* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
UNLOCKING OUR LIVES
The time has come to start living a normal life again. Around the world and in South Africa, the tedious process of unlocking has commenced. Now the question is, when will we reach Level 1? From our point of view, it is time to start planning the rest of our collective lives. It is unwise to live life too prophylactically and this can lead to mental illness (Joking, of course!) The message is PLAN A TRIP - with or without us.
We have made good use of the past 8 weeks and expanded our commercial offerings considerably and come up with at least one brilliant idea, which would probably not have happened without the time and space that lockdown provided. We are planning ahead with a positive attitude and our tours are back on track in the best possible way.
Speaking of tours, we had a cancellation for our Wild Coast Tour. We put that ticket on our Facebook page two days ago and it was snapped up within 20 minutes. That's a very healthy sign. We have similarly also had a cancellation for our Ben 10 Tour in September and will be advertising that spot after you have read this newsletter. In other words our subscribers can have first option on taking the available ticket.
If you're interested get all the details here:
INFLUENCERS - Dr Graham Ross
In today's newsletter we pay homage to the late Dr. Graham Ross, who has had a considerable influence on the style and content of the MPSA website and with particular attention paid to road engineering. In 2012 shortly after having launched the MPSA website, I received an email from Dr Ross. In keeping with an engineer's economy of words and astute mind, the introductory sentence was kind, but brief.
The second paragraph was what it was all about. He wrote:
"If you're going to complete a project of this magnitude, you need as much help as you can get. There are several inconsistencies in your use of engineering terms, which I would like to correct, if you would allow me"
He went on to explain that camber was different to side slope, and super elevation was the same as cross flow. And so on.
I chose to accept the criticisms in a welcoming manner and who better to have on my side than a seriously qualified roads engineer? A long series of emails followed, with me cross referencing much of my research with Graham. At that stage he insisted I dispense with titles. He would answer each email meticulously, quoting references, page numbers from his thesis and some very technical information which I didn't fully understand then - and still don't now.
It did give MPSA a whole lot of credibility in those early years and Graham's guidance and suggestions are evident in many parts of our website, which we continue to emulate to this day. I then decided to meet with him in person at his home in Somerset West. There I met the kindest, respectful and thoughtful person, where I was presented with a signed copy of his book 'Romance of Cape Mountain Passes'
I remember making reference to his book in one of our newsletters and soon received an email from him which read: "Thank you for mentioning my book in your news letter last week. I don't mean to be pedantic, nor ungrateful for the free advertisement, but the title is not 'Romance of the Cape Mountain Passes' . It is 'Romance of Cape Mountain Passes'
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* Quick catch up on latest media and social media trends
* New product successful in first week - MPSA VOX
* Another new services offering from MPSA - DIGITAL MARKETING
* A step closer to our first virtual tour app. - VOICE MAP
* Podcast - Burchell's Oxwagon Route
* Pass of the week
* Words of Wisdom
Happenings on the net
It's been another week of conspiracy theories and conflicting ideology with many people who I regard as being level headed, suddenly having become polarised into various groups wanting to burn their masks on the beaches and streets. There are clear signs that South Africans are fed-up and want their lives and liberties restored. The power of social media is such that government must be taking cognizance of the general mood.
Last night's announcement of Level 3 to kick in at the end of May has not been met with much enthusiasm. It would seem that the majority of South Africans want lockdown to end completely and immediately Today the car dealers have finally been given permission to reopen their doors for business. I'm afraid that many of them will not survive the lockdown financially due to cash-flow issues.
It's been a weird time for all of us, No science fiction movie could beat what we are currently living through. It's the material one would expect the likes of Stephen King to be writing.
On the home front
Our MPSA Vox service was born from this lockdown exercise. In the first week we received 26 videos for narration. Half of those are already done and back with their originators. We had no idea the concept would be so successful. Remember we can do any video or business presentation in English or Afrikaans. The English option is also available in a female voice. Go to our shop page on the link below (Professional Services) for more information:
We are full of ideas and are happy to introduce another online service - MPSA Digital Marketing.
We've been doing social media intensively for the past 7 years, having built up a very successful social media presence (27,000 followers) and are in a position to help you build a business brand, group or personal page.
The service includes brand building, Facebook business, Instagram, blogging, vlogging and other digital marketing techniques.
Lisa Roberts is a UCT graduate and experienced social media expert who will be heading up this arm of MPSA's professional services. Details of the service and how it all works will be added to our shop page in the next week. Watch this space.
VOICE MAP - We mentioned this new concept in last week's newsletter. We are busy adding the finishing touches to our first virtual tour guide, which will be on sale soon on our shop page and elsewhere. We have spent 80 man-hours (and that number will easily top 100 hours by the time we're finished) on this first effort to make sure it is the very best available.
