May Trumpet from Elephant Plains

Elephant Cow by Martin

Without Prejudice

Good day travel partners

It has been more than a month since we arrived at the lodge for lockdown. Normally, the saying goes: “Time flies, when you’re having fun.” I am sure that most of you would agree that time also sometimes flies, despite difficult circumstances…

The Covid-19 pandemic is still very much a reality in our midst. The calm before the storm, it seems. It feels like a lifetime ago, when we first started dealing with its influence on us, as a tourism destination. The virus is affecting the whole world, the young and the elderly, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick. Nobody is exempt from its influence and impact on our day-to-day existence.

Although it proves very difficult at times, we at Elephant Plains Game Lodge are choosing to embrace the positives that can come from the Covid-19 pandemic. We are not indifferent to its negative impact. Not at all! And the choice of having this frame of mind is definitely easier said than done, I know. But we are choosing to see this as a reboot opportunity. A reset button that was pressed on our behalf. Maybe we were so busy doing “life” and “business”, that we needed a greater power to grind the entire world to a halt. On a much larger, grander scale than any of us could ever have imagined.

Game drive

At EP we have chosen to grab this reboot opportunity with both hands. We are working hard. Not only on some general maintenance in and around the lodge, but also on our administration. There is so much to do! In a way, I see this time as an opportunity to redefine ourselves. There are no fool proof guidelines on how to perfectly handle Covid-19 in the tourism industry. We are all learning something new every, single, day. Some days are easier than others. Sometimes decisions are easier to make and sometimes they are almost impossible.

Still, Covid-19 has lent itself to the opportunity of showing character and instil, in those who do not already know EP that well, our values and commitment towards the industry.  We are sensitive to the uncertainties and fears that the outbreak has imposed on both our travel partners and our guests. Nobody knows for certain, when business, as we knew it before, would return to normal. As I am writing this sentence, I actually have a problem with this statement. I would love to see the world changed, for the better, after the pandemic. I would love for a new kind of “normal” to grow from this.  

As a tourism destination, we will have to wait and see when guests (both local and international) would be able to return to the lodge. Because we’ve always had very competitive rates and used to have a relatively large South African market, we would like to continue with this, going forward. Competitive rates have also made us a firm favourite in the international market. We offer an authentic, luxurious experience. Affordable, but still extremely good value for money. This positioning in the market should help us, when we re-open our doors one day.  We have always been an honest family business. We’ve always had the correct values in place and I believe that these are the basic traits that would distinguish us in the future.

Bar and Lounge Refurbishment

Those of you who have done business with Elephant Plains in the past, would remember that we always did a rate increase every second year. You would also remember that we used to have a child rate. Seeing that we are returning back to the basics, back to our roots, it seems like the first logical step to take.  

Therefore, our 2020 rates would be carried forward to the 2021 booking year. That would be for bookings already in the system, as well as for any future bookings for 2021. Our child rate (75% of the full paying adult rate, for children under 12) would also once again apply. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accommodate children under the age of 3 years.

Please also note that we are well aware of many suppliers asking for SADC rates, extra discounts and more commission. Not to mention the various suggestions to alter our normal cancellation and payment policies. Although we understand and appreciate everyone’s need to try and broker the best possible deals, we will not agree to any of these requested changes to our standard policies, unless stated in writing. Each request and / or suggestion would be handled on a case-by-case basis. We are still busy re-drafting our whole booking system, including the provisional and confirmation processes, payment terms, altered cancellation policies etc. These would all be communicated timeously and thoroughly. For the time being, our previously adjusted policies that were sent out, are still applicable.   

Rhino Suite Refurbishment

I realise that a lot of people in the industry are extremely anxious and uncertain about the future. We should all be. But deep in my heart, I know that EP will survive this. The lodge is not a business that we tried out and unfortunately, failed at. It is a part of us, an extension of ourselves. We are EP and vice versa. Twenty-two years ago, Etienne started the lodge on his own. He woke his guests for morning drives, after first stoking the donkey boiler for hot water. He did check-ins and check-outs, bushwalks, hosting; he played barman and waiter. He went to bed when his last guests retired for the night. Only to start over again in a few hours. All the while living in an old, rundown caravan, without a proper roof! His love for Elephant Plains and his unwavering faith in the product itself, fuelled his determination to make a success, long before it even looked possible. Adaptability and the willingness to listen to our future traveller market, will carry us forward. Albeit changed? We don’t know. Maybe on a smaller scale for starters? Possibly.

