The Art of Embracing Life – and the Sea

North Island, Seychelles

The Indian Ocean… it sinks beneath your skin and starts to alter the very ways you define yourself, the way you see life. I’ve never considered myself much of a sea person, opting for the mountains and forests instead, but perhaps the things we love most are simply the things we’ve given more of our attention to.

In the name of embracing life, in all its intricacies and dimensions, my mission has been to learn more about that which I don’t know, that which I sometimes even fear.  For instance, the ocean.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

There have been a few muses on my escapade. The first was an ocean unlike any I was used to. One much warmer and with several islands to hop to and from. The Indian Ocean. Starting with Madagascar…

At Anjajavy le Lodge on the north-west coast of the island, a new world of sea life I’d never before glimpsed showed itself to me. And, beside my guide, heading down, down, down with our flippers and snorkels, I felt safe, protected, excited by the unfamiliar rather than daunted.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

Hanli Prinsloo, an experienced freediver and ocean lover, talks about this new world and the feeling of merging with it in a piece entitled, “What freediving can teach you about your body’s potential.”

It is insight that has inspired my own journey, because, as she writes, “it’s when you’ve discovered your inner aquatic animal that you can experience the ocean as just another creature, not an interloper with a big, bubbling gas tank. The beauty of our oceans … becomes yours to explore.”

North Island, Seychelles

She continues: “On one breath I leave the surface and kick my way down to where the liquid turns black. The sun is only a memory. Water presses in on me from all sides squeezing me harder than I think I can survive. But it’s still only water. Kicking, I fall deeper and deeper. Down there, the ocean feels like my private ocean. I’m reminded: I am water.

North Island, Seychelles

“To freedive is to feel the deep ancestry of our species—and to know that our species is still adapted to life under water.” The sea is “the place where we came from, and where we can return at least temporarily.” Read more from her here.

20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

I returned to the ocean for further practice at mammalian diving on a trip to Mauritius, at 20 Degres Sud. For several hours, we snorkelled off the side of an old pirogue, in a sea so blue, soft pastel in its hue. We played in the warmth and freedom, the silence and solitude, for so long that I started to feel the shift.

No mermaid tail grew, but I understood, then, how surfers spend every waking hour in the waves, how a wet-suit or surfboard might replace running shoes or Nordic poles.

Blue Margouillat, Reunion Island

Flying over the island of Reunion in a helicopter, starting at Blue Margouillat, I saw the bigger picture: ocean surrounding land, connecting each island to the next; and around Reunion: the warm waters of the lagoon lapping the sand, ocean waves beating against cliffs. Down below, in the island’s clear blue, other divers would be gliding over coral that is described as twisted like ancient trees, with stalactites and large-leaved marine plants. Trunkfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish: friends whose names I was starting to remember.

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, Zanzibar

On the east coast of Zanzibar, at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, the same warm sea flowed in and out, in and out, on shore. But deeper in the turquoise, and with new sea legs, I found the peace again. Surrounded by sea like my own personal island, society and its restraints, rules and responsibilities were mere imaginings. Around me, others experienced the wilder side of ocean life, windsurfing, stand-up-paddleboarding, kayaking.

North Island, Seychelles

In the Seychelles, I sat on the sandy beach of a private island – North Island – and let the transformation take place. I pondered pre-human existence and the rich life I’d witnessed in the deep big blue. I watched a hatchback turtle lay her eggs in a nest on land and then return to the sea.

How much easier her travels appeared once the waves had taken her! On shore, she braked after each tiring step, lugging her heavy shell along with her. Her flippers could let go of the burden once in those crystal waters. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a weightless hatchling swimming beside her, to trace her journey into the great unknown – a land where no maps detail each road and highway, because there simply are none.

North Island, Seychelles

There is still much more to learn, but as I write this there is a snorkelling mask beside me – and a wetsuit that has finally made it out of the wardrobe. Which is a glide in the right direction – one out of fear, toward understanding. And maybe even love…

How to Create an Island Eden in the Seychelles

The conservationist is a certain, often less common, breed of adventurer. Not going merely into the dark to explore untrodden paths, to bring back tales of worlds apart, they use more than words and images to do their storytelling and, more importantly, to do their real work: the work of restoring those already trodden paths, of undoing the detriment caused by human hands.

In those seas and wildernesses that excite the explorer, the conservationist’s every heart beat pumps not only for themselves but for the land too, for the endangered turtles of the sea or nearly extinct white-eyes of the sky.

In the private North Island, 7 km north of Silhouette Island in the Seychelles, conservationists have been essential to the creation of an island Eden.

Over 20 years ago, most of the original forest on North Island was cut down, replaced with a coconut plantation, driving the indigenous flora and fauna away. And then the conservationists moved in – adventurers with a will to see the unique wild corners of Africa and the Indian Ocean restored.

