National Science Week at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town: Saturday 06th to Saturday 13th of August 2016.

August in the Western Cape is known for wet, blustery and cold conditions so we were mentally prepared for the worst during National Science Week 2016. However, the weather was uncharacteristically fine except for the last two days. Fortunately for us the Iziko South African Museum (go here to find out more about this exciting venue) allowed us to move inside and use the large open area adjacent to the now non-existent cafe. Thank you Elsabé and Theo for all your efforts on our behalf.

TOP: The boxes of handouts have started to arrive – rather late but at least they have arrived. MIDDLE: Certainly u useful handout but only for teachers. BOTTOM: this was a nice piece to handout but people were quick to spot the fact that it was intended for the 2015 theme.
TOP: The boxes of handouts have started to arrive – rather late but at least they have arrived. MIDDLE: Certainly u useful handout but only for teachers. BOTTOM: this was a nice piece to handout but people were quick to spot the fact that it was intended for the 2015 theme.
TOP: The courier parked in our back yard sorting out our stuff from among the mass of other deliveries. MIDDLE: Very useful handouts and certainly applicable in the South African and indeed Southern African context but the connection with renewable energy was not clear. BOTTOM: Useful information to hand out but difficult to connect to the 2016 theme of renewable energy.
TOP: The courier parked in our back yard sorting out our stuff from among the mass of other deliveries. MIDDLE: Very useful handouts and certainly applicable in the South African and indeed Southern African context but the connection with renewable energy was not clear. BOTTOM: Useful information to hand out but difficult to connect to the 2016 theme of renewable energy.
TOP: Interesting light effects caused by the moisture in the air while on the way to Cape Town. MIDDLE: Getting our setup sorted out against the backdrop of teh very impressive DNA model which formed the basis of the Past All From One Exhibition sponsored by the Standard Bank. It was in the Iziko’s amphitheatre but is on an extended tour of Southern Africa and indeed of Africa. BOTTOM: Banners are going up and telescopes are coming out as we get the show on the road.
TOP: Interesting light effects caused by the moisture in the air while on the way to Cape Town. MIDDLE: Getting our setup sorted out against the backdrop of the very impressive DNA model which formed the basis of the Past All From One Exhibition sponsored by the Standard Bank. It was in the Iziko’s amphitheater but is on an extended tour of Southern Africa and indeed of Africa. BOTTOM: Banners are going up and telescopes are coming out as we get the show on the road.
TOP: Almost ready as a small cloud of mist drifts across the face of Table Mountain. MIDDLE: Johan and Auke sort out the details of the central display table. BOTTOM: The early morning guests start arriving and Alan is ready and waiting at the special Solar Telescope.
TOP: Almost ready as a small cloud of mist drifts across the face of Table Mountain. MIDDLE: Johan and Auke sort out the details of the central display table. BOTTOM: The early morning guests start arriving and Alan is ready and waiting at the special Solar Telescope.

National Science Week had to be move forward by one week due to the local elections. That also caused some problems because we had already started making arrangements and the change meant changing other things as well. The run-up to National Science Week was a also unsettling because our sponsors had organizational problems, which meant that both the funding and the display material were very, very late. Late funding meant that we had to postpone all purchases and rentals until the very last minute which resulted in a lot of frantic rushing around with panic levels going off the scale every now and again. Scary stuff but we made it in one piece although it was really touch and go with some plans having to be partially shelved due to a lack of time to implement them properly.

TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo fitted with a special Solar Filter service an early guest as Auke gathers his material for distribution on Twitter. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan explains the finer details of the Sun’s role in supplying clean energy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan demonstrating the use of solar energy. BOTTOM: Johan and Auke in conversation with a group of visitors.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo fitted with a special Solar Filter service an early guest as Auke gathers his material for distribution on Twitter. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan explains the finer details of the Sun’s role in supplying clean energy. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan demonstrating the use of solar energy. BOTTOM: Johan and Auke in conversation with a group of visitors.
TOP: A constant stream of visitors keeps Alan busy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette explains finer points as Lorenzo points skyward during a short cloudy period. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: As the day warmed up more and more children visited us. BOTTOM: Auke recording for twitter and Lynnette managing the handout table.
TOP: A constant stream of visitors keeps Alan busy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette explains finer points as Lorenzo points skyward during a short cloudy period. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: As the day warmed up more and more children visited us. BOTTOM: Auke recording for twitter and Lynnette managing the handout table.
TOP: A visitor looking at the sun through Lorenzo with the special protective filter clearly visible on the front cover. MIDDLE: Demonstrating the use of the special solar viewing glasses. BOTTOM: A queue waiting for a turn at either the special Solar Telescope or Lorenzo.
TOP: A visitor looking at the sun through Lorenzo with the special protective filter clearly visible on the front cover. MIDDLE: Demonstrating the use of the special solar viewing glasses. BOTTOM: A queue waiting for a turn at either the special Solar Telescope or Lorenzo.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining solar energy applications. MIDDLE LEFT: Lynnette shielding a visitor from the sun as he looks at the sun through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo doing their thing. TOP RIGHT: Alan did a lot of very competent explaining. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette even managed to talk two of the municipal workers into taking a look at the sun.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining solar energy applications. MIDDLE LEFT: Lynnette shielding a visitor from the sun as he looks at the sun through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: Lynnette and Lorenzo doing their thing. TOP RIGHT: Alan did a lot of very competent explaining. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette even managed to talk two of the municipal workers into taking a look at the sun.
TOP: Rose lending a hand at the Solar telescope. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Visitors examine the material on the handout table. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan discussing renewable energy with two younger visitors. BOTTOM: A view from behind of our setup showing the telescopes and the renewable energy table.
TOP: Rose lending a hand at the Solar telescope. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Visitors examine the material on the handout table. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan discussing renewable energy with two younger visitors. BOTTOM: A view from behind of our setup showing the telescopes and the renewable energy table.
TOP: Johan has his audience captivated with his talk in renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo on the left with Alan on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan discussing the role of the sun in supplying renewable energy. BOTTOM: Auke in discussion with some visitors interested in renewable energy.
TOP: Johan has his audience captivated with his talk in renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo on the left with Alan on the right. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan discussing the role of the sun in supplying renewable energy. BOTTOM: Auke in discussion with some visitors interested in renewable energy.

Our setup this year shared the amphitheater with the impressive DNA model of the Past All from One Exhibition. Please go here to read more about this interesting exhibition sponsored by Standard Bank.

TOP: Alan and Johan in action. The temperature has dropped as you will see by the fact that Johan has put on a jacket. SECOND FROM THE TOP: No sun but Alan still manages to hold his visitor’s attention. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The slightest break in the clouds and Alan is onto the Sun with the Solar Telescope. BOTTOM: All packed up for the day and one last shot showing the Past All From One DNA-model against the backdrop of the impressive building of the Iziko South African Museum.
TOP: Alan and Johan in action. The temperature has dropped as you will see by the fact that Johan has put on a jacket. SECOND FROM THE TOP: No sun but Alan still manages to hold his visitor’s attention. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The slightest break in the clouds and Alan is onto the Sun with the Solar Telescope. BOTTOM: All packed up for the day and one last shot showing the Past All From One DNA-model against the backdrop of the impressive building of the Iziko South African Museum.
TOP: The Solar Cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rose and Alan in action around the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The very impressive model of the eye we used to demonstrate dramatically to children why they should not look directly at the Sun without eye protection. BOTTOM: Lynnette supervising one of the younger visitors at Lorenzo’s eyepiece.
TOP: The Solar Cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rose and Alan in action around the Solar Telescope. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The very impressive model of the eye we used to demonstrate dramatically to children why they should not look directly at the Sun without eye protection. BOTTOM: Lynnette supervising one of the younger visitors at Lorenzo’s eyepiece.
TOP: Early on Monday morning the N! was relatively unpopulated. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke in discussion with some two early morning visitors on Monday. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan deep in explanations while two other visitors find something worth photographing in our display. BOTTOM: Some visitors enjoying Auke’s animated explanation of renewable energy.
TOP: Early on Monday morning the N! was relatively unpopulated. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke in discussion with some two early morning visitors on Monday. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan deep in explanations while two other visitors find something worth photographing in our display. BOTTOM: Some visitors enjoying Auke’s animated explanation of renewable energy.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background while two other visitors examine some of the handouts. MIDDLE: Hopefully this visitor was phoning friends to come and join in the fun. BOTTOM: A visitor eyeballs the sun through the Solar Telescope under Alan’s watchful eye.
TOP: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background while two other visitors examine some of the handouts. MIDDLE: Hopefully this visitor was phoning friends to come and join in the fun. BOTTOM: A visitor eyeballs the sun through the Solar Telescope under Alan’s watchful eye.
TOP: Lorenzo is the centre of attraction for this group wanting to see the sun. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke explaining the principle of the solar cooker as he waits for the water to boil so he can make coffee. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan demonstrating the eye model while Lorenzo is the centre of attraction in the background. BOTTOM: Lynnette, Lorenzo and an elderly visitor.
TOP: Lorenzo is the centre of attraction for this group wanting to see the sun. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke explaining the principle of the solar cooker as he waits for the water to boil so he can make coffee. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan demonstrating the eye model while Lorenzo is the centre of attraction in the background. BOTTOM: Lynnette, Lorenzo and an elderly visitor.
TOP: Solar coffee thanks to the solar cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rassie Erasmus on the right, all the way from Germiston takes a break before embarking on an eight month construction contract in Angola. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background. BOTTOM: Alan and the Solar Telescope saw non-stop action throughout National Science Week.
TOP: Solar coffee thanks to the solar cooker. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Rassie Erasmus on the right, all the way from Germiston takes a break before embarking on an eight month construction contract in Angola. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lynnette and Lorenzo in the background. BOTTOM: Alan and the Solar Telescope saw non-stop action throughout National Science Week.

We had many visitors from overseas and also many visitors from other African countries. Despite the rather nerve racking preparation phase everything actually went off quite well. We definitely had more dubious characters hanging around this year than in 2014. Special thanks to the Iziko security staff who were very efficient and here Benjamin stands out and, quite honestly deserves a medal for his efforts. Despite their surveillance we had items “disappear”, among others Lynnette’s phone and that loss is still having repercussions almost a month later.

TOP: A very quiet N1 early on Tuesday morning because it was a public holiday. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The participants in the National Woman’s Day fun run/walk in central Cape Town make their way through the Company Gardens. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The gent in the grey top and black headgear in the centre might not have been an official entry but he was very excited about his participation. BOTTOM: Some just took the whole thing in their (casual) stride while others were clearly more determined.
TOP: A very quiet N1 early on Tuesday morning because it was a public holiday. SECOND FROM THE TOP: The participants in the National Woman’s Day fun run/walk in central Cape Town make their way through the Company Gardens. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The gent in the grey top and black headgear in the centre might not have been an official entry but he was very excited about his participation. BOTTOM: Some just took the whole thing in their (casual) stride while others were clearly more determined.
TOP: Rose and Lorenzo attending to early visitors. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan hard at work while Rose gets it all down in pictures. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke’s first group of visitors interested in renewable energy. BOTTOM: Lynnette helping a budding astronomer take her first look at the sun through Lorenzo.
TOP: Rose and Lorenzo attending to early visitors. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan hard at work while Rose gets it all down in pictures. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Auke’s first group of visitors interested in renewable energy. BOTTOM: Lynnette helping a budding astronomer take her first look at the sun through Lorenzo.
TOP: Auke explains renewable energy while Alan and Lynnette show visitors’ the sun in the background. MIDDLE: The amphitheatre is in front of the Iziko South African Museum is, without doubt a very attractive spot to present National Science Week. BOTTOM: Rose backing up Alan as the visitors queue to look at the sun.
TOP: Auke explains renewable energy while Alan and Lynnette show visitors’ the sun in the background. MIDDLE: The amphitheater is in front of the Iziko South African Museum is, without doubt a very attractive spot to present National Science Week. BOTTOM: Rose backing up Alan as the visitors queue to look at the sun.
TOP: There was a lot of interest in renewable energy and Auke was always on hand to discuss and explain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lorenzo, Lynnette and a group of younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan, the Solar Telescope and one of our striking display posters. BOTTOM: Alan always concerned that visitors should get the best view of the sun.
TOP: There was a lot of interest in renewable energy and Auke was always on hand to discuss and explain. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Lorenzo, Lynnette and a group of younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan, the Solar Telescope and one of our striking display posters. BOTTOM: Alan always concerned that visitors should get the best view of the sun.

