The Silent World of Anjajavy

On a morning adventure into the big blue waters around Anjajavy le Lodge, in the north of Madagascar, I discovered a few new things about life, love and myself.

On that early Indian Ocean morning, lodge guide, Jonhson would pop his head out of the surface every now and again and shout out the name of a certain colourful thingamajig flittering past us. I realised, after a while, that it really isn’t only we humans who like to give our kids peculiar names. It’s a pastime that is even more popular with fish.

The epiphany began with the convict surgeonfish and continued with the twinspot snapper and rubberlips, who, with eye-and-nose goggles pulling at my mouth, appeared to me as somewhat of a kindred spirit.

Plectorhinchus playfairi – whitebarred rubberlips

As I started to fret that Jonhson had sunk to the bottom of the ocean bed, it also struck me that I had been snorkelling incorrectly my entire life. I’ve always sort of bobbed about on the top, trying to stay out of the way of wavy kelp and sharks, but Jonhston would take one great breath and then kick his way down, down, down, sailing smoothly into the coral caverns and crannies, seeking out every kind of fish he could find. This was the adventurer’s style of snorkelling, I realised, and I quickly followed suit.

Further down, with my ears well immersed, I experienced the true silence of the ocean for the first time. The kind of stillness that had been limited to the bath tub before. Now I shared my bath and bubbles with other lifeforms. I discovered the kind of comfortable silence that usually comes from long-held friendships.

While I’m sure the boxfish, halfmoon butterfly and emperor angelfish were enjoying a vibrant tête-à-tête among themselves, Rubberlips and I, at least I, in Rubberlips’ presence, was wrapped in quiet awe – in what Jacques Cousteau spoke of when he said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

“I swam across the rocks and compared myself favourably with the sars,” the French explorer and conservationist wrote. “To swim fishlike, horizontally, was the logical method in a medium eight hundred times denser than air. To halt and hang attached to nothing, no lines or air pipe to the surface, was a dream. At night I had often had visions of flying by extending my arms as wings. Now I flew without wings. (Since that first aqualung flight, I have never had a dream of flying.)”

It seemed like the same held for Jonhson.

Back on the boat and goggle-free, he told me that he had never snorkelled before arriving at Anjajavy le Lodge – several years ago. But while working in this unique part of the island, the waters of the protected peninsula and their rich sea life called him day after day, until he had mastered the art. The art of adventurer snorkelling.

He was hooked. In that catch-and-release kind of way, returning to land again, but with more wonder for the silent world than he could ever have imagined.

It’s evident in his growing collection of underwater photography and, like Madagascar’s own Cousteau, he uses each excursion into the sea to seek out and capture the complexity below. Because you can only conserve what you know about, he says. And because, really, he’s fallen in love with that feeling of flying without wings.


Take a look at some images from Jonhson’s Anjajavy collection:

Chaetodon auriga – Threadfin Butterflyfish
Chaetodon auriga – Threadfin Butterflyfish
Acanthurus triostegus – Convict surgeonfish
Acanthurus triostegus – Convict surgeonfish
Zanclus cornutus (Moorish Idol)
Pomacanthus imperator (emperor angelfish)
Ophiocoma erinaceus – boxfish
Lutjanus bohar (two-spot red snapper or twinspot snapper)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leiaster coriaceus – red spot sea starfish
Heniochus acuminatus – longfin bannerfish
Chaetodon trifasciatus – melon butterflyfish
Chaetodon trifasciatus – melon butterflyfish
Chaetodon lunula – Halfmoon butterfly

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.