Crossing the border was fun; to cross the "great grey greasy Limpopo River" we had to get into a “flying fox,” (a cage suspended on a cable) having signed our indemnity form in a rather dilapidated shed overlooking the river. One can drive over in low water, but although they are light of rain this year, there is still enough water in the river to require this mode of crossing. A great start to our African adventure.
We were greeted by Louise, a couple of dogs and several children, excited because they had seen a crocodile and eager to relate the tail. Louise and her husband Cor runs LVHS. Although it was close to 4pm we sat down to an unexpected and most welcome and lunch. We changed into riding gear, left all valuables behind, and went to meet the horses, our companions for the next week. My horse was called Monate, meaning NICE in Botswanan and he was sweet. Not too big, balanced, did not pull and lopped along all day in a hack canter. He cannot wear a brow band as he is very ear shy.
Everyone mounted; we went off into the Mashatu Game Reserve to try them out for size which required a little riding test. Matching rider to horse is important and our guides West, Tsaone (pronounced Sowone) and Louise, were there to watch and make adjustments.
Mashatu is named after its magnificent ancient trees. They are only found here and are so big because they are hundreds of years old and thus grown apparently before the elephants were around to destroy them as saplings, which they do now. The bush is varied, with wooded river beds, rocky outcrops, wide savannahs with waving grasses and some dry desert. Every vista has a different look and feel which makes the rides interesting.
Here, they rarely trot. It's walk or canter. We mostly canter in a line, although this is not imperative when space and terrain allow. Some of the ground can have some holes so it is prudent to follow the one in front and keep behind West, our lead guide, who is constantly assessing the terrain and looking for animal movement in order to keep us from running into trouble. The horses have perfected a slow canter and do not (often) try to overtake, so one can even enjoy the view whilst moving, especially when the zebras or impala decide to join us skittishly kicking up their heels or bounding with enormous leaps.
What a wonderful start; we had to pinch ourselves that here we were riding in Botswana already, on our first day, seeing giraffes, wildebeest, impala, zebras, and lots of elephants. 2 Mashatus camp is set under some marvellously shady Mashatu trees and is lovely in its simplicity. There are 2 open plan “rooms”, one for sitting and one for dining, a swimming pool for those delicious moments of time off after the long morning rides, and 5 tents, raised on platforms, all with ensuite bathrooms, showers open to the stars and compost loos. It's not fancy, but most comfortable, perfectly suited to the location and the job in hand. We were all settled in and had a glass of cool refreshment in our hands very quickly. There is no electricity here so you need a good torch, but somehow the lovely ladies, Queen and Grace, ably assisted by Tips, the ever smiling barman, manage to produce ample food, scrumptious cakes and plenty of drinks.
The horses are in a covered stable yard nearby, safe from predators.