land and eating fish at least once a day. Our supplies were rather limited, which meant that I was forced to stick to relatively basic recipes and techniques – not that this caused us any hardship.

When you have fresh wild trout at your disposal, you need not go overboard with side shows; the fish is a feast in itself. We therefore had quite a lot of pan-fried and grilled trout, and probably the best Ceviche to date. Fortunately we had not held back on purchases of whisky and wine, so we could indulge in sundowners every evening and had wine to accompany all our meals.

 We ate like kings. Given the setting and view, I suppose even two-minute noodles would have tasted really special, let alone fresh trout. As the sun only set around 10 PM, we fished until quite late and had dinner just before dusk. I can think of very few dinners more special than the ones we had in that chalet.

 The meal to end all meals happened on our last night in the chalet. As a grand finale, I poached two trout whole, stuffed with wild fennel, and opened a bottle of Chilean sparkling wine I had saved for a special occasion. Jakki had brought along a cassette with songs by our favourite Afrikaans balladeers, and we sat in front of a crackling log fire sipping our bubbly with mixed emotions. On the one hand we were incredibly privileged to be where we were, and on the other the sound of our mother tongue reminded us of just how far we were from our homeland and loved ones.

 The trout went down a treat. Because it has quite a strong flavour, the fennel complemented rather than overpowered it. The fish juices and fennel had permeated the bed of sliced potatoes lining the dish. The spuds were melt-in-the mouth soft, and we mashed them together with the flaky fish the same way one would the potatoes in a good bouillabaisse. We toasted our good fortune and the hospitality of our hosts one last time. In the background Richard and Lochner were asking, “Somewhere there is peace, but who knows where?” As one, Jakki and I smiled and said: “Just about here!”

 Making it at home

 As we were fortunate enough to have fresh sea-run trout every day, we were able to experiment with a wide variety of recipes. This dish, with its mild liquorice flavour, is equally suited to trout, shad (a.k.a. "bluefish" in the States and "tailor" in Australasia) and striped sea bass. 

 Preparation time: ½ hour.

Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Serves 2 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a spicy’ dry white wine like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris or Colombard.

 Two pan size (about 450 - 550 g) trout.

250 g Coarse sea salt.

1 Bulb of Florentine fennel (ca. 200 g).

400 g Potato.

Table salt and black pepper for seasoning.

75 ml Dry vermouth.

3 Tablespoons Water.

75 g Butter.

  •  Clean the trout and remove the gills. Sprinkle the skin with the salt and leave for 10 minutes. Rinse and dry with paper towel. Season the body cavity with salt and black pepper.
  • Take a small (max. 200 g) head of Florentine fennel and trim the leaves off for use as garnish. Slice the bulbs thinly and scatter over the bottom of an ovenproof dish.
  • Peel and thinly slice about 400 g of potato. Arrange in a layer on top of the fennel.
  • Pour over 3 tots of dry vermouth and 4 tablespoons water. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the trout on top of the vegetables. Place small knobs of butter, 5 cm apart, down the length of each fish, and sprinkle some chopped fennel leaves over them.
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil (shiny side inwards) and bake at 180 degrees Celcius in a pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.

 Serve with lemon wedges, and coleslaw.

 “If fishing is a religion, fly fishing is High Church.” – Tom Brokaw.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 3. Die Seeforelle van die Serrano

 Die plek

 Selfs in ‘n land waarvan die naam “die einde van die wêreld” beteken is Patagonië besonderlik afgeleë. Die landstreek se geskiedenis wemel van legendes, kleurryke figure en dramatise gebeure – die Trauco (Chile se “tokoloshe”), die Straat van Magellaan, Kaap Hoorn, die Beagle-kanaal en die vliegvelde van Rio Gallegos en Rio Grande, vanwaar patriotiese Argentynse vegvliëniers opgestyg het op pad na ‘n byna seker einde oor die Falkland-eilande. Dit is die tuiste van die enorme Andes-kondor en die menssku puma (bergleeu). Ushuaia, die suidelikste stad ter wêreld is in die Argentynse deel van Patagonië geleë, en Puerto Williams, die suidelikste dorp, aan die Chileense kant.     

 Die Andes-bergreeks is die Suid-Amerikaanse deel van die langste bergketting ter wêreld, wat strek van Alaska in die Noorde, al langs die Weskus van die Amerikas tot in Antarktika. Toe die aarde nog jonk was, het seismiese aktiwiteit ‘n deel van die suidelike Andes in die Drake-see laat sink, en sodoende ‘n aantal gapings (onder andere  die Straat van Magellaan) geskep waardeur eers die naamgewer en daarna legendes soos Sir Francis Drake later van tyd die Stille Oseaan kon bereik. Aan die einde van die mees onlangse Ystyd het die pakys teruggetrek, en die Straat, die Beagle-kanaal (vernoem na die skip waarop Charles Darwin sy beroemde tog onderneem het) en die gaping tussen Kaap Hoorn en Antarktika oopgelaat. Die Straat van Magellaan skei die vasteland van die eiland Tierra del Fuego, en die Beagle-kanaal skei op sy beurt die eiland van die Kaap Hoorn-argipel verder suid.

 Die oorspronklike inwoners van die vastelandse deel van hierdie geweste was lang, atletiese-geboude nomade bekend as Tehuelches. Toe die eerste Europese ontdekkers op hulle buitengewoon groot voetspore afkom, het hulle die omgewing Patagonia (“Land van Groot Voete”) genoem. Tierra del Fuego en die suidelike eilande was die tuiste van die Yaghans en Alacalufes, strandlopers wat uit robbe-jag, visvang en die oorvloedige skulpvis ‘n bestaan gemaak het. Dit was hulle groot vure (noodsaaklik vir oorlewing op koue nagte) wat Magellaan se bemanning snags gesien het en hom laat besluit het om die eiland “Land van Vuur” te noem. Soos baie inboorlinge van die Amerikas is al die oorspronklike Patagoniese stamme mettertyd uitgewis deur siektes, alkoholisme en konflik met blanke settelaars.

 Patagonië is nie ‘n homogene streek nie; eerder ‘n versameling uiteenlopende landskappe. Die “ruggraat” van die Amerikas het die dieselfde effek in die verre noorde en suide. Die Rockies en Andes vorm die skeidslyne tussen ‘n klam, dig-beboste kusstreek aan die westekant en droë prairie of pampa oos daarvan. ‘n Ander kenmerk is dat daar in albei gevalle ‘n lang ketting van duisende klein eilandjies parallel met die kus lê – die sg “Inland Passage”. Aan die Chileense kant is die Andes so te sê teen die kus, en die smal kusvlakte word verder opgedeel deur talle riviere, fjords en gletsers – soveel so dat die res van Chile tot vandag toe nie ‘n “harde” padverbinding met die Magallanes-provinsie het nie.

