Midnight in the African bush. I sit at a small fire and keep watch over my seven sleeping companions. Still and alert, I take in the scene. Beyond the frugal fire, there appears to be sheer darkness – but slowly I sense the life out there. The rasp of a distant leopard. An owl silhouetted by the light of a day-old full moon. A passing, weaving, flickering firefly. The approaching, spine-tingling whoop of a hyena.
It makes me think of the legendary Dr Ian Player, who believed watch duty was the vital part of the wilderness experience. ‘I can remember people writing to me 30 years after going on a wilderness trail,’ he said, ‘saying they now understood how important the experience was because it reconnected them, not only to the natural world, but to the natural man and woman within themselves.’
A multi-day walking trail in a game reserve is one of life’s most soul-stirring experiences. And the reason is biology. Up until 12 000 years ago, with the agricultural revolution, we all lived as hunter gatherers. For 250 000 years, and even before that, we grew accustomed to life on the savannas. That’s when our whole biological software was programmed. As time goes on, you become to feel more at home in the wilderness because that’s what it is – our home. Us in a small group, looking out for each other, moseying through the savanna – that’s what we have evolved to be, but we’ve removed ourselves and have forgotten that this space is our natural habitat.
It’s interesting to think about the different ways in which ancient humans and modern humans go about their lives. Especially when walking in the footsteps of our long-gone ancestors. A big difference is consciousness – being aware of your surroundings and the results your actions will bring. These days, it’s so easy to live mindlessly, not conscious of the damage you do with your purchases or words or movements. Yet, there’s now a movement to change this.
Conscious travel is about travelling mindfully. Our intention when travelling should be to make a positive long-term impact on the environment and the local communities. It’s about having a heightened awareness of what the consequences of everything we do are — eating at a restaurant, getting from A to B, interacting with a local. Every single thing leaves a mark. We want these marks to be positive, and that happens more when you’re a conscious traveller.
At Scintilla, we’ve combed through Southern Africa to find three of the most rewarding and positive-impact experiences.
Marataba is one of South Africa’s most innovative conservation models and is uniquely situated where lush bushveld gives way to the Kalahari sands. Here, you can immerse yourself in the solitude of the vast, wild spaces whilst also actively participating in essential conservation projects. These are managed by dedicated conservationists who have opted for a high-value guest-participation tourism model with low-impact on the environmen
There are only three bookings at a time allowed backstage in this 21,000-hectare, privately managed section of the Marakele National Park. The thinking behind this is to not overwhelm the natural environment and for visitors to leave as small a footprint as possible.
Each stay is on an exclusive or semi-exclusive basis, with a dedicated conservation guide, and a program designed around your interests. What wildlife research catches your fancy? How about tracking cheetah or monitoring the growth rate of elephants? What about identifying rhinos or collecting camera trap data? Your experience is entirely up to you but is focused on balancing tourism with nature.
The Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe provides a unique elephant experience while you capture their majestic form through your own brushstrokes.
The experience starts in an open-design thatch boma, which offers an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Masuwe River. Here you’ll learn about this eco-conscious sanctuary and the orphanage, founded on the principles of conservation and hope. You’ll come away with an understanding of the complexities of elephants, the individuals and herd structures, their history and population threats.
Next, you’ll venture down to the chairs, where easels and art supplies are set up under shady trees overlooking a waterhole. A private tutor is on hand for guidance, helping you to capture the moment and the giants before you. A delicious lunch rounds off a perfect morning that allows you to come away with life-long memories, the glowing knowledge of supporting elephant conservation and your own personal masterpiece.
Just upstream from Victoria Falls, the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park is a hotspot for herbivores big and small as well as endangered white rhino. It’s here that they offer visitors the unique experience of walking alongside these magnificent creatures with an expert guide.
You’ll enter the park by vehicle and drive through the rugged terrain to the last known location of the rhino. After a rigorous safety briefing, you’ll set out on foot toward the magnificent creatures with your guide and spend some quality time interacting with them and photographing them.
This two-hour experience gets you as close as possible on foot to these endangered species, as you walk through the reserve learn about the surrounding ecosystem, animal spoor and what the future of rhino conservation looks like.
If you’d like to book these experiences or find out about other ways to travel sustainably in Africa then please contact us now and we’ll gladly share our expert knowledge with you.