But, by and large it was a successful week with lots of sunshine making it easy to demonstrate and discuss renewable energy. The solar cooker, solar oven, and various solar power driven devices were all put to good use and other equipment was used to demonstrate the existence of energy at other wavelengths in the solar spectrum. We also used the telescopes equipped with special filters to good effect so that people could take a look at the sun, the source of all this free energy.

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TOP: Auke showing some younger visitors how solar energy can be put to use. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I am in the background with Lorenzo and Auke is up front with some enthusiastic younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan on the left with the solar telescope and me in the background on the right with Lorenzo. BOTTOM: Myself, Lorenzo and a group of younger learners with one of their teachers.
TOP: Auke showing some younger visitors how solar energy can be put to use. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I am in the background with Lorenzo and Auke is up front with some enthusiastic younger visitors. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Alan on the left with the solar telescope and me in the background on the right with Lorenzo. BOTTOM: Myself, Lorenzo and a group of younger learners with one of their teachers.
TOP: Adderly Street on the way home. SECOND FROM THE TOP: F.W. de Klerk Boulevard as we queue to get onto the N1 and head home to Brackenfell. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Tygerberg Hills in the background with the first signs of the Earth’ s shadow and pink colour of Venus’s girdle just above them. BOTTOM: Last lap home with the outline of the Simonsberg, the Bottleray Hills and right in the background the Banhoek mountains.
TOP: Adderly Street on the way home. SECOND FROM THE TOP: F.W. de Klerk Boulevard as we queue to get onto the N1 and head home to Brackenfell. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Tygerberg Hills in the background with the first signs of the Earth’ s shadow and pink colour of Venus’s girdle just above them. BOTTOM: Last lap home with the outline of the Simonsberg, the Bottleray Hills and right in the background the Banhoek mountains.

Our poster about solar energy depicted the photo-voltaic plant about 6 km outside the town of De Aar in the Northern Cape Province (go here to read more about this development). The other three projects we mentioned and discussed were Concentrating Solar Plants also situated in the Northern Cape Province. !Ka Xu is located about 40 km from the town of Pofadder (go here to read more about this innovative development). Close-by and just off the R358 Onseepkans road lies a similar development Xina (read more about this by going here).. Equally interesting is the !Khi Solar one project which is being constructed close to the town of Upington (go here to read more about this development).

TOP: N1 not to bad considering it was a normal working day. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I get Lorenzo ready and in the background the rest of the team is already in action. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This enthusiastic group from the Eastern Cape were all ears (and eyes) as Auke explained about renewable energy. BOTTOM: The group waiting for Alan to give them a look through the solar telescope.
TOP: N1 not to bad considering it was a normal working day. SECOND FROM THE TOP: I get Lorenzo ready and in the background the rest of the team is already in action. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This enthusiastic group from the Eastern Cape were all ears (and eyes) as Auke explained about renewable energy. BOTTOM: The group waiting for Alan to give them a look through the solar telescope.
TOP: Auke’s renewable energy demonstrations drew a lot of attention. MIDDLE: The groups actually became too large to handle comfortably at one stage. BOTTOM: Getting Lorenzo properly aligned so that the visitors could take a peek at the sun.
TOP: Auke’s renewable energy demonstrations drew a lot of attention. MIDDLE: The groups actually became too large to handle comfortably at one stage. BOTTOM: Getting Lorenzo properly aligned so that the visitors could take a peek at the sun.
TOP: Auke’s hat just visible in the background and the lady in the Stetson in the foreground was not from Texas but from Austria. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke is somewhere in the middle of that crowd doing his renewable energy thing. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I working away the waiting queue of visitors. BOTTOM: A group photo of a section of the much larger group before they departed.
TOP: Auke’s hat just visible in the background and the lady in the Stetson in the foreground was not from Texas but from Austria. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke is somewhere in the middle of that crowd doing his renewable energy thing. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Lorenzo and I working away the waiting queue of visitors. BOTTOM: A group photo of a section of the much larger group before they departed.
TOP: The renewable energy table with Auke in attendance drew lots of attention. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Another (very orderly) group of learners and their teachers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: A group photo around the National Science Week advertisement. BOTTOM: Alan and the solar telescope in action with some of the younger learners.
TOP: The renewable energy table with Auke in attendance drew lots of attention. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Another (very orderly) group of learners and their teachers. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: A group photo around the National Science Week advertisement. BOTTOM: Alan and the solar telescope in action with some of the younger learners.

Many of the South African visitors were totally oblivious of the efforts currently underway in South Africa to harness wind and solar energy. It is indeed a great pity that the handout material was so totally unrelated to the topic of Renewable Energy because people looked for something tangible to take away with them after visiting us and were noticeably disappointed when they discovered that the handouts were not related to the topic.

TOP: A cold, wet and blustery trip in on the N1. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan’s corner inside the Iziko South African Museum where we took shelter from the rain and wind. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The solar oven and the solar cooker on display. BOTTOM: Alan, Auke and Elsabé who was always there to advise and help.
TOP: A cold, wet and blustery trip in on the N1. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan’s corner inside the Iziko South African Museum where we took shelter from the rain and wind. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The solar oven and the solar cooker on display. BOTTOM: Alan, Auke and Elsabé who was always there to advise and help.
TOP: Even indoors renewable energy and Auke’s explanations proved very popular. MIDDLE: A lack of sun did not put Alan off in the least. BOTTOM: Auke demonstrating to a small crowd.
TOP: Even indoors renewable energy and Auke’s explanations proved very popular. MIDDLE: A lack of sun did not put Alan off in the least. BOTTOM: Auke demonstrating to a small crowd.
TOP: I had a hard time with this lady who wanted to blow up all nuclear power stations because they were dangerous. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke running through renewable energy for the umpteenth time. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: I explain to this group how a telescope works. BOTTOM: Alan deep in discussion with a visitor whose cloak’s colour rivalled that of the sun in the poster.
TOP: I had a hard time with this lady who wanted to blow up all nuclear power stations because they were dangerous. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke running through renewable energy for the umpteenth time. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: I explain to this group how a telescope works. BOTTOM: Alan deep in discussion with a visitor whose cloak’s colour rivaled that of the sun in the poster.
TOP: The younger visitors showed a great deal of interest in Auke’s explanation of renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: This delightful young lady was not only charming but also very interested and soon had Alan in all sorts of knots around her little finger. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This group came all the way from Oudtshoorn to visit the Museum and got us and renewable energy as a bonus. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the intricacies of renewable energy.
TOP: The younger visitors showed a great deal of interest in Auke’s explanation of renewable energy. SECOND FROM THE TOP: This delightful young lady was not only charming but also very interested and soon had Alan in all sorts of knots around her little finger. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: This group came all the way from Oudtshoorn to visit the Museum and got us and renewable energy as a bonus. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the intricacies of renewable energy.

The late arrival of the handouts and posters also meant that we had to improvise in order to organize our usual displays at the three largest public in our area. Fortunately some of the librarians were very resourceful and able to contribute very good ideas.

It is also a pity that we did not get to see a member of the official inspectorate as we felt that we had a very good setup. As luck would have it an official photographer did turn up on one of the days when rain had forced us indoors. Our indoor display was not nearly as impressive as the outdoor one and, of course, the photographer turned up when we had a very quiet period and only a trickle of visitors.

TOP: Because the Museum only opened later we could also leave home a bit later and clearly Saturday morning traffic was also less hectic on the N1. MIDDLE: This young lady absolutely insisted on signing her own name on our visitor’s register. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the solar oven and the solar cooker to a visitor.
TOP: Because the Museum only opened later we could also leave home a bit later and clearly Saturday morning traffic was also less hectic on the N1. MIDDLE: This young lady absolutely insisted on signing her own name on our visitor’s register. BOTTOM: Auke explaining the solar oven and the solar cooker to a visitor.
TOP: I get to explain how a telescope works with the able assistance of Lorenzo. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action and the fact that we could not see the sun did not affect his enthusiasm at all. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Saturday was very quiet and I only hope the SAASTA/NRF photographer didn’t take photographs during one of these very quiet spells. BOTTOM: Johan at left brought to his knees by renewable energy, Alan in the background hard at work and two visitors actually showing an interest in the handouts.
TOP: I get to explain how a telescope works with the able assistance of Lorenzo. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan in action and the fact that we could not see the sun did not affect his enthusiasm at all. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Saturday was very quiet and I only hope the SAASTA/NRF photographer didn’t take photographs during one of these very quiet spells. BOTTOM: Johan at left brought to his knees by renewable energy, Alan in the background hard at work and two visitors actually showing an interest in the handouts.
TOP: Auke and Johan in the foreground and Alan working away in the far corner. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan enthusiastically explaining the workings of the sun. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan busy with an infra-red demonstration. BOTTOM: Johan discusses renewable energy with an interested group.
TOP: Auke and Johan in the foreground and Alan working away in the far corner. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Alan enthusiastically explaining the workings of the sun. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: Johan busy with an infra-red demonstration. BOTTOM: Johan discusses renewable energy with an interested group.
TOP: The last visitors came past in small groups late on Saturday afternoon. MIDDLE: This charming lady and her husband were very interested in how a telescope works and it is a pity we could not demonstrate it to them outside. BOTTOM: There we all are at the end of a long, tiring but quiet satisfying week.
TOP: The last visitors came past in small groups late on Saturday afternoon. MIDDLE: This charming lady and her husband were very interested in how a telescope works and it is a pity we could not demonstrate it to them outside. BOTTOM: There we all are at the end of a long, tiring but quiet satisfying week.

Our total number of visitors was well over the 4 000 and at the three Libraries we supplied material to, we reached another 12 000 to 15 000. The circulation figure of the newspapers we advertised in was over one and a half million, so the exposure for National Science Week this year, was quite substantial. The NRF/SAASTA should be well satisfied with the number of people reached for the money they spent.

We can only hope that we have very good weather again next year and a smoother, less stressful run-up to the event.

Museum Open Night: Thursday 10th March 2016.

Lynnette and I arrived first outside the Iziko Museum (go here to visit their website) and Planetarium (go here to see their webpage) and, after some vehicular gymnastics, managed to park the Vito. Auke and Wendy arrived shortly after us in Wendy’s new vehicle. After Elsabé Uys had assured us we were parked in the correct places we started setting up. The windy conditions soon made it clear that banners were not going to be put up at all. The wind was to become a major factor in the rest of the evening’s proceedings. However we set up Lorenzo, Wendy’s 8” Dobby and Walter, Auke’s refractor, and settled down to wait. The sun was already behind the trees and buildings on the western edge of the amphitheater so we couldn’t show people that and there was no moon, so we had no choice but to wait for it to get dark before we would (hopefully) have something to show people.

Shortly after sunset the queue started forming at the entrance to the museum and quickly extended itself down the steps of the amphitheater past our telescopes. I must say we certainly got some pretty odd looks sitting behind our telescopes twiddling our thumbs and gazing up into the sky. In the meantime the wind was steadily becoming stronger and the wispy clouds around Devil’s Peak and the eastern buttress of Table Mountain were becoming more and more substantial by the minute. Even before it was properly dark these clouds had started sweeping down the front of the mountain and then breaking up and floating across the city. They looked like giant tufts of candyfloss tinted pink and yellow by Cape Town’s poorly designed lighting.

