This article is all about recipes. Not just for food but for fun and for fellowship. It’s about the search for ingredients in a world of unsure availability. It’s about doing what you love with those you care about. It’s also about how even though no plan ever goes as planned, we still insist on making plans and will occasionally create a plan to make a plan. We even make plans for what to do when the initial plan fails. That’s like making a New Year’s resolution to make a certain-to-fail New Year’s resolution. For 2021 I took another trip to South Africa. I explicitly did not plan it all out. I had a good (and tried and true) plan of what I wanted to do over 5 specific days where I would be expected to have a carefully timed plan ready but the plan I made also wasn’t inflexible so nearly any part of it could be pushed aside if needed without spoiling the whole thing. Plans and trying to stick rigidly to them are bad for just about anyone that might use one. Plans must be durable against reality in the way that crunchy tacos are not.
Having friends in South Africa gives one enough reason to go there. Having friends who like to hunt and shoot as much as you do who also reside in South Africa and constantly harass you to visit them means that it pulls on you somewhat vigorously. The pull is not just a little fond perusing of memories that distracts your attention from your day job now and then. It’s more like a soul frying, ripping, tearing, shredding of your attention span that you might expect if sensations of nostalgia were induced by being alone, naked, wearing a meat dress and really really close to a hungry lion of unknown temperament while trying to do your taxes. It’s quite distracting.
I went back for another trip last summer and this past winter and had more amazing experiences full of friends old and new, hunting, shooting, grilling meat over flame and enjoying a general sense of fellowship that I don’t get in the states much. It is also where the night sky is at its absolute best. It’s not that the ingredients for any of those kinds of good times aren’t available here but it seems that here they’re mixed in the proper proportions much more rarely and when they are it often requires reservations. Where in Africa you just turn on the bush TV (braai), crack open a cold one of whatever you like and enjoy as side conversations flow in and out of a main direction of discussion while that main discussion ebbs and flows in volume and participation to its own more complex rhythm.
My prior trip occupied the bulk of August which is late winter in SA. I left on a Saturday and arrived on a Monday whilst spending 23 hours in the air and enduring a 7 hour layover in Zurich (Zurich airport is insanely clean, insanely boring and full of the least helpful and least friendly staff I have encountered anywhere outside of France). You should know that I cannot sleep on airplanes or in cars to save my life. So, when I landed it was extremely late Sunday night by my own body clock and I had woken up very early Saturday morning and then had not a single a wink of sleep since.
Day 1 I arrived at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg around 10am. Joburg isn’t very pretty from the air. Parts of it are quite interesting from the ground and other parts are places you simply do not go lest you find your day get overly interesting in a way you probably do not want it to. The freeway exits that get you to either option do not have the courtesy to tell you which option they’re taking you to. So it’s really best to have a guide. My guide (a friend actually) was/is a firearms and self-defense instructor who’d previously attended one of my long range rifle classes. A nicer and more welcoming or generous soul would be hard to find. He’s also a farmer and since he was spending a week with me in a different part of the country he decided to send his family to stay somewhere else other than the farm.
The situation on the ground being what it is this is a sensible move. Farm attacks are commonplace, with the attackers resorting to torture, rape, murder and all of the worst stuff humans can do to each other pretty much right out of the gate. Not even the courtesy to ramp things up or just kill people. Nope, they have to torture them too because, Africa. In any event, it’s a lot more stable there than you might pick up in the media or even in my writings. It’s so stable that you can find a bag of chips like those below at any gas and sip and it doesn’t matter who you are when you buy them, they’ll still sell them to you. Nobody riots over the chips. In the USA (P)Antifa would have the building that sold them burned down in minutes and the owners sent off to concentration camps.
A side note about the situation on the ground: In post-apartheid South Africa there’s a new racism which, if possible, is even stupider than you might think and vastly less helpful than the last version. Racism goes the normal way now with the majority black population taking on tones and rhetoric that even the most venomous KKK rally speakers don’t have the stones to approach.
