There’s something about being in the wilderness that feels almost magical. As though the raw, untouched environment has a kind of healing energy that cannot be explained. And if you allow yourself to get lost in it, to surrender yourself to the awe, and wonder of God’s creation; your entire perspective on life and its importance could shift. This was certainly true for four close friends who shared the same unspoken sentiments in a healing ritual around the campfire.
It was a warm day in September when we began our journey to Mana Pools. Four full days in paradise awaited us, as inch by inch, kilometre by kilometre, we left our busy lives in the capital city behind us. There was no question as to whether we would drive, or fly; each of us is the ‘savour every moment’ type of person. And as we navigated the windy and pothole filled roads, there was a buzz of energy zipping through the bulky car. We laughed, and joked, and sang obnoxiously out the windows of our 4×4. The journey was long but the excitement never died – it coursed through us and spilled over to the passers-by who occasionally laughed and made the iconic Zimbabwean-friendly gestures of appreciation. But as we drew nearer, and entered the park gates in the early hours of the evening, a wave of serenity took over all of us and all of that excitement was replaced by a silent appreciation. We endured all the formalities of checking-in, setting up camp, preparing dinner and nourishing our starving bodies, but for the most part we sat in the stillness as the darkness that surrounded us came to life with the sounds of nature.
The next three days were filled with priceless moments. We encountered an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat, doing what they naturally do. We landed right in the middle of a lioness hunting a herd of impala, as a mother impala had meticulously hidden her brand new little one in a bush nearby. We witnessed the kill, watched as the lioness began to devour her prey, and remained in place to see the mother impala return for her foal when the danger was gone. We had a run in with a wild pig as we scouted the land on foot – he surprised us by springing out of a large hole in the ground, and sent us all sprinting in a opposite directions. Much to our amusement, we turned back to find the poor pig was just as afraid, and ran off completely out of sight. We found a carcass of a hippopotamus floating in a shallower part of the Zambezi, surrounded by crocodiles, too many to count, feasting off of the remains. A pack of hyena braved a very close encounter with us as they surrounded our campsite, devouring the remains of our dinner.
We saw the most breath-taking views of the sunset over the Zambezi – with Crimsons, and oranges, violets, and blues painting the backdrop for the elephant herds gathering at the waterhole. We heard the bird calls, and cricket symphonies, the hissing bugs, and lions’ roar, the hyena, and hippos. We felt the hot summer sun beating down on our backs, and the warm evening breezes providing some relief, the shade from the mighty baobab, and the cool midday showers. We smelt the freshness of the river, and the Mopanes and Hardwoods – every single sense was stimulated every single second we were there. There was no opportunity for minds to wonder to thoughts of the past or future; there was just the here and now, just the beauty of being in the present moment.
There is no comparison of one experience over another, but there was a certain touch of something extra special in the air that enveloped us on our final night as we sat around the campfire, taking all of it in. We watched that picturesque sunset for the last time on this journey, and soaked up all of its beauty in silence as the sky gradually grew dark, leaving the mesmerizing flames raging out of the fire pit as the only source of light. This broke the silence, and we began chattering about the events of our trip, laughing at the good times, and looking through some of the pictures we had taken. We spoke about life in general with an ease that cannot be found amidst the difficulties we find in our everyday routines. We shared stories, and future plans, and engaged in light-hearted tales of our childhoods – memories that were brought to the surface by the feelings of sentimentality that had been stirred. That very same energy we came with was back, only this time it had settled into one of serenity, and peace and bonding on a deeper level. Something had shifted within us all, and we all knew and understood it in each other without uttering a word.
As the fire began to die, and the cinders were glowing against the midnight sky, I took a quiet moment to reflect as I quite often do. I looked up at the stars shining with a gentle and tender brightness, and felt a comfort and wholeness. It was in this moment that I realised it is the simplicity of that life, of simply being present, outdoors, under the stars, around a fire, and finding joy in that that reminds us how often we over complicate our lives. And that just this simple realisation can be life-changing.