The word Londolozi means Protector of all living things. Most visitors to Londolozi could possibly fabricate hundreds of different descriptions or meanings to this word after their unique adventure at this world famous reserve. The trackers and guides, in their own and unique way, try to encapsulate the Londolozi experience with two perceptions I believe are synonymous with the word Londolozi; Tracking and Story Telling.
From the early pioneering years, Winnis Mathebula and Boyd Varty tracked lions and sat around the campfire along the banks of the Sand River (Varty Camp Boma these days) and told stories of their shared experiences under the scorching African sun. Their proficiency, honed through years of storytelling and tracking has led to Londolozi custodians such as Boyd Varty, Elmon Mhlongo and Richard Siwela almost perfecting these arts.
Winnis Mathebula taught three generations of Vartys and trackers how to track some of the most dangerous yet beautiful animals in the world. It is funny how dangerous and beautiful can be found in the same sentence, but at Londolozi, this phenomenon comes to the forefront more often than not when talking about the leopards and lions that call this place home. Tracking is an ancient skill passed along from one generation to another. It is a skill that requires immense amounts of patience, drive and the will to see a task through to the end.
As one leaves camp to go on your morning safari, the guide and the tracker decide upon a plan mustered up through years of experience. The refreshing cold air and the memory of a lion roaring during the witching hours have kept one’s exuberance inflated. The vehicle follows the natural curvature of the roads when suddenly the tracker lifts up his hand and the vehicle comes to a halt. The anticipation builds as the tracker and the guide stare into the tantalising unknown. The tracker glances at everyone and announces the word, “Lion”. An excitement engulfs the vehicle and so the story begins.
The tracker follows an almost unfathomable labyrinth with such intimacy that the average human eye cannot fathom the concept. With every step he takes words are written in a storyline depicted in dirt and grass, by an author, not utilising pen and paper, but paw print and course. To be part of this script is one of the most satisfying feelings one can encounter on safari. The prints are very fresh and the story’s denouement is imminent. The tracker stops dead and points to an outline which resembles an image one has seen before, but never like this. The silhouette and the shadow of a lion paint the landscape dark. The proud stride of the lion brings it ever closer. As it walks past, your pounding heart can only be abated by the magisterial roar it lets out to announce its territory.
Moments of gratification such as this are usually the foundation of a story that will transpire in very similar circumstances to the first stories told at Londolozi in 1926. To this day people from all corners of the earth converge to fill the certain niche or void in their life which can only be filled by people or experiences so different, yet so similar. Nature has a constitutional ability to draw subtle complexities of cultures and languages together and without the need to communicate – everyone understands one another and what the reality of the whole experience encompasses.
This is what I believe is etched in the foundation of what makes Londolozi one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Sitting around a campfire, surrounded by friends and family and interchanging stories and experiences of days past. In a setting which no words can justify, surrounded by the fresh smell of the South African bush, the arousal of a campfire and the rippling of the Sand River over the polished pebbles, stories and dreams can come true.
Nature in its raw intricacy has a certain charm of creating the opportune moment for the recipe of storytelling to be mastered. Take some time and reminisce, think about experiences in your past and ask yourself. Could I tell someone a story about a tracker walking along a game path and tracking some of the majestic wild animals in the world? If not, come and sit around a campfire, listen, learn and appreciate the artistry of these age-old virtuosities.