Adventures at Addo
Monday 13th February marked our departure from beautiful Cape St Francis, and our arrival in Addo. We were fortunate in that My previous boss Andrew had also arranged for us to stay with his parents-in-law, Ken and Margie at their Addo home. We arrived around lunchtime, and enjoyed a lovely lunch with Ken and Margie. We then took the hire car to Addo elephant park, where we spent a few hours driving around trying to spot the lions. As we arrived at Addo for the obligatory security check and registration, we reminisced about our first visit to the park the previous year: we had stopped at security, and encountered a young African man at the gate who checked us in. “Ahh,” he had grinned at us, “you stay here to make babies!” We fell about laughing, and the present day security officer at the gate looked at us, bemused.
We found our way into the rest camp, and then on to the gate to go out into the park. Our first port of call was a lookout which we knew was supposed to provide good views of the lions. Hopping out of the car, I took my Canon bridge camera out to capture some photos of elephants in the distance. At that precise moment, David Attenborough (it might has well have been) got out of the passenger seat of a gleaming 4×4 next to us, huge camera in hand, with about 50 lenses stacked to the front of it. Pride dented, and no lion pictures to show for it, I retreated back to our Volkswagen Polo with my bridge camera between my legs. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any lions. We did however see an endless number of giant African tortoises though, which was amusing. Elliott, who was driving, not only had to keep his eyes on the road but also his eyes peeled for the wildlife, because I kept accidentally falling asleep. A negative aspect of our experience at Addo this time was seeing how the South African droughts are affecting wildlife. In January 2016, we had seen herds of elephants, water buffalo, and many wildebeest, among others. This year, we saw only a small handful of elephants, no buffalo; and the watering holes we had visited the year before were now dried up. This was incredibly sad to see, and we sincerely hoped that the area would see some rainfall sooner rather than later (although arriving almost a week later to torrential rainfall in Durban led us to regret this wish somewhat). In the evening we had an awesome braai with Margie and Ken, and chatted about Ken’s work projects and our travel plans. We discussed the plan for the next day, and Ken mentioned he knew the company ‘CrissCross Adventures’ that operated close by. After browsing their website, we decided to try out quad biking, and booked it for 3pm the following day.
We celebrated St Valentines Day, Tuesday, in a rather unconventional way; visiting a cheetah breeding sanctuary with Margie, followed by a quad biking tour within Addo farmland! We woke for a leisurely breakfast with Margie, who suggested visiting a cheetah sanctuary she had driven past before on her way to a nearby town. “That sounds like a great idea; will we have time this morning before quad biking at 3pm?” I said. Elliott was convinced it would be fine, and we checked the map location on their website – which confirmed it was in the area (road R52) as Margie had said. Off we went to the cheetah sanctuary. We took a turn out of Addo right onto the R52 (remember this for later), which was the way Margie remembered the sanctuary to be. We continued along the road for five or so minutes, before Margie shook her head and said that we needed to go the other way, she was sure it wasn’t this way. At this point, Margie also flagged that she had under a quarter of a tank of petrol in the car.
Turning the car around, we headed in the opposite direction along the R52. Within five or so minutes, we passed the turning we had pulled out of from Addo, onto the R52. We carried on for another five or so kilometres, until Margie saw a spot to pull over and consult google maps using her data. Margie flipped open her iPad, when a young African man (carrying a machete, yes a machete) in government standard work overalls knocked on her window. I felt panic, as we were in a rather isolated spot, and Margie’s window was half down. Luckily, he simply asked for some water; and as Margie later said, she could hardly deny him some water when he was carrying the machete. “We are trying to find the Dannil Cheetah Sanctuary“, Margie said to the man. “Do you know if it’s along this road?” He shook his head; he didn’t know, but before we knew it he had run across the highway and consulted with his colleague. Our friend turned back to us, and shouted it was in the direction we were going, not more than 10km away. I checked the iPad, could see the R52 on google maps, and noted the road we had joined it from. The sanctuary was indeed to the left of this turnoff. We relaxed, called thank you, and carried on towards the cheetah sanctuary. A short while after our little stop off, we came to a halt in front of temporary traffic signals, with the road becoming one way due to roadworks. A workman halted the traffic with a flag, and our car was the first he stopped. After a short while, he raised his flag and we continued on our journey.
10km passed, and still no sanctuary. “How bizarre“, I said, with Margie’s iPad still in hand, “the sanctuary is located right along the main road. How can we have missed it?!” By this point, Margie was seriously concerned about the petrol level, and we agreed it was best to head back to Addo to fill up. Back we went along the R52, stopped again at the roadworks and hoped the traffic controller wouldn’t recognise us, and drove passed our friend with the machete. We turned right off the R52, drove for about ten minutes to the petrol station, and filled up. By this point, I felt rather disheartened: we wouldn’t have time to return to the cheetah sanctuary, as we had the quad bike date for the afternoon. Nonetheless I gave CrissCross a call at Margie’s suggestion, and they kindly agreed we could push back the quad biking until 4pm. Alas, we were back on the road and heading for the cheetahs! It was a complete dejavu: we turned left onto the R52, and fell about chuckling as we waved to our machete mate. We stopped as per usual at the work section, and carried on our way as the flag lifted in our favour. Everyone relaxed as we were safe in the knowledge that however long it now took us to get there, we were no longer at risk of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no petrol. We continued along the road for a while merrily, chuckling at the mornings’ shenanigans.