We’ve been making a lot of “time” jokes recently: Luckily, we have lots of “time”, “time” is all we have, “time” will tell. So, in the meantime… Our maintenance team is hard at work on general lodge maintenance, as well as ecological projects. The total revamp on Rhino Luxury Suite has been completed. It looks exquisite and we are very proud of the end product. We’ve been toying with the idea of making some major changes to our bar area. Unfortunately, with a full camp most of the year, it is impossible to work throughout the day, while there are guests in camp. Lockdown has granted us this unprecedented opportunity and as “time” is something we have at the moment, we got started right away. I am delighted with the look we’ve created thus far. Watch this space…

Waterlilies in the dusk by Martin

In a sense, the bush is resting for the first time in our 22 years of commercial business. In retrospect, this also seemed necessary. We are hard at work on the ecological side of the farm and the results are starting to show. The animals are doing well and the impala rams are in full rutting season. They fight and intimidate each other, from dusk till dawn and here and there you can already see the successful conquerors with their newly acquired herds. Early this morning Etienne and I had coffee on our porch and heard the familiar call of a fish eagle. They have moved to Bushcamp Pan and we hear their almost re-assuring calls, throughout the day.   

The kids have settled nicely into life on the farm. They are enjoying game drives – Etienne drives tracker seat and is fully embracing the thrill of being able to track and find animals with his new skills. Martin is becoming quite the photographer – I have shared some of his recent photos – not bad for a 7-year-old! In between working and strategizing, we as a family are also enjoying the quality time we get to spend together. We are getting used to this new routine. Weekdays are workdays. With us spending time on admin and the kids busy with their online home-schooling. During most afternoons, we go out on drives. Weekends are all of a sudden only quality family time, no work involved. In a world that seems to be a mess right now, we count our daily blessings. 

Please remember to submit your favourite EP selfies for our Covid-19 Collage, to photo@elephantplains.co.za. Thank you to those that have already submitted some incredible memories.

I absolutely love reading and with our whole new “back to basics” endeavour, I have once again found joy in something that truly makes me happy, but that we somehow never make enough time for.

Here is a piece that I recently read and can totally relate to:

When this is over,
May we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbours
A crowded theatre
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine check-up
A school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.

When this ends,
May we find
That we have become
More like the people
We wanted to be
We were called to be
We hoped to be
And may we stay
That way – better
For each other
Because of the worst.

– Laura Kelly Fanucci –

Stay safe and God bless.

Etienne, Marlet, the kids and the whole EP team.

April Trumpet from Elephant Plains

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.

Lion

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 photo@elephantplains.co.za. 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!

https://bit.ly/2xpQ65c

Kind regards,

The Elephant Plains Family

Salayexe – The Lonely One

Salayexe, our resident female leopard, sadly passed away on the 18th of August

As most of you would know by now, Salayexe, our resident female leopard, sadly passed away on the 18th of August. Salayexe was the territorial female on Elephant Plains and I am sure that thousands of guests who visited the lodges in the northern sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve would remember her. 

Born in 2005, she was a mature twelve years of age.  She was still seen during the morning game drive (see videos below), with no noticeable signs of any illness or injuries.  Unfortunately, her body was discovered later that afternoon, where she lay peacefully, without any signs of predation or struggling.  The Sabi Sand conservation officer and state veterinarian was called out to collect her body.  A necropsy was done to determine the cause of death.  It was determined that she passed away due to chronic pneumonia and an inflamed liver. A few porcupine quills were also discovered underneath her skin. As sad as it is, it seems as if it was just her time to go.

Muis

We all have plenty of stories and memories of this beautiful lady.  From almost having Etienne and Marlet’s Jack Russel, Muis, for a meal, to raising cubs underneath our spa deck, to catching and hoisting an impala up into the tree in front of the aptly named “Leopard Luxury Suite” and many more.

When we broke the news on our Facebook page, guests from all over the world shared their shock and sympathy, as well as some wonderful photographs of sightings that they had of her while visiting EP. She was a great leopard to photograph and many of our guests have photographs of her in their homes and offices. Two of our regular return guests, Bror and Tuija West from Finland, recently sent through an e-mail, in which they told us that their new lunch restaurant was named Café Salayexe. They kept this as a surprise for us, as they are due to visit again in November, but when the news of Salayexe’s death reached them, they wanted to share this news with us now.

Tuiya West

Tuija West from Finland

Bror West

Bror West, Finland

I am sure that many of you have very fond memories and tales of spending time with this magnificent leopard. Her spirit now lives on in Tiyani, but she will forever be remembered in our hearts. Rest in peace, lonely one, you will be dearly missed… Have a look at the last video footage taken of Salayexe by Morné Fouché on Friday morning the 18th of August. There are two videos. Use the thumbnails below the slider to select the next video:

 

Here are a few photos of this remarkable leopard

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