A Safari Morning

In the early morning, mine is the only voice I hear.

You might think this odd. You’ll think, ok, this girl talks to herself. But it also has to do with reflexes. Tap my elbow and see my arm shoot out. Stand on my toe and hear me shout. Show me a sunrise from a treehouse in the wild, the sound of elephants and that coo coo of a distant dove and listen for my woahs and wows. My unbelievables and you’re kidding me’s.

There’s the voice inside my head too, when the peace and quiet feels too good to disturb. This is how a morning in my villa at Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa begins. This is a morning in Africa, the wilderness.

Without anyone around, my hands dance from white duvet to coffee cup, slipper to nightgown, as I slip out through the sliding doors, closing them to keep the monkeys out (I’d much rather they played in the trees). I take my place in the moving gold light as it spreads over the entire deck, reminding me of the passing of time and seasons, even though I feel worlds away from these concepts.

There is more coffee and then the move from slippers to shoes, gown to jersey, inside voice to outside voice. I follow the trail through the trees to our game vehicle, our ranger and tracker, other guests, cameras and binoculars adorning our necks like ancient Egyptian wesekhs.

The scent of promise is in the air. The engine turns on and beanies are slipped over ears, scarves around noses, smiles across faces.

I do that talking to myself thing again (the outside peace still holding) and bet myself I’ll see an elephant first. Lots of them. Babies, curling through the legs of their mothers. A great troupe with trunks in the air.

I heard them first, at the villa, and I hear them again now, like clockwork, as they say. You owe me tea, I tell myself. The whole herd swims across our view as though floating in a deep river.

In that moment, I remember being on top of one of these greats, at an elephant sanctuary in South Africa, one of the humane few. I remember that inimitable slow sidling of their amble, like a wild lullaby. I remember the feeling of the elephant tickling my ear after our ride, back on terra firma, its hairy trunk, how its physical touch connected me to it, it to me, for life, in my mind at least.

But in the wild at Londolozi, even without touching, this morning family mesmerises us all.

We climb out of the vehicle and stand around the front while the ranger hands us more coffee, steaming like our hot breaths in the cold air, champagne, biscuits, Amarula… Sharing the same ground now as the wild things, feeling the earth beneath us, part of us, I wave to the last elephant. Safari njema, inside voice announces.

And this I promise you, as though hearing me and my heart’s fastening beat, the elephant waves back and then trumpets the final note in our morning song.

Tell us…

What’s your favourite thing about mornings on safari?


The Mothers of Londolozi

Londolozi

In Africa, everyone is a mother at some time.

As Boyd Varty, who grew up in the wilds of Londolozi in the Sabi Sand, writes in his book, Cathedral of the Wild, “In Africa there is nothing unusual in putting a small girl in charge of a very small boy. I still love to sit in rural villages now and watch the hierarchy of care play out in direct proportion to height. Survival here is about everyone contributing, no matter their age.”

Motherhood is about more than simple biology. It means different things to different people.

Leading up to Mother’s Day this Sunday, 10 May, we are celebrating a “Mothers of Africa” week. We’re on a search to discover just what motherhood means to the mothers of our family at Relais & Châteaux Africa. Starting with the mothers of Londolozi… for whom, perhaps, the answer lies in the very name, Londolozi – the Zulu word for, ‘Protector of all living things’.

Londolozi

Londolozi has been the home of the Vartys – the subjects of today’s profile – for 86 years. It has welcomed guests from all over the world to join in the community they have forged with the land. A community that unites the local Shangaan people employed at the lodge with staff from all over South Africa, staff who have made their home here.

Mother – and soon to be grandmother, Shan Varty, raised her children, daughter, Bronwyn – soon to be a mum of her own, and son, Boyd, in the reserve. Here they continue to work together, hand in hand with the land, today. Land where wild leopards and rogue elephant herds roam freely… land where, in the early eighties, new mom, Shan lived off the grid with husband, Dave, with no running water or electricity and two tots to raise.

But Shan’s strength outweighed the challenge. “Mom attacked motherhood in the bush the same way she attacked everything else: with an enormous sense of practicality and flair for improvisation,” writes Boyd.

Discover more about motherhood in the wild – in Mother Africa – through Shan and Bronwyn’s eyes in our Q&A below…

Shan and Bronwyn Varty

What does being a mother mean to you?