Actually, I suspect that black on white racism is how it’s always been there and certain widely hated policies like apartheid may have been logical seeming responses (at the time) to a bizarre reality. Certainly most people there do not seem to want their lives to improve. In fact, if you look at the behavior of the majority in South Africa you could be excused for starting to think that they want their lives to become more difficult if you base your assessment strictly on their actions. If you think that sounds racist, go there and take an honest look around without making excuses for people’s behavior and instead simply observe it and then tell me what you think. Walk around any small town a bit and you’ll see. What you might expect of the country is what Google images shows:
What you actually get is something that actually resembles San Diego a great deal in weather, topography and flora, and which closely resembles Baltimore in almost every other way right down to the failed liberal policies that precipitate massive humanitarian catastrophes and economic collapses whilst never learning from past mistakes. South Africa is a microcosm of all of worst that a democratically elected representative government is capable of. It also shows that the government you have is usually a good approximation of the government that the people electing it might want, at least on a statistical level. So congratulations South Africa, you got what you wanted. I hope it hurts so that we can all say, “Stupidity hurts doesn’t it?”.
An extremist, other-izing and overtly racist government which forces bad policies on the people. These bad policies are simple gimme-gimme socialism and are supported by liberals worldwide who have no idea what the reality of South Africa is. Those policies have brought internal discord to new levels of rancor while contributing greatly to corruption with resultant infrastructure decay and social disharmony. All of this has lead to murders of white farmers being celebrated by popular politicians in public speeches and encouraged. It’s not like the place is on fire or that everyone is attacking everyone else. It’s more like a growing internal level of stupidity having predictable cumulative effects. As long as you stay to the areas that don’t look like they were built by syphilitic idiots you’ll probably be ok. Also stay out of places that are crammed full of people. People are bad in large groups which is why I don’t like crowds anywhere.
Farms in South Africa are almost entirely white owned for a host of reasons. The dominant (and entirely black populated) political parties blame white farmers for every reality the South African society and government (as well as foreign powers sticking their noses in for their own reasons) has brought upon itself and they vocally encourage militant aggressive action and they do it with vile and hate filled rhetoric for which they never seem to take a rebuking. That’s just not good for a society, especially a mixed society. It’s mixed in a weird way too. ~4% of the population is white and by-in-large the minority are the ones paying taxes and obeying laws. The minority doesn’t have a choice but to play by the rules. It’s very bad for a white person to go to jail there. Like the worst kind of bad you could think of. It’s also bad to have an encounter of any kind with the police. The great majority are certainly not on anyone’s side but their own and corruption is standard practice. The racial majority of the population more or less appears to have the option to do things legally but not the desire. They seem to ignore the laws entirely and do whatever the hell they want when they want. The authorities almost totally ignore them because even if they didn’t ignore them, the arrest would merely cost money from the state and only pauses the committing of crimes by 1 person. Anyway since no fines, much less bribes, would ever be paid anyway by the poor the powers that be seem to think, “Why bother?”. If you do have an encounter with the police there it’s more likely than not that the “fine” you may be asked to pay is actually a “bribe”. They even have a cute word for such things, a “spot fine”. Law and order has little meaning in South Africa unless you’re in the minority, then it means everything but only to you.
Back to the main story… So, we met up with another friend whom I’d hunted with in a prior year who I’ll call Jack since it’s easier to spell than his actual name. Anyway, he and I hanged around the airport chugging cappuccinos and scarfing down iffy burgers for a few hours while my farmer friend dealt with the hassles of getting 3 small children and a wife onto an airplane. That took 3 hours thanks to inane and recent policy changes by an individual airline. Those matters dealt with my farmer friend and I made off for a little drive to a local gun shop and then a grocery store where I expected to be able to find things like chili powder, tortillas and the like. I wanted those things because I live in California where we make the best tacos in the world which are minted by the millions daily. I wanted therefore to make tacos for my friends in SA and maybe teach them how to make them properly. One fast food joint I never saw was a Taco Bell. I was so so so wrong about ingredient availability and while it’s a very funny story, it’ll take a bit to explain so we’ll come to the taco story in a bit.
