I HAVE always wanted to buck the city’s hassles in a cowboy way, albeit in South African style. And by that I don’t mean cruisin’ around Springs in a V6 Ford Cortina, arm out the window looking for a dice-duel while tonguing a toothpick from one corner of my mouth to the other, rear-window dog nodding approvingly.
I just want to swing into a saddle and ride on into the sunset with a couple of buds an’ a bottle of hooch in my holster.
That night we’ll be sittin’ round squirtin’ tobacco juice into the hissing fire, blowing off steam about crooks and cretins, not necessarily just politicians but plumbers, electricians and other types handier with tools, people that spot DIY dunces like me a mile away.
And when we’ve worked our way up the hierarchy of malefactors to the dimpled coxswain at the top, we’ll chuckle at it all and drift off in our downy -5°C sleeping bags.
Ah, what frontier fancy….
It is not that easy to escape, though. My rust bucket of a 4x4, "Old Bird", a lumbering Land Cruiser with almost 500,000km on the clock, is still stuck at a scheming motor mac, a slippery character who adds extra grease to every story he spins me ’bout why my beloved truck is still stuck in the quicksand of his business.
A Nissan Almera, fresh from an expensive service yet still screeching a fan-belt lament, just had to do.
Packed with in-laws and panting pooches, it wasn’t exactly the boys, beer, and rock ’n’ roll kind of road trip I was undertaking.
But when you really need to get away, any car’s rear-view mirror will do to watch the Big Smoke disappear.
By the time we hit Harrismith with its tabletop mountain on the left and Aasvoëlkop in the distance to the right, I thought of the legend surrounding the death of Aeschylus.
A bearded vulture apparently killed the Greek tragedian by dropping a tortoise on his bald pate, mistaking it for a rock on which to split open and spill its meal’s contents.
It didn’t bother me that I was thinking such seemingly insignificant thoughts. I was only too happy not to be preoccupied with yet another DIY dilemma evolving into a money-draining encounter.
As we drove past Aasvoëlkop, I thought of the idea of introducing motor mechanics and the like into the diet of raptors. It would make for a worthy restoration of the massif’s former vulture glory.
Clearly I needed to unclutter my head a little.
Couch doctors peck away at your most private thoughts like marrow-loving vultures. Some will give you "love thy neighbour" meds until you’re so blissed-out you can’t spell "numb". But sometimes, all we need is good old fresh mountain air. And that’s exactly what we found in the Berg.
Booked into Clivia Hill, a pet-friendly mom-and-pop spot near Winterton, we sucked clear air into parts of our lungs we had forgotten existed.
Evenings I spent connecting with my primal core — staring into a braai fire.
Staying up late wasn’t an option at Clivia Hill as the soft, sifting rain put paid to any late-night notions. Every morning dawned like a duvet day with mist coming in over the hills and no noise save for the birds and that of our relatives downstairs, their shuffling noises making it clear they’re growing ever restless with our idle lying in.
Getting out of bed before 10am is virtually impossible, no matter what time you go to bed. Call it the 10-10 rule — pure relaxation.
In centuries past, quack doctors, tea-leaf divining descendants of Druids and barber surgeons who bled patients using leeches believed that only fools slept for 10 hours or more. However, there is no resisting the mind-calming, sleep-inducing qualities of the Berg and its beauty.
The scenic splendour of Monks Cowl and peaks from the Upper Drakensberg are right there in the name of this world heritage site, uKhahlamba, a plosive exhortation.
Hands on hips, you could flip your loin flap with a pelvic thrust, say "uKhahlamba" and voilà, you’re heading for Leg-over Land, cowboy or no cowboy — which brings me to the highlight of our stay.
Driving in to Clivia Hill, we saw a sign advertising uShaka Horse Trails. We phoned and booked and on the day that my Bronco Billy experience was about to come real, in part at least, I almost pulled out.
Wrapping the bedding tighter around, I could swear I saw something in my niece’s eyes, like she was never again going to regard me as the man she thinks I am.
But my uncle’s conscience spoke to me, so, in a grand gesture, I discarded my duvet and we headed off yonder to each grab an Appaloosa (or was it a Boerperd?).
Sihle Hlomba of uShaka rode ahead, taking us into the foothills of Cathkin Peak as Tangeni, a lazy stroller of a Boerboel, brought up the rear.
The smell of warm dung filled the air and, just because my niece doubted me, my steed let rip at her with a stream of solid rear-propulsion gas.
In retaliation, never mind that she is barely in her teens and petite like a fairy princess, she cantered past as if she had been attending classes in secret with the Lipizzaners.
I caught up with her only when we went up a hill and stopped to look out over Champagne Valley to witness the evening wind’s first whispers of rain ripple across the surface of Bell Park Dam.
We needed to get back.
As the storm gathered and electric flashes cracked through the darkening sky, we galloped back to the stables, riding out the last few kilometres in the rain. It was suitably exhilarating.
When we headed back from the Berg to the Burg, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle life anew, no matter how many challenges I have to face.
Sorry, I lie: I’ll never hug a motor mac.