Ride on the Wild Side

The glitzy Wild Coast Casino just south of Port Edward half way along South Africa's east coast, is the unlikely meeting place to start a horse riding adventure into the remoter parts of the Wild Coast.From the buz and glitz of the casino you walk south along the beach to the nearest river and cross it in a little canoe. Suddenly you feel far away from the tasteless material world of noisy one-armed bandits and you enter 'real Africa', full of small simple villages and subsistence living.I love finding an adventure that nobody else seems to know about and The Amadiba Adventure Project seems to be a well kept secret. It is a horse-riding trek through the remote northern coastline of the Transkei. Run and managed by the local community, everybody gets a share of the income by providing horses, accommodation, food, bag carrying and any other services that might be needed.

A Proper African Adventure

As soon as you step in the little canoe that takes you and your saddlebags across the first shallow river mouth and you get on your horse, you know it is going to be a proper African adventure. There are no roads and you pass nothing more hand-tended fields of maize and the occasional scattering of family huts and sometimes a small village. If we were in a silver Mercedes instead of on a local pony, the reaction might be different, but on a horse we were welcomed with long stares, broad grins and shy hand waves.The famously long deserted beaches of the Wild Coast were on the move in the unexpectedly strong wind and our hoof marks were the only imprints on the whispering sands, which were shifting under our feet. In just a few seconds a chiffon thin layer of sand obliterated any signs that we had been there. Giant shipwrecks took longer to disappear and a pointed steel hull provided a perfect perch for a fish eagle, who barely felt the necessity to move as we trotted by.

Women Work the Fields

Inland, the hills were not alive with the sound of music, but the terrain fitted the bill perfectly. So much impossibly green munchable grass yet very few grazing animals to make use of it. Dominoes of cultivated land were spotted with women hoeing the weeds from the loamy brown soil.At the next river another canoe was waiting and a fresh set of horses on the other side. The horses could probably have waded over but to allow as many people as possible to benefit from this tourism initiative, more steeds were used. Apart from an over abundance of ticks, a bit of mange and some sores, the horses were generally in good condition. They walked fast and were more than happy to pick up pace for a beach gallop. The NGO assisting in this project is planning to facilitate a training course for the horse owners to improve care of common diseases with medicines provided by a donor.

Fresh Do-Nuts

I was constantly amazed how everything was so well organised. We arrived after about 5 hours of riding, at a campsite and there to welcome and feed us were ladies from a local village. There were more in our party than originally planned but another new dome tent was found and erected and in it went a thick mattress and fresh bedding. The smell of fresh donuts drew us to the trestle table where they were being deep-fried and sugared as we watched.

Posessed by Ancestors

Rarely on a trip to any other country do you get the opportunity to really connect with local people, but this trip provided that. After a simple supper cooked by the local ladies we were invited to the hut of the traditional healer, where the youngsters were practising their dance techniques and the healer became possessed by her ancestors. For a mixture of well-travelled Europeans, it still came as quite a shock as we stared in awe as her body shook, her eyes wavered out of focus and strange noises came from her.

Dancing continued and I even tried to copy the complex steps and follow the rhythm, which proved impossible but very funny. Being at the whim of long-dead ancestors can be quite exhausting, and the healer collapsed behind beaded curtains bringing the evening to an end. We stumbled down the uneven grassy hill in the kind of darkness you only ever find in a very remote place with just a sliver of moon to assist us.

Return Culture Shock

Another couple of days of riding, weaving inland through rolling hills and cantering along the hard sand wetted by the surf brought us back to the start point. After being deposited on the other side of the river again we carried our saddlebags back to the Wild Coast Casino, where our vehicles were parked. After just 4 days in the wilds, the culture shock of walking through the jangling, flashing, neon-lit corridors of this resort was almost too much. We looked like dirty cowboys who had stumbled into the wrong movie and felt completely out of place.You can now continue the horse-back trail to end further down the Wild Coast, which saves you the devastating culture shock and allows you to re-immerse yourself in society slowly. This adventure suits the semi-skilled rider and is a particularly rewarding trip, and suited for those who can cope with a bit of rough and ready with no frills but lots of memories.The author recommends the Amadiba Project horse-riding trip as being a well-organised community development project which rewards all parties involved.Copyright © 2002 Carrie Hampton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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