With a map in a single hand and a chilly beer within the different, I sat alone on the bar of the Baobab Seaside Backpackers Lodge within the coastal city of Vilankulo, gazing out on the sweeping sandbars and vivid turquoise waters that encompass Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago. I’d deliberate to go away the next morning for Zimbabwe, and I used to be chatting with the bartender concerning the logistics of my journey. Then, all of a sudden, a automotive’s headlights lit up the bar, and I noticed a well-known face heading towards me. I had a sense my plans had been about to vary.
I’d met Mandy Retzlaff just a few days earlier; she and her husband, Pat, former residents of Zimbabwe, are the founders of Mozambique Horse Safari, a family-run horseback safari firm that I’d had the pleasure of driving with in Vilankulo as a particular deal with for my birthday. My good friend Alice and I had traveled some 200 miles from Tofo — a small coastal village well-known for its diving, snorkeling and whale shark sightings — for a trip with the corporate after we’d heard about their extraordinary story and the magnificent excursions they supplied.
On the morning of my birthday, Alice and I had loved an exhilarating trip at low tide alongside Vilankulo’s palm-tree lined seaside. Pat was our information, and his introductory phrases — “We’ll must trip quick to achieve the pink dune earlier than the tide is available in” — had been music to our ears.
Using aspect by aspect atop spirited and exceptionally well-trained horses, we thundered over the white sand, pausing to offer the horses a break earlier than cantering up the steep pink dune. From the highest of the dune, a palette of shiny blue hues stretched over the peeping sandbars towards the 5 islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Conventional dhow boats dotted the seascape. We watched as fishermen pulled of their nets and native ladies carried their catch ashore.
A couple of days after our trip, whereas I used to be seated on the bar, Mandy drove to the Baobab Lodge to ask if I’d be fascinated with serving to run their horse program on close by Benguerra Island for just a few weeks due to an sudden workers scarcity. Promptly abandoning my plans to journey to Zimbabwe, I discovered myself on a ship heading out to an island paradise.
About eight miles from the mainland, Benguerra Island — the second largest island of the Bazaruto Archipelago — is a scuba-diving haven that’s well-known for its white-sand seashores and luxurious resorts. Although their most important herd of over 40 horses is predicated in Vilankulo, Mozambique Horse Safari additionally maintains an outpost of six horses on Benguerra, the place they cater to the company of the unique resorts.
In the course of the weeks I spent on Benguerra Island, I received to know the horses beneath my care. Their histories have been chronicled in Mandy’s memoir, “One Hundred and 4 Horses: A Memoir of Farm and Household, Africa and Exile,” which tells the exceptional story of a farming household’s devotion to their animals — together with their journey throughout Zimbabwe to Mozambique, with 104 rescued horses.
In 2001, Mandy and Pat acquired a letter informing them that they’d must vacate their farm in Zimbabwe; it now not belonged to them. As a part of then-President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform insurance policies, the household was amongst these pressured to go away their houses. Decided to not abandon their beloved animals, and agreeing to absorb animals from different displaced farm homeowners, the Retzlaffs moved from one place to the subsequent with an ever-growing herd, finally reaching the border of Mozambique.
As evictions continued, it grew to become more and more tough to maintain their horses in Zimbabwe, so the Retzlaffs determined to cross the border into Mozambique. “As Mozambique was opening up after a civil battle and folks had been trying to spend money on the nation, it appeared like a good suggestion to maneuver the herd there and begin a brand new life,” Mandy defined. “We had no concept of the difficulties we had been going to face, but it surely appeared like freedom.”
After a protracted and difficult journey into Mozambique, the couple created a horse-riding outfit to assist pay for the maintenance of their exiled herd. In 2006, Pat, who comes from a protracted line of horse lovers, headed to Vilankulo with six of the horses and began organizing seaside rides — and so the horse safari was born.
The enterprise had began to take off when Cyclone Favio hit Vilankulo in February 2007, inflicting widespread destruction and bringing tourism to a standstill. Three years later, in 2010, half of Mandy and Pat’s herd died after ingesting Crotalaria crops, that are lethal to horses and had grown in abundance close to the lakes the place they grazed the animals. The pandemic has been one other main setback.
Regardless of the challenges, Mozambique Horse Safari affords spectacular horseback driving adventures, attracting vacationers and vacationers who’re desperate to discover one of many world’s most stunning coastal areas.
On Benguerra Island, I shifted gears from vacationer to path information, and spent my days main rides alongside the island’s untouched seashores, wandering by its various landscapes and waterways with company from everywhere in the world. Within the evenings, I took the horses into the ocean to wallow and swim because the solar set, one thing they appeared to take pleasure in as a lot as I did.
A horse named Tequila shortly grew to become my favourite. A captivating and mischievous character, he was despatched to the island after orchestrating just a few escapes on the mainland: He discovered learn how to take away the halters from different horses, Mandy defined, and would collect them up and head towards Zimbabwe. “It grew to become tiresome,” she added, “so he was dispatched to the island the place he now guidelines the roost.”
I additionally grew to become very keen on a candy however temperamental mare known as Princess who was rescued by the Retzlaffs after struggling a horrible harm from a bullet wound by her withers, the best a part of a horse’s again. “It took years to heal her,” Mandy mentioned.
The Retzlaffs’ dedication and affection for his or her horses resonated deeply with me and is a supply of inspiration. “Whenever you tackle the accountability of caring for animals, there isn’t a turning again,” Mandy instructed me. “They depend on you for every little thing. Our horses had been saved — and, in the long run, they saved us.”
“They offered a household of refugees with a residing,” she added. “Each day is a cheerful day surrounded by my horses.”
Claire Thomas is a British photographer and photojournalist who focuses on battle, humanitarian and environmental crises and social points. You’ll be able to comply with her work on Instagram and Twitter.