In this feature, Kim Simkins tells us about her recent trip and why we should all be adding Mozambique to our bucket list.
Where are you going? Where is that and why on earth would you want to go there?
Those are the two questions I was most frequently asked when I merrily told everyone I had booked a riding holiday in Mozambique!
I was desperate for sunshine and some serious relaxation before the worst of the Christmas and winter blues set in. Limited time and dates restricted my options somewhat. In The Saddle talked me through various options and I bit the bullet and booked ‘African Paradise’. I thought it unsuitable for my usual holiday partner in crime, as she had been ‘beached out’ on previous riding trips. However, she was feeling about as desperate as I was for a break and decided that she would join me anyway.
So the two musketeers set off into the complete unknown without too many expectations, third world after all?! We tucked away the bottle of duty free gin in our bags, praying that just maybe they might have heard of tonic in such a far flung and remote place!
We laughed as the pilot announced the weather was warm but raining. We decided that it really didn’t matter and we were going to enjoy ourselves regardless! The tiny airport at Vilanculos gave us our first insight into African philosophy, i.e. how many men and how long it takes to stamp a passport! It was great to eventually get through somewhat dishevelled and exhausted and to be met by a warm and friendly whirlwind in the form of Mandy Retzlaff!
We were whisked away and driven to a lovely lunch at Archipelago Lodge, a wonderful setting, overlooking the beach, palm trees and azure blue sea. We felt a little guilty that we had eaten the awful airline sandwich, and didn’t feel we could do lunch justice! A lovely cool drink and a refreshing sea breeze suddenly made us feel human again. We were swiftly taken to our wonderful lodge to freshen up before meeting the horses, the stars of the show.
Rachel had read Mandy’s book ‘104 Horses’, the incredible story of how Mandy and Pat Retzlaff had been forced out from their farm in Zimbabwe and had rescued their horses and set up a new life as a safari business but with countless hardships and disasters along the way. It was humbling to meet such wonderful people who had been through such awful experiences and yet maintained their boundless enthusiasm for people, horses and life in general!
The yard was buzzing with activity, horses tied up, beautifully groomed, and saddles lined up at the ready. We were the only residential guests for the week and we were introduced to various horses who Pat thought would fit our requirements. He explained their characters and we were given the choice of who we wanted to try. ‘If you don’t like one, we can try another, and what sort of saddle and reins do you like?!’ Really, now that’s new on us, and we have done a lot of these trips!
So we climbed aboard the skylarks, I got a very cheeky and characterful little horse called Brutus who thought he would just test me out for size and then decided that as I could ride, he would agree to my demands – and proved to be an absolute gem through the week! Rachel settled on Black Magic and we tested out our steering and brakes in the school before setting off on our first ride to the beach, accompanied by Pat and Donna (one of the volunteers).
The tide was high but there was still enough beach to follow the edge of the tide line and admire the lovely white sand, countless small fishing boats and lots of birds. We had a leisurely test ride enjoying the wonderful sound of the waves lapping on the shore, and feeling the wind in our faces as the light gently faded and we splashed along the waters edge in the dark. The long flight now seemed forever ago and we were caught completely in the moment.
After a good night’s sleep, I was woken by the dawn chorus of the kingfisher in the tree outside. I watched a fantastic sunrise and the parade of local women balancing baskets on theirs heads as they walked along the beach; the men setting off on their fishing trips out to the sand banks on their dhows. The sound of people singing drifted up as they pulled in their nets and paddled their boats past the bottom of the garden.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we set off in high spirits under blue skies and African sun on our first adventure riding to the Red Dune. The tide was out and a glorious beach stretched out in an endless expanse all the way to the horizon. The horses were full of enthusiasm but not at all silly and the hard sand was perfect for some fabulous extended gallops along the beach, side by side. There was such a wonderful sense of space, emptiness and freedom, more than I have experienced anywhere else (and I have ridden all round the world). Our only instructions were to stick to the hard sand for the sake of the horses legs and to avoid ropes and anchors in the areas with boats. ‘Stop when you reach the blue boat you can just see in the distance and I will catch you up’, said Pat. Fishermen were dotted at intervals along the beaches, painting and maintaining their boats which were high and dry until the next tide, they glanced up and waved as we went by.
