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Wellness Lessons from the Wild ~ Great Plains Conservation

 

Sitting with Lara Delafield, Wellness Consultant for the Great Plains Conservation’s beautiful camps and lodges across Africa, I watch the words fall from her lips like petals from a wildflower in the wind. Petals so beautiful and intricate and complex that I gaze at each one, rapt by their individual and united beauty. Listening to her words as she talks about what wellness means to her, something in me changes.

Our discussion about the philosophy of Zarafa Camp and Duba Plains Camp in Botswana, Mpala Jena Camp in Zimbabwe, and Mara Plains Camp and ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, leads us into the woods, the wild woods, and I feel as though I am sitting on my deck watching the curious waterbuck and peculiar topi, the wildebeest herds and hippo pods, the swimming elephants and tree-climbing leopards.

 

 

Our discussion turns quickly to ourselves, because Lara’s words are universal. They apply as much to a guest in a lodge in the Okavango as to two women in a city coffee shop or a Maasai herder walking across the open plains.

“Create from the unknown. Sit in nature in peace. Feel the expressions of energy in motion, the “just is”. Move the energy through your body and out,” Lara says. “Wellness is about your ability to regulate yourself and create happiness for yourself. The healthiest people know who they are, what they need and where they need to be to tend to their energy. They move toward certain ambiances, exercises, and practices. Self-discipline, nature, belief in something higher, anything that positively affects your state of being, that is wellness.”

 

 

At the lodges and camps in Africa, Lara and the Great Plains Conservation have focused on the healing power of nature particularly, using what she calls, “nature therapy, ecological intelligence, energy medicine.”

“Emotions and stress cause so many illnesses. Mental health is a big problem in the wold, more so than obesity. People want to find quick fixes. The way we are living, with comparative social media, only adds to the anxiety of life. At the lodges, we try to expand people’s awareness about other ways of living. We focus on going back to nature.”

 

 

“Being in that untouched environment has such a huge positive impact on people. It’s a return to their roots, with people (guides, therapists we call wellness concierges, and managers) who are grounded and wise. Nature is uncomplicated and beautiful. It has seasons like us and it doesn’t analyse them.”

“And there is the contribution element that adds to the sense of wellness people feel out in the bush. When travellers visit with local communities, and see how much joy people living with so little have, witness people living in the now, in the moment, excited by simple things, it changes them, opens their eyes. When people give back and support community and conservation projects like the ones the Great Plains Conservation runs, it uplifts them.”

 

 

The petals keep falling all around me, and I feel my own spirit lifting. I feel that sense of all being right with the world. Lara continues, “I believe in the biology of belief. If you believe that only medicine will cure you then only medicine will cure you. If you can believe in other possibilities, like that you are responsible for yourself, things happen in response to what you feel, who you are, what you attract. I was taught, ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me’. My dad used to tell me that.”

 

 

Whether in the Selinda, the Maasai Mara or the Chyulu Hills, the Great Plains Conservation has set up different ways to help bring people back to themselves, to nature, to life.

“Sometimes you have to comfortably push people out of their comfort zone, because you don’t know what you don’t know… Within the camps, we try to take people back to themselves and connect them with their families, sitting all together, taking away WIFI in central areas, taking people back to real connection, back to what fundamentally matters. We help people to feel a part of something, we help them to simplify things and not overanalyse.”

 

 

And then there are the spa treatments… using natural ingredients and treatments that go deeper.

“We aim to help people process their past and emotions with treatments like the renewal treatment,” Lara says, “shedding the old and creating the new, with exfoliations and body brushing. People are often quite moved by it. What we’re trying to do on another level is help people let go of things holding them back, to feel and be better and move forward and take something back home with them. People need support. People are looking for relief. We help awaken the senses, because people’s senses are dulled through life.”

“Sometimes we purposefully dull them ourselves,” I add.

 

 

Empowering the housekeepers and concierges for overall wellbeing is another tenant to the philosophy at Great Plains Conservation.

“We work with the concierges in energy and self-worth training, because when you meet someone and touch someone, you have a huge impact on them. We make them aware of global wellness, but also ask them what wellness means to them. Between us, we share ideas of our different cultures and wellness wisdom and we grow. In our treatments, we bring in the wisdom of the local terrain and the healing properties of plants, and the strength and beauty of the local people.”

