At the Cradle: A few things to do before you die

I’d never thought about a bucket list – things to do before I die — until I was holding one in my hand. Mine was on glossy A5 paper with “20 things to do at the Cradle of Humankind” written across the top of it.

A group of journalists travelled less than two hours out of Johannesburg to Maropeng one Thursday in March for a two-day outing courtesy of Kagiso TV and Communications. By the end of our trip we had scratched four things off our list.

My first experience was number 20: be a vegan for a day. On the drive to Leafy Greens Café I was worried that I had not eaten, and the first thing to touch my lips would be mysterious ‘green juice”. My colleagues and I concluded it would probably be made of grass.

We were welcomed to the barely one-year-old organic, vegan café by Antonia De Luca – the owner and founder — who had decked out a buffet table that looked mouth-watering even to the meat-eaters. She ran through an elaborate analysis of the types of food before us and their nutritive value. Lo and behold, the green juice was staring us right in the face, and yes, it had some grass in it, and carrot tops, and a number of other green goodies, including spinach. My relief, when I heard the mixture included ginger and apple was indescribable. However, as one journalist pointed out, it still smelled like freshly mowed lawn.

I was the fisrt to take a sip of this vegan delight and was good enough for me to consume the entire glass. We were then treated to muesli, banana smoothies, vegan muffins and bread. If it wasn’t for me growing up with people who loved meat and knew how to make a mean braai, I would’ve been sold. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that De Luca has made organic, vegan and healthy eating absolutely gorgeous. OK, so I wasn’t really a vegan for a day – only for breakfast — but the meal sustained me longer than a normal day’s breakfast — activities and all.

Next on my bucket list was number 19 — a two-in-one treat of horse riding and quad biking at Hollybrooke Farm.

I’ve always declared horses to be my favourite animals. I even recall asking my mom to get me one at the age of 21, but that never happened.

Here I was — never having touched a horse in my life and as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs — getting ready for my ride.

The guide saddled up the horses and told us we’d cross a dam during our ride, but that the horses were experienced and well behaved. Then she walked my horse over and said: ‘This horse [I was far too scared too even remember its name] is very grumpy today, so keep him at the back and let the other horses lead.”

I don’t know what it’s like anywhere else, but riding on a farm with unlevel ground was a major challenge for this novice. That said, it was a thrilling experience, “Grumpy” and I got along most of the time except for when he’d stop to chew on some grass while on a freakish bend or slope (I have a mild fear of heights) and when he tried to toss me off his back as we crossed the dam and subsequently made me scrape my foot against a tree trunk and tear my top on a branch. Other than that, I had the time of my life. When we took the horses back to the stables, I was ready for a second round, feeling braver and more experienced. Next time I’ll be certain to wear the right gear and let the horse eat whenever it desires.

We then donned helmets and goggles and hopped on quad bikes and took a tranquil ride on the dusty tracks of the farm. Only then did I notice the scenery which the others may have enjoyed during my adrenalin-pumping horse ride. An unforgettable image was riding towards a mountain — the closer we came the smaller we seemed to get.

The following day we had only one more thing to scratch off our lists: number three — follow the sun over the horizon — with Billy Harrop’s ‘original” Balloon Safari.

After waking at 4am, we arrived just as they were setting up the balloons — a spectacle in itself — the colours, the flames and me talking to myself about being trapped in a basket goodness knows how far off the ground. That slight terror came knocking once more, accompanied by its friend, adrenalin.

We entrusted our lives to Billy ‘the original” himself. We rehearsed our landing positions and we took off.

It’s amazing how small the world looks from up there. All inhibitions were thrown out the basket in the company of Billy’s humour and questions of my peers. The sun rising on the landscape and the smooth sailing was both dreamy and romantic — aside from Billy’s constant spitting to determine the wind direction.

Being up there, you almost take on a god-like persona, looking down on the world while relying on the elements of earth, wind and fire. It’s a joyful surrender, even the landing experience — after three attempts we finally landed on a young farmer’s land. To celebrate Billy popped some champagne and we drank a toast to unforgettable moments. That was followed by a luscious champagne breakfast on Billy’s patio, a dreamlike encounter which will now be framed in the form of a certificate given to those who dared to go on this delightful ride.

With four things scratched off my bucket list – all first time experiences – my ambition is to complete all 16 that remain, with hopes of another bucket list with extraordinary experiences finding its way to me.

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