At One with the Wild Things of Madagascar

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If it is true that fear is the opposite of love, Anjajavy is one place your heart can be sure to find itself again.

There are many things that scare me – the more tangible in nature, like baboons, the big cats and black mambas, but also matters of the heart, like love, truth and trust, and the possibility of losing them. Because of this, because I value courage, because I am in awe of the wonders that exist on the other side of fear, I challenge myself to cross over.

Travelling to wild and remote spaces in Africa, my courage is put to the test constantly. And each time I make the leap, I am rewarded. By an excitement that makes the skin on my arms blush – from a gaze shared with an animal much larger than me. By the honour of nature’s acceptance – when a snakes slithers into my space and lingers, gently, before moving on. By the greater understanding that comes with seeing nature for what she is – real and complex, with skies and seas both fierce and gentle.

As in love, the leap in the face of fear is always worth taking. It is in the leap that life resides.

That said, there is a beauty in a place like Madagascar, with its animals that are brighter, larger, louder and all round more peculiar than anywhere else in the world, and, yet, as my guide at Anjajavy le Lodge, Jonhson William Clovis, told me, not at all dangerous. Not to humans. The ground boa might be fond of lemurs but people hold no allure.

Rather than having to be brave, I could be free, I could return to that state of childlike wonder that comes with feeling safe and protected. I could get close, I could let my guard down.

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With Jonhson, who knows more about the island than I could hope to learn from a century of guidebooks; with Cédric de Foucault, Maitre de Maison at Anjajavy le Lodge and the heart of Anjajavy; with other travellers, young and old; and alone, I roamed the forests, day and night.

Here, on the north-west coast of the island, in one of the richest and most distinctive tropical dry forests in the world, we passed large hairy crabs, the hognose snake, ground boas hidden beneath fallen leaves or in plain sight across our path, spiders I’d never seen before, chameleons larger than a child’s foot, chameleons the size of a pinky finger, tiny mouse lemur and bats of all kinds, trees covered in horny caterpillars, lone sifaka and sifaka in groups (or conspiracies, as the collective is known).

And daily the lemurs came closer, and closer, until any fear I might have been holding onto dissolved and I could sit beside them, taking in the intricacies of their facial expressions, the widening of their eyes in excitement, a smile in a moment of peace, a leap and a dance from tree to tree in fright, flight or fight or merely to get on their way.

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Unlike some parts of Madagascar, Anjajavy le Lodge is dedicated to preserving and growing the reserve that it calls home. This is Cedric’s mission. And it is one that has spread to the whole team and to the villagers living in the reserve. It is one of few unspoilt wildernesses on the island, not destroyed by destructive farming practices. Malaria has been wiped out. And the trees have been allowed to grow into old age – like the ancient baobab trees that stand so tall and wide that it would take nine people to link arms around one.

Because of this, the community working together, the wild things living and loving without threat, a poignant harmony has been created, where you are welcomed into a greater circle of trust. A circle wherein the same gifts of the wild encountered in the leap of courage – the excitement, the acceptance and the understanding – are felt, but with a serenity and an intimacy that is unique to Anjajavy.


Discover more about our first impressions of this Indian Ocean island in our blog, What People Mean When They Say Madagascar is Beyond Words, and look out for more tales from our adventure to Anjajavy le Lodge in our blogs to follow.

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How to Collect Wild Elephants

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There is a joke that goes,

Five people — an Englishman, Russian, American, Frenchman and Irishman were each asked to write a book on elephants. Some amount of time later they had all completed their respective books. The Englishman’s book was entitled “The Elephant — How to Collect Them.” The Russian’s book titled “The Elephant — Vol. I.” The American’s book called “The Elephant — How to Make Money from Them.” The Frenchman’s book was “The Elephant — Its Mating Habits.” The Irishman’s named his book “The Elephant and Irish Political History.”

Despite not being French, but perhaps heavily influenced by the roots of Relais & Châteaux, I gravitate toward the Frenchman’s title on the proverbial book shelf. Being South African, there isn’t a title suggestion from our camp, but I could offer the cruder, “How to Braai an Elephant”, or, rather, “An Elephant’s Guide to the Vuvuzela”.

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Once wisened to the mating habits of these rather unsexy individuals, I’d go the Englishman’s route. Which brings me to today and this blog. I haven’t the space for collecting the physical animals, but I do entertain myself with a photography collection thereof. If you’ve been on safari in Africa, you probably understand this. You too probably have infinite images of elephants in various poses that you forgot you had – and then stumble upon one day after someone tells you a strange joke about them.