After a while, however, apprehension started to creep in. We had been driving for probably half an hour along the R52, when alarmingly we started noticing signs for Uitenhage, a town quite far south of Addo – and the road signs were indicating that we were only a few short kilometres from Uitenhage. “This can’t be it” Margie said, and she proceeded to turn the car around and pull over so we could consult google maps again. I looked at google maps and found the road which had brought us onto the R52, and yes: the sanctuary was situated to the left of this road. Confused, I slumped back in my seat. Margie started driving in the other direction, back towards Addo and away from Uitenhage. I decided to phone the cheetah sanctuary; perhaps their location had moved.
“Hello?” I said, as someone answered the line. “Is this Dannil Cheetah Sanctuary?”
“Yes, it certainly is“, answered a cheerful chap on the end of the line.
“Oh excellent. I’m coming from Kirkwood/Addo way, and I know you’re on the R52, but we just really can’t find you. I think we keep missing you…” and as I relayed the story of our driving backwards and forwards along the R52 to this complete stranger, it sounded so ridiculous that I cracked up laughing on the phone. “So coming from Addo“, the chap said, “you turn right onto the R52, carry on for ten minutes or so and you won’t miss us.” As he said this, I inspected google maps closely: it suddenly dawned on me that there were two separate roads from Addo that joined the R52, meaning that the sanctuary was located on the map almost midway between these two roads. I hadn’t noticed the other road, and indeed had mixed up the roads completely. As I realised this I fell about laughing, tears streaming down my face as I explained my cock-up to Margie, Elliott and the man on the phone. I regained composure, and told the man: “we’re on our way!”
“Don’t miss us again will you!” He laughed as he hung up.
Margie, Elliott and I kept laughing the rest of the way to the sanctuary. We stopped, for the fourth time, at the road work section, and the same man, for the fourth time, halted us as traffic flowed from the other direction. The man looked at the car, confused, and from Margie to me n the front, before smirking. “Yes,” said Margie while waving to him, “it’s us – we’re back again“, and we all fell about laughing at the situation. It was ridiculous. I kept apologising for my poor map-reading skills (Geography A-Levels taught me nothing but tectonic plates and long-shore drift), and Margie kept apologising for turning us back from going the right way initially. We passed Mr Machete, the road back to Addo which I had confused for a different road on google maps, and finally, after about ten minutes, we spotted the cheetah sanctuary. It was, as my friend on the phone had said, impossible to miss – and as we got out of the car, we cracked up in hysterics again. Poor Margie! This was typical for Michelliott, but we felt bad for wasting Margie’s morning and petrol. Luckily, she was still laughing as we entered the sanctuary.
We were immediately asked to sign disclaimer forms, waiving the sanctuary’s liability for any loss, damage, injury or death caused by them, due to their negligence or any other cause. I felt very uneasy signing the form, but I was determined that after all this trouble to get to the place, I would see the cats. We were given a detailed tour of the sanctuary by a lady who had worked there for eight years, and seemed very passionate about their mission to promote an increase in the number of cheetahs in Africa. Being a sceptical person, I wondered if it was all a money-making scheme. Their story about the cheetah protection seemed to tie up, but I didn’t really see why they homed other big cats, including lions. Was there a plan to release them to a national park? We asked many questions about plans for the cats, and a legitimate answer was always given, so I hope we helped to fund a genuine sanctuary and not a cash-cow. A highlight for me was walking with two of the male cheetahs, in their enclosure, and watching them relax in the sunshine.
Our time at the sanctuary was soon up, and we drove back to Addo for the next adventure. We couldn’t convince Margie to join us for quad-biking, so she kindly dropped us off. Hilariously, we had rushed back to avoid being late after originally pushing back the session, and our guide was a bit late himself; and then we had a delayed start due to a credit card machine malfunction. I quickly sent a message to Margie to let her know we had a late start, and then we were off. It was our first time on quad bikes, and I enjoyed myself, biking along the citrus farms, and following gentle inclines and descents; until we reached the ‘technical section’, as our guide called it. It involved negotiating many natural and manmade obstacles: narrow sections, tight bends, steep inclines, literally ditches of muck/shit, and rivers. As evil as it sounds, my favourite moment was successfully overcoming the steepest incline (at the bottom of which was foul smelling shit), narrowly avoiding driving headfirst into a tree, and being congratulated by our guide. Elliott came next: and halfway up the steep incline, his bike cut out and he rolled steadily backwards, downhill, to the shit at the bottom which was waiting for him. Our awesome day of adventures was completed with another braai with Margie and Ken, and a Skype call with their daughter Debbie and grandson Finn. That evening I felt sad to be moving on the following morning, as we had such a great time in Addo and loved our day trips with Margie. Ken gave us detailed directions for our slog to the Wild Coast the following day; it would take about seven hours, and Ken strongly advised us to get there before dark.
