Dear safari friends!
I may be biased as I caught ‘African fever’ during my first riding safari in Namibia. Namibia remains at the top of my list of the best countries in which to take a riding safari even after I have undertaken horseback safaris in several countries.
I was first sent to Africa by my mother at the age of 18, directly after finishing school. The closer in time the journey came, the more I resisted going. After many discussions, doubts and dramas I finally arrived at the farm Gross Okandjou. The property is 3-hours northwest of Windhoek and for me, it was an ordeal to get there. I was completely alone, it was my first time in Africa and I was overwhelmed. On the first evening, I called my parents to say I would not stay here another night and they should book me a flight back home as fast as possible.
In fact, the best time of my life began. The farm accommodated about 60 horses and after a few days, I was allowed to ride one. Shortly afterwards I led my first day rides with guests and prepared for my first real horse safari.
I can hardly imagine a feeling of greater freedom than the one you get from being in the middle of the wilderness, completely alone apart from your horse. Here you can ride straight ahead for hours without encountering a road, a fence, civilization or even any other people. Knowing that there isn’t another person within many kilometres is an incredible feeling.
The itinerary of our mobile safari led us for several days into the Erongo mountains of Namibia. The landscape that awaited us was simply breathtaking. We rode past enormous rock formations that looked as if they had been formed into perfect spheres and precariously stacked on top of each other by someone unknown in the middle of the landscape. On occasion, we even had to get off our horses and climb over the rocks with them.
We rode through wide, dry riverbeds, evergreen acacia forests and over open areas with a kilometre-wide view over the horizon. We climbed a small mountains with a unique view and rode through dense bush, whereby we were on high alert for potential animal encounters.
When the sun went down each day, the sky turned pink and one evening a herd of giraffes strutted into the middle of this fairytale spectacle.
We slept under the open sky, on simple camp beds. Sometimes this was in a dry river bed, sometimes on top of a small mountain or at times hidden and well protected in the midst of huge rock formations. The horses would be tied a close hearing distance away. Wherever we camped our roof was always a clear night sky bedazzled with millions of stars. I can’t imagine a better place to fall asleep.
One night was special, the night we slept in the shelter of the rocks. When we set up camp, we knew that there was a very popular wildlife trail right next to our camp.
In the middle of the night, we heard hooves clattering towards us and the noise got louder and louder. Suddenly a herd of zebras rushed past us about 20 meters away, barely visible in the darkness. Instinctively the horses broke free of their tethers and ran with the herd of their relatives.
The camp was, of course, awake for a while after that. It made no sense to go out in the middle of the night to look for the horses, and so we settled back in and waited until dawn. Our guides started the search as soon as it was bright enough to track the horses well ( an art in which they were true masters).
When it was finally bright enough for our untrained eyes to see something on the ground, the next surprise followed. We found traces of leopards right next to our camp- where we were sleeping without a tent!
Although adult horses and zebrsa are too large to be prey for a leopard, they react to the small of predators. Their spoor explained why the zebras and horses were startled. A few hours later our guides came back with the horses in tow. All were unharmed and sprightly. It seemed as if they had enjoyed their little excursion. The following days were, fortunately, a little calmer.
We spent up to 8 hours a day in the saddle with picnic breaks whenever we found a nice, shady spot. Luckily, these were planned for and we always had the necessary provisions with us in our saddlebags. If we were riding fast enough there was even time for a little nap in a dry riverbed, and we often were!
Besides all the rocks, bushes, hills and rough terrain, Namibia also offers endless open expanses for fantastic gallops that are an absolute highlight for the passionate rider; they certainly were for me. The ground and visibility were perfect and our horses were extremely motivated. It was the most beautiful feeling; to be flying through the landscape on your horse’s back in a straight gallop. In the distance, we would sometimes see giraffes or zebras join and gallop with us.
We had incredible animal encounters because the horses are seen by other game animals as being one of them and their calm nature allows close approaches. We even saw a very young leopard, which was an unusual sighting given how shy these beautiful animals are.
We enjoyed sunsets with cool beers or gin and tonics and talked about the adventures of the day and each evening we cooked fresh meals over the fire. These ranged from extravagant feasts to the simple, local food eaten daily in these parts.
We viewed ancient rock paintings of the Khoisan people, or Bushmen and went swimming with our horses at a deserted waterhole.
Even the showers were a highlight. Mostly they were bucket showers, filled with water warmed up over the fire. After 8 hours in the saddle, these simple pleasures under the open sky were a delight. The best shower I ever had was one of these. We camped next to an old, broken well from which the water flowed constantly. We inserted a hose, syphoned the water and treated ourselves to a lovely refreshment in the midday heat. The shower offered views of a small water hole in the distance, where zebras, antelopes and warthogs were also cooling themselves. The view to the camp was shielded by dense bushes, which were very popular with chameleons. During my wonderfully cool shower, I could see 3 of them hanging in the branches and gradually changing colour right next to me.
I could go on like this for hours and talk about one wonderful experience after another. But to get to the point: on a riding safari in Namibia, you will never know what to expect and that’s exactly what makes it so special.