“You see this plant?” Eddie called back from ahead, turning in the saddle to face Neil and myself.
“Yeah,” we both said as our horses obediently pulled up to a halt.
“This is Wild Tobacco. If it gets on your skin, it will give you bad rash and you can die from it.”
Die from it? I thought, staring at the yellow, trumpet-like flowers.
“Some people who use the wood to make fire die from breathing the smoke,” Eddie added and then Neil realised what he was talking about.
“It’s Deadly Nightshade,” he exclaimed and that brought me to attention.
Eddie grinned, nodding. Deadly Nightshade is one of the deadliest plants known to humans and has been used in many medieval assassinations (but also as a medicinal plant and in cosmetics). I pulled Ronja’s reins to the right to make sure that no contact would come between us and the plant.
Neil and I were horse-riding into the famous Moon Landscape, just 11 K’s outside of Swkaopmund. The horse I was saddled to was a Warm-blood Farm breed from Kathrin’s livery called, Okakambe Trails. Okakambe literally translates to ‘The horse’ in Heraro and Oshivambo (‘O’ meaning ‘the’).
There are about 30 horses of different mixed breeds and from other stables that use the livery that also has a rabbit and guinea pig corner, seven dogs varying from a one-eyed practically blind Jack Russell to a Great Dane, a Rottweiler and a couple of South African Ridgebacks. The horses here are well looked after and extremely friendly. The first one I approached instantly made friends with me and Animal, asking him to see if there was anything lodged between his teeth.
“You’ll be riding this one,” Kathrin motioned to the black-maned, chestnut horse with the stars ‘n’ stripes blanket under her saddle. “Her name is Ronja.”
She led her over to the mount as the horses at Okakambe were full-sized beasts compared to the smaller horses I rode in Botlierskop, South Africa a few months prior. I climbed the mount then the horse. We kicked off immediately – Ronja kicking and me flying off. Just kidding. The horses at Okakambe are almost too friendly if that is even possible.
Neil, a 61-year-old American English teacher who’s been spreading the universal language around the world since leaving the US some seven years ago, mounted Costa, a slightly feistier horse than my laid-back Ronja.
Eddie, our Herero guide, lead ahead on his chestnut ride and we clippty-clopped outta the stable, passed the rabbit pen and the paddocks where other horses were grazing by the olive groves. The blind, one-eyed Jack Russell, sporting a leather jacket, followed between the horse’s legs along with two other mixed dogs.
I always wonder how horses don’t crush animals that run around them. It’s as though they have a heightened awareness. We followed the previous-made tracks through the Swakopmund River bed, dry, sandy and full of bushes and the Deadly Nightshade.
“The water that runs here is underground,” Eddie explained.
Kathrin, closing the rear, adding, “It’s salt water so it’s brackish.”
The river bed was quite wide and took almost 10 minutes to cross with Ronja’s head practically in Costa’s arse who didn’t seem to mind as he attempted to munch on some bushes. Ronja responded quite well to my reining actions as we plodded along. Then the scenery drastically changed as soon as we emerged from the river bed.
“Is this the moon scape?” I asked as a flat, barren, devoid-of-anything land spread out before us.
“Yes,” said Eddie.
I looked around, twisting in the saddle. The river bed was the only point of life, it seemed. Everywhere else was just a dusty plain. Apparently, this is what the moon might look like (minus the craters). We plodded on, Eddie pointing out animal burrows like, “This is a Black scorpion hole,” he pointed to a fist-sized hole in the ground.
We reached the viewpoint atop an inclining rock. “Lean forward in the saddle to make it easier for the horse,” instructed Eddie as we followed his steed uphill where we paused, taking in the unearthly surroundings.
How could anything live out here? I wondered, recalling that someone had mentioned that a cheetah had been spotted in the area. Turning back to return to the stable, we passed a pile of bones.
“Ostrich,” Eddie said as one of the dogs gnawed on a long leg bone (I assume it was a leg bone).
Plodding back through the river bed Eddie paused by a bush, hopped off his horse and presented Neil and myself with some of the bush he had picked.
“Stinkbush,” he said. “Smell it.”
I smelt it. “It’s like sage,” I concluded. “Is it medicinal? Do you make tea with this?”
“No,” Eddie laughed. “If you burn it, it will keep mosquitoes away. Farm animals love to eat it but if they do, you can’t eat that animal for at least 5 months because the meat will taste like Stinkbush which is not good for human consumption. So farmers always burn this bush when they find it on their farm. It grows all year.”
It did smell quite sagey and demanded to be brewed in hot water. We passed around the Nightshade plants, avoiding them like a plague before returning to the stables where we dismounted and I thanked Ronja for being an attentive horse. I shook hands with Eddie, thanking him and then Kathrin drove Neil and I back to Swakopmund.
Okakambe Trails offer horse riding lessons, 2-3 day rides (for experienced riders) , sunset and moon rides and they sponsor disadvantaged and disabled kids from the townships, teaching them to ride.
For more information, visit their website: kttp:// www.natron.net/okakambe