This article was published on Explorer Mikael Strandberg's website in April 2011.
African Hoofprints - 5 Years on Horseback
|Billy giving an impromptu lecture|
I have never really understood why great journeys by horse don´t get more global attention than they do. This article below is just amazing in every way. I bet you Christy´s and Billy´s trip is harder than any polar journey and Everest climb, but very few people are aware about it. For me, reading their article, this is what exploration should be much more about. After 25 years of traveling the world, I know Africa is so much tougher than any other continent. In every way. Loads of people everywhere, demanding cultural differences, poverty, disease, threat of violence and dirt. It is extremely demanding. But worth it! This is an extra ordinary journey, a typical journey for the members of The Long Riders Guild, but most of all, it is about meeting people! I am very happy to publish another great piece about the essence, as I see it, what exploration should be about today. It is an epic journey! - Mikael Strandberg
If ever you want to meet “the people”, I mean really get to talk to everyone whose path you may cross on a journey, then take a horse with you! They are the perfect icebreaker. Everyone we meet, whether they are young or old, shy or outgoing, English speakers or non – English speakers are so interested in the horses that they overcome any misgivings, language barriers or fear of the unknown, to stop us and ask exactly what we are doing and why!
Well the answer to that question is fairly simple! My partner Billy (William) Brenchley and I are riding our horses from the most northern point of Africa to the most southern point through Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Southern Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa. We started our journey in December 2005 and misguidedly thought we would be finished at the end of 2006! What was to be a quick ride has turned into a way of life. After 5 years we are only half way but have learned, experienced and overcome more than we ever imagined possible.
|A friendly game!|
Our two horses Chami and Ennahali (Nali) have become our best friends. We bought them from a government stud in Tunisia, the first of many things that the Tunisian Government helped us with. Chami is a chestnut Barbe, now 13 years old. Nali, an Arab Barbe was dark grey when we bought him but has lightened with age – now 11 years. These must be two of the most travelled horses around! They have dealt with pouring rain and very cold wind, crossed 4 deserts in temperatures exceeding 50 degrees celcius, stood on a barge for 27 days up the White Nile, survived a number of sandstorms, one of which blocked out the sun for 4 days, put up with crowds of people surrounding them, pulling their tails and touching them all over without so much as pulling a face, taught children to ride and overcome various diseases and injuries. They are the reason we have taken so long on this journey. Without them, there wouldn’t be an expedition and we are determined that they will take the final steps as they took the first. We are prepared to wait for them to recover from any disease or injury and we will not go to any country where we cannot take them.
|On the road in Southern Sudan!|
The first reason for our ride is pure adventure! We want to meet everyone, learn their cultures, languages, religions and way of life. We want to be good ambassadors for our country (South Africa). We want people to understand that they can do anything they put their mind to. Many African people believe that in order to be successful and achieve, one has to be in the west or from the west. We are trying to cultivate self belief! The Qu’ran has a lovely saying that goes something like this – “If you believe enough, you can join the angels in heaven.” I wish to write a book about our journey and with it, dispel the belief that travel in Africa is dangerous. Billy is doing some research on how to keep horses barefoot.
Let’s go back to the beginning. We arrived in Tunisia with far too much equipment and only a telephone number for a government stud. It turned out that that was all we needed. From the moment we made the call, we were looked after. We bought our horses at a hugely discounted rate. We had imagined we would get scruffy ponies out of carts but we came away with two stallions with pedigrees from one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Our new friends had our horses castrated for free, gave us free livery while we trained them, organized TV and newspaper interviews and sent us on our way with not 1 but 3 celebrations with camels, the mayor of Bizerte and a marching band. As we had become minor celebrities, the National guard were charged with escorting us the length of Tunisia to ensure our safety. After 4 days of travel and less than 100km completed we were forced to stop as we were having trouble getting our Libyan visas. It took another 75 days before we had them in our passports! During this time we had a magical time living at the stud where we had bought the horses, a caserna built in the 1600′s. We had never before experienced such kindness, generosity and hospitality. This was to become something we experience all the time!
