Our guiding team recently got the opportunity to go on a primitive sleepout trail with Alan Yeowart, Singita’s Head of Safari Operations and Training. The objective of the trail was to bring all of us back to the roots of our passion, and how to use quiet spaces and the slowing down of safari pace to bring about a deeper connection and appreciation to the wilderness we are privileged to call home.
The sweltering midday heat signalled our first break in the shade of a knobthorn stand, where we saw a herd of elephants heading in our direction, towards a well-used mudwallow behind us. We swiftly got out of their way and watched them halt and smell the ground on which we had just been standing. Phenomenal to think that these pachyderms are able to detect our scent just by smelling the ground we were standing on.
We continued into the great Xinkelengane drainage and the sodic areas that surround. We came across some stone tools and to everyone’s excitement, shards of clay pottery, some pieces even etched and engraved! It was amazing to think how long it could have been since the last human touched those pieces of clay.
We finished the afternoon resting and enjoying the shade of the fly camp. The entire team got busy making various walking sticks, collecting clay and forming ‘rhino-miniatures’ and clay pots, drying them around the fire. It was incredible to see Walter making a scaled-down wooden hut, fully thatched and arranged so neatly, almost inviting tiny people to live there.
The special part for me was the atmosphere. Walter and Solomon whistled a duet in harmony as everyone went about their work weaving and sculpting. The contented smiles shone on our faces and we took the time to appreciate and enjoy each other’s company and where we were.
After a hearty braai we sat around the fire, discussing African star lore and taking in the cool breeze that finally gave reprieve to the sweltering heat of the day.
Our morning started with a cup of coffee and one of the most memorable walks most of us have been on. We came across the Mountain Pride with cubs feeding on a wildebeest. We observed these lions from a distance and gave them space as not to disturb them while they feasted, and then we left them alone feeding and resting, all completely unaware of our presence. We then came across a magnificent elephant bull, that came to inspect us after detecting our scent. It was beautiful to see how relaxed and curious this bull was, and how Alan’s handling of the situation created no stress for him, nor did it stress any of us, and we watched him skirt 30 metres around us and continue feeding.
As the heat picked up we started making our way toward camp when Solomon spotted some elephants in a mud wallow. As we approached we bumped into another lioness, who had skilfully set up an ambush in the shade, opposite a wallow. We gave the animals distance and walked back to camp only to find another four lionesses in the shade about 100 metres from our camp! They watched us calmly from a distance as we went about making breakfast on the open fire.
Only then did it really sink in how lucky we were. Lucky to be able to share a landscape with Africa’s megafauna and to feel connected to nature and not removed from it. In today’s diminishing wild areas, opportunities like this hit home even harder, and judging by the faces of our team, it touched us all deeply. To have Alan and our team sharing knowledge, thoughts and experiences was truly priceless and an experience I’ll never forget.