As I sit here working, catching up on e-mails, trying to make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic, a hyena laughs in the distance. It also started raining softly – a welcome relief from yesterday’s heat. And so, life goes on… Even though it is 04:00 in the morning, during the start of our three-week lockdown, somehow sitting on the porch, listening to these sounds, the world around us seems fine. And the situation feels surreal.
The past few weeks have been chaotic, with more admin than anyone in the travel industry have possibly had to handle before. We had cancellations, postponements, altered travel arrangements… Guests and travel partners alike experienced a roller coaster of emotions – some upset, difficult, or scared, while others were more understanding and kind. We tried our utmost best to be as accommodating and helpful as possible. We started long before dusk and worked late into the evenings. We send out a newsletter with our postponement and updated cancellation policy when it first started and now that already seems like a distant memory. Another lifetime. We committed to review all correspondence on a case-by-case basis and to try and find an amicable solution for everyone involved. As always, we were transparent and honest. Meetings were held, conference calls were made, decisions were made. I ended the first Covid-19 newsletter by quoting Einstein: “In the midst of a crisis, lies great opportunity.” I still truly belief this. It is just a matter of your perspective, in a sense.
From the beginning, when the virus first spread to South Africa, I told Etienne that this would be a “show of character” opportunity for everyone. And it was indeed. It still is, daily. We would therefore like to thank our very loyal staff members, guests and travel partners for your continued support and understanding during this unprecedented time. We have worked tirelessly to find the best possible solution for our staff members. Most have been sent home to be with their loved ones. Etienne and I have committed to bring them back to the lodge, as soon as things return to normal.
Etienne jnr. spent the first six years of his life on the farm and now we have returned as a family for the interim. We celebrated his 12th birthday at EP. And although we did not plan anything at all, Tersia and Angelique decided to surprise him with a banner at the entrance to the lodge. Yolandé baked the most delicious, beautifully decorated cake. We sang together. It was a good birthday. Martin also now has the opportunity to settle into life in the bush, for an extended period. Although tough times lie ahead and there are a lot of uncertainties for everyone, this remains a special time for us as a family.
It is the first time in my 15 years at the lodge that we have no guests in camp. The previous shutdown was during the 2000 floods. This was before Etienne and I got married. It’s eerily quiet over here. But also, peaceful. We do not always have a choice in what happens to us, but we do have a choice as to how we react. Our skeleton staff will continue with all the necessary work and maintenance in and around the lodge. The reservations office remains open. Not only would this be a much-needed time for re-grouping, strategic planning and introspection. We are also now able to get around to doing the things we never really have time for. Just ask head-chef Yolandé. The EP kitchen has been stripped and our maintenance team is hard at work in there. We will keep in touch via our social media platforms and thereby keep you updated. Also keep a look-out for updated news on the website. There are some new and exciting ideas to keep us all busy during shut-down…
Etienne woke up from a lovely dream this morning… In his dream, we had made a collage from all our guests’ favourite selfies, that were taken during their stay at EP. We mounted this on a wall at the lodge. Let’s make the dream come true! If you are keen to take part, please forward your favourite selfie whilst on safari at EP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Maximum 2MB please.
I would like to share a piece that Etienne wrote in his farewell message to the staff:
“…when we rise, not if we rise, we will be stronger, we will be more united, we will be more resilient, and we will once again showcase the Ubuntu spirit and heart of the EP team to the world.”
May this be true for everyone, no matter where in the world you find yourself at this moment. In the meantime, good luck and God bless. We are looking forward to welcoming you to EP when all of this is over.
Here’s a link to South African Tourism’s beautiful stay at home campaign. Enjoy!
The Elephant Plains Family