10 Questions with ol Donyo Lodge’s Jackson Lemunge

It was one of those trips where everything felt right and it began, that feeling and trip, with a man named Jackson Lemunge.

As our plane touched down on the airstrip on a clearing in the Chyulu Hills, I glimpsed him out of the small window, along with two game vehicles, one fetching guests, to take us to ol Donyo Lodge, and one dropping off guests.

I watched horses trotting closer and closer and saw a woman disembark to meet her luggage in the departure vehicle. I watched her collect her bags, before making her way onto the plane once I had disembarked. I saw hugs and cheek-kisses and laughs and I realised that I had stumbled right into the middle of all the emotion that comes with the coming and going of travel. The sad goodbyes and joyous welcomes, but more importantly the overriding warmth of people connecting over something more than themselves – over the wilderness, over Kenya’s Chyulu Hills.

Jackson loaded my bags onto our vehicle and off we drove, toward a horizon broken by large journeys of giraffe. Over the next few days, Jackson and I would chase horizon after horizon, but more than that, we would move from strangers to friends, in the way you do on safari, in a wilderness that instantly feels like home.

We shared tales of our own homes, our love of photography, people who have influenced us, places we’ve been, beliefs we hold and values we keep. We shared time and space and a single game vehicle in the greatness of the Kenyan wilderness and I knew that leaving would be hard. That I too would feel the sadness of the goodbye, but the deep joy and warmth of having truly connected with someone.

Get to know the man, the guide, the photographer, Jackson Lemunge for yourself in our short Q&A below, featuring photos by Jackson himself… and of him, captured in the one or two moments that he allowed me to raise my lens to him. As is the photographer’s way…

10 Questions with ol Donyo Lodge’s Jackson Lemunge

1. 5 things working at ol Donyo Lodge has taught you about yourself, life and love?

  1. Patience
  2. Time is precious
  3. One cannot have it all, but that said…
  4. Nothing is enough. Keep pushing.
  5. Every coin has two sides.

2. What is your role at ol Donyo Lodge and how did your path lead you to the lodge?

I’m a tour guide. I was introduced to Richard Bonham, one of the co-owners of ol Donyo Lodge, which is how I came to work here. I started out as a motor vehicle mechanic, working in the workshop. And today I’m a guide and keen photographer.

3. How did your love of photography begin?

I started by playing around with a camera that was in our camp and I loved it straight away. I’ve learnt more and more as I continue to play with it and take it out on game drives.

4. How has photography changed the way you see nature and life?

It has made me truly see and appreciate how beautiful nature is and the deep need to conserve it. Photography is a trade off, a bit of trial and error, like life.

5. The main thing to remember when living in a wilderness reserve like ol Donyo Lodge’s?

Safety. And listen to your guide.

6. As a Maasai man, how does the culture, your background and traditions, guide you in life?

It has taught me to be aware and alert about what is happening around me, and how to look for tracks on the earth, how to listen to the sounds and pick up the unique smells of the wilderness that can lead you to animal sightings, and that can tell you all you need to know. It has taught me how to read the signs.

7. A never-forget moment at ol Donyo Lodge?

The pride I felt when l received my silver level as a guide and having one of my guests comment on it…

8. What, to you, makes ol Donyo Lodge and the Chyulu Hills so special?

The view, the exclusivity and the people.

9. What inspires you out in this wilderness from day to day – in your work and in life?

Meeting people of different walks of life, nationalities and ages inspires me. It has taught me that sharing what you know and have with another can change one’s life.

10. Your favourite time of day and year at ol Donyo Lodge and the best way to spend it?

Early morning and evening, taking pictures. What matters is how the day ends.

The Secret to Travelling and Travelling Well

There have been two significant moments on my yoga journey. Two occasions that made my myriad attempts to stand on one leg, one arm, one toe, a journey at all. There have been two teachers and two destinations.

After those moments, that was it, my body and mind found the rhythm, entered the flow. After years of falling around, of furious shaking (ok, I still shake), and having teachers give me that look, I finally, simply, instantly, understood what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps all those former failures weren’t failures, but rather the first cobblestones of my yoga path. Perhaps, I just hadn’t found the right teacher.

It happened first in a quiet corner of the lawn, beneath trees that hid the sky, at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa in Johannesburg. I sat beside Julia Geffers, a yogi much further along on her journey, but a runner, like myself. We had a connection. It was just the two of us. And not once did she give me that look.

As the air cooled around us on the September afternoon, Julia guided me through the positions, focusing on opening the hips, something runners cannot focus enough on. We closed our eyes and perhaps it was the serenity of the hotel’s gardens or the fact that neither of us had been able to go for a run in days and were aching to stretch and move, but my body, my hips, my joints, my toes found a new strength and breath. And they flowed. Simply, beautifully, and even with a little co-ordination. I felt the stillness for the first time. The quiet sense of presence that all the mat-carrying enthusiasts I had met in my life had talked about.

But I know that it also had a lot to do with my teacher. With her lack of judgement, her gentleness, her patience, her own comfort within herself, and an enviable strength that at once called on my own to take to the mat.

