One afternoon in late October, I was walking down the Londolozi footpath when a wave of recognition washed over me. I stopped in my tracks and doubled back, ready to share my revelation with the first unfortunate soul I could find.
“This Londolozi feeling,” I began, “I knew it felt familiar… it’s just like summer camp!”
Cue the wise camp manager on the receiving end of my epiphany:
“Ja, we hear that all the time! Particularly from you Americans.”
At first glance, the similarities between a Londolozi safari and a summer at sleep-away camp are fairly obvious. In both cases, you trade the routines of your work or school life for a place with very different rhythms, more in tune with the natural world than any man-made one. Mornings are early (but wonderfully so), and long starlit nights are enjoyed around the campfire. It’s a shift that has a lasting effect, whether you’re “in camp” for two days or two months, and whether you’re out in the bush or up in the Berkshires. You live surrounded by nature and on nature’s schedule, where the day of the week doesn’t matter unless it’s Saturday and there’s Londolozi chocolate cake at afternoon tea.
Digging a bit deeper, there’s another factor at play here. Spend a morning game drive tracking a wild animal, and you’ll become well acquainted with the power of being held in suspense: the anticipation of tracking, culminating in that wonderfully unexpected moment of discovery, creates a kind of excitement that’s downright contagious. It’s a thrill too powerful to be mediated by any self-consciousness or social pressure, the same unqualified joy that overcomes any sleep-away camper at the breakout of Colour War, the classic all-camp competition at summer’s end. That intense excitement is a natural part of childhood, but to feel such a complete and absolute rush as an adult is a rare privilege indeed.
That said, one doesn’t need to have gone to summer camp for Londolozi to feel curiously familiar; I am convinced we are hard-wired to feel at home when we share living spaces, meals, and wild experiences in nature. As Boyd Varty explains in his TED talk, this feeling is intimately connected to the African idea of ubuntu (“I am because of you”):
In a more collective society, we realize from the inside that our own wellbeing is deeply tied to the wellbeing of others. Danger is shared. Pain is shared. Joy is shared. Achievement is shared. Houses are shared. Food is shared.
This – ubuntu – is what it means to be part of a community, and it’s the root of why a visit to Londolozi feels like coming home. The reason can be hard to pin down, because it reaches beyond childhood memories and camp summers to something even more elusive. It is a homecoming to one’s own humanity, to a way of being that might not make sense by society’s metrics but resonates deeply with the most ancient part of ourselves.
For me, it’s a feeling inadvertently summed up at the end of each game drive, in just a few words: “Think it’s time we head back to camp.” Though I’d stay out in the bush forever, I can’t help but agree.