TOP: The queue starts forming. BOTTOM LEFT: Checking the weather forecast. BOTTOM CENTRE: Theo Ferreira (The Planetarium Boss) Auke and Walter. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette in discussion with a gentleman who disputed the fact that our Sun was a star.
TOP: The queue starts forming. BOTTOM LEFT: Checking the weather forecast. BOTTOM CENTRE: Theo Ferreira (The Planetarium Boss) Auke and Walter. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lynnette in discussion with a gentleman who disputed the fact that our Sun was a star.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining matters astronomical while a lone viewer tries to see what Walter will show her. TOP RIGHT: I point out Jupiter in the sky as viewers wait to look through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: More Jupiter viewers and Wendy’s scope is visible in the background. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke with viewers and Walter. The bright light in the background is not Auke’s halo it is a reflective yellow strip on the side of a taxi in the background.
TOP LEFT: Auke explaining matters astronomical while a lone viewer tries to see what Walter will show her. TOP RIGHT: I point out Jupiter in the sky as viewers wait to look through Lorenzo. BOTTOM LEFT: More Jupiter viewers and Wendy’s scope is visible in the background. BOTTOM RIGHT: Auke with viewers and Walter. The bright light in the background is not Auke’s halo it is a reflective yellow strip on the side of a taxi in the background.

When we finally got started the area around Orion, Canis Major and the surrounding constellations were only visible for brief moments in the breaks between the scurrying clouds and our best (in fact only bet) was Jupiter, low down on the eastern horizon. It seemed as if the clouds avoided that area. By now the wind was blowing a mini-gale, and when it gusted it overturned our tables and chairs, rocked the telescopes and blew dust and leaves into people’s eyes. Most certainly not the most pleasant evening for astronomy outreach we had experienced. As Jupiter rose higher it entered the cloudy zone and we had to wait patiently for it to reappear in the gaps before people could view it through the telescopes.

TOP LEFT: The back is the best part of a donkey. TOP RIGHT: Walter’s angle exactly suites this shorter viewer. BOTTOM LEFT: With all that light around one needs t have a really bright object to look at with a telescope if one is to see anything at all. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy with her queue of viewers and that reflective strip on the taxi in the background again.
TOP LEFT: The back is the best part of a donkey. TOP RIGHT: Walter’s angle exactly suites this shorter viewer. BOTTOM LEFT: With all that light around one needs t have a really bright object to look at with a telescope if one is to see anything at all. BOTTOM RIGHT: Wendy with her queue of viewers and that reflective strip on the taxi in the background again.
TOP LEFT: I forgot our ladder which we use to assist the shorter viewers so I had to depend on “Parent Power”. TOP RIGHT: Auke, Wendy myself and the three scopes all in one picture. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke and Walter and I do not know what caused the shaft of light across the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter waits while Auke explains in the background.
TOP LEFT: I forgot our ladder which we use to assist the shorter viewers so I had to depend on “Parent Power”. TOP RIGHT: Auke, Wendy myself and the three scopes all in one picture. BOTTOM LEFT: Auke and Walter and I do not know what caused the shaft of light across the picture. BOTTOM RIGHT: Walter waits while Auke explains in the background.

By the time 21:40 rolled around all three of us were more than eager to pack up and go home. We bundled everything into the cars and made our respective ways home. It was fun, I think, but not the sort of fun I would like to repeat in a hurry. We are uncertain if it was just the very windy conditions or if there were other factors, but we definitely had far fewer people at the telescopes than last year and there were also fewer people in the queues.

National Science Week 2015

It is the little ones that require more attention
It is the little ones that require more attention

National Science Week in 2015 took place from the 01st to the 08th of August. After 2014’s hectic outing we opted for what we hoped would be an easier event this year. We approached the Iziko South African Museum to find out if they would allow us to set up every day in the amphitheatre in front of the Museum. Theo Ferreira and Elsabe Uys were very helpful in arranging all the logistics of the event and without their able and willing assistance I doubt if everything would have run quite as smoothly as it did.

In the run-up to National Science Week there was the usual rush to fix last minute glitches and, of course, our house looked decidedly scruffy with all the piles of posters and handouts.

The first consignment of posters and handouts
The first consignment of posters and handouts
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The second consignment of goodies from SAASTA
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north
The third consignment of hand-outs from up north

On Saturday 01st left home early, so as not to be caught in the traffic. We had roped Jaco Wiese in to help out as an extra pair of hands because we expected a fair number of people. Alan and Rose Cassels were also on site as Alan had to man the table with his absolutely superb model of the Southern African large Telescope (SALT). As part of our program the Iziko planetarium agreed to administer a competition for us. After each planetarium show the name of an entrant in the competition was drawn and the first person drawn that had answered the question correctly received a prize from us. The weather was superb for outdoor activities like ours and drew many Capetonians to the Company Gardens, so we had a constant stream of visitors wanting to view the sun through our telescope, which was equipped with special filters to safeguard their eyes.

A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.
A collection of images from day one of National Science Week.

Sunday the 02nd was pretty much a repeat of the Saturday.

Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some scenes from day two of National Science Week
Some images of Alan's magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)
Some images of Alan’s magnificent model of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)

Unlike 2014 when we worked the crowds every day we took a break on the Monday and Tuesday but on Wednesday the 05th we were back at the Museum but, being a weekday we had to start much earlier to beat the traffic. It was also a tough day because neither Jaco nor Alan and Rose were available so Auke, Lynnette and I had to really know our stuff to cope with everything and we were very glad when closing time rolled around. The trip home was not a picnic either, because we were right in the thick of the dreaded 5 o’clock traffic.

Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic
Day three and as you can see we had to contend with the early morning and late afternoon traffic

We had planned it so that we would have Thursday free but on Friday 07th we were back on site after a very early start from home. Mercifully Alan and Rose had put in leave so they were also there to assist. The day was very successful with a particularly large number of schools showing up. Going home was a bit of a nightmare because, not only was it Friday, it was also the start of a long weekend. We had a long drive home.

Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic
Friday before the long weekend and was the traffic hectic

On Saturday 08th we could leave home a bit later and the traffic was definitely easier. The day was surprisingly busy, considering the fact that many people had probably gone away for the long weekend, so we were very glad to have Alan and Rose on site again. For the first time that week the weather played up and we had bigger and bigger patches of cloud to contend with as well as an appreciable drop in temperature and a brisk breeze.

Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Images from our last day of a very pleasant and successful National Science Week
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight
Our UV-beads worked well. Top left to bottom right you can follow the very fast colour change when exposed to sunlight

All round it was a very successful National Science Week.  We were well over our target figures and it was definitely less stressful then a road trip and the idea of having days off in between was a brilliant one. Having Jac and especially Alan and Rose on hand was also a huge help. Next year we plan to hit the Museum again but for eight consecutive days. Okay, so we are suckers for punishment!

Over and above our activities at the Iziko South African Museum we advertised in a number of newspapers, I spoke on one of the local radio stations and we had two static exhibitions at the Bellville and Brackenfell Public Libraries. Our media coverage reached a staggering 518 223 during National Science Week and at the Museum we had direct contact with another 16 430 people. So Star People brought National Science Week to the attention of more than half a million people that week; not bad at all!

The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in
The front pages of the newspapers we advertised in

For Auke, Lynnette and I there remained the site report to be written and submitted as well as the dreaded financial report. As usual the financial report gobbled up many, many hours of Lynnette’s time, but eventually that was done and dusted too and the 195 page document was in the courier’s hands and off to SAASTA in Pretoria.

Global Astronomy Month and Kingdom Skies: April 2015

Public astronomy outing in Jack Muller / Danie Uys park in Bellville (Boston).

Ricardo (Ricky) Adams and Zenobia (Zee) Rinquest approached Auke, Lynnette and I to join them for a public astronomy outreach in celebration of Global Astronomy Month 2015 which you can read more about here. They had a venue all planned and were looking for fellow astronomy enthusiasts to enjoy the outing with them. Ricky was associated with the Iziko Planetarium for a long time and when he spoke to Theo Ferreira the MMWC at the Planetarium, Theo was kind enough to recommend us and also to arrange for support in the form of the Iziko bus with the three museum stalwarts, Temba Matomele, Sthembele Harmans and Luzuko Dalasile. You can read more about the Iziko outreach program here.

Top left: Early arrivals talking to Zee. Top right: Zee and new arrivals while Lorenzo sneaks into the picture Centre: Kingdom Skies eye-catching branding banner Bottom left: More is better when it comes to branding Bottom right: Visitors at the information table Background: The Vito and an ELF Astronomy door magnet just visible
Top left: Early arrivals talking to Zee.
Top right: Zee and new arrivals while Lorenzo sneaks into the picture
Centre: Kingdom Skies eye-catching branding banner
Bottom left: More is better when it comes to branding
Bottom right: Visitors at the information table
Background: The Vito and an ELF Astronomy door magnet just visible

Ricky and Zee’s outfit, Kingdom Skies, boasts a portable planetarium and they had plans to put that up as part of the show. Read more about them here.  Eventually they were unable to do that due to various logistical problems but mainly because of a whole lot of red tape. As it turned out their planetarium would have been a tremendous asset on the specific evening because the weather gods were there usual fickle selves and we had cloudy conditions on the evening in question.

Top left: Temba Matomela looks on as Sthembile sets to work unpacking Iziko's impressive display Top right: Sthembile arranged his display with great care Bottom left: The learners that accompanied their parents found the Iziko display very interesting Bottom right: Sthembile was all smiles as the crowd of interested viewers grew  Background: The very colourfull and effective display screens used by Iziko
Top left: Temba Matomela looks on as Sthembele sets to work unpacking Iziko’s impressive display
Top right: Sthembile arranged his display with great care
Bottom left: The learners that accompanied their parents found the Iziko display very interesting
Bottom right: Sthembele was all smiles as the crowd of interested viewers grew
Background: The very colourfull and effective display screens used by Iziko

Auke had a prior commitment for that weekend as he and Hans van der Merwe were off to Van Rhynsdorp with the rest of the crew to carry out one of their high altitude balloon launches. The base station was in Van Rhynsdorp and the launch site was at the top of Van Rhyn’s Pass. He was due back on Saturday morning but balloon launches, like the path of true love, apparently do not always run smoothly. This one was no exception and Auke did not make it back on time. There is a If you click here you will be taken to a photograph of the setup.

Top left: Luzuko Dalasile chatting to a member of the public while setting up the Iziko telescopes Top right: Luzuko keeping an eye as a parent helps a small would be astronomer up to the eyepiece Centre: Temba Matomela checking a photograph he had just taken Bottom left: Ricky brushing up on his knowledge at the Iziko display table Bottom right: Luzuko setting up one of the Iziko telescopes Background: children at the Iziko display table, a snippet of the Iziko outreach vehicle and a section of one of Iziko's colourfull display banners
Top left: Luzuko Dalasile chatting to a member of the public while setting up the Iziko telescopes
Top right: Luzuko keeping an eye as a parent helps a small, would be astronomer up to the eyepiece
Centre: Temba Matomela checking a photograph he had just taken
Bottom left: Ricky brushing up on his knowledge at the Iziko display table
Bottom right: Luzuko setting up one of the Iziko telescopes
Background: Children at the Iziko display table, a snippet of the Iziko outreach vehicle and a section of one of Iziko’s colourfull display banners

Lynnette and I were on site by 16:00, as was the Iziko bus with Sthembele and Luzuko. Ricky and Zee arrived a little later as they had to make a detour to pick up Temba, who was going to give a talk on Indigenous Southern African Astronomy later in the evening. Zee’s volunteers had disappeared but were later found waiting outside the Bellville Public Library.

