Africa is a place of enchantment. The power and pure energy of this ancient land and its inhabitants is palpable. As I cruise along an unpaved road in a doorless Land Rover Defender, I scan the horizon for civilization and instead spot countless impalas, warthogs, and giraffes. A refreshing breeze whips through my hair as the late afternoon sun warms me. With no wifi or modern-day connections, I am forced to be one with nature and live in the moment, and I love it.
With an abrupt stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, my driver and field guide, Jason, instructs me to hop out of the vehicle. Jabulani Safaris Elephant Manager, Tigere, greets me with a genuine smile and asks if I am nervous about meeting the world's largest land animals. I respond quickly “of course not”; there’s no possible way for me to be anxious due to Tigere’s calm demeanor. With 10 years of experience under his belt, I trust that he will keep me safe in this unfamiliar environment.
We wait patiently in the middle of the open savannah near a fallen Acacia tree trunk. Four tons of sheer mass silently approaches us. His name is Jabulani. I gently walk towards this humongous creature and place my hand on his trunk. Coarse bristles and hardened mud cover his wrinkly skin. He has scraggly eyelashes and humanlike eyes. There’s an instant sense of mutual appreciation and respect.
I dump pellets of grains into Jabulani’s trunk and his hot breath fogs my sunglasses. His trunk twists and turns in every direction, constantly detecting new scents and information. The elephant’s strength, compassion, and intelligence intrigues me and I am in awe of every movement. After Jabulani finishes two canvas sacks of food, his caretaker escorts him back into the bushveld. My soul is bursting with gratitude for this deeply personal interaction.
“Where would we be without this herd of elephants? Two days will stand out in my mind as long as I live. The day that Jabulani arrived as a tiny baby – terrified and on the brink of death. And the day that the rest of the herd arrived and welcomed Jabulani as one of their own.” – Founder of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), Lente Roode.
The Roode family, owners of HESC and Jabulani Safari, adopted these helpless elephants and now offer them a sustainable home. The love for these elephants is at the core of HESC and Jabulani Safari and is the purpose for their existence.
Jabulani Safaris work with these orphaned animals is intertwined in the design of the camp, with elephant emblems on the pillows, coasters, and walls. Overlooking the dry riverbed, seven villas are fitted with canopy beds, mahogany furniture, cozy fireplaces, and exquisite craft pieces such as colorfully beaded African dolls. These accents handcrafted by local artisans are mixed with heirloom pieces like artifacts and Roode family photos. It immediately makes you feel at home.
Due to the intimate size of the camp, you get to know staff members and fellow travelers right away. In the evenings, meals and stories are shared around the boma. Oil lanterns and a bonfire provide light for a traditional South Africa braai (barbeque). Locals pop by to sing soulful songs and dance under the starry sky.
As intrepid travelers, The Roode family offers the unique adventures that we crave. The passion of those who work in this special part of the world is profound and undoubtedly inspires all who have the privilege to experience it. By staying at Jabulani Safari and visiting the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, guests are actively contributing to the well-being of these magnificent animals, which in turn creates personal fulfillment and enriching memories to last a lifetime.
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