 

 

“Everything is consciously done at Great Plains,” Lara adds. “We use sustainable products, vegan products and natural elements in the spa, reducing any negative impact on the environment. The food is natural and wholesome, with gluten-free and sugar-free options. Zarafa Camp even has a raw food chef. In this environment, you see people’s joy coming back, because they’re not getting flustered with everyday busyness and things. Life should be abundant and joyful.”

 

 

Lara has been through a journey of her own, starting with completing a psychology degree, working at other lodges in camp management, travelling overseas, working in corporate set-ups, and then going into personal training, NLP coaching and reflexology and starting the first woman’s gym in Durban, South Africa. Her current work focusing on inspiring people and using nature as a tool. Nature is what inspires her, along with people who have gone through adversity and persevered and achieved.”

 

 

Spending time with her, spending time in the healing hands of a Great Plains Conservation wellness concierge in the heart of the Zambezi National Park or Kenyan plains or remote Botswanan wilderness, I am inspired. I feel that abundance and joy of life. I feel my senses restored and my feet ready to seek out more dusty paths and fireside gatherings with new friends. “If it is to be, it’s up to me,” I remind myself. A chant for a new life.

 

Duba Plains Camp

We Found Love in a Pink-Walled Boulangerie ~ Reunion Island

 

It’s said that the trick to getting a sleepy, reluctant mind ready for a run or hike is to put on your socks and shoes and tie up the laces, nice and tight. This simple activity fools the body into thinking it’s ready. It’s a sort of rubbing of the lamp to bring out the genie. It’s not wishes it grants you, but oomph, vigour, a love and eagerness for life. Joie de vivre!

There’s another trick to sparking that go-get-’em vivacity, we discovered on our way into the mountains of Réunion Island, and it lies in the sweet caress of a French patisserie. It’s the effect of delicious goods lined up behind glass windows, ready for the picking, that triggers something in the brain. The excitement centre lights up.

 

 

With Frederic of Blue Margouillat, in the town of Cilaos, in the centre of the island, our day’s hike began in a pink-walled boulangerie – our tightly-tied hiking shoes surrounded by rows of eclairs, feuilleté à la crème, mille-feuille vanille, baguettes, croissants, flan, muffins and Choux vanille. Into our bags we slipped one or two items from the selection, an incentive to be nibbled at pitstops along the route, and off we went into the hills.

 

 

The island’s local boulangeries and pâtisseries remind you that while on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, you are, at the same time, in France. This French department, surrounded by the warm seas, with volcanoes and mountain peaks rising out of its fascinating landscape, is dusted with shops selling sweet and savoury slices of traditional favourites. But there are also the markets… serving as additional impetus for our hike to Cascade du Bras Rouge in Cilaos.

 

 

The town is known for its hot springs, vineyards, fruity wine, tasty lentils and fine embroidery. It is the only place in Reunion where they grow grapes. In its market stalls we found even more delicious local fruits: pamplemousse, bibasse, apples, quine, guavas, pears, pomegranate… produce grown by local farmers living in the remote regions of the island: avocados, chouchou, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, peas…

We found our minds and bodies enlivened by the colours and tastes of the food of Cilaos, so much so that running up and down the mountain peaks were but a breeze. A delicious breeze.

 


Browse the markets for yourself in our images below.

 


 

The Deep Peace of a Place Called Epako ~ A Namibian Safari

 

“The first thing I hope to do as a guide is get guests to understand the importance of animals,” Hendrik says as we walk through the reserve on an April morning at Epako Safari Lodge.

This is my first time in Namibia. I say it on the first day, the second, the third and the fourth, and I’ll say it now: I have never known such peace in a wildlife reserve.

There are many reasons for the feeling of calm and stillness here, at the foot of the red cliffs of the Erongo Mountains, in Omaruru, and one of them is guide, Hendrik Adams. His nature, his kindness, his mindfulness.

 

 

We continue walking, looking at our feet, at the gravel passing beneath them, the odd track of an animal that has walked the path before us, and looking out at the immense openness between the low mountain slopes. The occasional giraffe neck calls our attention.

“I want guests to leave Epako with that awareness of the importance of animals, to take it home with them and share it with others, to extend a greater consideration for animals and an understanding of them,” Hendrik says.

 

 

We hardly look up at each other as we walk, but we are connected. There is an instant comfort that takes me back to hiking through the mountains back home with family. Yet all around us are eagles, giraffes, oryx, kudu, eland,  snakes, wildebeest, rhino and the occasional leopard, reminding me that I am very far from home, from the city.

