Ever since the continental wanderings of the likes of David Livingstone, Richard Burton, John Speke, Sam and Florence Baker, and Mungo Park, the story of Africa has been one of the mobile rich exacting themselves on the inert poor. It is the rare piece in which an African by birth finds a path outward; rarer still if he or she returns, with new skills and learnings, to help forge a better life for the natal community. 

I have met but a few in my half-century visiting Africa: Cameroon-born Blaise Judja-Sato, a successful U.S. telecommunications executive who returned to Africa to found VillageReach, a program that providcs access to quality health care for 43 million people in the sub-Sahara; and Ghanaian Patrick Awuah who left a top program manager position at Microsoft to found Ashesi University, a private, non-profit university located in Accra with a mission to educate ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa. 

Earlier this year I stayed for a couple nights at The Lodge at Blue Sky, an Auberge Resort just outside Park City, Utah. While there I had a chance to interview the James Beard Award-Winning Chef, Galen Zamarra, and briefly meet the 30-year-old Food and Beverage Manager, an eager pool of light with an Afrikaans accent, a recent graduate of the Swiss Hotel Management School in Leysin with a double degree in Hospitality and Marketing. Prior to The Lodge she worked for a year at the Amangani Resort in Jackson Hole. It appeared she had achieved escape velocity from Africa. 

Several months later I joined friends for a two-week flying tour of southern Africa, and a first stop was the 20,000-acre Woltemade Ranch in northeast Namibia, owned and operated by the third and fourth generation Ritter family. It has been in continuous operation for almost 100 years. To supplement the ranching and farming income, the family began operating safaris in 1992 (Ritter Safaris) and built a small faux castle to accommodate guests. 

After settling into our modest but cozy lodgings, we retired for sundowners on the tower roof deck where we sipped tall, iced G&Ts infused with pomegranates from the garden. 


G&Ts on the rooftop. Photo by Richard Bangs

Then, with the last of the crepuscular light, we stepped down and over to the boma beneath a 250-year-old camel thorn tree for a locally sourced barbecue repast. 

On a parish of tables there were oryx fillet medallions in a hazelnut crust with homemade gnocchi and a red wine fig sauce; wildebeest fillet marinated in fig, rosemary and paprika; homemade game boerewors and German-style bratwurst with potato mushroom gratin and a cabbage slaw; eland rouladen with bacon; mustard and gherkin in a red wine chocolate sauce served with roasted parmesan maize cakes; a braised mushroom medley; and mixed green salads from the garden. For dessert we had the tough choices of Guava Banana Fruit Tart; Chocolate Mousse with pomegranate; an Earl Grey Cake with Lavender Chocolate Frosting; Baked Lemon Cheesecake with hot cherries; and more at a table I never reached.

Of course, we asked to meet to the chef, and out from the kitchen a familiar face appeared. She introduced herself as Elgin Ritter, and memory served that we had briefly met at The Lodge at Blue Sky just a few weeks earlier. The whisper is that most born in Africa, black or white, who have the fortune to be educated abroad, don’t return. Elgin was on a trajectory of financial and social security far beyond what might be found in Namibia. Why did she come back?

After the feast we chatted, and Elgin shared her reasoning and motivations. She now runs the family safari company, focusing on conservation and the preservation of wildlife and local environments, and helping young Namibian girls find a rewarding path.

“Why did I return? Well, I have a deep connection with Namibia.  I want my children to be able to watch rhinos, elephants, and cheetahs roam in their natural habitats, undisturbed by humans. I want future generations to not have to learn about these beautiful creatures from stories and fading picture books.  

“While Western countries have beautiful, unique, and absolute luxurious properties that only money and influence can create, Africa possesses something far better. The African hospitality is something you will not find anywhere else in the world. You can be Swiss-trained, Ritz Carlton-bred, an Aman Junky, but the African hospitality is something you just cannot learn or buy. If you are born here, it is in your blood.