 Die voortslepende spanning tussen Argentinië en Brittanje oor die Falkland-eilande is welbekend. Die Argentyne is boonop ook nog lankal haaks met Chile oor die grens tussen hulle onderskeie dele van Patagonië – in 1978 het die twee lande se weermagte mekaar byna daar getakel. Ofskoon die konflik oorspronklik merendeels uit chauvinisme gespruit het, gaan dit deesdae oor ekonomiese realiteite. Olie en gas word sedert die 1950s daar ontgin, en die Chilene maak aanspraak op die leeue-aandeel daarvan.

 Vir mense wat aan “wanderlust” ly, het Patagonië veel meer aangename konnotasies. Die streek is nie net bedeeld met natuurwonders soos Torres del Paine, Laguna San Rafael en Perito Moreno-gletser nie, maar is ook die afspringpunt vir ekskursies na Antarktika, en bootvaarte in die Suidelike Oseaan en tussen Punta Arenas en Puerto Montt. Die grootste enkele trekpleister is ongetwyfeld die Torres del Paine-nasionale park in Chile. Die park se topografie het heelwat in gemeen met Yosemite, Grand Teton en Yellowstone in die VSA, maar sy afgeleë ligging plaas Torres in ‘n veel meer eksklusiewe liga. Chile se Nasionale Parke is op die Amerikaanse model geskoei, en laat besoekers heelwat vryheid toe met betrekking tot kampering, voetslaan en hengel; uiteraard berus verantwoordelik en aanspreeklikheid vir hulle wel en wee dan by die toeris, en nie die parkowerheid nie.

 Die park wemel van onvergeetlike tonele. Die bekendste en gewildste vista is die “torings” van die Paine-massif (waarna die park vernoem is). Hierdie graniet-suile toring meer as ‘n kilometer die lug in. Dan is daar die Cuernos (“horings”) van Paine, “Katedraalberg” en die natuurlike amfiteater van die “Franse Berg”. Een van ons gunstelinge was die gletser wat voortdurend miniatuur-ysberge van blou, duisende jare-oue ys in die turkoois water van Lago Grey instoot.

 As ongewone diere jou interesseer, is Torres net die plek vir jou. Onder die beter bekende endemiese spesies tel die puma of bergleeu, die Kondor, die hoogs bedreigde Chileense Takbok (Huemul), ‘n lawaaierige, hiperaktiewe miniatuur-Llama genaamd die guanaco en ‘n kleinerige volstruis bekend as die ňandú. Van die park se mees gesogte inwoners is egter nie landdiere of voëls nie, maar die salmonide wat wemel in sy riviere en mere. Salms en forelle is nie inheems nie, maar is in die vroeë Twintigste Eeu in Patagonië uitgeplaas. Hulle het so goed geaard dat die streek ‘n mekka vir vlieghengelaars die wêreld oor geword het. Die kroonjuweel van Torres se viswaters is die Serrano-rivier, wat die “snelweg” tussen die Stille Oseaan en die mere en sytakke van die rivier is. Die mees gesogte sportvisse hier is die pendelaars tussen sout- en varswater: die “Steelhead” is ‘n sodanig aanpasbare bloedlyn van die Reënboogforel, en die “Sea Trout”, sy eweknie onder die Bruin Forelle. 

 Ware Salms broei in vars water uit, trek see toe en keer aan die einde van hulle lewens terug na hulle riviere van herkoms om eiers te lê, waarna hulle doodgaan. Trekboer-forelle, daarenteen, broei in vars water uit maar kom en gaan na hartelus nes hulle wil. Hulle word vinnig groot en breedgeskouerd danksy hulle ryk diet – aasvissies in die see en pancora (varswaterkrefies) in die rivierstelsel. Hulle voorliefde vir skaaldiere bring mee dat hulle nie alleen spekvet en gesond is nie, maar dat hulle vlees ‘n pragtige helder rooi kleur het. Selfs die bruinforelle – wat normaalweg spierwit vlees het, toon hierdie verskynsel in die Serrano

 Die okkasie

Een van die hoogtepunte van my 16 jaar in die Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag (SALM) was toe ek gekies is om die SALM as deel van ‘n uitruilskema met die Chileense Lugmag (FACH) vir ‘n jaar aldaar te verteenwoordig. Dis ‘n land haas onbekend onder Suid-Afrikaners, en ‘n unieke een daarby. Chile is ‘n lang, dun strook land ingedruk tussen die Andesgebergte en die Stille Oseaan – meer as 4 300 km lank (so ver as van Lissabon na Moskou) en gemiddeld net minder as 180 km breed (van Pretoria na Kroonstad). Arica in die Noorde is 18 grade Suid van die ewenaar, en Punta Arenas in die Suide 52 grade! Benewens die kans om dosyne aktiewe vulkane en die sneeubedekte Andes te sien, was die groot trekpleister vir my die vooruitsig om in die land se honderde mere en riviere te kon hengel vir forelle en salms. My schedule sou my na al die FACH se basisse neem, en my gashere het ewe bedagsaam gesorg dat my maand in Puta Arenas tydens hoogsomer (Januarie) sou wees.

Torres del Paine is so ‘n uitsonderlike plek dat ons in elk geval op eie onkoste soontoe sou gegaan het terwyl ons in die Verre Suide was. Ons het egter nie rekening gehou met die gasvryheid van die Patagoniërs nie! Soos gebruiklik, is ek as besoekende stafoffisier op die eerste dag van my tyd in Punta Arenas aan die Bevelvoerende Generaal voorgestel. Hy was ‘n sjarmante man wat vlot Engels kon praat danksy ‘n vroeëre termyn as Militêre Attaché in Suid-Afrika. Oor ‘n koppie koffie noem hy toe dat my reputasie as hengelaar my vooruitgeloop het, en vra terloops of ek van plan was om te hengel tydens my verblyf in Patagonië. Ek wou uiteraard nie die indruk skep dat  ek net daar was om vis te vang en leeg te lê nie, en het dit duidelik gemaak dat ek beslis wou hengel, maar mits dit nie sou inmeng met die opleiding wat my dagtaak was nie.    

Die Generaal was ooglopend tevrede met my toewyding, maar het my verseker dat daar geen haas was met die opleiding nie. Die vegvliëniers vir wie ek die opleiding sou aanbied, is op kort kennisgewing betrek by ‘n oefening in Sentraal-Chile en sou eers oor ‘n week of wat terug wees. Hy vra my toe of ek sou omgee as hy my beveel om my aanbiedings te gaan voorberei in die FACH se chalet in Torres del Paine? Dit was net jare se militêre discipline wat my verhoed het om iets soos “Is die Pous ‘n Katoliek?” kwyt te raak...