Car rescues and cop extortion
Wednesday – what a day. I think it was destined to be a bad day when we were still flapping around at 9am looking for somewhere to stay for that night. Elliott had booked somewhere the night before, but we realised in the morning it didn’t have wifi, although it had cats (we’re both allergic to cats), and was about an hour outside of where we wanted to be. Finally, we found a different lodge along the coast and booked it. At this point, it was 10am. TomTom told us that our destination was 7+ hours away, and we really needed to get there before dark, as Ken told us. We packed up the car, set up TomTom for the journey and at last we were off! Until 30 seconds later, when we got to the electronic gate at the bottom of the driveway and realised we were stuck. While staying at Addo, Ken or Margie had let us out – but Ken was at work by this point, and Margie had left for Port Elizabeth. We didn’t want to bother Ken or Margie, so Elliott ran back up the driveway (about 500m) to ask Mavis (the lovely housekeeper) to call the security number to open the gate. I waited for what seemed like ages, and finally saw Elliott come flying down the driveway, bright red and sweaty. He hopped in the car, and said the gate would be opening. We waited… And waited – the gate didn’t open! After a while, we did call Margie, who sorted the gate for us.
Finally, time to hit the road! I was a little bit stressed that it was almost 11am and we still hadn’t left, so I indicated left out of the driveway, remembering Ken’s directions from the night before, and distractedly said to Elliott “left, yeah?”
“No right!” shouted Elliott. I quickly swerved left, to overcompensate the right turn, and all of a sudden we bumped over something and heard a sickening crunch. We looked at each other in silence. Elliott hopped out, and his face dropped. “Oh my God, get out and have a look“, he said. With dread building in my stomach, I emerged from the car, and walked round to Elliott’s side… “HOLY SHIT” I cried.
“I know, I know“, said Elliott.
I had driven the front left wheel over a stone ditch, and we were stuck. I couldn’t believe this was happening. A South African heard the commotion and ran over to help us. He tried to lift the car back over the ditch with Elliott, but to no avail. He kept repeating, “you need a jack” – of course we didn’t have a jack! Overwhelmed with panic, I ran back to the gate (luckily it was still open) to seek more help from Mavis. As I ran up the drive in my Havianas, I passed the neighbouring house to Ken and Margie, where a couple of Jack Russell dogs were playing outside. They took one look at me, and began barking/yapping ferociously. One was so outraged at my presence, it followed me all the way back to Ken and Margie’s, yapping and snapping at my heels. This tipped me over the edge and I felt tears well in my eyes as I tried to kick the dog away and thought about how we were going to get out of this mess. I found Mavis, and tried to explain what had happened (probably rambled along in my panicked state). Mavis said we should call Ken, but luckily he didn’t answer (how embarrassing would that have been). Mavis then came outside the house, and called over to a gardener who was working nearby. The man agreed to come and help us, and said he would meet me back at the car.
I dashed back down the driveway (the gate was still open, thank God), to find Elliott waiting with the South African. Then, all of a sudden, a huge jeep drove up to us. The driver got out, laughed, and asked “what the hell happened?!” We were in luck. The day before, we had gone quad biking with a local company, Criss Cross Adventures. This guy was the owner! He attached the jeep to the car, and I noticed the gardener was driving towards towards us in a truck, accompanied by a couple of fellow workers. They hopped out of the truck, and gathered round the front left wheel of our stranded car. Chris from Criss Cross Adventures told us he was going to drive the jeep forward quickly to bring the front wheel back over the ditch. The gardeners and Elliott backed off, and Chris drove the jeep forward sharply; but because the wheel wasn’t lifted, this jolted the car and scraped it loudly sideways across the ditch. The gardeners shouted to stop and made lifting gestures to Chris. The South African chaps and Elliott gathered closely around the car, and started to lift the wheel. Chris drove slowly forward, and miraculously the guys gently lifted the left wheel over the ditch, and Chris pulled the car back to the driveway. I watched this happen, with my hands over my mouth and a tight knot in my stomach. We checked the car, and it seemed fine aside from minor scratches; we thanked the guys for their help and gave them some rand for lunch as a thank you.
Unfortunately we encountered more dramas en route to Port St John’s. Much of South Africa’s highways are single lane, even the major routes, and every once in a while the road splits into two lanes for five hundred metres or so at a time. We endured many crazy South Africans overtaking us on the single lane during the eight hours it took us to get there. In addition, during one bathroom pit stop (literally peeing by the side of the road), I didn’t realise there was a car coming from the other direction, and flashed my entire backside at said car – who beeped and whooped as he drove past. To add insult to injury, I realised I had an audience at the last minute, and pulled my shorts up as quickly as possible, missing the chance to pee altogether. More importantly, we had failed to adhere to Ken’s strict instruction to arrive before dark, and over an hour away from Port St John’s, dark settled in. We didn’t realise the route was a hilly one, and soon became immersed in thick fog, and poor Elliott could only see five metres in front of him. Elliott kept accidentally speeding over treacherous, barely-there speed bumps, and we could hear the car scrape the gravel in the dark. Finally, eight hours after departing, we arrived at our destination in Port St John’s, a little town on the Wild Coast. It was pretty rough, but the hotel was very nice, and we even had a pool.
Thursday – Pool day! We mooched around the pool area for most of the day, and poor Elliott was most upset about missing lunch; our hotel didn’t serve lunch, and we didn’t fancy our chances outside of the safety of the hotel. Comedy moment of the day was finding mouse droppings across our sumptuous king-sized four poster bed, and in various corners of the room. Most unfortunately, there was no one at reception to report this issue; indeed the security guard who was lurking near the reception confirmed that everyone “was sleeping“.