Top : The team from left to right Luzuko Dalasile, Ricky Adams, Zee Rinquest, Temba Matomela, Lynnette Foster, Edward Foster, Sthembele Harmans and in front Lorenzo. Bottom left: Edward & Lorenzo showing the Moon to a visitor Bottom right: Ricky explaining some finer points to a visitor at one of Iziko's telescopes
Top : The team from left to right Luzuko Dalasile, Ricky Adams, Zee Rinquest, Temba Matomela, Lynnette Foster, Edward Foster, Sthembele Harmans and in front Lorenzo.
Bottom left: Edward & Lorenzo showing the Moon to a visitor
Bottom right: Ricky explaining some finer points to a visitor at one of Iziko’s telescopes
Top: The team flanked by Kingdom Skies banners. From left to right Ricky Adams, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Temba Matomela, Luzuko Dalalsile, Sthembele Harmans and Zee Rinquest Bottom left: Edward, Lorenzo and visitors wiring to view the Moon Bottom right: Zee looks on while Edward and Lorenzo give visitors a peek at the Moon.
Top: The team flanked by Kingdom Skies banners. From left to right Ricky Adams, Edward Foster, Lynnette Foster, Temba Matomela, Luzuko Dalalsile, Sthembele Harmans and Zee Rinquest
Bottom left: Edward, Lorenzo and visitors wiring to view the Moon
Bottom right: Zee looks on while Edward and Lorenzo give visitors a peek at the Moon.

Once we started setting up everything went quite quickly, although the amount of cloud overhead did not bode well for stargazing later in the evening. By 17:30 we decided to capitalize on the fact that the Moon was visible through gaps in the clouds and Zukile and I started showing it to the first guests. After the sun set we managed to show people Jupiter too before the clouds realized what we were up to and started closing up the gaps.

Top left: That first look at  the Moon through a telescope never fails to generate expressions of  "Wow!" Top right: For the umpteenth time we forgot the step ladder for the short folk Centre: Luzuko's setup was also lacking a ladder Bottom left: Jupiter getting a visitor's undivided attention Bottom right: Explanations to a younger visitor while Mum keeps an eye on the threatening clouds Background: A spectacular sunset
Top left: That first look at the Moon through a telescope never fails to generate expressions of
“Wow!”
Top right: For the umpteenth time we forgot the step ladder for the short folk
Centre: Luzuko’s setup was also lacking a ladder
Bottom left: Jupiter getting a visitor’s undivided attention
Bottom right: Explanations to a younger visitor while Mum keeps an eye on the threatening clouds
Background: A spectacular sunset
Top left: Ricky and some visitors wait while Lorenzo and I find the Moon Top right: Ricky checking out Jupiter while Temba records the moment Centre: Lorenzo flanked by the Star People and ELF Astronomy door magnets on the Vito Bottom left: Another short person has to be lifted because I forgot the ladder Bottom right: Young and old were eager to have a closer look at the Moon and at Jupiter. Background: Ricky and Lorenzo
Top left: Ricky and some visitors wait while Lorenzo and I find the Moon
Top right: Ricky checking out Jupiter while Temba records the moment
Centre: Lorenzo flanked by the Star People and ELF Astronomy door magnets on the Vito
Bottom left: Another short person has to be lifted because I forgot the ladder
Bottom right: Young and old were eager to have a closer look at the Moon and at Jupiter.
Background: Ricky and Lorenzo

Temba gave his talk and Ricky was fortunate to have some stars when he gave a brief what’s-up tonight. I did a short talk on light pollution and emphasized the fact that everyone could help by ensuring that lights around our homes were astronomy friendly. By 20:30 it was clear that the clouds were definitely winning and we all started packing up.

Top left: There were lots of questions about how the image got to the eyepiece Top right: These ladies first went past and them changed their minds Centre: As it got dark the clouds got thicker and made it more and more difficult to see either the Moon or Jupiter let alone anything else Bottom left: The visitors had lots of questions about the telescope as well as the Moon and Jupiter Bottom right: Quite a few visitors came back for a second and even a third look Background: The Vito, a veteran of many outreach and other astronomy outings
Top left: There were lots of questions about how the image got to the eyepiece
Top right: These ladies first went past and them changed their minds
Centre: As it got dark the clouds got thicker and made it more and more difficult to see either the Moon or Jupiter let alone anything else
Bottom left: The visitors had lots of questions about the telescope as well as the Moon and Jupiter
Bottom right: Quite a few visitors came back for a second and even a third look
Background: The Vito, a veteran of many outreach and other astronomy outings

All in all it was a very pleasant evening and I think the venue has a good deal of potential for events like this in the future. Thanks Ricky and Zee for inviting us along and it was a pleasant experience to work with you guys and the team from Iziko.

Stargazing and Moon watching at the Museum Night: February 2015

It was, thankfully, not a dark and stormy night.

Auke, Lynnette and I were invited, in our capacity as StarPeople, to set up outside the entrance to the Iziko Museum (**) at the top of the Company Gardens (**) in Cape Town and let people look at the Moon, Jupiter and whatever through a telescope. We also intended projecting at least the Moon onto a screen so that we could discuss important features with members of the public. We felt quite chuffed to be participating in the Museum Night project, so we accepted without hesitation.

We arrived shortly after 15:00 to find Auke already parked in front of the Museum building and a brief discussion with Elsabe sorted out where we should set up. The venue is a very attractive one and our position at the head of the stairs leading from the Company Gardens up to the Iziko Museum was perfect, because we were so visible to people approaching or leaving the building. We began unpacking and setting up and by shortly after 16:00 everything was set up and ready to go, except the projection system. Elsabe brought us coffee which was most welcome as well as some small containers of juice. By 17:00 the people were queuing for tickets to the planetarium shows scheduled for 18:00, 19:00 and 20:00 and by about 17:30 we had Lorenzo aimed at the still pale daylight Moon. At first people were hesitant to take a peek, but after the ice had been broken, we soon had a steady stream of moon gazers.

The site was perfect and the setting as well
The site was perfect and the setting as well
Lynnette manning the admin cum info table.
Lynnette manning the admin cum info table.
Auke and Elsabe Uys - Planetarium Presenter at the Iziko Planetarium
Auke and Elsabe Uys – Planetarium Presenter at the Iziko Planetarium
A collage of photos taken early in the afternoon.  There were lots of people
A collage of photos taken early in the afternoon. There were lots of people

Our poster display on the cardboard A-frames was quite effective and drew many readers and lookers of which some had questions but most did not. Auke and Lynnette had the A3-planet posters set up on the steps representing a scaled down Solar System. Later in the evening the planets and our other poster displays again showed their vulnerability to windy conditions with most of them ending up either flat or propped up against a wall out of the wind. Short of carting around a load of bricks to weight them down, we have a not yet come up with a workable solution to the problem of them falling over at the slightest puff of wind.

The crowds start gathering and the queue gets longer and longer
The crowds start gathering and the queue gets longer and longer
The queue seemed never ending at the beginning of the show and yet everyone was amazingly patient
The queue seemed never ending at the beginning of the show and yet everyone was amazingly patient
At the other end the Iziko Museum seemed to keep on absorbing the people and never showed signs of popping at the seams
At the other end the Iziko Museum seemed to keep on absorbing the people and never showed signs of popping at the seams
People actually stopped to look art and read the posters
People actually stopped to look art and read the posters
Our A-frame poster displays were quite effective until the wind started to mess us around
Our A-frame poster displays were quite effective until the wind started to mess us around
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people

Lynnette helped Auke lay out the Solar System and put up the poster A-frames and when the action started she manned the information table with all our handouts. She had to spend a considerable amount of time chasing after handouts and blown of her table by the gusting wind as well as setting the Solar System posters and our A-frame poster boards up every time the wind toppled them. Eventually she decided to let the wind win and put the handouts in boxes, laid the planets down flat and propped the A-frames up against the nearest wall. As it turned out her table also became the point where people approaching the Museum, expected to get information about the Museum Night and the Planetarium. When it later became clear that neither Auke nor I were going to have time to take photographs she shut down the information table, put on her photographer’s hat and took most of the photos we have of the evenings proceedings. All in all Lynnette had quite a busy night even if she did not spend time manning a telescope.

Auke and Lorenzo right in the front lines
Auke and Lorenzo right in the front lines
Shaun and I in conversation before he set up to raise funds for an Africa Burn project
Shaun and I in conversation before he set up to raise funds for an Africa Burn project
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people
More photos to give an indication of the large number of people

As is usual with events like this, there is always somebody who manages to do something amusing at the telescope. I have in the past had people drop to their knees and attempt to look through the Dobby’s handles at whatever. This time around I had several people walk up to Lorenzo from the front, embrace him and peer intently into the front of the finder scope. There were also the three gentlemen who looked as if they had not seen a change of clothing or too much water in quite a while. They first stood off to one side, glancing from the refractor to the Moon and back again and conducting an animated conversation, presumably about the Moon and the telescope. When they finally came closer, the spokesperson took a long look through the eyepiece, stood back and motioned his cronies forward. After they had each taken a long look and also glanced up at the moon several times while doing so, their leader had a second look and, as the three walked away, he announced to all within earshot, “it’s a hoax” before they disappeared in the direction of the National Gallery.

Even as darkness fell the posters still attracted attention
Even as darkness fell the posters still attracted attention
Most people had never looked through a telescope before.
Most people had never looked through a telescope before.
The darkness did not really diminish the flow of people until much later
The darkness did not really diminish the flow of people until much later

Initially we were only drawing people from the queue going into the museum but, after the first planetarium show finished just before 19:00, we had people coming out of the planetarium also stopping off for a look. Things quickly got quite hectic and as it grew darker I prepared to put the refractor and projection system into action, so as to relieve the pressure on Lorenzo, now taken over by Auke. The wind was a nuisance because it made the screen flap even though the central shaft was tied to a pillar underlining the need for a wall or other non-flapping surface to project onto. The wind also caused the telescope to vibrate, especially after I attached the video camera. Then my inexperience using the system in public came to the fore because, try as I might, I could not get a decent image. Nerves, lack of practice or just plain stupidity, or possibly all three, who knows. After a while I gave up and simply used the refractor with a high magnification eyepiece to give people a close-up view of the Moon and later of a very fuzzy Jupiter too. I must really get this projection thing sorted out so that it works anywhere, first time and every time.

In the meantime Shaun, who had popped in earlier in the evening, had fetched his Meade and set up further down the walkway, where he was also showing people astronomical objects. In exchange for looking through his telescope he was asking viewers for donations toward a 2015 Africa Burn project with an astronomy theme.

Shaun raising funds for the Africa Burn Project
Shaun raising funds for the Africa Burn Project
Shaun working on his Africa Burn fundraising
Shaun working on his Africa Burn fundraising

Later we had to move the telescopes back to keep the Moon in view as it slid behind a tree. Doing this with the Dobby is simply a case of pick-up-and-go. With the refractor on the alt/az-mount attached to a large 12V battery, it is not that simple. You have more pieces, the battery is heavy and re-positioning the telescope necessitates a re-alignment, so when I too had to move, Lynnette was called in to help as Auke had his hands full with a long queue of patiently waiting moon gazers.

