Back in the Saddle
(Saturday 21st December, 2019)
This morning, after a breakfast that I helped prepare (frying the flapjacks), we were scheduled for a village walk. This lodge has the aforementioned trust fund, which helps the communities in the area in dealing with HIV/aids. The activities which are on offer from this lodge, such as guided hikes, village tours, mountain biking and of course horseback riding, are all run by locals and the money goes into the local economy, providing them their livelihood. It seems that this is a rather good and well-functioning example of sustainable community-based tourism.
We had 4 guides for the walk – for some reason – which we set out on by 9:00 after a brief explanation from the trust fund employee. We walked into the village next to the lodge, meeting and greeting some locals. We went into the two grocery shops, visited a nice lady (with very good English language skills!) who brews beer. She offered us a taste, and it was actually quite all right though more milky-looking than what we are used to for beer. She sells her 2% alcohol beer to the locals and that’s how she has made a living for herself since her husband passed away.
We also went to the graveyard, overlooking the beautiful mountains. Then we walked by the farm land, which they tend to by ploughing with oxen, as a tractor would be way too expensive. Each person or owner of the land strip, is responsible for their own piece of land, which can be granted to them by the chief of the village. It did not seem as though different families help each other out a lot, so every individual family has to take care of their own patch of land.
Next we went to the school (closed as this is a Saturday), and lastly we went past a handicraft centre where you could buy souvenirs made in the surrounding communities. I unfortunately didn’t find anything interesting there, but some of the other people did buy some things.
This more or less concluded the village tour, although we were required to sign their guest book upon returning to the lodge. This village tour was definitely better than the one in Eswatini.
When we came back we had lunch and a bit of free time before we would embark on our optional activity: a 4 hour horseback ride to a waterfall. It was sunny and sort of warm, so we all expected some degree of sunburn despite using the sunscreen, of course.
At 13:30 we went and got our riding gear (helmets and saddle bags) and signed the mandatory indemnity form, signing our lives away once again. Then we went to the horses where one of our 3 guides assigned us each to a horse. Now, the horses are small (but are not ponies), and they look healthy enough though on the lean/skinny side. Had been a little concerned whether they could carry us big foreigners, but it turned out to be no issue at all.
I got to meet my new friend and guide for the afternoon, a young gentleman named Maleppi (I think). A small, dark brown horse with a black mane. He turned out to be just wonderful and carried me safely to and from.
We rode on out down the valley, the horses climbing down the steep, rocky mountain sides. It looked kind of crazy and wild from the back of the horse, to be honest, but I trusted what Maleppi was doing and where he went. These horses know the way around a mountain side. The landscape was amazing, and riding on horseback within it was just breathtaking. You connect with it in a different manner, somehow.
Up and down we went, getting off the horses at the top of the waterfall. From here on we walked down to the base of it, the water only falling down in a thin stream because there is a bad drought in the country. Barely any rain – and also no snow – since March, our guide said. That is harsh.
We rested for a bit down in the gorge, chatting and nursing our individual sunburns, but eventually we walked back up and got back in the saddle. We had to let the horses descend a place on their own and walk down behind them, because erosion had made the path a little too steep at the moment. It was fun to see how different the horses walked down without us on their backs, far less careful and in a trot.
After this we made our way towards home, still so very enjoyable in this scenery. The horses knew the direction and some of them began walking (trotting) a little bit faster, which was fun. We arrived back at the lodge and had to part ways with our new, furry friends. But what a lovely afternoon it has been. 4 hours for what is 160 DKK is definitely worth it here.
At the lodge we had some free time before dinner, spent at the bar and with taking showers. Lots of dirt and dust on us by now, plus the smell of horse. Then we had dinner at 19:30, where most people were quite happy and chattering excitedly. Tomorrow is quite the early morning and thus I am now on my way to sleep. I do feel tired and also a bit like I might have a sore butt tomorrow. No worries, though, I think this experience might mark the highlight of this whole trip for me. It was really special.
Arriving in the Great Karoo Semi-desert
(Sunday 22nd December, 2019)
This morning we left Malealea early, by 6:00. Even with 7 hours of sleep in the bag, it just didn’t feel like enough, so some naps might have been taken during the drive. We gave a woman at the lodge a lift to Mafteng, and our first stop of the day was by the border to South Africa. Crossing it was painless and fast, also because it was a small border post.
Next stop was at a town where we had 30 minutes to get stuff from the supermarket/liquor shop/stock up on coffee and use the rest rooms. Some of us had time enough but others didn’t quite make it, and so we had to extend the stop a bit.
A bit later we had a bushy-bushy stop (toilet on the road side), having come to a large stretch of rather barren, dry savannah-looking landscape with no real toilet building options. After another while we had lunch at the road side. Welcome to the Great Karoo, a semi desert of South Africa.
At around 14:20 we arrived in the town of Graaff-Reinet. The camping space doesn’t really have any shade, which seems a little unfortunate – but it’s just for one night. Otherwise the place seems nice.
After some relaxation time where some of the others went for a stroll into town (empty, because it’s Sunday), we all met at 17:00 to go on our sunset drive to Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park. Our guide was a local South African man and he was very enthusiastic about the place.
First they took us to a point where we could see the – now dried up – dam/lake. They have a very serious drought here. So now, the lake is merely a vast, dry plain (looking like a dry salt plain, to be honest), stretching far across the valley.. and it’s very sad to see. Puts some things into perspective. The sparse rainfall combined with high heat (meaning the water evaporates quickly) and bad political decisions makes for a rather critical situation in this area. Both for the people and for the animals living here.
Next we drove into the park and on the way to the top we did see some animals in the desolate and dry landscape (although from afar). Ostriches, kudu, meerkats (new one to the list!). We then stopped at a view point, overlooking the town which is clearly divided into a rich centre and poorer townships on the outskirts.
Our guide then told us about how Dutch settlers came from the coast, crossing the semi desert and then seeing Graaff-Reinet as this green oasis (because of the river, which makes the centre more lush). They wanted to settle there but local tribes were already living here. Conflicts arose about the various resources in the area, and ultimately the Dutch involved the military to ‘solve’ things – and obviously the local tribes ended up getting displaced. It seems to be a common theme in South Africa.
We drove a little further up the mountain, then took the drinks and walked up to the point where we’d be seeing the sunset from. We had our drinks during the sunset, which again was nice but not too spectacular. I guess people did get somewhat intoxicated or tipsy, as the sound level continued to rise. Afterwards, we drove back down and back to the lodge, where our cook had dinner prepared for us. Afterwards we played a few rounds of Kaboom before bed.
Last updated 7th February 2020.