On Friday we travelled to the Drakensberg, which borders Lesotho, for a three-day horse trek. Elliott had found the trek online, and weeks ago a three-day horse trek in the Drakensberg mountains had seemed a good idea. Surprise, surprise, the day did not start well. We left the hotel, and I had driven 50 metres down the road, when a traffic officer flagged us down. I pulled over, and rolled down my window. “Good morning“, I said apprehensively. The officer returned my greeting, and asked to see my driving licence. “You are not a South African citizen?” Confused (my licence clearly stated I am a British citizen), I shook my head. “Ah“, he said, “this is a problem. As you are not a South African citizen, you must have an international licence to drive here.” My heart dropped to my stomach. This was new to me. Trying to remain calm, and remembering everything we had heard about South Africa’s corrupt public service sector, I said, “well, I’m confused as to why this is the case. Why would the hire car company have allowed us to hire this car if our licences aren’t valid out here?”
“No, the car is irrelevant – the car is fine. It is the licence that is the problem.” I bit my tongue; when I really wanted to say “how could the car be irrelevant? We were discussing a licence to drive the car!” Elliott and I exchanged looks, as the cop smirked at us from my window. I explained again that we had driven in South Africa the previous year, using the licences. This fell on deaf ears. It was at this point I was sure he was trying to corner us into a situation where he would benefit from a bribe. I was determined that we were not going to give any money to this man. I tried one last time. “When I was pulled over in Knysna two weeks ago, my licence and the car was checked by the traffic police. Why did they not say anything about my licence then?” The guy looked taken aback.
“It wasn’t the same police as me” he argued. I really wanted to say “how would you know, you weren’t there” – but refrained. Elliott told him it was, with the same patrol car. The cop changed his demeanour, and started saying how he just wanted to show us a lesson so that we didn’t make the same mistake next time. He then asked for my date of birth, which I confirmed, and he performed a ‘check’ of the car: he went and looked at the tax disc quickly, and indicated we could go. We both cursed him as we drove off, and I spent the rest of the two and a half hours hoping we wouldn’t get pulled over again.
Needless to say, we were relieved when we made it to our destination in the Drakensberg, which was surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers, and valleys, and we hung about lazily until dinner; where we met one of the people who ran the farm. She then took us through what to expect for the duration of the three days to and from Lesotho. Originally portrayed as a three-day horse trek on the website, in actual fact it sounded like we were heading off on an expedition into the unknown… And our guide from the farm had only completed the trek himself once before. We were given a saddle bag to pack our things for the three days (and were advised to pack light). After dinner we headed in for an early night; or so we thought. Our room was swarming with flies, and I was just dozing off when a bug crawled across my upper lip. I screamed, and jumped up on the bed. I realised the only way I would be able to get to sleep would be to pull the sheet over my face. Again, I was just about to doze off when I heard a strange scuffling noise on the floor. I whipped back the covers, and looked down at the floor next to the bed; there was a frog, jumping across the floor towards us. Unsurprisingly, we had a restless nights sleep, and woke up feeling very tired the next morning.
Saturday was day one of ‘the expedition’. Our guide, Oli, was a good laugh, and we were feeling excited about starting the adventure. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the trip commenced with a 45km drive off-road and on dirt tracks to Bushman’s Nek, the South African border at which we would depart from. We arrived, and waited for the horses to be saddled up. Oli realised that although food for the trip had been packed for us, we had not been provided with water. We had been told the journey to the Lesotho village which we would call ‘home’ was six and a half hours. Oli casually asked the driver if we could take two of the 500ml water bottles from the car, and I filled them up from the toilet at the border. Already, I was worrying about not having enough water. For me, one of the most amusing parts of the morning was watching Oli struggle into a pair of chaps over his jeans for what seemed like half an hour (probably only fifteen minutes).
We hopped up on our allocated horses (mine was a beautiful chestnut coloured horse, who the guys referred to as ‘Jake’ initially), and posed for an obligatory pre-departure photo at the border while our passports were being stamped. We had a very short wait for our Lesotho guide to collect us at the border, and finally ‘M-Daddy Charles’ arrived and we were off. We crossed several narrow, pretty streams that weaved between the mountains, and soon the landscape opened up to a large valley below steep mountains. Naively, we had not anticipated we would be navigating up and over mountains; fools. I tried not to look down to my right as we scaled the first steep mountain, but I had confidence that Jake would keep us safe. The scenery and horses kept us entertained for the first few hours; huge, green mountains with perfectly formed peaks framed us as we made our way further from the border into no mans land and towards Lesotho. It was so peaceful. The only people we encountered were two different small groups of native shepherds, wearing clothes from basic materials.
Every now and again we would enter into a trot, which I didn’t enjoy too much as my trainers always slipped forwards in the stirrups, and the leather rubbed the front of my poor ankles mercilessly. Aside from this intermittent pain, no major incidences occurred until we almost reached the lunch spot – which was supposedly ‘approximately’ halfway to the village. A group who were on their way back from the trek were coming down the mountain, as the four of us ascended towards the lunch stop. The groups passed on a large flat section of the mountain (very near to the top), and the other group seemed to have had a great time. Jake and Elliott’s horse ‘Nandos’ quietly grazed as the group leaders chatted for a short while. M-Daddy Charles chatted to me for a bit, and confirmed that Jake was actually named ‘Peaches’ – much more suitable. M-Daddy Charles indicated we should move on, and the other group made their way away from us, across the flat towards the steep mountainside. At that moment Nandos decided that down trumped up, and started trotting after her mates, clearly thinking she was better off at home. M-Daddy Charles galloped after Elliott and Nandos, and rounded them up. Meanwhile, Peaches had suddenly realised her brothers and sisters were going home, and she was going with them. Peaches raced across the mountain to join the other group, with me clinging onto her mane, the reigns and saddle for dear life. Digging my heels back sharply and yanking the reigns, I tried to bring her to a quick halt, and luckily she stopped; but not without bucking her neck sideways and up and down, attempting to throw me off. I knew this was my moment to save myself, and slide off. I managed to do so without falling spectacularly, feeling terrified. We walked the remaining five minutes up to the lunch stop, where I shakily ate a bit of food, and remembered we had half a bottle of water between the four of us. So far, so good.