Alhoewel die FACH nie in internasionale terme sy personeel wonderlik betaal nie, geniet sy offisiere allerlei byvoordele. Hulle en hulle afhanklikes geniet gratis mediese sorg in top-hospitale, hulle offisiersklubs is luuks en bedien uitstaande etes, en daar is landswyd verskeie hotelle en vakansie-oorde vir die uitsluitlike gebruik van lugmagoffisiere. Vir Stafoffisiere is daar ook eksklusiewe wildernis-chalets in skilderagtige dele van die land, kompleet met ‘n senior onderoffisier as huishouer. Ek en Jakki sou die FACH se chalet in Torres vir onsself hê vir ‘n volle week, en ons enigste uitgawes sou kruideniersware en motorhuur wees.

As ‘n enkelinkomste-huishouding was ons begroting bra beperk. Omdat die bekende motorhuur-maatskappye se tariewe bo ons vuurmaakplek was, het ek by kollegas navraag gedoen oor goedkoper alternatiewe. Ek is toe verwys na ‘n ondernemende Vlugsersant wat na werksure ‘n nie-amptelike taxidiens bedryf het. Hy was bereid om sy “taxi”, ‘n ou Peugeot 504 genaamd El Feo (“Ou Lelik”) aan my te verhuur vir net US$40 per week. Hierdie transaksie sou my ‘n waardevolle lewensles leer: as iets klink of dit te goed is om waar te wees, is dit gewoonlik te goed om waar te wees! Ou Lelik het aan ‘n kroniese elektroniese skeet gely wat die enjin onreëlmatig laat loop, en soms uit die bloute laat vrek het. Ek het heelwat tyd onder die skedonk se enjinkap spandeer, en mettertyd ‘n gangbare kennis van sy ontstekingstelsel opgedoen.

Ten spyte van ons temperamentele Franse vuurwa, was die besoek aan Torres ‘n onvergeetlike avontuur. Die pad soontoe kronkel deur eindelose pampa – die inheemse woude suid van die park is in die laat 19e Eeu uitgeroei om weiveld vir skaapboerdey oop te maak Talle riviere en fjords het die roete interessant gemaak, en ons het ‘n paar keer vlugtig Kondors sien sweef. Hoe verder noord ons gevorder het, hoe meer bergagtig het die landskap geword. Ons was skaars deur die park se toegangshek, of guanacoňandú en Patagoniese Vosse het ons oog begin vang. Na een of twee kere se verdwaal het ons ons blyplek gevind; reg op die oewer van die Serrano-rivier in die suidoostelike hoek van die park wat buite perke vir die algemene publiek is. Die enigste manier om by die chalet te kom is met ‘n “handroliese” pont, en – soos oral in die Suide van Chile – moet ‘n mens maar toeter druk en hoop die botero a) is op sy pos, en b) hy hoor jou...

Die onderoffisier wat na ons moes omsien was ‘n man met ‘n formidabele intellek, en uitstekende geselskap. Hy het verduidelik dat hy so gereeld hy kon vrywillig hierdie afgedeelde diens kom verrig het, omdat hy besig was om ‘n boek oor die geskiedenis van Patagonië te skryf en hier die tyd en stilte had om daaraan te werk. Hy was dus aangenaam verras om te hoor dat die gringos verkies om self te kook en huis te hou!    

Die elemente het hulle deel gedoen om ons verblyf ekstra-spesiaal te maak. Die goeie weer het my in staat gestel om na hartelus te hengel; van vroeg-oggend tot laat saans. My beter helfte het dit egter duidelik gemaak dat ek welkom was om dou voor dag te gaan visvang, so lank ek net nie van haar verwag het om saam te gaan nie. Ons roetine het dus as volg gewerk: ek het van vroeg tot brunch-tyd gehengel, en na ete het ons die park in El Feo gaan verken. Dit is gevolg deur ‘n siesta, waarna Jakki saam met my gaan hengel het tot donker.

Ofskoon ons geen rekords gebreek het nie, was die visvang in die Serrano goed. Ons het elke dag sukses gehad, en boonop ‘n verskeidenheid spesies gevang. Bruin seeforelle was algemeen, en ons het ook verskeie reenboë en ‘n paar beekforelle (“brook trout”) koudgelei. Twee hoogtepunte vir my was ‘n “tierforel” (‘n kruising tussen die beek- en bruinforel), en ‘n “steelhead” van net meer as ‘n kilo wat my een aand erg laat bontstaan het.

Dis regtig moeilik om met woorde reg te laat geskied aan die ongelooflike natuurskoon en dramatiese tonele wat ons bevoorreg was om te kon beleef. Ons chalet se stoep het ‘n volmaakte uitsig op die “Horings” van Paine gebied, en die kleure van hierdie massiewe rotsgebergte het na gelang van die weer en tyd van die dag voortdurend verander. Ons het ver ente gaan stap in eeue-oue beukewoude waar Chileense pappegaaie met ons wegkruipertjie gespeel het, en op die oewer van Lago Grey staan en kyk hoe blou ysskotse donderend van die Groot Suidelike Gletser afbreek. Natuurlik het ons ook hard – maar onsuksesvol – probeer om een van die park se heersers, die skugter puma, raak te loop

Die ete

As die “chef” van die huis probeer ek om nie my gunsteling-geregte te gereeld te herhaal nie. Ons het dus braaivleis en hoender, asook ‘n verskeidenheid vrugte en groente saamgevat. Die optimis in my het egter vars vis ‘n gereelde item op ons dieëtplan gemaak. Omdat ons voorraad geurmiddels en bykosse beperk was, moes ek desnoods by betreklik basiese resepte en kooktegnieke hou – nie dat ons nou juis ontberings moes verduur nie. As ‘n mens vars, wilde forel sonder die Epol-smaak tot jou beskikking het, is dit nie nodig om oorboord te gaan met tierlantyntjies nie; die vis is ‘n fees op sigself. Ons het gevolglik gereeld pangebraaide en oondgeroosterde forel geët, asook die lekkerste Ceviche ooit.

Soos dit ‘n ware Lugmag-offisier betaam, het ek gesorg dat daar nie ‘n tekort aan Scotch vir skemerkelkies (heerlik saam met ys uit Lago Grey en die Serrano se water!) of wyn vir aandete was nie. Ons het saans soos konings geët. Met so ‘n ligging en uitsig sou kits-noedels soos fynproewerskos gesmaak het, wat nog te sê vars seeforel? Met die son wat eers omtrent 10-uur ondergaan, kon ons tot laat hengel, en is aandete net voor donker (om en by 11-uur) genuttig.

Die ete wat ons altyd sal bybly was ons laaste een in Torres. As ‘n grand finale het ek twee forelle met wilde vinkel gestop, en heel geposjeer. Die vis is op ‘n bedding aartappelskywe bedien, saam met ‘n bottle Chileense vonkelwyn wat ek vir ‘n spesiale okkasie saamgebring het. Jakki het ‘n kassetspeler (dit was lank voor iPods en slimfone) saamgebring en tydens ete vir ekstra atmosfeer ‘n album van ons twee gunsteling-troebadoere gespeel. Die forel was ‘n wenner. Die vis, danksy ‘n skaaldier-dieët met ‘n effe-soet nasmaak, en die anyserige geur van die vinkel was ‘n perfekte kombinasie. Dié geurige kombinasie se aroma het die aartappel deurtrek, en ons het mondjiesvol vis en aartappel saam fyngedruk nes ‘n mens met die aartappel in ‘n goeie bouillabaisse sou doen.