“To do this,” he continues, “I try to be kind and generous, to be an example, toward not only animals but people too. If we are kind like this in ourselves, the world outside picks up on it and reacts to it. The kindness spreads. This is how I approach animals, thinking good thoughts, but also how I try to be with people. It’s all the same.”

 

 

Our path twists and turns, a few baboons are playing in the dry trees that stand tall and twisted beside us, like a tower of giraffes in a bare field. We’ve been walking since sunrise and by now the sun is bright, the air dry and hot and the sky blue. I could walk all day in this weather, in this wilderness. Just listening.

 

 

“I explain the different characteristics of animals to guests so that they can understand the beauty of what they’re seeing here. So that they can understand the animal. When we understand something, we fear it less. We know how to handle it.”

There’s something Hendrik tells me that I had never known, never thought about, or perhaps simply never permitted myself to believe. It’s the theory that the great Big 5 animals, the big cats and elephants that have on occasion made me freeze when they or I have gotten too close, are not dangerous. Not by nature.

 

 

“Rhinos and elephants have good memory, and lions, all the Big 5,” Hendrik tells me on our morning ramble on foot.

“They remember when people were killing them back when hunting was prolific. They became more and more dangerous as a way to protect themselves from humans. Animals are not naturally so dangerous. Without human intervention they are much more peaceful in nature. It’s because of humans that wild animals are dangerous.”

 

 

“How we approach them matters. If we approach them and treat them in a safe manner, they become used to this and are calmer around us, calmer in general. This is what I try to tell guests. We need to consider our role in the wild.

“We feel safe here even though we have rhino, because we know how to interact with the animals.”

 

Kindness, kindness, kindness, I tell myself as we walk, like a meditation mantra with each step – past the giant termite mounds and thick bushes.

We come across five or six giraffes in a field, metres from us. They stand, chewing, looking back at us as we stop, stand and look back at them. Hendrik’s “Men Who Stare at Goats” charm is working.

 

 

“Years ago when we had elephant on the reserve, we didn’t go on walks like this. We were always in the vehicles. When we first started doing bush walks, the giraffes would run away from us when they saw us on foot. But as you can see, they’ve realised we’re not here to harm them. We are not a threat. So between us a mutual understanding has grown. We are friends.”

 

 

“The other part of my job is to look after the animals on the reserve, as reserve manager. In today’s world, we don’t know how long these animals will be around. I want to make sure they have a good life here. We try to keep the animals as wild as possible and don’t interfere in their roaming. We let nature dictate, because nature is successful by itself. But there are times when we need to.”

 

 

“In the case of a severe drought, we will provide food, but we don’t like to, because the moment you start feeding animals you start to tame them and make them used to receiving food from humans. And this becomes a problem as they won’t go out into the wilderness for themselves.”

 

 

It’s clear that the warmth of heart you feel at Epako stems very much from the attitude of the guides and managers, waiters and chefs, but it’s something that’s typical of Namibia too.

“We understand one another here,” Hendrik tells me, as we come to the end of our hike, approaching the long entrance to the lodge, with great cacti hailing us a welcome.

 

 

“We try to work together here. The ethnic tribes are not divided. We work as one Namibia, one nation; that makes us quite unique and peaceful. There is a spirit of togetherness among all the tribes and groups. Everyone is treated equally by the government and we respect anyone who comes into the country.”

 

 

Hendrik adds, “The vastness of the wilderness, the immense space, uninhabited tracts of land, and the small population of Namibia also add to the peace you’re feeling.

“Epako is also more relaxed because we don’t have lions or elephants to worry about. You’re not constantly on the alert, but you’re still a little on your toes. Just as it should be.”

 

 

This might be the essence of Epako, I think, as we reach the meeting point at which our meander began, looking over the lodge’s bright pool and the animal’s waterhole below. But it’s also an ideal approach to life. To be at peace, but with toes ready to dance.

 


 

 

A Night of Song & Storytelling with Zolani

 

After the sun has set and the sky has fallen dark over our tables on the terrace, a low call, like a mother lion crying out to her lost cub on a still night in the wild, sounds from somewhere in the distance. We follow it and the beat of a drum that echoes with our steps to the Wine Gallery at Ellerman House.

Inside stands a woman dressed in white from head to toe, a skirt cast out over her lower body like a lampshade. Famed South African musician, Zolani. To her left, a woman sitting over an African drum, Sky, moves her hands to pick up another instrument, adding rhythmic shakes, the sound of beans being sorted in a sieve.