After the grocery and gun shop tour it was several hours of driving to the farm and where we mixed bourbon, beer and cigarettes in injudicious proportions before a quick dinner of meat with a side dish of some more meat and I think some kind of potato topped with meat and a desert of some more meat. After the bourbon bottle got satisfyingly low we finally we made it to our respective rooms somewhere around 11pm. I woke in the morning pretty well adjusted to the sleep schedule by virtue of not having slept at all in something around 50 hours and thus having slept very soundly except for the epic nightmares that plague me whenever I travel and the headache when I came to. I was only slightly hung over which was good practice because that’s kind of how the next couple days went in general. Busy bees during daylight and busy boozers during the night time hours. So, day 2-4 are necessarily something of a blur except that for at least one of those days and possibly 2 we hunted pretty hard. It was also partly a blur because I was still unsure of what day it actually was and partly because I didn’t care what day it was and fully planned not to for at least 17 more days. My heart just wasn’t in “tracking time mode”.
Upon setting out on the hunt it was expected that my friend the farmer would be able to find the desired zebra herd quickly and we’d take one of those within an hour and then spend all day tromping around looking for an eland and then finish out the day if there was any of it left with an easy to find warthog. HA! Surely no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and this was no exception. In short: zebra were almost impossible to find, eland were standing right there waiting for us and despite warthog presenting themselves at 100m distance all day long while we were walking, we passed on every opportunity up until the last minute because, well we’re prone to that sort of decision making.
We had walked literally less than 5 minutes out of the main house and come around a corner where there’s a very large eland standing there looking delicious not even 50 yards from me. My farmer friend was looking another way and I was the first to see the eland. I said, “Eland!” and hurriedly pointed. As my friend turned to see it I quietly deployed the bipod on the .375 Ruger chambered Howa 1500 and got very quietly prone while dialing back to minimum magnification and as quietly as I could jacked a round in. The eland didn’t seem to mind any of those things to any great degree but was clearly starting to get nervous. Just as it moved one front hoof a few inches off the ground I put a 250 grain monometal bullet made in SA into its left shoulder. That shattered the shoulder and blew a large hole in the lungs and some vitally important large blood vessels. The bullet went through to the other side and broke the off-side shoulder before halting in some shoulder meat below the skin. The eland took two collapsing steps into the bush and fell on its face. It didn’t seem very conscious as we approached. It was definitely going to be all the way dead any minute but we; being merciful humans, elected to put a .308 in the head to bring about a quick end to any suffering that might ensue. That eland was meat for a neighbor and so went meat, horns and hide to them directly but, I got a picture. I’m used to boy critters having horns/antlers and the girls not having them. Eland don’t play that game. This is a female eland. The horns of the female tend to be longer and more slender compared to a bull’s horns. Still it was a beast weighing something around 1000lbs on the hoof. It took 6 men to get it onto the tractor’s platform.
We then walked all bloody day looking for the zebra herd but it was nowhere to be found. Gone like a fart in the wind. We headed back for lunch and cold fluids before going out again to another herd of zebra that was less difficult to find but challenging to stalk into. There were only 3 of those monometal 250gr pills left and they were loaded in ammo that had for some reason been set aside. We quickly found out why they were set aside. The first shot on the eland was only 50m if that and hit right where I aimed. By the time we’d stalked in on the zebra we could only get to 184m which is a dead on 200 yards. I proned out and aimed carefully with the zebra facing me and the shot hit about a foot low of where it should have. WTF! It clearly hit the zebra as there was a nasty hole in its side just behind the liver but it wasn’t bleeding heavily and I couldn’t see the entry wound. We needed to follow that shot up and put it down before it suffered much. I tried jacking the final round into the chamber but it was out of dimensional spec somewhere and jammed so hard I couldn’t open or close the bolt. I set that rifle aside and grabbed the .308 my friend was carrying and as soon as the zebra turned its side to me I put the crosshairs just behind the shoulder bones and let fly. That shot hit about 9 inches right of my aim point which put it, too, in the bloody liver. There was no wind to speak of and I’m a pretty good shot who doesn’t get buck fever (or pony fever) but I chalked it up to a bad shot on my part anyway. That shot didn’t help at all and now the zebra faced away from us for a good 20 minutes. As soon as it gave me a side profile of the neck I lined up on the ear and put the final shot in which hit about 8 inches rearward of where I’d planed on it hitting but it snapped its neck and blew the big blood vessels apart so the pony curled up its hooves and joined the choir invisible. My farmer friend said that he had been wanting a zebra skin so he got the skin (or so I thought, a couple years later he handed it to me and it now forms a very nice rug in my room) and we took the meat to a processing plant where, I gather that, they make salami out of it and I got a picture and a once in a lifetime experience.
