Kenya: Endurance Riding Safari–Dispatch 1

Traversing the bush on horseback is exhilarating 24 hours a day. There’s the pungent, perfumed smoke of wood fires in the early morning, the filigreed light sifting through flat-topped thorn acacias as the sun rises. Chill post-dawn air rapidly warms as the sun rises and the myriad birds, monkeys, baboons and jackals check in with each other, asking “Are you still alive?” High-lined horses munch their grain and hay, well-oiled tack is set on each carefully groomed back, legs are lifted to check that shoes are still securely nailed in place and no bruising stones are stuck in the hoof. A night guard from the local tribe strides through camp barefoot, a rifle over his shoulder, a long spear in his hand. He wears a scarlet plaid blanket draped around his waist, with one end slung over his sleekly muscled torso. “Look,” he says, squatting next to me and pointing to where the pug mark of a lion is clearly visible in the soft dirt between the tents. “Do not worry. He is interested in the horses, not you.”

Cantering across the short-grass savannah is an absolute dream, even when a family of warthogs dashes out of their den in the ground just ahead of me. They erupt like that man in the circus who’s fired out of a cannon, or like toothpaste from a full tube the first time you open it after a flight. First the bristly grey mother squirts out, the fierce look of her tusks offset by the ridiculous skinny tail held erect with its bits of hair waving. Following snout to butt is a line of 3, 4, 5 young ones, their tails held high, too. Warthogs would give anything to have just a few inches of a giraffe’s neck, so they could see who’s where. Instead, nature gave them long tails and they dash in single file, the tail of the warthog in front, like a dune buggy flag, signaling where to go.

Lunch, sandwiches slapped together from a spread offered that morning at the breakfast table, is taken in what meager shade can be found under the lacy thorn trees, or on the off-side of a termite mound. Sometimes the best shade spots are already occupied by army ants or a spiky plant, and there’s nothing you can do about that except look elsewhere. The horses are unsaddled so they can roll, and then nominally fastened to a branch or bush so they can graze. The horses are the ones doing all the work on a horseback safari and once unsaddled they have no interest in fleeing, so even a twig will hold them. They put their heads down and spend the lunch time doing what we do: eating and then dozing.

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