What a pity that this fossil tree trunk cannot tell the tales of all it has experienced
What a pity that this fossil tree trunk cannot tell the tales of all it has experienced. This is a specimen of the genus Dadoxylon that flourished over wide areas of Gondwana 250 million years ago. This particular example comes from the town of Senekal in the Free State, where the local Dutch Reformed Church actually has a fence around it made of pieces of fossil tree trunks collected by the local farmers in the 1940’s. This collection exercise was instigated and encouraged by the Parson of the congregation at that time.
The Moon was popular and by now I had given up on projecting and was using the refractor to show a higher magnification of the Moon than seen on Lorenzo and also a rather fuzzy view of Jupiter
The Moon was popular and by now I had given up on projecting and was using the refractor to show a higher magnification of the Moon than seen on Lorenzo and also a rather fuzzy view of Jupiter
The last few also want to look through the telesope
The last few also want to look through the telescope
At last we were down to the last few viewers
At last we were down to the last few viewers

Eventually everything wound down and the crowds dwindled until only one or two die-hard individuals were left. Packing up became a bit of a rush and was quite tense because somebody informed us that we had better hurry up as once everyone was gone; we ran the risk of being mugged! Rather an icky finale to an otherwise lovely and exciting evening showing more than 2000 people the sights of the night sky from central Cape Town.

At last the crowds were thinning as one can see in this collection of photographs
At last the crowds were thinning as one can see in this collection of photographs
Myself, Theo Ferreira (Planetarium manager, Iziko Planetarium) and Dr Hamish Robertson (Director of Natural History, Iziko South African Museum)
Myself, Theo Ferreira (Planetarium manager, Iziko Planetarium) and Dr Hamish Robertson (Director of Natural History, Iziko South African Museum)

Thank you Iziko Museum for inviting us and in particular thanks to Elsabe and Theo for advice and help on the evening. StarPeople had a lot of fun and we would like to think that the Museum benefited from having us there. If we get invited again, and we sincerely hope we will, there are some changes we will make to improve our service delivery.

New Planetarium Show. 10th December 2014

Full Circle:  Star Lore Comes Back to Africa

Lynnette and I were quite thrilled to receive an invitation from Elsabe Uys to the opening of the new Planetarium show. The Planetarium is housed in the Iziko Museum building at the top of the historic Company Gardens in Cape Town. Although the proceedings were only due to start at 19:00 we left home in Brackenfell at 17:30 anticipating heavy traffic in the city centre. We were correct about the traffic as we only parked the car in front of the museum buildings at 18:30 on the dot.

We were amongst the first to arrive but fairly hot on our heels Auke arrived, resplendent in a new blue shirt I had not seen before. People started arriving in an ever quickening stream and soon we were able to tuck into the delicious spread the museum had laid on. The was a selection of fine wines, courtesy of the famous Groot Constantia Estate as well as water and fruit juice.

There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
There was a fair and sufficient selection and quantity of food for the guests
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Auke, resplendent in his blue shirt making sure he does not go hungry
Lynnette in the striped blue and black skirt at the sushi table
Lynnette in the striped blue and white skirt at the sushi table
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality  with the ladies from Groot Constantia
Elsabe Uys, clarifying a wine technicality with the ladies from Groot Constantia

The Planetarium Manager, Theo Ferreira, welcomed everyone and called on the Director of Education and Public Programmes at the Iziko Museum, Wayne Alexander, to fill us all in about the programme for the evening. Wayne talked briefly about the Planetarium and the development of the new programme. He mentioned the various Planetarium staff members who had been involved as well as other persons who had played an important role in the process. He then called on the script writer for the new show, Dermod Judge to give us some more background.  This Dermod did in a very entertaining and informative manner before handing the mike back to Theo. Theo informed us that we should finish up whatever we were eating or drinking as the show would start in 10 minutes time.

Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Theo Ferrera gets the proceedings going
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Wayne Alexander congratulating the Museum staff involved in the project
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Dermod Judge delivering an informative and entertaining talk on the background to the new show
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled.  Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening
Those present listened attentively while they sipped and nibbled. Well, I suppose some might have been more intent on sipping and nibbling than listening

The show is certainly a whole new view of Cultural and Ethnoastronomy. It highlights the fact that, although the ancients did not go to the Moon, their knowledge formed the basis of modern Astronomy which has taken us to the Moon and built the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) as well as the radio telescopes KAT-7, meerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The narration was clear and lucid and the background music and lyrics were appropriate and supplemented the narration well.  I think the show will go down very well with the general public and average visitor to the Planetarium this summer.

The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
The projector in the Planetarium has always reminded me of some mechanical being from outer space or perhaps a mechanical deity of sorts
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Could this be what the aliens will look like when we bump into them one day?
Aha!  Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Aha! Auke brings his offering to the Majestic Mechanical Majesty. Will his cellphone be accepted?
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Most Majestic Mechanical majesty please accept this humlbe electronic device as a gift from your servant, Auke
Woe is me! my gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe
Woe is me! My gift has been rejected by his Mechanical Majesty and now He has put out the lights of the Universe

It is a pity that, when the projector popped a fuse on the Southern Hemisphere circuit, and was only able to give a Northern Hemisphere star background, the technical crew did not tell the audience this. Most people there probably did not notice it and, had I not spotted Cassiopeia’s characteristic “W” fairly early on, I would, like Lynnette, have spent a considerable portion of the show wondering where all the familiar stars were and why the Milky Way was so sparse.

The ladies from Constantia packing up their goodies
The ladies from Groot Constantia packing up their goodies

Venomous Bites and Stings Course

Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute and Dr Gerbus Muller from the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital presented this course at the Medical School of the University of Stellenbosch.

The programme:

08:30 – 19:00    Registration.
09:00 – 10:30    Identification of important venomous snakes including a live snake                                                 demonstration by Johan Marais.
10:30 – 11:00    Tea and refreshments.
11:00 – 12:30    Management principles and anti-venom by Johan Marais.
12:30 – 13:00    Management of scorpion and spider bites by Dr. Gerbus Muller.

IMAG0299_Venemous_Bites_and_Stings_Course
Johan’s opening slide with his contact information

Dispelling the snake and snake bite myths:
Johan ran us through the dangerous snakes in Southern Africa.  In the process he also dispelled myths and Old Wives’ Tales left right and centre and I list just a few of the casualties here.

IMAG0323_Dr_Gerbus_Muller
Johan dispensing information and dispelling myths

Myth:   The Mole Snake (Pseudaspis cana) is non-venomous, therefore harmless and can be               handled by anyone with impunity.
Fact:    A Mole Snake has numerous short, sharp teeth and, when it bites, it moves its jaws                    back and forth in a sawing action.  The lacerations a large Mole Snake creates will                      require stitching and treatment with antibiotics.

Myth:    The Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) can only bite you on a finger or the edge of your                   hand because it has a small mouth and its fangs are at the back of the mouth.
Fact:     The Boomslang can open its mouth more than 170 degrees, which is quite wide                         enough to bite you anywhere it likes. Its teeth are also not at the back of its mouth but                 somewhere in the middle; roughly under the eye.

Myth:     The Puff adder (Bitis arietans) causes most of the serious bites in Southern Africa.
Fact:     That dubious distinction belongs to the Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja                                   mossambica).

IMAG0317_Ouch
Damage resulting from a bit by a Mozambique Spitting Cobra.
This is one of Johan’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Johan and the African Snake Bite Institute

Myth:     You can pick up any snake, as long as you know what you’re doing, by gripping it firmly               just behind the head.
Fact:     The Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibroni) can rotate its fangs in any direction and, in so                doing, stab you in a finger, no matter how you hold it.

Myth:     A Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) will chase you to bite you.
Fact:     All snakes become aggressive if cornered or threatened, but no snake in the world                     will chase you.

Myth:     Black Mambas have been known to strike at passing vehicles leaving deep fang                         marks in the metal.
Fact:      A Black Mamba’s fangs are so fragile one can break them with the flick of a finger.

Myth:      An adult Black Mamba can raise more than three-quarters of its body off the ground to                strike.
Fact:      A close examination of the Mamba’s anatomy shows that this feat is anatomically                       impossible for the snake.

Myth:     The Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) hangs from tree branches striking at                    passers-by below
Fact:      Absolute rubbish.

Myth:      To keep snakes away from your house or campsite, purchase a can of snake                              repellent or Jay’s Fluid and spray the area.
Fact:      Not a single one of these repellents has been proven to have any deterrent effect on                    snakes.

Myth:      Electrotherapy is an effective treatment for snake bites.
Fact:      These instruments do not have any beneficial or curative effect on any snake bite.

Myth:      Snake stones and traditional herbal concoctions provide protection, not only against                  being bitten but also against the effects of the venom should you get bitten.
Fact:      Neither the stones or the many herbal concoctions have the slightest effect                                    whatsoever.

Important characteristics of snake bites and snake venom
All sorts of other interesting snippets of information about snakes also materialized.  Snakes apparently do not always deliver the same amount of venom when biting.  Many bites are “dry bites” in which no or very little venom is delivered.  Unfortunately one does not know this at the moment of the bite and the only way to be sure, is to wait and see if any symptoms develop. The risk here is obvious, so my advice would be to head for a medical facility and do your wait-and-see-thing on the way there.

The venom from the same species of snake, but from two different geographic locations can have different levels of toxicity.  This seems to be the case with the Cape Cobra (Naja nivea), which appears to be less venomous in the Northern Cape and Southern Namibia than in the Western and Southern Cape.

People also have different levels of allergic reaction to snake venom, which means that the effects of a snake bite can vary considerably from person to person.  Different people also vary in the degree of reaction to the anti-venom’s equine component, which further complicates treatment regimens.  This underlines the necessity for careful, post-bite monitoring by qualified medical personnel.

What to do and not to do when rendering snake bite first aid
Johan stressed that the administration of anti-venom should be left to suitably qualified, medical personnel.  The purpose of first aid was to stabilize the bite victim while getting them to a medical facility where medical personnel could take over. The golden rule when treating a snake bite victim is to always treat the symptoms and not the bite.

What to do.
Do get the victim to a medical facility as fast as possible.
Do keep the victim calm.
Do immobilize the bite area.
Do elevate the bite area to level with, or slightly above the level of the victim’s heart.  Please note that elevate does not mean lifting the bite area as high as possible above the patient’s head.

What to do, but only with discretion.
Only use a bag valve mask if you are properly trained in its use.
Only apply a crepe bandage if you are absolutely certain that the venom does not have any cytotoxic characteristics.

What not to do.
Do not cut or incise the bite.
Do not apply suction.
Do not apply a tourniquet.
Do not apply anything to the bite area or give the bite victim any medication.

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The sort of damage that can result from improper & inappropriate use of a tourniquet.
This is one of Johan’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Johan and the African Snake Bite Institute.

The Live Snakes Session!
This gave us all the opportunity to become more closely acquainted with a number of live snakes.  First came a harmless American Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) and that was followed by a fair sized Mole Snake and a very dark, young Cape Cobra.  Next up was an older and larger Cape Cobra and then, the pièce de résistance, a beautiful Puff adder. Despite Johan’s assurances many of us made sure that we maintained a more than adequate distance, just in case.

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Most people were quite happy and even eager to touch the Milk Snake.
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Johan and a nice Mole Snake. My mobile phone’s camera was not quite up to freezing the motion of any of the snakes
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Johan and the very dark (almost black) Cape Cobra
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This was a large and very healthy Cape Cobra and I, for one, would not like to bump into it unexpectedly out in the veldt
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What appears to be an almost too bright colouring in the Puff adder is actually perfect camouflage. When Johan put it on the floor the circle of onlookers widened just ever so slightly
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This is how you safely handle a Puff adder. For some spectators the projection screen provided a safe refuge.
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The braver spectators soon took the opportunity to touch the Puff adder.

Scorpions and spiders
Although Dr Muller’s time was rather limited, his talk was certainly no less interesting.  He identified Parabuthus granulatus as the most dangerous scorpion in this area and stressed that children were especially vulnerable with mortality rates running close to 20%.  A close second on the venomous list is Parabuthus transvaalicus, but it is only about a third as venomous as P. granulatus.  Both venoms are neurotoxic and the anti-venom, developed from P. transvaalicus, is effective for both bites.