Na ete het ons onsself voor die berkehoutvuur in die kaggel tuisgemaak en die laaste vonkelwyn met gemengde gevoelens geniet. Enersyds het ons besef en waardeer hoe bevoorreg ons was om hierdie wonderlike plek te kon besoek, maar andersyds het die aanhoor van ons moedertaal in die agtergrond ons opnuut herinner hoe bitter ver ons van ons eie land en ons geliefdes was. Die heimwee was egter vlietend. Toe die opkomende maan skielik die Maine-massif en die Serrano silwer laat skitter, het ons vir oulaas ‘n heildronk gedrink op dit wat ons bevoorreg was om te beleef danksy Genl Bobadilla se gasvryheid.

In die agtergrond het Richard en Lochner gevra: “Iewers is daar vrede – wie weet waar?” Jakki en ek het vir mekaar geglimlag en in een asem geantwoord: “Net mooi hier!”

El Feo approaches the Park entrance.

Millenial glaciers on Lago Grey.

A Steelhead (L) and Tiger (R) Trout from the Serrano.

The Towers of Paine.

The Rossouws in freezing Puerto Wiliams - in mid-summer

4. The cat (prawn?) by the tail

(English)

“(Wisdom is) … like the crustacean that doth move only backward, seeing naught but perils already passed, it doth not enable him to avoid the follies that beset his course, but only to comprehend their nature afterward.” – Sir James Merivale.

 The place

General Charles de Gaulle once described Belgium as “… a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. There is certainly an air of artificiality about the place, and its Flemish, Walloon and German citizens seem to spend most of their time formulating reasons why it is becoming increasingly intolerable to live in the same state. Whereas many other European countries have long and proud national histories, Belgium is a relatively young country (only founded in 1830) with a heterogeneous, multilingual population (situated in a corner between France, the Netherlands and Germany). Britain, its main patron until the advent of NATO and the European Union (EU), certainly intended the neophyte to be a neutral buffer zone in Northwest Europe.

Britain’s obligations as guarantor of Belgium’s sovereignty was largely responsible for how World War I unfolded, since Germany’s Schlieffen Plan was based on outflanking the French by invading France via a powerful right hook through Belgium and Luxembourg. This violation of Belgian territory triggered a British ultimatum, and – when this was ignored by the Kaiser’s generals – a declaration of war. The brutal German reprisals against Belgian civilian resistance in places like Dinant and Tamine, and the sacking of the university town of Leuven caused an international outcry, and led to Germans being caricatured as brutal Huns. Despite its own puny army and Britain’s slow response, King Albert’s forces kept the Germans at bay for more than a month – allowing the Allies precious time and space to regroup - and continued to hold on to about a half of Flanders until the German were routed in the final months of the war.  

Because of its strategic location, Belgium is no stranger to the devastation of war. More often than not, it has been an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire between powerful adversaries – Spain and the Dutch; England and France; France and Germany. It has also been ruled by numerous foreign overlords, most notably Julius Caesar’s Romans, Charlemagne’s Franks, the kings of France and Spain, the Dukes of Burgundy and the Austrian Habsburg Empire.

Belgium is today home to most of the EU’s institutions, and is in many respects the poster child for the EU’s strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand it proves that European unity (and money) can keep disparate groups of people together, and that violence has become passé as a means of resolving differences. On the other hand, Belgium is symbolic of the socio-economic fault line that divides the well-to-do, fiscally robust nations of the North from the near-bankrupt welfare states of the South. Nordic, industrious Flemings and Germans grumble incessantly about having to subsidise the Francophone Walloons.

The most striking thing about this contradiction of a country is that it seems to be disintegrating while the continent as a whole is growing ever more interlinked. It is perhaps because of European integration that less cohesive nation-states are being buffeted by such strong centrifugal forces – since the EU provides much of their physical and financial security, people are less reliant on their national governments (and thus less loyal to them). 

Brussels, often referred to as the Capital of the EU is known as Brussel in Flemish and Dutch, and Bruxelles in French. Apart from its EU status, the city has also been the seat of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) since its establishment in 1948. It is therefore a very cosmopolitan city, with a huge population of bureaucrats. Fortunately for tourists, the Eurocratic bits of Brussels are situated outside the charming old city. Culturally, the people of Brussels are largely Francophone, despite the city being located in the middle of Flanders.

Anyone who has ever visited Brussels will probably agree that the Grand Place (market square) is the heartbeat of the real Brussels. Although the Flemish architectural style predominates, the city has its share of Gothic (most striking of which the City Hall) and Romanesque (the Basilica of the Holy Heart and Cinquantenaire Park among others) buildings. Several world-famous museums attract art lovers, as does the well-known Mannekin Pis statuette. This much-photographed sculpture of a little boy having a wee-wee is rumoured to commemorate the mythical thwarting of a plot to blow up the castle of the Dukes of Brabant by a princeling who extinguished a burning fuse by peeing on it. 

Much of the city’s splendour was financed by the proceeds of King Leopold II’s brutal (but highly profitable) colonisation of the Congo. Initially styled the Congo Free State this vast country – 80 times the size of Belgium - was initially granted to a private trading company (with Leopold as principal shareholder) by the Berlin Conference of 1885. Leopold had hoodwinked the European powers into believing that he would be a benevolent ruler, whose main aims would be to promote the three Cs - Christian missionary work, commerce and civilisation.

It was one big sham. Leopold and his cronies were only interested on extracting maximum returns on their capital, and what little infrastructure they built was intended to facilitate their exports of rubber, ivory and – later – minerals. The local population was press-ganged into harvesting rubber and ivory, and to act as slave labour by a government militia called the Force Publique (FP). It is estimated that at least 10 million Congolese died of starvation, brutalisation (the FP regularly cut off the hands of underperforming workers) and disease between 1885 and 1908 when Leopold ceded control of the Congo to the Belgian state.

Many of the grand public buildings that adorn Brussels today were built by King Leopold as gifts to the Belgian people and paid for with his ill-gotten gains. These include the world-famous botanical gardens at the royal palace in Laeken, with their priceless collection of tropical plants protected against the European cold by huge greenhouses.

One of the city’s big draw cards is its fine dining. As can be expected in such a cosmopolitan centre, it has many restaurants that offer pretty much any of the major ethnic cuisines. Rue des Bouchères, just off the Grand Place, is the heartbeat of Brussels’ charming (if somewhat pricey) restaurant district. Waiters hustle for business outside the multitude of restaurants, and it takes determination to resist their entreaties. The area actually offers good value to those diners able to keep their cool and compare the various menus dispassionately. We have always had a soft spot for the fruits of the North Sea, particularly the various flatfish, prawns and shrimps.  