 

 

To the right, a girl is wrapped around a double bass guitar much longer and wider than herself, almost completely obscuring her. Sarah. When she begins to play all you see is her, as though her presence takes over the instrument completely, like a lion stepping out from behind a tree.

“Hmmm, isn’t that so tasty, right?” Zolani says after the introductory chanting.

“Something so beautiful and wordless and primal, it’s so enjoyable to sing, right?” Zolani continues. “It just comes, you just feel it, right? That said, we’re going to introduce the next song, one with words. It was the first song I ever wrote on guitar, a song called Buttercup, and when I wrote it, I was in the Eastern Cape. A long time ago. And these words came and these words were a story, about meeting someone, something, just feeling like, Goodness, can this experience really be, how much can I trust that this experience is for me and will stay for me? I recorded it with Freshlyground years ago. Enjoy it.”

 

 

So I said, “And so my pretty little buttercup I’ll take you out on a date
And if you ‘ll be my pretty little buttercup I’ll pick you up around 8…”

Having gone solo since her days with Freshlyground, Zolani plays us a few of her own songs, saying, “I’m really fascinated by story; many of the songs I write are stories that have never happened to me, such as this one… This one is called C C Carnival and it’s written from the perspective of someone with a speech impediment. The person meets someone at a carnival and they’re so delighted by this human being. It’s like they’ve never met a more captivating human being before… This is C C Carnival.”

 

 

Zolani speaks slowly, at her own pace, and we are listening to every word, waiting for each one to complete the story playing out before us. She moves into song, the band into instruments, and we follow, unable to turn away. Not knowing what will come next.

The drum beats return, there is a new flow and the audience join in, in body and voice.

Everything I ever wanted, I ever wanted I ever wanted you, Zolani sings.
Everything I ever needed, I ever needed, I ever needed you,
You say every word you say is, everything you say is, well you want to say it’s true,
but I know everything you say is, well everything you say is, well it’s nothing new.

 

 

The songs continue with messages that find a home in us all…

No more will I linger in the shadows, let me in, your heart is as big as all the ocean,
These nights are cruel my dear, no one else could be all, especially one as beautiful as you,
All you need is someone, someone like me…

 

 

On stage, Zolani moves into more stories, this time deeper into her personal life, with a tale of her upbringing:

“I was raised Catholic after my mother passed and I went into a new school. It was a different environment from the one I had lived in my whole life up until then, which was a township. Not all townships are the same, we must know, but there are some things that are very much the same. One is that people have a similar experience of economics, are in a similar economic bracket, read: poor, so when my mother died and I started going to these new schools, it was the first time that I was introduced to a new way of being, where money didn’t seem to be an issue for most of the kids who were at the school.”

 

 

“And it was the first time, of course, that I was taught by people who didn’t look like me, didn’t have the same skin colour. There were nuns, and I was given a new name. I stopped being called Zolani and I was called…. Beep (Zolani refuses to let us share her name). That was the name that I had for a long time… Beeep, until 1994, which is significant (as it was the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy in South Africa). There were very different experiences that Zolani had and that Beeeep had, but somehow these experiences were also bound by blood.”

 

 

“My stepmother was a sangoma and every weekend we’d have traditional ceremonies, so there’d be the spilling of the blood of the chicken, goat, sheep or cow and then in the week I’d be standing at the priest’s cup, sipping the blood of Christ. This was one of the only similarities going on. I felt very confused by these conflicting realities, and when I grew up, I felt like Mother Mary owed me something, like this promise of a better life owed me something it didn’t deliver. Here is a song pertaining to this, called, You promised me.”

 

 

Next, a Jazz number and bass solo, to stories of love: “I wanted to forget myself by being him, taking on his face,” she says. “Don’t love me too much I may forget all of the things that make me. Don’t love me too much, I may forget what’s true, I may begin to be you. Be moderate in your affection, too much love will lead me in the wrong direction,” she sings.

The only moment we manage to step outside of the intensity of Zolani’s storytelling is when she catches it too, sees it all almost from the outside and names it: “Ah, that moment of flow. That is what we need to find and we’re very appreciative of finding those moments here on stage with you tonight. Thank you very much.”

