The Heart of Safari – A Guest Experience with Zhenya Swan

The Heart of Safari – A Guest Experience with Zhenya Swan

We recently hosted Zhenya Swan, a videographer and content creator from Germany at Thornybush Game lodge. This is her review of her time with the Thornybush family and her humbling experience visiting the community on one of our community tours to the Nourish Village. We loved her take on her visit, and we hope that we can inspire you, our next guests to come and experience the #thornybushexperience for yourselves. 

All the safari feels

If I am asked what being on a safari feels like – I would compare it to being on heavy drugs. (Excuse the example, but hear me out.) You get addicted from the first minute you experience it, you want more, it is never enough and the only person who can properly understand you is another safari addict. Once you have experienced the magic of the bush, there really is no way back.

I’ve been on safari before, but somehow staying at Thornybush in November 2021 made me fall in love with the bush even more. But the main difference compared to other lodges I had been to was the immersive cultural experience at the local villages, a unique guest experience offered by Thornybush.

I now have come to realise that staying at a safari lodge opens up the doors to the nature of South Africa and its unique environment, but visiting the communities, learning from them, educating yourself about their way of life, customs and traditions opens up the heart of South Africa. 

Experience luxury, but immerse yourself in culture

Visiting the local communities is a very wholesome experience, one which I am happy we could do and will encourage other guests to do the same during their stay. It also made me realise how crucial the tourism industry is for this region; how lodges support communities, schools, non-profit organisations and how we as visitors can make an important difference to the lives of people and the wildlife. I guess my favourite part was interacting with kids at Nourish village as they were the kindest little humans I have ever met.

I feel like in 2022 it is not enough to just come to a place, have 5-star service, enjoy your stay and leave without bonding on a deeper level. What we had at Thornybush was receiving a sense of participation, a sense of being a part of the family and learning so much about nature; the ecosystem and its issues (like poaching) and most of all learning how to greet a new culture with gratitude and respect.

And all of this comes with the exquisite-out-of-their-way service and most importantly – we learnt that immersing ourselves in this new world is actually so much fun! It was genuinely an adventure, which brought us to discover our new selves and this is what I am most grateful for.

It’s not just an armchair safari experience

On our very special walking safari activity through the bush, where for 2,5 hours our guide Daniel was showing us footprints, different signs of the wild and taught us how to notice little things that can show a bigger picture of what was around us. It was at this moment that I noticed how quickly all my senses sharpened and how aware I became of everything around me, we suddenly becomes so small in a big, wild world. This is exactly what we are lacking sometimes in the big city – being present and learning from the environment. If I could escape on safari to just have that grounding experience, I would, daily.

It’s only on safari that I forget about the rest of the world and learn to just turn on my ‘treasure hunter’ mode and hoped to find something special, no other holiday asks you to put on your bush eyes, which could almost feel like a meditation practise. And gosh, were our bush-eyes always “on”. Whether it was a tiny rare bird whose name I don’t remember or a pack of wild dogs hunting, it always brought the same excitement and joy of finding wildlife in the bush.

It is a miracle and a privilege to still be able to go to reserved territories like this and see animals in their natural habitat. Our tracker made the most out of every safari and tried to find as much as he could, but also together with our guide they considered our desires and tried to show us what we particularly were interested in. Thus, not only could I take amazing photos of leopards, lions and wild dogs, but also have an exciting story to tell about each of the pictures.

An accommodation made from safari dreams

To underline the whole experience, I would like to write a few words about the accommodation at Thornybush Game Lodge. I am obsessed with design interiors and love when the atmosphere of the interiors complement the outdoors. When we checked in on the first day and entered our private little suite, I was surprised by the love for the details inside. The whole interior was so special, emphasizing the feeling of nature, giving a feeling of an even stronger connection with it and at the same time spoiling the guests with privacy and intimacy. As a photographer, I couldn’t stop admiring the textures, shapes, colours and lines of the details of the lodge.

Celebrating love at Thornybush

Having come to Thornybush as a couple, we also searched for some special romantic experiences and having a private romantic dinner on the deck was definitely one of them. Surrounded by the sounds of nature, we immersed ourselves into the indescribable atmosphere of the bush at night and then we were completely spoilt by the chefs menu which resonated with us so much. I feel like food is just as important a part of the stay as accommodation and safaris. I can still remember all our breakfasts, lunches and dinners as they comprised great food options (including catering for vegetarians, like me). We shared incredible stories and were always greeted with very polite and courtly staff, especially our waiter who was so kind and always had the best suggestions for both of us. 

All I hear is the call of Africa

As I have mentioned previously, going on a safari make you become sort of a junkie. That is why during the months I have been gone, I am already dreaming of visiting the other lodge by Thornybush – the highly acclaimed jewel that is Saseka Tented Camp. I am looking forward to experiencing the privacy and exclusivity, as well as attention to interior and visual features I have so fondly heard of, and know that it’s on my buck list when I travel back to Africa again. I have secretly (I guess, not so much anymore) already made it my goal for a Honeymoon or any other special occasion! 

The call of the bush is a loud one, and once you go you’ll never stop hearing it.

Words & Photographs by @ZhenyaSwan

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