Riding in Lesotho

Lesotho is a tiny, land-locked kingdom, surrounded by South Africa on all sides. There aren’t many road borders in or out, but you could easily walk into the country by accident. There are some beautiful mountains and National parks on the north side where South Africans can see Lesotho just across the valley, including the Drakensberg and Golden Gate National park, places I visited to flirt with the idea of Lesotho before arriving.

on the road in Lesotho

I found couchsurfers to stay with, a household of Filipino sisters and brothers and cousins. They’re all working in various businesses, from textiles to furniture and a car garage. We ate breakfast and dinner together every day, with a few other guests, and at one point I was in Lesotho singing Karaoke with 9 Filipinos drinking South African wine and couldn’t imagine expecting a more random experience to write home about.

bumpy road ahead

I borrowed a friend’s car from Johannesburg and drove to Lesotho. The roads on the South African side were excellent – and also filled with tolls and speed cameras. Once entering Lesotho, I didn’t see a single traffic police officer or camera, and only one traffic light, and the roads were full of potholes, where they were paved, and one big pot hole where they weren’t. I was driving a Ford Fiesta, not the greatest off-road car, and it took hours just to drive 80km, but I managed to get deep into the countryside and find some horses to ride.

riding off into the Lesotho countryside

Lesotho has an alive and kicking horse culture – people still travel by horse, shepherd on horse back, and use horses to work their fields and transport goods. I found a camp called Malealea where tourists can go on multi-day treks, up to 28 days, and basically see the whole of Lesotho from the back of a horse. I rode for only one day, barefoot because I didnt have proper shoes and it was too hot, and left my guide in the dust everytime I asked him if we could go for a gallop. We visited a waterfall, a cave, and some ancient rock art paintings, and by the end of the day I realized I should have stayed a week for this. But oh well, there’s always a next time. And next time I’ll bring riding shoes.

Photo Highlights: A Summer of Riding in Iceland

the calm before the storm - an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

the calm before the storm – an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

After 7 week-long tours and 2 sheep round up weekends, my summer of riding in Iceland has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet moment, since my butt and back are surely happy to not spend another hour in the saddle, but as soon as the last ride is over, I already start to miss the horses.

the lose herd is one of Iceland's signature horse tour characteristics

the lose herd is one of Iceland’s signature horse tour characteristics

Here are a few photos from a summer of riding Kjölur, Mývatn, The Golden Circle, Þveráhlíð and Melrakkasletta.

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

If you´re looking to book a riding tour in Iceland next summer, check out Ishestar´s long list of short and long tours on offer (some are even available all year round!).

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Other operators that I´d also highly recommend are Exploring Iceland, Riding Iceland, and Hestasport in Skagafjordur, North Iceland.

my second Kjölur group

my second Kjölur group under Langjökull glacier

Riding tour in Mongolia

In Iceland, I work as a tour guide for horse back riding trips, but after 6 years of that I thought it’d be fun to take a tour as a guest. Mongolia is probably the only other country with as much, if not more, horse culture as Iceland, so it was easy to find the perfect vacation there. I thought everyone would want to go, but only one horse friend from Germany actually made it and our group only had 2 other people.

riding through the Gobi

riding through the Gobi

We chose a 9 day riding tour in the Gobi Steppe, but wanted to spend a few extra days in Mongolia before heading to China and North Korea. We spent our extra time in the capital city, which is a strange mix of hold-school communist architecture, new-world/mid-west high-rises, the Cyrillic alphabet, and Asian food and culture (mostly Chinese and Korean).

finding a well to water the horses and stock up for camp

finding a well to water the horses and stock up for camp

The food and drinks very really delicious, but we were mostly offered ‘western’ foods, and lots of it. Even though we were camping, in the middle of a desert, with no electricity or running water, we were served 4 course meals every night. Soup, salad, some meat, and dessert were the norm, plus boiled well water to drink tea and coffee, and once in a while the cook surprised us with special snacks like Pringles or a home made cake (I still cant figure out how she baked a cake by burning cow dung).

our ger camp

our ger camp

We were only 4 guests, but had one English speaking guide and 5 other staff – a chef, her assistant/waitress, the horse man, and 2 camel boys, who were responsible for the 4 caramel convoy carrying our stuff between camp every day. We moved every morning except the last night, where we stayed in a more permanent ger camp. Each day we rode 30-40 km, only on one horse, and we rode the same horse for 9 days straight. I tried to horse man’s horse briefly, just to sit in his Mongolian wooden saddle, but my friend Michael got to ride his horse a whole day because he wanted to try a faster horse. It made him very happy, until he raced the horseman (who rode Michaels regular horse) and lost. It urned out I had the fastest horse, which was great until how hard it was to stop after reaching flat-out speed. Sometimes it took many kilometres to slow him down, but I didn’t mind.

our camel convoy

our camel convoy

After the horse tour in Ulanbataar, we had a few more great meals, lots of vodka, and visited the city park to watch a music/dance/culture show and ride a Ferris wheel. Nearby was also Hustai National park, where it was possible to see the ancient Przewalskis horse in the wild. During the car journeys between places, we often drove on unmarked dirt tracks which were considered main travel routes by the locals. Mongolia was the only country I’ve seen regularly use hybrid Toyota Priuses as off-road vehicles, and it makes sense why horses are still used so much to move – its almost faster to go 15 km on a horse than a car, especially considering the fact that Mongolian horses can gallop for over an hour without stopping or slowing down. They were truly amazing, and I would have done it if my body could have kept up, but my legs couldnt handle it after they started bruising in a few different places from a strange saddle that you need to stand in.