 

 

Into the night we walk, as the concert closes and Zolani, Sky and Sarah leave the stage, but we’re still in the flow and even in the darkness outside the Wine Gallery, it feels as though the lights have been switched on, the sun has come out. Zolani’s songs echo through our bodies with the night’s words: “No more will I linger in the shadows…”

 

A Chitenge Love Story ~ Royal Chundu

 

What I remember first is the warm voice of Brinah and the shaking of hands with Godwill, the Royal Chundu car picking me up and carrying us off to the market. I remember the words: Tina has organised something special for you. The scenes out the window as we arrived at the market in Livingstone, Zambia: the beans and vegetables and grains piled up on tables in stalls, men and women hiding from the afternoon heat, a boy walking up to me with one hand in a peace sign and a tyre held up with the other. The beat-up Landrover that intersected us and the winding dirt path leading to a dark corner lit up with every pattern and colour of chitenge possible.

 

 

I remember the chitenge! And Brinah saying, please take a look; me already eyes and elbows deep into fabric, camera trying to catch up to the motions of my excitement. Brinah saying, pick some of your favourites. For a dress. I tried to understand what was happening, a shopping trip for me? I asked. Yes, our gift. But I should go to a bank, I said. No, our gift, she repeated.

I remember the first cloth that jumped out at me and every cloth thereafter: this one and how about that one, ooh wait, how many more can we get? These two! Ooh ooh these these! Camera down, hands exchanging, body spinning from wall to wall, we collected several fabrics and paid the shop owner and moved back out into the sunlight.

 

 

I remember every dress worn by the women we passed, the shirt on Brinah’s own body, wondering how I’d gotten so lucky, how much kindness I’d stumbled into, how undeserving of it all I felt as we headed back to the car past faces I wanted to greet and meet and share stories with. I remember designing the dress in my mind as we drove to the lodge at Royal Chundu and Aggie in her own perfect chitenge dress and Hessah in his bright bold shirt moving in the “welcome home” dance at River Lodge.

I remember meeting the seamstress, Mrs Kalota, and feeling Zambia wrapped around me closer than ever before. I remember stepping into the final product and not wanting to take it off. I remember you, all of you. Your colour and your kindness.

 

 

Discover more about Royal Chundu here >


Be Still, My Beating Heart ~ The Peace of Esiweni

 

“The light of oneness is available to all of us, present in hidden aquifers where life’s waters continue to flow, waiting in a living silence for us to notice.” ― Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Pemba has the biggest, most constant smile I’ve ever seen on a guide. It’s one of the things I remember most about our safari in the Nambiti, at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa.

On our game drives through the reserve, we’d talk now and again, and then lull back into a content quiet in the warmth of the day, beside giraffe moving across the open plains (be still, my beating heart), or black rhinos browsing and lions drinking from shallow pools.

 

 

In the silence, we’d look over at each other and smile. I saw Pemba’s smile more often than I heard him talk. And talking was no problem for him. His beaming face simply took over, recognising the need for quiet, while communicating all there was to communicate. And I understood each message, each unspoken sentiment. How fortunate we were, especially, as wild animal after wild animal, bird after bird, crossed our path: wildebeest, zebra, elephant, kites and eagles.

 

 

On these drives, we’d often not come across another vehicle. Back at the lodge, on a remote cliff overlooking the Sundays River below, hectares of wilderness surrounded us. Only a few other lodges exist in the vicinity and are wholly out of sight. At times, we were are all alone on earth. Or so it felt. And it struck me: when last did I hear this… silence?

 

 

Back home, even at dawn or in the middle of the night, there was always a hoot and a honk, ocean waves rolling or birds trying to claim their spot on the balcony. Absolute silence was rare and quick to pass.

Sometimes it was my mind to blame: its tricks interrupting the stillness. But locking eyes with an adult male lion, watching him stalk off after an unsuspecting warthog through the tall grass, my mind found stillness. And in the stillness, the sounds I’d not been able to hear revealed themselves: a dove’s cooing, crickets and the breeze through the trees.

Were I one of the wild things, I’d have picked up so many other subtleties, but I was thankful for the silence.

 

 

I was thankful for a guide like Pemba who understood and a lodge like Esiweni, where with only five private villas and a small team of staff, the peace would settle over us everywhere we went: while we lay in bed looking over the wild expanse or taking lunch on the deck in the sun, around the pool in the afternoon or at sunset drinks beneath the lanterns of a tree that leopards curl up in for quiet time of their own.

 

 

Maybe you forget what silence feels like from time to time too, but it’s worth the hunt. Because what you find there is the softness of life that sometimes escapes us. The space and freedom present, but sometimes hidden. Sometimes it’s inspiration and an epiphany that finds you. Sometimes, it’s simple: peace.