Here are a few from our safari at Zarafa Camp, overlooking the Zibadianja Lagoon in the Selinda Reserve, in northern Botswana. The Selinda Reserve lies in the Selinda Spillway, which weaves its way east, linking the far reaches of the Okavango Delta in the south with the Linyanti and Chobe water systems in the east. Discover more about this Great Plains Conservation lodge here.

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Read more about the elephants of the African wild in our blogs:

The Soul of the Elephant
The Sisterhood of the Animal Kingdom
You Never Forget an Elephant
The Call of the African Waterhole

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10 Questions with Bushmans Kloof’s Chef – Ryan Weakley

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Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat has a new chef – as of January this year. Perhaps the best way to attempt to describe Chef Ryan Weakley is through the words of Rudyard Kipling, in “The Jungle Book”.

“It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity. The motto of all the mongoose family is ‘Run and find out’, and Rikki-tikki was a true mongoose.”

“Run and find out,” seems to be the words Ryan lives by… having worked in several restaurants across Cape Town as well as in the wilderness of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, having trekked the great Himalayas of Nepal, summitted Mount Kilimanjaro, gone fishing for giants on the coast of Madagascar, and captured it all through the lens of his camera. He is not made for one title, one label; an incredible Chef, yes, but also a world traveller, a fine photographer, a man “eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity”. It is this passion and experience that he brings to the kitchens of Bushmans Kloof in the Cederberg Mountains.

Discover more about the man behind the chef’s apron in our Q&A below, peppered with a few of his photographs – from Africa to India – and images of his new home… Bushmans Kloof.

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10 Questions with Bushmans Kloof’s Chef, Ryan Weakley


1. Five important things to remember when living in the wilderness? 
  1. Living in the wilderness you will always be isolated to some degree. This is something that you need to know before taking on any position at a lodge. You have longer work cycles than most people, you may not have cellular phone reception, you can’t just pop into the corner café if you’re craving chocolate and logistically, getting supplies in is not as easy as it is in an urban environment.
  2. Make friends with everyone. You work with and see the same people every single day. These are the people that will be there for you when you have a bad day and that you have to support when they’re having a bad day.
  3. There are also times when you will be alone. If you feel lonely, you can’t just pick up the phone and call your family. You need to be comfortable with this. You live where you work, so you need to do something to take your mind off things.
  4. You need a mental vacation at times, so take up a hobby. Read, take up photography, build macaroni sculptures. It is so easy to fall into the routine of work, sleep, work. Go to the gym, go for a run, take a bike out – the serenity of the wilderness is one of the most relaxing ways to start your day.
  5. Watch what you eat. It is difficult to maintain a proper diet. Being at the lodge all day, it becomes easy to overindulge. Skip high tea every now and again or grab a couple of slices of fruit from the platter instead of those chocolate brownies or cheesecake. Choose the vegetarian or fish option once in a while. And stay out of the pastry section on the days they are baking shortbread!

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2. Three things being a chef has taught you about yourself, life and love?
  1. Patience, sometimes things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Often you will fail on the first attempt, but with patience and perseverance anything is possible. This applies to all aspects of life, be it your career, your family or your love life.
  2. Don’t rush anything.
  3. Put your heart into everything that you do, do it well and if it’s meant to be, everything will work out.

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Above: Canapes from Ryan Weakley at our Gastronomic Bar at this year’s We Are Africa event in Cape Town

 3. What is your culinary background and how did it lead you to Bushmans Kloof?

After leaving school and studying Web Design, Information Technology and Architecture, I realised that I was never going to be happy behind a desk. I woke up one morning and decided on a complete career change and moved to Stellenbosch to study at The Institute of Culinary Arts. I was always interested in pursuing a career in product development, but true to form, life had different plans for me. As part of my practical training, I was sent to Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl, Aubergine Restaurant in Gardens, Cape Town and Ginja, also in Cape Town. It was at Ginja where I realised that I wanted to be a restaurant chef. I loved the thrill of getting slammed on the pass, the energy of the kitchen, the adrenaline rush that a busy service leaves you with and the camaraderie and friendships that are developed in a restaurant. In 2006, after my training, I was offered a chef de partie position at Ginja, and I worked my way up to sous chef and finally head chef.