Getting there

We had first laid eyes on Brussels in December 1997, and liked the city a lot – so much so that we chose it as our entry and departure point for our first overseas trip with Elouise in 1998. Although it is not blessed with a naturally beautiful setting like Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro – and has a climate that could have been imported from England - Brussels compensates with beautiful architecture, abundant history and some world-class attractions like the Grand Place.

During our previous stay in Brussels, we had dined in a charming little restaurant in the Rue des Bouchères. Our waiter had been unusually friendly for a Walloon, and had even spoken a bit of English. On hearing that we were South Africans, he casually mentioned that he loved KWV (Koöperatiewe Wynbouwersvereniging, South Africa’s then-state-owned wine co-operative) Chardonnay. We were so flattered that we undertook to buy him a bottle in Duty-free if we were ever privileged to visit Brussels again. Fortune favoured all three of us - lo and behold, six months later we touched down at Zaventem Airport; in possession of a bottle of the man’s favourite tipple!

After getting off the train at Brussels Central Station, we headed straight for a confectionary shop at the Metro interchange. In an attempt to obtain change to buy tickets, we had bought pain au chocolat there the previous time, and it had been love at first bite for Jakki. I felt that a treat like this would make Elouise feel at home as well, and I was right! My two female associates were smiling broadly as we boarded the train to St Catherine’s Square, where our hotel was situated.

As always, our first day abroad was not a particularly productive one. After checking in, we had some time to kill, and we used this to orientate the youngest member of our party. Fortunately Brussels’ historic centre is very compact, and it is possible to see many of its attractions during a relatively short walk. Our first stop was Mannekin Pis. The little guy seems to have quite an extensive wardrobe, as he is often dressed up in the spirit of a special occasion – for example, in December he sports a Santa Claus outfit. With the Soccer World Cup on in neighbouring France, we were not totally surprised to see him dressed up in football kit.

After the obligatory photo opportunity, we exposed Elouise to a Belgian chocolaterie for the first time, and allowed her to select a few treats. From there we headed straight to the Grand Place, where the two adults treated themselves to the first beers of the trip – Kriek for Jakki and a Kwak, with its unusual bulbous glass, for me. The Square is one of those extra-special places where one can sit for hours without doing much; just admiring the detail on the gilded façades of the buildings that enclose it and watching tout le monde go by. Although we were happy to see the square again, something wasn’t quite right. Workmen were busy putting the final touches to trestle pavilions around it, and when I enquired my suspicions were proved spot on – it was in preparation for the Ommegang!

The Grand Place is best known for two spectacular annual events; the Floral Carpet and the Ommegang (circuit). The former is a recent development, while the latter is nearly 500 years old. The Floral Carpet literally involves covering the entire surface of the square with intricate floral arrangements that resemble a gigantic woven carpet. A landscape architect, Mr E Stautemans, first laid it on in August 1971, after a number of dress rehearsals in smaller towns and cities. Pride of place traditionally goes to Begonias, his favourite flowers. Held in late summer, this spectacular display attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators.

The Ommegang is a traditional pageant that dates back to 1549, when it was first held as a tribute to Emperor Philip V of Spain, who was the ruler of the Netherlands at the time. Guests of honour watch through the windows of the town hall as peasant dancers, men on stilts, falconers, jugglers, flag-bearers, jousters and ladies-in-waiting perform in the square. Nowadays the general public is also catered for, and temporary pavilions are set up on the other three sides of the Grand Place. Tickets are expensive, and bookings need to be made well in advance.

In those early days of the internet, it was much more difficult for DIY tourists to plan trips around special events. With our luck, we happened to have unwittingly arrived on the day of that year’s Ommegang. There were no tickets left for sale, and the price demanded by the scalpers was out of my league. We therefore had to console ourselves with a quick peep from behind the pavilions on our way to dinner that evening.

The meal

When we got to the restaurant after our Ommegang peep show, sure enough, there was our KWV-loving waiter. His apparent pleasure at recognising return customers turned into outright joy when I handed his gift over to him. He gushed thanks and compliments, organised us the best table in the house, and paid us maximum attention. Both the menu and the specials were impressive, and we were initially unsure as to what to have. Then one of our waiter’s colleagues carried two platters of Brochet de Crevettes (prawn kebabs) past us, and that was it – our minds were made up!

The kebabs were works of art – held together by the skewers during the cooking process, but artfully slid off onto our plates. They were just on the point, but the prawn shells were beautifully caramelised by the charcoal grill. We got hefty portions of Belgian Fries and mayonnaise on the side, as well as a green salad which included some marvellous pickled baby mushrooms. My two female companions made light work of polishing off the tasty crustaceans. I must say that I have always had a soft spot for cold water prawns; perhaps it is the tough life they lead that gives them more character than their tropical cousins?

It had been a long day, but I felt that – since wine had been the reason for us coming here – a cheese platter with something sweet on the side, accompanied by a dessert wine would be a perfect finale. I asked for the wine list, and in my somewhat overtired state I got my terminology mixed up. Being a typical Alpha Male I wasn’t going to have my facts checked by a mere waiter, so (even though I couldn’t help wondering whether I had the right famous French wine) I boldly ordered a seriously expensive half-bottle of Sancerre with our dessert platter. After all, where I come from only noble late harvest is served in half-bottles…

I should have known that something major was amiss when I saw how incredulous he looked when I ordered the Sancerre. Typical Walloon, I thought to myself, hasn’t he heard that the customer is always right? He arrived back in due course, still not looking a hundred per cent at ease, but proceeded to open the wine. As per usual, he poured me a tiny sample, a showed the bottle off to prove its heritage. The wine certainly looked OK, if a little on the pale side, but the nose was not nearly what I had expected. My concern about the bouquet was proved well-founded when I sipped the wine. It was bone dry!

I started to blurt out my disgust at the oxidised wine, but the waiter could no longer contain himself. Struggling not to burst out laughing, he enquired politely:  “Monsieur actually wanted the Sauternes, no?”

The chop of the week award was mine; of that there was no doubt! Sauternes, the great naturally sweet wine of the Graves district in the Bordeaux region, is – along with Hungary’s Tokay - probably the world’s best example of botrytis wine. The noble rot attacks the grapes and dehydrates them, resulting in a raisin-like end product with intensely concentrated sugar and flavour. Sancerre, on the other hand, is a completely natural dry white wine (only made from Sauvignon Blanc) made in the eponymous district in the eastern Loire valley. 

Walking home that evening I pondered Sir James Merivale’s pronouncement - "Hindsight is truly the only exact science…

Making it at home

As the two women in my life both love crustaceans so much, prawns feature prominently whenever we get together for a special meal. While barbecued or grilled prawns with lemon/garlic butter will probably always be our favourite, I enjoy the occasional brochet because of the way it combines the sweetness of the prawn meat with the crispy saltiness of grilled bacon.