Shan: Motherhood means completion and the ultimate lesson in abundance, love and protection. I have the great privilege of getting this reflected and magnified everyday in the bush through nature.

As a mother, what have you tried to instill in your children about life, love and the wilderness?

Shan: Drawing my inspiration from nature and my years living in the bush I have always tried to instill in my children a deep sense of respect. It is important to have respect for yourself, for those around you and for nature, to be kind to others and to take the time to really explore your true nature. Don’t be afraid to walk your own individual path.

Shan and her two children Boyd and Bronwyn Varty

What does becoming a mother mean to you? 

Bronwyn: Becoming a mother is a very exciting and daunting experience as I step into the unknown. I am a believer that children choose their parents and that each soul has their own journey. All I can say at this point is that love will be the cornerstone that I build this new relationship on.

What do you hope to instill in your child about life, love and the wilderness? 

Bronwyn: My hope would be that my child has a deep sense of self and that he adventures on many levels, always knowing that family, health and nature are his safe harbour.

Bronwyn and her brother Boyd

“In Africa there is nothing unusual in putting a small girl in charge of a very small boy.”
– Boyd Varty
Above: Bronwyn & Boyd in their younger years.

What has working together and growing up in such a unique setting as Londolozi together been like? 

Shan: Working in a family business is always a juggling act – you wear so many hats and you need to establish which hat you are wearing and when – mother, daughter, finance director, menu selector, operational supporter, interior designer, travel co-coordinator…  It is important to have role clarity and strong communication and then divide a very strong line between personal life and business life. Sometimes you have to say to each other, I am now speaking to you as your mom or I am now speaking to you as your business partner – there needs to be clarity in everything that you do.

Bronwyn: We have been blessed to have been given the gift of this lifetime to share so much time together. The fact that each day is spent in nature is a double bonus. We celebrate the fact that we are as close as two people can be living our lives together independently.

Tsalala Cubs and Vehicle

Above: The other mothers of Londolozi and their Tsalala Cubs

Tell us: What does motherhood mean to you?
Next up in our Mothers of Africa week, we will be speaking to more members of our tribe at Relais & Châteaux Africa.

The First Footsteps of a Newborn Elephant

This Friday we bring you a little inspiration from the bush – from Londolozi Private Game Reserve‘s Amy Attenborough, as one newborn bushling attempts the delicate art of walking for the first time. This is…

Attenborough’s Africa

Londolozi

Young royalty is protected behind pillars and trunks. Its world is guarded and small, but its future is huge”- Heinrich van den Berg

For me there are no better words than Heinrich van den Berg’s to describe the scene we witnessed recently of a newborn elephant attempting to take its first steps amidst the melee of its herd. We watched the elephants perform the dance of birth where they pirouetted in tight circles around themselves and waltzed around each other to the music of their rumbling.

As is typical of elephants, there was great ceremony to the occasion and the herd were there to support the mother after her 22 month long pregnancy. As they jostled around the baby I kept stressing that it was about to be trampled, but their movements were gentle and controlled, and the baby bounced amongst them on new-found feet. They helped the mother to bury the afterbirth and spent a large amount of time dust bathing themselves and the baby, possibly to rid it of scent and thus prevent predators from smelling this vulnerable new creature. They also touched their trunks to it tenderly, taking turns to greet the new member of the family, all the while rumbling in the deeply comforting way that speaks to elephants and humans alike.

The video below shows how the elephants help to lift the baby to its feet, whilst barricading it from the dangers of the outside world. It is amazing to think that this tiny, defenceless creature will one day be one of Africa’s giants- roaming this beautiful wilderness. It was an incredibly touching scene to witness and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Due to the relaxed nature of the elephants we see here on Londolozi, this is not the first time something like this has been seen. A few years ago, one of our rangers managed to get video footage of a female elephant actually giving birth, whilst others have even been privileged enough to watch a birth from the comfort of their room in camp.

We have also seen strange herd make ups that suggests the female could have given birth to twins. This is incredibly rare and only been recorded a few times in the wild. Have you ever seen an elephant birth or known of an elephant that gave birth to twins? We’d love to hear about your thoughts or experiences.

Londolozi


Discover more great reads on Londolozi’s Blog or experience these incredible creatures, big and small, on your own elephant safari, whether at Londolozi or our other recommended destinations for elephant encounters in South Africa – Camp Jabulani and Gorah Elephant Camp.