Their restoration programme goes by the name of the Noah’s Ark Project. Its goal is to restore the entire island ecosystem that was degraded and overrun with invasive plant and animal species, to its original natural abundance and diversity. It has been one of the most ambitious island rehabilitation programmes ever undertaken by a private company and a handful of NGO partners.

Currently, alien plants and animals continue to be removed, and over 100 000 indigenous seedlings have been planted and indigenous fauna such as the Aldabra Giant Tortoise reintroduced. The introduction of the Endangered Seychelles White-eye has been so successful that individuals can be relocated to other islands to repopulate them.

Since 1997, this “Noah’s Ark” island sanctuary for endangered and endemic species has seen many conservation successes:

 

  • Rewilding – 56 hectares of forest has been rehabilitated (almost 30% of the Island – an island the size of Monaco!), restoring the unique biodiversity of the Seychelles to the Island. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous trees and palms have been planted over the last 20 years, including rare species such as the iconic Coco-de-mer.
  • Habitat rehabilitation has naturally brought about the recolonisation of White-tailed Tropicbirds and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and many more seabirds around the Island in recent years, including the Greater Fregatebird, Tropical Shearwater, Brown Noddys, Lesser Noddys, and White Terns. Interesting migrant and vagrant birds visit, such as the Amur Falcon, European Honey Buzzard, Corncrake, Gargany, Common Cuckoo and plenty of waders such as Crab Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and Greenshanks.

  • The rare Seychelles White-eye was brought back from the brink of extinction when they successfully reintroduced it to North Island in 2007, when its global population was just 350 birds and it was classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. From the founder population of 25 birds they now have over 100; part of the reason why the species has been downlisted to ‘just’ Vulnerable by the IUCN, and why it is now possible to use the population as a source from which to populate other islands in Seychelles.

  • Only a few tortoises remained in 1997, but now 80-100 Giant Aldabra Tortoises merrily roam the island free from harm. Two sweet new babies joined the growing family this January.

  • On average, the number of critically endangered Hawksbill turtles utilising the Island’s private beaches has doubled and the number of Green turtles has increased 6-fold. North Island is now believed to have the largest density of nesting Green turtles of any inner island in the Seychelles. Since 1998, over 200 turtles have been tagged with unique Titanium Turtle tags.

  • North Island remains dedicated to its scientific marine surveys, which have been taking place on the Island biannually since 2011, showing the diversity and abundance of fish, corals and invertebrates on the reefs over time, in the hope of helping the island gain Marine Protected Area Status. As one of the purest islands in the Seychelles, North Island continues to lead the way with new marine conservation initiatives this year, going plastic-free and joining the global ‘refuse the straw’ movement.

Learn more about the different initiatives that make up the Island’s Noah’s Ark rehabilitation project and meet some of the animals that call the Island home, from terrapins to charismatic Giant Aldabra Tortoises, with North Island’s special Travel with Purpose Noah’s Ark Project Itinerary on 24 – 28 September 2018.

Read more about the life of a turtle conservationist in Relais & Châteaux’s “10 unexpected jobs around the world.”

8 African Experiences to Transform You

Have you ever gone on a trip thinking from the outset: this will change my life?

I haven’t and yet, in retrospect, each and every trip has in some way transformed me, transformed my life.

What’s most surprising though, looking back at my travels through Africa, is how so often it isn’t simply the expected or the dramatic that starts the change in motion. It’s a myriad of many little spells and sparks.

It isn’t merely seeing Kilimanjaro standing tall in the distance that gives you renewed energy, clarity, understanding. It’s so much more than that. Like walking it perhaps… Experiencing the process.

Or horse-riding in the shadow of the great mountain, with a horse and a guide that you connect with. Or cycling across the wild plains of big cat country, starting out in fear and finishing in joy. 

Transformation is in the release of anxiety and the acceptance of the unknown.

It isn’t merely being in nature, it’s your openness to it, your presence. It’s the healers and elders helping you to find the words to comprehend it all. To show you the path to new truths.

It isn’t merely the elephant rubbing its trunk against your cheek, but the safe space created by the keepers and handlers and other guests in unique sanctuaries.

Africa can transform you in a conversation, a show of kindness and compassion on a drive from the airport to your lodge, with the dirt roads, bush scent and dance of impala across your view. A connecting of minds and hearts and senses.

Sometimes it takes longer, the course of a week-long stay, as your nerve and sinew remember how to relax, release, in the hands of a therapist or the warm sea’s light embrace. In the remembrance of the wisdom of the simple things.

The change can start slowly, at the beginning of a mountain trail, with the natter of the mind still holding your heart in its fist, and might only show itself clearly once the last valley has been crossed. When the fresh air has blown a new course through you. When the clouds lift and light shines in at just the right angle to create the epiphany that everything is, actually, as it should be.

