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Charlie South Africa singita

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Charlie’s Love Letter To An African Safari

Hear from Travel Operations Manager Charlie about his first time on safari, as he explored the Maililangwe Trust Reserve (Zimbabwe), Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Sabi Sands Game Reserve (South Africa) on a research trip for Pelorus client experiences. Charlie stayed at three Singita Lodges: Pamushana, Lebombo and Ebony.

There are certain travel experiences that defy description. No matter how I search my vocabulary, there is an invisible barrier that prevents the true depth of the feeling from being fully conveyed. I am immensely fortunate to have collected a cherished handful of these indescribable moments over the years. What often connects them, aside from their refusal to be adequately explained, is their fleeting nature. My recent safari in Zimbabwe and South Africa is so firmly in the category of being impossible to describe that it almost makes a mockery of this article, yet it was not fleeting. Instead, it was an all-consuming sensory and emotional journey that played out over the course of eight extraordinary days.

It is a sorry fact that my 21st-century urban life does not really challenge my senses. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that it has been designed specifically to allow my sight, hearing, and touch to become almost obsolete at a rate that is imperceptible but steady. As embarrassing as this is, it made it all the more inspiring to have those senses awakened, challenged and excited by some of Africa’s most magnificent ecosystems.

Charlie South Africa singita Charlie South Africa
Charlie South Africa singita Charlie South Africa singita

The moment we landed at Lonestar Ranch Airstrip in the heart of the Malilangwe Reserve, my creeping myopia was brought into ironically sharp focus. We were immediately into our 4X4 and my eyes began to desperately scan the dust red landscape for the abundant wildlife that inhabit this majestic land. I spent each and every drive over the subsequent week with my eyes wide, surveying the terrain with almost uncontrollable anticipation, looking for the flick of a tail, the rustle of a branch or the print of a paw.

Fortunately, we were not reliant on what I was able to spot. Our guides, Tyme, Tovi and Peit, and trackers, David, King and Vusi, were nothing short of extraordinary. Indeed, one of the many wonders of the trip was witnessing the symbiotic relationship they have with the environment, consistently tracking down needles in the shape of leopards, lions and elephants within the haystack of the beautiful and rugged bush.

Nevertheless, I kept my eyes wide as I took in the everchanging surroundings. The endless breadth of the landscape was perfectly juxtaposed by the instant narrowing that occurred as soon as there was a sighting. My field of vision would become immediately and singularly fixated on our latest subject. It was a wonderfully pure joy to be entirely transfixed by the extraordinary natural wonders on display. The dexterity of an elephant’s trunk as it seeks out just the right shrub, the almost comical tenacity of a dung beetle as it undertakes its seemingly Sisyphean task, and the inquisitive character of a rhino calf that appears to be desperate to explore but does not want to stray too far from the safety of its mother’s side.

Whilst my eyes were working overtime, my ears were on a journey of their own. The sounds of the bush are overwhelming at times. To my untrained ear it was a cacophonous delight unlike anything I have heard before. The feeling during our drives was one of being consumed by the sounds emanating from every direction. A feeling that was set against the experience of our waterborne safari on the Malilangwe Lake, the extra distance from the wildlife and the stillness of the immediate surroundings allowing my ears to observe the myriad calls and begin to distinguish between them.

Over time my ears adjusted to the rhythms, but the feeling of being overwhelmed by sound remained. It was the most visceral of them that were almost impossible to fully comprehend. None more so than on the morning that we found a pride of lions feasting on a Buffalo carcass. The sound of flesh being ripped from the bone was more intense and awe-inspiring than anything I have ever heard.

Intensity was a word that repeatedly came to mind throughout the week. The peak was the sensation of tracking elephants on foot. Having become accustomed to the comfort of the 4X4, trading that for the exposure of being on foot brought a hyper-awareness that coursed through my body. Every receptor on my skin was alive to the environment. We moved fast, cliffs peppered with baboons calling in their guttural tones on our right, the Nwanedzi river and a 15-strong herd of elephants on our left. Just before the river widened to separate us from the herd, we had an opportunity to stand and watch for a few precious moments as they moved in steady unison through the lush waterside vegetation. With my thundering heartbeat echoing through my body, I wondered whether anything ever has or ever could make me feel so alive.

Charlie safari Charlie South Africa singita
Charlie Zimbabwe singita Charlie South Africa singita

What was perhaps even more profound than the sensory overload was the emotional journey that unfolded alongside it. The most powerful and emotionally charged aspect of the experience was saved for the fragility of it. One afternoon during our time in the Sabi Sands, a light but opaque cloud dipped to the horizon encasing the landscape in a hazy cocoon. Seemingly closing off the outside world and giving the feeling of safety and blissful isolation. Isolation from the superficial concerns of modern life but also from vital considerations of poaching, of human and wildlife conflict, of the creeping impacts of climate change.

During the course of our adventure, the existence of this cocoon was simultaneously confirmed and challenged as we met some of the remarkable individuals that work to keep these ecosystems protected. Tom Hall, Head of Security on the Malilangwe Reserve and in charge of a team of 92 rangers who patrol and protect the 140km perimeter fence. Dave Wright, Environment Manager for Singita’s conservancies in the Kruger National Park. And finally, Stefaan and his beautiful Belgian Malinois, Luna, both members of the K9 unit that operate an anti-poaching programme in the Sabi Sand.

What I realised in the course of the insightful conversations that we shared with Tom, Dave and Stefaan is that while the cocoon most certainly exists, it is not a natural occurrence. It is created by the tireless work and steadfast commitment of Singita and their extraordinary team of rangers, conservationists, guides, environmental experts, and operations teams that prioritise, above all else, the protection of the lands that they are custodians of.

It is a privilege to spend time in these wondrous environments and it is also a privilege to be exposed to the vulnerability of them. What the work and commitment of Singita allows for is the flourishing of a delicate ecosystem and the opportunity for that ecosystem to be experienced. For me, it was an experience of falling in love with a place, a people and a perspective on our natural world.

Stay tuned for more updates from our team’s adventures