SABI SANDS GAME RESERVE, South Africa – Dawn broke over the African bush as I rose into sun salutation. Perched on a platform tucked in the branches of a marula tree, I slid into downward dog as lions roared and elephants trumpeted in the distance. I inhaled and reach my arms overhead towards the leaves and the stars still twinkling in the South African sky above me. I had never felt so alive.
After a 16-hour flight from New York City to Johannesburg the day before, I arrived at Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park in South Africa, hoping to find peace at Londolozi Game Reserve after a stressful winter. It was my first time in Africa.
Let me set the scene: Like any good 30-year-old career girl in New York City, I'd spent the last few months frazzled, tethered to my computer, working 70-hour weeks. Friends invited me to events, to yoga classes, away for the weekend, but with a maxed-out email in box and multiple deadlines, I couldn't afford to take any time for myself. My friendships were suffering, I hadn't been on a date in months, and I was flat-out exhausted. My equilibrium was definitely off-kilter. I needed a vacation.
I stepped off the plane onto the desolate airstrip surrounded by the vast savannah of Kruger National Park. No airport. No honking taxis, no sirens, no screeching subways. No e-mail, cell phones, or looming deadlines. Just the unadulterated wild of this landscape and a dirt runway that disappeared into the horizon. Unobstructed by skyscrapers, the vast blue sky stretched above me and on forever.
A khaki-clad man approached. Equal parts Indiana Jones and Ralph Lauren model, Boyd Varty extended his hand and introduced himself as our host. The Varty family has owned Londolozi since 1926, and Boyd grew up amid the tawny grassland, lilac-breasted roller birds, and the famous Londolozi leopards.
He effortlessly loaded our bags into a topless Land Rover. After a five-minute drive, on which we saw zebras, hippos, and giraffes, we pulled into Londolozi, a 5000-acre private game reserve that's home to lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and five different safari camps, including ours, Tree Camp, a cluster of twelve prime suites and a main lodge that was to be my home for the next four days. The big city already felt a million miles away.
Every day of the four-day safari started at 5 a.m. with a brusque knock and tea and biscuits delivered to my door. Shortly thereafter, a guard returned to escort me to Tree Camp's main lodge, set on an elevated treehouse-like structure overlooking the Sand River where our early morning yoga classes took place. Lanterns illuminated the deck as we practiced in pre-dawn darkness. The instructor led our group of eight through a hybrid of ashtanga, Iyengar, and Bikram poses which she called "bush yoga," a practice she had created with the African landscape in mind. Downward dog became downward wild dog. Triangle pose became giraffe. Class wound down every morning as crimson sunlight began to spill over the savannah and nature's cacophony reached fever pitch.
After breakfast, we climbed into the Land Rover for a game drive with Boyd and his sister Bronwyn, fourth-generation custodians of Londolozi. Londolozi, appropriately enough, is the Zulu term for "protector of all living things." Their great-great grandfather settled the land as a hunting retreat for the family in 1926. In the early 1960s, their father and uncle took over the property, eventually dropping their guns in favor of living in harmony with nature. In 2006, they relaunched Londolozi as a world-class safari destination.
We followed lion tracks for hours, passing elephants, hippos, and giraffes along the way, until we found our jackpot: two lionesses licking a freshly killed impala carcass as six cubs nursed and frolicked around them. In the safari world, it doesn't get much better than this — especially when you consider we'd already seen two leopards, the savannah's piece de resistance, the night before.
But it did get better.
That night, as we headed back to camp after our evening drive, the sky dark and cast with stars brighter than any I've ever seen, Boyd cut the Land Rover's engine. We sat silent, taking in the glimmering Southern Cross and pulsing bush sounds, until Boyd interrupted our pause. He was shy at first, then began to recite Ben Okri's poem, "To an English Friend in Africa."
"Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery..."
His words hung in the frangipani-scented air before settling deep in my memory.
Can words do this justice? Probably not. This was one of the most sublime moments of my very spoiled life.
After four glorious days filled with fresh food served six times a day, yoga, a run through the bush with Boyd where he showed me an impala lily and we had a close encounter with a cobra, and a night filled with African songs, dirty jokes, and one crazed hyena, my time at Londolozi came to an end. There is nothing quite like visiting Africa for the first time and losing your safari virginity to Londolozi — and to Boyd Varty, no less.
So when you are ready to be deflowered by Africa and lose a part of yourself that will never come back, to be filled forever more with a wild place, feral lust, and longing, do it right, for God's sake. Do it at Londolozi.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
When to Go: Safari season runs from May to October. This is a trip you'll want to plan ahead.
Fly: South African Airways (among others) flies into OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, then transfer to a Federal Air flight to Londozi airstrip. Check Londozi's site for more transportation details.
Londolozi Game Reserve
Sabi Sands Game Reserve 1350
PACK YOUR BAGS
Don't go on safari without the right gear.