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In The Saddle

Although I’ve lived and worked in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia for many years, I’d never had the opportunity to visit Kenya and so I was looking forward to my trip there.

On this extensive visit, I had joined a six night Amboseli safari, visited Ol Donyo Lodge and ridden at Borana (see separate reports).

After the luxury lodge stay at Borana it was time to get my camping hat back on again for the mobile safari with Gordie Church. Gordie’s father Tony, started the concept of horse safaris and ever since I had been a horse safari guide, I wanted to ride with them because they were so well know in the industry. There were huge expectations on this one!

I flew into the Mara (from Borana), but the rest of the group drove in from Nairobi.  The drive from Nairobi although bumpy and long is interesting, but since time is short for so many people, the plan for 2012 is that everyone will fly from Nairobi and back again at the end of the safari.

We were greeted by the whole camp staff with their smiling faces and warm personalities and briefed over lunch in time for our first ride that afternoon. I was on Koru, a Somali crossbreed who thinks he should be promoted to a guide horse, as he enjoyed being near the front. He was a real character and we quickly worked each other out, so he was another horse I would have happily taken home with me!

Other guests were also on Somali crosses or thoroughbreds. Many were failed race horses since apparently they didn’t have that winning mentality, so they are now much happier cantering merrily on the plains of the Mara.

The riding was often at walk due to rocky ground, with trots and canters where the terrain allowed and even with giraffe when they obliged. The horses were genuine saints and took good care of us. Everywhere we rode there was game, including elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, topi, hippo, waterbuck, loads of hyena, Thompsons and Grants gazelle and even a rare sighting of a Cerval Cat. We also saw lion, black rhino and leopard from the vehicle when we opted for a game drive in the Mara Triangle one afternoon.

On the three moving days we needed to be out of camp for most of the day so the hours in the saddle were longer.  But we had a good break at lunch time so the horses had a chance to graze. On non moving days we would ride for about three hours in the morning and the afternoons were either another ride of about 2 hours or a game walk or game drive were also offered.

Three of the group were non riders (with their own vehicle and guide) and occasionally some of the riders would join them on their game drives or walks. One morning we visited a local school where the children gave us a display of traditional dancing and singing. It was mesmerising and somehow quite moving.

Every day we came across Masai warriors with their cattle, a sight I had become quite used to now, as this was the case everywhere I had been in Kenya, even in Amboseli and also along the streets of suburban Nairobi!

Our camp moved after every two nights, so we had four campsites in total and each one so very different. From being amongst the majestic Fever trees; to being nestled in a wonderful spot next to a small river; then up high on the escarpment above the Mara Triangle; to finishing on the banks of the mighty Mara River. You could tell they have been doing this for years as the camp and all the logistics worked like clockwork. Even on the long moving day when it took the staff nearly 12 hours to break camp, relocate and set up again, when we arrived the hot bucket showers were ready and dinner was on the table.

The horses had a rest after the long day and that was the day we had been offered the chance to pay for a balloon ride. This was on my bucket list so I wasn’t phased by the 4.15am wake up call. All I can say is that it sure was worth it. An incredible experience that is up there with rafting the Zambezi. A day I shall never forget.

Before we knew it the safari was coming to an end. But so that none of us would forget it Africa pulled out a surprise unusual torrential downpour and what seemed like a mini tornado on the last afternoon. One tent collapsed and three loo tents were seen blowing towards the hippos in the river. But the staff lept into action, mid gale, rescuing the inhabitant of the collapsed tent and the disappearing loos! That evening we ventured out in the vehicles rather than on horseback, as there was still the threat of more rain and quite a lot of lightening. We saw more wildebeest that night than we had seen all week, but after all we were in the Masai Mara and the game moves around to follow the rain. What a fitting end to another wonderful safari.

This safari traverses many different eco systems and although it covers some long distances it has a somehow gentile feel to it and very luxurious camping. The game viewing was outstanding and although this particular week we did not see the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra, that is the luck of the draw but we still saw so much. But if you want to gallop everywhere and charge around the bush day and night, then this is not the ride for you.

This ride was on average, slower than the Amboseli, but we saw more game and we still had opportunities to run with giraffe and zebra and pop over a few small logs. The ride in the Mara gave us heart pounding moments and a mock charge by an elephant is an adrenalin rush no matter where you are.

I can now understand the draw that Kenya has and for me it was an amazing trip from start to finish. A country so diverse, with such friendly people and wonderful game. My first night back in the UK seemed so quiet with no hippos or hyena breaking the silence.

Tracy van der Merwe, 21st September, 2011


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