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I caught a wave of adrenaline as I nestled my feet into stirrups and climbed up onto my horse. Admittedly, I felt wildly underqualified to lead this creature right into Mount Kenya National Park, where I imagined that one of the Big Five might impale me with a tusk or swallow me in one gulp.
But my wonderful guides, John and Patrick at Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, assured me that I was in good hands. I already knew that I was. You can always tell when animal caretakers love their work, and these men handled their horses with a gentleness, authority and respect that only comes from experience. In a flash, we were off. We trotted right through the hotel gates, splashed through a creek and entered a cypress forest. The tall, spindly evergreens stifled all the sound around us. Our horses’ steps were muffled, and it felt like this hushed forest was transporting us to another world.
We suddenly emerged from the forest into a wide-open expanse of lush, green grass that was formerly an airstrip for a small airport. And standing out in that field was a gathering of a dozen waterbucks and zebras, grazing together as the sky gave way to light rain.
One of the zebras stood out from the others — white with faint brown stripes, a blond mane and a coat that seemed to glow. It was an albino zebra, a very rare sight in the wild.
I had seen most of the Big Five on game drives, but this moment was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There were no rumbling safari vehicles, no radio calls and not another soul around for miles. I experienced pure, tranquil awe.
As my gaze locked onto the stunning sight before me, I felt the soft patter of rain on my skin and the graceful confidence of the horse that was beneath me. I became awash in gratitude as I witnessed Kenya’s wildness and serenity, converging in a rare, intimate moment in an empty airfield.