When Oli and M-Daddy told us it was time to move on, I felt very apprehensive about getting back on Peaches after her crazy moment. We descended the mountain without too much trouble and reached a large expanse of flat. I was rather nervous, as Peaches kept hurrying forward to overtake the other horses, and I was constantly gripping the reigns. Then, all of a sudden, Peaches decided she was sick of me. She took off, and I called for M-Daddy Charles to rescue me. She tried her very best to throw me off; and once again I managed to hop down without injury. M-Daddy looked at me, and I said “Charles! She’s crazy!” He laughed, and replied:
“Oh yes, Peaches is crazy!” At that moment, I decided I wouldn’t be riding Peaches again. M-Daddy Charles got off his horse, and indicated for me to take the reigns. He then went to Peaches, who took one look at M-Daddy and bolted in the opposite direction. I helplessly watched M-Daddy run after Peaches, and couldn’t help thinking “what the fuck have we signed up for“.
We gradually made our way across the flat to mountain inclines. M-Daddy finally found a spring in the mountain side and filled up the water bottles. A Lesotho chap met us there on his horse, to go and purchase entry tickets to the Lesotho national park. Oli and M-Daddy revealed at this point that we were still in ‘no-mans’-land’ and just about to enter Lesotho. I thought “holy fuck, we’re not even into Lesotho yet“, and wished that we were close to the village. We were not. We first had to negotiate a descent down the mountainside ‘off-horse’ as such. This involved leading the horse by the reigns down the narrow mountain path. It was so slippery and steep, that twice Oli’s horse (Black Mumba) went down and sustained an injury to her leg. Elliott’s horse also skidded over, and unfortunately kicked him in the ankle as she struggled to regain her footing (he’s still got the scar two months later). I managed to lead M-Daddy Charles’ horse safely to the bottom, and then we returned to the saddles. Our first glimpses of the Lesotho valleys were beautiful; it was very overcast and rain was in the air, but the views were amazing. Freshwater streams curled around the foot of huge rocky cliff edges, and there was not a soul in sight. After what seemed like hours, we reached the first village – not the village we would be staying in, but M-Daddy Charles’ village. There were horses, cows and goats grazing, and one feisty brown short-haired dog came bounding up to us, barking joyfully. The dog played at the horses ankles and chased along beside us – she was very cute, and it later emerged that this was M-Daddy’s adopted dog, Baby Girl (see photos). Small children waved shyly at us from round, one-room houses, and it felt like we were in a completely different world.
By this point, M-Daddy Charles’ horse was slowing to a stroll; she had already galloped the 70+km to the border from Lesotho in the morning to meet us, and I could feel that she was really struggling. Plus I am twice the size of M-Daddy; and his horse was about half the width of the one I had been given. We reached the edge of the village, and the horse refused to go any further. I dug my heels in, and begged her to move. No luck. M-Daddy Charles came back for me and clicked his tongue at the horse, but still she wouldn’t move. M-Daddy Charles then took the reigns from me in his left hand, and with his right hand guided Peaches forward. “She wants to stay, because this is her village. She thinks she’s home“, explained M-Daddy Charles. For the next hour, M-Daddy led me across streams, navigated up and down hills, all the while keeping control of crazy Peaches. He really was a horse whisperer. We took a dirt track into the next village, our destination. We had almost arrived at the village accommodation, when Peaches started flipping out again, bucking M-Daddy Charles. This was agitating M-Daddy’s horse, who began swaying and bucking away from M-Daddy. M-Daddy let go of me, and Peaches careered down the pathway. Shaking, I thought again that the horse was mad. By this point Elliott and I both privately agreed we wished that we were only completing a two-day trek.
After arriving at the accommodation and relaxing for a bit, Oli took Elliott and I to the single village shop. We picked up some supplies, and I got a little wedge of cake for morale. Oli then took us next door to the little pub to pick up beers. We met a very nice man called Jeremiah, who actually looked after the trekking scheme from the Lesotho side. “I’ll be along tonight to see you“, he said. The boys watched the football on the TV for a bit, then we made tracks back to the accommodation – which reminded me very much of one of those large Boy Scout type buildings, with dorm rooms, a very large dining/games space, and a kitchen and store. We helped Oli figure out what we were going to have for dinner, while he told us stories about the last time he was in Lesotho. Apparently, on a Sunday a random man from the village just walked through the kitchen door, sat down and waited to be served a roast dinner! We also met a lovely lady who Oli flattered endlessly to ensure she would bake us some of her tasty bread. M-Daddy joined us in the kitchen for a beer, and I said to him that I was surprised my ass didn’t hurt from saddlesore. “Really?” He said, slapping his hand across my bum, laughing!