Photo Highlight: the Lonely Trails of Melrakkasletta

The north-eastern most part of Iceland is an isolated peninsula called Melrakkasletta. It doesn’t have mountains or fjords, but it has a lonely Heath full of moss and sheep and not much else. It seems as if more farms there are abandoned than inhabited, and riding there felt like we had risen into the clouds.  

the lonely trails of Melrakkasletta


If you’d like to ride here next year, check out Halldór’s tours with Ishestar

 

Ishestar: Kjölur

Kjolur is old and often traveled route across Iceland. Its a highland pass between two glaciers that makes it possibly to go from the south to the north in a couple hundred kilometres. It´s always fun to take the first Kjolur ride of the season, because sometimes the road hasn´t opened yet since its a dirt road only open during the summer. In the winter it gets buried under metres of snow, and the only way across is by snowmobile. We had our first tour start June 21 this year, and there was still metres of snow.

so much snow

so much snow

There were just a few sections that were impassable, but it wasn´t such a problem to take 20 riders and our herd of 100 horses accross or around the snow. The real problem was our chef who had to follow in the jeep with our trailer full of luggage and food. By the second day into the trip, the tractors working 24/7 had managed to clear some snow. But by the fourth day when we really had to keep going, we passed the tractors, still shoveling away, and somehow so did the keep.

It was a 6 day ride across Kjolur with 19 happy Europeans and not a drop of rain, and we all came home with sun-kissed noses and suitcases full of warm clothes we didnt have to use since it hit 20°c almost every day. Hopefully that luck carries on in the next weeks, and some of that snow might finally be gone in time for trip number two.

Horsing around in Vanuatu

On my journey through PNG and the Solomons, I was trailing a few weeks behind a Bulgarian backpacker named Tihomir taking the same overland route. I found him through couchsurfing, and after exchanging a few emails with him and following his blog, I was able to plan my own trip. It followed pretty much in his exact footsteps, except that he crossed the border in Bougainville a bit differently and stayed with other people, but I would never have made it to Honiara without his help. Only a handful of tourists cross into the Solomons this way, and after being on the move for more than 10 days without ever really knowing how to move or where to stay, I looked forward to arriving in Port Vila and staying put for a while.

Vanuatu isn’t a stranger to tourism, so its okay to just show up with no plan and wing it. It’s an archipelago of 80+ islands and islets, and 65 of them are inhabited, with ferries, boats and little planes connecting everyone. The international airport is on Efate Island (the 3rd largest and home of the country’s capital city Port Vila), which is only 160km around but sustains 65,000 residents and a couple cruise ships a week. Its a bilingual place, with colonial ties to England and France, but its been independent since 1980. Now the largest ex-pat community is probably Australian, and they’ve managed to keep a few touches of European culture alive. The food, wine and coffee culture was an especially nice surprise, but my favourite hobby was horses. They had horse farms, horse breeders, show jumping competitions and trail rides, and I found the biggest herd at Club Hippique.

tropical horse paradise

tropical horse paradise

The owner there, Heidee, became my best friend instantly. I could talk to her for hours about horses, Iceland, life, or love. I basically moved in with her and her family for a week, and spent every day between the stables and her house. Her huge Great Dane and her cuddly cat took turns sharing my bed, and I have to stay I prefer the cat, since she liked to sleep on my feet and only weighed a few kilos, whereas the dog weighed 55kg and took up most of the mattress (she was always on my side of the bed!).

The farm sits on a big saltwater lagoon, so I could chose between kayaking or swimming with horses off the beach, or riding through a tropical forest covered in trails and coconut trees. I rode every day, I taught her lessons, and I trained her (recently gelded) stallion. At night we cooked dinners of steak or prawns and paired them with wine and champagne, and if I ever needed to go anywhere, I could drive her purple scooter (it only happened once – why would I want to leave that place?).

My visit to Vanuatu was a total breath of fresh air – slowing down the pace of travel and actually calling somewhere home for a while. I miss all the people and 4-legged animals that became my temporary family, and kind of wish I had stayed longer. I barely thought of doing any reading, writing, or researching for my upcoming trips, since I really felt as though I wasn’t traveling anymore. But now that I’m on the move again, I feel a little homesick and slightly disorganized… but hey, that’s all part of the package, so keep calm and travel on.

If you’d also like to live and work on Heidee’s farm, or just visit as a regular tourist, you can contact her through her facebook page, or apply to volunteer with her through Woof.