Adventures in Zululand

April went by incredibly quickly for me. I started the month with a trip to South Africa with my father. This was a relic from my former life, originally booked back in 2019 when I still worked in a corporate job and the world was a very different place altogether – b.C. (before Covid).

So I packed my suitcase with mixed feelings. On the one hand side, I was massively looking forward to the adventures that would await us, the new insights and encounters, the change of scenery, and spending quality time with my dad. On the other hand side, I felt uneasy, thinking about what long-haul flights do to the planet and that I am living a much more modest life nowadays and would certainly not book such a luxurious type of vacation anymore. In the end, I decided to just enjoy the 13 days fully without remorse as a way of charging my batteries so I can have a positive impact on my environment in my own little way. There is no one right way of living – it is about making conscious, considered choices. I am glad that we went.

Our trip was a combination of safari and beach in the Zululand region. It had been thoughtfully planned by travel butlers in the UK (can highly recommend). We started out in the little town of St. Lucia, located at the southern end if the iSimangaliso Wetlands park which is a Heritage site and home to countless freely roaming animals, along the coast of the Indian Ocean. We stayed at a small B&B with wonderful breakfast. We quickly got used to the warm, humid climate, and to the monkeys frolicking about in the trees. We enjoyed local food and even took a bicycle tour to the beach and of course a boat trip. The highlight for me clearly were the hippos enjoying themselves in the water. They seem so peaceful – hard to believe that they are regarded as the most dangerous of the big African animals. In St. Lucia, they are known to roam around at night to graze in the park, so you need to be careful not to bump into one – that could well be a fatal encounter.

Our next destination was Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge which sits on a hillside just inside the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. This park is the one of the oldest wildlife reserves in Africa and home to the “big five” and countless other species great and small. Here, we enjoyed the “classical” safari experience with luxurious accommodation, being totally pampered including and going for twice daily “game drives” with a safari guide. Now, I am a big fan of all sorts of nature documentaries (above all anything made by David Attenborough) and I still learned so many new things, for instance that with age, a Giraffe’s spots gets darker and that you can tell a female from a Giraffe bull by the lacking fur on his small “horns”, worn down by fighting.

We also learned that wild dogs are an endangered species partly because their hunting technique is very dangerous – they do not kill their prey before they start eating it. Instead, they tuck right in on the run, which often results in receiving kicks in the face. Ouch! We learned about how temporary coalitions of animals form, for instance we saw two rhino mothers with their young ones or a group of male elephant bachelors acting out their testosterone on the hillside right by the lodge. They even cut off the water supply one night. We were told this happens all the time as the elephants feel the vibrations of water running through the pipes under their feet and then start digging to benefit from the precious fluid.

Let me tell you that safari does not exactly feel relaxing – the schedule is something to get used to. Getting up at 5:30 in the morning for the first drive, coming back in time for a late breakfast, then a couple of hours of leisure time followed by afternoon tea before heading out again for the afternoon drive around 15:30 until after sunset. The two of the three places we stayed at belong to a group of lodges (called isibindi) that is engaged in supporting the local communities, actively involving the villagers around the lodges in building and running the place, sponsoring schools and other infrastructure and thereby combining tourism with doing something good for the locals as well. And there is a lot that still can be done, for sure.

Most of the rural population lives in relative poverty in very simple housing on very low incomes (200 EUR per month) and there still is an enormous divide between black and white in terms of the standard of living. In some villages, electricity was only introduced relatively recently (some 20-30 years ago), running water and sewage systems are still not a given in many of the places we saw on our trip. Our driver, the staff at the lodges as well as all the other locals we met were all heart-warmingly friendly. The South African black people have gone through so much injustice, oppression and cruelty on behalf of the Apartheid regime, inflicted by white people who thought themselves superior. And still, they met us – white travellers, who have so much monetary wealth while they struggle to make ends meet – with open arms, broad smiles and cheeky humour. I have the utmost respect for this and I am not sure if I have it in me to act the same would I be in their shoes.

The last couple of days we spent at a beautiful beach at the northern rim of iSimangaliso, Thonga Beach. To get there requires an adventurous journey of more than one hour on a bumpy dirt and sand road right through the jungle – an African massage, as our driver called it. After the very exciting safari experience it was good to enjoy these peaceful and laid-back surroundings and wind down. We enjoyed our conversations, the laughter, the playtime and also the silence and non-action. For the first time ever, I saw my daddy reading, letting the days flow by and just being at ease with life in general. “I am really relaxed” he said – and I felt the same.

I returned home grateful, nourished and rich with memories and impressions that I hope will stay with me for as long as I live.

The past two weeks after a quiet Easter weekend here at the village with Klaus were then pretty packed with work: facilitating online workshops, planning for new face-to-face and virtual workshops that will take place in the coming weeks. At hppyppl – of which I am now a co-founder – business is picking up, we are getting new requests in nearly every week and it is awesome to see that the way we work and what we do resonates with people. We also offboarded one client on good terms because it had simply not worked out as we all had intended. Letting go when it is time also is important.

This week, I popped by at the village choir for the first time, sang along for a bit and I think it will not have been the last time. Singing with others for me is such a booster – it releases oxytocin by the truckload and lifts me up like few other things do.

Next week will be our much-anticipated workation week – a hppyppl retreat. We rented a house for the whole team and will use this week for all the things that we usually have too little time for: enjoying ourselves and bonding as a team, working on strategy and product development, having good conversations, creating content and just being with each other. We operate fully remote without any kind of office, so we relish these opportunities to get together all the more. A strong team culture is not shaped by working alongside one another in the same office every day – it takes other ingredients and here quality is more important than frequency, I reckon. Anyway, I am looking forward to it.

Sending you lots of love, wherever this finds you.

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