MIKE – RECONNECTING WITH AFRICA
“Once you have the soil of Africa under your fingernails you will be forever drawn back to the continent.” It’s an old saying, but I believe it is true. After 14 years in Canada I still feel the pull of the African bush. I have to go back. I need to reconnect with what I do. I need to establish relationships with the owners of resorts, safari camps and tour operators. But most of all I need to go for my soul.
My latest trip to Africa was short and business focused, but it was still a salve for my African soul. The primary purpose of the trip was to participate in a travel conference that brought together travel agents and designers with the best operators from throughout Africa. But I started my one-week trip in the African bush.
I spent two nights with Singita, probably the most luxurious safari experience on the continent. From the “Arrivals Lounge” at the end of the dusty landing strip, to the beautifully appointed rooms to the magnificent meals with perfectly matched wines, Singita can only be described using superlatives.
But as much as I enjoyed the luxury and care of Singita’s Ebony Lodge (Sabi Sand) and Lebombo Lodge (Kruger), it’s the African bush that is the real draw card. For me, being on safari is about the early morning light creeping over the landscape and the sound of the bush coming to life. There is something about the dusty landscape and the intense light that is inexplicable. I only know it feels like home.
In the bush you never know what you are going to meet around the next corner. A whole pride of lions, with bright-eyed cubs, played beside our vehicle, two male impalas engaged in a furious jousting match, a leopard lazed regally by the side of the road. I have been going on safari for a quarter century, but the wonder never wanes.
What’s great about South Africa is that you can literally be in the wilds of Kruger during the day, and by the evening you are in the sophisticated winelands outside Capetown. I hated to leave the bush behind, but the secluded gardens and award winning cuisine of Le Quartier Francaise were more than a little compensation!
I only spent one night in the winelands but I did manage to check out three different options for accommodation and fine dining. Le Quartier Francais is a tranquil, fairytale-like haven that is perfect for couples. Les Cles des Montagnes just down the road is equally beautiful, surrounded by vineyards and plum orchards. But the villa style accommodation makes this an ideal spot for families.
My final stop in the winelands was the unique Babylonstoren, a foodie’s paradise. The vineyards, orchards, veggie garden and fowl pens of this Cape Dutch farm take centre stage, the exclusive hotel and restaurant simply vehicles to enjoy the produce. No doubt I will be including this amazing place in future itineraries!
And then it was back to Capetown and the We Are Africa show. This was a fabulous opportunity for me to reconnect and establish new relationships. Planning a safari is not the same as simply booking a hotel. Having a personal relationship with the operators can make a big difference to a client’s experience. You know who to ask for special experiences and who to contact if someone is delayed.
I reconnected with the owners of Chilo Gorge in Zimbabwe, Chiawa Camp in Zambia, Little Chem Chem and Legendary Lodge in Tanzania. I met the owners of Royal Chundu, a luxury lodge tucked away on an island in the middle of the Zambezi River just upstream from Victoria Falls. It’s fabulous to be able to offer clients an escape from Vic Fall’s tourist bustle, a place to get lost in the grandeur of this mighty river.
I returned to Canada excited, looking forward to pulling together itineraries to allow my clients to discover the best that Africa has to offer. But I was also at peace. I had tasted the African bush, woken to the dusty plains, drunk in the intense light. Having had my dose of Africa, I was ready again to share the magic with others.