There’s a certain tree scattered across Londolozi’s landscape whose many names – the buffalo thorn, blink-blaar-wag-‘n-bietjie (Afrikaans for “shiny-leaf wait-a-bit”), umLahlabantu (Zulu for “that which buried the chief”), and mbafa (in the local Shangaan), the Ziziphus mucronata – are matched only by its many meanings and purposes:
- Its applications can be medicinal, protective and spiritual;
- The zig-zag of its twigs indicates that life is non-linear;
- Its thorns act as spirit-catchers for many traditional African cultures and tribes, who use the branches to return spirits of the deceased to their natural resting places; and
- The pairs of straight and hooked thorns at each node remind us where we come from (looking back) and represent where we are going (looking forward).
It’s this last meaning that I find most moving and an apt metaphor for the many things that make Londolozi what it is.
Seeing Londolozi at various times throughout the year reinforces both its natural beauty and its constant state of change – from the sepia barrenness of a drought-filled winter to the verdancy of an African summer. Most surprising on our return at the New Year were the rains: thundering, relentless sheets that brought rushing water to the Sand River and sprouted new growth across the bushveld overnight. It was amazing to witness nature’s cyclicality and water’s restorative power.
At some point every safari-goer shifts from pursuing a checklist to enjoying the experience of observing, learning and feeling. With the aid of an extraordinarily knowledgeable team in Sean Cresswell and Robbie Hlatshwayo the full scope of African wilderness becomes more apparent.
One morning last August, we came across a male and female leopard pair that were fast asleep and seemingly scheduled for a day of slumber. At Sean’s suggestion (and acknowledging no guarantee the animals would wake up or mate if they did wake), we watched and waited. Our hours of patience were rewarded with more hours of mating bouts. It was intimate and intense, riveting and frightening, captured by the Piva male’s clenched jaws on the Tamboti female’s scruff and the claws-out swatting of her in return.
I was not prepared for this intense sighting emotionally, but luckily Sean made sure I was prepared with the proper camera settings.
Coincidentally, the last drives of our most recent trips both ended with a morning spent tracking the Matimba males, once as they roared toward the interloping Majingilane males and another as they pursued a Mhangeni breakaway lioness. These were opportunities to observe behaviours, ask questions, and learn about the remarkable complexity of their interactions – truly special experiences, made more so by the insights of Sean and Robbie (he isn’t called “The Professor” for nothing!).
With gorgeous landscapes and abundant wildlife, it is not surprising that Londolozi nurtured a love of photography in me. My early safari pictures were “proof shots” with little intent aside from viewing confirmation. However, the Londolozi Creative Hub and its wonderful rangers – slash – photographers have opened my eyes (literally and figuratively) to photography, with lessons on equipment, technique, post-processing and more.
I rented my first telephoto lens in February 2016, a 100-400mm lens I could barely balance without the aid of a beanbag. It changed my whole approach. I gained the ability to take remarkably close and detailed images, as well as play with depth of field. I’ve learned about bokeh and how aperture and shutter speed interact (I’m still figuring out how ISO fits in!). Each drive is an opportunity to experiment with different lenses and work on image composition, and I’m grateful for Sean’s tolerance as I inquire about the proper settings at each sighting.
I even had the opportunity to try new techniques with my iPhone 6 and attachable Olloclip.
Another photo lesson came from editing sessions in the LCH with Roxy and Sean, who taught me how to transform photographs through post-processing and pushed me to enhance pictures with vignettes and monochrome. I can’t overstate their talents – both as artists and teachers.
Beyond the landscape, beyond the wildlife, beyond the photo lessons – there is simply no place like “Londoz.” Londolozi is more than a place; its spirit feels like home in a way few others do, and creates an undeniable sense of belonging because those who represent it not only want to know your story, they want to play an active part in it.
The soul of Londolozi is its people – it’s David’s guitar as soundtrack for a night in the boma, Calasse’s reign as queen of Cards Against Humanity, Kev’s perfect mimicry of a vervet monkey alarm call, Grant’s caring and jolly “howzzit” greetings, Robbie’s quiet and wickedly sharp jokes, Helen’s infectiously beaming smile, Duncan’s flawless lip-synching, and Sean’s thoughtful, sincere support. I often find myself lingering over pinotage as long as possible because that’s what you do with friends.
It’s not lost on me that I am only a visitor to Londoz, but my time there reminds me just how clever the buffalo thorn is in looking both back and forward: back to the incredible experiences I have had, from a rainy afternoon spent observing winged alates or seeing the swift brutality of a kill in a thunderstorm; and forward, to those that I hope will come.
As I daydream about the bush from my desk, I feel profound gratitude to Londolozi for guiding me toward an unexpected and deep passion. At the moment, I may not have the bush’s wind brushing my face or familiar song of a Cape Turtle Dove in my ear, but I have the memories, laughs, and lessons of Londoz with me always.
Written by Lauren Coape-Arnold, Londolozi Guest