It seems remarkable that we have completed a full journey around the sun since South Africa – much like the rest of the world – went into a Covid-19 lockdown; and whilst for many of us it has felt like a longer than average trip this time around, it does feel like just yesterday there was no toilet paper left in the shops!
Although we are still as far from being back to “normal” as I am from having a suntan, it has been fantastic to slowly start moving in that direction as we have been welcoming more and more travellers back to Tanda Tula Safari Camp over the recent months. There are clearly many obvious reasons that we are delighted to be able to once more see the smiling faces of our guests, hear laughter ringing out from their dinner tables in the evenings and feel the energy that their being here brings to all of us, but it is slowly dawning on us just how lucky and privileged I have been, to be able to have spent the last year in the Timbavati. Yes, in fairness I have spent the last 14 years in this part of the Greater Kruger, but it has never, and likely will never again be a year as I have just experienced.
From the start of this pandemic, as bookings cancelled and the reserve slowly emptied out on the tourist front leaving a handful of us with a massive back yard to explore and play in, the luxury of having the game reserve almost to myself was not lost on me. Despite having done countless game drives over the years, and with there being no essential need for me to be out on game drives all the time, I found that even on days when I planned on a “morning off”, I was still awoken by the dawn chorus of the birds each morning (that is if you can call the ear-piercing screech of a spurfowl a “chorus”) itching to get out there to go and see what magic the bush held. It showed me that as complacent as I sometimes felt I had become about living this life surrounded by these iconic African animals – sacrilegiously taking magic moments in their company for granted – I was clearly a long way from being over this lifestyle. This pandemic had the invaluable consequence of proving to me that I really was following my dream, as there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be.
Yet, it has only been since the arrival of guests back into our welcoming arms (proverbially of course – we can’t wait for the day to once again give a welcoming hug to our old friends) that I have started to become truly aware of the good fortune that has befallen me by being able to stay in these natural surrounds for the past year. I always feel bad – if not selfish – when I whisper to people about how much I have personally loved this year considering the hardships, sadness and loss that so many people across the world have faced. This love is not borne out of the fact that it was because out in the middle of nowhere we have been far safer than most, but rather because by being locked down in the vast wilderness that is one of the greatest protected areas on earth, I have never had to break this powerful connection to nature. Not once did I have to long for the day when I could once again be bouncing down the dusty roads, taking in the clean air as nature sung around me and carried on playing her saga as if there was no pandemic causing chaos in the rest of the world. It has only been in seeing the relief and rejuvenation of our returning guests as they got to once more experience what they had been yearning for for so many months that I could begin to fully appreciate just how special it is to have been here at Tanda Tula over the course of the past year, surrounding by nature and all of her beauty, all of the time.
I now realise that I have always taken this for granted, and if there is one thing that I hope to take away from this unforgettable period in our lives, it is that I should never underestimate just how much we need nature in our lives, and how important it is to experience that connection first-hand.
I also now know, more than ever, that I should never forget what a privilege it is to be able to call this place home, and even more importantly, how much I have missed being able to share in these experiences with so many wonderful people from all over the world.
We can only hope that by the time our next circumnavigation of the sun is complete, many more of you would have been able to come and reconnect yourselves with nature too.