After the Zebra we went out for warthog. I did manage to shoot one and it was gunna die any minute after I shot it but as warthog are wont to do, it promptly ran and dove into a hole from which it simply refused to be dislodged. We were disinclined to harass a mortally wounded warthog (it was pouring blood from an artery hit but was still pretty vocal and thrashing). So we elected to leave it be for the moment and have the workers dig it out in the morning after it’d had a little bit to die in peace, whereupon the workers would parcel out the meat and share it amongst themselves. For our part, we’d be hitting the road very early in the morning anyway so I didn’t get a chance for a picture. Sigh. The best laid plans of mice.
On the road we had a good long 8 hour drive ahead of us and only suffered one catastrophic failure on the way. Our trailer blew a wheel bearing and a tire and all we had was a spare tire. We had to use beer and soda and flecks of ice to keep the tire from overheating every 500m or so as it rubbed on the trailer chassis. We got to a little turd of a town called Edenburg (the name was blatant false advertising BTW) and found a mechanic who could and would replace the wheel bearing and after another horrid South African cheeseburger war crime (seriously, they cannot make a burger to save 10,000 lives anywhere in the whole country) we got back on the road arriving in the Little Karoo just about at sundown on Friday. This was handy as my friends place the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and observe it strictly. We rested until sundown the next day and then Sunday a whole bunch of people arrived and we did some long range shooting for the next 5 days with me providing some instruction on the range and in a classroom setting. We had endless fun characterizing guns and then doing drills to work on speed and accuracy and then experimented with different ways of dealing with wind and generally had a great time. That culminated in 3 of us, me included, attempting to and subsequently putting hits on a man size steel target at 1-mile. I made the shot with a .50BMG Steyr HS50 M1 with A-Max’s after 1 shot to get the drop sorted and another to get the wind sorted. Another shooter made it with a 6.5CM from his RPR (we had to walk that in a bit). The last guy made it with 655gr South African ball .50BMG ammo from the same Steyr I was shooting. The Sus-Tac suppressor on the Steyr really tamed the recoil and cut the blast to levels that were, if not totally ear safe, at least not uncomfortable. I still wore plugs because I only have 25% of my hearing left and I’m stingy about giving up any more of it. I should note that I generally detest firing .50BMG’s but the Sus-Tac suppressor on that Steyr made it about as not-unpleasant as such a thing can be.
After a week of long range plinking and general good times, it was time to hunt. This time we were going for my kudu. Another friend who I call Kudu van Klipspringer (because of his habit of literally running up and down mountains that would have olympians panting and spitting) owns this farm and they’d sort of set one of the kudu bulls aside for me. If anyone else spotted it they’d say, “No that’s meccastreisand’s bull.” It was a very old bull that had done its thing and now was just fighting with other bulls and not reproducing much. Its teeth were worn down and due to the drought it was getting pretty skinny in addition to its hide looking a bit ratty with numerous bare patches. In short, it was time to pull the guy from the herd and put it in the freezer. It would not make it through the next winter and it certainly wouldn’t make it through the current one (our summer is their winter) if I had anything to say about it. I did have something to say about it as it happens.
We stalked in over fairly rugged country for a good 3 hours before taking position in some bushes on the edge of a rock outcropping that had solid views of the 2 hills that the kudu seem to like to use as bridges between feeding areas. No sooner had we tucked in to the bushes and proned out did we see the first set of 15-20 kudu cows coming around the ridge towing a couple nice middle-age bulls with them. While my friend is inspecting those ANOTHER herd of 15 or so comes around with a very grey, and very clearly old bull with nice curling horns strolling in the middle of the pack. It was over 400m away at that point and my buddy and I got our wires crossed about the elevation to put in on the reticle and I pitched the shot just over its back. We were crushed but I cranked that bolt handle and got back on target just in time for the kudu to crawl into a bush for a quick nap.
