With a map in one hand and a chilly beer in the opposite, I sat alone on the bar of the Baobab Beach Backpackers Lodge in the coastal city of Vilankulo, gazing out on the sweeping sandbars and vivid turquoise waters that encompass Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago. I’d deliberate to go away the next morning for Zimbabwe, and I used to be chatting with the bartender in regards to the logistics of my journey. Then, instantly, a automobile’s headlights lit up the bar, and I noticed a well-known face heading towards me. I had a sense my plans have been about to alter.
I’d met Mandy Retzlaff a couple of days earlier; she and her husband, Pat, former residents of Zimbabwe, are the founders of Mozambique Horse Safari, a family-run horseback safari firm that I’d had the pleasure of driving with in Vilankulo as a particular deal with for my birthday. My good friend Alice and I had traveled some 200 miles from Tofo — a small coastal village well-known for its diving, snorkeling and whale shark sightings — for a trip with the corporate after we’d heard about their extraordinary story and the magnificent excursions they provided.
On the morning of my birthday, Alice and I had loved an exhilarating trip at low tide alongside Vilankulo’s palm-tree lined seashore. Pat was our information, and his introductory phrases — “We’ll have to ride fast to reach the red dune before the tide comes in” — have been music to our ears.
Riding aspect by aspect atop spirited and exceptionally well-trained horses, we thundered over the white sand, pausing to offer the horses a break earlier than cantering up the steep crimson dune. From the highest of the dune, a palette of vivid blue hues stretched over the peeping sandbars towards the 5 islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Traditional dhow boats dotted the seascape. We watched as fishermen pulled in their nets and native girls carried their catch ashore.
A few days after our trip, whereas I used to be seated on the bar, Mandy drove to the Baobab Lodge to ask if I’d have an interest in serving to run their horse program on close by Benguerra Island for a couple of weeks due to an sudden workers scarcity. Promptly abandoning my plans to journey to Zimbabwe, I discovered myself on a ship heading out to an island paradise.
About eight miles from the mainland, Benguerra Island — the second largest island of the Bazaruto Archipelago — is a scuba-diving haven that’s well-known for its white-sand seashores and luxurious resorts. Though their essential herd of over 40 horses relies in Vilankulo, Mozambique Horse Safari additionally maintains an outpost of six horses on Benguerra, the place they cater to the friends of the unique resorts.
During the weeks I spent on Benguerra Island, I obtained to know the horses underneath my care. Their histories have been chronicled in Mandy’s memoir, “One Hundred and Four Horses: A Memoir of Farm and Family, Africa and Exile,” which tells the outstanding story of a farming household’s devotion to their animals — together with their journey throughout Zimbabwe to Mozambique, with 104 rescued horses.
In 2001, Mandy and Pat obtained a letter informing them that they’d need to vacate their farm in Zimbabwe; it not belonged to them. As a part of then-President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform policies, the household was amongst these compelled to go away their houses. Determined to not abandon their beloved animals, and agreeing to take in animals from different displaced farm house owners, the Retzlaffs moved from one place to the subsequent with an ever-growing herd, ultimately reaching the border of Mozambique.
As evictions continued, it turned more and more tough to maintain their horses in Zimbabwe, so the Retzlaffs determined to cross the border into Mozambique. “As Mozambique was opening up after a civil war and people were looking to invest in the country, it seemed like a good idea to move the herd there and start a new life,” Mandy defined. “We had no idea of the difficulties we were going to face, but it seemed like freedom.”
After an extended and difficult journey into Mozambique, the couple created a horse-riding outfit to assist pay for the maintenance of their exiled herd. In 2006, Pat, who comes from an extended line of horse lovers, headed to Vilankulo with six of the horses and began organizing seashore rides — and so the horse safari was born.
The enterprise had began to take off when Cyclone Favio hit Vilankulo in February 2007, inflicting widespread destruction and bringing tourism to a standstill. Three years later, in 2010, half of Mandy and Pat’s herd died after ingesting Crotalaria crops, that are lethal to horses and had grown in abundance close to the lakes the place they grazed the animals. The pandemic has been one other main setback.
Despite the challenges, Mozambique Horse Safari provides spectacular horseback driving adventures, attracting vacationers and vacationers who’re wanting to discover one of many world’s most lovely coastal areas.
On Benguerra Island, I shifted gears from vacationer to path information, and spent my days main rides alongside the island’s untouched seashores, wandering by way of its diverse landscapes and waterways with friends from everywhere in the world. In the evenings, I took the horses into the ocean to wallow and swim because the solar set, one thing they appeared to take pleasure in as a lot as I did.
A horse named Tequila shortly turned my favourite. A charming and mischievous character, he was despatched to the island after orchestrating a couple of escapes on the mainland: He discovered the way to take away the halters from different horses, Mandy defined, and would collect them up and head towards Zimbabwe. “It became tiresome,” she added, “so he was dispatched to the island where he now rules the roost.”
I additionally turned very keen on a candy however temperamental mare referred to as Princess who was rescued by the Retzlaffs after struggling a horrible damage from a bullet wound by way of her withers, the best a part of a horse’s again. “It took years to heal her,” Mandy mentioned.
The Retzlaffs’ dedication and affection for his or her horses resonated deeply with me and is a supply of inspiration. “When you take on the responsibility of caring for animals, there is no turning back,” Mandy informed me. “They rely on you for everything. Our horses were saved — and, in the end, they saved us.”
“They provided a family of refugees with a living,” she added. “Every day is a happy day surrounded by my horses.”