Do You Ride? – A Horse Safari in Kenya

Do you ride?

People are always asking that. It’s not good enough that we’ve bravely mounted bicycles and game vehicles and slept among roaming lion prides and night-creeping hippos. We need to ride horses too, through the greatest wildernesses in the world.

I’ve witnessed many travellers scoff at such a question. I’ve also witnessed pro-riders leap gallantly at the suggestion, heading out on rides as often as time on their safari allows.

I’m somewhere in between these two types. To the invite to ride, I scoff and leap at the same time.

“Yes, of course I ride! I’ve been on six horses! And I’ve never fallen off! Although I did once contemplate bolting from a spooked horse during his furious downhill dash, one dark and scary night in the countryside.”

The Chyulu Hills in Kenya, at ol Donyo Lodge, is no countryside, though. Nor is the Maasai Mara, at Mara Plains Camp. There are all kinds of marvellous animals hiding and seeking.

At ol Donyo Lodge, as another eager, but much more proficient rider headed out with one guide on our early morning expedition, I joined two other guides (obviously my reply had not been overly convincing) for a slow walk. Atop the great white mare I’d been partnered with, the wildlife did a little less hiding and more seeking.

In the open plains, some distance from camp, we sidled through a tower of six or so giraffe, munching on trees (the giraffes, not us), and then zebra and wildebeest, and I realised just what it is about riding a horse in the wild that makes the challenge worthwhile.

Giraffe and other wildlife view you as just another animal when you’re on the back of a horse, rather than on foot, allowing you to get much closer.

With the one guide in front of me and the other behind, and an animal of great muscle below me, I felt protected. And yet, looking into a giraffe’s eye at almost eye-level, I felt completely open, bare. Barriers dissolved, nothing stood between me and nature. The way nature intended.

I let the quietness of no motor, no voices, settle around us, in us. I heard my thoughts stir, listened to fear rise and sink back down, comforted, like a dog having her head patted.

Peace, that’s what it was all about.

Harmony.

Understanding.

“I could do this all day!” I shouted to the guides.

“Ok,” the fellow behind me, chirped, “so shall we break into a trot then? Maybe a gallop?”

“Always with the pushing! Fine, I choose trot.”

With a tap to our horses’ sides, we took off, up down, up down, up down, and then the thrill sank in and I was ready to catch up with the others, the pros, ready to lose my training-wheels and ride off into the sunset!

But it was still early and oh, look, breakfast was set up under a tree in the distance…

Under the dappled shade, we dismounted and made our way to a chair around the table.

“We’ve come across two cheetah while on a ride before,” said the one guide. “Only a couple of metres from our hooves! We just stood still while the animals slowly walked past us. They acknowledged us with a subtle glance and tilt of the head and then continued on their way.”

“How often in life do you get to experience such an incredible animal up-close like that?” Another guide continued. “And while sharing your perspective of it with another animal? And it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or pro.” He looked at me. “Horses all have different personalities. Just like us. And there’s a right horse for you just as there is a right rider for each horse.”

“And, maybe,” I said, “it’s not about whether you’re a beginner or pro, whether you’re walking, trotting, cantering or galloping, because it’s in being still and silent with the animals on the ride that feels the most special. It’s when you really get to connect with it all.”

“Exactly,” the guide returned.

So yes, I ride. But I do “still and silent” so much better.

“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire.” – Shannon Ralls Lemon

How To Stay Inspired – AtholPlace Has the Answers

To stay inspired, to hold on to our sense of purpose, that is all we ask for. In our work, our relationships, ourselves. This is not simply about contentment, this is about creation, about passion, about the impatient calendars and proverbial butterflies getting in the way of us finding the time and space for the things we’d like to do – planning new adventures, writing that book, those vows, researching new projects, taking time to reflect, to find answers, to connect with ourselves, to get creative, to plan our next steps for a life well lived.

Outside of that time and space, everything calls for our attention. There are ways to reel in the mind, but often more is needed: a change of scenery, a new workspace, different faces, nature’s sounds, quiet and calm, good food, prepared by someone else, no kids or pets (love you, Bones)…

Once in a while, we take a kind of retreat – a self-care retreat, a writer’s retreat, an artist’s retreat, a silent retreat, a fitness retreat, a wellness retreat and often something more indulgent – in the inner-city sanctuary of AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, in the great urban forest of Johannesburg, South Africa.

There’s something special about the familiar faces that greet us and know our every whim, who give us the space friends and family sometimes don’t or can’t, but who also know when to lean in, to stay awhile and share in a deeper moment.

There is a great call for these kinds of getaways and often they come with a range of treatments, workshops, health regimes, meditation and breathing practices, times and structures, to help you find peace and serenity. Sometimes, we just need something more moderate, a simple retreat of the mind, or we might prefer to dictate our own time and to go unseen.

Whatever kind of retreat you need or favour – a deserted island or a hotel surrounded by trees and birdsong – the effect is a better you, a clearer, rested, reset individual, ready to give attention to the things you’ve neglected.

AtholPlace Hotel & Villa has the essentials of the perfect retreat: a gym for fitness, rolling green lawns and yoga mats for self-guided yoga, pilates or meditation, adaptable menus and wholesome, healthy food and juice options, a spacious exclusive-use villa or suites for privacy and quiet, organised restorative spa treatments, and a kind and gracious team.

You never really know when inspiration is going to strike but creating the space for it to find a welcome home is the first step. Just put your phone in the draw and take each moment as it comes…

Discover more about AtholPlace Hotel & Villa here.

A Moveable Feast Through Zambia

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Royal Chundu, on the banks of the Zambezi River,  has launched a new locally-inspired Tasting Menu, modelled on a traditional Zambian family feast, with several courses exhibiting the unique flavours of the country.