The shot sent the cows and calves trotting off but not truly spooked. The bull crawled into a bush and just laid there having a snooze. We went to, let’s say, interestingly outrageous methods to try to get the bugger to stand up which it eventually did… inside the bush. It just didn’t want to leave the bush. So, lacking a perfect shot I lined up for at least an effective shot at now 375m, held for wind by 1.5mils and took the shot. We thought the kudu was facing us inside that bush but it turned out that only its head was facing us and the “shoulder” I shot was actually front end of the thigh but, the hit was such that it didn’t really destroy any meat. Instead it went through the rumen, then through the liver, through the diaphragm and then through one lung and all kinds of important large blood vessels before coming to rest in a muscle that sits on the underside of the spine between the shoulders. The bullet jacket separated on the 225gr Hornady SST after about 18 inches of penetration which SST’s have shown a habit of doing for me. Otherwise bullet performance is fully acceptable and penetration was almost 1 meter. The beastie sure felt that hit and tried to run but only took 2 steps before hosing blood from the nose and crumpling up.
We did a little more tromping around the bush but at that point it was really time to get back to farm life so we put the guns away and did farm work for a few days. We sorted sheep, we made my kudu into driewors, we handled some building construction details. General farm work which I actually like. It’s not like computer work. When you’re done with computer work you can’t see anything different in the real world, at least if you did it right.
Driewors? What’s that? Well, it is a kind of traditional South African boer (farmer) sausage with coriander, clove, salt, pepper, garlic and mutton meat and fat mixed in which is then hanged for weeks to dry. It’s a bit like a really fat Slim Jim with more texture to the meat and with an entirely different spice pack which is largely clove and coriander. It tastes like Christmas if you’re an Amercan.
Each year I set up my vacation time to spend a week longer in South Africa than I think I’ll need in order to get everything on the itinerary done. Every year I find I’m short about 5 days. The first year I did 2 weeks which was way too little to even get over jet lag. The next year I did 3 weeks which was way too little to actually relax properly. The next year I had a lot more planned and so a month was set aside which, of course, was entirely too little. Eventually I’ll have to move there just so I can get all the things I want to do while on vacation there done. I’ve actually given some serious thought to that and will continue to do so. It’s not for everyone but being an expat in South Africa is actually pretty common and not a bad way to go if you start out in an industrialized western European country or north American country that’s not Mexico. Your money goes a lot further there, largely because their economy sucks and has little hope of improving under the current system of government.
Of course who can visit South Africa without picking up some souvenirs? Not me and certainly not with my friends in the mix. One of them hooked me up with a Triggercam. This was super cool as a concept and ended up horrid in execution. In addition to the Triggercam, I also picked up a new chassis stock. This has some cool features that I don’t want to discuss here until the intellectual property stuff is dealt with. It’s made of a similar alloy to the 6061 that most chassis stocks are made of but which is superior in a few ways and the stock is cheaper than its competitors. Better materials, innovative features, ultra precision machining, lower price, cleaner lines. That’s what you call a better mousetrap. It’s got the obvious adjustable length of pull and adjustable cheek-rest height and adjustable butt pad height but none of those are innovative. The other thing that I’m keeping secret for now, that’s innovative. Thanks to Postman Precision for the stock. It’s now holding up a Howa 1500 in 6XC with a US Optics SN3 3.8-22x44mm scope, a JP Tactical brake and a Jard trigger.
I finally brought home my trophies from Africa from last year. My eland (center) and my springbok (right) now share a wall with my 5×5 blacktail deer rack. The springbok skin is now draped elegantly over the back of my sofa and is not pictured. The size of that eland skull really gives some idea of the initial size of the animal. I plan to put the kudu skull up in a European mount below the eland so the horns come up on either side of the eland skull. There’s no other way it’ll fit. The horns are almost a meter long and with the skull it’s going to be well over a meter tall.
Now for the taco story. I had planned on making proper tacos for everyone in SA. The least I could do since they showed me all around their cuisine, several items of which are life changers. We stopped at a grocery store in Pretoria looking just for tortillas or even just flatbread and a few simple spices. No dice on that and especially no dice on the spices I needed, particularly chili powder. They have a thing they call peri-peri but if you don’t know what’s inside the package it might surprise you as to the level of spiciness or lack thereof. White South Africa is not a spicy food loving people from what I can see. Salt and pepper usually do them just right. So, we went to a grocery store in Bloomfontein. No dice there either. They had things I needed to buy in high quality and low quantity and right then: ground beef. I got a kilogram of ground beef which they call “mince”.
