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 depart the next morning for Zimbabwe, and I used to be chatting with the bartender in regards to the logistics of my journey. Then, immediately, 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 alter.
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 using with in Vilankulo as a particular deal with for my birthday. My buddy 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 experience 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 experience at low tide alongside Vilankulo’s palm-tree lined seaside. Pat was our information, and his introductory phrases — “We’ll should experience quick to succeed in the purple dune earlier than the tide is available in” — had been music to our ears.
Driving aspect by aspect atop spirited and exceptionally well-trained horses, we thundered over the white sand, pausing to present the horses a break earlier than cantering up the steep purple dune. From the highest of the dune, a palette of vivid 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 experience, whereas I used to be seated on the bar, Mandy drove to the Baobab Lodge to ask if I’d be all for serving to run their horse program on close by Benguerra Island for just a few weeks due to an surprising employees 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 fundamental herd of over 40 horses relies in Vilankulo, Mozambique Horse Safari additionally maintains an outpost of six horses on Benguerra, the place they cater to the friends of the unique resorts.
Throughout the weeks I spent on Benguerra Island, I bought 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 should 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 compelled to depart their properties. Decided to not abandon their beloved animals, and agreeing to soak up animals from different displaced farm homeowners, the Retzlaffs moved from one place to the following with an ever-growing herd, finally reaching the border of Mozambique.
As evictions continued, it turned more and more troublesome 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 other people had been seeking to put money into 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 presents spectacular horseback using adventures, attracting vacationers and vacationers who’re desirous to discover one of many world’s most lovely 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 way of its assorted landscapes and waterways with friends from all around 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 get pleasure from as a lot as I did.
A horse named Tequila shortly turned my favourite. A captivating and mischievous character, he was despatched to the island after orchestrating just a few escapes on the mainland: He realized the best way to take away the halters from different horses, Mandy defined, and would collect them up and head towards Zimbabwe. “It turned tiresome,” she added, “so he was dispatched to the island the place he now guidelines the roost.”
I additionally turned very keen on a candy however temperamental mare referred to as Princess who was rescued by the Retzlaffs after struggling a horrible damage from a bullet wound by way of 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. “While you tackle the duty of caring for animals, there isn’t any turning again,” Mandy advised me. “They depend on you for every part. Our horses had been saved — and, in the long run, they saved us.”
“They supplied a household of refugees with a dwelling,” she added. “Day-after-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 may comply with her work on Instagram and Twitter.