The bird life was amazing, especially busy at the waters edge. Flocks of sandpipers, whimbrels, egrets and cormorants took off en masse as we splashed through the puddles of water left amongst the wave rippled sand. The colour of the sky and the clouds was reflected like a mirror in the pools and the mud crabs scurried for cover into their holes as hooves thundered by.
We were met at lunch by our ground crew and the horses were given a well earned break whilst Mandy refreshed us with re-hydrating coconut water and then force-fed us more amazing seafood than we could ever have dreamt of eating in one sitting, all washed down with the wonderful Casal Garcia, a semi-sparkling white wine. Wondering how we would ever manage to get back on a horse after such a large lunch, we were helped back into the saddle and galloped on to the amazing orange Red Dune! A steep canter up the shifting sand dune was rewarded with a stupendous view of the whole area, sea and sand banks. The colour of the water and sand spits was amazing and gave you a whole new perspective than that down at sea level. It was almost a disappointment to have to leave the viewpoint to ride back along the beach.
Time for a swim in the pool in the afternoon and a swift gin and tonic (yes Mandy had found us tonic!) before dinner and an amazing and sociable evening dining with Mandy, Pat, their friends and volunteer. A great board game afterwards, lots of laughter and swapping of stories and talk of the rest of the weeks plans, finished off by a glass of wine on our verandah and a bar of Dairy Milk (Mandy, you really are amazing, you think of everything!) What a wonderful end to a perfect day!
The rest of the week was a delightful series of varied beach and inland rides, visits to the local markets and fishing villages. Mandy and Pat are walking encyclopedias, so knowledgeable about the history, culture, flora and fauna of the region. We had a lovely authentic lunch cooked in the fishing village with its thatched huts and bright red flamboyant tree. Then we watched the children sing and dance for us before giving out pens, pencils and books. Their excited faces and smiles were so worth the ride out there. The horses were also very happy as they love the fresh coconut pieces and refuse to leave until they have all gone, Brutus was in seventh heaven, his ears were so pricked, it was untrue and I was mugged until my pocket was empty!
Visiting the other islands in the archipelago was amazing, stunning empty white sandy beaches reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe. Pink shore crabs patrolling the surf, wonderful snorkelling with multi coloured fish and beautiful sand dunes towering above a thousand shades of blue water. The view from the top of the dune on Bazaruto was a breathtaking 360 degree panorama and well worth the climb. The ride on Benguerra was quite different from the mainland, although Tequila didn’t quite manage to steal my heart like Brutus had!
The canoe trip along the river was wonderful, sitting back and being paddled amongst the purple water lilies on flat calm water, the peace broken only by the flapping of herons and other waterfowl that we disturbed! A lovely glass of chilled white wine whilst watching the setting of the sun, was amazing but the paddle home in the dark with the fireflies flitting overhead and glowing like little fairy lights actually made me cry! It was magical and emotional and a memory that will stay with me forever.
Mandy and Pat are some of the most gracious and wonderful hosts we have ever come across, nothing was too much trouble. Their passion and enthusiasm despite the hardship is inspiring and they showed us an Africa that we never new existed, beautiful in its own way but real (warts and all). Food and accommodation could not be faulted, third world it most certainly was not. However you need to go with an open mind, a sense of humour and a willingness to let go of our obsession with time. Love it for what it is!
The horses are the key to the whole story here, they were wonderful and gave us everything we asked for and so much more. The Retzlaff’s made us so welcome, we came home completely relaxed and rested. Mozambique was the perfect remedy and we have vowed to return! Anyone who doubts the merits of this wonderful country should think again and give it a go, I am sure Mandy and Pat would love to share it with you and I am sure you will be as captivated as we were!