Tanzania is often the first destination of those new to Africa with its promise of the classic safari experience. I too was lured by the country although I chose to experience the wilderness from the back of a horse instead from an off-road vehicle.
I stayed at Makoa Farm, a wonderful, idyllic family-run farm, at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. The overwhelming view of this majestic mountain alone made the choice a good one.
The farm itself was also a pure adventure. In addition to the riding safaris, the German owners run an animal sanctuary and veterinary clinic. Injured domestic and wild animals are brought to Makoa Farm almost daily in the hope they can be treated and nursed back to health. However, many wild animals were lastingly injured or could not be reintroduced to the wild once they got used to the care of human and so they have found a new home on Makoa.
A walk around the farm is always exciting! From adorable porcupines and countless cheeky monkeys who would quickly steal sunglasses if you weren’t careful to owls, antelopes, cheetah, hedgehogs, genets, marabou storks and nocturnal bushbabies (galagos) who are fed each evening. Thus you are constantly kept busy since the needs of all animals are considered individually and guests are allowed to help actively in their care if they so wish. Given the excitement of the first days on the farm, my expectations for the rides increased dramatically.
The first ride takes place on the farm grounds so that everyone has the chance to form a good bond with their horses. The terrain is breathtakingly beautiful, thanks to its high location close to Mount Kilimanjaro, the vegetation is lush green and exotic. Open grasslands alternated with forested sections. The forests are home to colourful and completely new to me birds, such as the silvery-cheeked hornbill. A large animal with an impressive horn on its beak that is for me the epitome of exoticism.
Mango trees littered the farm and are as common as oak trees in Germany. Traces of earlier coffee cultivation can still be found here and there in the form of remnant coffee plants and whenever I looked into the trees, I could see little monkeys jumping away.
The farm is bordered by 2 low-lying rivers, in which the water itself cannot be seen. Only the suddenly falling slope and the distant noise of rushing water indicate what forces prevail approximately 100 metres further down.
The so-called motorway runs along the slope. This is a small winding path that leads around the entire farm ground. It got its name because it offers the perfect training ground for the safari horses. After a good warm-up, we went on the ‘motorway’ and around the farm at full speed, in a long gallop, for 10 to 15 minutes. The uneven ground, high grass and low hanging branches provided enough obstacles to make it an adventure and a lot of fun. You never knew what to expect behind the next bend and so it happened that we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a group of baboons.
When all horse and rider teams have harmonised well, the real adventure can finally start. We leave the farm and head into the wilderness.
In the beginning, the way leads through the relatively densely populated surroundings of the farm. You go past cornfields and through small, local villages. Despite how simply people live here, they greet us enthusiastically, especially by the children. Upon seeing our group from afar, they come out of their huts, shouting and laughing and run behind us for a long time. As they run they enthusiastically shout ‘Farasi!’, the Swahili word for ‘horse’.
Slowly the landscape becomes wilder and the local villages sparser until we finally leave civilisation completely behind. We plunge into a golden yellow steppe that stretches to the horizon. Here and there stands a lonely acacia tree. These are a welcome source of shade for all animals, especially in the midday heat, and in the distance, there are slight hills. It is exactly how I imagined the African savannah to be or the way I saw it in numerous documentaries about Africa; a vast expanse of pure wilderness.
Wherever my gaze wanders, there is something to discover. Springbok and other antelope hide in the high yellow grass, warthogs whiz out from behind anthills and large herds of wildebeest and zebra can be seen in every corner. in fact, zebra and wildebeest are so numerous that after a few hours their presence will almost be taken for granted. Nevertheless, the wonder of observing them will never diminish. Above us, the occasional eagle gliding on the breeze can be seen, and in the distance, the calls of baboons can be heard.
It is an absolute paradise, but there is always a heightened awareness and a slight tension in the group. Despite the beauty surrounding us, we are in an area that is shared by Africa’s big cats. Behind every bush or tree I expect to find a lion or leopard and the longer we do not meet one, the greater the excitement becomes. To my relief, such an encounter does not take place.
In the late afternoon, the sun slowly sinks deeper and deeper to the horizon. Our guide urges us to hurry so we can reach our camp before sunset. The tempo becomes faster and we gallop towards the sunset. And suddenly what I had spent the weeks before the safari hoping for happened.
We saw the giraffes at a distance diagonally in front of us and slowed down our pace, but galloped on. We did not go directly towards them, but rather parallel and shortly before we passed, they fell into a leisurely gallop and joined us, just a few metres away. And so, on our first day of riding, we galloped alongside a herd of 6-7 giraffes who accompany us for about a minute until turning off.
This event is the absolute highlight of the day. When we reach our idyllic camp next to the river, protected by some acacia trees, my fellow rider and I sit at the campfire for a long time. We enjoy freshly cooked food, cool gin tonics and talk enthusiastically about our unique experience.
It is the best start I could wish for my safari.
If you are looking for a safari adventure of this kind, the South Amboseli Ride is just the thing for you!