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African Hoofprints

EC CommunityJames HipkissComment

On the 10th December 2005, Billy (Billy Brenchley) and I (Christy Henchie) started a horseback journey from the most northern to the most southern point of Africa.

We bought our 2 horses Chami and Ennahali in Tunisia before departing from Cap Blanc, Tunisia. Chami whose name means The man from Syria is a chestnut Tunisian Barbe who was 7 when we bought him. He is my horse and I love him to bits! Ennahali whose name means The Beekeeper is a grey Tunisian Arab Barbe who was 5 at the time of buying. He belongs to Billy. We call him Nali for short. Both horses were stallions standing at stud in El Battan, Tunisia but before setting off they were gelded to aid with future border crossings as any mares or stallions require extra blood tests. We spent 3.5 months in Tunisia, although only 3 weeks was actual travelling. The rest was spent waiting for our Libyan visas. We used the wait to get to know the people and their amazing culture of hospitality.

Having given ourselves a goal of spending only one month in each country, it soon became apparent that we were not going to make it home by the end of 2006! So instead of stressing ourselves and pushing too hard, we decided that this journey would take as long as it takes. No less and no more! Having made peace with this, we now enjoy every experience to the full, whether it is challenging or easy. Libya was the next country to host our little group. We were rather nervous of going through Libya but soon discovered that we needn't be. The Libyan people must be the most generous, hospitable, kind people on earth. Most people are very poor and lead a hard life in the desert but couldn't be friendlier or more welcoming. If given the chance, both of us would go back there in a heartbeat. We spent 5.5 months crossing Libya, making lifelong friendships and overcoming a bunch of difficulties thrown our way, from injuries to the horses to bureaucratic nonsense. We bought ourselves a lovely locally bred, chestnut pack pony that we named Rahaal, The Traveller, in preparation for crossing the Sahara. It didn't take long for him to capture our hearts and become a very important member of our family. After 16 days spent at the border post, we eventually persuaded the Egyptians to let us into their country. Winter caught up with us and even though we were in the desert, it was cold and rainy. Chami had suffered from a bad case of laminitis and needed a place to rest. In fact we were all tired and thin.

We spent a couple of months recuperating in Marsa Matruh on the coast and stayed at the Sea Scouts Camp. Once fit, we moved on up the Nile to Aswan dam. We spent 6 months in Egypt experiencing what most tourists don't get to see what the Egyptians of today are like. Of course we visited the Pyramids and other fantastic historical sites but they are not what are important to us. We put our 3 special boys on a barge to Sudan which was an adventure in itself. It was immediately apparent that Sudan is a land of colour and laughter. We were always greeted with huge smiles and soon fell in love with the place. We followed the railway line through the desert to Khartoum, where we were forced to stop to allow the horses to recover from their first encounter with ticks. They needed time to build an immunity to biliary. Sadly our little Rahaal died from it in September 2007. By this time we had also sucked our bank accounts dry and so when offered a job, leapt at the chance. I started and ran a riding school for Khartoum International Community School. We ended up staying there for 3 years, saving up for the remainder of our journey.

In October 2010, we continued with our boys who by now had taught countless children to ride, down towards Southern Sudan. In order to cross the worlds largest swamp, the Sud, we put them on another barge up the White Nile from Kosti to Juba which took 27 days. Many other southern Sudanese people returning home joined us. We arrived in Juba to witness the excitement and voting of the referendum. The horses need some time to recover from the barge ride where they had been forced to stand still for so long. We then moved on towards Uganda. We arrived in Uganda in February 2011. By now the gradual change from desert, Arab, Islamic countries to savannah, African, Christian countries was now complete. Uganda is still recovering from the terror wrought by the LRA, but it is a happy place full of hope for the future. Both Billy and I have spent all our lives in southern Africa and crossing the border into Uganda was a little bit like coming home.

We travelled down the Great North Road to Kampala where we decided to have some health checks. Billy who hadn't been feeling well for some time was rushed home to South Africa where he was diagnosed with Leukaemia. I found an amazing place for our horses to stay and followed him. 16 months of stress, worry and chemotherapy followed. I am so pleased to say that Billy is now in remission and that we are now engaged! We have returned to Uganda and are spending some very therapeutic time with our horses, preparing for the next leg of our journey. In January 2013, we will continue on to Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and into South Africa where we will complete our ride at Cape Agulhas. We have no time frame and wish only to arrive healthy and safe, having had a wonderful time, met many special people and made unforgettable memories.

Our horses make great ice-breakers everyone we pass wants to know about them so we have the amazing opportunity to speak with every single person we pass on the road. We look forward to learning about these people, their cultures, religions and maybe their languages if we are smart enough! Chami and Nali have to prepare themselves for their first encounter with large wild animals. In time, I wish to write a book. Billy who is a hoof specialist is doing research on just what it takes to keep a horse barefoot and he will be writing a paper on his findings.

Travelling like this has become a way of life for us. Who knows where we will go next.

Christy Henchie