Guest Blog – Awakening a Deeper Connection with Nature with the Lowveld Trails Co.
By Dianne Tipping-Woods
There are many ways to deepen your connection to the natural world when you visit the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, not all of them have the potential to change your world view. This one does.
It's more subtle than an epiphany, but it's there and it grows with each kilometre you hike through the wilds of the Timbavati. It's in the blue flash of an African pygmy kingfisher, in the liquid call of a Firey-necked nightjar, and in the way the light dances through the Jackalberry trees as you rest in a dry river bed during the midday heat. It's in the moments just before dawn, at the threshold between light and dark, when you wake up as just another animal among many and feel at home.
"The big point that people sometimes miss with wildlife-oriented activities is the transformative role that nature can play if conditions are right," says Brenden Pienaar from Lowveld Trails Co. "On safari, we can become obsessed with moving from activity to activity or sighting to sighting. When you are constantly moving from one moment to the next, you lose the present and your ability to be in it. Because of their very nature though, multi-day primitive backpack trails are one long moment," he explains.
"It's one of the biggest secrets of the wilderness, one of her biggest gifts and greatest lessons. We can all do with less,” says Brenden.
With his business partner and fellow wilderness guide, Wayne Te Brake, Brenden spent his career developing the kind of immersive primitive trails that Lowveld Trails Co. offers in the Timbavati, and other African destinations, like their newest trail in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park.
Carrying everything that they need with them, guests trek through big 5 territory for 3 nights and 4 days, while the Lowveld Trails Co. guides help them tune into the sounds, sights, smells, colours and textures of the bush. There are no tents, no ablutions, no cellphones and only what each person can carry on their back. “It's one of the biggest secrets of the wilderness, one of her biggest gifts and greatest lessons. We can all do with less,” says Brenden.
Although the wildlife encounters on these trails can be spectacular, their transformative potential comes from what Brenden describes as "genius loci, or spirit of place and the qualities inherent to true wilderness". These include silence, darkness, a pristine environment, solitude as an individual and isolation as a group. Together with the pared-down simplicity of living according to your most basic needs, these primitive trails help facilitate a connection to nature that the shorter, more activity-driven experiences can't achieve.
You are in the most natural of natural environments. You may encounter any animal, at any time. It’s a primal and humbling experience and encompasses Brenden and Wayne’s deep feelings about nature and their role as its ambassadors. “Especially in the midst of this pandemic, we have to realign the way we live,” says Brenden. This is something that they have realised through their own experience, clocking up over 23 000 hours guiding people through nature on foot.
“Especially in the midst of this pandemic, we have to realign the way we live,” says Brenden.
“We want to stimulate people to reconnect with nature so that their time on trail feels like a home-coming. We want the experience to jog a genetic memory of a deep connection to nature and promote an intuitive empathy with its wild inhabitants,” says Brenden. "People talk about going back to the real world. But this is the real world. Our behaviour as humans is steeped in natural roots.”
The trails affect everyone differently and not every experience is profound, but people do have spontaneous moments of insight. "They are no longer spectators, but participants, and that changes everything. You can't facilitate a spiritual or meditative experience, but you can honour the spirit of place as you walk,” he suggests. Often that's all it takes.
"People talk about going back to the real world. But this is the real world. Our behaviour as humans is steeped in natural roots.”
About the Trail
Lowveld Trails Co’s four-day trails in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve don’t follow demarcated routes. Groups set their own pace and explore according to their interests and capabilities - tracking, birding, even yoga! There are no fixed campsites and each night is spent under the stars (no tents) with participants sharing ‘night watch’, a vigil around a small fire, for about an hour each night. The trail is restricted to group bookings which may include up to eight participants.
About the Author
Dianne Tipping-Woods is a locally based, award-winning journalist who writes stories about conservation, travel and development in southern Africa. Her work is supported by a strong conceptual and practical framework, constant learning and development and a firm grasp of the basics of ethical, evidence-based story-telling, in an African context. Dianne has been on several Lowveld Trails primitive trails as well as other offered trails and has somewhat become addicted to this experience and reconnecting with the Timbavati’s wilderness.
Read more of her stories - https://ditippingwoods.contently.com/