We were about to settle down for dinner, when Jeremiah arrived at the kitchen door. Oli poured him a beer, and I felt a bit awkward as his son was also there, and I didn’t want to eat in front of them. Then, about five minutes later, the kitchen door banged open again; and in walked a different man, one we hadn’t met before. He greeted each of us like long lost friends, and Oli whispered to us “it’s him! The guy with the Sunday roast!” Oli dropped several hints about us having dinner shortly and there not being enough for everyone; they however stayed, and we awkwardly ate the food while Jeremiah chatted with M-Daddy and Mr Sunday Roast. We were so tired that when M-Daddy said he was off to bed, I said to Elliott I needed to sleep too. It had been a long day; and I really wanted to be cuddled to sleep. We tried to squish into one of the single beds, but after half an hour of fighting over the blankets and trying to sleep like crammed spoons in a drawer, I gave up and took myself off to another bunk, where I fell asleep almost immediately.
Sunday, day two. I really didn’t want to get out of bed, especially as heavy rainfall was predicted. In addition, I really didn’t want to have to get back on crazy Peaches. But what choice would I have? M-Daddy’s horse just couldn’t manage with me. As we lay in bed, struggling to get up, we heard a strangled sort of neighing sound from outside our window. I pulled the curtain back, to see Peaches wildly cantering around the accommodation, mane flying behind her in the wind; with M-Daddy chasing after her. Oli called us for breakfast, and I reluctantly got dressed, and trudged to the dining hall. Cooked breakfast awaited! While we ate breakfast, Oli informed me that I would ride Black Mumba, and he would ride Peaches, which was welcome news. M-Daddy had finally succeeded in cornering Peaches; by hiding the reigns in his jacket she allowed him to get close enough to catch her. With all horses saddled up, the four of us and Baby Girl left for a tour of the surrounding villages which was to be a far shorter route than the previous day.
However, what was not factored in was how miserable it is riding for five and a half hours in the rain. It started almost as soon as we had left, and it was decided that we would go an alternative route to the usual day two jaunt. We made it to some amazing cliff formations after a few hours to stop for lunch, and enjoyed the delicious bread and some biscuits. It was really interesting to see where shepherds took shelter under the cliffs, and we saw markings and drawings showing where they had been. Then we started heading back a different way to the one we came. I noticed as we crossed the streams that after hours and hours of rain, they had started to become angry, rushing rivers, and we had to keep checking that Baby Girl had made it across. Unbeknown to me at the time, this was a moment of foreshadowing. We negotiated a steep grassy hill that involved crossing on a section of slippery rock. Black Mumba and Nando’s (Elliott’s horse) crossed together in parallel; but Nando’s slipped and fell sideways, with Elliott falling off, rather gracefully it must be noted. I shouted to Oli and M-Daddy to wait up (they had a habit of riding in front). M-Daddy doubled back on himself, and said “ohhh you were lucky she didn’t land on you!” This angered Elliott, whose pride was injured by this point.
“Oh yes,” he replied sarcastically, “really lucky that the horse fell over and didn’t land on me!”
We continued on forwards, high up into the mountains and following the closest thing to a road that I had seen in Lesotho. By this point, the temperature had dropped considerably, probably to below 10 degrees Celsius. I recall lightly gripping my reigns, shivering with my head facing downwards, trying to shelter my face from the bitter wind and rain. I would have given anything to have been transported back to South Africa at that moment. To keep spirits up I made a joke about wanting to snuggle in the blankets back at the accommodation. It seemed like hours later, but eventually we must have been near the village because Oli took off at a gallop (at the time I had thought “cheers buddy!“). We arrived twenty minutes later, and clambered into the warm. Oli had set up a gas heater in the kitchen, and there was tea waiting for us. We then went to get changed, and I must confess that Elliott and I snuggled up for a nap, listening to Harry Potter on audio. We woke up to find Jeremiah had stopped for a visit, so we went to have tea and a good natter with him. I loved hearing his stories about his family, and living in Lesotho. I offered around the ‘cake’ that I had brought; only to find that upon tasting, it was the same as the bread that had been baked for us! We fell about laughing. Dinner that evening was a quieter affair, and I couldn’t wait for bed, so that we could return back to South Africa. Before falling asleep, we noticed it was still raining.
Day 3: ‘departure day’. We packed up pretty quickly in the morning, and were on the road slightly ahead of schedule. As we left the village, and waved goodbye to children lingering on their doorsteps, I felt grateful for our experience in Lesotho. We had learnt that the journey to church was up to an hour’s walk to the next village, come rain or shine. M-Daddy’s girlfriend lived in another village, and he had to travel very far without a car to see her. The nearest shops aside from the little village store were also a good distance away. We crossed the first lot of streams – which had swelled overnight to at least double the size they were on Saturday. Oli and M-Daddy kept leading the group into a trot, and for the first time on the trip I felt physically shattered, like I couldn’t keep up. After only a short period of time, we reached the waterfall – one of the reasons for choosing the three day trek. On the final day, the route back is past a beautiful waterfall, where you can swim. Except on our last day, it was grey, murky, very cold and very strong. We admired the view for a bit, and decided to continue to get to the lunch spot. This was actually the last point from Bushman’s Nek at which they could get mobile phone reception; so Oli made contact with the farm to confirm we would be at the border in just a couple of hours.