Describing the new menu, the team at Royal Chundu say: “Consider it a culinary adventure along our riverbank and through our greater national terroir, an honouring of the families living here today and the generations before them, and a celebration of our team of local chefs and waiters and their favourite tastes, textures, scents and memories when it comes to dining.”

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Royal Chundu’s Food & Beverage Manager and Head Chef, Sungani Phiri says it is his ambition to showcase the traditional food of his childhood by creating a “Zambian Feast Explosion” using contemporary techniques and styles. He has built on his previous pioneering menus at Royal Chundu and pushed beyond to explore and engage with new ingredients and innovative methods and presentations.

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It is the Zambian way for families to gather together at mealtimes to enjoy a variety of different dishes served at one time. The joy of community and the art of dining unite as conversation and cuisine are shared and enjoyed as a family.

Guests at Royal Chundu can now experience their own traditional Zambian feast, in a fine-dining style… Over candlelight or beneath our starry skies, the chefs weave the tales behind each dish, but for a teaser of what to expect, take a look below, along with explanations from the Head Chef, Sungani.

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Bread board of Zambian flatbread, mielie bread brioche and sourdough, served with flavoured butter and sour butter powder

This array of breads demonstrates the convergence of traditional Zambian breadmaking and global influences. The Zambian flatbread is similar to Middle-Eastern lavash and uses cassava flour, which is gluten-free. The rich mielie bread brioche is inspired by a traditional French recipe but enhanced with locally-grown sweet corn. Local mabisi (sour milk) is the secret ingredient in the sourdough which elevates this classic.

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Aromatic kapenta with tartar sauce and lemon

Mildly curried tempura-battered giant kapenta (Tanganyika sardine) served with caramelised lemon or lime and finished with a classic tartar sauce.

Tasting Menu

Medley of locally-sourced vegetables

Impwa Piccata (fried Zambian eggplant with tomato and onion relish), sautéed pumpkin leaves, crispy sweet potato leaves and tempura okra (ladies’ fingers). These popular Zambian vegetables are locally-grown in the neighbouring villages and are the accompaniments to all dishes served during the meal. Presented on platters and placed at the centre of the table, they are the heart of a classic Zambian meal.

Pan-roasted Zambezi bream with white mongu beans

“This is my favourite dish on the menu as it truly demonstrates the local culture and the area along the Zambezi River which borders Royal Chundu,” says Sungani. Local fishermen deliver freshly-caught bream to the lodge daily where the chefs create magic with saffron-infused mongu beans, sweet and sour mundambi (an indigenous spinach) and a fresh tomato coulis. The lodge vegetable garden is the source of the delicate radish microgreens, used as a garnish, as well as other fresh vegetables on the menu.

Tasting Menu 3

Ifisashi of beef with sweet potato and bacon

This dish features beef brisket slowly braised for 5 ½ hours, allowing the meat to gently soften. Next the meat is pulled apart using forks, hand-rolled into small balls, battered with egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried until golden brown. These delicacies are served piping hot with ifisashi (a classic Zambian vegetarian dish made from local spinach and peanuts), sweet potato puree and sweet potato fries with bacon foam. There is a local saying about ifisashi that says, “Nothing gets lost, everything should be consumed,” which you will find quite fitting when experiencing this feast for yourself.

Tasting Menu 2

Dumpling of Zambian dry fish, freshwater crayfish, pork mince and cabbage with spicy chilli broth

Asian style dumplings with a local twist – made from dry fish, freshwater crayfish, pork mince and cabbage served with a mild spicy broth drizzled with chive oil. Dry fish is a common Zambian meal and various species are used including tilapia and tiger fish. Although a landlocked country, Zambia turns to indigenous rivers, lakes and wetlands to harvest fish which are part of the nation’s staple diet.

Tasting Menu 1

Palate cleanser of calabash sorbet infused with moringa

“We serve our palate cleanser in miniature wire baskets which are crafted by local villagers. It takes me back to the old days, when we used wire as children to make various items, namely, as boys, to make wire cars to play with in the streets,” says Sungani.

This dish is filled with nostalgia and fond memories as well as the nutrition and natural healing found in the moringa leaves. Moringa, now recognised as a powerful health-enhancing plant, is used to infuse the calabash sorbet (calabash is a locally grown type of sweet melon).

Scent cleanser

Zambian coffee beans are served as a scent cleanser in a chitenge (a traditional Zambian printed wax fabric) bean bag. Diners sniff the beans to clear the nose and olfactory so to prepare the senses for the next taste experience.

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Mbaula (stove) roasted vinkubala, served with beef bone marrow and jus

BBQ-style beef fillet, grilled over hot coals, with a vinkubala crust served with oven-roasted bone marrow and a jus of onion puree and sweet baby carrots harvested from local farms. Vinkubala is a local delicacy similar to mopani worms (caterpillars).

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Moringa ice-cream with berry jelly, garnished with shards of meringue infused with lemon zest

Homemade moringa ice-cream is served with a berry jelly, seasonal fruit and classic meringue shards infused with lemon zest.

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Baobab fruit panna cotta with tamarind jelly, mielie foam and popcorn crumble

This a rare treat. The ancient Baobab is called Africa’s ‘Tree of Life‘ and it produces the only fruit in the world that dries naturally on the branch. The baobab fruit bakes in the sun for six months, transforming the green fruit into a smooth, brown, coconut-like shell. Inside this hard casing is the dry white pulp of the fruit which is used to make a panna cotta. This is accompanied by a sweet and sour tamarind jelly, mielie foam and popcorn crumble.

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At Royal Chundu, all fresh supplies are sourced within a 3 km radius of the lodge to minimise the carbon footprint, provide income for the local community and farmers and deliver the freshest tastes to guests.

Please note that ingredients may change with seasonality and availability.