I love all the countries in southern Africa that I have visited so far, but Namibia is the one country that I still have an indescribable fascination for. Maybe it's because it was the first African country I visited, they say it has a special attraction forever, and maybe my opinion will change soon after I've been to Zimbabwe in just a few weeks, but so far I feel the most wanderlust for Namibia. I'm sure there are many reasons for that. Of course it always depends on the people with whom you share your experience, but it's more than that.
In this post, Luzi will be telling you all about the incredible time she had in Namibia. All photos are by Luzia Montag.
As I wrote in another blog post, my first visit to Namibia was the beginning of what's best described as an addiction to southern Africa, but it was also where I finally started horse riding again. After I ended up in a really bad riding school in Berlin, I lost the fun of riding completely and quit for several years. I finally found my way back to horse riding at Ranch Groß Okandjou, and this time to western riding and trails. Anything else would simply not fit Namibia. In this country where everything revolves around cattle breeding and trail riding, English riding would seem a bit out of place. So I sat in a western saddle for the first time and it clicked immediately. Suddenly everything made sense to me, riding these horses was intuitive to me, everything felt natural, the horses were so incredibly well training that thinking of an aid was almost enough, and all of a sudden I had endless fun riding horses again.
After a few weeks I was allowed to ride the trails with guests or alone in the bush, and that was the beginning of the feeling of absolute freedom. Whenever I felt like it, I grabbed my horse Mr. Dean and rode off. Just straight ahead, for hours, without seeing a single person, a single fence, a single car or a single road. I was the only person for miles around and that was an incredible feeling. In return, I had an abundance of wildlife around me. Namibia is teeming with oryx antelopes, kudus, springboks, warthogs and small duikers, so after a few weeks I almost got used to seeing them. The thrill of seeing a bush rustle in front of you and wondering what is going to pop out of it will never be ordinary. A real highlight would have been to see a wild cat from horseback, but I knew from the beginning that the probability would be extremely low. There were no lions here, so only the shy genet and the leopard remained. Both are preferably nocturnal and even Namibians who have lived in the bush for many decades have seen maybe 2 or 3 leopards in their lifetime. In short, my confidence was about zero.
One day, our guide and I went riding out together to do some interval training with the horses in the dry riverbed to prepare them for the upcoming 10-day horse riding safari. We rode our standard route, in the riverbed and past a huge tree, which I unfortunately don't remember the name of, but every time I rode past it I looked up into the crown - you never know, maybe a leopard was hiding in there. I thought the tree looked just perfect for a leopard hideout. When we were almost under the tree and I had to press my head into my neck to look into the leaves, I gave up my search. I didn't really expect to find a leopard anyway. My gaze went back to the ground and I couldn't believe my eyes. A few meters in front of me he was sitting - a leopard. Just like that. And stared at us. The moment seemed like an eternity. He was still very young, very small and probably still very inexperienced, otherwise he would never have remained sitting there for so long that we could even get out our cameras and photograph him from the backs of our horses. And a few seconds later he was gone again. I was in heaven, and the rest of the day I was still raving about this encounter.
Of course, we had not forgotten the real reason for our ride and after this training and many others we had prepared the horses well for the upcoming trail, we finally set off on the 10-day horse safari. The route took us into the Erongo Mountains, one of the most dramatic landscapes I had ever seen. The Namibian landscape is generally very dramatic, not to mention the weather. It is either extremely dry or, when the rainy season begins, it is abruptly and extremely green. The sun doesn't just rise or set here - every sunrise or set is accompanied by an impossibly colourful sky and amazingly loud animal sounds of all kinds. But the Erongo Mountains topped all that. After riding the horses for a long time through barren, desert-like landscapes, with a lot of fast gallops in between, rocks slowly built up in front of us.
They are not mountains in the usual sense of the word, they look more like smoothly polished sand rocks, stacked haphazardly here and there, almost like the little stone towers that some people balance on top of each other along streams or rivers. When we arrived, the sun was just setting and of course this was not a conventional sunset. With the sun on our backs, it bathed the mountains in a bright pink that was so intense it was almost kitschy. And right through the middle of this beautiful sight, a herd of giraffes leisurely passed by, as if they were trying to perfect the sight.
During these 10 days in the Namibian wilderness on horseback I literally dived into another world. We ate around the campfire in the evenings, watched the sunset with a gin and tonic, and told stories or talked about the day's adventures. Above us stretched a starry sky that a European probably couldn't even imagine - it looked like staring at a National Geographic long exposure. During the nights we slept either directly at the campfire or on cots under the open sky, our ears always pricked up and we puzzled about what we were listening to... there was a lot to hear. One night we had a visit from a very panicked herd of zebras that thundered through our camp and took our safari horses right away (we luckily found them again the next morning) and in another, leopards, which were relatively common in this area, came through our camp and left paw prints frighteningly close to our camp beds. During the days we rode up to 8 hours in the saddle, we rode the horses through breathtaking landscapes, couldn't get enough of the vastness of the country and used pretty much every dry riverbed for races to finally and definitively settle who rode the fastest horse (of course it was me). We observed an incredible amount of wild animals and even found ancient rock paintings, of which I unfortunately no longer know how many thousands of years old they were.
After the rides, the "quarrel" began over the bucket shower and over who was allowed to wash off the dust from riding all day first. If we were really lucky, the bucket shower turned into a really solid stream when we camped at an old well, for example. Here I also found out how fascinating chameleons can be. I was just standing under said shower at an old well, with a few bushes behind me shielding me from the camp and nothing but free, wide open space in front of me, with a few zebras in the distance, when suddenly something moved to my right. A small chameleon made its way directly in front of me to leave its bush and find a new one. Chameleons are not very fast and especially when they feel threatened they don't crawl normally from A to B, but move in very strange, jerky movements. So during my whole shower I had plenty of time to watch this little animal as it slowly changed its color from bright green to the same brown as the branches of the bushes. When it reached the ground, it was completely yellow, like the desert sand, and then turned light brown when it reached the wall of the fountain.
I could go on for days, but I think that would be a bit beyond the scope here. The fact is, in the three months I spent in Namibia, not one day was like the other and every single one held some adventure or surprise. I am currently planning my next horseback riding trip and can highly recommend everyone to experience it for themselves. Also, Namibia is just the perfect country to "start" with Africa. It's very safe, the people are extremely friendly, the landscape and wildlife are absolutely fantastic and varied and it's very easy to get around locally. Sanne: Luzi and I are currently in the middle of planning a Hooves meet-up in Namibia, and we are beyond excited.
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