Danger in The Bush – No just on the Airplane!
The intrepid duo (Marian and June) were off again. A different continent to explore – Africa was our destination – a Safari on Horseback in Botswana, only this time there were four! (Gina and Janet came too).
Our information said there would be two men joining us, we didn’t know what to expect so we checked out all the “likely” men’s feet in the departure lounge. (“Likely” being – youngish, handsome and fit!). You can always pick horse riders as they are the only passengers at Heathrow wearing riding boots. No boots to be seen?? We arrived at Johannesburg Airport in eager anticipation. It was actually pouring with rain, that wasn’t on the itinerary! To be met by a driver and our two men, a Canadian cowboy and a retired chemist from Sunderland, plus three drop dead gorgeous Swedish girls! There would be no contest – four “late middle aged” (ok sixty something ladies), two senior chaps, and three thirty ish blondes!!
A six hour trip to Botswana in a mini bus with our new pals took us to the border, we were firm friends by the time we arrived, we started laughing on the way out of the airport car park and didn’t stop until we returned the following Sunday . Well that’s not strictly true we had to be quiet on a few occasions to avoid being eaten by lions!
Entering Botswana across the Limpopo River, literally by driving across the dry river bed. We were met by our guide and taken to the start of our adventure. Out hosts met us with a sumptuous lunch, a relaxing afternoon we thought after our 24 hours traveling! No. We changed into our jod’s in the open, so no time for being shy, and after a short briefing were off to meet the steeds. Some of the nicest horses I’ve seen in fact just like at home, TBxShire – sports horse types all very well-schooled. Matched perfectly with our horses, they had obviously done it before. We set off immediately into the bush. Our first challenge was for our guide to check out if we were competent; this was accomplished by being sent to canter individually to an appointed tree in the far distance and return in one piece, preferably still on the horse. Having passed the test, well no one fell off; we set off on our adventure. Within ten minutes we came across a herd of elephants and then giraffes interspersed with Impalas and Kudu’s. This constant show of wild life was with us throughout the eight days we rode, they were never far away.
The first nights camp, very civilised. G&T and beer within minutes of dismounting, a hot shower and the most delicious dinner by candle light. Our tents were on raised platforms, comfy beds, and a hot shower at the ring of a bell. The only warning was “don’t leave your stuff outside the tent, the baboons steel things and you might see your hat on a Hyena in the morning”! (One day we rode into camp to be met by one of our boys who was very concerned, the baboons had got into a tent whilst they were setting up camp and had stolen some underclothes and food from a bag. OMG, it could be my Bridget Jones’s and Brazil’s, but no, the discerning baboon had taken Edda’s thong and her peanuts!!)
Five of the nights were spent in different locations, each quite different but there was always attention to detail from our hosts. The bush shower was ingenious, a large bucket of water fitted with a rose and a tap, filled by one of our lovely grooms the water heated in a cauldron then hoisted up into a tree You turned it on, got wet turned it off, shampooed and then turned it back on and rinsed. Your shower was complete and as most days we were covered in dust it was pure heaven.
Our day started with West, our Botswana guide(an accomplished horse man who had a wealth of local knowledge about all the flora and fauna of the area, who could also give an insight into Botswana’s history and politics) bringing us tea in bed at 5am, breakfast followed and then we were off. The plan was to be mounted and ready to go by 6.30. Well we nearly made it on time most days, but there were seven ladies?? The horses were always immaculately groomed and brought to the mounting block for us to get on. Ditto in the afternoon on our return they would un tack them, let them role in the dust and clean both horses and tack. (Could easily get used to this George?) We would ride for about three hours with the odd “bush bathroom” stop. We could only stop where there was an appropriate mounting block! We’d have a break for an hour and then ride for another three. The terrain was very dry and dusty and everywhere evidence of elephants, I’m just pleased I don’t have to poo pick! They break down the trees and eat all the vegetation in their path including the thorns that look like steel needles and feel like them if you are unfortunate enough to get too close, which we did on occasions. We rode along dry river beds and climbed escarpments. Two paces walk and canter. No silly trotting. On the first day we encountered lions under a tree we couldn’t get too close as they might eat the horses or even us if they were really hungry! The ever present elephants, giraffes, Kudus, Impalas or Bush McDonalds as the locals refer to them. They have a dark line on their rear in the shape of an “M” and are eaten by all the carnivores. One day we saw an Impala carcass high up in a tree, taken there by a Cheetah to eat in peace. We galloped alongside the Zebras, as they wouldn’t stand still! One day whilst riding along a river bed we came to a pool, a large pink head popped up and then a little pink head, Mrs Hippo and son. Not far away the most enormous Croc gliding through the water. A good thing we didn’t paddle that day! An ostrich and even a tortoise made an appearance later and frequently the little Wart hogs would pop out and say hello along with the numerous birds and reptiles. We rode along the “M1” a long straight dirt road with a truck appearing once in an hour. One day we came across a family of Hyenas’, not in the least bothered by us or our horses and on another a Brown Hyena – a very rare sighting. There were Gnu’s, wild dogs that looked like stripy foxes and hundreds of dark blue Guinea fowl.
