Nothing quite feeds the soul like a solo horse riding adventure to the depths of the Egyptian desert. But don’t take our word for it; Elena was so hooked, she booked a second trip within 2 weeks of her return. These are some of the commemorative titbits she took home to London.
Tipping into middle age and questioning all my life choices, I decided to book a trip to Egypt for a much-needed change of scenery. A recent bereavement and two years working in a small London flat – I needed something to reinspire me. I ride occasionally, probably not quite enough for a 7 day trip to Egypt, but threw caution to the wind and booked it anyway hoping for the best. Going solo was an important element for me – it releases you from your well-worn routines and your general shtick. It means you can momentarily reinvent yourself and you aren’t constrained by your habitual roles and others’ expectations of you.
I booked the Winter Wonderland White Desert Safari (even the title sounds magical) and chatted through the details with Isabel. Two covid-related postponements later, I found myself walking on a hazy rooftop terrace in our hotel in Giza greeted by the dumbfounding sight of the Pyramids – like, dinosaurs in the mist. Morning coffee views to end all others.
I had every intention of having the most wholesome of riding holidays – eat nothing but salads, lean meats and thin baked bread. I would come back with glowing skin, eyes that sparkled with the memory of desert gallops and Arabian nights, thighs that could crack a walnut with a whisper and a pelvic floor like a submarine valve. Instead – I chose to regress to my misspent youth. Along with the unforgettable riding, there was wine, the odd cheeky cigarette and cackles of laughter until bedtime. In actual fact, I came back with eyes glazed over with a mild hangover, a face hurting from laughing so much, thighs that quivered with the memory of the effort of riding in the desert and a surreal and beautiful feeling that my week of wonder was just a figment of my imagination.
I want to share a few things I learned on this trip to Egypt with African Horse Safaris:
1) When the guide says, we’re going for a trot, it means going for a Yalla (otherwise known as a full-blown gallop across the desert)
2) Egyptian food is a multi-course affair and is delicious. Even back home, I wake up craving hot buttery layered pancake-like bread for breakfast with local fresh organic cheese, dark honey, fresh tomatoes, tahini, humous, tagines….
3) Camel hair socks make the perfect footwear for the desert – they are now dubbed my ‘camel toes’
4) If you say you like something – Egyptians will give it to you (the only exception to this rule is if you say you like their horse, annoyingly, they won’t). I mentioned that I liked some spices and I got given the whole tub of the spice mix. It’s lovely to be able to taste Egypt on a wet and grey day in North London – just a whiff brings back a flood of incredible memories.
5) The streets surrounding the Giza pyramid complex are like the Wild West circa 1800s (it has to be seen to be believed) and you need to keep your wits about you.
6) Do not judge people’s livelihoods through Western eyes – Egypt is a world of its own
7) Young women in the Giza complex wanted selfies with me for no other reason than I’m a Western woman who looks like a cowboy visiting the pyramid and I’m hilarious.
8) Being in the White desert far from anyone and anything is alarming and exhilarating at the same time. It looks like you’re on the literal moon. Egypt is full of geological wonder crafted by the wind over millions of years – there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it!
9) The food… Yes, I’ve said it before, but in the White Desert, our amazing driver Aiman made a delicious meal for us at the back of the 4 x 4! Even on the moon, we had a delicious freshly cooked dinner, salad, strong beer and twinkies – all enjoyed under the stars.
10) Turkish coffee with a hint of cardamom is my new favourite thing. Just delicious.
11) Cairo horses are bombproof – they laugh in the face of terrifying seven-year-olds beeping at them on motorbikes and lift a casual eyebrow at swathes of camels, histrionic tuk-tuks and local youths tearing down the concrete road on their horses. Like I said – bombproof!
12) Although I like being prepared, I didn’t really need antihistamine gel or mosquito repellent because I travelled in the Egyptian winter
13) The incredible horses in Egypt nursed my nerves back to health again after a nasty fall that required a CTScan and bricks on either side of my face… I got my confidence back and felt if I could overcome this, I could overcome anything. For this, I am forever grateful.
14) Brace yourself when you get home. I didn’t know I could experience culture shock coming back to London – a place I’ve lived nearly all my life.
15) Forego the expensive hotel wine – there is a shop called ‘Drinkies’ in the back streets of Giza.
16) The people are amazing. Our guide Mohammed was sartorially on point at all times and the most well-balanced person I know. Riding in trainers and with questionable taste in rosé– it felt more like leaving an old friend rather than a tour guide.
17) Making a brand-new friend who likes you enough to help you patch up a saddle sore in an unmentionable and unreachable place on the last day, just so you can ride the pyramids one last time, is a gift from the heavens.
18) ) I learned that a flat out gallop on a beautiful horse, in a wide-open space, can help free suppressed emotions like grief and it’s liberating. I cried like a baby and felt like a silly.
Thank you African Horse Safaris and Ride Egypt, purveyors of dreams, for one of the best experiences of my life! Riding in Africa looks like the start of a new life-long addiction
Elena is a London based voice-over artist, actor, writer and executive coach who lives in London. She has ridden on and off since childhood then had a two-decade gap. In 2016, after she played Elisabeth of York in an Equestrian theatre jousting show on the grounds of Warwick Castle, her love for horses was reignited. She loves liberty, natural horsemanship and now riding into the depths of the desert. She chanced upon this Egyptian adventure on African Horse Safaris Instagram and was unashamedly influenced. She loved this trip to Egypt so much, that she immediately booked another one within two weeks of coming home (she thought that was something only other people did).