Sunday, September 12, 2010

Riding in South Africa

It's been a while since I've posted anything about riding around the world... since last winter? I think I left off in Thailand which means South Africa is next. Why would I be writing about stuff in the past when the weather is PERFECT for outdoor adventures and we were supposed to be competing in our second recognized horse trials this weekend? Jasper cut his leg, then I got a "touch" of pneumonia so I've basically been in bed for the past 2 weeks somewhere in between going stir crazy and being in the lethargic drug induced state of not caring. I'm on day 2 of antibiotics so things should be looking up soon.

While living in Thailand my (then) boyfriend was a professional photographer and got an assignment in South Africa. I met him in Cape Town for a week or so before his assignment. This is Tower Mountain. You took a very long, very steep gondola ride to the top and then had unbelievable views.
Tower Mountain, Cape Town at the bottom.

When we got to the top, there were people actually rapelling off the side- the longest rappel in the world. The ropes went so far down the mountain you couldn't even see the people at the bottom. In the pic above if you look carefully you can see someone on their way down.

Of course I had to go, and Gordon being a good sport came along too. Here he is on the way down. It felt to me like we must have rappelled at least half way down the mountain. That was a huge error in judgement. When the rest of our group walked back to where the gondola picked them up, I told Gordon we should hike down the rest of the way.

Gordon, being a good sport, agreed after pointing out that there were no trails and the mountain was really steep. The guides could have cared less since it isn't America and they're not used to being sued. So we started off, clamboring over and around huge boulders and sliding down rocks. It was pretty fun for the first hour or so. After the third hour, it didn't look like we were any closer to the bottom than when we started. By the end of the descent all the muscles in my quads were a shivering mass of jelly and I could hardly walk for days.

What did I want to see (besides Cape Town) while in South Africa? Elephants. African ones. At the time I was completely and totally enamored with elephants (still am) and found a wild elephant reserve that we could get to in a couple of days by driving down the coastline. This was a great plan until I was sitting in the passenger's side of a rental car with the steering wheel in front of me. To make matters worse it was a stick- how exactly does one use their left hand to shift? And you have to WAIT to turn right? I got a little nervous and told Gordon he should drive first, being from Scotland, where they all drive on the wrong side of the road. Gordon informed me that he was from Edinburgh- a big city. You don't need to learn how to drive in a city, you take public transport.

Between the two of us, Gordon learning about gas and brake and me helping him shift and me learning to keep from driving into oncoming traffic, we made it to the reserve. People are very nice drivers in S. Africa and very forgiving. And what kept us from seeing wild African elephants for the first time? Horses, of course. Right next to the entrance to the reserve were horses for hire. Gordon didn't say a thing and pulled into the stable. Gordon doesn't ride horses, never has, and man did he get the ride of a lifetime.

It was just the 3 of us, me, Gordon, and the guide. The guide figured out I could ride and that Gordon was a good sport (a recurring theme here) and could hang on. We did a 3 hour ride in less than an hour and a half, walking, trotting, and galloping down the flat parts. The guide and I were both thrilled with how fast we had gone and Gordon was... stoic.

Gordon patting his horse and thanking him for getting it over with quickly.

Me happy that my addiction had been filled for a short time.

The next day we drove to the park and actually went in. We paid our entrance fee and got maps. You basically drove your car around on the dirt roads and looked for elephants. There were no guarantees you would see anything and a lot of the roads were closed due to water damage. We only had one chance since we'd spent the previous day riding and needed to head back to Cape Town the following day. We spent the day driving around, taking in the scenery, but no elephants. The sun was starting to go down, and although I was a little heartbroken was plotting a way back to the entrance when Gordon slammed on the brakes. There before us was this:
HUGE. Huge is really the only word that doesn't even begin to describe this creature. She was coming out of the bushes and onto the road and Gordon backed the car up so fast you couldn't tell he was a new driver. We sat there, mesmerized, and watched her watch us. Then more started to appear. One had a baby. She stopped in the middle of the road, looked at us, and started flapping her ears and making noise. I have never seen a grown man look so terrified. Or swear so loudly. "WHAT DO WE DO?" I told him to turn off the car, turn off the car, turn off the car it's making too much noise she doesn't like the noise but then how do we get out of here?

He turned off the car. It was a car very similar to my parent's old Volkswagen Rabbit, and the minute he turned off the motor the engine fan came on wheezing and whirling away. Again more swearing. By this time we were surrounded by about 10 elephants on all sides and more were appearing. I think at some point Gordon reached over and pushed the lock down on my door, which I found to be extremely funny but was too afraid of making noise to say anything or laugh. The standoff probably only lasted 5 minutes but felt like hours, and just as silently as they came they left back into the bushes.

I think the next country is Spain...