I also tried a grocery store in Edenburg. Well, if you can call it that. It had literally: piles of orange Fanta, 2 bags of wheat flour, a can of something illegible, a bunch of bags of cornmeal and some sad looking sandwiches which I hope to hell were for display only. It was also where I’d purchased the two singularly most hideous cheeseburgers I think I’ve ever stuck in my face hole. I think it’s to do with Dutch Calvinism… you can’t be a Calvinist and enjoy a truly good hamburger. At least that’s how it seems but, I digress. That grocery didn’t even have bread that was not already devoted to vomit inducing sandwiches and burgers so we decided to sally forth and forsake the orange Fanta and corn meal.
Finally we come to a little town called Willowmore where I have been before (it’s home to a coffee shop amusingly called Sophie’s Choice) and there was some kind of cycling competition in town that weekend meaning there were 50,000 brandy sozzled people in sun hats in town instead of the more normal <1000 people not in hats of any kind. I don’t like crowds. Crowds in Africa are a fantastic way for you to find out how bad of a day you can really have. I really don’t like crowds of pasty drunks in sun hats. Crowds in Africa give me a special kind of the heebie jeebies. Mix all three liberally together and I’m looking for an exit sign.
So as we dodged traffic and traded off leaving one person in the pickup whilst the other gathered supplies, I finally found my way in to the 3rd of the 3 grocery stores after the first two were beyond completely hopeless. Again, grocery store is a misleading term for Americans to see here. It implies certain levels of variety and availability which simply do not exist anywhere in Africa much less in Podunkville in the province of “Other”. Wouldn’t you know it, not only did I find 4 packages of crunchy taco shells with a convincingly Mexican sounding brand name but right bloody next to them was 4 packages of “Taco Seasoning” by the same vaguely Mexican sounding company. All I needed now was jalapenos, right. Ha! I hate jalapeños. What I needed was sour cream, shredded cheese, ripe avocados, ripe tomato, lime and shredded lettuce. I managed to source all but the lettuce from KVK’s wife and I eschewed the jalapeños because they’re disgusting. Besides, if folks there are skeered of a little spice packet such that anything outside salt and pepper is considered spicy, they’ll get downright negative about jalapeño peppers even in cooked form. The tacos were a 100% hit. KVK’s eldest daughter actually danced while eating them. Her siblings were equally as excited but a great deal less dancy about it. I made sure that my host’s family got first serving before telling the guys about it. Just to make sure the family got some. The whole group of guys then piled in and trepidatiously tried what they came to find out was the food of the gods.
I know it’s mean to introduce people to something delicious that they simply cannot even fabricate in their country due to lacking availability of ingredients. I really do. I also love the idea that one day each of those people will come visit me here in California and the first question they ask will be, “Is there anywhere good to get tacos around here?” to which I’ll be able to respond, “Well, it’s funny you should ask. I think the answer would be ‘literally anywhere’. Even Chinese food restaurants here have good tacos these days.” But I won’t take them out for tacos. We’ll drive the hour and a half to my place and then spend an hour making tacos. Crunchy tacos, soft tacos, corn flour tortilla tacos, wheat flour tortilla tacos, tacos al’ carbon, tacos guisado, tacos de carnitas, tacos de carne asada, tacos de pescado, tacos de lengua, tacos al pastor and of course, the magical Choco Taco.
Recipe for Tacos de Africa:
Find taco shells in Africa. This is from impossible to nearly impossible.
Find taco seasoning in Africa. This is from impossible to nearly impossible.
Find pico de gallo in Africa. This is very possible as you can make it quite simply and the ingredients are easy to come by.
Find ground beef in Africa. This is slightly easier than finding air.
Prepare the above ingredients as indicated on the packaging.
Assemble tacos to taste. Pro-tip, fill crunchy shells by layering ingredients on the sides like you would bread, not in the valley like you think a taco should be assembled. Makes a better taco. You can thank Kudu van Klipspringer for that little gem.