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Dr Gerdus Muller and in front of him is an large Erlenmeyer flask with preserved specimens of a large variety of preserved scorpions

Unlike snake venom, no allergic reactions to scorpion venom have been recorded but, in about 20% of the cases, there is an allergic reaction to the anti-venom.  The symptoms of scorpion venom develop very rapidly, often in less than two hours.  Deaths have been recorded within one and a half hours of the victim being stung.

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This is one of Dr Muller’s very good slides illustrating how various types of neurotoxic venom work. It also explains the symptoms one observes in bite and sting victims.
This is one of Dr Muller’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Dr Muller and the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital.
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This chart gives a layout of the symptoms to be expected in scorpion sting victims.
This is one of Dr Muller’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Dr Muller and the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital.

As far as spiders are concerned Gerbus reported that the main culprits responsible for envenomation were the Black Widow, (Latrodectus indistinctus) that has a neurotoxic venom and the Sac Spiders (Cheiracanthium sp) and Violin Spiders (Loxosceles sp.).  The latter two have cytotoxic venoms.  An effective anti-venom is available for the Black Widow spider.  The symptoms of bites by these two spiders and in particular the Black Widow, are referred to as Latrodectism. If you are looking for more information on spiders and guidelines on how to identify Norman Larsen answers questions on Iziko Museums of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Explorer page.

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Two photographs of a positively identified Sac Spider bite. This particular patient only reported to the Poison Centre four or five days after the bite incident.
This is one of Dr Muller’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Dr Muller and the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital.
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This chart gives a layout of the symptoms to be expected in Latrodectism victims.
This is one of Dr Muller’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Dr Muller and the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital.

Gerbus pointed out and important distinction between the South African Black Widow Spider and the spider with the same name in other parts of the world.  The South African spider does not have a red or orange hourglass mark on the underside of its abdomen, but in the rest of the world it does.  However, the South African Brown Widow Spider (Latrodectus geometricus) does have the orange hourglass marking.  It also has a neurotoxic venom that is only about 25% as toxic as that of the Black Widow.

It is important to remember that spiders do not run around looking for humans to bite.  They only bite when they are threatened, usually by means of applying pressure on them.  As spiders are small and generally secretive, people often apply pressure accidentally and then get bitten.

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Dr Muller’s slide emphasizing the fact that not every necrotic skin lesion was the result of a spider’s bite.
This is one of Dr Muller’s slides which I photographed. All rights to the photo reside with Dr Muller and the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital.

Dr. Muller emphasized that only a small percentage of patients, brought to the Poison Centre at Tygerberg Hospital with lesions, had actually been bitten by a spider.  There were many other possible causes of lesions very similar to those caused by cytoxic spider’s venom.

Down on Earth and up in the Sky in the Karoo

Field trip with Dr Juri van den Heever and the honours students from the Department of Botany & Zoology at the University of Stellenbosch.  17 – 22 March 2014

This is a diary of the six day event with lots of pictures to illustrate the text.  I must first give some background about the tour and its origins to put all readers in the picture.  Juri van den Heever, the architect of the tour, moved from the South African Museum to the Department of Zoology at Stellenbosch in 1987.  In 1988 he took the first of these tours as part of the Honours course and has been taking them ever since.  I had been with the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University since 1985 and, as Juri and I had been at school together, we were able to renew our friendship when he came to Stellenbosch.  This led to him asking me if I would like to participate in the tours and fill in on the Biochemistry of plants as well as some other aspects.  The tour provides the students with information on Geology, Vertebrate anatomy, Palaeontology, Plants and plant usage, Insects, Birds, Ecology of the areas visited, History, Culture, Geography, Astronomy and, last but not least, the opportunity to participate in discussions on science in general and the philosophy of science and being a scientist.

So, from around 1994 or so, we have been in this together, although I skipped one or two due to pressure of work at Biochemistry or some other immovable commitment.  Over the years we have also taken members of the public, high school learners and fellow colleagues at the University on these tours, whenever there have been seats open in the vehicles.  These “outsiders” have very often made valuable contributions to the range and depth of the topics touched on during the tour.  One interesting feature of these trips over the years has been the large number of our University colleagues who have annually committed themselves very enthusiastically to participate in the next trip only to pull out at the last minute.  This year we had 14 students from the Department of Botany and Zoology and one member of the public, Peter Müller, a retired Wood Technologist.

Monday 17th March

Just after 06:30 on Monday the 17th of March, Lynnette dropped me off at the University’s vehicle park where Juri was already inspecting the two Toyotas and completing the paperwork.  We hooked on the two trailers and shortly before 07:00 we were parked outside the Department and the students could begin to load their gear, the supplies and other equipment for the week.  Shortly after 07:00 Juri gave the first briefing and then we embarked and headed out of Stellenbosch toward the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaanweg.  Our route took us through Malmesbury, which has a tepid, sulphur chloride spring that once attracted many ailing Capetonians to a Sanatorium that was built there.  A shopping centre now covers the site.

After turning off the N7 onto the R45, our route took us across the undulating hills of weathered Malmesbury shale that form the wheat fields of the Swartland (Black Land), These were once covered in Renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), which is the signature plant on weathered shale and mudstone throughout our area.  Its dark colouring, when seen from a distance, was probably the origin of the name Swartland.  Once past the Moorreesburg turnoff, the countryside gradually changed to alluvial sand covered in restios interspersed with small and medium sized shrubs.  Just after the small settlement of Koperfontein we passed the brand new 66 MW Hopefield wind farm owned by Umoya Energy.  The farm became operational in February 2014 and develops sufficient energy to power 70 000 low-income homes or 29 000 medium-income homes, when the wind blows. Go here to read a short article on this wind farm.

The R45 bypasses the town of Hopefield, a fact which has turned the town into a virtual ghost town. Between Hopefield and the Air Force Base at Langebaanweg, the markers of the pipeline bringing water to the West Coast from Voëlvlei dam can be seen at intervals on one’s right and, shortly after Langebaanweg, we turned off the R45 into the Park.  The Park was originally a Chemfos phosphate mine, but after the closure of the mine in 1993, it was declared a National Monument Site in 1996.  The Park, now covering about 700ha, was officially launched in 1998. It is currently under the control of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, and is managed by Pippa Haarhoff.  It has recently been declared a National Heritage Site.  The following site gives more information on the Park.  The fossils date back about 5.2 million years to the late Miocene/early Pliocene era.  Go here for more information on this exceptional area.  After some refreshments at the visitors centre we got back into the vehicles and followed the guide, Wendy Wentzel, down to the dig site.

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Wendy briefing us on the background of the area and the dig site
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The group lined up listening to Wendy. Angus is to the left out of the picture and Peter to the right also out of the picture

The dig site is in the old ‘E’ Quarry area and displays an astounding array of fossils.  Wendy ran us through an informative description of the various animals found at the site, the conditions thought to have existed when the animals died and the methods used to uncover the fossils.  The majority of the bones visible seem to be those of the short-necked giraffe or Sivathere but there is evidence of wales, seals, various elephants and different sabre toothed cats as well.  The only bear south of the Sahara was also found at the Park in the smaller dig site adjacent to the larger one visited by the general public.  Shark teeth found here are evidence for the existence of a behemoth that would have dwarfed the infamous cinematic Jaws.  After the talk we moved outside to the sorting trays where everyone had a go at finding the fossil remains of the smaller animals such as mice, frogs and moles.  Then back to the vehicles to return to the visitors centre for a quick bite to eat, something to drink and a visit to the essential amenities before departing on the next leg of our journey.

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Dismay, amazement and indifference? I do not really think so but you’d best ask Claire, Benjamin and Dale yourself
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5.2 million year old carnage. The bottle does not date back that far
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A reconstruction of the Southern African bear. Check out the size comparison with a human
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The short necked giraffe or Sivathere compared to a human. This was a big animal and, judging by the bones here quite common too
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Wendy instructing the group on how to find the really small stuff

We retraced or route past Hopefield and shortly after Koperfontein we turned left to Moorreesburg.  On that stretch of road we had an excellent view of the ancient termite mounds or “heuweltjies” that give the fields such a lumpy appearance.  These mounds were already alluded to by the 18th century Astronomer and Geodesist, Nicolas-Louis De La Caille.  Go here to read the section in Dr. Ian Glass’s book on De la Caille. For a more recent and scientific coverage of the topic you can go here to read an article published by the Department of Soil Science at the University of Stellenbosch.  We passed through Moorreesburg which considers itself the “heart” of the Swartland wheat industry and actually boasts a wheat industry museum, one of only three in the world.

We then headed for the twin towns of Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel.  Just outside the former we passed the cement factory of PPC (Pretoria Portland Cement) where one can visit the restored house in which General Jan Christian Smuts was born.  Smuts, educated at the Victoria College, later the University of Stellenbosch, and Christ’s College at Cambridge University, went on to become State Attorney of the Transvaal Republic, a successful general in the Anglo-South African War and eventually Prime minister of South Africa.  Daniel Francois Malan, the first Prime Minister to actively apply the basic principles of institutionalized apartheid after the 1948 elections, was also born in Riebeek West. These two towns lie on the slopes of the Kasteelberg.  From these two towns one has a sweeping view of the Northward tending arm Cape Fold Mountains from the Limietberg behind Wellington through the Winterhoek west of Tulbagh and on into the Cederberg where the peak of Cederberg Sneeukop can just be made out.

We left Kasteelberg behind, crossed the Berg River and just after passing the hamlet of Hermon, we turned left on the R46.  Our route took us past the blockhouse that once guarded the railway line during the Anglo-South African war and then Voëlvlei dam, one of the major sources of water for Cape Town and the West Coast before passing into Nuwekloof through which the Little Berg River exits on its way to join the Berg River several kilometers beyond the village of Gouda.  In 1739 the head and right hand of the infamous Estiénne Barbier were placed in this area after his execution as a gruesome warning to anyone contemplating an uprising against the VOC.  In Nuwekloof one can still see the dry stone wall supporting Andrew Bain’s road which was in use for more than a hundred years until it was replaced by the present road in 1968.  The road then passes into the Land of Wavern, south of Tulbagh and heads up the valley of the Little Berg river with the Witzenberg rising on the left and, on the right, the Elandsberg which is replaced by the Watervalsberg once one has crossed the watershed at Artois. It then swings to the left, passing North of Wolesely and shortly afterward entering Michell’s Pass.

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Lunch al fresco in Michell’s Pass on a section of Andrew Bain’s old road
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The after lunch lecture in Michell’s Pass

In Michell’s Pass we stopped on the only section of Andrew Bain’s road that has been preserved.  Out came the tables and food and, while a light lunch was enjoyed, Juri spoke at length about Bain, the founding of the town of Ceres and the true origins of the town’s name as well as the tremendous importance of the pass at the time it was constructed.  After lunch we packed up before inspecting the impressive dry stone walls of the old road and then drove the last bit of the pass into Ceres where we filled up with fuel and everyone had an opportunity to visit a small supermarket.  Our next stop was the pharmacy to so that Benjamin could buy medication for the Otitis Media he had developed.  We finally left Ceres heading for Eselfontein, the farm of Gideon and Janine Malherbe where we would look for fossils in a quarry and spend the night in their Ecocamp.  Driving out to the farm the road ran across extensive beds of Bokkeveld sediments with the Skurweberg’s younger sandstone layers sloping down under them from our right.  In the distance on our left were the cliffs of Gydoberg and the Waboomsberg rising high above the northern edge of the Ceres valley.

