I went for a walk with a few of the researchers to look at some Ostrich chicks. They were kept in a fenced area to give them a better chance of living. No ostrich chicks had survived the last time.
We went for a walk along the river. It was very interesting to be with the researchers. If I had any questions about the flora or fauna, they could always answer in great detail.
I walked to Modikwa Primary School in the afternoon, around 4kms away. Two Children in the Wilderness staff, Lisa and Porsche, were passing by, so I got a ride with them for the last bit.
I talked to the school of around 400 kids about following their dreams. It is always interesting to hear what they want to be when they are older, most wanted to be doctors or soldiers.
They were very excited to hear a balloon would be flying from there the next day.
After the school talk, around 40 kids did a postcard swap. I gave them postcards from kids in Belarus, and they made postcards for me to take to other children.
I returned to the research centre to find out that Ralf, (who was in Polokwane looking for a battery for me, amongst many other errands) had called to say that they didn’t have the right battery. It was not the end of the world as I had a Plan B. It just meant I had to go to the hassle of removing a battery from the camper part and change it to the other side where the truck’s starting batteries are. It also meant I wouldn’t have power to the camper part though.
It was too late to do the change that day, so the Farm Manager, Pieter, offered his pick-up to transport the balloon in the morning. We loaded the balloon onto his pick-up, so it was ready to go.
In the evening I had dinner with the researchers and went hunting for scorpions. Scorpions glow in the dark under UV light. We found four of them, which was quite good as it was cold and scorpions like warmer weather.
Pieter picked me up at 5.30am the following day and we headed to the school. The Deputy Principal also met us there to unlock the gate.
Kids started arriving, and the researchers too. The weather was perfect, and I managed to tether around 40 kids before taking off, much to their delight. It is always interesting to see their reactions, some afraid or subdued, others excited.
I flew by myself as the area was a bit tricky to fly. Lots of Acacia trees and bush around and only a few landing areas. I had been looking at the forecast for days before the flight and had decided on the area I wanted to land at, which was the only major crop farm in the area. It was easy to spot as there were huge centre pivot irrigator circles.
The wind co-operated and I headed straight for the farm. Pieter knew the farmer and I told him to head in that direction. The land is generally flat with a few hills around. I flew for around 40 minutes, before landing in an empty field. The farm manager came over. Many workers were in the next field planting thousands of onions by hand. I was impressed to see that there were electric gates everywhere, so the farmer didn’t even need to get out of his car to open the gates.
Pieter was not far away, and the two of us packed the balloon.
After, Pieter showed me around the Lodge’s farm: the various crops they grow, and also a craft centre. Local women were making handmade crafts, which are sent to shops around the country.
We loaded the balloon back onto my truck, and I had an easy afternoon, which involved changing the battery over and sorting out details for coming flights.
It was pizza night, made by the lodge’s chef. Everyone had a great evening, chatting late into the night. It was a good way to end an enjoyable time staying at the research centre.
I left at 7am the next morning. The charge was low on the battery I had changed over, and the truck didn’t start. I got some of the researchers to give me a push. Luckily I had become a master of push starts in China, (when I had all the starter motor problems). The truck started and I was away.
The first 40kms was dirt road, which thankfully had mostly been graded a couple of days before. It was then onto a regional highway, and after, a motorway down to Pretoria. It was an easy 500km drive and I quite enjoyed it. The landscape ranges from large flats to a few hills. The motorway is a toll road.
I stopped in Pretoria to buy a sim card and look for a battery for the truck. I went around a few shops and finally found the battery. They said they would order it in for the following day. It was quite a relief as I had searched all around South Africa for it.
I headed to the Balloon Workshop, close to Lanseria. The workshop is probably the best equipped balloon maintenance centre in Africa. It is run by a well known South African balloonist, Felicity. I needed to go there to get the annual inspection done on the balloon. It was too late to do the inspection, so Felicity took me a few kilometres down the road to where I would stay. It was a very nice spot next to a lion park. The lions were roaring loudly when we arrived. Felicity introduced me to the owner Lyn, (a friend of hers) and I was shown the very nice cottage, which was to be my home for a few days. The track to the cottage is a bit tricky and we had to do some evening pruning to get the truck down the track.
We all went for a very nice dinner at a restaurant down the road that evening.
I was at Felicity’s workshop at 8am the next morning. We inflated the balloon with the help of one of her workers. We cleaned the basket and burners. It was good to do as it hadn’t been done for a while. Everything was looking very clean by the end.
I headed to Pretoria in the afternoon to get the battery fitted, before returning to Lanseria to help Felicity with retrieving her car, which had been at a mechanic. A water pump had broken the day before and she had to leave it at a garage around 40kms away.
Felicity, Lyn and I went for a pizza and craft beer at a nearby restaurant that evening.
Felicity lent me her car the next day, so I went to check out the Cradle of Humankind area.
I visited the Steyrfontein Caves and the very interesting Morapeng interactive museum.
After a busy day, I returned to the cottage for a quiet evening.
After some last minute changes with logistics, I decided to visit Lesotho instead of eSwatini, (formerly Swaziland. The name had been changed a couple of days earlier). The road was good, crossing flat, open plans at first, then becoming more hilly closer to Lesotho. It was half motorway, half regional road. I had to avoid a few potholes on the regional roads, but overall it was good.
I arrived into the town of Ficksburg in the late afternoon. I decided to park there for the night at a campground. I called a number on the sign as no one was there. A few minutes later a friendly security guard let me in. I was the only one in the campground. The security guard kindly showed me the way to the local supermarket too.
It was an early night as I was tired after the 400km drive.
The next morning I was checking around the truck and had seen the sway bar bracket had completely broken off. I wasn’t pleased to see the sway bar hanging down.
The security guard showed me the way to a welder. As it turned out the guy just had a welder in the middle of the field. I could see he was very underprepared for my needs. He recommended an engineering workshop in town. I found the place and the guy was very good. It was all fixed up in about two hours.
I headed across the South Africa/Lesotho border. Border procedures were easy and I went searching for a take off site to fly from for the next day. I hadn’t arranged anything in Lesotho as I didn’t have any contacts there.
Lesotho is a beautiful country, and the people are so friendly. The main roads are good, (I had heard they were terrible) mainly thanks to the Chinese.
After a very nice drive around the countryside, I stopped at a school and asked the principal if I could fly there in the morning. She was happy for me to do it and was very welcoming. She showed me around a few of the classrooms. Interestingly the toilets had been paid for by UNICEF and Worldvision. The perimeter fence had also been paid for by World Vision.
She arranged for a teacher to show me to a restaurant, (KFC), back at the border town. The teacher and her two children showed me, before taking them home. Her house looked very tidy and well taken care of. She had built it a couple of years earlier and was working hard to buy furniture for the house, and a car.
I returned to the school and parked the truck in the school grounds for the night, ready for the flight in the morning.