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* MPSA - VOX LAUNCH
* VOICE MAP - An exciting new concept.
* SOCIAL MEDIA
* Pass of the Week
* New Passes added
* Words of wisdom
Here we are in the merry month of May and still very much restricted under the lockdown rules, but our imaginations can cross mountains, oceans and continents, if we allow it. This week we have completed all our tour report back stories, so we begin looking at new ideas and ventures.
Lockdown has dealt a heavy blow to the touring side of our business, so we are in the process of innovating some new ideas and concepts. The first of these is a new product called MPSA VOX.
Vox is of course Latin for 'voice' so the new product we will be offering is a professional voice over service for videos or presentations. For the vast majority of people doing a voice narration is a daunting and almost impossible exercise and so instead they add a music soundtrack, which in 95% of cases is inappropriate. Now your videos can be beautifully presented on social media or any business presentation.
We are busy producing our first 'virtual tour guide' mountain pass (Chapman's Peak Drive). This is new technology, whereby you purchase a virtual tour and download it to your phone. Using GPRS positioning, your phone will automatically activate the guide's voice at each point of interest. This allows you to drive hands free and get maximum enjoyment as each point along the pass unfolds precisely at the right time with your virtual tour guide giving all the information as if you were on a normal tour with us. Yes, it works even if you stop. We are very excited about this project (not only to keep us busy during lockdown) but into the future as well.
Each download will cost roughly $4. Initially we plan to produce the top 20 most popular passes in South Africa and we will expand the service according to demand. VoiceMap does not require internet connectivity to operate and works on the same technology as Google Maps. Exciting? We think so! Watch this space.
Social Media is an unpleasant place to be these last few weeks. South Africa's mood has changed alarmingly. Conspiratorialists are everywhere - each claiming his or her point of view to the holy grail to finding the best way out of the pandemic. I am quite frankly, embarrassed at how many smart people I know are climbing onto this bandwagon, whilst allowing their minds to be consumed by negativity. Of course (inevitably) the race card has been hauled out and the old polarization of our society is busy happening as I write this.
Part of running this website requires me to have my ear to the ground. My experience over the last fortnight has been that 95% of everything coming through on my FaceBook feed has been Corona related and outright negative and mostly inaccurate. Here and there a bright splash of humour brings a wan smile to our virus battered senses.
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* Unlocking lockdown
* Baviaanskloof Tour - Finale
* Pass of the week
* New passes
Today marks the official end of the initial 5 week lockdown. For most of us it's been an almost surreal experience. The days all feel the same; we are sleeping longer; having frustrating dreams; worrying about our investments and business plans; the safety of our families. We are not experts at this, but we would like to suggest that one should not be overly absorbed in the news hype and information overload we are all being bombarded with. Just take things one day at a time. Some things will take longer than others to normalise. Keep yourself busy with positive activities. Exercise. Eat healthy food.
From Patensie there is a long and winding gravel road that runs west to east behind the first ridge of mountains, known locally as the Elandsvlei Road. It serves many farms along the northern valley between the first two mountain ranges and is approximately 80 km in length and eventually terminates in Uitenhage. The first rise in elevation is via the Geelhoutboom Pass, which we briefly described in last week's newsletter.
Right at the summit, a very minor jeep track cuts away sharply to the left. This is the start of the western approach to the Antoniesberg Pass. It was cool with steady drizzle, which the aftermath of the previous night's heavy rain showers, leaving us with a soggy and wet route. Some of our guests had never driven a 4x4 in mud before, so the day would be an exciting one for them, learning new skills by the minute.
After opening and closing the first gate which is located about 200m from the turn-off we were on our way into the west - destination being the Antoniesberg Pass. The track follows a long ridge of hills, generally keeping to the spine of each with slight undulations, but mainly sticking to elevations between 600m & 800m. Low dark clouds and intermittent drizzle meant we were somewhat deprived of the magnificent scenery on view along both sides of the track.
To the left (south) there are birds eye views of the Baviaanskloof which we had traversed the previous day and to the right the Winterberg and impressive Cockscomb mountains rear ever upward and into the cloud base. The main peak of the latter range looks very similar to a roosters 'comb' hence the name.
(More lower down)
* Corona Corona Corona
* Tours update
* Kouga Tour Chapter 5
* Pass of the week
* New pass added
* Words of wisdom
I'm sure like all of you, we are getting tired of reading about Corona/Covid 19. I tend to sit back and watch what develops on social media and to the astute observer, a lot can be read between the lines. There have even been several really positive things that have come out of the mess.
