Heaven on earth in magical Mozambique
Read about, journalist Clare Pedrick's recent trip to Mozambique
Heaven on earth in magical Mozambique
Gazing across the turquoise Indian Ocean as horses roll languidly in the gin clear waters, it is hard to imagine that this sublime horse riding holiday experience was the product of suffering and tragedy. The story behind Mozambique Horse Safaris, based on the southern shores of this spectacularly beautiful African country, is an extraordinary one. In the early 2000s, as political turmoil gripped Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, cattle farmers Pat and Mandy Retzlaff found themselves facing growing hostility and threats of violence to themselves, their family and their beloved animals. More and more of their neighbours decided to leave before it was too late, while some watched as their pet dogs were killed as a gruesome warning.
Determined not to abandon their horses, and to save those of their friends who had fled for their lives, Pat and Mandy devised a plan to move east to Mozambique, which was just emerging from a 20-year civil war. This inspiring tale of courage is told in Mandy’s book One Hundred and Four Horses, which describes how she and Pat overcame every obstacle to start a new life and set up a horse-riding business, with some of the many horses they rescued along the way.
Today, some 15 of the original Zim horses, as they are affectionately known, remain and are lovingly cared for by Pat, Mandy and their staff. They form the core of the horses used for the riding holidays, though others have been brought in to join the herd, and new foals are regular additions.
Accommodation is in large and comfortable en suite rooms in Vila de Sonhos, a gracious thatched villa overlooking the sea, with carefully manicured gardens dotted with coconut palms and a beautiful baobab tree. The food is unfailingly good here, mainly based on local fish and seafood – my favourite was fillet of the intriguingly named Prodigal Son fish, accompanied by giant prawns and squid – all served with delicious South African or Portuguese wines.
This part of the coast is protected by the Bazaruto archipelago of five islands, one of which, Paradise Island, hosted a hotel that was popular with artists and musicians in its heyday. Bob Dylan wrote his single, Mozambique here, before the resort was abandoned in the run up to the conflict.
On one memorable day ride, you travel by dhow – a throwback from the time that this stretch of coast was a trading post with the Arabian peninsular – to another of the islands, beautiful Benguerra. After a dip in the warm crystal clear sea, you are introduced to your horse for a ride along the north of the island, with canters along the impossibly white sandy beaches, and the chance to look out for some of the rich natural life. Benguerra is home to 180 bird species, including the dazzling green Madagascar bee-eater, the lilac breasted roller, the graceful white egret and a flock of pink flamingos.
A late lunch is cooked on the boat and served in style, before heading back to the mainland, scanning the sea for some of the five species of dolphins that live in these waters, as well as sea turtles. We were lucky enough to see both, before stopping on a sandbank ominously called Dead Man’s Island (don’t ask) for another swim and sundowners.
Other memorable rides include a trek along the beach and through coconut plantations to Managlise Fishing Village, where you will be served fresh coconut juice, followed by a traditional lunch of fresh crab, grilled fish and Matapa, a Mozambican dish made from cassava leaves, nuts and coconut milk. The Red Dune ride takes you along the beach in the opposite direction, to the spectacular dune that gives this ride its name, cantering back through the shallow waters to have lunch at a superb seafood restaurant overlooking the sea.
Away from the coast, the Great Lake Ride gives you the chance to explore the bush, riding past neat homesteads with straw huts and spotless sandy backyards, where children rush out to see the horses and everyone greets the riders as they trot by. And then there is the Ocean Walk, where you lead horses into the shallow sea, letting them splash and roll, before choosing one and jumping on bareback to swim together in the slightly deeper waters.
It’s hard to leave this idyllic part of southern Mozambique, but the pain is dulled slightly by the farewell Ride on the day of departure. After an early wake-up call and a mug of rooibos tea, we cantered along the sands watching women fishing for crabs and the dhows gliding past on the glistening waters. Breakfast of freshly cooked scrambled eggs, bacon and grilled mushrooms and tomatoes never tasted so good as we returned mid-morning, for a last shower and the short trip to the airport.
In the words of Bob Dylan, this place is Magic in a magical land.
For more information about Mozambique Paradise Beach Week, please see link
Clare Pedrick is a British journalist based in Italy. She is also a qualified guide and runs the Umbrian riding holidays offered by Unicorn Trails