Crossing the border into Libya was rather daunting. All of a sudden we were on our own! All the stories we had heard were negative and it was with trepidation that we ventured forth. The first thing we did was find some water for the horses at a tap in the middle of the road. We looked at each other wondering if we would get in trouble for using it but went ahead anyway. A shout from the side of the road stopped us in our tracks. A young man came running over with a bucket for the horses to drink out of. It was to be like this everywhere we went! We were not allowed to pay for anything even in smart shops as the Libyans viewed us not as tourists, but as travellers – guests in their country. We and our horses were fed and watered and welcomed as part of the family. In Libya, we purchased Rahaal, a little local horse, to become our pack horse. It saddens us to think of the current difficulties in Libya and we hope all our dear friends are safe.
|Billy doing his part|
Egypt, being such a tourist destination, was a little different. However, once you get past the hustlers and beggars, you find real ‘salt of the earth’ people, the same kind giving people that we had met all along the way. Visiting the pyramids and the Cairo museum was fun but by no means the highlight of our stay. Living at the Sea Scout camp in Marsa Matruh, becoming honorary scouts and participating in their Eid celebrations by taking sweets to all the patients in the local hospital, seeing the Nile for the first time, going to a wedding and being offered a camel to sell to enhance our bank balance far outdid the usual Egyptian delights.
Our first challenge in Sudan was to cross the Sahara. We followed the railway line relying on the trains to drop off food at the unmanned stations for us, all of which had water. The second challenge was to do this with a horse that wouldn’t eat and was suffering from severe colic. Stubborn as he is, he survived! As we reached the Nile we also had to deal with biliary (tick bite fever) as the horses were exposed to ticks for the first time in their lives. A few injuries, sandstorms and heat waves later we arrived in Khartoum at the confluence of the Nile. With 3 horses not in the best condition and not a cent left to our name, there we stayed for 3 years! Sadly our little Rahaal died of biliary. Chami and Nali recovered well and became favoured mounts in the riding school that I ran for the Khartoum International Community School.
|On the barge|
With Southern Sudan on the verge of becoming its own country we once again hit the road. With few passable roads through the Sud, a huge swamp, we were forced to take a barge from Kosti to Juba. It was filled with cargo and southerners returning to the south. The same generosity that we have experienced everywhere was evident here. A group of guys clubbed together everyday to cook and eat and we were invited to join them. Jambo, a jack of all trades, was an excellent fisherman and so we had fresh fish almost every day! You can imagine how difficult it was for the horses to stand still for 27 days but they did it without complaint. We were in Juba for the referendum, a happy time when everyone was excited about the future of their country.
Arriving in Uganda was rather like being a celebrity walking down the red carpet with everyone craning to get a look or take a photo! All the horses in Uganda were wiped out during Idi Amin’s time and consequently, most people have never seen a horse before! We are always being asked whether they are camels, donkeys or horses? One woman even asked if they were kangaroos! Do they grow horns? Do they eat people? As we ride down the road, it takes about 2 minutes to empty out schools of 800 children. As soon as we are spotted they come flooding onto the road in great excitement! The horses are so well behaved as we stand surrounded while Billy gives an impromptu lecture about our journey and horses in general!
Sadly we currently have a large challenge to overcome. On arrival in Kampala we decided to have some blood tests done. It turned out that Billy had such a low blood count that he was rushed to hospital in Johannesburg where he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. He is undergoing chemo and is responding to treatment well. We remain focused on our goal of riding to Cape Agulhas as soon as he is better. Our lovely horses are waiting patiently for us on the banks of Lake Victoria. They are being looked after by a wonderful family who stepped in at short notice and have relieved us of any stress or worry we may have had about their welfare. We miss them terribly but know that they are in great hands!
We have learnt so much about ourselves, our horses and the people of Africa. We have discovered that the most important things to pack on a journey like this are: Patience, Perserverance and Politeness! They are far more useful than any language dictionary, water filter or even clean underwear! I never got around to going to university, but I could not have asked for a better education than this adventure…