 

 

“You’re very perceptive for a guy who can go a whole day without talking,” she said, peering up at him. “That’s why I’m perceptive.” ― Nicholas Sparks, The Longest Ride

 


Read more about Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in our blogs:

The Sweetness of the Solo Safari

Growing Up Wild ~ Tippi Meets Adèle at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge

The Beginnings of Love at Esiweni

Find the Others ~ The Soul of the Nambiti


Monkey Knows Best ~ Secrets of a Zanzibari Garden

 

I didn’t truly see the garden until I was staring into the black face of a red colobus monkey. Up in the trees of the Oasis at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas, a David Lynch character with white hair flapping in wayward directions stared back at me, remaining so still that I wondered if he was simply a quaint statue placed in the branches. But then he blinked and I blinked back and I knew I was in the presence of something totally new to me. Such is Zanzibar. Or Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania.

 

 

I had been focused, like everyone else, on that impossibly blue sea surrounding us and the white sand meeting it, but the monkey had brought my attention to the nature all around. In the hotels grounds, all kinds of bright and unfamiliar plants and flowers wound around the paths from the Oasis spa to the restaurant and our private villa home on the beach.

 

 

At sunrise, the pink of the bougainvillea lit up against the orange glow and in the middle of the day the white bougainvillea drifted in the breeze like soft clouds. The flame trees shaded us on our cycles to lunch and the fronds of towering palm trees waved goodbye to us as we departed on trips to Stonetown. Beautiful frangipani framed our villa door, with flowers that would find their way into our afternoon coconuts.

In the large herb and vegetable garden, the origins of ingredients and flowers we were so used to seeing in supermarket-ready forms huddled together, raw, natural, ready with life.

 

 

Beautiful vanilla, chili, lemongrass, wild rocket, Thai basil, coriander, dill, chives, parsley, mint, thyme, micro beetroot, and young trees waiting to be planted in new homes.

Walking through the gardens, the scents of the island called us from bush to bush, from the beach to those trees and the monkeys that had shown us how much more to the island we still had to discover, see, taste, feel and smell. Which is the joy of gardens, after all: our senses wake up as though after a long slumber and we find ourselves faced with, unable to deny, the endless vitality and vibrancy of life, pure and simple.

Explore the secrets of Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas’ gardens below…


Discover more about Zanzibar in our blogs:

The Beauty of Zanzibar and How to Find it

The Beauty of Solitude at Sunrise

10 Questions with Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas’ Head Chef

An Instagrammer’s Guide to Zanzibar


 

The Foraging Flâneur – The Charm of a Giraffe Named Oscar

First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.

 

There was talk of a tall, handsome man about town roaming the wilderness of Epako Safari Lodge in Omaruru, Namibia, where we found ourselves one April afternoon. The man went by the name of Oscar. Oscar Wilde in the wild. Yet, he was in fact not a man, but a giraffe, and not a he, but a she.

Oscar’s name was given to her more in the way of Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue”, than any traditional gender-appropriate naming strategy. And in case we were in any doubt, there was proof. When we arrived at the lodge, Oscar had just given birth. For the second time.

Where her infant was we did not know.

 

 

Just as she was eluding my gaze so was she hiding her new-born in a secret location out in the 11,000 hectare private reserve at Epako, while she went about the duty of the foraging flâneur, eating furiously from every bush that passed her approval, to provide her with the energy, strength and nutrients to breastfeed. Oscar the She made it quite clear: she worked on Oscar time – a sign of her innate wild spirit, in spite of her upbringing.

You see, the story of Oscar’s beginnings is not an ordinary one. In 1996, Oscar’s mother died during labour and little Oscar was found in the bush by caretakers at Epako, here on the border of the Damaraland region, midway between Windhoek, Swakopmund and the Etosha National Park.

 

 

The men took little Oscar in, bottle-raised and cared for her in a small private boma, away from other animals, for her protection.

When she was taller, stronger and able to stand on her own two (four) feet, it was time to reintroduce her into the wild. Because she had become used to humans, this rewilding proved to be a process.

After the lodge tried to release her into the bush, she simply walked back home. She wanted her private deck and landscaped garden.

 

 

This called for a new strategy! Marcelino, the head gardener at the time, began taking Oscar out on frequent walks into the reserve, and leaving her there… A vehicle would meet him and return him to the lodge. This helped Oscar become more and more comfortable with being alone and in the wild, to get in touch with her wildness.

