A Safari Morning

In the early morning, mine is the only voice I hear.

You might think this odd. You’ll think, ok, this girl talks to herself. But it also has to do with reflexes. Tap my elbow and see my arm shoot out. Stand on my toe and hear me shout. Show me a sunrise from a treehouse in the wild, the sound of elephants and that coo coo of a distant dove and listen for my woahs and wows. My unbelievables and you’re kidding me’s.

There’s the voice inside my head too, when the peace and quiet feels too good to disturb. This is how a morning in my villa at Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa begins. This is a morning in Africa, the wilderness.

Without anyone around, my hands dance from white duvet to coffee cup, slipper to nightgown, as I slip out through the sliding doors, closing them to keep the monkeys out (I’d much rather they played in the trees). I take my place in the moving gold light as it spreads over the entire deck, reminding me of the passing of time and seasons, even though I feel worlds away from these concepts.

There is more coffee and then the move from slippers to shoes, gown to jersey, inside voice to outside voice. I follow the trail through the trees to our game vehicle, our ranger and tracker, other guests, cameras and binoculars adorning our necks like ancient Egyptian wesekhs.

The scent of promise is in the air. The engine turns on and beanies are slipped over ears, scarves around noses, smiles across faces.

I do that talking to myself thing again (the outside peace still holding) and bet myself I’ll see an elephant first. Lots of them. Babies, curling through the legs of their mothers. A great troupe with trunks in the air.

I heard them first, at the villa, and I hear them again now, like clockwork, as they say. You owe me tea, I tell myself. The whole herd swims across our view as though floating in a deep river.

In that moment, I remember being on top of one of these greats, at an elephant sanctuary in South Africa, one of the humane few. I remember that inimitable slow sidling of their amble, like a wild lullaby. I remember the feeling of the elephant tickling my ear after our ride, back on terra firma, its hairy trunk, how its physical touch connected me to it, it to me, for life, in my mind at least.

But in the wild at Londolozi, even without touching, this morning family mesmerises us all.

We climb out of the vehicle and stand around the front while the ranger hands us more coffee, steaming like our hot breaths in the cold air, champagne, biscuits, Amarula… Sharing the same ground now as the wild things, feeling the earth beneath us, part of us, I wave to the last elephant. Safari njema, inside voice announces.

And this I promise you, as though hearing me and my heart’s fastening beat, the elephant waves back and then trumpets the final note in our morning song.

Tell us…

What’s your favourite thing about mornings on safari?

The Sweetness of the Solo Safari

It wasn’t merely that the animals were all out, on this early morning in the Nambiti wilderness. Not simply that we didn’t have to search too hard to find the rhinos and buffalo, the giraffe and lions, the wildebeest and waterbuck. What made the drive something special was what was not there. That is, other people.

I know, sharing is caring. But have you ever been on a game drive through the African bush, alone, just you and your guide?

No voices disturb the peace. No movement interrupts the stillness. And there’s the matter of time… of being in the wild, with its animal life, its birds and plants, sounds and scents, and having no need to leave before you’re ready.

There’s also the fact that I really like to take photographs. Lots of them. From all kinds of angles and with all kinds of lenses. I need time. I photograph best in silence, too, as a ranger tracks best in a quiet of his or her own.

Even with the camera down, resting in my lap, the peace creates a space to properly connect with the surroundings and myself. Space for me to offer the wild my entire attention. Space to see the little things, the details. The details of a lion’s nose or of the unfolding scenes… like the wildebeest elders gathering around their little ones to keep them safe or the alarm spreading across an impala herd as a predator nears.

Sharing can be sweet. But the notion of “the fewer the merrier” has its magic too. It’s what Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve of South Africa is all about. There are very few staff or rangers, only five suites, only two chefs, and the French owners, Ludovic Caron and Sophie Vaillant, play the role of maitre de maison. It’s a small family. And it creates the feeling of retreating to a villa in the countryside, in the south of France, with your people. Your nearest, dearest, or nobody at all.

Of course this countryside has big cats and great giants roaming its hills and plains, but the sense of nature, of Provençal bliss, is very much there. Dining slowly under the open skies, with fresh breads and pastries, fine cheeses accompanying finer wines, just the crickets chattering and streams trickling, it feels like a moment stolen from the continuance of time. A world apart.

One night, on one of our solo game drives, my guide, Pemba and I watched the sun set from a clearing in the bush, as a lion announced himself only metres away to his approaching brother. His deep gravelly roars seemed to never end. I could feel them echoing inside my very core as night fell over us. As though we were together in a vast ancient cave and not in the open plains.

