Weird and wacky

Traditionally going on safari meant jumping on to the back of a Land Rover and checking out the wildlife in the Kruger. Now we have baby-making safaris, healing safaris, yoga safaris and … pink safaris.

The Concise Collins Dictionary defines the word safari as: “An over‒ land journey or hunting expedition, especially in Africa.” It points out that, in fact, the word safari comes from Swahili, meaning expedition. South Africa’s Constitution has recently led to the emergence of a new range of post-modern safaris. These are still journeys, but in the broadest sense — including healing, spiritual, sexual and emotional or just downright queer elements. Here is a sample of the country’s strange and surreal safari market.

Sperm on safari

This unusual product caters for overseas gay couples (both sexes invited) who are unable to have babies in their own countries because of prohibitive laws and other restrictions. Launched at the travel Indaba in Durban this year, the deal is as follows: tourists arrive in Johannesburg and are whisked off to a leading fertility clinic for consultation. The clinic has its own in-house sperm bank and offers special package deals on artificial insemination and in vitro-fertilisation.

For gay men who want to be parents a surrogate mom is provided. Organiser Mary Brown* says the idea was inspired by another home-grown concept. “The idea came from Surgeon and Safari where travellers come to South Africa for cosmetic surgery. I realised that it’s difficult in many countries for gay couples to access treatment and here, in South Africa, the law allows you to access sperm.”

She notes our laws changed in 1997 in line with the country’s Constitution. “In the past only married women could have access to sperm, with their husband’s consent. Now everyone has the right to sperm,” says Brown.

She has teamed up with a Jo’burg-based clinic and part of the deal is to offer travel in and around South Africa while clients are waiting for treatment. “A big part of fertility treatment is being in a good space mentally. Here, visitors can go on safari, they can relax.”

She says the local treatments are much more cost-effective than their overseas equivalents.

Pink safaris

The management of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal has conducted in-depth research that shows the pink portion of the tourism market is one of the fastest growing in the world. “According to Tourism Intelligence International in 2000, about 10% of international tourists were gay or lesbians, accounting for more than 70-million arrivals worldwide. This market is thus important and is expected to continue to grow as a result of a change in attitudes to homosexuality,” says the report.

“Tour operators are reporting that South Africa has a high ranking on the gay community’s travel agenda as a result of the fact that this country’s Constitution, in contrast to other African countries, has come to play a key role in the protection of gay and lesbian rights, setting the context for a gay tourism market.” This statement has been supported in the international press. For example, in The Guardian it was recently reported that South Africa is the most fashionable “gay tourist destination”.

And Tourism KwaZulu-Natal estimates that at least 10% of the domestic population is gay or lesbian and that KwaZulu-Natal tourism facilities are used by as many as 800 000 domestic and 100 000 foreign gay or lesbian tourists every year. Thus the organisation has produced a “pink map” of the province, indicating which safaris and other destinations are gay-friendly.

Cape Town has been particularly successful in accessing the foreign gay and lesbian tourism market. The Guardian reports “Cape Town has a thriving gay community and good exchange rates, which bring Europeans here in droves”.

Rhynhardt Naurattel runs Our Way Travel and Safaris from Cape Town, and prides himself on being a gay-destination specialist. His work focuses largely on the inbound market from the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, France and Argentina. His business is aimed at top-end gay men and to date the UK market has been his biggest client. Naurattel is proud of the fact that he tailor makes tours for his high-flying clientele. His latest offering, the “MCQP and Safari in Style”, entails attendance at Cape Town’s biggest gay event (the Mother City Queer Project), a whirlwind tour of Cape Town, followed by a visit to Johannesburg (staying at the gorgeous 10 Bompas boutique hotel in Dunkeld), a day visit to Soweto and a few nights in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Helicopters, yachts and serious five-star shopping are all thrown in for good measure.

The Gay and Lesbian Association of Cape Town Tourism, Industry and Commerce provides information about other, more affordable, pink safaris.

Shrink on safari

Cape-Town based psychologist Jeffrey Rink believes in the healing powers of nature to heal mind, body and soul. As a result he takes a select group of clients into the bush for a dose of “wilderness therapy”. He says using the bush as a lens for self-reflection can be an effective psychic healing tool. He also uses local guides and workshops on his eco-therapy safaris. He takes these journeys about four times a year.

Rehab safaris

Another safari trend for overseas visitors is the bushveld version of the Betty Ford Clinic. Nowadays alcoholics and drug addicts from the UK and United States are coming to South Africa on “rehabilitation safaris”. These cost a fortune in Europe and the US and a number of clinics in South Africa offer excellent treatment at a fraction of the price. World-class care in a sunny environment means that visitors go back home rested, tanned and, more importantly, clean.

Nathan Rogerson, a psychologist at Riverview Manor (a rehabilitation centre in the Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal), says the option for travel is a drawcard for international clients. “The trend is that people fly in to do their rehabilitation work, they go through the processes and then they take up the opportunity to see more of the country and to have a cultural experience.” He says that in Europe the waiting lists for rehab clinics are often more than two months long and that people with real problems need to look for alternatives.

He sees visitors from the UK and US but also from the Middle East, where there are no such facilities available because alcoholism and drug addiction is completely against the religion in those parts.

Yoga safaris

Yoga safaris provide the traveller with a combination of yoga and meditation as part of a holistic deal. Packages include trips to the Kruger park, Swaziland, the Blyde River Canyon and Ponto D’Ouro. Daily sunrise yoga sessions are a staple on the itinerary and there are further sessions through the day with sound and chanting workshops thrown in to buff the aura even further. The aim of the tours is to combine heightened spiritual experience with the healing powers of nature. The next yoga safari will take place in February.

Best safari in the world

According to the world’s travel bible, Condé Naste Traveller UK, Singita Private Game Reserve is the best place in the world to go on safari. The exclusive lodge was awarded the “best in the world” accolade at the magazine’s seventh annual reader awards in London. So why is it the best? Seven-star luxury in the bush, an almost guaranteed chance to see the Big Five in a day, guest cottages bigger than an ordinary house and, says Fodors, “an outside shower in case your inner Tarzan (or Jane) feels confined in the cavernous bathroom”. At R6 800 a person a night, we would hope so.

* Not her real name

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