Eventually Oscar would stay out in the wilderness for longer and longer periods, until she made it her true home, visiting the lodge only on occasion – not out of need, but more for a friendly visit, on her forages. It’s clear, from photographs that I had seen before my trip, that she felt quite at home around the lodge still, gleefully accepting snacks from seed-wielding hands and pockets (the best kinds of hands and pockets) of staff and guests.

Still, I had not witnessed this, nor her, for myself. I arrived back at the lodge after a game drive one late morning, and was excitedly told, “Oh, you’ve just missed her!”

 

 

The talk of the foraging flaneur continued! How was I to believe the story without even a glimpse of the protagonist?

And then it happened. One afternoon between adventures, she came to see me at my room. I had put in the request and there she arrived, happily grazing in the garden of indigenous, carefully, lovingly-grown fauna. I stepped out onto the verandah and sidled right up to her. International lady of mystery (her, not me).

In the quiet stillness of a hot Namibian day, we stood across from each other for a minute or two. I held out my own seed-wielding hand (Camelthorn seedpods – Acacia erioloba – are a favourite of giraffes). Her curious snake of a tongue retrieved it and then moved on. I was just another bush to her. But she was so much more to me.

 

 

Now – for baby Oscar! Our search took us deep into the reserve one evening, just before dusk. Driving over the gravel roads, we passed wilder giraffe and their young, but no baby Oscar. Instead, mother Oscar stepped out into our path abruptly as we were searching the expanse through binocular. She stopped, right between us and the setting sun, creating the most regal of silhouettes, a grand portraiture of the protective mother by night, foraging flâneur by day.

 

 

No doubt this was a clever ploy to distract us. Clearly her wild instincts were well-established. But not so stoic was she that she could turn down one more seedpod. Over to us she ambled and licked up our offerings, before turning and walking off into the sunset.

 


Game drives with a giraffe named Oscar…

Take a look at more images below and discover more about Epako Safari Lodge & Spa here.

Thank you, Oscar and the kind people of Epako for sharing your wilderness with us.

 


 

A Wine Gallery Gig with Arno Carstens ~ at Ellerman House

I recently covered the Arno Carstens’ wine gallery gig at Ellerman House for the launch of the hotel’s second year of Ellerman Sessions ~ for the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog published here.

I wish you had seen the way he shook his legs about. I wish I had captured it to show you but I couldn’t look away. No one could. No one did. You’d have seen them, those legs, if you were there with us, up close to the stage, with the wine gallery at Ellerman House behind and below us, a few intimate rows of chairs between us. Arno Carstens and his band: front and centre.

You’d have seen that crazed Elvis leg shaking that powered the night in short bursts with unexpected energy – between the trumpet, guitar, drums, and that iconic voice once belonging to the South African cult rock band, The Springbok Nude Girls.

While you were sleeping
I had a vision
That gently took the pain away
Am I still dreaming
I search for meaning
You turn my world from night to day

 

 

Arno Carstens has been called “the godfather of South African rock,” by Mail & Guardian and “one of the most prolific songwriters and performers of our time,” by the Sunday Times. But no one mentioned the dancing.

At the first Ellerman Sessions at Ellerman House in Cape Town for 2019, Arno led us into another world the second he stepped up to the mic.

A galaxy to explore
Don’t wanna return to a world at war
From the galaxy of blues to a universe we choose
No more crying and just maybe somebody to hold…

 

 

For a few hours, we were held by a power greater than ourselves, the rhythm and beat of songs that many of us South Africans in the audience have shaken and rattled to many times before – at festivals on the lawn, under the stars of our youths. For a beautiful moment, we were back at rock concerts past, or with friends and family listening to the radio on long road trips.

These illusions are just the sweetest dream

 

 

The night began at sunset with Moët on the terrace… with Cape Town’s best sundowner view, Bulgari perfumes, smoking macaroons and Hennesey cocktails, and the tastes of Ellerman House’s Executive Chef, Grant Daniels, assisted by 20 Degres Sud Head Chef, Sanjeev Purahoo, all the way from Mauritius.

Think: canapes like peri peri prawns with roasted pineapple salsa, shiitake mushroom bittenballe with miso aubergine and coconut, Vietnamese duck springrolls with orange siracha. And bowls of Quail Agnolotti; sea bass sashimi; Karoo lamb with mielie pap and pickled spekboom and butternut fondant; halloumi and chorizo stuffed squid.

