It was to be the Bush Babes’ first outing in the brand new Isuzu KB 300 LXs and a highlight of the year. The day before their departure on the long-planned outreach event at Kaapsehoop, Mpumalanga, the weather turned nasty. Thick mist, lots of rain and icy cold awaited the group
Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Corné van Vuuren and friends
It was unbelievable! The weekend we chose to do a census of the wild horses in and around Kaapsehoop, and assist the Kaapsehoop Horse Fund, was predicted to be the coldest, wettest and foggiest of the season. The cold, rainy weather does not usually arrive until much later in the year, so no one had bargained on a fight against the elements. The night before departure, all the Babes headed for the shops to buy gum boots and rain gear. Thank heavens we were not camping!
Gauteng’s gloomy weather for the Babes’ departure from Gerotek was a mere foretaste of what was to come. The novelty of driving the brand new KBs for the weekend nevertheless provided lots of excitement, and everyone was in high spirits. Some of the vehicles had just over 1000km on the clock. The Babes couldn’t believe their luck!
The trip was strenuous, but with the Isuzu Offroad Academy’s Jenna de Jong, Jamie Gilbertson and Francois “Cois” Olivier in the party, the Babes were in good hands.
It took the convoy of six KBs four-and-a-half hours to reach Kaapsehoop…or at least what could be seen of Kaapsehoop through the thick mist. The convoy was met by Babes from other provinces who had driven directly to Kaapsehoop from their homes. Heading the welcoming party was Reinette van Niekerk, aka Wild Horse Babe, who first went to Kaapsehoop in 2003 because of her love for horses.
As the previous owner of the local backpackers’ lodge for a few years, Reinette knows everyone and has morphed into the “horse lady” – the person designated to oversee the wild horses for which the town is famous. Her unofficial portfolio includes rescuing horses that become trapped in the rocky escarpment, assisting in difficult births, caring for sick horses and, sometimes, eve having to shoot horses injured in accidents. Horses have been hit by cars, or have broken legs in falls. Animals in advanced stages of horse sickness also have to be put down. Reinette works closely with veterinarians in the area, but often has to make life and death decisions herself.
Everyone was disappointed in the weather, but Reinette had already arranged an alternative to the braai the Gauteng Babes had previously had in mind – an evening of live entertainment and food with flair at the Bohemian Groove Café. A little gluwein soon cheered up the gloomiest Babe! The entertainer for the evening was internationally acclaimed mime artist John Jacobs, who apparantly studied under the same mime master as Michael Jackson and honed his skills in France for more than 20 years. And in true Bohemian Groove style, a huge oak table was John’s stage. He mingled with the Babes afterwards and everyone had a jolly time.
Next morning, when the Babes crept from their various accommodation spots (most of them booked their own accommodation, while some opted to sleep at the Backpackers that Reinette arranged free for the weekend) the weather hadn’t improved.
To make matters worse, Reinette received a phone call from a local resident who had come across a horse carcass that had apparently been mutilated for muti – something that happens quite often in these parts. A few Babes joined Reinette to look for the horse up the escarpment, but they were unable to find it. A picture sent via cellphone of the mutilated horse was horrifying. Reinette concluded that the poachers were probably interrupted by the local person, but made off with their spoils after he’d left. It was a grim reality on an equally grim morning.
The main activity for the day – and the reason for the visit – was to venture out onto the escarpment and into the plantations to document all the horses in the area, with photos and other details. But with the roads and pathways flooded, and the incessant rain and fog, this was impossible. So Reinette suggested a leisurely, fun drive up the mountain before lunch. Two of the Isuzus were left in town, in case any of the KBs needed to be recovered from the muddy plantation roads. Everyone entered into the spirit of things, and from the photos it is clear that Bush Babes “ubuntu” prevailed. Luckily a few horses came quite close to the convoy in the veld, and others were encountered on the road back to town, which at least made up for the lost interaction the Babes had hoped for.
Back at Kaapsehoop, it was pancake time – the Koek ’n Pan has become something of an institution over the years, and when it was time for an early lunch there was no competition. After lunch, the girls went on their own missions. It was only 12 ̊C outside and the rain and mist prevailed. The rain did not let up until about 19:00, when the group met up at Bohemian Groove again for dinner – another scrumptious affair.
A little bored with the weather, the Babes decided to use their pent-up energy with some ghost hunting among the ruins and old buildings in town. Despite the spooky stories by residents and past visitors, none of the Babes saw anything untoward that night.
No one even caught an orb (spherical light particles thought to be evidence of a spiritual presence) on camera. It was nonetheless a lot of fun, sneaking around on a dark, cold night.
Hooray! The Babes awoke to clear skies on a bright and sunny Sunday. It was an unreal change – from freezing temperatures to shorts and T-shirts in a
few hours. It was decided to make up for lost time, and get in as many activities as possible. After breakfast, the Babes embarked on a scenic hike up the escarpment with Reinette and her Australian Kelpie, Brollox, as guides. They hiked for about two hours. But there was more drama to come. Later, on their way to the Kaapsehoop Horse Trails for a late morning ride, the convoy stumbled upon a motor accident. A taxi driver had lost control of his vehicle and rolled it on a corner.
Cois and the Isuzu team went to the man’s rescue. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt and with some assistance from the Babes, they managed to get the taxi back onto its wheels and pull it closer to the road, from where it could eventually be towed away. It was a great “feel good” story that offered lots of photo opportunities for the Babes.
At Kaapsehoop Horse Trails, the group were lucky to meet Christo Germishuys, one of the region’s living legends. Christo is a real life cowboy, just like those in the movies. He lives and breathes horses on his ranch-style farm, buried away in the Komatieland forests. Christo’s horse trails are tailor-made for people who are not professional riders. The hard- core riders usually do their own thing on his farm during the week, but for the Babes, he offered a combined ride for the novices and experienced riders. While not everybody opted for the horse trail, the Babes all had a fabulous time on the farm, with its ranch-style buildings and horse paraphernalia used as garden and patio décor.
At about 14:00 the Isuzu convoy departed for Johannesburg, with the promise to come back again later in the year to conduct the horse census that the weekend had been intended for. Hopefully, next time there will be even more Babes and an even bigger convoy of brand new Isuzus to do the job with a bang! Despite all the problems, the Babes did manage to raise R8000 for the Kaapsehoop Horse Fund. Reinette has already allocated some of the money towards an awareness campaign to save the wild horses from being slaughtered for muti.