The next phase of the journey was for me, the worst by far. We led the horses down the mountainside, away from the lunch spot, and it was incredibly steep and slippy from all the rain. We then got back on our saddles. The others were making good progress, but Black Mumba descended the mountain carefully and slowly (for which I was grateful); however it meant we were continuously lagging behind. It was nerve wracking, as the horse stumbled and tripped her way down the narrow ledge along the mountainside, and there were many times when my stomach dropped as Black Mumba lost her footing. Finally, we reached the relative flat of the valley, and I relaxed. FOOL.
We were then required to negotiate the streams that criss-crossed between the foot of the mountain and the safety of the border. And they were no longer streams, as mentioned previously, but angry, fast-moving rivers. I felt nervous as we crossed the first river, and as usual Black Mumba lagged behind. The next river looked torrential, with no exaggeration. Oli went first, then Elliott, and then M-Daddy. I called to M-Daddy it wasn’t OK, and I was scared. Black Mumba followed the others, and I immediately felt the strength of the river. Before this point, we had made about 10-15 river crossings, and I had not felt the force of the river. I checked my camera bag, containing my iPhone, the passports and my Canon camera, was high enough on my back to avoid being submerged. As Black Mumba made towards the middle of the river, the strength of the current took her downstream, and she staggered away from the bank at which the others had made the crossing. I tried to encourage her forward with my body, but it was no good. She stopped still (at this point the river was up to the top of Black Mumba’s tail) and I felt her legs give way beneath me, and I fell off to her left, against the current. The river was so strong that I struggled to get to my feet, and I panicked; what if the current took me underneath the horse and she stood on me? After a number of seconds, I staggered forward and made it to the bank, choking back tears; my phone, camera and passports were likely to be completely damaged.
M-Daddy came towards me, and I angrily shouted that the crossing was not safe. I started removing my waterproof clothes and gave them to M-Daddy, as I was now soaked to my very core. In shock, I gave the bag to Elliott, who (in hindsight) made the fatal error of turning my phone on. It appeared to be working. The camera was fine, and the passports were just a little damp. This was a small relief. I then asked Oli and M-Daddy how far away we were from the border; the answer was a noncommittal “not far, but we need to keep moving“. I reluctantly got back on the horse, and we were off… until we reached another river crossing. The previous crossing had been a straight across job. This one involved descending down a small, gradual slope into the fast-moving river, crossing to a section where it forks, and then continuing to the other side. Elliott and M-Daddy crossed first, and I followed with Black Mumba, who took one look at the river and darted up to our left along the bank and away from the river. I turned her round, and we tried again, to no avail. I began to cry quietly; I was physically and mentally shattered, and I couldn’t wait to be back at the border; in fact I would have given my right arm to disapparate there on the spot.
Oli tried to encourage us back across, and I did my best, but I knew that like me, this horse was scarred by our river crossing experience. I explained this to Oli, who said that we needed to keep moving as the guys were probably at the border, waiting. “I would rather swim across the river myself than be thrown off the back of a horse again“, I said stubbornly, and I started walking along the bank to see the easiest route across. After a short while, Oli called M-Daddy Charles back across the river to us, and he came back across on Elliott’s horse. I hopped on, and was relieved when the horse went straight into the river, and got us safely to the other side. I hopped down, and before we knew it the horse took off. “I’m walking from here“, said Elliott. “It’s not safe, I’m not getting back on!” Oli then came across the river and went to round up the horses, and we waited for M-Daddy. Eventually, M-Daddy got Black Mumba across the river. “Oli, are there any more rivers?” I called nervously.
“No!” He lied. We crossed three more (less treacherous) rivers, and finally saw the border in the near distance. I nearly cried at the sight of it; South Africa had never looked more beautiful. We were greeted with tea and fruit, and upon arrival back at the farm, we huddled in front of the fire, sharing stories. We ate a great dinner cooked by the owner of the farm, and we were back in high spirits, laughing with the others at our misfortunes and experiences. We met another worker at the hostel, who showed us some of the information he was putting together to advertise the trek. We provided them with positive feedback, and that night, emotionally and physically exhausted, we slept like lions.
We awoke on Tuesday, our whole bodies aching but so glad to be alive and back in South Africa. I sent messages to my friends on my iPhone, relieved that after a night in rice it was doing well. This was our last day before our flight to India on the Wednesday, so we set off relatively early to Durban, hoping to get in a good beach day. As we got closer to Durban, it started to rain, although I must mention that we were minutes if not seconds behind a terrible looking smash up, so we had that to be thankful for. As we arrived at our B&B, the rain was falling thick and fast. I didn’t want to get out of the car, and thought miserably of the beach. Tired, and bitterly disappointed at yet more rain (quite frankly we had endured enough rainfall in the previous few days to last us a lifetime) Elliott and I began bickering quietly between ourselves, as we waited to check in. Finally, we went to our room to deposit our bags before nipping out to the local neighbourhood for lunch. I went to use my phone, but it had turned itself off. I panicked, and tried turning it on – no luck. I relayed this to Elliott. He brushed it off, and said it probably needed charging – but I knew it didn’t. I immediately started worrying, but we went out for lunch anyway, and stupidly walked past a certified Apple retailer store without even noticing. As soon as we returned from lunch, we started googling how to fix a water damaged iPhone 6. Apparently, the rice method isn’t a good fix, and we needed to take the iPhone straight to an Apple Store to see if they could save it. We found that the nearest store was right around the corner – but it was shut at this point. We resolved to take it the next day. That evening, to toast to the first chapter of our adventure and the next, we went for awesome slap-up steaks and wine at Butcher Boys.
