The key to my nothing-like-home away from home is already in the lock, when the phone rings.
“Mmm?” I manage, squishing my phone between shoulder and face, three bags in two hands, hat unnecessarily on head, and a piece of toast wedged into the corner of my mouth.
“Hey you!” yells Stephen, offensively happy for four o’clock in the morning.
“Shhh,” I splutter, having just choked on the toast in fright.
“Happy Anniversary, wife!” he shouts.
“I’m not your wife,” I say, piling one suitcase onto the other and holding the phone a little further away from my ear.
“We’re going horse riding,” Stephen announces, clearly delighted by his own sense of exquisite romance.
“I don’t want to go horse riding.”
“On Table Mountain,” he continues. “You’ll love it.”
“No I won’t.”
“It’ll be very romantic.”
“No it won’t.”
“Pack your horse riding pants.”
“Stephen, I’m twenty-five years old. I haven’t had horse riding pants since I was thirteen. I don’t need horse riding pants, because I’m not riding any horses. And don’t call them horse riding pants.”
By this point I have achieved absolutely nothing, and am still standing with my key in the lock, balancing a month’s worth of belongings and dressed like some sort of cyberpunk Mary Poppins on drugs.
“You can wear normal pants,” Stephen says.
My lift starts hooting from the driveway.
“Stephen,” I try again, “I’m exhausted. I haven’t had a day off in three months. I look horrible, I’m hungover, and I think I may have coaxed a donkey into the storeroom last night with an orange. There’s a good chance he’s still there. I really, really don’t want to ride a horse up Table Mountain.”
Eight hours, 900 kilometers, one plane trip, and not enough in-flight drinks later, I am riding a horse up Table Mountain.
There is definitely horse. And I am definitely on it. Stephen also has a horse, although he is navigating his with far less prepositional clarity.
Table Mountain, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen. Or rather, it is somewhere to be seen, but we are not in that place. We are in this place. Riding a horse. Or in Stephen’s case, balancing on a horse.
If you don’t count a) the decision to go horse riding on Table Mountain, and b) the decision to do so on the most gorgeous public holiday in all of Cape Town’s history, five and a half bad choices have led us to this moment – fortunately, none of them mine. Unless you count the hangover/donkey/orange scenario. Which I don’t.
We should definitely not have (1) booked the cheapest mountaintop horse riding experience in the Western Cape. And I use the word ‘we’ here with the full knowledge that both you (the reader) and I (the author) agree that I am using it wrongly. We should (2) not have tried to take the MyCiti in any direction vaguely suggestive of beachwards on this aforementioned national day of leisure. We might (3) have been spared some pain, had we not attempted to abandon the MyCiti, which was so full that I might, in some cultures, now be married to at least two old men and one very snotty teenager. Proceeding on foot (4) was probably a mistake. And (5) one of us might also have piped up that his total in horse-based encounters thus far equalled one wild ride through the azaleas in the back of his sister’s wagon at the age of 8 – which upon further enquiry, turned out to have nothing to do with a horse whatsoever. In the interests of fairness, I will only count not turning tail as soon as we caught sight of the place as half a bad decision.
It’s very difficult to assemble an equine collection for tourists in the City of Cape Town without turning just a little bit posh but boy, Mountainview Horse Trails have knocked it out of the park. It’s definitely the worst looking collection of stables I have ever seen. When we arrived, I informed Stephen that my citrus-eating ex-beast of burden in an unconfirmed Grahamstown warehouse was almost certainly having a better time.
But now, for all my entirely justified nay-saying, I am starting to enjoy myself. I have spent the past few weeks living out of a suitcase, surviving on Sterie Stumpies and an array of grayish looking Vegetarian Options from the Grahamstown Foundation’s staff kitchen. I have been shouted at by seven Australians, two Poms and a German, and have accidentally speed-dated a man who once went to space. The two months directly prior had been spent in theatre purgatory on the tour of the longest musical ever written, sticking microphone cables to an array of increasingly famous backsides. My life has not, to use a Cape Town colloquialism, been sweet. But out here, with absolutely nothing between me and the clear sky – not even, say, a mountain, or some rock interestingly weathered to look like a lion’s head – things are looking better.
“This is quite nice,” I shout over my shoulder to Stephen.
He makes a sort of choking noise.
“I’m really starting to relax!” I call, happily.
Stephen grunts faintly. I turn to look at him, but where his head should be it isn’t, and his whole body has somehow twisted around the horse in an incredibly amateur and much less impressive Apache war tilt.
“Try keeping your heels down,” I supply, helpfully. “Isn’t this romantic?”
At this moment our guide stops and points into the distance. We all look dutifully at the magnified pimple that is Table Mountain, oooohing and aaaaahing impressively.
“If only we had binocs,” I say cheerfully. Stephen falls off his horse.
“Well,” I say, after a small pause, “this has been lovely. Thank you. Shall we just do cards next year?”
On a not entirely unrelated note, Stephen is now on the lookout for a new life partner.
Horse lovers need not apply.