And it ended with espresso martinis, baked brie with fig compote and raw honey, an olive garden of chocolate, coffee and tonka bean, and sweet rock ‘n roll still ringing in our ears.

 

 

It was the kind of night that manages, in a quick flip of the leg and strum of the guitar strings, to return the thrill and poetry to life, to stir the rattling playful somebody dancing inside of you.

Can you feel it?
It is heaven on earth
And there’s a light around you
You are burning in the rain

 

 

Take a look below at a few images from the night and find out more about the line-up for the next Ellerman Sessions here ~ as the celebration of South African music continues with Prime Circle, Majozi and Zolani.

About Arno Carstens

Platinum selling singer-songwriter and front man for cult rock band Springbok Nude Girls, Arno Carstens has released multiple albums, with a string of successful singles and awards including “Best Rock Album”, “Best Alternative Album” and “Song of the Year”. He has toured with INXS, U2 and the Rolling Stones and performed internationally at Glastonbury, Hard Rock Calling and VFestival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Your Helicopter Has Arrived, Ma’am, Sir…

As published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.


Three Ultimate Helicopter Rides

In even the small events of our lives, the fleeting everyday moments, we are capable of feeling great waves of inspiration, excitement and love. They’re not to be discounted, the simple things. But let’s not deny the overwhelming thrill of the big and grand displays and adventures too.

We can find ourselves overwhelmed by the gentle touch of a child’s hand or the silence of wide open African plains.  But in taking daring leaps – into or out of a plane, into wild Cape seas or a boat through the lower Zambezi rapids – there is a deep exhilaration and sense of pride that takes over us. The kind you might imagine a swashbuckler like Don Diego de la Vega to feel, with his sombrero cordobés, as he swipes a stolen locket from a thief to return to his damsel. Or English archaeologist, Lara Croft as she rope-swings into ancient tombs and ruins around the world.

Image: Royal Chundu guest, Lily Nezarati

 

“A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are,” Lara Croft is quoted as saying. “I’d finally set out to make my mark; to find adventure. But instead adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.”

There are many wild ways to make your mark and find adventure in Africa, but let’s consider the helicopter ride! f

 


Table Mountain

During your stay in Cape Town, at Ellerman House or The Cellars-Hohenort, perhaps, you’re going to want to see Table Mountain, the great natural world wonder that stands out high above the city as a constant reminder of nature’s might and beauty. This unique, flat-topped mountain stretches from the tip at Signal Hill, along the crest to Lion’s Head, across to Devil’s Peak and back all the way past Kirstenbosch Gardens. Flying from the city centre over this vast range gives a genuine glimpse of the city and of man and nature living in harmony, side by side. Swoop over the sea and look out over Robben Island, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the horizon.

While Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Table Mountain itself is not – but rather the magnificent and protected Cape Floral Region that covers it, one of the world’s great centres of biodiversity.

Read more: The Most Romantic Spots in Cape Town 

 


Victoria Falls, Zambia

Heading to Royal Chundu from the Victoria Falls airport, take a helicopter as your transfer with a special ride not only over the Zambezi River, where Zambia and Zimbabwe meet, but over the Victoria Falls and deep into its steep carved-out gorge. This is, simply, the most spectacular way to view the great cascade and to get a true sense of its grandness. Look out the window as you head to the lodge for a chance to spot the elephant, hippo, crocodile and other animals that call the river and its banks home.

 

Read more:

10 Things Victoria Falls Will Teach You About Life

Helicopter Epiphanies Over Victoria Falls

 

Take a glimpse…


Reunion Island

While exploring the Indian Ocean island of Reunion from Blue Margouillat in Saint-Leu, feel the true magnificence of nature in a helicopter flight over the island’s active volcano – Piton de la Fournaise. Perhaps not while its firing and bubbling, but certainly when safety allows.

The volcano makes up a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Pointe de la Table, a hiking trail that follows one of its lava flows, the island’s other volcano, Piton des Neiges and its natural corries ~ all noted for their “outstanding universal value”. The team at Blue Margouillat can assist in organising the adventure; all you need to do is climb aboard with HELILAGON and buckle in for your ride over the Piton and the island’s magnificent peaks, valleys, waterfalls, rivers and shoreline. It is the greatest highlight of many travellers’ trips to Reunion ~ standing out in their memory long after they return home to spin tales of chasing rampant lava.

Read more: 

Réunion ~ One of the Most Unusual Island Paradises on Earth

Chasing volcanoes on Reunion Island