On our Facebook page we ran a post asking people to name one thing positive that the pandemic had created in their lives. The response was overwhelming and heart-warming to say the least, with the winning comment coming from a young wife: "I have my husband back from working overseas and my daughter is home from boarding school" That is special.
On the far side of the scale is the so-called 'egg challenge'. The challenge appears to be popular with a certain group of the population, but appears to have no purpose other than to be silly. The lockdown boredom has set in, it would seem.
Mainstream and social media remains awash with wildly conflicting opinions, mostly written by highly qualified professors, each one contradicting the other. Speculation and conspiracy theories abound, leaving the average Joe and especially those that are gullible, to want to reach for the panic button.
One of the most bizarre of these conspiracy theories is that the Covid-19 virus was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan, China and spread around the world intentionally to provide a distraction for the surreptitious installation of 5G towers, through which the superpowers will be able to control and spy on us. The scary thing is how many people worldwide actually believe this.
From our perspective, we try and sort the wheat from the chaff and keep our feet firmly on the ground, as we try and plan the way ahead, particularly in respect of our tours.
Right, on to reality.....
We have rescheduled our Wild Coast Tour to August 6th - 15th by which time things should have settled down sufficiently for us to run an enjoyable tour in early spring. We are just awaiting confirmation from all the hotels, but are expecting them all to cooperate fully.
Today would have marked the final day of our Ben 10 V3 Tour which we were forced to postpone (due to Covid 19). We have rescheduled this tour to September 23rd to 28th.
After a pleasant 40 minutes enjoying a light lunch break at the Doodsklip picnic site, we tackled the next pass - the Holgat Pass. Realistically the Holgat and Combrink's Pass together form one long pass separated by a 6 km long plateau in the middle. We have never found out why the ascent and descent have two separate names.
The Holgat Pass is easily the tougher of the two. It's tough because well-meaning road repair crews have (over several decades) decided to improve traction for non 4WD vehicles by laying cement strips along the climb. These have broken up over time and been repaired several times, with the net result is that the road is most uncomfortable to drive on. The steep gradient, which would normally be driven in low range for better control at low speeds, now has to be driven in high range to avoid axle windup on the hard surfaces. In short, it's a mess, but the magnificent scenery nullifies all of the above as the convoy doddles up the pass, all the while enjoying, proteas and fynbos in abundance interspersed with jaw dropping scenery.
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* Lock Down Stressors - the way forward
* Kouga-Baviaans Explorer Tour - Chapter 4
* Pass of the week
* New passes published
* Motivational Message
Lockdown - the realities set in.
There are so many things we have lived through - each one being touted as the new mega pandemic. And yet this Covid-19 is on a different scale that none of us have ever witnessed before. There are most certainly a few positives to be taken out of it. In a social media bulletin I noted that SA's death rate had actually improved, being the only country in the world to do so, but not because of the virus, but the lack of murders due to lock down. True or false, it did at least raise a wry smile - only in South Africa!
The nation is now facing a dilemma. Which is worse - the pandemic or financial disaster? I suppose sanity will prevail somewhere along the line and it will become necesary to get the economy going again. From our perspective, we are not cancelling any tours, but rather postponing them. The Ben 10 Tour will more than likely be moved to September (we ran a very successful Ben 10 tour in September last year). As soon as we have clarity from government about lockdown ending, we will finalise new dates and publish them here.
We ask those who have booked on tours to not panic. Work with us as we endeavour to meet everyone's needs and requirements. Life will return to normal.
Kouga Baviaans Tour - Chapter 4
Breakfast at Zandvlakte matched the previous night’s dinner. What wonderful hospitality and excellent food. The owner, Piet Kruger, towers above all other humans and has a handshake that crushes city hands effortlessly. Not that he’s trying to do that. He’s a farmer and brute strength is simply part of the genetic makeup.
Our drivers briefing took place on the lawns in from of the Winkeliershuis and Piet, as always, attends the briefings, chipping in here and there with a joke, advice or some or the other anecdote, warming his way into everyone's hearts as only he knows how. We said our farewells and promptly at 09h00, rolled the convoy back onto the gravel road, heading east past Zandvlakte’s lavender fields. This group was very good about being punctual and each day, we departed very close to the scheduled time.
Our sweep, Philip Wantling, was unsuccessful in trying to repair his brakes. I suggested that he leave his Navara at the farm and drive with me in the lead vehicle and I would bring him back to the farm after the tour had ended, armed with the necessary parts which we could obtain at Patensie or Willowmore, but Philip politely refused, stating he was confident he could drive all the passes with only a handbrake. It turned out he was right, although he did later confess to one or two "knyp" moments.
