Written by: Shane Dowinton
As our children career recklessly from our arms to school, “teenagerdom” and beyond, it is hard not to want to slow things down and enjoy the precious moments of parenthood. Our daughter is 17 going on 25 and her eyes are already on a horizon far beyond the cosy warmth of home and I find myself jealously hoarding the ‘memory moments’ for future perusal when the nest is empty.
Jess and I have always ridden together, from the lead rein when she cried as I told her to put her heels down, to the games of Polocrosse with her friends, horses have been the backdrop to her childhood and my parenthood. So the opportunity for several days together in the wilds of Africa riding through the pristine Mashatu Reserve with Limpopo Horse Safaris needed hardly a thought.
There are rare pockets of true Africa these days, it is sad to say. Beautiful gems of unspoilt wilderness where the topography matches your imaginations and the heat of the sunbaked earth soaks through to your bones, they seem to be isolated patches in a densely populated continent. But here, just north of the great Limpopo River there is a vast chunk of primeval Africa, thick in vegetation and wildlife that reminds you that Africa is still Africa.
Riding beautifully sure footed and resolute horses through the endless river plains, taking shade beneath vast and towering Mashatu trees, I was immediately caught up in the adventures of Rider Haggard in search of King Solomon’s mines. Jess too sensed the enormity of the land and though she has grown up a “bush girl” the stirrings of a greater Africa were welling up in her as we rode.
It is hard not be stirred when confronted with a herd of stately matriarch elephants gently nudging their young before them or suddenly finding yourself cantering alongside a dusty cloud of eland. Our guides, West and Tsoane with quiet yet capable assurance directed our journey from camp to camp, breaking the beautiful silence occasionally with an observation or a thought like a perfectly placed comma in a great sentence.
And the camps, each one wonderfully wild and embraced by the bushveld, with crackling fires and camp cooked cuisine to fill your belly and restore your weary bones. There is no conversation like campfire conversation, sharing tall bush stories and laughing as the night sky turns on its axis overhead. The night sounds too remind you that just beyond the warmth and security of the firelight is the wilderness and its nocturnal friends, hyena mocking our comfort, lions in the distance moaning at the darkness. As if to reassure us that all is well, our equine companions snort occasionally or stamp as they work slowly through their ration of lucerne, wonderfully content in our midst.
Coffee to greet the dawn and mounted in the cool of the day the horses are lively in step at the prospect of moving camp. There is a real joy in the relationship after days in the saddle, discovering each others’ quirks, adjusting to each pace along the track, there is a bond between us that carries far beyond the journey. I see in Jess too a familiarity with her horse, a security in familiar company, she is relaxed in the seat as her eyes survey the land for movement.
What value can you put on a trip like that? What price on a memory shared in the experience of a vast land teeming with game, canvas and firelight, equine friends and great company. Jess and I are eager to return to relive those moments of adventure together, a place in the wilderness that seems for the moment to defy the pull of the world.