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The quarry on Eselfontein with typical Renosterbos veld in the background and students in the foreground
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Benjamin’s Trilobite find.
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The campfire at the Ecocamp on Eselfontein with the pointers to the Southern Cross prominent in the night sky in the background

We spent time in the quarry giving everyone the opportunity to experience the thrill of finding a fossil.  That special feeling when you crack open the rock and see it, knowing you are not only the first human but the only human to ever have seen the creature that has been entombed in the sediment for several hundred million years.  Many shell imprints were found from a variety of families as well as several fragments of trilobites.  The prize find of the afternoon was Benjamin’s trilobite.  Fairly late in the afternoon we packed up and drove up the fairly rigged road to the Ecocamp where we unpacked and set about preparing supper.  Benjamin and Dale did their first of several stints at the fire on the trip, grilling the chicken to perfection.  Benjamin’s approach is that he would rather cook every evening than wash dishes.  Juri, Claire and Sheree’s potato salad went down very well too.  Unforeseen problems with the water supply meant that we all had to wash in the adjacent mountain stream.  There was very little interest in astronomy as most people were pretty tired after the long day but, nevertheless, the Moon, just one day past full moon, rising behind the pine forest made quite a spectacular site.

Tuesday 18th March

At 07:00 Juri started the day by getting everybody up and moving in the direction of breakfast after which we packed up, packed everything into the vehicles and the trailers and set off on the first leg of day two.  This entailed a short drive in the direction of Lakenvlei dam, then past Matroosberg to Okkie Geldenhuys’s farm Matjiesrivier, where we collected our annual allocation of peaches.  With the sandstone of the Cape fold mountains behind us, but still standing on Bokkeveld sediments, the view to the north of the farm gave us our first view of the Witteberg sediments.

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Early morning at Eselfontein with the moon peeking between the branches of a Protea bush and the morning sun touching the mountains in the background.
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Juri delivers the morning talk on what the day has in store for everyone
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We start moving out of the Ecocamp on Eselfontein
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The historic homestead on Matjiesrivier

Shortly after leaving the farm we picked up the R46 again and headed East toward the N1 and our first fossil stop of the day near the game farm Aquila.  On the way there we passed Verkeerdevlei, the original water supply for Touws River and a forlorn looking Dakota aircraft parked amongst some scraggy looking pines in a military training area.  About 300m before reaching Aquila, we pulled over and got out to look for Zoophycos, one of the few fossils one finds readily in the Witteberg sediments.  After finding some examples and making sure everyone knew what it looked like we departed.  As we drove away, we had a good view of Aquila’s huge automated solar energy installation that produces 60 kW of electricity by means of a Concentrator Photovoltaic system.  The area around the solar panels also houses the lion rehabilitation pens as a deterrent to would be thieves.  This system forms part of an eventual 50 MW installation currently under construction.  Go here to read more about this exciting installation.

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Roadside talk on the Witteberg sediments and the fossils the group might expect to find there
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The panels of the Solar installation just across the road from the Game Farm, Aquila.
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They are probably wondering where to start

Our next stop was Touws River for acquiring refreshments and use of the amenities and then we were off again headed for the Logan Cemetery on the N1.  Although the mountains around us were all Witteberg deposits, we were soon driving on the frist of the Ecca deposits and about 10 km north of the town the first patch of Dwyka tillite, a glacial deposit, appeared to the left of the road.  Also fairly abundant along the N1 was the yellowish Kraalbos (Galena Africana), a pioneer shrub that takes over in disturbed or overgrazed areas.  It can, however, proliferate to the point where it suppresses the regrowth of other plants.  As we progressed in the direction of Matjiesfontein, we saw more and more  Dwyka tillite on either side of the road and the Witteberg Mountains to the south also became more and more prominent.  When parked at the Logan cemetery one can see good examples of Ecca, Witteberg and Dwyka.

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The group gathered around Andrew Wauchope’s gravestone. An identical one was erected at his birthplace in Scotland
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Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope was a much admired officer in the British Army
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Jimmy and Emma Logan’s gravestones
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A memorial from friends and colleagues to John Grant who was killed in an accident during construction work on the railway

At the cemetery Juri discussed the mystery surrounding the burial of Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope (known as Red Mick) in this spot.  He was the commander of the 3rd (Highland) Brigade at the Battle of Magersfontein on the 11th of December 1899 in the Anglo-South-African War and was killed in the opening minutes of the battle.  His wife Jane gave instructions that he should be buried where he fell – at Magersfontein – and yet he lies here.  Also buried here is James Douglas Logan, the founder of the little town of Matjiesfontein, owner of the farm Tweedside and Member of the Cape Parliament, his wife and several family members.  A little further away is the grave of George Alfred Lohmann a phenomenal English cricketer of the late 1800’s who, despite several trips to recuperate at Matjiesfontein, eventually lost his battle against tuberculosis.  After taking a look at the obelisk commemorating Wauchope higher up on the hill and examining the Dwyka tillite on the hillside, we left for Sutherland.

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Juri and the students gathered around the memorial commemorating Andrew Wauchope. Note the pointy outcrops of Dwyka tillite on the hillside
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George Alfred Lohmann’s gravestone
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A most appropriate symbolic indication that a great cricketer had finally been bowled out
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In memory of private Doyle of the Royal Scots Greys. One wonders how many of these grave markers are scattered across the world commemorating young men who died “For King/Queen and country”

On the way to Sutherland we took note of the various sizes of the drop-stones in the cuttings through the Dwyka tillite and also pointed out the various outcrops of the Whitehill Formation, a distinctive stratigraphic unit near the base of the Ecca group and stressed its importance as a repository of Mesosaurus, fish and insect fossils from the early Permian.  As we progressed northward we crossed the Collingham Formation, a section of volcanic ash and eventually arrived amongst the Beaufort or Karoo sediments which were deposited on land by huge meandering rivers in a gigantic basin that stretched right across the present day South Africa.  At a deep cutting about one km after crossing the Tanqua River, we stopped to look at the exposed mudstone and sandstone beds so typical of the Karoo sediments and also to explain to the students how the early Karoo Basin was filled in.

In Sutherland we visited Mr Eddie Marais, who in his youth had the privilege of collecting with Dr L. D. Boonstra.  Mr Marais has a collection of artefacts that Juri used to explain to the students what they could expect in the field the following day and how to distinguish between calciferous nodules and actual bone.  He also took the opportunity to discuss the development of the Karoo fauna and explained the gradual transition of true reptiles to mammal-like reptiles and later to true mammals which could be observed in the fossil record of the Karoo sediments.  After enjoying the refreshments graciously supplied by Mrs Marais, we left to refuel the vehicles.

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Everything nicely set out by Mrs Marais in her garden and all we now needed were the people to enjoy the spread
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The pet graveyard in the Marais’s garden; pet rooster on the left followed by three cats

On our way to Fraserburg we passed the SAAO site where SALT and all the other South African telescopes are situated.  On arrival at Fraserburg, we unloaded and Karin showed us to our rooms and as soon as the children in the hostel had left the dining hall, we moved into the kitchen to prepare supper.  The end result of the kitchen team was a delicious pasta dish.  After supper there was some astronomy discussion with various members of the group and most of the group went to bed in preparation for a long day on Wednesday.

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Pasta supper on the first evening in Huis Retief, the School hostel in Fraserburg

Wednesday 19th March

We were in the dining room shortly after eight to have breakfast and then we set off for the local museum which is housed in the old Pastorie of the Dutch Reformed Church.  The very friendly person in charge of the museum, Don Pedro Malan welcomed us at the museum and Juri set about giving a detailed explanation of the fossils on display.  His explanation also covered the development of the various groups of animals that had been present in the Karoo basin during the period when it was filling up. After his talk everyone had the opportunity to look more closely at the fossil display and look around the museum in general before we set of to Droogvoetsfontein, where we met up with Mr Pieter Conradie.  We all piled onto and into his pickup for a trip into the veld and then back to our vehicles which Juri and I then drove to the next stop while Pieter ferried the students there.  Juri and I then rejoined the crowd on the pickup for the trip to where he had found a fossil, or at least bits of a fossil.  As with many of the fossils in the Karoo lying exposed on the surface the elements take their toll and this one had not fared any better.  All that was left, were a few scraps of nondescript bone not worth collecting and the surroundings also suggested that these had probably washed in from elsewhere in any case.  Back on the pickup and back to the vehicles for a short drive before we dispersed in all directions to look for the elusive fossils.  After about two hours I had found some pieces of rib bone and others had found another badly weathered fossil on the slope of a hill.

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The Old Pastorie Museum in Fraserburg
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Jurie running through the fossil display in the museum and explaining the relationships between reptiles, dinosaurs and mammal-like reptiles

 

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Benjamin and Dale discussing the day’s programme, or are they planning the evening’s braai?
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Pieter Conradie (snr) and Johannes closing the gate. Juri and I still had to clamber aboard
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The immensity of the Karoo dwarfs members of the group as they scour the veld for fossils
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Some members of the team found something but, unfortunately, not worth collecting
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Lunch is served under the trees on the farm Dagbreek

Back to the vehicles and off we went to Pieter’s farm, Dagbreek, where we prepared a light lunch in the shade of a tree.  The new-born lambs were an immediate hit with the students.  After lunch we set off again, but this time with Pieter on his motorcycle leading the way.  After an interesting drive, we arrived at the next farm, Onderplaas, disembarked and set off on foot down a riverbed with scattered pools of water and muddy patches amongst the grass to trap the unwary.  What was left of this fossil was still firmly embedded in the rock, but most of it had been worn away by the perennial flooding of the river.  Disappointed we trudged back to the farmyard, said our goodbyes and set off for our next contact, also Pieter Conradie, the son of the first Pieter Conradie.  He and his wife Marisa were waiting at the appointed place with their three lively children and our prickly pears.  Pieter excitedly led us up a hill to look at his fossil, which unfortunately turned out to be a collection of calciferous nodules; his disappointment was quite tangible.

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A fossil at last on the farm Onderplaas but also to far gone to make it worth trying to take it out

Our group did a quick recce, found nothing and then set off after Pieter Jnr for refreshments at his farm Middelfontein a few kilometres down the road.  Refreshments, in addition to cool drinks, consisted of chilled prickly pears, ice cream and various delicious liqueurs to be used as toppings.  I, for one, made an absolute pig of myself with the prickly pears and ate 50 of them!  After some small talk with the Pieter and his wife and their three cats, we said goodbye and headed back to Fraserberg, anxious to get there before the shops closed as the beer supply was running low.  We rounded the day off with a congenial braai, once again executed by Dale and Benjamin in a masterly fashion.  We did some astronomy too for those who were interested and then went to bed.

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Chilled prickly pears and ice cream on the farm Middelfontein courtesy of Pieter Conradie (jnr) and his wife Marisa
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A braai back at the school hostel rounds of the day

Thursday 20th March

Today is the autumn equinox when the sun is exactly over the equator on its way north and the day and night should be the same length.  It also signals the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  These facts did not really seem to impress anyone, so I didn’t push the matter.  Anyway, we were packed up and finished with breakfast shortly after eight – at least most of us were!  Then we set out on the Williston road to the palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein.  It is very sad to see the systematic deterioration of this site when we visit it every year.  All Coenie De Beer’s efforts since he took a month’s unpaid leave from the Geological Survey in Pretoria 25 years ago and came down here on his motorcycle to map and measure the then freshly exposed surface, have been in vein.  Well, not quite in vain, because an insurance company donated money to put a fence around the site and put up a notice board.  What is really needed is a building to cover the existing site and money to uncover more of the surface around the existing site, but as things stand now, the non-preservation of this site is actually a disgrace for South Africa.