Our destination for the day was Bruintjieskraal in the Cambria Valley and although the distance is relatively short, it is the terrain which makes this an all-day drive. There was much anticipation (and some angst) amongst our novice offroad drivers about the deep water crossing at Smitskraal – something we had been speaking about regularly pre-trip – and today was their big day.
It had rained steadily the whole night, leaving the roads nicely damped down (and dust free) as well as a few puddles for us to splash through. From Zandvlakte to the reserve gates is only about 6 km. The solitary official was very good at his job and had us all signed up and legal in short order. The toilet facilities were spotless. By the way, your Wild Card is persona non grata here. Gate fees were R43 per person and no separate fee for the vehicle.
It was at this stop, whilst waiting for all the paperwork to be completed, that Jenny Lenahan spotted a sidewall cut in their Land Cruiser’s rear tyre. I was summonsed to have a look and we took the decision to rather change the wheel right where we were, where the road was wide and level, rather than being forced to do it later in the day on one of the steep passes. Most of the guys lent a hand and in 15 minutes the job was done.
Every traverse of the Baviaanskloof is unique. Things change year in and year out, where rainfall is the master of the kloof – dictating life in all its forms, including for humans. This trip we were truly blessed with lots of game sightings. Every few minutes someone would chirp on the radio “Just seen a bushbuck” or “Two kudu 3 ‘O Clock at 60 metres” or "Rhino marks!"
What a week that was!
* New beginings - Amazing what lockdown has generated.
* Wild Coast Recce Trip - Getting in and out of trouble.
* Kouga Baviaans Explorer Tour - Chapter 3
* Pass of the week.
* Words of wisdom
In the MPSA editorial office we have had time to adjust and take a major reality check, despite the fact there is still so much uncertainty. We are not even a week into lock-down and still no one knows when they will be going back to work or reopening their businesses. It is a time to be calm and patient. A time to be positive.
The initial surge of Covid-10 laden subject matter saw our website page views dropping below 1000 for the week for the first time in 7 years. And then as if by magic, it (social media) lurched in the opposite direction which saw page views sky-rocketing as the public started reaching out for good news. In a random act of kindness, we opened the website to all for the duration of lock-down. That post (at the time of writing) has had a reach of 32,600 - and all of it is organic.
We broke another record last week in that our FaceBook page gained over a thousand new followers in less than 7 days.
Most people are still bewildered, afraid and unsure. That's to be expected and of course at MPSA we have been able to keep up the good work and have gone out on a limb doing our level best to promote sensible behaviour and our posts have focused on the beautiful side of life, carefully designed to provide a message of sanity where people feel safe and know what they're going to read will be wholesome.
As far as our tours are concerned, we had to postpone our Ben 10 V3 Tour as it fell right within the brackets of the lock-down dates. We will not make a decision on the new dates until we have certainty as to the end dates of the lock-down. We don't want to set new dates and then have to postpone a second time. The moment we have certainty, the new dates will be published here.
The Wild Coast Tour sheduled for mid May is still on track and will only be postponed if lock-down is extended.
* We are revamping some of the artwork, logos and imagery on some of the pages - with a major revamp of the Shop & Tours page.
* We introduced our first guest blogger (in the form of Trevor Hall) who has written an interesting series of short articles with photos which we have released on our Facebook page on a daily basis and in time sequence. If we have positive feedback, we will extend the concept to include new guest writers on a more regular basis.
* Our resident creative Lisa is taking you down memory lane as she revisits our early news releases from 2013, but with a fresh new touch. These will be hyperlinked via our Facebook page. In the meantime here is the first and second issue. We have created this new blog space on our Shop and Tours page.
I'm always looking for short cuts and ways to get off the tarred roads. A quick look at my GPS revealed a dotted track between Trennerys and Kei Mouth which promised to cut off about 40 km of tar road driving. These little excursions often lead to wonderful discoveries that I am able to include in subsequent tours. However not all of them are successful.
* Corona - you cannot ignore it
* Wild Coast recce Trip - Chapter 5
* Kouga Baviaans Tour - Chapter 2
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
What a week! The Corona story happened whilst we were on tour in the Baviaanskloof being totally isolated from the outside world with no mobile signal or internet connection whatsoever. It was only on the Sunday evening as we arrived at Bruintjieskraal near Patensie, that the lodge owner informed us of the bad news. Two of our guests on the tour run an international travel business and had to reluctantly leave the group a day early and head directly back to Johannesburg to deal with the detritus of cancellations and postponements.