“It is expressed by the people on the road in the donkey carts smiling and waving at cars racing by; the farmer inviting strangers into his home and sharing his hard-earned harvest as if the most normal thing in the world to do. The beaming faces that greet you in any town, any lodge, hotel, or guesthouse. The rooms might be a little older, there might be no TV with 1000 channels or the aircon might be out of order, but the personal touch and empathy will always be there and will always be sincere. 

“I also believe it is time for me to give back and help young girls in Namibia to learn and grow in the industry, which is why I started training high school graduates who have no job prospects and may have a child or two at home with little or no income to support them. These girls can work with me on our ranch and learn the hospitality trade from the bottom up. They leave with complete training in the housekeeping department and kitchen services. On top of that they receive a good salary, accommodations, and meals, which allow them to support their families while away. This has become such a satisfying venture for me. I enjoy these small success moments.”

You have been so fortunate to work at among the most luxurious lodges in the world. What learnings can you now apply to the Ritter Ranch? 

“I was extremely privileged, being able to study in Switzerland and work in the States. Aman and Auberge gave me in-depth knowledge of the luxury hospitality industry and the clientele, lessons I employ here. The biggest benefit I gained from my overseas travels and contracts is adjusting to the fast, ever-changing hospitality trends and the marketplace. When you operate in a vacuum, as most lodges in remote Africa do, you miss opportunities. I like to believe I am ensuring Ritter Safaris stays on track with today’s demands and tomorrow’s ideas, all the while ensuring we do not lose the exclusive and intimate touch our guests’ value so much.

“We employ 30 Namibians full time on the Woltemade farm and another 30 seasonally. We are also extremely proud of the fact that we managed to keep everyone employed during the Corona lockdowns and the near complete breakdown of tourism within Namibia for over a year now. It was our goal to not furlough any employees especially since most have been with us for years now and their families live on the farm as well.”  

The Woltemade Farm, Namibia. Photo by Richard Bangs

What are the challenges and pressures today for Ritter Safaris to thrive? 

“Covid remains the huge challenge everyone around the world in the hospitality industry faces. We are, of course, fighting to stay updated with the ever-changing regulations and border crossing demands, but our main struggle is the fear that currently exists internationally towards travelling across borders. We still believe that Namibia is an ideal country to escape lockdown because of our wide-open spaces, the guaranteed sunshine, fresh air, healthy diet, and our commitment to providing a safe and healthy space to all our employees and guests.”

What are the benefits of continuity in a third-generation family enterprise?

“First and foremost, we get the chance to maintain and grow a business started by our grandparents, ensuring it survives the tough times and thrives during the good times. I believe a continuity in generations encourages family to conduct business on an ethical level that honors the bloodline. It helps ensure conservation methods are followed in all the farming and safari operations. We all want to see our children and their children live off the land we care for, but also to experience the wonders of surrounding Nature and to enjoy the privilege of watching wild leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and rhinos roam freely and willingly, not hindered by fences, chains and guards.”

What makes your family and their vision and execution unique?

“I do believe there is a difference between my family and most others in that we have always expressed an unwavering love and respect for our country, its people, and its wildlife. My Dad was one of the first farmers to join Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund protecting cheetahs rather than hunting them down. When he started releasing cheetahs on our farm National Geographic asked why he went against the beliefs of all his neighbors and colleagues. He simply replied because he wanted his children to grow up in a world where they could watch cheetah roam freely as they were meant to do. I did, and my children will as well. 

“We enjoy welcoming guests on our property, sharing our daily life and stories with them. But the biggest joy is to see the eyes of visitors light up in that moment when they fall in love with our country for the first time. 


Elgin Ritter preparing for The Feast. Photo by Richard Bangs

What does the farm grow? Do you use what grows in your fields in your kitchen?

