118. Wet horses in the Wild West – and Trains

On Monday we set out to the much reputed El Paso on the other side of the bay. It was a long and bumpy ride getting there, driving through puddles and potholes. When you pull up to the main buildings you immediately feel like you have been transported to a movie set of a classical Western blockbuster. You are greeted by a pack of dogs who run freely around and mingle with the cats, geese, chickens and pigs roaming the property. The small houses standing side by side leading up to the main house, The Saloon, are all built like what you’d only expect to see on screen and with signs above the each door saying things like “Blacksmith”  and “Postoffice”. The Saloon has a bar tracing two whole sides of the building and the bar stools are saddles. The walls are decorated with wanted posters, buffalo horns and cowboy hats. The tables are arranged with cute Victorian tea sets. In the corner close to the entrance is a sofa arrangement which used to belong to the huge longhaired pig but now have been taken over by the dogs. All in all, this place will make any cowboy from the Wild West feel homesick.

We ordered  tea and coffee foolishly hoping that the rain which had only gathered strength as we drove out of Maputo would miraculously pass. But, alas, it did not and by the time we had mounted our horses we were already soaked to the bone. As experienced and proficient a rider Niamh is, she brought her own gear and asked for her “regular” horse which she easily mounted – for Tambu and I they had the gear we needed, pulled out two horses who would not run off with us and I awkwardly raised myself on top of. In a line with the South-African instructor in the lead and me right behind her then Tambu and Niamh at the end, we peacefully made our way down a trail running through the bush towards the beach. With only a few instructions on how to hold the reins and how to stretch my legs to get a better balance on the horse we embarked upon a short trot. The adrenalin starting pumping through me and my breath catching as I’m struggling to keep my balance while bobbing up and down uneasily on the horse. My fingers gripping the saddle as tight as I could, and almost forgetting to hold onto the reins, I fought to find the rhythm in the movements of the horse and timing my “rising trot”. Before long there was a small slope on the trail and my horse immediately slowed down and consequently halting the others behind me as well, but luckily it gave me time to compose myself again and take a few deep breaths. Once my horse returned to the slow procession along the trail it was impossible for me to pick up just a little bit speed while the horse behind me had energised and wanted to press on almost overtaking us – I suspect my horse of fully realising my hopeless inexperience at this fine sport and inexorably ignoring all my attempts at small kicks at its side and egging it on only when the instructor in front of me would pick up speed or yell commands at it would it obey. When we reached the beach the rain was beating down on us and the mist reduced the water to a grey haze – despite our attempt it was impossible to capture our ride with Niamh’s new “GoPro” camera. At the edge of the water we set into a canter. The instructor told me not to worry, that the movement of the horse will me smoother than when it trots and just to squeeze my legs tight – easy enough right? I swear during that single minute or however long the canter lasted, I feared for my life. With every step the enormous beast beneath me took I was thrown helplessly into the air and only with a maximum of effort did I manage to land back on its broad back again. But I’m proud to say that I didn’t fall off once despite this practically being my first time on a horse and that even though I went through a great emotional rollercoaster, I’ve not been deterred from getting back on the horse.

We also payed a visit to the famous train station here in Maputo which has also been deemed the world’s third most beautiful station. In the day it’s mainly a museum but when dark settles life returns to the old building with music, light and alcohol – or so we’ve been told. The station – being more than 100 years old – has a lot of history and a big hall filled with exhibitions and pictures – we even got to board one of the old trains.

Today we visited the Irish Embassy and sneaked a peek at the up-and-coming garden we’ve heard so much about.

On the roof of our apartment block there are daily yoga classes lead by Maputo’s best yoga teacher and this evening I joined for my first (ever) yoga class – and boy, oh boy, was that though! Half-way through the sweat was raining down my face and my arms shaking with exhaustion.