Preparation time: 2 ¼ hours.

Cooking time: 12 minutes.

Serves 2 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a well-chilled, full-flavoured Viognier or Gewürztraminer. Some of my friends prefer an ice-cold lager beer to white wine with this dish.

24  Tiger prawns.

12 Slices of streaky bacon.

Juice of 1 lemon.

4 Tablespoons of olive oil.

4 Tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves.

1 Tablespoon of honey.

4 Large cloves of garlic, crushed.

2 Teaspoons of salt.

Ground black pepper to taste.

4-6 Sprigs of coriander leaves and 4 slices of lemon for garnishing.

4 Metal kebab skewers. 

  • Peel the prawns and remove the veins from the tails. Remember to leave the last section of the tails intact.
  • Rinse under cold running water.
  • Dry with paper towel and set aside.
  • Mix the lemon juice, olive oild, chopped coraiander, honey, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Cover the prawns with the marinade and leave in a cool place to marinate for 2 hours.
  • Cut the rashers of bacon in half crosswise and wrap a piece of bacon around each prawn.
  • Thread 6 prawns onto each skewer.
  • Pre-heat your oven’s grill to its highest setting.
  • Arrange the kebabs on a baking tray. Baste liberally with the marinade.
  • Grill for 4 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, turn and baste again.
  • Grill for another 4 minutes.

Serve piping hot, garnished with the extra coriander leaves and lemon wedges.

“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, bake it, boil it, broil it, sauté it. There’s, um, shrimp kebab, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried… There’s shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich… That’s, that’s about it.” – Bubba Blue (from Forrest Gump).

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 (Afrikaans)

 4. Ek kry die kat (garnaal?) aan die stert beet

 Die plek

Genl Charles de Gaulle het na bewering op ‘n keer na België verwys as “… a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. Daar kleef beslis ‘n sweempie kunsmatigheid aan hierdie landjie, en sy Vlaamse, Waalse en Duitssprekende burgers spandeer op die oog af ‘n groot deel van hulle tyd aan die uitdink van redes hoekom dit al moeiliker word om saam in een land te woon. Dit is veral waar van die Vlaminge, wat die meerderheid van die bevolking uitmaak – en die ekonomiese “enjin” van België is – maar desnieteenstaande tradisioneel deur die Wale as tweedeklas-burgers beskou word.

Op ‘n vasteland waar die meeste nasies lang en trotse geskiedenisse het, is België ‘n relatief jong staat (gevorm in 1830) en boonop nie ‘n baie hegte een nie. Die bevolking is heterogeen, en boonop word die land omring deur drie invloedryke lande (Frankryk, Duitsland en Nederland) wat sterk taal- en kultuurbande het met onderskeidelik die Wale, Duitse Belge en Vlaminge. Brittanje het dus waarskynlik doelbewus geagiteer vir Belgiese eenwording; die land vorm inderdaad ‘n neutrale, onskadelike buffersone in Noordwes-Europa. 

Brittanje se verpligtinge as onderskrywer van Belgiese soewereiniteit het tot ‘n groot mate bepaal hoe die Eerste Wêreldoorlog ontvou het, aangesien die Duitse “Schlieffen-plan” beoog het om Frankryk uit te klop deur sy front te omseil met ‘n kragtige regter-haakhou via België en Luksemburg. Die gevolglike skending van Belgiese gebiedsintegriteit het Brittanje genoop om ‘n ultimatum aan Duitsland te rig, en toe dit deur Duitsland geïgnoreer is, oorlog te verklaar. Die Britte se veglus is verder aangewakker deur die Duitsers se brutale onderdrukking van burgerlike weerstand teen die inval wat onder andere massa-teregstellings in Dinant en die verwoesting van die universiteitstad Leuven ingesluit het. Ofskoon België se weermag klein en swak toegerus was, het hulle onder leiding van Koning Albert heldhaftig weerstand gebied. Na ‘n maand se hewige gevegte was hulle steeds in besit van Wes-Vlaandere, en dit het die Geallieerdes tyd en ruimte gebied om te hergroepeer. Die Belge het end-uit vasgeskop, en was steeds in beheer van omtrent helfte van Vlaandere toe die Duitsers in 1918 handdoek ingegooi het.

Weens sy strategiese ligging was België oor die eeue heen dikwels die verhoog waarop geskiedkundige veldslae hulle afgespeel het – Spanje vs. Nederland, Engeland vs. Frankryk, Napoleon vs. Die Res en Duitsland vs. Frankryk. Die land was ook vir die meeste van sy geskiedenis deel van buitelandse vorste se domein, onder andere die Romeinse Caesars, Karel die Grote, die Spaanse Bourbons, die Hertoë van Boergondië en die Oostenrykse Habsburgs.

Die land is vandag die tuiste van die Europese Unie (EU) se vernaamste instellings, en in talle opsigte ‘n weerspieëling van sowel die EU se sterk- en swakpunte. Enersyds bewys dit hoe Europese eenwording (en kapitaal) kan help om uiteenlopende groepe vreedsaam te laat saamleef. Andersyds loop die ekonomiese skeidslyn tussen die welaf, hoogs produktiewe lande van Noor-Europa en die byna bankrot welsynstate van Suid-Europa net mooi deur die middle van  België. Die Nordiese, spaarsamige Vlaminge kla tereg dat hulle die Wale se “luilekker” lewenstyl moet finansier.

Die grootste ironie omtrent hierdie eksentrieke landjie is dat die sentrum van Europese integrasie besig is om stadig maar seker te disintegreer. Dis moontlik juis omdat Europa deesdae in baie opsigte ‘n groter invloed op mense se wel en wee het as nasiestate, dat heterogene nasies dreig om uiteen te spat – die fisiese en fiskale beskerming van die Unie maak hulle minder afhanklik van (en dus minder lojaal aan) hulle nasionale regerings.

Brussel (“Bruxelles” in Frans) word vry algemeen die “Hoofstad van Europa” genoem. Benewens die EU, is die stad sedert 1948 ook die setel van die Noord-Atlantiese Verdragsorganisasie (NAVO). Dit is derhalwe ‘n hoogs kosmopolitaanse stad wat wemel van burokrate. Gelukkig vir toeriste is die meeste EU- en NAVO-geboue buite die pragtige Ou Stad geleë. Interessant genoeg is Brussel kultureel so te sê totaal Frans, ofskoon die stad in die hart van Vlaandere geleë is. 