Wednesday arrived, and with a sinking feeling I remembered the previous days’ episode with my iPhone. We got up, and packed our bags for our flight, which was due to leave Durban’s King Shaka International airport in the early evening. When making arrangements for our hire car all those months ago, we had selected to return the car to the airport at 2pm, giving us plenty of time to catch our flight. In hindsight, we should have booked a later slot; as the company graciously accord you a half hour window after your slot in which you can return the car, otherwise they charge you for another day. Oops. We checked out, and went to the Apple retailer store, to see what they could do. “Is it the iPhone 7“, the store assistant asked eagerly. My heart sank.
“No, the 6“, I said, bracing myself, and I told him what happened.
“Ok, best case scenario is that it will turn on, but given what it’s been through it’s unlikely“, the guy said honestly. “Now, I’m going to need to keep it for about 48 hours“, he said. My heart sank even deeper still. “I can’t leave it here“, I said miserably, “I fly to India at 7pm tonight and need to get the hire car back to the airport by 2.30pm.”
“Can you leave it until 1pm?” I nodded reluctantly, and Elliott and I went to sit in a nearby cafe in Florida Street to wait.
We amused ourselves between using the wifi and watching the world go by. Along the street outside, cars were parked against the curb at least two deep, and we enjoyed watching drivers trying to track down those who had blocked them in, and negotiate their way out of spaces. At the specified time, Elliott went to the Apple retailer store to find out the verdict, and I went to get the car. As he got in the car, I knew at once it was no good. Elliott shook his head. “He said you can try leaving it out in the sun in India, but basically it’s fucked.” Wonderful. I checked the time; we still had an hour to drop off the car. I asked if he had got the directions ready on TomTom for the airport, to which he smugly replied he had. We were nervous to drop off the car; we had an excess on the car and hoped there was no visible damage on the car that would be queried. I drove us for about twenty minutes across the city, heading south for the N1. “That’s strange“, I murmured. “We haven’t seen any signs for King Shaka airport, and I thought we would have by now. We’re definitely going the right way?”
Elliott nodded. “Yeah, we’re following TomTom, it’s not much further.” We continued along the road for another ten minutes or so, and then I impatiently asked how far away we were. “We are here… take that left!” Elliott shouted at the last minute. I hastily indicated left, and told Elliott off for not paying attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a very old-looking control tower. “Where are we?” I said briskly to Elliott. He started looking at the TomTom app. Meanwhile, I looked around us; it looked like we were at an old, degenerated industrial estate, and not a thriving international airport. “You did search for King Shaka international airport, didn’t you?!”
Elliott went pink, and started stuttering, “I searched for Durban airport!”
“Durban airport?! That’s like me searching for ‘London airport’ at home and going to Stansted, you fool!” I shouted, and started turning the car round. I had lost my patience: I just couldn’t believe that Elliott had been foolish enough to search ‘Durban airport’ when there is more than one. “I didn’t mean to, did I!” Elliott shouted back, huffing at me defensively. I took the phone from his hands, and searched for King Shaka. TomTom found it; it was forty minutes away back across the city, in the other direction. I shouted at Elliott to this effect, and he swore back at me. I’m embarrassed to say, we drove away from the industrial estate shouting at each other in a way that we never have done so before. I drove in silence for a while, and then, when we reached the N2, I saw a road sign, as clear as day, for: ‘King Shaka Int’l Airport’. I burst out laughing, and at the same time, Elliott did too. We apologised to each other, and I couldn’t stop laughing from this point. Of course, it became a race against time; TomTom told us our arrival time was 14.32pm, two minutes after our cutoff. Needless to say, we didn’t make it.
I pulled up to drop off the car at 14.33pm, and started moving our backpacks out of the car. The chap who was taking care of the return shook our hands, and clutched an official looking clipboard. He immediately asked if the car drove OK, and we responded to confirm it had driven fine. He began circling the car, and inspecting it closely – the previous year we had hired a car with a different company, and upon returning the car, the guy had barely looked at it – so we waited with bated breath. “Can you tell me about the scratches under here?” He indicated to the front left side, under the bumper. We hadn’t noticed any scratches there, and it almost certainly would have happened when Elliott accidentally overshot the speed bumps. “I hadn’t noticed that before“, I said, “but we have done a lot of off-road driving in the car“. He didn’t ask anything else, but required a signature from Elliott to acknowledge the scratches. Before we left England, Elliott had purchased a mobile phone car holder to use in the car, which suctions to the windscreen. Hilariously, we had set it up on the first day of using the car, to find it wouldn’t accommodate Elliott’s phone. “We’ve left a mobile phone holder here for the next person“, I said to the guy as we finished checking that we hadn’t left anything behind. He inspected it, and said it looked quite good; we suggested he take the holder.
We hastened towards the airport before any more questions were asked, and checked in. We were both sad to leave South Africa; in fact if we hadn’t booked and paid for our North India tour, I’m sure we would have stayed another month. Coming back to the Western Cape had been like coming home, and I felt tears in my eyes when I thought about Cape Town and our garden route. Almost reluctantly, we went through immigration and acquired our fifth stamp, our departure from King Shaka.