Africa at its Best
Careful not to overtake our leader, we cantered through the long grass towards camp, marked by a line of tents, nestled under spreading acacia trees.The shadows lengthened behind Ol Doinyo Lengai, “Mountain of God” to the Masai, the only active volcano in east Africa.
Around us were giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and Grant’s gazelle, which ran alongside us for a while before stopping to observe the strange creatures who were disrupting the peaceful scene. This was African at its best: unspoilt, beautiful and exciting.Present day Tanzania was shaped by its first president, socialist Julius Nyerere, who united this country and, unlike anywhere else in Africa, there are no tribal conflicts. The downside to his idealism was a lack of development, and although change is coming, outside the town people live much as they did 50 years ago at the time of independence. This creates perfect conditions for interesting rides.
There are several different itineraries, but all begin near Arusha, tucked beside the cone of 13,000 foot Mt. Meru, with Kilimanjaro looming across the floor of the Rift Valley. We opted for an exploratory ride to Lake Natron, hard to reach and holding 90% of the world’s lesser flamingos. It is an inhospitable area, with its own haunting beauty and only to be visited after the rains when the game arrives to gorge on the mineral rich green grass. The Masai also come from many miles away with their herds of cattle, sheep and goats. As we mingled with them at the waterholes, it was refreshing to encounter tribesmen untouched by the modern world.
Our guides Jo and Chris were young, enthusiastic, professional and supported by a large, capable staff. The tents were new, roomy and each had a separate toilet/bucket shower tent. The well mannered Thoroughbreds carried us on exhilarating canters with game and settled in well to the camping lifestyle.
The trip was not without its challenges. One of the vehicles was mired in a salt pan for two days and the mess tent blew down in a fierce wind as dinner ended, but what is an Africa ride without some adventure?
On the final day we left camp early for a bush airstrip and galloped up the runway to meet our charter plane to the Serengeti. It had rained there, the roads were slick and we had occasional stuck vehicles, but we saw only 2 other tourist cars in 3 days, lunched on the plains surrounded by the wildebeest migration and were serenaded by hyenas and lions at night as we lay tucked into cozy beds in our huge tents.
Highlights were the numerous lions: 5 big maned males lying in the early morning sun on a rocky kopje, a lioness in a tree with all four legs dangling in the breeze and a male dragging the remains of a zebra kill slowly, often stopping to rest, to a tree under which his mate was relaxing.
The Serengeti ecosystem is incredibly rich in terms of the diversity of animal (we saw over 30 species) and bird life and we were truly blessed to have experienced it.
Ride Review by Mel Fox