‘What does the concept of Wilderness mean to you?’ A simple question posed around the campfire on our first night of a four day Wilderness Trail in Umfolozi.
Sinoti, our Zulu guide, listened attentively to our answers. In response Lavio and Laura from Portugal, both first time visitors to South Africa, described natural vegetation inhabited by herbivores and apex predators. We described a balanced ecosystem devoid of human sophistication.
Sagely, Sinoti discussed an ecosystem in contemporary circumstances that displays no permanent impact of either human, fauna or any other event.
Despite the myriad game trails crisscrossing the bushveld, none are permanent. Mounds of rhino and elephant dung are ephemeral, serving as nesting material for Scarab Beatles and compost for the environment.
Our impact on nature, the use of water and ablutions, were put in perspective as Sinoti continued explaining that showers where from a suspended bucket, half per person. Even the simple act of going to the toilet encourages one to be cognizant of your ecological footprint. Armed with a spade, a roll of toilet paper and a box of matches, you have to select a suitable location. Once complete, the used loo paper is burnt and everything covered up. No water wasted. A simple return to the cycle of life.
As our fireside discussion continued, I recalled all the other Wilderness Trails that we have hiked. On the Kerri Trail in the Kalahari the pervading impression that percolated into our psych was of vast openness. Seeing large game was not the purpose, instead learning to ‘read’ the myriads of spoor crisscrossing the sand dunes enthralled us as our trackers translated the tracks into the lifestyle of the animals that had passed before.
Of the four Wilderness Trails in the Kruger National Park, again the experience of being immersed in a natural environment with little to no evidence of human civilization by far exceeded the desire to walk close to any of the African wildlife. Indeed seeing rhino, elephants, lion, buffalo and leopard was a much appreciated bonus to accompany the overwhelming feeling of liberation presented by nature.
Afro-montane Forest in the Garden Route, all of which immerse you in the natural rhythm of nature.
The lessons learned on these trails are simultaneously subtle and profound, rapidly exerting a reconnection with nature. Without a doubt the most tangible evidence of the reconnection with nature is the awakening of all five senses. Each sound and smell is integral as a warning of the proximity of animals, the opportunity for a photograph.
The collage and mosaic of vegetation, geology and landscapes the full spectrum of your visual capabilities a. The velvet smoothness of a Pellegonium, the rough texture of a tree or powder fineness of dust used to test wind direction broaden your vocabulary of touch, a sensual anchor to the environment.
Of taste, everything just tastes better in nature. Everything. Coffee brewed on wood coals from the campfire. A cheese and tomato sandwich on a rocky outcrop.
After the fire side chats, the combination of a full days exercise and the engaging your five senses to full capacity sleep comes easily. A slumber that revitalizes your entire being for the next day.