Grade 10 Leadership Excursion to Khotso

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On Sunday, 13 August 147 Grade 10s with a group of Grade 11 leaders gathered in the main car park to begin, for what was for them, their first experience in the outdoors in the Southern Berg. Our destination was Khotso Horse Trails situated 12 km outside Underberg. This 1300 hectare working horse and sheep farm is nestled at the foot of this majestic mountain range and is only minutes away from the famous Sani Pass. Khotso is home to Steve Black and his stable of horses. For more than 16 years now Khotso has been responsible for taking travelers and adventurers into the heart of Lesotho’s magnificence, and is a regular base for the World Challenge group. Spirits were very high and from the start I could see that those boys who had committed to the excursion were going to make the most of it.
On the whole most of the boys had put the necessary thought and planning into their kit – with lightweight, well-packed back packs. On the other side of the coin it was easy to see those who had NOT heeded the briefings and kit guidelines, or allowed their parents to pack. A prime example of this was one lad who was carrying ten litres of bottled water, a portable braai stand, and charcoal and fire lighters (in addition to his camping equipment, food, and clothing). Nothing I could say would change this young man’s mind and it was all dutifully packed into the bus.
After a smooth and uneventful trip to Underberg the buses arrived at the start of the Drak Gardens road where the boys unpacked their kit and began the 7km hike along the scenic Mzimkhulu River. This was the point where many realized that they (or mum and dad) had over packed but I am glad to report that none dumped kit along the way as has happened over the years the Grade 10 excursion has been in existence.
On arrival at Khotso the boys were introduced to Steve Black who would facilitate the hike challenge aspect of the programme. After further briefing and “camp rules” the boys set up their tents and prepared meals. The variety of tents was amazing and soon the “Over Landers Camp Site” resembled a mini Splashy Fen set up. A high degree of planning was evident here, although two groups had tents so large the staff questioned how they were going to hike with them on the mountain segment.
As the sun set the boys were able to start the braais and enjoyed a great meal. In some cases packs were lightened by a few kilos as vast quantities of meat were put on the braais. After dinner the boys were briefed on the procedure for Monday morning and then they settled around the huge fire that definitely helped to keep them warm in both body and spirit. Although colder weather had been forecast, the night temperatures did not dip below zero and the frost was non-existent compared to the 2016 trip.
The next morning the boys woke to very mild temperatures and soon many were splashing around in the stream adjacent to the camp. Breakfast was varied and some were very glad that they had braai leftovers – enough to give them enough energy for the day. At 8am they were divided into groups to begin the rotation through the various activities:
Farm work
Horse riding
The Waterfall hike
Overnight in the mountains
Air rifle shooting
Four way tug-of-war
The farm work included mixing feed, gathering fire wood, clearing the paddocks, and learning about sheep and horse care. The interaction between the boys and the farm staff was excellent and a great amount of work was done during the week. Typical of any farm, Khotso has a number of working dogs. Smegal, the Anatolian Shepherd dog, who is responsible for protecting the flock from the jackals, was a firm favourite with the boys as was Borus and Karoo. Unfortunately Boris, who kept the boys entertained at the dam last year with his voracious appetite for swimming and stick fetching, had his fore leg amputated earlier in the year. Despite this loss he still wanted to play with the boys and was a regular wet and happy face around the campsite.
The two hour horse trail involved either the ascent or descent route around the foothills of the farm and was completed by every boy in the group. Many of the boys were very wary of the horses as some are quite large, but these fears were overcome and an enjoyable ride was had by all.
The waterfall hike was a lot shorter and over flatter terrain. On this hike the Khotso team highlighted various environment aspects around the farm as well as showed the boys the impact of soil erosion in the area. The highlight of this was the polar bear Challenge – a six metre jump into an icy plunge pool. Many boys jumped up to eight times but then the icy water soon took its toll. What was good to see was how the boys bonded and encouraged those less keen on the leap of faith.
Air rifle shooting, under the watchful gaze and instruction of Mr Girodo and Mr Wehrmeyer, was extremely popular and there are a number of crack shots in the grade. This bodes well for the introduction of target shooting as a potential school sport.
The overnight in the mountains was preceded by a scenic 8km hike through the foothills. Many of the boys were very apprehensive about this as it meant they were away from the warmth of the fire and going into an area that is regularly frequented by jackal. Needless to say, on the return of the first group many stories were told about the eerie cries of the jackal in the dead of the night. This segment of the trip was supervised by our staff and coordinated by Steve Black who has many years of hiking and outdoor experience.
The Four Way Tug-of-war proved quite challenging to most of the groups as they were unable to unlock the required strategy to win the challenge in the shortest possible time. Before being briefed on the activity, four boys were randomly appointed as captains. Then a traditional school yard pick was begun with the simple brief: pick strength, brains, and loyalty. Once this was done the task was revealed. The first group took one hour to arrive at a winner which shows the value of this strategic leadership activity.
Here are a number of comments from boys on the excursion:
“Khotso Horse Trails was an experience I will never forget. The first two days were fun and we did farm work, hiking and horse riding. When my group went hiking out into the mountains I really learned a lot: never bring a big tent with you as no one will help you carry it when the terrain gets tougher. Packing warm and light was another lesson I learned, as well as being more careful about the team members I choose. In conclusion, I really enjoyed myself in the ‘Berg.”
“Khotso 2017 was a really great experience for me and I enjoyed my time in Underberg. Some of the activities we did were hiking, horse riding, farm work, target shooting and overnighting in the mountains (although I got really cold it was worth it). My group enjoyed a clay fight at the dam. All the staff at Khotso were very friendly and welcoming. Over the week I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the late night camp fires and war cries. Khotso is an amazing place with breath taking views and good vibes.”
“Cooking my own food was a real challenge but together with my team we managed as we had paid attention to the briefings at school. This experience was something very foreign to me but I really enjoyed the camping and hiking. The night out was a little scary as the jackals did not stop calling all night. The camp fires at night made a huge difference as they brought us together as a group. I am glad that I took part and am definitely going to return as a Grade 11 leader in 2018.”
 I would like to thank all the parents, boys and staff who supported this initiative, namely Mrs Nagiah (who assisted with the task of keeping our staff well fed), Ms van der Walt, Messrs Girodo, Liddell, Genade, Wehrmeyer and Thumbadoo. Each staff member contributed to the success of the trip and imparted their own personal attributes in helping with the boys. The interaction between the staff and boys was excellent – this may be attributed to the fact that they camped with the boys and took part in all of the activities with them. Thank you to Peppers & Pans for yet again supplying a sumptuous meal for my staff on night one, to The Lion Match Company for sponsoring matches and firelighters, and also to Roselux Coaches for providing safe, affordable and efficient transport. A huge thank you also goes to Steve and Lulu of Khotso and their support staff who made sure that this was a meaningful, safe and enjoyable experience for our boys.
 Ian Lewis
Head: Leadership Activities
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