Haas enigiemand wat al in Brussel was, sal saamstem dat die Grote Mark (beter bekend as die “Grand Place”) die hart van die “regte” stad is. Die Stadhuis en hoofkwartiere van die Middeleeuse gildes staan skouer aan skouer reg om die Plein, en wat ‘n gesig is dit nie! Die Stadhuis is in die Gotiese styl gebou, maar die meeste van die ander is in eg Vlaamse styl met die kenmerkende trapgewels. Wat die Plein so treffend maak, is dat so te sê al die geboue se fasades verguld is; veral snags straal dit ‘n warm, goue gloed uit. In die stadskern is daar verskeie wêreldberoemde kunsmuseums, en die “Selfie”-nemende toeris se gunsteling, die “Mannekin Pis”-standbeeldjie. Volgens oorlewering herdenk dit ‘n insident toe ‘n prinsie ‘n komplot om die Hertog van Brabant se paleis op te blaas gefnuik het deur die brandende lont nat te piepie.   

Baie van Brussel se prag en praal is befonds deur Koning Leopold die Tweede, wat die Belgiese Kongo (vandag die Demokratiese Republiek van die Kongo) as sy persoonlike landgoed bestuur het. Leopold het die Berlynse Kongres oor Afrika in 1885 oortuig dat sy “Beleggingstrust” die enorme landstreek – 80 keer groter as België self – bloot wou help ontwikkel tot voordeel van die inwoners, en sendelinge beskerm terwyl hulle die bevolking kersten. Natuurlik sou hulle hier en daar ook ‘n bietjie handel dryf ten einde hulle enorme onkostes te help dek...

Dit was een groot bedrogspul: een van die mees omvangryke en blatante in die geskiedenis. Leopold en sy trawante was slegs daarop uit om die maksimum-opbrengs op hulle kapitaal uit die Kongo en sy mense te wurg. Die skamele infrastruktuur wat hulle wel gebou het was bloot daar om hulle uitvoere van rubber, ivoor en later minerale te fasiliteer. Die plaaslike bevolking is deur ‘n staatsmilisie genaamd die “Force Publique” (FP) met geweld gedwing om rubber en ivoor bymekaar te maak, en om slawe-arbeid te verrig op padbouprojekte en met die lê van spoorlyne. Daar word konserwatief beraam dat minstens 10 miljoen Kongolese aan hongersnood, siekte of wonde (die FP het gereeld “lakse” werkers gegésel of hulle hande afgekap) beswyk het tussen 1885 en 1908 toe  internasionale afgryse en woede Leopold geforseer het om die Kongo aan die Belgiese staat te “skenk”.

Baie van Brussel se mooiste geboue en parke is opgerig en aan die inwoners “geskenk” deur Leopold II. Dit sluit die Basilika van die Heilige Hart, en die wêreldberoemde botaniese tuin by die Paleis van Laeken. Die versameling tropiese reënwoudplante is enig in sy soort, en word teen die Noord-Europese winterkoue beskerm deur reuse-kweekhuise.   

Een van Brussel se groot trekpleisters is die groot verskeidenheid fynproewer-restaurante. Gegewe sy  kosmopolitiese aard, is daar ‘n aanvraag na bykans alle bekende etniese kookkunste. Rue des Bouchères, wat uitloop op die Grand Place, is die hart van die restaurant-distrik. Kelners doen hulle bes om klante van die straat af  te werf, en die meeste van hulle is sowel oortuigend as dikvellig! Ofskoon uiteet hier bitter duur kan wees, is dit tog moontlik om goeie waarde vir jou geld te kry mits jy jou nie ‘n gat in die kop laat praat nie en die spyskaarte en pryse noukeurig vergelyk. Dis veral noodsaaklik as ‘n mens lief is vir die Noordsee se inwoners soos tongvis en die verskillende skaaldiere.

Die okkasie

Ons eerste kennismaking met Brussel was in Desember 1997, en dit was liefde met die eerste oogopslag. Soveel so dat ons die stad as ons afspringpunt vir ons eerste oorsese vakansie met Elouise in 1998 gekies het. Ofskoon Brussel nie kan spog met die dramatiese ligging van ‘n Kaapstad, Rio de Janeiro of Sydney nie – en ‘n klimaat het wat uit Brittanje ingevoer kon wees – vergoed dit vir hierdie gebrek met pragtige argitektuur, ‘n ryk geskiedenis en verkeie top-landmerke.      

Tydens ons eerste besoek het ons ‘n heerlike aandete geniet in ‘n knus seekos-restaurantjie in die Rue des Bouchères. Ons kelner was buitengewoon vriendelik vir ‘n Waal, en kon selfs redelike Engels praat. Toe ons hom meedeel dat ons Suid-Afrikaners was, het hy opgemerk dat hy baie lief was vir KWV (Koöperatiewe Wynbouwersvereniging, ons nasionale wynkoöperasie) Chardonnay. Ons was so gevlei dat ek belowe het om vir hom ‘n bottel saam te bring indien ons weer die voorreg sou hê om Brussel te besoek. Die gode was goed vir ons al drie, want ses maande later land ons op Zaventem-lughawe met ‘n “Duty Free”-bottel van die man se gunsteling-wyn!

Met ons aankoms by die “Gare Centrale” is ons reguit na ‘n gebakwinkel om Elouise aan pain au chocolat bekend te stel. Die vorige keer het ons noodgedwonge daar vir Jakki een van hierdie lekkernye gekoop ten einde kleingeld vir metrokaartjies te kry, Omdat Jakki dit destyds so geniet het, was ek seker dat Elouise ook sou, en dat dit haar boonop sommer dadelik sou laat tuis voel. En was ek reg! My twee vroulike trawante het van oor tot oor geglimlag al die pad tot by St Katelijne-plein, waar ons hotel was.

 Soos gewoonlik was ons eerste dag oorsee nie verskriklik produktief nie. Na ‘n lang, rustelose nag in ‘n vliegtuig is ‘n mens nie juis op jou stukke nie, en boonop kan jy nie jou hotelkamer betrek en lekker uitvars nie. Na ons die formaliteite afgehandel het en ons bagasie laat stoor het, het ons besluit om ons jong eregas op ‘n oriëntasietoer te neem. Gelukkig is die Ou Stad baie kompak – St Katelijne is skaars 10 minute se stap van die Grand Place! ‘n Mens kan dus heelwat van die stad se beroemde landmerke te voet sien binne ‘n relatief kort tyd. Ons eerste bestemming was Mannekin Pis vir ‘n “Kodak Moment”. Dié knapie beskik ooglopend oor ‘n enorme klerekas, want hy is dikwels geklee in ‘n uitrusting wat pas by aktuele gebeure. So was hy byvoorbeeld as Sinterklaas uitgevat toe ons Desember daar was, en hierdie keer (te midde van die Sokker-Wêrelbeker) het hy spoggerig gelyk in ‘n Belgiese sokker-uitrusting.     

