Dirt roads, spiders and heat stress

When I’m not writing books, keeping track of the science centres in South Africa or doing a bit of creative meddling, I develop and design board games.

I don’t even like playing games, but I’ve discovered it’s a great way to learn.  It’s interactive, promotes team work, gets kids (and adults) to read and problem solve.

I’ve developed quite a few to date.

One of my more enjoyable projects was being asked to help create a game on the topic of thermal stress for mine workers. In South Africa we have many gold and platinum mines and they operate deep underground.  Heat stress is a killer and it is covered by about half a page in the manuals. Our brief was to create something interesting and innovative.

The team consisted of 4 academics and my own very un-academic, irreverent, creative wacky self. The academics had the experience in mines and social work. I had experience in creating and developing games. Things did not always run smoothly.

Fast forward two years….

We’d done all the work, visited mines, soul searched, tested and eventually created a fabulous game that everybody loved.

Then it mouldered for ages whilst the Mine Health and Safety Council decided whether they wanted to actually manufacture and invest in copies of the game that we had all worked so hard on.

Out of the blue they decided they did – we all sprang into action.

A video explaining how the Iyashisa Board Game worked was produced. I had a fine time (not) reproducing the art work – having changed graphics programmes in the interim.

Eventually 1000 games were produced and were ready to roll out to mines in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

One of our team members had decided she no longer wanted to be involved in the project (I think I pissed her off) and another one was sadly undergoing cancer treatment – so it was mostly down to Nico and myself to do the roll out.

A trip was planned to Limpopo.

We’d had one successful day of driving all over the place – demonstrating how the game was played to mine workers and were on our second day. We were in Nico’s bakkie, with a trailer full of games… on our way from Polokwane to a mine in Penge.

Being new to the area we were using Nico’s floozie – his cell phone’s sat nav.

We gaily left the main road and tootled through a township area. The road became a tad less traveled.

The tar gave out to dirt. The dirt got narrower and narrower and petered out into something barely better than a pathway.

Nico and I looked at each other… were we still on the right track?

But he consulted his trusty sat nav and determined that we had not gone wrong.

By this time the road, if you can call it such a thing, was littered with humps and rocks. A few goats regarded us curiously from the side of the hill. I was immensely grateful that Nico is experienced in the art of 4×4’ing.  I blocked the fact that dragging a trailer had not exactly featured in said experience before.

A large baboon appeared and sat on a rock watching at us.

We felt a bit like idiots, but the wet tracks on the road kept our spirits up and told us that a vehicle had ventured along the same path not too long before.

In any case, it was not possible to turn around, especially with the trailer, so our only option was to carry on.

The baboon kept us company along the way.

The scenery was magnificent – sweeping valleys of vegetation, rocky outcrops – all green and incredibly lush. Part of me was really enjoying the trip. The other part was stressing mightily  that my cell phone had long since lost contact with the outside world and we actually had no clue where exactly we were.

We were traversing down a particularly steep and rocky incline when I suddenly spotted the most disgusting, revolting, spine-chilling sight.

I gasped and screeched – causing Nico to almost chuck us all over a mini-cliff. He ground to a halt giving me an exasperated look.

Wordessly I pointed…

A huge tree was completely encased in spider webs.  I mean completely.  Clearly visible were huge tufts of spiders – a ruler length apart.

The tree was literally crawling with ginormous spiders. The stuff nightmares are made of.

I hate spiders. Give me a fat rat any day but I freaking hate spiders!

Nico saw what I was looking at and did his own gasping thing.

To this day I am a little miffed that I did not have the courage to get out of that bakkie and take a photo, but our baboon guard was a little intimidating and frankly – no way in hell was I leaving the safety of the car.

We carried on and a few metres from the first tree we spotted another web covered tree encrusted with enormous spiders.

The road deteriorated even further.

My heart sank. Was I ever going to see my husband and my lovely Fudgie again? We crawled on… humping and bumping over rocky outcrops and dongas.

Eventually the road started getting a fraction better and we spotted some civilization in the distance. We breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps we were not going to be lost in the depths of lush Limpopo after all.

The guys at the mine in Penge were horrified and amazed that we had not only taken but survived the back road over the mountain that is seldom used. It had taken us more than two hours when, had we stayed on the main road; we would have reached our destination in a mere half an hour.

Irritatingly we discovered the Penge is an open caste mine and they were not even very interested in our game.

Our adventure was for nothing.

I found out later that the spiders were Orbital Web Spiders – but nobody I’ve spoken to has ever seen a tree like that themselves.

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