Within my soul, within my mind, there lies a place I cannot find. Home of my heart. Land of my birth. Smoke-coloured stone and flame-coloured earth. Electric skies. Shivering heat. Blood-red clay beneath my feet.
The background of the poem above is difficult to explain but it was written in response to a time of great uncertainty and turmoil and it speaks to the feelings of so many Rhodesians (now Zimbabwe) who lived through that time. I have borrowed certain stanzas as the words they contain come closest to capturing the “heart and soul” of what many visitors feel upon visiting Africa for the first or even the twentieth time. It’s the reason why so many fall in love with her, why so many keep going back and why I will never leave her shores.
A safari, when taken at face value – especially to someone who has little or no interest in wildlife – can seem a tad straightforward. One drives around in a Land Rover over bumpy roads looking for/at wild animals. But this oversimplified description doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of the experience. Anyone who has taken the leap and embarked on their first safari adventure will attest to the fact that it’s something that’s so difficult to describe to someone who has never done it.
Earlier this month I guided two guests who travel the world in search of something they call a champagne moment. This was a first for me but I knew what they meant. They weren’t interested in finding a leopard or a lion. They were after something that could disappear like smoke in the breeze and then reappear moments later. Breathe too deeply or try to grab hold of it and it would slip away.
They were after a feeling.
We were in search of something intangible but luckily for us these ‘champagne moments’ are so embedded in the roots of safari that we found not just one, but a few.
The first moment happened on our first afternoon drive. With our backs against the canvas Land Rover seats we sat in the knee-high grasslands of the south-western corner of Londolozi sipping on a chilled glass of Dom Perignon in front of a golden vista. The cicadas thrummed, a herd of zebras tore at the grass behind us and several hundred buffalo casually moved across our field of view. As darkness enveloped the wilderness around us, 400 pairs of hooves hooves thumped the ground with quickening pace as they all plowed into a nearby waterhole to quench their thirst. It was as surreal as surreal can get.
A few days later we’d parked the Land Rovers atop a grassy crest with a commanding view of our surroundings. To our north and east the Marula trees that dotted our vantage point angled downhill towards the Sand River. To our west we had an unobstructed view of the sun sinking through a breathtaking mountainous and cloudy tapestry. Around us grazed a herd of zebra and a herd of impala while three wildebeest bulls proclaimed their territories loudly. As our evening wore on, we sat beneath a star-studded sky, riveted to our chairs as tracker Sersant regaled us with an animated and dramatic story about a wildebeest bull that fell victim to a lioness in open ground. And as so often happens at Londolozi, the minute you think it can’t get any better, it usually does.
Two spotted hyenas, closely followed by two elephant bulls came towards our sundowner spot and casually fed on the fruit of a nearby Marula tree. With story time over, Mother Nature invited us to once again sit quietly and listen, to the magic happening around us.
I beg the forgiveness of Michelle Frost and any other Rhodesians should they ever read this blog for I have taken her words out of context and used them to try to describe the profound, soulful and spiritual fulfilment that a moment in the bush can give you. And for trying to explain why so many Londolozi guests depart for home with a full spiritual suitcase and a fervent connection to the continent of Africa.