As a Tshwanetorian born and bred in the dusty streets of Le’Ashma, I tend to take it for granted that places where people still say “please” and “thank you” only exist as a backdrop to some 13 part drama series on SABC 1. But a few weeks ago on a weekend away with the boys I found myself in such a place.
Winterton is what it is called, just under 50+k’s away from Ladysmith.
Just to give you an idea, when we arrived on Friday night, we could not fill up the car because the filling station had closed. The filling station had closed? Do you have any idea how illogical that sounds to someone like me?
The next day, I went to the SPAR to get some supplies. In the parking lot a gentleman who looked like he was out grocery shopping with his wife stopped me and said “uhamba ngo sisi omuhle!” (You are walking with a beautiful lady) I thought he was mocking me, but in fact he was actually complementing the rental I was driving. I kid you not! I pointed to the sky and said “nami ngi-bolegiwe,” as if to pass on the complement to the man upstairs. The gesture was enough to hide my shock at his appreciation, for that never happens when I am from.
Winterton! That place, where people still say “please” and “thank you,” and the young maidens have a head-gear game that would leave Erykah Badu taking notes.
Anyway off I went on the R600 towards the Misty Peaks, a charming four star self catering chalet facility right next door to the Drakensberg Sun. As I drove into probably the most beautiful of all the Drakensberg mountain valleys, the grandiose state of uKhahlamba decorated with its fifty shades of green was simply breathtaking. The winding road led to Cathkin Peak which stood tall at 3149m above sea level. Not quite the highest point of the mountain in the region, but certainly the most prominent feature, with a vista that gives anybody who cares to notice a good idea of what paradise looks like.
The locations offered a catalogue of activities on the door step from an outstanding 18 hole golf course at Champagne sports resort, to quad biking, to helicopter flights. But the boys opted for horse-back riding, despite my reservation. The thing is, as a city boy I don’t do well with animals. I have never really had a pet; in fact all I know about compassion is what I learnt from the manner in which I was cultured, and how other people have bothered to treat me. So the idea of mounting a beast and taking charge was yet another thing outside my frame of reference.
So, off we went. With the admin out of the way came the process of finding a helmet. I must say that was somewhat
testing. Only until that point I had to quietly accept to myself that perhaps I should look among those marked Large, then it was quick. I was allocated a horse named Witchcraft, a big black stallion whose majesty was unmistakable. In random conversations with colleagues at work who are serious riders, they often speak of the feeling of being “at one with the beast,” I thought they were high. But as soon as I mounted Witchcraft, I felt like King Robb Stark in the Game of Thrones.
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I should also say, the last time I had ridden a horse was a few decades ago. I must have been 9. It is not something that featured highly on my bucket list, what with my irrational fears of animals and all. So saying that I was approaching this excursion with a measure of trepidation would be putting it mildly. I was at least comforted by the full knowledge that a horse is a herbivore, so at least I was safe. But in the briefing session, the instructor made mention of the horses being very jealous of each other and liable to kick or bite each other should they feel upstaged. So you can imagine as I gave Witchcraft a sharp kick to the chops to get him going, in my mind’s eye, I could not help but see this scene to be easily featured on a First for Women TV ad.
Despite having a few of my amigos coming onto this expedition with some previous horse riding experience, somehow I ended up right behind Lynn the instructor, as we rode in single file on a trail in Dragon’s Peak.
To my surprise, the ride was pleasant. And Witchcraft didn’t seem fazed by the prospect of carrying an unnaturally expanded bag of bones such as me. Just like that, he kept walking, while I did my best to stay balanced on his back.
At the Sterkspruit River, which flows into the Tugela we encountered a zebra and a donkey. And
Lynn’ mare, Viennese Waltz became so scared of the “costumed menace” that she wanted to run away. Apparently, being new in the resort she had not worked out that the zebra is not a horse. It was so bad that Lynn had to get off the horse and walk it river-side putting the line between Viennese Waltz and the zebra. What that meant is that suddenly I had to lead the line. Yes me, the guy barely able to compose himself with his phobias raging. But Witchcraft peered over his shoulder as if to say “don’t worry, I got you.”
As we trailed up the peaks and down the hills, not even the sightings of the kingfisher or Egyptian geese could distract me from leaning forward and holding on for dear life on the mane as we went up the hill, and leaning back as we went downhill. No one told me this was going to be an ab-workout of note. No wonder the riders in my office have such implacable cores.
Anyway, so went my first adulthood encounter with a horse. I may not have dealt with my phobias, but I can certainly confirm that the event was not my last. I can never claim that horse riding was ever a fitness option in my reckoning. However I can definitely say that all future events where means collide with occasion, I will not hesitate to take up the opportunity.