In 2007 I moved to The Vineyard Hotel with Mike Bassett, where we opened Myoga Restaurant. Two years later, my yearning for adventure got the better of me and I moved up country to the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park where I joined Sabi Sabi at their flagship property, Earth Lodge. After two years in the bush, I did a brief stint in Johannesburg at the Winston Boutique Hotel.

In 2013 I joined Wilderness Safaris in Botswana and took over the kitchen at Mombo Camp, in the Okavango Delta. It was here that I met the Tollman family, and when a position opened up at Bushmans Kloof, the allure of working for both a Red Carnation and Relais & Châteaux property was too great for me to ignore and I joined Bushmans Kloof in January of this year.


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4. What kind of cuisine do you try to create at Bushmans Kloof?

I love the way that Eastern cuisine utilises fresh flavours and ingredients to complement more complex dishes. Think basil, coriander, lime and lemongrass in Thai or Vietnamese cooking. Fresh sambals and raitas in Indian cooking or ginger, garlic and chilli in Chinese cooking. I am extremely lucky to have organic herb and vegetable gardens as well as poly tunnels on the property which gives me the opportunity to start my morning wandering through the gardens and deciding what to use for the daily specials. Obviously being a conservation orientated lodge, our focus is on sustainability, so I try to make use of the resources on hand. Cooking with ingredients that have been picked only an hour or two before, something that was still growing that morning, is an absolute delight. The freshness and flavours of homegrown produce is beyond compare and it is this that I want to highlight on our menus going forward.


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Above: Dining in the outdoors at Bushmans Kloof

 5. The best dish to serve to put a smile on your guests’ face?

Chocolate – I don’t think that you can ever go wrong with chocolate. Decadent, indulgent and comforting with natural aphrodisiac properties. A bitter chocolate fondant, oozing out its’ rich gooey centre when you cut into it, is guaranteed to end any meal with a smile!

6. The ingredient you couldn’t do without?

Fresh ginger – it’s such a versatile ingredient that can be used in any dish. Think passion fruit and ginger mojitos, golden carrot and ginger soup with fresh coriander, butter chicken curry with warm flavours of ginger and cardamom coming through, dark chocolate and orange tart with maple syrup and ginger ice cream, preserved ginger and chocolate truffles. Everything from pre-dinner cocktails through to desserts, and even into chai teas with petit fours!


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7. The best thing about working and living in the bush?

Being so close to nature. Being able to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and all the challenges that come with that. It gives you the opportunity to get back to the basics of cooking. You don’t have to compete with anyone, which allows you to be able to cook your own food, follow your own passion and showcase your own style of cooking without worrying what the chef next door is doing. It takes away the distraction that often comes with competition.

8. Most memorable adventure so far?

I have been very lucky to have gone on a couple of adventures in the past few years. I don’t think that I can single out any specific adventure, as each and every one has been memorable in its own way. The most memorable thing about all the adventures that I have been on, has been that I have been able to do them with friends and family. Fishing in Tanzania and Madagascar with my father and brother, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with my brother-in-law. Trekking the Himalayas with my brother-in-law a year later. Gorge swinging and running the Vic Falls half marathon with great friends. Spending two weeks camping at bomas in the Okavango Delta, helping with the reintroduction of black rhino into Botswana. I truly think that any experience is made more special by the people that you surround yourself with.


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9. What makes travel special to you?

Being able to experience different cultures. Being a chef, it’s about seeing how different cultures live. How it influences what and how they eat. Being able to go to local markets, be it the meat market in Tanzania, the fish market Madagascar, the spice markets in Nepal or even visiting Burough Market in London, is always so very special to me. The sensory stimulation that these markets force onto one is always an inspiration and something that will stay with me.


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Above: Private dining at Bushmans Kloof

 10. I wouldn’t be the chef I am today without…

The opportunities that have been given to me along the way. I was very lucky to have been assigned to three great restaurants when I was doing my experiential training in the beginning of my career, namely Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl, Ginja and Aubergine, both in Cape Town and all Top 10 restaurants at the time. All three of these restaurants stimulated my creativity and passion and in 2006, Mike Bassett, the chef owner of Ginja offered me a position. Without the training and tutorage of Mike, I would never have become the chef I am today. It was his guidance and confidence in me that gave me the opportunities that I have been so lucky to have been afforded.


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Discover more about Bushmans Kloof in our blogs: