Updated: Dec 5, 2018
In beautiful orange and red hues, the sun was just dipping on the horizon. Silhouetted to the right of an ancient marula tree, facing the sunset, sat a deeply contemplative trail participant. I guessed that he might be thinking about his life’s journey, where he was and what he wanted. Later that evening he spoke to me about how, although already very successful, this trip unexpectedly had him taking stock. I was leading our unsupported backpacking trail on one of the stunning Transfrontier Parks Destinations concessions. Forming the unfenced western boundary of the Kruger National Park it is part of one the largest, and few remaining, open systems in the world. I have a deep love for the wilder parts of our lowveld, even after three decades of visiting rugged undulating areas like this, I still find myself spell bound - This is truly wonderful walking country.
In the company of a great group of like-minded nature and adventure lovers, we roughly followed the course of the Letaba river whilst occasionally moving further inland to specific interest points. We are steered by the age-old wilderness philosophy of leaving only footprints and are carrying all that we need to be completely self-sufficient. Our group loved following the tracks of two elephant bulls to find them some time later, entranced they watched large pods of hippo who similarly observed them and on our final night they were blessed with lions roaring slightly west of our small tents.
Having left the distractions of civilisation behind, the combination of the sights, sounds, smells and wilderness exposure, triggers a set of emotions that catalyze a sense of groundedness, curiosity and reconnection with self. When I see our clients looking with complete awe at a closely feeding elephant, contemplatively filling the collapsible bucket for our drinking water from a hole dug in a seemingly dry river bed or simply staring deeply to the horizon, I know that the spirit of wilderness is starting to touch their hearts. Truly wild places have an incredible power to inspire, influence and help shape who we are and who we continue to become. Much like the principle of the “the mirror and a glass”, it allows us to reflect on the memory of our journey and the vision of where we want to go and why. This is one of the many reasons that global influencers such as Doctor Travis Bradberry argue that we should focus on spending our money on experiences versus more materials possessions [Forbes magazine].
Our trail suddenly came to a sharp stop. One of the trailists pointed to the ground. Before us moved a giant velvet mite. Its stunning red “velvet fur” stood out in stark contrast to the soil it was moving over. Unlike many mites that are vegetarian, these nymphs predate on termites. They typically appear after it has rained, and as quickly as they appear, they again disappear in a day into the sand [once they have mated]. When we participate in a vehicle safari we miss so much – When on foot we see how our clients “move” from the observation platform of a vehicle to actively encountering and immersing themselves in the African bush with all their senses.
The late Dr. Ian Player, one of our South African conservation doyennes, wisely and insightfully observed “I knew that in wilderness, only accessible to parties on foot, we had resources that were vital to the well-being of the people of the world. These are like the fountain that we return to for spiritual nourishment”. In the context of this importance, and extremely contrasted, in the last 20 years we have lost an estimated 3.3 million km² and Africa contributed to 14% of that. Wilderness cannot be recreated - We must do all that we can to ensure that which remains stays uncommercialized and largely untouched. With a low ecofootprint, unsupported backpacking trails help ensure the sustainability of such areas.
Most people going on safari arrive with a set of expectations – For many the purpose of such a trip is to see African animals in their natural habitat. Whilst on trail we will meet some of these expectations, but as you engage the body, mind and soul, at a level that is only possible when on foot and this close to nature, you are assured of leaving with so much more.
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