Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015: Leaving the Farm for the Birthday Party

Yesterday there were several light showers, never causing the roads to be wet, but today we are waking to plenty of sunshine and another very pleasant day in the Free State of South Africa.  This is our last full day in Africa as we fly back to the U.S. Sunday evening.

We have not said much about the farm where we are staying.  The farmers are currently waiting for the rainy season to begin, at which time they will be going full speed ahead working the fields and planting.  The farming on this area is dry-land farming with very little irrigation.  Our host raises Maize (Corn) and sunflowers.  The soil is the type that corn cannot be planted as thick as we normally see in Iowa.  He plants in six-foot row with a total population of around 7000 plants per acre (15,000 per hectare).  His total yield averages 4 metric ton per hectare (65-70 bushels/acre).  The current price for the corn is around $7.00 per bushel. He rotates his fields through a 5-year rotation.  This rotation is one year laying fallow, then corn, followed by sunflowers then corn followed by sunflowers again then laying fallow to start the next 5-year rotation.  The farm has five major fields of between 60 and 100 hectares (150-240 acres).  They are in the early stages of adapting to no-till farming.  This farm is around 680 hectares (1600+ acres).  Our host is very detailed in soil analysis, only planting crops where the soil is good enough to support the crop and only planting the crop in a plant population that the soil can support.  He showed us maps of his fields that shows exactly what type of soil is present in the different regions of the fields along with the grain production that goes along with the soil type. His corn planter is a three rowed planter with 6 feet between the rows.  His combine also has a three row head on it that he has modified for his use.  The sunflowers are planted in three foot rows and with a modified combine head that he has adapted to his sunflower operation.  As far as livestock on the farm, he has some cattle and some sheep. 

Six full time employees work with the farmer.  This farmer treats his employees with dignity and respect. Every day is begun with a devotional time which then includes a discussion of the day’s work, explaining to the employees what task needs to be done, when and why. This approach is well received by the employees as they are part of the team. The employees are provided housing within walking distance of the farm homestead. Each employee is given one butchered sheep every four months, and a beef is butchered each year for the hired help to share.  There is a butchering area on the farm adjoining the shop where the sheep and cattle are butchered.  They only save enough lambs and calves each year to maintain their herd/flock.  In chatting with our host you know he is a responsible farmer.  They live in a very nice ranch style home with a nice sized machine shed/shop area.  They have their own bore-hole (well) which seems to provide adequate water.  This is fortunate in lite of the fact that South Africa is currently experiencing a fairly severe drought.  The rainy season should be starting right now but everything continues to be very dry with no rain.  As you can imagine the farmers are getting quite nervous.

Today began in a very relaxed fashion with those who wanted to sleep in doing so. We planned to have a breakfast brunch between 10 and 11:00 in the morning.  Brunch was a breakfast braai prepared on the grill.  The grill has a solid top with six compartments that were used to prepare onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, sausages and eggs.  Brunch was prepared and eaten under a big tree in the back yard.  The food was all masterfully prepared and enjoyed by each of us. 

Preparing Brunch on the Grill

Enjoying a Delicious Brunch under the Tree
After brunch we went on a ride in their pickup around the farm where we saw his fields and livestock.  When we returned Cal and our host spent some time looking at his equipment.  He is very ingenious adapting things to his use and fixing things when they quit functioning.

Cattle on the Farm

Their 4 Wheel Drive Tractor

Three Row Planter - 6 Feet between Rows

Field Cultivator

Combine Head for Sunflowers

Another View

Three Row Corn (Maize) Head
The afternoon was spent relaxing and preparing for the party this evening.  We will be transitioning back to Klerksdorp so everything has to be packed again for this move.

The Party – This is the 50th birthday party, 6 years late, for the lady who was Cal’s Rotary DG classmate in 2009-10.  She and her husband were our first hosts while we have been here in Klerksdorp earlier in the week.  The party was held at a Guesthouse venue, which has the outdoor space to host a party.  A large tent was in the yard which accommodated 110 guests.  When you enter the facility you receive a welcome drink then you migrate past the wine, beer and champagne tables.  After selecting your beverage, you went around the guesthouse to where the tent is located - with a stage/dancefloor/DJ area and all of the tables.

