Over my 7 years of safari life I’ve have been incredibly fortunate to have met many extraordinary people, a few with whom I’ve forged great friendships, and some who I now consider family. David and Robyn Foots and their kids are one such family. Having long talked about spending time with them by tagging along on their riding safari with one of my organized groups, I recently spent a magical Christmas with them here in Botswana.
This was to be an intense 5 days of horseback riding in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, complete with lush vegetation, fly camps, and delicious safari food, not to mention a chance to kip under the trees and enjoy lashings of wine and great company. I was told it would be a journey that could change one’s life. I was not disappointed.
As we set off from Maun, the theme tune from “Out of Africa” played over and over in my mind. No matter how many small airplane rides I take, it still stirs up a feeling of romance for times gone by and evokes an adventurous feeling that is hard to put into words.
Upon landing in the majestic Makgadikgadi, I surveyed the land around me. With cumulonimbus clouds forming ominously in the background, the famous flat Botswana salt pans, dotted by imposing palm trees and whooping zebras, spread as far as the eye could see. The perfect scene was set when, with hugs and kisses, Dave collected Abi and me at the airstrip.
The days that followed entailed very early mornings. Our 4:30 to 5:00 a.m. wake ups were helped with steaming coffee and a chance to head straight to our horses. My steed had a very fun name, Jon Bon Jovi. He was like a tightly wound spring, spirited, but sound, and perfect for me.
Each horse had its own personality and special quirks. Pedro is a lovely grey who spooks easily in normal riding conditions, but loves the pans, and settles there beautifully. He walked happily in the middle of the herd with my dear friend Abi aboard.
If you want to win a race in the Pans, then Velocity is the horse for you! Tall and elegant with a very sweet eye, Velocity is ridden mostly by the vertically-blessed and elegant middle child of the Foots—my favourite girl—Julie.
Duprie is Robyn’s fave horse. A calm and patient gelding, he carried with care my very tall friend Gregor.
Ditaka is a spirited, yet well-meaning speckled Appaloosa, in love with his rider Dave, and bursting with energy as he happily takes the lead with a fast and confident gate.
Griffin is a charming Shire thoroughbred cross—a horse that seems dreamed up only in fairytales with a thick neck, soft eye, and wavy hair that moves like ribbons in the wind. Griffin was ridden by one of the best seats I have seen, 17 year old Jo from Zambia.
Kambuku was ridden by Harry, the Foot’s youngest boy. Another Appaloosa, Kambuku is the opposite of Ditaka. Happy to be at the back, he is a reliable and gentle boy who seems to take in all the sights and sounds of the safari, nickering gently at any sign of apples.
Lastly, let’s not forget the very sweet Bruce. As our spare, he rode lead next to us through the larger sections of the safari. Not seduced by the call for apples, Bruce had his own agenda, often wandering into the bush, but always returning to us.
Riding through the flat salt pans, the sound of cantering hooves was often the only noise we heard for hours. We saw much wildlife, including great thundering zebra herd migrations, the rarely sighted bat-eared fox, brown hyenas, springbok, tortoises, and wildebeest. After a 4-hour ride that had us exploring the thickets and deeper bush of the territory, we were greeted by a gorgeous lunch and rest spot, complete with camp cot beds, pillows, water to wet our sarongs and cool ourselves, Pimms and gin and tonics, and, of course, a 3-course meal.
Riding onto a pan that stretches more than 100 kilometers, it was a vision of vast salt, sand, and sky that made it hard to tell where the earth ends and the sky begins. With the sun baking the earth, we galloped on the edge of the savanna where it meets the mirage of a faux ocean. The horses’ hooves flicking up clay, dirt, and sand into our mouths and eyes made the experience that much more exciting and authentic, and I’m proud to say that I came second in the race, even beating Dave on the extraordinarily fast Ditaka.
We saw sunsets that would melt the hardest of hearts—the sun cutting into the clouds and earth, and bleeding into the horizon, while carelessly splashing hues of red, orange, and purple.
Since it was Christmas, like a family in any other part of the world, Uncharted Africa Safaris prepared a Christmas tree with tinsel and bobbles. We opened crackers and gifts and enjoyed a wine-soaked Christmas dinner while telling jokes and limericks and stories of safaris and fun experiences. Even Mother Nature joined in with her own powerful story—a huge blue and black storm that lashed around our camp before leaving quickly.
We encountered staff, grooms, and guides whose hospitality will remain in our memories forever. These are kind and gentle people for whom nothing is too much trouble.
We spent joyous time with Dave and Robyn, fine people who are like family to me, and who I love. Dave’s unsurpassed passion for wildlife and conservation is infectious. I knew I was with family because I was teased mercilessly from start to finish, just like Christmas with my own father. It really did feel like home. Robyn was like a mother, nurturing us in her own generous, funny, candid, and welcoming way.
To me, this was not just an excellent horseback riding safari, but also a place to spend time with people who love nature, like we do. These people are passionate about conservation and Africa, and they made us feel like we were part of their family. I am forever grateful for this rare gem of a trip.
As with all amazing trips and adventures, they wind down to a close too quickly. It seemed like just moments before we were greeting Dave on the airstrip and bounding into camp, filled with excitement. Five days goes in an instant, and too soon we were back at the airport in Maun, awaiting our return flight to “civilization.”
Thank you Dave, Robyn, Uncharted Africa Safaris, and the staff and teams at Camp Kalahari and Fly Camp for making this an unforgettable experience for me and my guests.
All my love,