We arrved back in Cape Town on Tuesday evening and then the harsh reality of what was happening struck me like a sledge hammer. For the next four days, it was like coming out of boot camp. I had to read so much negative material to keep myself informed - and try and sift the fake news from the real news. It left me feeling flat. But the show must go on and it is so important to keep a positive mindset. Reboot. Reboot. Reboot.
On Monday night the lockdown announcement was made, which in turn resulted in us having to postpone our Ben 10 V3 Tour which would have fallen within those dates. This morning I read an interesting and uplifting article written by a British teacher in the Far East, who has just come out of isolation and their lives are returning to normal again. It is important for us to understand what we are dealing with and that in time, our lives will also return to normal.
In the meantime, set yourself up for success over the next 3 weeks:
1. Plan your days to be productive. Do all those repairs, chores you have been putting off. Clean the garage. Paint that room. Do a gardening project.
2. Get us much quality sleep as you can and some daily Vitamin D sunshine.
3. Stay off the alcohol.
4. Sort our all your photo files. Create new albums. Play games like Monopoly and Scrabble.
5. Spend time with your kids. Set aside daily hours for online education.
6. Stay away from the negativity of the news channels where possible - and especially fake news sources.
7. Cyber drive a few passes every day.
8. Follow our Facebook page where you can enjoy daily doses of positivity and quality images.
9. Keep yourself busy. Don't panic buy, or hoard. Don't worry all the time.
10. If you are worried about your financial commitments, get hold of the company concerned and make arrangements for 3 months deferred payments.
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* Wild Coast recce trip - Chapter 4
* Kouga-Baviaans Explorer - Chapter 1
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom.
The pandemic is affecting each and every one of us in various ways. At MPSA we are strongly focused on remaining positive, as there are more than enough news outlets and websites that focus on the problem.
After my visit to the Magwa Falls I still had to film those 4 back to back passes between Lusikisiki and Port St Johns and this time the light was good and the filming went smoothly. A second night at the Port St Johns River Lodge started with a long swim in the pool, a cold beer and a light dinner with just a handful of other guests there on a mid-week day.
Another four back to back passes awaited me on the R61 road to Mthatha of which the most impressive was the last one - the Tutor Ndamase Pass. He was a powerful political leader in the area and was widely respected. The new tarred pass is beautifully engineered and has impressive statistics with plenty of sharp bends counterpointed with magnificent scenery to make it a thoroughly enjoyable drive. [More lower down...]
* Leisure Wheels Magazine
* Tours update
* Part 3 of the Transkei recce
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom
This well-known magazine have invited us to become a regular monthly contributor. We have just finished the first instalment which will appear in their next issue. Grab yourselves a copy and enjoy the passes in print.
Kouga-Baviaans Explorer Tour (13th to 16th March)
By the time you read this newsletter out guests will be gathering in Joubertina on the R62 (Langkloof) on the eve of our departure on yet another adventure. We are heading into a wilderness area where there is no mobile reception whatsoever, but we will take photos and videos and relay them back to our HQ for publishing on Facebook and Instagram where you will be able to follow our progress and enjoy some of the highlights.
Ben 10 Eco Challenge V3 Tour (9th to 13th April)
We have had a cancellation which means we have 1 ticket open for anyone owning a 4x4 with low range who wants to add their name to the Hall of Fame. We'll take you there and get you back safely. You need a minimum of two years offroad driving experience to do this tour. Read more about the Ben 10 Eco Challenge V3 Tour.
Wild Coast Tour (14th to 23rd May)
This tour remains fully booked and appears to be an outright winner and one we will repeat again fairly soon based on the speed at which bookings came in and general demand. One of the innovations we have included in this tour is the inclusion of local specialist guides. One in the Matatiele area, another in the Mbotyi area, another at Hole in the Wall and a fourth at Mveso and the vulture colonies at Collywobbles.
Wild Coast Recce Trip (Part 3) Part 3
The mosquitoes at Port St Johns are large and hungry (or is it thirsty). Note to self - take Tabard with on the next trip. They don't whine like normal mosquitoes. They sound more like a drone. They land and bite in one smooth motion being quite happy to die on the job, as their next of kin arrive en masse to take up on the banquet. But if you set your aircon down to 16C they seem to keep away.
It was a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky and that particular tone of blue one only gets on the Wild Coast. Johan Thiart of HHO engineers (who works a lot in this area) offered to guide me up to the old airport on top of the mountain. I filmed the entire pass with one or two sections of the sinuous road being directly into the morning sun. The runway of about 1.5 km is not in bad condition and by Eastern Cape standards has more cow-pats than potholes, so a good pilot could still easily land a small aircraft there - although an approach from the north over the Mzimvubu gorge must be quite hair raising!
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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.