The Food Area

Welcome Drinks


Your Choice of Wine

The Tent before the Guests Arrived

Rachel with the Birthday Girl

 Bagging the Popcorn

Rachel with Her Own Wine


The Birthday Girl with our Hosts
The party began with a welcome given by their daughter followed by the food.  We first ate sushi, then Paella a seafood dish, then hamburgers finishing with crepes and toppings with ice cream.  The crowd was a mix of Rotarians and friends.  Everyone seemed to have a great time and the facilities were amazing.  The guesthouse is also a personal residence of an obvious upscale antique collector of furniture, paintings, and antiques in general.  Everything was tastefully arranged, but the house was full!! There appeared to be 3 rooms for guests. The outdoor veranda was arranged so there could be 3 areas of conversation, each decorated with antiques and shabby chic furniture. The gardens around the house were also decorated with antiques.  I enjoyed roaming through and around the house noting the antiques and how it was arranged.  By 10:00 we were ready to return to our guesthouse down the street for the night.

The House where the Party was Held

Friday, November 13, 2015: A Short Trip to a World Heritage Site – Vredefort Dome

Breakfast was at 7:30 so we would be ready to head off by 8:00 am to meet a guide who would tell us all about the specular happening that created the Vredefort Dome.

The theory is that 2 billion years ago a meteorite struck the earth near Vredefort.  The meteorite is estimated to have been 10-15 km in diameter (6-9 miles) traveling at 70,000 km/hr (44,000 mi/hr) when it hit the earth surface. This collision caused a crater that is 300 km (180 mi) in diameter.  We spent the first hour watching a PowerPoint presentation at the guide’s house on the collision, followed by morning tea. The rest of the day was spent driving from location to location to see the evidence that is used to prove the meteorite collision. We saw granite that had been shattered by the impact and melted back together by the extreme heat.  This granite was being quarried but because it is so hard and brittle the quarrying has stopped.  We went to locations where the rocks were pushed up forming low mountain ranges, composite rocks where smaller rocks are held together in larger rocks by the melting, similar to what happened with the granite.

Granite that has been Shattered and Melted Together

Our Guide with more Granite - Too Hard and Brittle to Process

Quartzite Mountain formed by the Meteorite

More Quartzite near the Vaal River

Cal & Rachel with our Hosts

Panorama of the Vaal River Valley
In addition to seeing the meteorite evidence we also saw a gold mine that had been in existence for 30 years in the 1890’s, but never yielded enough gold to pay for itself.  In general, there was never enough gold found in this region at that time to make all of the gold exploration pay for itself.  It is estimated that only 123 kg (270 lb) of gold was reclaimed during the total gold exploration that lasted no more than 50 years in the Vredefort Dome area.  The dream of wealth kept people going!

Cave where early Inhabitants lived

Rock Formation near the Cave

Mine Commissioner's Office

Our Restaurant for Lunch

We saw a cave that was used by some of the early inhabitants.  This cave is being excavated by university students to see what can be learned as to when and who lived here.  We were taken to an area that was inhabited by man during the iron age of civilization.  All that remains are rows of rocks piled up to form corrals for their cattle and the perimeter of their houses.  In this same area we saw a lookout that was used by the British during the Boer Wars.  It was located on the top of a ridge and provided an excellent view of the region.

For lunch we stopped at the abandoned mining commissioner’s office and house.  This facility has had numerous uses over the years in addition to the commissioner’s office.  It has been a police station with prison, post office and most recently a museum.  It is currently being renovated into a lodge facility complete with a restaurant, hotel, swimming pool etc.  We had our lunch on the patio at the restaurant.

Composite Rock - Smaller Rock held together by the Heat of the Meteorite Impact

Opening to the Gold Mine

One of the Mine shafts

Iron-Age Village Site - Walking in the Steps of Prehistoric Man

Village is now a Backpackers Stop

View from the Lookout

Shattercone Rock - Shattered by the Meteorite Impact

More Shattercone Rock

The Vaal River - This Bridge is Covered when the River Floods

Another Composite Rock - White at the top is Granite

Early Carvings in the Rocks - An Eland

Another Beautiful Sunset
Our total tour of the area lasted until 4:30 pm.  After dropping our guide off at his house we stopped for some ice cream and headed back to the farm.  Our final evaluation of the day was that it was very educational and enjoyable, learning a lot about something we had no idea existed. What happened that day when the collision occurred is unfathomable.