‘Wilderness in waiting’ is a four-part weekly series, highlighting Africa’s proud wildlife heritage during the COVID pandemic.
The good news is that we’re starting to see movement in African countries opening up tourism again. In South Africa, various tourism bodies are working around the clock to ensure that we have the right protocols frameworks in places to safely welcome guests soon. Until that happens, several lodges have been harnessing the power of technology and other creative means to ensure we’re able to keep connected with the wild.
Londolozi and the Art of Storytelling
Before we even start looking at why some lodges have taken safari digital, it’s important to understand the psyche of safari: at the heart of this sensorial experience is storytelling. I knew my starting point would be Londolozi, a lodge whose ethos fully embraces storytelling. Amanda Ritchie (from Londolozi) told me a little more about this.
“The ancient art of storytelling is a way of sharing a nuanced combination of ancient wisdom and modern technology. Good stories are felt and experienced in the body – they are almost a set of code that stays with you.”
Indeed, those who have been on safari will testify that these kinds of stories are felt. Amanda continues, “Nature has a way of showing you how to weave truth and adventure together; it has to be authentic and truly lived. That’s what we do every day… hoping that in some small way we can inspire awakening to a shared humanity, animal kinship, and planet. This is a very long way of saying ‘it is like breathing for us.’”
It’s clear that the team has put considerable effort into ensuring that narrative-led legacy continues, despite current challenges. In addition to offering live safaris via social media, the Londolozi family has brought us some astoundingly unique projects.
“Over 38% of our guests are returning visitors. When the global pandemic hit the world and slowed everything down, we came together as a team and decided that we needed to put together a way for our online Londolozi family – and anyone who was feeling anxious or lost – to return to nature virtually through the practices of mindfulness, animal wisdom, and meditation. Londolozi has specialized in the Inward Safaris for many years. Spearheaded by Boyd Varty (a Londolozi tracker and life coach), we have run different retreats that combine wilderness emersion and inner tracking in a very unique way.”One unique retreat was Boyd’s 40 days and 40 nights spent in the wilderness. Although it’s now over, you can follow the journey starting here and glean from the daily episodes. You can sign up for their Inward Safari – a 7 Day Animal Wisdom Challenge, freely here.
“We wanted to generate a free gift that we could send out to the world to say that we, the immediate Londolozi family, were thinking of everyone and create some inner space for people to go on their own inward safari. Even if all they could do was close themselves in their office or bedrooms for 30 minutes to work through the day’s challenges.”
&BEYOND and Bringing Africa Home
Known for going above and beyond, luxury group &BEYOND knew that they wanted to do something for their loyal following. Valeri Mouton gave me some insight into what birthed their &BEYOND Connect. “The worldwide lockdown may have reduced the capacity for people to travel to distant places, but the one thing it cannot extinguish is their appetite for new and exotic experiences. To relieve the tedium of isolation and bring the beauty of the natural world to our guests, our teams looked at ways to virtually bring our destinations to life.”
Live safari feeds have already captured the hearts and screens of many around the globe. Through these virtual safaris, in partnership with the WILDearth organization, viewers have been enjoying their daily wildlife fix. These are made possible by a group of guides who have remained on the reserves to ensure the wildlife monitoring continues, as well as playing an important security function.
The team didn’t leave it at that Valeri notes: “We explored how we travel through our senses and captured curated recipes, music, books, documentaries and videos that bring travel to your armchair through our #andbeyondathome campaign.”
&BEYOND Connect offers virtual experiences, the ability to book a chat with a guide, a travel-inspired magazine, a podcast channel, a TV service…. and then my favourite – Bringing Africa Home. Here you can Taste, Hear, Watch and Read Africa (nearly) fully embracing the sensorial nature of safari.
People have found the content helpful in connecting them to the wild. “The overwhelming response to our interactive content has made us realise the possibility of virtual safaris to provide wildlife access to the world’s audience with a goal to educate and inspire them. It also provides us with a mechanism to fundraise for our community and conservation projects that need support at this time.”
The positive feedback for these projects is a testimony that even in this short period of wilderness in waiting, the significance of the African experience continues to be as powerful as ever.