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Bivouac on Horseback: The Ride of Your Life

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Adventures on Horseback with El Karama Lodge - Brand New for 2022

Memories are a funny thing, they swim into view when you are least expecting them. A magical childhood memory came back to me recently; like most of my favourite remembering this one was of an adventure we had in the wild. I was around 8 years old staying with my French family near Toulouse on their farm. The beautiful stone farm house, renovated by them gradually and with love, sat above a small and chalky escarpment looking down over the valley of Durfort and encircled by fields of sunflowers and large meadows. Cicadas filled the afternoon air daily, our cherished holidays there were all hot sun, dappled shadows and cool sensation of terracotta tiles on the dark kitchen floor. We spent our days running wild with our boy cousins, fixing Land Rover tyres with my inimitable Uncle David who was so good at teaching us useful things and making us laugh. The boys were bigger than us and rambunctious, they pushed us around but coddled us too, it was the most magical place for us growing up. We used to pull roll mats out onto the dry grassy bank near the bedrooms at night and sleep in white cotton nighties in the heat. I remember my cousin Barnaby and I looking up at the stars and with all the years passing, I can still smell the damp earth smell of the night when I look back through dog eared photographs now...

One summer, my cousins and I went on a weekend adventure without parents riding in the countryside with some bush ponies from the village: the ultimate bivouac for scraggly youngsters bent on adventure. We rode in a line, bumping up and down in old western, I think they were, saddles on strong and hardy ponies over the limey flats and hills of the region. Olive trees were dotted around the landscape and pebbly streams ran into little pools if you knew where to look. We travelled with a small roll mat attached to the back of each of our saddles, a bottle of water and some bread, saucisson and fresh melons from the fields to keep us going. I think we were with other children our age, but I can't remember any of them. I just remember that we rode all day long on our ponies, starting in the early mornings, stopping under the olive trees in the heat of the day eating hazelnuts and messy melons and we slept together by a fire, out under the stars in night shirts, a sheet, no nets, just hot summer air rustling through the branches and a huge starry sky overhead. I remember the scent of the woodsmoke, the murmur of voices and the rumble of pony's around me. I experienced a feeling of utter freedom and abandon, I felt fearless and proud to be next to my big sister and my boy cousins and to be able to live just like this, with only the clothes on our backs and the food in our packs. Sometimes the simplest of things are the experiences that remain imprinted on us, the sit under our skin and billow out onto the surface when that world returns in the capacious evocation that only triggered memories can provide. And so the Bivouac came back to me when I was brushing our pony at the new stables behind the lodge with my 9 year old Archer in the early morning. The idea of just packing what you need, jumping on a horse, exploring all day and flopping onto a mattress near a fire with a belly full of good, fresh stew and falling asleep to the sound of horses and insects...of course here we can throw the call of a lion or hippo or whistle of a zebra to boot.

Photo: Jennifer Clasen

So much of what we live here in the bush answers a deep yearning most of us have for what is simple, natural and visceral to bring us back to the earth and into our bodies, away from our heads, from the noise and patter of life and from routine.

We are so lucky to now be able to offer these fly camping/bivouac experiences not only on foot as we do so often now, but also with our brand new activity: horseback adventures! In true sustainable style, we have paired up and collaborated to make this happen and our first weekend was a great success:

Video: Brian Did

With a brand new collaboration with our neighbours Saddlebag Adventures Ltd, a local company set up by two amazing young women from the region Spanna and Claudia, who grew up next door to El Karama, have bred their own horses and keep them in their beautiful stables at their home adjacent to El Karama Conservancy. They have been operating in this area on horseback for the past 4 years and have created a lovely bush savvy herd that know this bush and all the animals in it, they and the girls can take you steadily and gently through it!

Photos: Albie Venter

We have created the ultimate intro for curious adventurers with our new Wild Weekends - for riders we have our Bivouac on Horseback experience, which allows for 1 night in the lodge on arrival, an early morning departure, all day rides with river stops, picnics and snooze time near the hippo pools, followed by a fly camp under the stars. On Day 2 we ride out again eventually ending up back at the lodge for a lunch/brunch, poolside chill time while the horses have some food and ride home.

Riding here on this very private 14,000 acre conservancy gives our guests a completely different perspective of this wild space; higher up we can get closer on horses to the big game than on foot. The wildlife is relaxed around the horses having seen a fair amount of them on El Karama historically! There are also many areas that we cannot access by vehicle that are perfect to explore on horseback, so our newest routes include these as well as plenty of high points, views and open plains for the odd canter avoiding Aardvark holes and jumping fallen trees!

Photo: Albie Venter

If you are interested in riding with us at El Karama Lodge, whether for the morning, a half day or full day rides and Bivouacs, just get in touch for rates and to book your spot: 0702 996 902.

Photo: Jennifer Clasen

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