Ons volgende stop was by ‘n tradisionele Belgiese chocolaterie daar naby, waar ons Elouise vir haar laat “padkos” uitkies het. Van daar is ons reguit na die Grand Place, waar die volwassenes hulle ook self kon trakteer – Kriek (Kersiebier) vir Jakki en Kwak (sterk, verouderde bier in ‘n buretvormige glas) vir my. Die Plein is een van die wêreld se beste plekke om net eenvoudig uit te span en jou te vergaap aan die omgewing. Te midde van die prag van die vergulde geboue om die plein kan ‘n mens vir ure sit en jou vergaap aan die mensemassa wat voor jou verbystap. So lekker as wat dit was om terug te wees, het iets nie reg gelyk nie. Werkers in oorpakke was besig om tydelike pawiljoene op te slaan op die Grand Place, en toe ek navraag doen is my vermoedens bevestig – die sitplekke was vir toeskouers by die Ommegang!

Die Grand Place is wyd bekend vir twee beroemde jaarlikse gebeurtenisse: die Blommetapyt en die Ommegang. Eersgenoemde is ‘n relatief onlangse verwikkeling, maar die ander is byna 500 jaar oud. Die Blommetapyt, soos die naam aandui, behels die bedek van die hele Plein met ‘n magdom ingewikkelde blommerangskikkings wat op ‘n afstand soos ‘n reusagtige geweefde tapyt lyk. ‘n Landskap-argitek, ene Stautemans, het die eerste tapyt in die somer van 1971 gelê na ‘n paar kleedrepetisies in kleiner sentra. Hierdie kleurvolle skouspel lok jaarliks honderde duisende besoekers.

Die Ommegang is ‘n tradisionele skouspel wat uit 1549 dateer, toe dit gehou is as ‘n huldeblyk aan Keiser Felipe V van Spanje, wat destyds die heerser oor die Lae Lande was. Eregaste hou die verrigtinge deur die vensters van die Stadhuis dop, en word vergas deur met volkspele, steltelopers, valkeniers, lansiers, vuurvreters en goëlkunstenaars. Deesdae word die algemene publiek ook toegelaat, en tydelike pawiljoene aan die drie ander kante van die Plein bied ‘n goeie uitsig oor die verskillende vertonings. Nodeloos om te sê is kaartjies peperduur, en lank voor die tyd uitverkoop.   

In daardie dae, voor die internet algemeen beskikbaar geword het, was dit baie moeiliker vir ‘n selfdoen-toeris om reise rondom spesiale gebeurtenisse te beplan. Soos die Duiwel dit wou hê, was ons op die regte tyd in Brussel, maar sans kaartjies vir die Ommegang. Daar was geen kaartjies meer te koop nie; en op die swart mark was die pryse vér bo my vuurmaakplek. As troosprys het ons daardie aand op pad na aandete skelmpies onder die pawiljoene deur ‘n paar items dopgehou.

 Die ete

Na ons “roofkykery” by die Ommegang is ons reguit restaurant toe, en ons KWV-aanhanger was sowaar op sy pos. Sy ooglopende plesier om ons weer te sien het oorgeslaan in opregte vreugde toe ek sy geskenk aan hom oorhandig. Na herhaalde bedankings en komplimente het hy summier vir ons die beste tafel in die restaurant geannekseer, en ons die heel aand soos koninklikes gepamperlang.

Die spyskaart was vol verleidelike items, en boonop was daar verskeie “specials” wat die mond laat water het. Ons was dus aanvanklik ietwat oorweldig, en onseker wat om te bestel. Ons besluiteloosheid het egter ‘n skielike dood gesterf toe ‘n kelder by ons verby stap met twee porsies Brochet de Crevettes (garnaalkebabs) – ons het soos een man ons keuse gemaak! Die kebabs was regte kunswerke; ooglopend bymekaar gehou deur die sosatiestokkies tydens die kookproses, maar daarna behendig op die borde afgestroop. Die garnale was net-net gaar, met die doppe ligweg geskroei op die houtskool-braai.

Die garnale is vergesel deur stewige porsies bros heidegras-skyfies en mayonnaise, asook ‘n heerlike groen slaai met gepiekelde baba-sampioentjies. Die dames het die sappige skaaldiere met smaak verorber. Ek kon dit verstaan, want ek het nog altyd ‘n voorliefde vir garnale uit koue water gehad. Kan dit wees dat ‘n moeiliker bestaan maak dat hulle meer karakter as hulle tropiese neefs en niggies ontwikkel?

Ons was almal poot-uit na die lang dag, maar ek het besluit om dit op ‘n hoogtepunt af te sluit met ‘n ordentlike Belgiese kaasbord, ‘n soetigheidjie en ‘n dessertwyn. Die idee het algemeen byval gevind, en ek het die nagereg bestel en vir oulaas vir die wynlys gevra. In my oormoë toestand was my geheue nie op sy normale standaard nie, en het dit my ‘n wyle geneem om op ‘n halfbottel Sancerre te besluit. Waar ek vandaan kom, word net Edel Laatoes in halfbottels bedien, het ek by myself gedink.  

Ek moes besef het daar is groot fout toe die kelner my ongelowig aanstaar na ek die wyn bestel het. Tipese Fransman, het ek gedink, het hy nog nooit gehoor die klant is altyd reg nie? My ooglopende irritasie het hom seker laat besluit om nie met my te redekawel nie, want hy is skoorvoetend daar weg en vinnig terug met die peperduur botteltjie wyn. Ofskoon hy duidelik iets op die hart gehad het, het hy die wyn oopgemaak sodat ek dit kon proe. Die wyn het skaflik gelyk, maar was myns insiens erg bleek vir ‘n dessertwyn. Die neus was ook maar so-so, maar dit was eers toe ek dit proe dat ek finaal besef het daar is groot fout. Dit was kurkdroog!

My eerste instink was om te kla oor die wyn wat sekerlik geoksideer was, maar die kelner het my kortgeknip. Dik van die lag het hy ewe beleefd gevra: “Monsieur actually wanted the Sauternes, no?”

 Die Mampara van die Week-toekenning was myne, bo alle twyfel! Sauternes, die edel natuurlike soetwyn van die Graves-distrik van die Bordeaux-streek is saam met Hongarye se Tokay waarskynlik die twee mees gesogte botrytis-wyne ter wereld. Die “edelvrot” vreet gaatjies in die druiwe se skille en veroorsaak geleidelike dehidrasie. Die amper-rosyntjies word so laat moontlik geoes, en die eindproduk is ‘n wyn met hoogs gekonsentreerde suiker en geur. Sancerre, daarenteen, is ‘n natuurlike droë witwyn (100% Sauvignon Blanc) uit die distrik met dieselfde naam in die Ooste van die Loire-vallei.

 Op pad terug na die hotel het ek opnuut besef dat selfs Alpha-mannetjies soms vir raad moet vra...

Kriek (L) & Kwak (R) - not a Belgian nursery rhyme!

Mannekin Pis in patriotic football kit.

The annual "Ommegang" on the Grand Place.

Rue des Boucheres.

Belgians like their seafood FRESH!