Travel

A jour­ney to the African Bush is both a mes­meris­ing and life- chang­ing experience, writes Irene Mar­tel Fran­cisco

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Philip­pine Tatler Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Irene Mar­tel Fran­cisco shares pre­cious mem­o­ries and breath­tak­ing photos of her first sa­fari ad­ven­ture

What makes a trip so mem­o­rable, so deeply seared into one’s con­scious­ness that 10 weeks af­ter re­turn­ing home, you find your thoughts con­stantly drift­ing to those mag­i­cal days and nights spent in the African Bush? I never wanted to go on a South African sa­fari…It was so far out of my com­fort zone! How­ever, life has an un­canny way of putting you where you are meant to be, so I found my­self giv­ing in to my fam­ily’s wish, notwith­stand­ing a two-and-a-half-year de­lay.

I reached out to A2A Sa­faris, the au­thor­ity on luxe sa­fari voy­ages, to help me plan a trip as pain­less as pos­si­ble. Af­ter count­less e-mails and meet­ings with them, go­ing over plans, and be­ing re­as­sured, I was fi­nally off to South Africa. My hus­band Randy, our daugh­ter Is­abel, and I were joined on the trip by close fam­ily friends Chuchu Madri­gal and Mandy Eduque with their daugh­ters Alex and Michaela.

We de­cided to stay at two Sin­gita prop­er­ties, ar­guably the best lodges for that glam sa­fari experience, whose own­ers’ passion for the past two decades is to ac­tively pre­serve the African wilder­ness. The Sin­gita Boul­ders Lodge in the Sabi Sands re­serve was warmly wel­com­ing af­ter al­most a day

of trav­el­ling. The large semi-open cen­tral thatched lounge area is stylishly dec­o­rated with African fab­rics, of­fer­ing up large so­fas and wide-open vis­tas of the Sand River. Our glass­fronted suite is ide­ally si­t­u­ated so that one can look out at the African plains and watch the game wan­der by in the dis­tance from the four­poster bed, the sit­ting room or the sun­deck with its own plunge pool. While we were set­tling in, a herd of at least 20 ele­phants made their way to­wards the river as if from cue, all moving at such a nat­u­ral and leisurely pace.

The days on a sa­fari start early, with a game drive leav­ing as the sun is about to rise. There is a brisk chill in the air as we set off in our three-tiered jeeps, all bun­dled up with warm blan­kets and hot wa­ter bags for com­fort. On our first morn­ing drive we saw a zeal of ze­bras, a lone grace­ful gi­raffe, two fam­i­lies of ele­phants, two leop­ards up on trees, and lionesses rest­ing in the bush! It was ab­so­lutely mes­meris­ing. You are stunned and elated at the same time, vir­tu­ally speech­less at all you see be­fore you. The vast­ness of the land that goes on end­lessly, the sound of si­lence, the in­quis­i­tive­ness in the glance of a passing im­pala—th­ese all serve to bond you to the wilder­ness.

Be­tween your re­turn from the morn­ing game drive and your de­par­ture for the af­ter­noon one, you are fed co­pi­ous amounts of de­lec­ta­ble food and drinks. Dur­ing the evening game ex­cur­sion, you stop by a scenic spot to have sun­down­ers such as G&Ts or

I have grown to love the beauty and the dig­nity of the an­i­mals, the still­ness in the air, and that big, star-filled, glo­ri­ous African sky

bub­bly ac­com­pa­nied by some fin­ger snacks. You watch the colours streak the sky as the mag­nif­i­cent African sun­set un­folds. There is a mix of fiery red tem­pered with pinks of all hues, and the clouds fil­ter­ing the fad­ing light that ex­plodes like a paint­ing above you. There is no ob­struc­tion to all this beauty; it stretches on for miles. And as the last ves­tiges of light van­ish, you say a prayer of grate­ful­ness for having wit­nessed this at all.

The evenings on the sa­fari are spent in­dulging in fine food and glo­ri­ous South African wines. Sin­gita takes din­ing se­ri­ously, with vary­ing flavours and cook­ing tech­niques in­spired by the set­ting and style of each lodge. There is a wide ar­ray of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents like the most ten­der steaks, lamb, kudu meat, and seafood freshly flown in to tempt you. What I ap­pre­ci­ated most was the care and ex­quis­ite ser­vice pro­vided by the two ladies in charge of our meals: Maria at Sin­gita Boul­ders and Good­ness at Sin­gita Le­bombo. They went out of their way to re­mem­ber what each per­son in our party pre­ferred and made sure it was al­ways wait­ing for you to sam­ple, with per­haps an­other op­tion. I re­call their gentle laughter and touch­ing kind­ness that made each din­ing experience even more spe­cial.

Our last three days on sa­fari were spent at Sin­gita Le­bombo at the Kruger Na­tional Park. Sin­gita has a pri­vate con­ces­sion within the park con­sist­ing of 33,000 acres. The two-hour drive to the lodge held sur­prises for us along the way. There were ele­phants ca­su­ally cross­ing the road, groups of im­palas con­tent­edly graz­ing on plants, and ze­bras in the dis­tance. None of the an­i­mals seemed afraid or threat­ened by our pres­ence and it was hum­bling to see them in their nat­u­ral habi­tat.

Sin­gita Le­bombo it­self is a cel­e­bra­tion of cut­ting-edge design in an African con­text, where ev­ery­thing de­fers to na­ture. This im­pres­sive lodge has 13 suites that of­fer guests a front-row seat from which to view all the wildlife be­low, as the suites are sus­pended above the N’Wanetsi River.

On one of our last drives we watched as hun­dreds of buf­falo walked to­wards a wa­ter­hole. They strode to­gether with no vi­o­lent move­ments—just a steady flow of an­i­mals drawn to one lo­ca­tion. Our game rangers, Chantelle and Leon, were sim­ply ex­cel­lent at spot­ting wildlife!

An­other un­for­get­table sight­ing was of a group of young chee­tahs, who were slowly walk­ing across the fields and would stop

to sit and play­fully clean each other. See­ing them so re­laxed, so peaceful in their own space made me feel like I had stepped back in time. You make the least noise pos­si­ble as you gaze in rapt at­ten­tion. This is how it was hun­dreds, thou­sands of years ago. This is how this place is meant to be.

I have grown to love the beauty and dig­nity of the an­i­mals, the heart stop­ping sun­rises and sun­sets, the still­ness in the air, and that big, star filled, glo­ri­ous African sky. Life in the bush touches your soul and changes you for­ever. It is with a spir­i­tual feel­ing that you want to leave with noth­ing dis­turbed. You pay homage to the end­less cir­cle of life tak­ing place right be­fore you.

Why am I home­sick for a place that I spent so lit­tle time in? The trip I dreaded tak­ing turned out to be one of my best ever. I have al­ready called A2A Sa­faris to plan an­other visit. Un­til then, I will yearn to see the vi­brant colours, hear the haunt­ing sounds, and see the stun­ning land­scape of Africa.

WILD AND WON­DER­FUL The main lounge of Sin­gita Boul­ders; (in­set) Our sa­fari travel group with Chantelle and Glass of Sin­gita Le­bombo

NA­TURE’S WON­DERS Is­abel, my­self, and Randy; King of the wild; (in­set) The kudu of Africa

(From top) The ter­race out­side our suite at Sin­gita Le­bombo; Laz­ing leop­ards; An oa­sis

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