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Breakfast discussion on the last morning in Fraserburg and Juri explains how high we will have to climb
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The palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein. The white markers outline the areas one should not walk on
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The Geological Society of Southern Africa’s notice explaining what may be seem on the palaeosurface
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Juri interprets the bones. Sorry, that should be traces and tracks
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A great, great, great, great, great, great, great – and then a lot more greats – grandchild of the animals that made some of the tracks at the palaeosurface

After the visit to the Palaeosurface we made a quick stop for biltong and dried sausage and then set off down the R356 toward the Theekloof Pass and our next destination.  Theekloof Pass is potentially one of the most spectacular passes, if not in the country, then most certainly in the Western Cape Province.  After the obligatory stop for photos half way down, we continued our descent into the lower regions of the Karoo.  The pass also affords one an unprecedented view of the layered nature of the Karoo sediments with their alternating sandstone and mudstone layers, broken by dolerite sills and dykes in many places.  Upon arrival at Rooiheuwel, the farm of Flip and Marge Vivier, we were enthusiastically welcomed by the Jack Russels and an overzealous Boxer before being taken inside for a welcome cool drink.  Once that was done, we set off to look at a fossil on a neighbouring farm, which was “just around the corner”. Those of you who do not know the Karoo, should beware as this phrase could mean anything from 15 to, as we have experienced, 40 or more kilometres.

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Tafelkop and Spitzkop with the vast expanse of the Karoo spread out southward as seen from a vantage point in Theekloofpass
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A view up the pass with some of the group members perched on the edge of the kloof
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The house of Flip and Marge Vivier on the farm Rooiheuwel
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I found a new species of goat – a Zebra Goat

When we finally stopped and disembarked, Flip indicated that the fossil was “just over there”, pointing at a fairly distant hill on the other side of a dry riverbed, so of we went,  The fossil was also a disappointment.  Almost definitely a Pareiasaurus, but apparently lying on its left side with the tail, pelvic girdle, right limbs and ribs all missing.  The head was very probably also no longer there, so we decided to leave it there to continue its losing battle with time and erosion.  Back to the vehicles and to Rooiheuwel for a quick lunch and then a short drive to a place where we could get into the veldt to look for fossils again.  Once again no luck, so we drove off to explore for likely fossil sites.  One problem on this farm is that the vegetation cover is quite dense and the potential fossil areas are well hidden until you are right on top of them and finding traces of bone would then be doubly difficult too.  We returned to the farm, said goodbye and drove to Merweville, our overnight stop.  Juri’s vehicle was running low on fuel so he drove quite slowly to conserve what he had, but eventually we got there.

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Juri pronouncing judgement on the fossil remains of a Pareiasaurus.on the farm De Krans
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Juri holding a single vertebra and one can clearly see how badly it has been eroded. The bone surface has been removed exposing the spongelike inner structure
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Our ever hopeful band of searchers combs the hillside on the off chance they will find a skull or perhaps a tooth or two
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In the far distance Tafelkop and Spitzkop which lie just below the Theekloofpass
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Rule in fossil hunter’s guidebook: It always takes longer to get back to the vehicles from the site than it took to get to the site from the vehicles when you didn’t find anything
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The usual lunch in the shade of a tree, but this time on the farm Rooiheuwel
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Yet once again we return empty handed
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Juri and our host on Rooiheuwel, Flip Vivier, in a serious discussion
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Sunset from the grounds of the school hostel in Merweville
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Beware! In Merweville they have thorns, lots and lots of them

At Huis Mervia, the local school hostel, we unloaded and Juri set off to find the local parson of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had promised the group could go up into the church tower and out onto the catwalk to admire the view.  He found him and off they went.  In the meantime, the braai-maestros were getting the fire ready for their next culinary tour de force.  As an entrée, we had slices of bread from two huge farm loaves baked by Mrs Blom, the hostel matron, and then it was Karoo lamb a la Dale and Benjamin, with onions and butternut wrapped in tin foil and grilled to perfection on the fire.  Some astronomy after supper and then most of us turned in for the night.

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Opuntia infestation, the scourge of the Karoo, on the grounds of the hostel in Merweville
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Huis Mervia, the school hostel in Merweville
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The clan is gathering for the evening’s festivities in Merweville
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Merweville and the two iconic symbols of all small Karoo towns, the windmills and the church tower

Friday 21st March

It was a public holiday which we assumed would not affect us, but it eventually did.  I went into town to refuel my vehicle, came back and had breakfast before we packed up and left to visit our fossil on Hendrik Botes’s farm Jakhalsfontein, which is spelt oddly as you can see.  Juri thinks the fossil might actually be on Vaalleegte and we should really resolve the discrepancy someday. En route we passed the turnoff to the tragic Englishman’s grave, but that story will have to wait.  Once on the farm, we unhooked the trailers for the long drive to our fossil dig site where we have been letting successive groups of students systematically excavate, what we hope is a fairly complete Pareiasaurus.  It is quite a long walk from where we park the vehicles, but once there, we rotated and some hacked away with hammers while others scoured the area for other fossils.  About two hours of hacking away and Juri decided to call it a day and head back to the vehicles.  Eventually everyone was back and aboard so we could turn round, drive back, hook up the trailers go to an unoccupied house further down the road and his house is definitely on Jakhalsfontein.  We had lunch on the veranda or, as it is called locally, the stoep.  During the lunch break, some quinces were picked under Juri’s expert tutelage so we could have stewed quinces and cream for dessert that evening.

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And into the veld once more led, as usual, by Juri. The fossil is just over that far hill
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Some hacked and some searched. Our Pareiasaurus is under that white lump of plaster of Paris in the centre of the seated group of hackers
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The Karoo is vast – have I said that before? Peter Müller is just visible centre right and in the background the blue line of the Swartberg Mountains. One can just make out the gap where Seweweekspoort is and, just to the right of that Seweweekspoort Peak and, a little further to the right of that the magical  mountain,Towerkop
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Home we go until we bring the next group in 2015, maybe
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It might be a long way to Tipperary but I think it’s further to those vehicles
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Zoomed in on Towerkop . Now see if you can find it on the previous photo
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Lunch on the stoep of the old Jakhalsfontein house

After lunch we made a quick stop at the café in Prince Albert Road and an essential pit stop for some members of the group before hitting the N1 and heading south to Laingsburg.  This took us out of the Karoo sediments and onto the Ecca which were laid down just offshore in huge estuaries.  We arrived at Laingsburg to find the liquor store open, but the supermarket closed so we had beer but no cream and we also needed sour cream for the potjiekos Dale was going to prepare for supper.  We checked some of the other obvious possibilities for cream and sour cream, but none produced the goods.  So we drove to the sports fields where we were going to spend the night in the clubhouse and, after unloading, I went and investigated one more possible source for the cream and sour cream, but that also turned out to be a dead end.  Dale had found ways to improvise his way around the sour cream, but the prospects looked grim for the stewed quinces.

It is a pity the Flood Museum commemorating the disastrous flood of 1981 was closed as I would have liked the students to see it.  If you visit Laingsburg pay the museum a visit and then drive down to the railway bridge, get out of your car and stand under the bridge.  When you look up consider the fact that, on that fateful day, the water was lapping the rails on top of the bridge before the embankment at the eastern end gave way.  Just for a moment consider the entire valley filled to that depth with churning, muddy water. It is a chilling thought I can assure you.

Dale’s potjiekos and rice was excellent.  Actually it wasn’t, it was superb!  After lots of philosophical discussions, there was some down to earth stuff too, we tidied up and went to bed.  As I was having the last conversation with Juri, before we finally went to bed, he remembered that he had forgotten to cook the quinces.  I had actually wondered about this after supper, but assumed the lack of cream was to blame.

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Hows that for camouflage
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Relaxing outside the Clubhouse at the Laingsburg Sports-fields
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The streak of light is Dale buzzing around his potjiekos in the background

Saturday 22nd March

While gathering the troops, it turned out that rather than make their own breakfast, everyone was in favour of picking up coffee and whatever from the local Wimpy and heading south as quickly as possible.  A few kilometres outside Laingsburg, we crossed into the ancient lake basin again and could clearly see the tell-tale white slopes on either side of the road.  Before long we encountered the first of the Dwyka tillite and shortly after that, the Witteberg Mountains came into sight on our left.  Just before Touws River we encountered the first of several stop-and-go sections where the National Roads Agency was undertaking extensive road works all the way down to the Hex River Pass.  Topping the rise just before the farm Kleinstraat, we had a good view of Aquila’s second solar farm with 1 500 panels, being built by the French firm, Soitec, which was nearing completion.  The installation will provide 50 MW (peak DC) power and provide a 36 MW AC output to the local grid.   This makes it one of the largest plants of its kind in the world.  Go here to read more about the installation about the installation.  You can also go to this link for more information.

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Loading up to move out from Laingsburg on the last morning
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The whole group with a high hill of Ecca sediments in the background.

From this point we were on the Bokkeveld shale again and, as we navigated the Hex Pass and skirted De Doorns and Orchard, we moved further and further into the sandstone layers of the earlier deposits.  By the time we exited the Hex River Valley we had left the Bokkeveld behind us and the sandstone layers towered high above our heads.  Shortly after leaving the Hex River Valley, we pulled into the De Wet Cooperative Winery where we traditionally stopped to sample their Muscadels and Ports.  Just across the road from the winery was an impressive hill of Malmesbury shale lifted upward by the rising magma millions of years ago.  As the magma cooled and formed granite, the heat baked the otherwise fairly crumbly shale into a hard metamorphic rock the geologists call Hornfels.  This is mined in a quarry on the Worcester side of the hill and produces the blue-grey chips ubiquitously used in road making.

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At De Wet Cooperative wine cellar. On the immediate left is a high hill of Malmesbury shale and the mountains in the background are younger sandstones of the Table Mountain group
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Sampling the fruit of the vine at De Wet Cooperative Cellar on the N1

From De Wet we took a back road via Nonna, Overhex and Aan de Doorns to Eilandia and the quarry where we hoped to find more insect fossils and perhaps a fish or too and just maybe a Mesosaurus. At the quarry Juri and I were somewhat concerned by the fact that there had been considerable excavation since our last visit, and access to the specific section that usually produced the insects, was quite precarious; in fact rather dangerous.  Apart from Juri having a rather nasty fall, it all went well.  We came away with several Notocaris imprints, a fantastic leaf imprint thanks to Robyn and section of Mesosaurus backbone courtesy of Nombuso.  A snap vote before we left decided against stopping for lunch so we would head straight back to Stellenbosch.  One got the distinct impression that the students felt it was a case of “Home James, and don’t spare the horses”.

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Final briefing of the trip from Juri before we tackle the quarry in the Whitehill Formation at Eilandia
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This is really a very tricky site to work in now that it has been escavated to an almost vertical slope
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Take the fence post just left of centre and measure three lengths of that post down from the top edge of the slope. There is a thin grey line of bentonite there. The insects are usually found just above the bentonite
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Up we go for the last dig and hack of the trip
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The exceptional leaf imprint Robyn found
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The section of Mesosaurus backbone found by Nombuso
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The circular patches caused by the termite mounds. They change the soil’s composition and structure creating micro-habitats that are preferential growth areas for specific plants. These areas then stand out against the surrounding vegetation

I stopped to take photos of the clearly visible termite mounds on the slope of a hill that we passed. Our route took us past Brandvlei dam and then through Rawsonville and Du Toit’s Kloof Pass where Juri elected to avoid the Huguenot Tunnel and drive over the pass, which is the route to take if you want to enjoy a spectacular view.  After unloading at the Department and saying all the goodbyes I went and dropped off the trailer and then delivered the vehicle to the vehicle park, where Lynnette was already waiting.  We stowed all my gear away and then went back to the Department to pick up Lona, who also lives in Brackenfell and had asked if we could give her a lift home.

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Unloading in front of the Department and 2014’s trip has come to an end
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Juri ticks off the all important hammer register as everyone hands back their geological hammers

All that was left for me to do, was to work through all 500 photos that I had taken and write this report.  The report writing was seriously disrupted by the need to complete our application for a National Science Week grant from the NRF via SAASTA.