An interview with Simonetta
Warmth and a contagious energy emanating from a soul in perpetual motion: Simonetta, our travel designer, gives us an interview to tell you about her latest African trip.
It was a trip that spanned three generations, with three women passionate about Africa who headed to the heart of the preserved wilderness of South Tanzania. This is an article full of surprises, emotions and unexpected twists that will transport you to the as yet unexplored reserves of the African continent that will make your roar with excitement!
First of all, why did you choose South Tanzania?
"South Tanzania was a natural choice for us as its unexplored reserves are quieter than those in the north of the country. Here you experience nature untamed and rich in unspoilt beauty. It is the real, secret and authentic Tanzania, the perfect destination for three women passionate about Africa."
Where did your shared passion for Africa come from?
."My love of Africa dates back to my childhood. I must have been 10 when my mother brought a lion cub home that belonged to a wildlife photographer. He left it with us from time to time when he was away with work. But we were so attached to this lion cub that it ended up staying at our house for six months. We couldn’t keep it any longer than that though. We were heartbroken to see it go. A little while later, we took on a Somalian nanny. I think she really gave us the bug for Africa. Our passion from Africa comes from these memories that are deeply rooted in our family history, which became the favourite continent for three generations: me, Simonetta (48), my mother (83) and my daughter (21). And so the idea for this intergenerational trip was born out of this passion for Africa that links us together."
What was the highlight of the trip for you?
"There were so many. To be truthful, there were highlights in each safari, day and moment. But if I had to choose one, it would be coming face to face with a family of young lions in the Selous Game Reserve, no doubt because of my fascination with lions. When you find yourself a metre or a metre and a half from lions, you feel like you are discovering your inner child, standing completely alone in front of animal life and becoming at one with nature. You feel moved, and calm. You forget everything. Beyond this powerful feeling, what left a profound mark on all three of us was finding ourselves faced with several generations of lions. There were two males, some cubs and several females, three of which clearly stood out from the group. We were all reminded of ourselves, it was like a nod to us."
What gave you the greatest thrill?
"That would be an unusual encounter with the pachyderms of the Ruaha National Park during a nighttime safari. First, we drove with the headlights switched off before stopping right in the middle of the reserve and the night. Then we started to hear branches moving more and more in the trees. The elephants had arrived. They were all around us. Hearing and smelling the bush evokes a truly extraordinary feeling. Then the ranger lit the torch, which the mother elephant who was standing three metres away from us really didn’t like. She started to trumpet with all her might in the middle of the night. She was in a real temper. Even her babies, who were visibly already very tenacious, seemed to be angry with us. They seemed like giants to us. We kept a low profile, as we were scared out of our wits!"
Did anything leave you feeling blessed?
"Without a doubt the trek with the chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park. The lodge is located at the heart of a beautiful unspoilt reserve that can only be accessed on a little brush plane then by boat. You are far away from everything there, in a virgin land that is home to one of the last colonies of wild chimpanzees in the world. The crystal waters of Lake Tanganyika are before you, and a mountain covered in thundering waterfalls is at your back. Excitement mounts as you enter the forest. You are straining to detect the slightest movement, the smallest sign, the quietest cry, and the smallest movement of leaves in the trees. And then suddenly, you see them everywhere. They know you are there and stop what they are doing and look you in the eye. They seem like a family. And you don’t move a muscle. It’s as if time is suspended in a waking dream. The walking safari teaches you an unforgettable lesson in humility."
What was the strongest sensation you experienced?
"Diving and swimming with whale sharks is a formidable sensation! You can find them off the coast of Mafia Island in the waters of Tanzania’s first marine park. Even from the boat you can clearly see the playful whale sharks who glide alongside the boat and raise their heads to catch the plankton. While my mother watched the sea giants from the boat, my daughter and I threw ourselves into the water. Each time we dived down using our masks and snorkels, we found ourselves face to face with a giant marine creature. There must have been 40 or 50 of them of all sizes and shapes around us. We were entranced by their silhouettes, movements, speckled skin and infinite gentleness. It was a world away from Jaws!"
What was the strongest emotion you felt?
We were in our lodge, which was at the heart of the leopard’s natural habitat. A female leopard had just chosen the bungalow next to ours to have her babies. It was both very touching and moving to see a mother leopard give birth just a few paces away from our bungalow. We can never thank Mother Nature and the mother leopard enough for this gift. In addition, we even got our daily dose of adrenaline, as we of course had to be careful not to disturb the leopard and her cubs. In the evening, the rangers took us around the lodge. It was an exclusive experience and a magical sight that only the private lodges in South Tanzania can offer. You feel totally immersed in untamed nature. It is literally Into the Wild."
And the most fear you felt?
"Contrary to all expectations, the scariest part of our trip to South Tanzania did not involve lions or leopards, but rather a beetle. It’s true! My daughter is absolutely terrified of beetles, so when she found one in the tent she started screaming blue murder. I immediately grabbed a glass to trap the (little) beast and removed it from the tent, but my daughter still needed a moment to recover. She was scared by how black the insect was and its huge size. My mother and I found it hilarious; it made us cry with laughter!"
What was the most beautiful moment?
"I chose this photo because I think it perfectly captures our three-generational trio and our passion for Africa. It’s a precious picture that will make us nostalgic for this unforgettable trip."
What surprised you most?
"When you visit South Tanzania, you expect to find savannah, brush and the burnt lands of Africa. Against all expectations, we found ourselves surrounded by a variety of colours and unexpected landscapes. It’s not just yellow and gold; it's also green, wooded and plentiful. The flowering trees of the Selous National Park and the crystal waters of Lake Tanganyika give you the impression of being in a tropical jungle rather than an inlet of the Indian Ocean. For my mother and my daughter, and even for me with my long experience of Africa, it was surprising and wondrous."
Do you have a favourite place to stay?
"Our lodge in the Selous National Park was incredible. It’s an oasis of elegance, serenity and comfort set in the heart of a reserve as big as Switzerland. In this restricted location cut off from the rest of the world, luxury is everywhere. It is in the canvas tents that are spacious, open and perfectly integrated into their surroundings. It is in the showers where you can hear (or see, if you wish to) the grunting of the hippos that live in the lake just a stone’s throw away. It is also in the encounters you have there. The human dimension there is so strong that it entices you away from your accommodation. For example, the general manager of the lodge is passionate about the stars. At night, head to the garden and he will teach you the constellations with a glass in hand. There is no sound pollution, no bother, just sharing, wonder and the immensity of the heavenly canopy. It’s an extra touch of soul experiencing the bush under the light of the stars."
Do you have any specific recommendations for travellers wanting to explore South Tanzania?
"Lots of people ask me what the best time to travel to South Tanzania is. I often say the dry season. But in reality, each season has its benefits. We went during the off-season, which was the beginning of the rainy season. It was a wonderful choice that we didn’t regret. The landscape was very green, and there were fewer people too. The feeling of having the park to yourself is truly priceless."
Any last words?
"A lovely memory from the end of our trip should have the last word in this interview. We were getting ready to head for the airport when a family of cheetahs came to bid us goodbye. There were around ten of them, and they circled the vehicle just a few steps from the runway and settled down, completely at ease. It was as if they wanted to stop us leaving. It’s a moment I will never forget."