The afternoons were spent relaxing followed by afternoon tea. Grace we discovered had trained to do massage which we all took advantage of. Each evening we had “sun downers” taken on rock escarpments watching the sun go down or after a drive in the truck to see the wildlife we couldn’t get close to on the horses, mainly the cats. We saw Leopards just a metre away unconcerned by our presence and two lionesses with cubs just casually laid under the trees. One night we did get into a bit of a predicament when our guide took us to the river bank to watch a herd of elephants below with their young rolling in the dust. A few of them came up and within a few minutes they surrounded us, with elephants on two sides and a twenty foot drop on the other, we felt a tadge vulnerable! One large cow decided we were encroaching on her space and bellowed loudly in a threatening sort of way coming straight at us!! West calmly said we will just rev the engine, she’ll move on, but she wasn’t scared, we sat it out for a bit and then reversed a little she moved forward and we moved back, he revved again and flashed the lights, after a while she roared off and so did we. I’ve never known Gina so quiet!!! The G&T sun downers went down well that night! We had a few more near misses with the elephants but despite that the highlight of my week was seeing a little baby elephant in one group. It was about three days old, being taught to stand up by his mum when he really just wanted to stay a sleep. A wonderful sight that I’ll never forget.
Once safely back in the camp we had dinner by candlelight. The food was so good throughout the week, five star hotels gastronomic delights all cooked on an open fire, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, beef, fresh fruit and salads, cakes, pastries, and sweets, all to die for. Our chefs – two amazing ladies Martha and Grace. They even made me wheat free cakes and pies which is something most of the restaurants in the UK can’t manage. We told stories and we spent a lot of time laughing! We would discuss the day’s events and our many ailments. Six hours in the saddle isn’t without its sore bits and aches and pains!! Those poor young girls I’m sure they didn’t realise what age has in store for them? They were such good company and were impressed by their new found older friends; we were flattered by their respect, compliments and good humour.
Two nights were spent sleeping under the stars. Beds in a circle round the fire. Were we vulnerable being surrounded by some of the fiercest wild animals in the world with eleven tethered horses as bait? Not a bit of it, what creature in its right mind would be brave enough to attack Marian in her nightie? The noises of the night were quite incredible, if a little scary at times, especially when the elephants came a visiting and the horses got loose. The sounds of the mornings were a pain in the ….! Well who wants a cheerful bird or a laughing Hyena at five am??
The trip home wasn’t without adventure, at the border the guards confiscated our Porcupine quills that Cisie had retrieved with great courage from a porcupine hole. On coming upon an accident our driver casually drove across the central reservation onto the opposite side of the road and proceeded to drive the wrong way up the dual carriageway until he was past the obstacle only to drive back across to the correct side and continue on as if it were just the norm!
You would think eight exciting days in the African bush was not without danger but the most peril less and scary part of the holiday was the flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Our luck was in or so we thought. Upgraded to business class, wow how good is that? We were fed and watered and just about to relax when an off duty stewardess who luckily was sitting next to us suddenly said “just sit there and don’t move”. Why? Creeping slowly down the back of the seat in front was a scorpion. I was ready to squash it with my napkin when she said NO in the sort of tone that even I took notice of!! The steward came very quickly and removed it in a box. He said if you had squeezed it, it would have stung you and you probably would have died. A sobering thought at the end of an exciting holiday.
June Collier November 2013.