Riding at Mt Kilimanjaro - Tanzania

by Hidden Trails 06/05/2007

Private riding safari in Tanzania

Day 1:  After an uneventful flight we arrive at the Arusha Klimanjaro airport. We paid for  our visas, grabbed our luggage, and Laszlo arrives shortly to take us on a half hour drive to Makoa Farm. Laszlo and his wife Elisabeth own and operate this working coffee farm located at the southern foot of Mt Kilimanjaro. They’re both veterinarians, originally from Germany, and moved to Tanzania 10 years ago. They’ve been at this current location for 6 years and have quite a menagerie of farm animals, some which they intended to own, some that are patients, and others they somehow just acquired along the way. They have 25 horses which are used for the riding safaris (though they normally take no more than 6 guests at a time).
The horseback safaris are their primary business and either Elisabeth or Laszlo or both accompany each safari. Riders can stay at the farm, at a base camp, move from camp to camp, or a combination of locations.
Ndarakwai is essentially a 10,000 acre private ranch in West Kilimanjaro. Riders can opt for fly camping or stay at the tented camp on the ranch.
Accommodations on the farm consist of two guest cottages with stunning views of Kilimanjaro, a room in the farmhouse, and a separate guesthouse. Elisabeth and Laszlo are gracious hosts and the farm fresh food is delicious. Their cook, Miriam, bakes the best bread in East Africa! This afternoon after getting settled in, we went on a short ride through the coffee fields to get acquainted with our horses and tack (good thing as I couldn’t get comfortable on the Australian stock saddle I tried and had to switch to an English one). I’m on Marvin and Mark is riding Chinrose. On the farm ride, we saw guinea fowl, francolins, go away birds, silvery cheeked hornbill, baboons, sykes and vervet monkeys. Tomorrow we move to Ndarakwai for the start of our safari rides.
Day 2:
  We awake this morning to a glorious view of Kili. As we have our morning coffee and tea on our verandah, we’re joined by Josie and Sukari, two of the farm cats, who’ve come for their morning milk (ask for a cat bowl). Our horses and gear are being loaded and transported this morning and after breakfast, we drive part way where we meet the horses and ride the remainder of the way to our fly camp arriving in time for lunch. As there had been some recent rain here, the landscape is very green.
The camp setup is similar to what we experienced in Kenya, only here we have slightly larger tents with mattresses on the floor rather than on cots. There are shower and toilet tents and a tented dining area. At an elevation of only approx. 3000 feet, temperatures are surprisingly comfortable during the day and not as hot as we expected.
In the late afternoon, we start another ride from camp. We saw banded mongoose, impala, eland, Burchell’s zebra, Masai giraffe, common waterbuck, vervet monkeys, and baboons. We found that taking photos of wildlife can be tricky while on horseback, and trying to take photos of wildlife with your riding companion in the foreground while on horseback is especially tricky! Like walking, riding provides a very different perspective from which to view game. As we’re heading back to camp, I spotted our first elephant on the ranch. I could just see some ears flapping in the trees but as we rode a little nearer, but not too close, to the thicket of trees, we got a better view. The landscape is beautiful with the surrounding hills and the sun setting behind Mt Meru.
This evening after dinner, Laszlo takes us on a drive for our first look at spring hares. They’re adorable, like mini kangaroos, but dart around much too quick to photograph.
Day 3:  We were up early after a very restful night’s sleep. I slept better camping on this trip than I did anywhere else. When asked if we heard the elephants near camp during the evening, we had to respond “Didn’t hear anything!” After a light breakfast, we head out on a morning ride. Generally what we did was go out on a longer morning ride, have lunch at the camp, followed by a shorter afternoon ride but on a private safari such as ours the length of the rides can be tailored to guests’ interests. At night and in between rides, the horses stay at a paddock nearby. During the rides, we would occasionally find a place to dismount in order to rest, have some water and snacks, and enjoy the views. Their horses are very well trained and responsive. A gentle squeeze is all that’s needed to put them into a trot. We were told never to kick as they’ve taught their horses that kicking means “an elephant is charging, run!” Aside from the previous day’s animals, this morning we saw spotted hyaena, warthogs, Von der Decken’s hornbill, lilac breasted roller, white headed and red billed buffalo weavers. We also came across a herd of skittish elephant.
A strong windstorm and some rain kicked up in the afternoon which made our second ride of the day look not so promising, but it eventually passes and we were able to head out around 4:30pm. The afternoon turns out to be beautiful and at the end of our ride, Elisabeth and Laszlo surprised us by bringing us to the waterhole viewing platform where they left us to have our own private sundowner before returning by car to camp.
This evening after dinner, we visited some friends of Elisabeth and Laszlo who live nearby. News that Mark plays guitar had traveled, and we spent the evening on their rooftop under the stars, listening to guitar music, while bush babies were screeching and fruit bats were flying overhead. It was a surreal and memorable experience that I’ll never forget!
Day 4:
  This morning we rode to the other side of the hills where the landscape is very different with open plains, not as much vegetation, and much drier. We saw the wild eland that decided to join the cattle herd years ago. Her offspring have all joined eland herds, but she apparently likes to stay with the cattle. We saw wildebeest herds crossing the plains and today I’m finally successful in my attempts to get photo of wildlife and rider together. It’s sprinkling for much of the ride which feels great. During the ride, Elisabeth spots some wild mushrooms that have sprouted on the side of a termite mound and we stop to harvest them. These will be lunch tomorrow. We drop the horses off at the paddock instead of riding back to camp, and there we got a chance to meet Nkarsis the 6 year old orphan elephant that was raised on the ranch. We greet her by blowing into her trunk to which she responds by blowing hot elephant breath back at us
We took a short walk back to camp for lunch before packing up and heading back to the farm where the first thing I do is have a long hot shower! For dinner this evening, we’re treated to a delightful concoction called ‘Makoa curry’. It starts with a base of rice and chicken or vegetable curry to which you can add a selection of a dozen little side dishes of chopped nuts, eggs, cheese, veggies, and fruits to mix in to your liking. On the walk back to our cottage, I got my first bite from a safari ant. Boy do they hurt!
Day 5:
  This morning we were asked how active we wanted our last day in Tanzania to be to which we replied “not very” and that we were quite happy to just relax around the farm before our evening flight home. Laszlo gave us a tour of their veterinary clinic on site as well as most of the animals on the farm. Among their patients were rabbits, dogs, cats, a pair of Verreaux’s eagle owls, and 2 bush pigs. Other animals living on the farm aside from the horses include a few cows, pigs, Frisky the baby donkey who likes to chase the dogs around and nip me in the back of the knees to get me to play, 2 peacocks, ducks, geese, 7 dogs, many cats, rabbits, and countless guinea pigs. All are friendly except for one vicious goose.
We took a short guided walk from the farm to a waterfall cave to see the fruit bats and look for monitor lizards. No lizards today, but we did see lots of bats. The mushrooms we harvested yesterday were chopped and sautéed with garlic and served with a vegetable quiche for lunch. This afternoon there’s a strong downpour lasting a few hours, the most rain we’ve experienced in a single day all trip. After an early dinner, we sit around and chat some more with Elisabeth and Laszlo. I look at my watch to see that it’s already 7:30pm (our flight is at 9:45pm) though no one else seems to be the least bit concerned. Another 15 minutes later, it’s suggested that we should head to the airport and we say our goodbyes to our hosts, take one last pic, and are off on the half hour drive to the airport.

Patti and Mark (published on Fodor’s website)

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