We grow olives, saffron, and maize on a large scale. Our family venture, The Good Olive Company, has won some medals in New York. We also grow our own granadillas, pawpaws, mangos, guavas, peaches, prickly pears, pomegranate, marula fruit; and vegetables such as spinach, kale, carrots, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, various types of cabbages, various types of pumpkins, herbs, tomatoes, hibiscus for teas and juices, cucumber, onions, garlic, strawberries and many more. I try to use only what we grow in my kitchen, that plus the meat that comes from our own butchery, milk, cottage cheese, butter, cream and cheese from our own cows, and free-range chicken eggs. We also harvest medicinal plants from the fields, such as the anti-inflammatory devil’s claw, which we use for ourselves. All this allows us to be quite self-sufficient.”

 What wildlife is on the 40,000-acre property? Are their conservation efforts to protect them?

We have gemsbok, kudu, warthog, hartebeest, duiker, steenbok, baboon, porcupine, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, wildebeest, giraffes, eland, waterbuck, sable antelope, springbok, impala, zebra, mongoose amongst others on our property. We work strictly on conservation-based methods to ensure the wildlife numbers in our area are healthy and growing. We continuously track our game movements, count the game on a yearly basis and ensure the property is free of poachers, which is a full-time job. We also employ an Anti-Poaching unit to patrol all areas of the property, and all staff members receive a bonus of twice their monthly salary for any tips that lead towards arresting poachers in the area.”

What are your personal challenges living and working at home?

“Sometimes you must make tough business decisions that aren’t always the easiest for family relationships. And running the lodge and home on the same property makes it hard during peak season to get some privacy or quiet time. But I enjoy having people from all around the world stay with us. And I love sharing our lives and values with them. Being a young woman on a farm and a bit isolated from social life it is hard to meet people and get out and about a bit. I am extremely lucky to have found a wonderful and supportive boyfriend who never criticizes my work hours or weeks and who tries daily to make things such as managing a private life outside of the demands of the hospitality industry easier for me.” 

 What is your vision for the future of Ritter Safaris?

“Go global. No!! I am joking! I want it to stay the unique, warm, and welcoming family business our guests and friends have come to enjoy and love. Right now, we are so focused on getting beyond the Corona pandemic, which has heavily affected our bookings. I would like to further expand Ritter Safaris to cater to the individual traveler who appreciates the rugged side of Namibia while supporting unique conservation efforts such as the Mount Etjo Rhino Trust. I would like to expand our training program for young women who left school due to pregnancy or poverty. These women are trained in our guest operations and paid as full-time employees for a couple years and then receive the opportunity to either stay on as part of our team or enter the larger work force with the knowledge, skills and recommendations earned while training with Woltemade and Ritter Safaris. This is a project very close to my heart. The profits gained are not monetary, but rather the satisfaction, pride, and joy of helping others to thrive and move toward a brighter future. 

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  • Richard Bangs is co-founder and Chief Adventure Officer of www.Steller.co. He  has been a pioneer in travel, digital media, e-commerce, and other frontiers. In the early 90s Richard produced the first internet travel site (www.mtsobek.com), the first travel CD ROM (The Adventure Disc), and the first virtual expeditions (www.terra-quest.com ). He was founder and editor-in-chief of Mungo Park, a pioneering Microsoft travel publishing effort. He also founded www.terra-quest.com. He was part of the founding executive team of Expedia.com (www.expedia.com ), and served as its Editor-at-Large. Richard Bangs has been called the father of modern adventure travel, and the pioneer in travel that makes a difference, travel with a purpose. He has spent 30 years as an explorer and communicator, and along the way led first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa.  He recently co-directed the IMAX Film, Mystery of the Nile, and co-authored the Putnam book of the same name. His recent book, The Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death and the Transformation of Wild Water, won the National Outdoor Book Award in the literature category, and the Lowell Thomas Award for best book. Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, produced a score of documentaries and several CD-ROMs; and has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature with the NYTimes. Richard served as executive producer of Richard Bangs Adventures on Yahoo. Richard’s show Quest for Harmony won the Gold in the Destination Marketing Category of the 2012 Travel Weekly Magellan Awards, as well as two Bronze Telly Awards, and the 2012 Lowell Thomas Award. His special, Richard Bangs’s South America: Quest for Wonder, won two Telly Awards for 2013; and the Cine Golden Eagle for 2013.