In 2009 at the age of 73, to the delight and surprise of her fans, Tina Turner announced that she would embark on one last tour. The excitement I felt was almost immediately deflated by a second press release – South Africa was not a destination on her ‘world’ tour (the inverted commas give a sense of how disappointed I was). I’m not sure whether it was around this time that I first learned that my parents once heard Tina Turner live or whether the gravity of their experience sunk into me during this time because it had become clear that I never would. All I know is that I felt an unhealthy envy.
The connection between Tina Turner and Londolozi may not, as yet, be apparent but the association will become clear in due course. Suspense established, let me now turn to Londolozi… Trying to convince anyone that what draws me to Londolozi is its soul is the equivalent of getting them to believe that you adore your really, really, good looking boyfriend for his personality. People may throw you a halfhearted nod but what they’re thinking is, “sure you do.” Yes, the rooms at Londolozi are elegant enough to make you question the wisdom of ever leaving the camp. Yes, the gowns are so soft that they practically hug you. Again, yes, it’s possible to bob in your plunge pool and watch elephants at the same time. All this makes it difficult to persuade anyone that Londolozi’s most distinguishing characteristic is not – as beautiful as they are – its aesthetics. The real pull resides in its charm: the power or quality of delighting, attracting, or fascinating others.
I’m no fence sitter. Ask me my favourite anything and I usually have a specific answer. Fruit: a mango green enough to be slightly sour. Colour: the leaning-towards-green turquoise that can be found in tropical waters. Vegetable: a potato. Band: Fleetwood Mac. The game, “would you rather,” rarely leaves me indecisive. I know what I’d take to the deserted island with me and I know what I’d order for my last meal, so when I thought about what my favourite aspect of Londolozi is, it surprised me to find myself torn.
“The leopards.” That’s the obvious answer. Within this sanctuary, these elegant cats defy their illusive stereotype, welcoming vehicles into the details of their daily lives. It is this habituation that has allowed me to witness the dawn throw dappled light on the rosettes of a golden coat; a gruff call interrupt a still morning; a cub part the thicket of his den. Each experience is worth a place on my shelf of favourites but if I’m honest, what most appeals to me about Londolozi has more to do with a feeling than the promise of a rare sighting.
I enjoy everything about game drives – the piercing call of a francolin taking up the rooster’s task by announcing the dawn, the web of the golden orb suspending the dew of the new day, the fine balance of dunking a rusk into a steaming cup of rooibos, the salt of cashews meeting the bitterness of an iced G&T, the crescendo of a lion’s roar that quietens any conversation.
But, for me, above all these sacred moments are those windless nights when it’s warm enough to ignore the jersey on the seat next to you. In an ideal world, I’d be given a choice of skies and I’d choose a new moon, the Milky Way smudging the deep navy above me and those four famous stars leaning to the east, resembling a tipping kite more than a cross.
It’s unrefined to disturb that kind of silence by talking. If you must compromise the lull then best you be singing. And here is where my most prized moments come in: accapella trips back to camp. In the song too, I have a preference: “you’ve got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere, maybe we make a deal, maybe together we can get somewhere.” But I’m not against any song. The mantra, “if you can talk, you can sing,” applies on a landy more than anywhere else I’ve ever ‘performed.’ Those without perfect pitch needn’t worry because, to a large extent, your voice is muted by the expanse of the African sky above your head. Give in to the urge. Sing. Treat it as a warm up because if the mood strikes, a guitar will be hauled out in the Varty boma and a ranger will add credence to his khaki fever* by giving an unplugged version of John Mayer or Bruce Springsteen or some equally devastating artist.
For those who have soldiered on with the sole purpose of finding the link between the diva and the sanctuary – here you go: my parents didn’t hear Tina Turner in concert, they heard her in the same boma I just mentioned. As they tell it, she lay down, back to the sand and sang to them.
It is worth reiterating, Londolozi’s greatest attribute does not live within its fluffy slippers (as much as I can’t say no to those fluffy, fluffy slippers) or any other exaggerated comfort– its most prized possession is the wealth of feeling it exudes. A mood that strikes – giving the tone deaf the urge to join the chorus and motivating the rock star to lie down on the sand and give a rendition of her platinum record. What sets Londolozi apart is its ability to delight, attract and fascinate.
*Khaki Fever is well recognised affliction that overcomes many women and men when they encounter game rangers in their natural surroundings. Armed with their abundance of knowledge about animals and a rifle to protect against possible danger, rangers appear disproportionately attractive in their khaki uniforms. Symptoms include laughing at bad jokes, profusely blushing at the mention of wildlife’s mating habits and generally viewing guides with rose tinted lenses. The fever is known to disappear when meeting these very same rangers outside their comfort zones i.e. in a city.
Written by Lara Thomas
The photos are fantastic and beautifully written Lara, and all so true. Londolozi is a magical place that invades your heart and soul and changes you forever. It is a feeling that goes with you, wherever you may venture on to and, hopefully, if you are lucky enough, brings you back again and again. I could never have put this feeling into words as well as Lara has here.
Nicely written Lara.
Hello Lara, I don’t know you but its not surprising that we share the same passion for Londolozi.
I will never forget the experience of sharing a bush dinner with my family at Londolozi, and after listening to the beautiful soulful music of the talented Londolozi staff, in a gesture of thanks, my daughter Annie stood up and sang “Colors of the Wind.” Even now, relating this here brings tears to my eyes. I call these soulful experiences – those that transform you. Our time at Londolozi is responsible for a enormous amount of these experiences for me.
Your story here is so beautiful that all I can say in response to your words and photos, and the words of Jill is I agree and thank you.