In 2012 Richard Northedge attended the Riding Holiday Show where he was lucky enough to win a trip to Motswiri in Botswana. In this blog he gives his weekly account of what he describes as ‘the holiday of a lifetime’…
The bouncing Cessna provides an aerial introduction to the Okavango, the inland delta of meandering rivulets that drain into the Botswana soil or evaporate into the African air. We see our first elephants from the plane too, but within an hour of landing at the Motswiri camp I am on Roman – named after his nose – for an evening ride that disturbs a grass owl and introduces us to sable deer and water buffalo as the suns sets.
The mornings are as cold as the days are warm and we breakfast round the campfire before riding out – this time on Curry, another bay. Dave, our guide, points out zebra, kudu and okapi. We treat the herd of buffalo warily but on a canter he encounters it again and we chase them, rodeo-style. An evening boat trip encounters drinking elephants. More join them and lead a procession across the river. Some come close to watch us watching them. Amazing. On the tent veranda after dinner we hear slurping and the torch reveals a hippo bathing just feet away.
On a palomino today. Buck didn’t live up to his name – just rolled in the river, giving me a dunking! The terrain varies from shrub to grassland and marsh but there are many river crossings and we quickly learn to lift our legs high. We add warthogs and fish eagles to our sightings. In the afternoon Carmen, our other guide, puts me back on Curry to ride up-country to a ‘fly camp’ – less ‘glamping’ that Motswiri, whose tents have all mod cons – but there are still hot showers and sparkling wine glasses on the dinner table’s starched linen.
After a boat trip to Rhino Island (wildebeests but no rhinos) we ride back to base. Dave is a true bushman who can tell roan antelope dung from a tsessebe’s and knows a paw print came from a male lion. He carries a rifle but I suspect he’d rather shoot inconsiderate riders than any animal. After dinner we hear something splashing towards our tent. Hippos again? The noise gets louder, like the thrashing paddles of a steamer. Then from the shadows rises the first of a parade of elephants that pass close by: it’s like watching double-decker buses from the sidewalk.
Back on Buck to ride to Hippo Pool, where half a dozen hippos watch as Dave brews bush tea. Buck puts me back in the river on a canter home. I should have handled the spook better. That evening we take dugout canoes up river and see baboons annoying the elephants, warthogs, reed frogs and much else.
Safely back on Curry and we spot two herds of zebra. But when we approach a wallowing hippo we discover a bull water buffalo round the corner and retreat carefully. However, next time we round a corner and are surprised, is to find a luxuriously-laid picnic table. The stable boys take the horses home and we sup champagne. Our evening ride is followed by another fine dinner – roast fillet tonight. The food is very English, from the morning porridge to afternoon scones to Beef Wellington.
More zebras and more elephants on the morning ride and Curry keenly chases a colony of baboons we meet on our path. I’m on Buck for the evening ride – and stay on! After a barbecue we are woken in the early hours by loud crunching and munching all round the tent: we watch through the gauze windows as a pack of pachyderms pull apart trees and smash anything in their way – except us. The experience is awesome – and in the morning we inspect the damage.
Still time for one more ride before the Cessna returns us to the real world. We have seen no big cats or giraffes but our cameras and memories are full of many other exotic animals and birds. It has been the holiday of a lifetime and we enjoyed every day.