Karen Blixen wrote: “There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you have drunk half a bottle of champagne -- bubbling over with the heartfelt gratitude for being alive.” My travels to the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa this summer affirmed Baroness Blixen’s assessment. An African safari contains a special gift; it can brush away the cobwebs and heal the broken-hearted. One can believe that all is well with the world and that “this is where I ought to be.”
Going on safari at Zulu Nyala and Phinda Game Reserves was the sum of all things enchanting. There were incredible vistas and tremendously knowledgeable and affable guides. There were kind and open-hearted South Africans, fellow travelers who made the journey even lovelier, and my aunt, who made the trip possible. Viewing lions, elephants, cheetahs, white and black rhinoceroses, zebras, impalas, nyalas, monkeys, wild dogs, and hippopotamuses in their natural element – I gained a more fine-tuned perspective on my smallness and fleeting time on the planet. Because of this, I vowed to be a better version of myself from that time forward.
I entered into the rhythm of Africa out in the bush – an instinctive empathy with the wild and created world. The human clamor and tumult receded. Silence and calm used to be a part of the human repository. We in the West have lost stillness. We no longer move with our senses attuned to beauty. We move not as part of an ensemble, or in unison or solidarity, but set apart – in fact isolated, calculating, or contrary. South Africa caused me to reconnect with that lost thread.
One realizes that city life and technology, however substantial and transformative by the narrower standards of economic utility and mobility, can still fog one’s thoughts. The deepest part of one’s existence can go unexplored or unrecognized, a situation leading to inauthentic actions or artificial sentiments. This South African safari reawakened my sense of wonder and allowed me to focus on what is important; it pointed to the grace of what is possible and lovely in the natural world.
The South African scenery was enchanting and almost mythical; it sings. But like all enchanting places, it illuminated what was hidden, pushing one to discover what constitutes a purposeful life. It pressed a person to query in echoes across the topography, “What is the meaning of this life? Where are you going?”
When one leaves this scenery, a permanent mark remains. One’s travel compass has been perceptibly changed, and future plans are inexplicably altered. That was South Africa’s power and gift. The 14th-century Moroccan traveler, writer, and scholar Ibn Battuta wrote: “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” I am not certain I qualify as a storyteller but traveling to South Africa has left me speechless. It has enlarged my conception of the world and influenced me in subtle and profound ways, whereby my story going forward will be different and hopefully worth telling to a future kindred soul.
The game reserves of KwaZulu-Natal are like fairy-tale kingdoms, with “All things counter, original, spare, strange,” in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It shows you that although (as Hopkins also wrote) God “plays in ten thousand places,” he often paints, muses, and resides in these kingdoms of Africa.
There is so much more to explore. I know I will be back to South Africa and I hope to visit other parts of Africa someday. A travel writer once urged: “If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa twice.” Based on my experience, I understand the sentiment.