Safaris & the Art of Being Yourself

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e e cummings


This is not a topic that concerns animals, but it is one that they so naturally teach – the art of being yourself.

It is a topic that separates us little bipeds from the wild world of our animal brothers and sisters. Sure, who knows really what a woodpecker mum gets up to when hidden inside her nest. But I doubt she is worrying about whether she is being a good enough mother, or if her feathers still have their youthful lustre. She is beyond even the stage of acceptance – she simply does not think about it. Sure, she doesn’t quite have the brain structure for such neuroticism. And we do, which gives us the task of overcoming self-doubt and learning to accept and embrace, all through life.

On the subject of neuroticism, let’s take my morning face, for instance. There is nothing like a 5 am game drive, I discovered on our safari at Mara Plains Camp in Kenya, while trying to pose naturally for a camera, to make you doubt yourself.

You might have had the coffee and the hot water and lemon and the muffin, but your face does not lie when it still desires an hour extra under the sheets. When the cold air blows and mascara rolls silently down the side of your face, you are presented with that great challenge – man versus nature, self versus other.

Bundled in khaki scarves and windbreakers with extra buoyant morning hair, do you ignore the reflection in the mirror and focus on the great male lion shaking his silky mane in the golden light of dawn?

Yes, you do, and you think nothing of it.

There is no time for ego on a safari. Only awe. Getting back to nature in any way strips you of the me-me-me thoughts, because suddenly you find yourself in a phantasmagoria of scents and sounds and sights. Attention shifts – the elephants call on you to be present for them. One look down and you could miss the grand show of flapping ears or a little one’s first steps.

Embraced in the right way, a safari is a truth-seeking journey. A simplifying and a refocusing of life. It is learning to concentrate less on yourself and more on the exciting world around you, which, in turn, helps you to be more yourself.

It’s that look after a long day out in the savannah and bush, a day spent riding horses in big cat country and bumping along in 4X4s over river beds and along dusty dirt paths. It’s the freckles popping on your sun-kissed nose and the mud on your boots. It’s the tired red eyes from hours of looking through a camera, darting from one eagle to another. It’s the peace that comes with it all – having let go, having jumped in, wholeheartedly – and it’s the smile that shows not a care in the world.

That look is the look of someone on safari, of someone who has stepped into themselves.

Thank you for the lesson, Mara Plains Camp.

Take a look at a few images from our safari to this beautiful part of Kenya – on the northern border of the Maasai Mara – below.

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.

 

 

Rooibos – The Wonder Plant

“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things.” – Chaim Potok

There is a right time for tea and a wrong time, I have been told. When having drinks at a bar or while dining out, the taking of tea is not socially acceptable. I know this, because people have made comments, as I sip my Rooibos and they their Pinotage. The right time for tea appears to be at breakfast or afternoon tea, or should someone “pop in for tea”.

I’m all for “socially acceptable” when it comes to napkins and toothpicks and cellphones, but not tea. Rooibos is too delectable to restrict. It tastes very good between G&Ts, in fact. And in the bathtub, in a meeting, on a plane, with chicken or beef. Its the perfect nightcap, calming and warming the drinker before bed.

I grew up with Rooibos like some do siblings. “Here,” my parents said to me as a young only child, “drink this, you’ll feel better.” And I did. Always. And I still do. Always. Because Rooibos is a wonder plant. It has untold benefits for body and mind.

The next time someone scoffs at your fancy for tea, simply quote Thomas de Quincey to them… “Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities, will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual.”

Or tell them to read this blog. Because, below is a look at this uniquely South African plant, as explained by Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat,  one of the best places in the world to find and enjoy Rooibos in its many forms.

Rooibos is as much a part of the Bushmans Kloof experience as the warm, caring service and hospitality. They serve jugs of iced Rooibos tea on arrival as a signature welcome drink, while steaming pots of Rooibos tea are popular at High Tea.

“Where there’s tea, there’s hope.” – Arthur Wing Pinero

History

The indigenous Rooibos plant (Aspalathus linearis), has received praise from across the world for its delicious taste and proven health benefits. This wonder plant grows naturally only in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape and can be found growing wild across the expanse of the reserve.

It was first discovered by botanists in 1772, and was named ‘red bush’ by the Dutch settlers. The ancient Khoisan civilization that lived in and around the Cederberg used it as a herbal remedy for many different ailments, and it’s believed that they were the first to discover that the needle-like Rooibos leaves could be used to make a refreshing brew. The Rooibos pioneers used axes to harvest the plant in the wild, after which they then bruised the leaves with hammers, before leaving it to ferment in heaps and then dry in the sun.

Today the plant is harvested and processed in very much the same way, although more sophisticated equipment is used of course.

Its modern history started in 1968, when a South African mother, Mrs Annetjie Theron first put the spotlight on Rooibos, claiming that it soothed away her baby’s colic. She published a book on her findings and went on to launch a full range of health and skin care products with Rooibos as the basic ingredient. Rooibos then made headlines in Japan in 1984 as an anti-ageing product, and has since been used in many anti-ageing body and skin care product ranges.

At The Spa at Bushmans Kloof, extracts of the Rooibos plant can be found in many of their therapeutic face and body treatments, and it’s integral to the signature B| Africa product range, which combines indigenous African plant extracts with the natural resources of the sea.

The Benefits and Uses

Nowadays, enjoying Rooibos as a tea is perhaps its most recognized form – a delicious, healthy and caffeine-free drink that is packed with anti-oxidants. It has a unique, sweet and slightly nutty taste, which has a soothing effect on the digestive and central nervous systems.

Executive Chef, Charles Hayward is big fan and is fond of using Rooibos tea as an ingredient in some of his Cape Country dishes. Previously, Bushmans Kloof has contributed to Rooibos Limited’s cookbook, ‘A Touch of Rooibos’, voted the best single subject cookbook in South Africa, and the third best cookbook in the world at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

One of only a few indigenous South African plants to have become an important commercial commodity, Rooibos tea is still produced mainly in its natural distribution area – the districts of Nieuwoudtville, Clanwilliam, Citrusdal and Piketberg, and then exported all over the world.

RECIPES FROM BUSHMANS KLOOF

“I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea.” – Lu T’ung

Discover more in Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat‘s  blog.