Words by Kim Sparrow Photos by Karen Lowe
Experiencing the bush through the eyes of children brings a whole different dimension to a safari. Being African raised and having spent so many holidays in the bush as a child, washes one with a magical nostalgia, a portal to the wonder that is nature when we were innately wild at heart.
Children seem to have an ease and inherent connection to the wilderness as if they speak the same language. The wind in their hair and sand between their toes seems to awaken an insatiable curiosity, relentless in exploration from dawn till dusk. Gonarezhou National Park was a haven of discovery for our family, Chilo Gorge Lodge the perfect base for our daily adventures, as well as an oasis for reprieve.
The holiday was a sensory explosion for the kids. From the moment we woke up - with the sounds of morning, conducted by a myriad of bird species singing in the sun. Waking with dawn, ready for a sunrise game drive with Jasper - professional guide and child whisperer, we head out on an expedition. Jasper loves trees. As a result, the kids now love trees. What a gift to bestow upon children - the appreciation of plants.
As we climb into the vehicle, Jasper gives each of us a pod filled with seeds, explaining these also hold the future of the park. He hooks the kids with passion and knowledge of the importance of seeds, requesting a pledge to take care of them as they hold the promise of nutrition and residence for animals in the ecosystem. We eventually release them into the wind, shaped like hearts, wild like those of the children.
Jasper overflows with information, sharing his life’s love of the wild with us, the power of his words seeping into the kids' minds, held in their pores, soaked into their skin. We spend the day in and out of the vehicle, tracking spoors, investigating dung, testing our senses and knowledge. The children stare wide-eyed as Jasper pops impala droppings into his mouth - dropping their jaws at the sight. Soon they follow suit, and a spitting competition ensues, impala pellets shooting out with enthusiasm. Jasper stands with our full attention and respect in his hands, now shared with elephant dung - holding worlds of its own within - an integral part of the ecosystem.
We spend the entire day learning. Absorbing stories, wildlife facts, survival tips from nature. Jasper teaches us how to make our own sanitiser by rubbing leaves together, and adding water - reminding us that keeping clean has always been a necessary life skill! He rumbles to the elephant as we pass, they respond in similar tones - communicating with the wild. Jasper is a wonder in himself, reminding us of how to be participants in the bush, and not just observers, remembering its ancient channels of communication.
A delightful dip in a causeway beside the road fills us all with simultaneous glee and gratitude. A cooler box is unveiled and we release the heat of the day, while the children release their energy and excitement splashing in the shallow waters - a whole other world for them to explore.
Back at the lodge and around the campfire in the evening brings a certain sense of peace. With happy exhaustion, we replay with events of the day, exchanging the gems of Jasper’s teachings. The sound of elephants below as a backdrop to our chatter we share the satisfied thought that we perhaps understand a little more of their world.