I am beyond fortunate to have met extraordinary people in my 7 year safari life. In these great forged friendships, a few I become very close to and then they are like family. The Foots, David and Robyn, and their kids are one such family and having promised to come to spend time with them along side my guests on a 5 day riding safari, I made good this threat and spent a magical Christmas with them here in Botswana.
This was to be an intense 5 days of horse riding in the Makgadigadi Salt Pans. Fly camps, kipping under trees, lush vegetation abounds (being the green season), delicious fresh safari food and fare and of course lashings of wine and just great company. I was told it was a journey to change ones life, I was not disappointed.
As we set off from Maun, theme tune from ‘Out of Africa’ played over and over in my mind. It doesn’t matter how many small airplanes one takes, it still stirs up a romance of yesteryear of times gone by and evokes an adventurous feeling that is hard to put into words.
Upon landing in the majestic Makgadigadi, I surveyed the land around me – zebras crying and whooping and the famous flat Botswana salt pans spread as far as the eye could see, dotted by imposing palm trees. Cumulonimbus clouds blobbed ominously in the background. Deep breath, hugs and kisses for Dave who collected Abi and I at the airstrip and the scene was set.
The days that followed entailed very early mornings, 4.30 to 5.00 am wake ups, steaming coffee and then straight onto our horses. My steed had the very fun name ‘Jon Bon Jovi’… he was a tightly wound spring, 18 years of energy seemingly compounded into my ride and I was DELIGHTED. Spirited and sound, he was perfect.
The other horses on the safari were:
Pedro, a lovely grey who spooks easily in normal riding conditions, but LOVES the pans and settles there beautifully – happily riding in the middle of the herd with my dear friend Abi aboard.
Velocity, highly recommended if one wants to win any of the pan races! Tall and elegant with a very sweet eye ridden mostly by the vertically blessed and elegant middle child of the Foots, my favourite girl, Julie.
Dupfrie, Robyn’s fave and a very calm and patient gelding carrying with care my very tall friend Gregor.
Ditaka (Dave’s Appaloosa), a spirited, yet well meaning creature, speckled, in love with his rider Dave Foot and bursting with energy. Also always completely happy with being way up front with a very fast and confident gate leading the way.
Griffin, a charming Shire Thoroughbred cross, a horse dreamed up only in fairytales, a thick neck and a soft eye with wavy hair and feathers ribboning in the wind. Ridden by a 17 year old with one of the best seats I have seen in the business, the very sweet Jo from Zambia.
Kambuku, ridden by Harry, the Foot’s youngest boy, another Appaloosa who made up for everything that Ditaka was not.. happy to be at the back, watch the world go by and be a completely reliable and kind gentle boy, seemingly taking in all the sights and sounds of the safari and nickering gently when there was any sign of apples.
Lastly let’s not forget the no not so romantically named but very sweet ‘Bruce’ – he was our spare and rode lead less next to us through the larger sections of the safari. Often wandering into the bush, not charmed by the call of apples, Bruce often had his own agenda. But he always returned to us.
We rode through flat salt pans, the cantering hooves being the only noise we heard for hours. Seeing wildlife such as great thundering zebra herd migrations to the rarely sighted bat eared fox, brown hyenas and springbok and lonely LONELY tortoises and wildebeest, the latter staying put on their territorial lands. We explored the thickets and deeper bush, only to find after a 4 hour ride that a gorgeous lunch and rest spot had been prepared for us, camp cot beds, pillows, water to wet our sarongs to escape the heat, Pimms and gin and tonics and of course a 3 course meal, seemingly created from nowhere.
Riding onto a pan that stretches more than 100 kms, salt, sand and sky where one cannot tell where the earth ends and the sky begins. A mirage in the distance which is the sun baking the earth. We galloped on the edge of the savanna where it meets this faux ocean, hooves flicking up clay and dirt and sand into our mouths and eyes making the experience that much more exciting and authentic (I am proud to say I came second in the race even beating Dave and the extraordinarily fast Ditaka).
We saw sunsets that would melt the hardest of hearts, the sun cutting into the cloud and earth and bleeding into the horizon and carelessly splashing around hues of red, orange and purple.
We celebrated Christmas. Like a family, in any other part of the world, Uncharted Africa Safaris prepared a Christmas tree with tinsel and bobbles, we had crackers and gifts, a full boozy wine soaked Christmas dinner filled with jokes and limericks and stories of safaris and experiences. We even had mother nature remind us of her power with a huge blue and black storm that lashed us around in camp and then left quickly.
We encountered staff, grooms and guides whose hospitality will remain in our memories forever, kind and gentle people for whom nothing is too much trouble and everything is no trouble at all.
Dave and Robyn, we spent time with these fine people, to me who are like family and who I love. Dave’s unsurpassed passion for wildlife and conservation is infectious and I knew I was with family because, as with when I used to spend Christmas with my own father, I was teased mercilessly from start to finish, without respite… It really did feel like home.
We had Robyn too who nurtured us and is as gentle as she is maternal and generous, funny and candid and welcoming.
This was to me not just an excellent safari, on sound and exciting horses, but a place to spend time with people who love nature, like we do, who are passionate about conservation and Africa and also who made us feel like we were part of the family. This being something of a rarity and which I am personally forever grateful for.
As with all amazing trips and adventures, when they wind down to a close, one cannot remember where the middle disappeared to and it seems like moments ago we were greeting Dave on the airstrip and trundling into camp filled with excitement. Five days goes in an instant and we are back in the airport, in Maun, awaiting our flight to ‘civilisation’.
Thank you Dave and Robyn, Uncharted Africa Safaris and the staff and teams at Camp Kalahari and Fly Camp for making this an unforgettable experience for me and my guests.
All my love, Danni