As Julia turned upside down and proceeded to stand on her head, I contentedly sat back and watched. One day, I said.

And I’ve been practicing ever since.

In the meantime, Julia sends me images of her doing headstands wherever in the world she finds herself. Wherever there is a flat, quiet piece of earth, she rolls out her mat and tinkles her toes at the sky.

I started to see the accessibility of yoga. While I couldn’t run everywhere in the world, for instance not alone down foreign streets at night, or while in big cat country, I could do yoga anywhere. In my hotel room, in the garden, on the pool deck.

So when I found myself a couple thousand kilometres further north, at ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, I saw a yoga mat in the closet and a printout of a few yoga poses and I leapt. Every free moment I had, I felt a great draw to pick up the mat and roll it out in front of my villa, looking out over the vast plains, at the zebra and giraffe moving slowly, slowly.

I sat the instructions down in front of my feet and let myself take over as teacher, reconnecting with that quietness, that ease, that strength, that patience and that kindness that Julia had shown me.

During each session I felt a space of quiet enter the excitement that being on safari in a new land brings. A stillness between the busyness of having so much to do and to see. A silence between the many conversations. A belonging amid the strangeness, a sense of control amid the unknown. And a home while away.

Now at home in Cape Town, I have, without effort, held onto the practice. I feel the same gravitation to hug the earth and bend my body to salute the sun every time I see a quiet piece of ground (whether carpet, gravel, tile, grass, or wood) that Julia probably does.

And while I have a goal – that elusive headstand – I also have something much more, something that I can always access. I have a sense of peace, no matter where in the world I am. I have the secret to travelling and travelling well, to remaining present and fully feeling and enjoying the moment, whether on a lawn in Johannesburg or at a pool overlooking a waterhole in Kenya.

In case Julia’s upside-down stances can inspire you in the way they have me, here is a look at her feats executed all around the world, whether in the Damaraland Desert of Namibia on the Challenge4ACause cycle or a luxury tented camp overlooking the dramatic wilderness of Rajasthan in India.

Discover more about yoga at our Relais & Châteaux Africa and the Indian Ocean hotels and lodges in our blogs, from Delaire Graff Estate in the Cape Winelands to the wilderness of Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa and Royal Chundu on the Zambezi River.



The Infinite Intrigue of the African Skimmer

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Whoever said that long distance relationships don’t work never fell in love with the African skimmers of the Zambezi River.

Perhaps it’s easier with birds, but my love for these rare African vagabonds of the sky has never dwindled, even though I know that just when I have them by my side, on the water at Royal Chundu in Zambia, they will, soon enough, leave me again. It is their nature as migrants. Perhaps a nature that makes them all the more alluring.

The skimmers arrive on the Zambezi around the month of July, in the dry season, when little sandbanks peak out of the great river and call the migrants home. Here they roost and breed, usually between August and October, and leave around November.

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During this time, the promise of glimpsing them in the glow of the river at golden hour calls me from my bed every morning and evening. And while taking a moment to put down the camera and simply be with them, I find my mind completely taken over by the life of the river itself. The intricate and beautiful life, its changes and its constants.

And isn’t that what love does to us? It makes us see the connection in everything, the beauty, the little things along with the big. During his own time on the Zambezi in search of skimmers, photographer Will Goodlet had similar thoughts…

“Drifting slowly down the Zambezi in search of Skimmers I couldn’t help but to reflect on the river itself. It’s at the centre of so much animal and human life in the region, a fabled realm that still holds a mythic place in my own consciousness. I can never quite believe that I am there, swept on by its green current, much as Livingstone might have been. It seems too strange…

It’s more than just a river. Cultures sit astride it and the river brings them all together, like a common thread drawn through the African continent.

It was fascinating to see the local people living with the river. Perhaps more interesting was to see how this area, on the very edge of the conflict between humankind and the world of animals, survives.”

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Below, our love affair with the African skimmer reveals itself through photographs… Discover more about life on the Zambezi at Royal Chundu.

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“African Skimmers are found in small flocks and are monogamous breeders. Their courtship is a sight to behold – boasting aerial chasing and calling as well as low-level synchronised flights close to the water. They nest as solitary pairs, but are usually found in small dipersed colonies. They will return to the same nesting site each year if it is undisturbed and remains free of vegetation.” – Pangolin Voyager

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“Despite the dangers of nesting on sand banks regularly trampled by hippo, predated by monitor lizards, and even disturbed by humans, skimmers and other birds such as lapwings and plovers return to successfully breed on the river each year.” – Encounter

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The African skimmer “is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the international conservation community and the population is thought to be declining. … Human disturbance is thought to be largely responsible for the gradual but steady decline in African Skimmer populations throughout its southern African range. Its breeding areas have been much reduced by human management of river systems, in particular dam-building, which causes flooding in upstream areas and smaller flows downstream.” – Encounter

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Jack of skimmers 1

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Sunset at Royal Chundu

Discover more about the silent art of birdwatching at Royal Chundu in our blog and contact us to find out more about going on your own birding safari during your stay with us.