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Day 5: A buffalo - LIVE!

  • March 30, 2020 | Rhulani Safari Lodge

Read how Rhulani Safari Lodge masters the daily challenge in times of the coronavirus and how we prepare ourselves for our future. Thoughts from Rhulani's owner Rolf who lives in Switzerland.

Day 5: A buffalo - LIVE!

Today, I had an idea. I wanted to give my loyal team at Rhulani the certainty that we are financially secure and will survive this challenging period. And even if it went on for several months, which is actually possible, it wouldn't kill us. I thought, my message will be perfect to lift the mood of the day. At least, that's what I thought.

So, on our daily call we had a look at Rhulani’s monthly fixed costs. We discussed how we can bring them down to an absolute minimum for the time with no guests in camp and no income.

Our conversation was very good. We all realized how important it is to use our resources carefully, that it is also quite noticeable whether we have an electricity saving plan and if we can avoid unnecessary kilometers with our vehicles. Just simple examples. 

When we got to the final number, I confirmed again: “Don’t worry, we will get through this.”

However, I missed my goal. Thinking of a scenario of ongoing isolation, with our lodge closed, that we cannot show any guests the beauty of our place, no amazing animal sightings, no sundowners, so, we cannot convey the Rhulani feeling to anyone… This sounds rather sad.

I am sitting in my home office in Switzerland. It is kind of the same. Life is somehow going on normally. Daily routines and a positive attitude help me to master the situation. Think positive. But the news does not leave me cold: The expansion of the virus, the overloaded hospitals, the death rates, the personal impact of isolation, the financial consequences for the economy….

Deep in thought, a new idea came out of nothing, from our super rangers Sean and Alasdair, the two baldies at Rhulani

The aim is to embellish the day with a bit of humor and showing to all of you the beauty of Rhulani's. At the time of sundowners, the two buddies open a beer, and everyone can join via a live transmission on Facebook and Instagram. You will be surprised!

The premiere was yesterday. I couldn't believe my eyes. Funny to see these two guys, great showmen. And what? A buffalo stood right in the middle of our camp! As if it had been ordered there on time. How did you do that guys?

Thanks so much Sean & Alasdair. You did a great job to lift the spirits for all of us. That’s the way we do it!

Enjoying sundowners at Rhulani - LIVE, every day!


Day 4: Rhulani means “Relax”

Lockdown, silence, isolation - time for reflections. Starting this morning I watch Rhulani’s "promotional video", which is playing on our website. Produced in busy times. Our Head Ranger Sean says: “At Rhulani you can sit back and enjoy the quiet moments of sitting in the bush, and there is nothing better than actually listening to nothing.” Who would have thought what special meaning these words will have one day?

Sean's words should be a hint to all of us that silence is a real luxury, and we should find a way to appreciate it. Just now.

I start Monday morning here in Switzerland. Four walls around me, my “home office”. The sudden isolation is needy to get used to it.

I work at a life insurance policy. Domestic violence, inability to work due to depression and death because of suicide are an increasingly discussed challenge of long-term loneliness. A colleague of mine who is a psychiatrist told me that he can no longer accept new patients.

Back to the silence at my “empty Rhulani”. Before my work begins, I receive a WhatsApp message from Carla, my manager. She writes: 

“The quietness overwhelms you. All you hear is a bird in the distance, the light breeze with drizzle of rain. No animals as they are hiding away from the cold. Here us four sitting having a coffee. Thinking of the world outside, our families, friends. Yes, this is the best place to be for the lockdown. But somehow, we miss people. It’s our job to entertain and talk wanting things to be normal again.”

Since I started my business at Rhulani, I have admired how people in South Africa appreciate peace, nature, even isolation. More than we do in Switzerland. So I start this week with the motto "enjoy the silence". Maybe I would regret not having done this enough when this spook is over.

And I got remembered: Rhulani means "Relax".

Carla: All you hear is a bird in the distance, the light breeze with drizzle of rain.


Day 3: Do the animals miss us?

This Sunday I come across an article. The gorillas in the “Zurich Zoo”, which my family visits frequently, have behaved very differently since there are no more visitors. They have become more attached to each other. I wonder: what does the lockout mean for the wild animals of Madikwe Game Reserve? Do they miss our safari vehicles? Or do they enjoy the quiet time?

On my daily call to Rhulani, Riaan tells me that a fairly large Rock Monitor has just walked from the courtyard to the pool deck and drank water at the swimming pool.

A Rock Monitor? It is the largest member of the lizard family. A quite impressive reptile, and it can also be dangerous. A bite or a blow to the tail - not recommended!

I remember one of my recent travels to Rhulani. I was using the outdoor shower of my chalet, and noticed one of these animal was just crawling above me, on the crossbar. They love the moisture.

“So we have a new visitor that ignores the lockdown…,"I say.

"Yes," says Riaan, "and it's actually very useful for us because Rock Monitors eat the annoying Corn Crickets, which are everywhere right now”.

"Riaan, and what do you think, how will the animals behave in the reserve?"

"They will surely feel that something is different than usual. Although they are wild animals, they have got used to our presence and the vehicles."

