We were in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans when the endorphins began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I could ride on forever!” This wasn’t Fear & Loathing but the desert of the Kalahari isn’t too unlike the Mojave in Hunter S Thompson’s novel.
Instead of a red convertible, our vehicles were horses that hailed from all over southern Africa – Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, including a steed named Carrots (originally known as Dupree, but Renzi had other ideas for it). You see, we are horse people. And by that I mean, true hackers. Before life in Zambia, we lived in the town of White River in South Africa and rode often at the local stables. Now, many months had passed without one ride.
In the saddle again, in the expanse of the Kalahari, that whirling sense of freedom that being at the reigns instills took over, along with images of ourselves as, please forgive me, cowboys in the Wild West. Pocahontas and sons. The lipstick came out and war paint was applied. We were at home.
But time is not without its effects. Much had changed.
Renzi who once fell asleep each time his horse broke into a canter was wide awake throughout our desert outride. When our guide, Livious, tried to clip Renzi’s horse to his own while we sped up, my little cowboy huffed and puffed. The little five year old wanted to run with the big guys. When it was time to disembark and head back to our home at Camp Kalahari, among the acacias and Mokolwane palms of Brown Hyaena Island, on the edge of the pans, Renzi took over as horse hand. He led the horses to their boma, for a drink, and helped them undress, before standing back while they let loose in the dust of the hot earth. The student had become the teacher.
Now seven, Carlos was even more of an esteemed rider and I couldn’t help but wish for him to stop growing up while he rode ahead and left us in his dust. I could hear his voice trailing off as he told his stallion, Socks, “I love you.”
Things seem to change so much faster with children. As they grow into their own people, more independent, more emotional, more worldly versions of themselves, you have to keep a constant watch on them, on their blossoming, or you’ll miss it all.
As for myself, the missed months felt more like decades and after a fierce gallop with my thoroughbred, Griffin, who ached to go, go, go, the endorphins were soon accompanied by pangs and throbs. But not replaced. Because, in my opinion, while everything else might change, once a horse person, always a horse person, whether you’re five years old or forty, in a suburban stable or the wilderness of Botswana.
Look out for our next blog, when the boys share a few lessons from cowboy life in the African outback.