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A Little Poison

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Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler

The slower you travel, the more you see.

That is why walking is the best way to know a place. And when the place is as magnificent and gigantic (almost 4 miles long) as Noordhoek Beach, then you can save time and get a horse to do the walking for you.

Giffie sounds like an innocent, fun little horsey name, but as I climbed into the prim English saddle strapped on his shiny black back, I asked what his name actually meant. (I have learned from experience that a horse’s name says a lot about his character. Also, I have learned that horses in general don’t like me very much.)

“Giffie?” the horse handler sputtered, “Well . . . it means poison in Afrikaans.”

How quaint, I thought, as I patted poison on the neck. There was a story there—how when he was just a foal, he ate a lot of poisonous plants and somehow defeated death—but I was already biased. Riding a horse named “Little Poison” does not inspire a sense of security and well-being.

It also doesn’t help that the Afrikaans pronunciation of giffie sounds a lot like someone gagging on actual poison. Such were my poisonous thoughts as we clomped through the whitewashed suburban wonderland of Noordhoek. Here was happy Afrikaans Africa—trimmed backyards for Sunday braais, self-cleaning swimming pools, dogs on leashes, shaped shrubberies and prim-thatched Dutch colonial mini-mansions that we all want to live in.

Residents greeted us in Afrikaans, except for one man, who pointed at my horse and switched to English, “Ah, that’s the one that threw me!” he exclaimed to his wife. She hushed him with her hand.

All the way to the beach, Giffie behaved like a submissive pony ride, nodding his head and dreaming of dinner in his stable. Only on the beach did he wake up, when the massive Atlantic Ocean crashed at us in long cylinder rolls, the green water breaking into white froth and sweeping up the rippled sand and washing the horses’ hooves.

Something about the water and the sand flipped Giffie into action, and he challenged me to keep up with trot, bouncing me up and down like a badly-balanced jockey. Giffie is a Friesian—he’s a big animal and he was carrying me, a big person, on his back.

But no matter, plop-plop-ploppety-plop, Giffie and I trotted through the sand, leaving a winding trail of hollow hoofprints that disappeared after each new wave. The southeasterly wind blew my hair and blew Giffie’s mane. The sky glowed with that enchanting light you only get in Cape Town—a soft and golden warmth that touches everything. I was riding a beautiful black horse on a beautiful white beach, and for a brief moment, I felt like I was starring in the closing scene of The Black Stallion.

It was Giffie who called “CUT!” and ended my dreamy montage. He was fed up trotting with my bum bouncing all over the place. He informed me that we would go back to walking and I concurred. The slower you travel, the more you see, I told my horse, telepathically. He snorted back and we continued down the beach, one hoof after the other.

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Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler

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