In any case, the animals will notice that it has become quiet in the otherwise busy safari lodges, so that we will probably experience more unexpected visitors.

We will never know for sure. But I can hardly imagine that the animals really miss us. And for the gorillas in the Zurich Zoo, I wish you will enjoy a little more peace around you. Hopefully!

A visitor during the lockdown: Rock Monitor drinking water at the pool


Day 2: Cut your hair!

Saturday morning. I wake up. Actually weekend, but somehow a day like any other. Suddenly I think: where could I cut my hair? All hair salons are closed here in Switzerland. Same as in South Africa. I have a new message on our Rhulani WhatsApp Group. I see the photos and I am bent over with laughter. No doubt, it would resolve my problem…

While I am preparing breakfast, I call Sean. Everyone is doing well in the camp. This is good. Sean says: "We want to see how long our hair will be when this lockdown ends". He and Alasdair, two good buddies, had this idea.

At breakfast my wife Marisa asks me: "Any news from Rhulani?"

"I'm going to shave my head today," I say.

"What? You're crazy," she responds. I show her the latest photos on WhatsApp. “I like the idea, and I need my hair cut anyway,” I explain.

"Don't do this nonsense," Marisa appeals to my conscience, while a new WhatsApp message arrives. Tom-Hendrik, Rhulani's receptionist, who is at home during the lockdown, sends a picture, also with a bald head.

“It is a start to a new era. It is an act of solidarity, of connection.” I try my best to give factual reasons.

“They live alone in the bush. You work for an insurance company here in Switzerland. You couldn't even show yourself like this at video meetings”, Marisa says. “And by the way, if you do, I'll divorce you.”

That’s not a bad offer, I think. "Where are the scissors?" I ask.

Discussion and breakfast are over here. I congratulate the team for the great idea.

But my problem remains: where can I have my hair cut?

Starting the lockdown with a new hairstyle


Day 1: A small dream team

Since midnight it is a fact. Lockdown in South Africa. I am deeply convinced: This is an imperative measure to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. But what about Rhulani? We are also in a lockdown. Sounds worrying, but I am counting on a small, unbeatable “dream team”. This is how we do it!

A hotel like Rhulani cannot be left alone. Not even during a lockdown period. A minimum of daily checks, for safety and maintenance, is essential any time. We are slowly going into the dry winter time. What if a bush fire hits the lodge and nobody is there? All kinds of horror scenarios come to my mind.

Before I forget: we have our office in the lodge. There are inquiries every day. Re-bookings, cancellations, even new requests for the second half of the year are coming in. Nice to think that some day, all will be back to normal. How can we keep the office running?

Once again I have no need to worry

Carla and Riaan, my management couple, have decided to stay. Rhulani is their second home. Their passion and dedication are exemplary. My wife told me to ask Riaan to not let snakes or spiders in, while we are closed.

Sean, my Head Ranger and Assistant Manager, also decided to stay. He is known by our guests as “Mr. Perfect”. Same for our funny ranger Alasdair, “Captain Redbeard”. The two guides will play an important role to keep the lodge safe and maintained, but also help to keep the park safe. Rhino poaching could be a challenge in these times.

Alasdair, please keep your unsurpassable sense of humor - it will help us!

I am proud of my small “dream team” that looks after Rhulani. I would love to be with you. Listening to the birds and watching the elephants at our waterhole sounds more appealing than staring at my four walls in the home office.

Take care of you, and tell me your stories!

Rhulani's dream team during the lockout: Sean, Riaan, Carla and Alasdair


Day 0: Time for a reset

South Africa officially starts the lockdown tonight. “What does this mean for us?” I ask myself. The tourism sector – which includes Rhulani – will be heavily affected by this damn virus. Is this the end? I sit down and have a drink. Ironically, I feel: “It’s definitely not the end. It’s ‘Day Zero’, which sounds like a start. A chance to shape our future”.

I have enough reason to be optimistic. Over the years we have created with Rhulani a matchless product and an unbeatable team. Let me be proud: we have written one of the most fantastic success stories in our sector.

My wife Marisa and I, the owners of Rhulani, have been lucky enough to build over the last seven years human and financial resources which allow us to survive a crisis. Even this one.

Carla, my manager, tells me that for her and Riaan, Rhulani will be their home during this time. I am a bit jealous. Rhulani is indeed not a bad place to stay, I think. Far away from everything, even from this, I say it again, “damn virus”.

I live in Switzerland. This is more than 10’000 km away. It’s another world, but we are fighting the same battle. We also have a lockdown here. I am working in my home office. 4 white walls around me. No trees, no elephants.

The last guest had checked-out some days ago. Our employees were sent home to their families. Our frenzied journey was suddenly stopped. I am happy that Carla tells me, that this hard stop worked well and that everyone is healthy. 

There is no reason to mope. Let’s focus on the good things, a good atmosphere and our solidarity. Let’s open the eyes to see the beautiful nature and friends around us. Give value to the tranquility and - above all – the time, which was always missing in our busy days. Time is the greatest value of all.

Time for a reset.

Silence at the entry of Rhulani. Time for a reset