Transformation can come in the form of a book, a concert, heartbreak as much as love, calamity as much as good fortune. It can come instantly or take months, years. And when it does, life is always better for it.

Consider this your invitation to the kind of travel that goes deeper, the kind of journeys that transform, the kind of adventures that Africa has in abundance.

Here are 8 African experiences to transform you.

1. Journeys in Rejuvenation

The newly-launched Londolozi Healing House takes you from the world of doing into the world of being, and combines safari excursions with artful resting, curated bodywork and yoga in the wilderness of Londolozi, in the Sabi Sand. Experience unique treatment combinations called ‘Journeys’ for true rejuvenation, restoration and transformation, guided by a team of wellness practitioners, bodywork therapists, wilderness guides, yoga instructors and a sound healer.

Read more in Londolozi’s blog and website.

2. Canoeing the Zambezi River

Feel the sweet blend of adrenaline, trepidation and wilderness on a ride down one of Africa’s most renowned rivers at Royal Chundu, in Zambia. It is a journey that takes you out of yourself only to bring you more into yourself. Get up close to the watery mystery, its animals and plant life, scents and sounds while paddling with a guide. It’s one of those rare moments in life that stand out, that stay with you and make you feel both, strangely, more peaceful and alive. Alive among elephants, otters, hippo, crocodiles and great African fish eagles, of course…

3. Connecting with Elephants

Spending time connecting with the elephant herd at Camp Jabulani you learn as much about yourself as you do elephants. Discovering the ways these great animals live, love and play is eye-opening – how every part of their existence is geared towards assisting each other, their compassion and depth, their capacity for fun and curiosity. If you open yourself to them and their lessons, their love, you are bound to go home a more enlightened and peaceful person.

4. Mindful Eating

The culinary experience at Greenhouse, at The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town, transforms the way we see food. It goes beyond mere taste and presentation. It is a journey that impels you to think about each mouthful, to be mindful while dining and to give your attention to the story behind the ingredients, the dish, the culture, land and people involved. Eating will never be the same for you after a meal here.

5. A Sense of Time with Rock Art

Learning about how others live, lived, is one of travel’s greatest gifts. It gives you greater clarity when looking at your own day to day, but also your place in time. It reminds you that the ways things are done are not fixed laws, but rather accepted fads. It reminds you of your freedom to live in your own way. Witnessing the tales and art work of the hunter gatherer Bushmen tribes on the rock walls of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg Mountains does just this. With a rock art curator to guide you in the process, you’ll discover the spiritual world of these indigenous people – the most ancient tribe in the world – and likely be moved by their philosophy of touching the earth lightly.

6. Animals Never Before Seen

There is something special about Anjajavy le Lodge in Madagascar. It is one of the most authentic and sincere places you will come across on your travels. A wild land of mangroves, beautiful coral reefs, bays and baobabs, fossil caves, white beaches, traditional tombs, and animals unique only to this Indian Ocean island – lemurs, fossa, giant chameleons. With no threat posed (none of the animals are poisonous), you’ll find yourself overcoming fears, you’ll see the adventurer in you step out, your courage ignited by the ocean air. It’s freeing and when one feels free, anything is possible. Witnessing such a feat of conservation at work in the protected Anjajavy reserve reminds you of the power of a few inspired individuals. Perhaps your inner conservationist will blossom here too.

7. The Mountains are Calling

Cape Town is a special place, with special powers, but much of its magic lies in it mountains. Even the sight of them has had people pop up houses all around their foothills and cliffs. The transformation happens, though, once you put foot to rocky earth. With every step winding up Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, and so many others, you’ll feel your heart pulsing,  sweat glowing and endorphins rolling. Somehow, at the end of a hike in these mountains, looking out over sea and city, answers arise, concerns dissolve, ideas are sparked and that new leaf feeling takes over. Time spent disconnected, away from phones and computers, will do this. Make a habit of returning to the mountains for clarity and energy and you’ll see the transformation start to take shape.

Explore the mountains from your base at Ellerman House, The Cellars-Hohenort or Delaire Graff Estate.

8. At One With A Horse in the Wild

Whether your horse is in the desert or has no name is irrelevant, the magic happens in your connection with this sensitive and powerful animal. One of the most potent and enchanting places to feel the transformative powers of horsekind is ol Donyo Lodge in the Chyulu Hills of Kenya. Traipsing across open plains with leopard, elephant, giraffe, wildebeest and other wild things all around, you have only your horse and yourself to trust. It takes two, as they say… It’s a lesson for professional and beginner riders alike, as this is no country farm. At the end of the ride, you’ll notice how in the moment you are, you might even feel confidence and pride return, you’ll definitely feel in awe of the natural world and the majestic, humane and respectful way the horses move between the other four-legged animals of this wilderness. A great lesson for us all.