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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

SIMPLY SAFARI (article first published : 2003-01-11)

When I was a child living in Kenya, going “on safari” was a great adventure – kitchen utensils, camp beds, mosquito nets, a whole batch of tinned food and everything including a portable bath was bundled into the car as we headed off for the slopes of Mount Kenya to go fishing.

Negotiating overgrown bumpy roads which didn’t qualify to be called anything other than tracks, we eventually arrived at one of the fishing camps which provided basic thatched huts and a cook to look after the foodstuffs. Or else one took the captured fish straight off the hook and into the much-used frying pan on a small campfire set on the river bank. There were no ablution facilities other than a longdrop toilet and a hosepipe hanging from a tree for showering.

Wildlife photographers Caryl and Sharna Balfour’s beautifully presented publication Simply Safari features a style of living that is a far cry from my understanding of the word “safari” (a “journey” or “to travel” in Swahili). This is bushwacking in style, the kind portrayed in movies like Out of Africa. It takes the sense of “roughing it” out of the adventure, offering travellers comfortable beds, tables and chairs, proper cutlery and glassware and crisp bedlinen in beautifully – and often, luxuriously - decorated rooms.

The authors visited camps and lodges in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia with a brief stopover in Zimbabwe. The book deals more with décor than actual safari-ing and the ideas can be transferred easily to a normal home environment although in the main they could only be realised on a fairly healthy budget!

Memorable images are the decor in the boma for fireside diners at Harry’s Camp at Mala Mala; two limewashed beds with Mali mudcloth bolsters at Boulders Lodge in Singita; swirled designs by a Venda craftswoman finger painted with buffalo dung on the wall of a thatched room at Vuyatela, and an elegantly draped mosquito net over a bed in Makweti Safari Lodge.

Images I found incongruous were floral prints on comfy armchairs on a lodge verandah opening onto the African bush, a five-tiered chandelier made (albeit, innovatively) from coke bottles under a thatched roof, and a table set outdoors with fine porcelain and silver tableware, hurricane lamps and candles.

Sir Richard Branson has spared no expense with his Ulusaba Rock Lodge and the décor is opulent. I can’t say that his highbacked cane dining chair “thrones” with moulded resin antelope horns can be very practical. I would imagine they have the capacity to catch on anything from scarves to hairstyles!

In the main, I found the décor represented fairly stifling, over-dramatic and cluttered. The ones that appealed to me most were Garonga Safari Camp with its rough plastered sienna walls and Phinda Private Game Reserve in KZN where some of the rooms are surrounded with glass –elegant yet simple and proudly African, blending into the bush but inviting the bush to enter. I also enjoyed the clean clear décor of Mombo Camp

The authors’ expertise at wildlife photography can be seen in some exquisite pictures of leopard as well as a lion drinking and a tiny rock elephant-shrew warming itself in the morning sun. There are also some particularly dramatic landscape shots such as a sunset taken at Sossusvlei and another at Victoria Falls, placing in silhouette a dramatic floating picnic table.

Published by Struik, Simply Safari features excellent photography and is a beautifully produced book, retailing at a considerable R295.95. For more information, reservations and bookings check out www.simplysafari.com – Caroline Smart




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