Another night, we chose to join the owners for sundowners and stories of lions and leopards under a lantern-lit tree, while a giraffe ambled in that slow giraffe way right past us. Even in the company of other souls, sitting around a campfire, the peace of the place held its incantation.

And yes, sharing is sweet, but I felt the real, quite rare charm in being able to return to a big villa on a cliff face looking out over the Sundays River, soaking in the solitude with nothing pulling me away. With no voices to disturb the peace. No movement to interrupt the stillness. And no need to leave it all before I was ready.

10 Questions with Camp Jabulani’s Chantel du Toit

Step into the life of a lodge manager in our latest Q&A with the lovely Chantel du Toit, General Manager, along with her husband Stefan, at Camp Jabulani in the Kapama Private Game Reserve of South Africa.

10 Questions with Camp Jabulani General Manager, Chantel du Toit

How did your path lead you to Camp Jabulani?

Love. Firstly, love for animals and then following my heart. I met my husband at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. He soon started his career as a guide at Camp Jabulani, where I had a choice between doing what I love or being with the person I love. An opportunity I am forever grateful, as it lead to me following a different passion in life and being able to work with my partner and to do what we enjoy doing.

5 things working at Camp Jabulani has taught you about yourself, life and love?

  1. Working with animals rewards you in ways you never knew possible.
  2. There is no better feeling than being part of something bigger than yourself, contributing to an actual animal’s life.
  3. Love knows no time, even from the first introduction one can have an instant bond with an animal that lasts a lifetime.
  4. It’s one of life’s biggest privileges to be able to come in close contact with such magnificent gentle giants.
  5. Being able to see the Camp Jabulani herd evolve into a close family makes you realise how we all – humans and animals alike – just want a little place where we can belong and be loved. Looking at animals gives insight into everyday unanswered questions.

Favourite part about living in the bush and in particular, the Kapama Private Game Reserve?

Life in the bush can be trying, especially having a little child, but it is our life choice. It is tranquil and calm. Life is just life, here. People are just people. No politics, silly magazines or a life dictated by society. There might not be a shop or school close by, but it sure makes the journey very interesting.

Kapama has one of the best views of the Drakensberg Mountain range. It is such a privilege to wake up every morning and gaze at such a wonderful view.

A never forget moment from your time at Camp Jabulani so far?

Seeing how gentle Jabulani interacted with a guest that was practically blind. It was as if he knew that she was blind, using such gentle movements to touch her eyes with the tip of his trunk. And the 2012 floods – seeing so much water, raging past, destroying everything in its way. It was terrifyingly beautiful.

How has your relationship with Africa and her wildlife changed while the lodge?

Working and living in the bush has given me a deep respect for wildlife and Mother Nature. There is always the fear of unwanted reptiles making their way into your home, everyone’s nightmare. But there is nothing so satisfying as seeing nature recovering after a drought. It’s almost instant. With the littlest of rain, small green grass shoots start to sprout, a sign of hope.

What is it like to spend time with the Camp Jabulani elephants?

It is a truly magical experience. They show courage and forgiveness. Watching them, having had such rocky starts in life and being able to overcome that and in the end have a family and a safe haven… it’s heart-warming. Even the weakest, littlest baby deserves a chance. The Camp Jabulani herd is the perfect symbol for “every life counts”.

You favourite meal on the menu?

Deconstructed Baked Alaska – the most amazing piece of art that almost looks too good to eat. An absolute must.

Favourite time in the bush and the best way to start the day?

Summer evenings. The best way to start the morning is with coffee, strong coffee and lots of coffee.

The best way to unwind on a day off?

Sitting outside, watching my daughter play in the garden while the sun sets behind the Drakensberg Mountain.

What unusual things does your job entail?

Sometimes you get to meet people who have lead extraordinary lives. Some come to Africa as it has been a lifelong dream, a bucket list experience.

I remember having conversations with guests knowing it is their last holiday they will ever have. One story that really stands out is of a lady who had a miscarriage and then found out it was due to cancer. Because of treatment she had kidney failure and had two kidney transplants. Due to the transplants she could not fulfill her lifelong dream to visit Africa. Finally, after many years and a change in treatment she was able to breathe the African air.

Sometimes you are front and centre of someone’s lifelong memory. The final chapter of their book. It is quite a responsibility to ensure that it is a best seller.