Game For a Ride – Marie Claire Travel

Words Bern Le Roux – Marie Claire travel – April 2005

GAME FOR A RIDE

Country of big game, winding waterways and astounding beauty, Botswana is a seriously hot destination. But forget cruising in a Landy or drifting in a dugout – horseback safaris are the way to go

Locals call Botswana the Venice of Africa, and if you’re lucky enough to visit the Okavango Delta, it’s easy to see why. Drifting down malapos (flood plains) on a mokoro (canoe) is as wonderfully ethereal as gliding along canals in a gondola, or so I’m told 20 mg cialis. To be honest though, boating isn’t my thing, especially when hippos the size of your house are cruising by.

Most people are surprised that you can view the Big Five on horseback, especially in the untamed Delta where big game wander freely into the waterways. Okavango Horse Safaris started in Maun, the bustling gateway to the Delta. In the early 1980s, the villagers gave British emigrant Frances Elizabeth Raftery – better known as Barney – a horse as a 21st birthday gift. Barney, a lodge manager at the time, decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, bought a few more horses and started a riding school. Then she met Botswana bush legend PJ Bestelink and he asked her to move upcountry to his hometown at Guma Lagoon. But Barney wouldn’t go without her horses and the only way to get them there was to ride, which meant crossing he treacherous waterways of the Delta. And so Okavango Horse Safaris was born.

Today, Okavango Horse Safaris is based in the heart of the Delta on the banks of the Xudum River. Kujwana camp, where the first two nights are spent, is tented hedonism – a luxurious canvas suite with polished wooden floors, hot running water, solar electricity and your own private viewing deck. In a 15 000 square-kilometre private concession teeming with game, my only company is owners PJ and Barney, a handful of staff and grooms and the rest of the group, which never exceeds eight riders.

When it comes to riding ability, we’re told at our first safety brief, we must be able to gallop out of danger’. And when you’re in the company of lions, there are no rules – each situation with these unpredictable predators is different. There are two guides accompanying the group at all times, each armed with bear bangers – imported flares that have become synonymous with horseback riding through lion territory. After the orientation ride I feel more at ease. The back of a horse is the safest place to be when viewing game, I tell myself. Not only are you in control, but you can make a speedy getaway if faced with danger. It’s also the best way to view game up close and personal – the horses are encouraged to graze at a sighting as this encourages the game to relax. And the horses are amazing – not your average school ponies, these are quality breeds picked by Barney herself, and well-adjusted to he environment.

Being on horseback in the Delta is magical – towering over tall reeds and long, yellow grass; wading through waterways alongside leaping lechwe (Botswana’s answer to the ubiquitous impala) and cantering for miles across golden flood plains amongst vast herds of zebra and giraffe. Each day, we stop for lunch in the shade of a sausage tree, and after a lazy feast around the table, camping beds are pulled out for the riders and it’s siesta time, followed by a swim in a hippo pool before heading off on the afternoon ride.

By day three we’ve seen herds of up to 60 elephants, zebras and wildebeest, but no lions. Then, as we move through the long grass, the horses suddenly et nervous and fidgety and we almost stumble over a half-eaten young giraffe in the shade of a malala palm. ‘Sit tight,’ says PJ. The bear bangers are out and a guide sees them first – a pair of fully grown lionesses watching us rom behind a giant ant hill. They glare at us through yellow slit-eyes, but thankfully their bellies are full and they aren’t too interested in us. As we set off, I can’t help feeling a bit like a cantering canapé. But the day’s not over and just before we reach Moklowane we’re lucky enough to disturb a male leopard about to drag his kill up a tree. Thankfully, e’s shy and slinks off into the grass.

Moklowane camp has four tree houses overlooking the sweeping Matsibi River. ere, luxury has its own quirky, rustic manifestations – the houses have no walls (the only ones who are watching are the elephants), showers in the en suite bathrooms are suspended buckets filled with steaming hot water, and the drinks area is raised so guests can contemplate the yawning hippos below. We sip our G & Ts watching he moon’s ripples on the Matsibi waterways and listening to the sounds of the Okavango. This is a game-viewing experience like no other – a luxury adventure to exceed even the most intrepid traveler’s wildest dreams. Venice?