Londolozi is the name of a private game reserve in the Sabi Sands region of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which encompasses over 6 million acres, including the Kruger National Park. It is one of the original eco-tourism parks; founded in 1926 from the original Sparta Hunting Camp. Whatever it was known as in the past its current moniker might as well be called Eden. If Ezard House was God’s House, this is God’s little six million acre backyard. The emphasis here is on re-establishing a relationship with nature. This is accomplished through incredible game drives (which we’ll discuss shortly), sumptuous feasts with splendid drink and all manner of holistic hedonism.
That Londolozi, through its awesome staff, manages to accomplish this in the middle of the isolated African bush is amazing enough. That it is done with such a subtle easy grace begs description. This is not like one of Bourdain’s deep bush expeditions; while you can see the warthog running free there is no forced consumption of warthog rectum. This is a totally suck-free safari.
The best way to convey how splendid is this little paradise is to walk you through arrival a typical day. You fly to Londolozi on a small plane; a very small plane, one that does not even qualify to be at the major airport, so you leave from a little strip. The pilot is your flight attendant and there is no secure flight deck so you can watch the pilot and look right out his window. For those of us not pilots, I now understand why they enforce closing and bolting the doors. As the thunderstorms swarmed around us like angry bees, you could see the blotches of red show up on the radar, hear alarms go off and all manner of lights go off like fireflies in the summertime. My only solace was that I could actually see the black box. I knew I would be Ok because no matter what happens to an aircraft somehow that thing is always found intact.
A turbulence filled hour later you land on a strip of tarmac in the middle of a verdant sea, nothing to the left and nothing to the right. Before touchdown all you can see is a vein-like network of dirt roads. You deplane hoping at least the colonial remnants of a still remain because although it may not be here, it is, as Jimmy Buffet would say, “five o’clock somewhere.”
You are greeted by impeccably dressed, quite chipper rangers who already know your name and help you and your luggage into a Land Rover. The air is remarkable as you leave the airstrip. The air on Tabletop Mountain was clean and crisp. This air is different. It is wonderfully clean as well, but unlike the rarefied air on the mountaintop this air is heavy with certain richness. It is vibrant with sounds and scents, a heavily laden satisfying clean with no extraneous man-made distractions. It is fresh and primeval all at once. You are driven to your “camp” which is straight out of Fantasy Island. Here we were greeted with refreshing cold champagne and equally brilliant smiles.
The camp is a luxurious, wide open A frame with bar, an open dining deck and a fireplace. The African sun is hot, but fills you with a deep gratifying warmth. I, like the fireplace, am contentedly ablaze. We were greeted by Jackie, a native South Afrikaner, whose smile was as warm as the weather. A delightfully beautiful girl with warm brown eyes, thin and tan with an easy elegance, she immediately sets the tone that this adventure will be enjoyable and uncomplicated. We met her beau Brett, a tall dark haired handsome ranger with a quick wit and a quicker smile. He and Jackie make a delightful and entertaining couple. We then met our driver/ranger/guide/tracker and overall on-safari-protector, Alfie. Alfie is an experienced ranger. He is a dark, short muscular man with a beaming smile and dry repertoire. After only 5 minutes in the bush, it is clear he has forgotten more about this African veld than I could possibly ever learn.
These drives were amazing. We got 6 of us, plus Alfie and our tracker Lucky, into a modified Land Rover. And it’s off we go like Marlin Perkins in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. There’s a bird call in the air. Alfie identifies the perpetrator and then points out where it is, stopping the jeep to view as needed. He then tells us the interesting tidbits of information you never learn on Animal Planet. We saw so much that I must reserve that for future posts, lest I prattle on endlessly, but to give a teaser we saw Lions, male, female and cubs. We saw them dine on a Wildebeest. This is the real Circle of Life and the Rangers do not interfere in any way. Nature, as I have mentioned before, is about balance. The weak and the no longer necessary are eliminated.
It is true whether that is wildebeest or lion; we saw a male lion with puncture wounds in its side following a hunt. Alfie told of a male lion taken by a 3.5 meter crocodile. Life as a predator is no free lunch either. We saw elephant families, leopard cubs, impala, kudu, crocodiles, eagles, vultures, songbirds, waterbuck, Cape buffalo, warthogs and other varieties of antelope. The scenery was spectacular. It is less a sight and more an experience. In the deepest, very personal way, it brings you home. With no TV, radio, phone and (nearly no) internet, you are on the animals diurnal rhythm. It is early morning activity with the sunrise; up at 5 am to safari for about 4 hours. Return for breakfast, nap (while the animals do the same) a lunch then nap, swim or otherwise rest. At 4pm it’s off for another safari for another 4 hours. At sunset we find a safe place to disembark the rover.
As the sun sets and the sky lights impossible hues of reds, yellows, orange blues and purples, we have a cocktail. There was never an hour happier than this one. We drive with a spotlight returning to the camp to catch glimpses of the more nocturnal residents like genets and porcupines. We see hippo leaving the water to graze.
As the dusk settles into the horizon after what seems an impracticably long time, the stars emerge. Here you come to terms with your place in the cosmos. Never on Earth have I seen such a sky. You can see the planets. You see not only the constellations but all the stars and nebulae filling them out. You can see little bright specks of light whiz across the sky. They are not planes here, but satellites. It is only this way that they remind us of the present time, they serve no function here. The Milky Way and galactic center cross the heavens and other galaxies appear like faint misty clouds. The lions roar. You hear the impala herd gallop. Here you feel your mortality in the Universe.
We return to camp, thoroughly exhausted from the adrenaline burn, but with one more surprise. We are escorted into a bamboo cordoned area. A feast of imperial proportions abounds. Chef and her staff had transformed this place into a banquet hall. There were salads of fresh local greens, potatoes and rice with homemade curries, fresh vegetables, game meats roasted on the braai, ostrich sausage with five spice. The food and wine flowed until we were drunk with both. Then it became surreal.
Many of the workers had changed into local costume. They were accompanied by local villagers. The women were dressed in bright decorative unique wrappings forming a skirt, all with res blouses and black turbans covering their hair. Men were in costumes resembling nothing so much as the Shaman as baboon. The y introduced themselves as the Londolozi choir; and indeed they were heavenly. As their unclad feet struck the sand the rattles on their ankles shook. They started chanting, speaking words I did not know, but I did not need to. Accompanied only with a simple drum and a whistle, their voices radiated through the moonless night and back through time itself. Here was the origin of song, of dance, of religion. All here in this land that is the origin of Man. With gentle urging, every guest was up and dancing, bodies were twirling and feet stomping around the burning fire pit. Through the sweat you could see the smiles and hear the song and laughter. It may have been a simple magic, but it was powerful nonetheless. And magic it surely was.
Like many a person, I have asked what makes a soul, where does it come from and where does it go? I don’t know the answer. I shall leave that to theologians, philosophers and wiser men than I. What I do know is what touches a soul. And this touched mine; people from four different continents dancing around an ancestral campfire, feet biting into the soft sand. The fine light brown sand is from a place as old as the origin of Man itself. That for one brief starlight moment there was Camelot in the Heart of the Dark Continent. It was not people trying this or doing that; just humans being. That My Friends, is a Feast for the Soul.