Do you think riding a horse alongside hungry lions at night, through claustrophobic thickets of thorny acacia bush, across the wilds of the Serengeti, is a good idea? You soon will, when you meet Jakob Von Plessen.
Although his name befits a villain from an Indiana Jones movie, his resemblance is closer to Mr Jones himself. An Akubra hat, khaki shirt, with whip and pistol by his side, Jakob cuts a dashing figure as he rides his trusty steed alongside migrating wilderbeest, with his ‘killer’ good looks enough to make any lion think twice before messing with him.
Jakob is one of those rare individuals we hear about, who had sufficient strength of character, resilience and, let’s face it, luck, to resist convention and choose his own path in life, without ending up on the breadline. Yes, it’s easy enough to defy your parents and go off to join the circuis, strive for rock stardom, become a poet or, case in point, chase lions across Africa, but, it’s much harder to make that actually work. Jakob has not only made it work, but it is now working for him, as evidenced by his recent inclusion in an online campaign by Dior which is in the process of going viral.
The campaign, entitled ‘Sauvage’ and headlined commercially by Johnny Depp, features a selection of worldly characters, who have thrown caution to the wind to embrace their dreams and follow their instincts, in search of truth, beauty and peace (not necessarily in that order). They range from a surfer to free climber as well as a custodian of ‘Force Basque’ and a gaucho, in the guise of Jakob. These are real men who live real lives replete with danger, not some metrosexuals growing a beard and donning a lumberjack flannelette shirt, with sleeves rolled up to reveal tattoos defining just how edgy they are, as they sip their civet poo coffee. You can bet Jakob has had animal poo in his coffee, but not by choice (it is unavoidable, as he will tell you, on some of the long haul adventure safaris he conducts across the African and South American continents). In that line of work you drink your coffee as you can get it, around a campfire, swirling with horse hair, dirt, weevils and anything else that crawls or falls into his saddlebags.
I first met Jakob in 2010, through Julie McIntosh, who used him as a guide for her wildlife adventures run by The Classic Safari Company. It was unclear why this guy was not yet famous, but, our marketing department insisted that we ‘simply must have him’ for our Urban Polo tournaments back in Australia. When the Australian media received the press release featuring our star player, the headlines were quick to acknowledge his aesthetic qualities, with ‘Lock up your Wives and Daughters’ probably one of the most appropriate headlines to hit the print.
There were a couple of minor problems, however. Jaokob was a publicity shy recluse, who hadn’t played polo for years. Nonetheless, with some persistence and coaxing, he was persuaded to sign up and assured us he would be polo ready by the time he arrived for the series. Given the old adage that the horse accounts for 80 per cent of polo, we knew his word was good, considering his unsurpassed horsemanship.
Born and raised as a horseman in the Argentine Pampas, Jakob was inspired by a hermit gaucho to abandon his pursuit of a conventional career in veterinary science, agriculture or even economics, all of which he entertained either of his own volition, or under pressure from his stepfather in the case of the latter. He describes the gaucho as materially poor and humble, but rich in spirit and honour, a disposition our protagonist aspired to, while the gaucho’s face, replete with wrinkles etched by the harsh elements, told of a thousand stories and adventures, each of which
Jakob soon gravitated towards his first unconventional job, away from the complications and politics of the big smoke, and far removed from the university degree in agriculture he had acquired. Despite causing some concern to his family, becoming a horseback safari guide in Africa combined his love of horses with a quest for adventure, promise of relative solitude and his hitherto unknown talent of dodging hungry lions.
Several years later, with a pilot’s license under his belt, Jakob established his own horseback safari operation, Jakotango, in both Africa and his native Argentina, where he now works by taking horse-riding enthusiasts on safari across some of the most spectacular wilderness country the world has to offer. By emphasising quality of hosting and marrying comfort with wilderness, he has managed to make an experience of unique adventure out of his riding safaris.
Jakob’s African expeditions cover vast expanses of untouched Maasai land, bordering the Mara/Serengeti, which arguably holds the world’s greatest concentration of wildlife and Kenya’s richest ecosystem, both in wildlife species and wildlife diversity. In addition, Maasai Mara is famous for its concentration of predators and, more so, the annual wildebeest migration. ‘Mara’ means ‘spotted’ or ‘dappled’, a reference to the acacia-dotted savannas of Southern Kenya, where the Maasai live with their herds of catttle- clinging to a culture that has resisted westernised pressure.
His Argentine safari’s are no less dramatic, taking its riders across some of the continent’s remotest areas, ranging from private ranches in Buenos Aires, to the heart of the Patagonian Andes, across turquoise rivers, along breathtaking ridges and over expansive grasslands, all the way into the sunset.
Whether you join Jakob in Africa or Argentina, you will see most of the game from the saddle, however, all his safaris are also supported by highly comfortable, custom-built Land Cruisers. Using the vehicles not only allows both the horse and rider a well-earned rest, they also give the party the opportunity to explore further, take photographs and go on night game drives. The nocturnal animals are the other half of the amazing and varied wildlife you may see.
Perhaps anyone can show you the beautiful vistas of Patagonia, or the vast expanse of the African savannah, however, only Jakob can do it with such grace, charm and sense of adventure. If you get the chance, join him for a journey you won’t easily forget.