Aug. 8, 2014 | photos & story by | Katie Griffith In a town hidden by the sandy back roads of Macaneta, tire tracks turn to horse hoof trails that lead not only to a different place, but a different time. A time when outlaws and gunslingers defined the Wild West, when land settlement and farming were a way of life and taming was only for the horses. Life was fast, rough, and rowdy.
Thirty-five kilometers north of Maputo, El Paso resort allows its visitors to experience a slow, smooth, and relaxed way of life while the fast, rough, and rowdy is preserved in the décor, props, and architecture. Macaneta’s only themed resort thrives along the picturesque Indian Ocean, untouched by the pollutants of the city and isolated from the millions of mainland inhabitants, which makes it feel more remote than it actually is.
“There is nothing like us in Mozambique or South Africa, so the experience will be unique,” said Carla Heyneke, co-owner of El Paso. “We try to have all the necessities of a normal resort but with an old touch. We have 14 horses that roam freely on the property, we always have something happening.”
Since December 2013 El Paso has been accommodating visitors with overnight stays, horseback adventures, boat rides, line dancing, and the occasional cowboy ball. A town seemingly frozen in time thaws and comes to life with the help of enthusiastic staff and many well-trained horses. Although the staff doesn’t sport gun holsters or sling chewed tobacco into nearby spittoons — and that country drawl is masked by strong South African accents — they are friendly and knowledgeable. It is impressive to see their bond and interaction with the horses as well as their dedication to work.
Husband and wife and co-owners Kestell and Carla Heyneke fell in love with the connection between cowboy history and horses while attending a western show. “We were at a stage in our lives that we were looking to do something different and for a new lifestyle,” she said. Thus, “El Paso the Six Shooter Capital” was born.
“It all started with two horses that I bought for my daughter, as I was told that horse riding could improve her learning and dyslexia problems,” said Heyneke. Since then, El Paso employees have rescued, trained and rehabilitated numerous horses, which Heyneke said will always be the main attraction and first priority of El Paso.
Timber, a Friesian horse, was in danger of being euthanized because of his frequent harmful interactions with humans. When Heyneke found him “he was referred to as ‘vicious black stallion,’” she said.“We darted him ourselves and started the slow process of training him. Today he is a big love bug and has taken many kids and adults [for rides on horseback].”
For 1000 MT any person of any level of experience can ride. Riders are taken through the bush, over the sand dunes, and on to the beach. Though there are different routes adapted to experience levels, the beauty of Macaneta can be seen no matter what path is taken.
I took a ride with Shadow, a massive brown horse with a glossy black mane, and six other riders including two staff members. Shadow was gentle and has a certain attachment to Heyneke, who walked with me for the first 10 meters of my ride. She told me that I might have to kindly remind Shadow that it was not snack time, which I found to be true not long after. We began a slow pace through a narrow path of trees; I was frightened when Shadow first bent his long, muscular neck down to munch on the green leaves of a small bush. My arms were drawn forward with the reigns and I involuntarily ended up resting my torso and head on Shadow’s stubborn neck. After a chuckle from my fellow riders and a nudge to Shadow’s rear, we were back to the path.
Over the sand dunes waves crashed on to the wide beach, we reached a pace a bit faster than a trot but not yet to the intensity of a gallop; looking ahead was a never-ending lane of ocean breathing on to kilometers of golden sand. The pace is called a canter, though it was more intimidating and required more strength than a trot, it was surprisingly easier to manage and to find a balance between the horse’s bounce and my own. Speaking from experience, once caught up in the wrong motion it’s hard to get your groove back and the risk of an uncontrollably bumpy ride is real. But the staff leaders are helpful and comforting when the tough gets going, they are there to ride alongside anyone who needs help and they also give tips and tricks throughout the journey. It was both an educational and fun experience.
Back on the main stomping grounds the Last Penny Hotel and Saloon offers cold beer and a menu of meals. The two-story building invites guests in through two saloon-style doors. Tales of infamous cowboys and girls hang in wooden frames; saddles are strewn on the walls beside guns and western themed memorabilia; lanterns sit atop many tables with their wooden benches tucked tidy beneath. The wide-open space of the main floor is complemented by the intimacy of the second floor, complete with a flat screen television and relaxation area.
“Lots of time and money were spent in finding old things [to decorate the resort],” said Heyneke. “Lots of help from friends and clients putting us in contact with people that are selling old things, then plenty of kilometers in traveling to look in scrap metal yards, pawn shops and antique shops.”
The successes of their antique hunting endeavors can be seen all over the resort and can even be used as a history lesson, Heyneke said.
As if they existed in an old western film, the saloon doors screech as they sway, leading guests outside to a strip of sandy road lined with a horse stable, Blacksmith, the El Paso Post Office and more. The Blacksmith, a souvenir shop in the making, will soon sell homemade gifts such as bath salts, oils, jams, piri-piri, and other edibles along with decorative objects, Heyneke said. The Post Office and Gunsmith act as chalets that accommodate guests for 700 MT per night per person.
With frequent week-day visitors and sporadic fully booked weekends, El Paso is gaining popularity and subsequently expanding its accommodations. Even though construction on El Paso’s 12 hectares of land started in August 2010, El Paso is only half complete, Heyneke said. Currently under construction is a new arena fence and jumps for the horses, located in between the stable and saloon.
What is even more amazing about this resort: on top of everything offered and all the work the 11-member staff puts in to entertaining guests and maintaining the horses, each one – including the owners – have a hand in the construction. In fact, they are the constructors, working with their hands to make the Heyneke’s dream a reality. So far it’s the closest thing to the Wild West, or Texas, anyone this side of the world can experience.
If you enjoy the company of down-to-earth people, horses, dogs, (including one horse-like dog named Blue), and a secluded resort then El Paso might be your ideal getaway. All it’s missing is a lone tumbleweed, daintily rolling across the barren land, if they can make that happen it would unarguably be pure genius