I'm not really sure how to describe my feelings, having just returned from our inaugural ROAR AFRICA Emirates Executive Private Jet Safari. Disbelief, pride, shock, hope, gratitude. This was a monumental moment in my life and that of ROAR AFRICA – an all-time high. For it was a journey that took on a far greater significance than we initially thought, reaffirming the importance of tourism, kickstarting the return of responsible travelers to Africa and most importantly, sending a message that travel is safe and trustworthy.
As a team, we achieved the seemingly impossible, delivering a sold-out trip for 10 guests – requiring a level of such extreme detail that it felt like attempting a PhD in logistics. But then I've begun to liken the ROAR AFRICA team to navy seals, for the grace and flair with which they execute all of our journeys, and of course their astounding nerves of steel with this particular trip.
Going beyond first class
I now know what defines the new luxury nomad, for I had the privilege of hosting 10 of them on this journey. Ever-curious travelers in this ever-changing world, the new nomads equate luxury with going beyond first-class, with seamless execution, where airports and transfers are welcomed because of the ease with which they float through them. The new nomads are entirely comfortable with waking up in one country and leaving their luggage in their room; only to find it back in their room a few hours later, in another country.
This seamless, effortless experience was made possible by countless unseen details that ensured our guests gently embraced a whole new way of travel. Their yearning to connect with nature and their insistence on effecting positive change on the ground inspired me, while their willingness to undergo eight PCR tests in 12 days – seeing it as both necessary and selfless in this brave new world of ours – was incredible. And that we got through it all safely and without a single positive case is proof that travel is absolutely possible and safe when you are in the right hands.
Africa in one fell swoop
It was a journey of many highlights, more than most pack into a lifetime. From the exquisite Emirates Executive Private Jet, kitted out with private cabins, spa bathrooms, and a wine list so good that one guest described it as “torture”, to the fantastic cabin crew who looked after us like royalty. From the official launch in Dubai, where Khalid Al Hai cut the ribbon, to our touchdown in my home country of Zimbabwe, where I thought my heart might burst with pride – and where the airport was opened early just for us. We hopped into helicopters for a spectacular flip over Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, followed by a river cruise and gin tasting at Matetsi River Lodge with Zimbabwean sommelier, winemaker and friend Joseph Dhafana.
It was all a little surreal, an emotional cocktail enhanced by the cry of fish eagles above and a blood-orange sun setting on a mighty river. I was back where I belonged, and the enormity of what this trip meant vibrated deep within my bones. Bringing this trip home meant witnessing the joy, hope, upliftment and pride of every Zimbabwean far and wide. I will carry the intensity of that first day with me always.
We ventured on to Duba Plains, Botswana, where we awoke to lions on the doorsteps of our tents in the Okavango Delta and watched movies under a bowl of stars. We soared above the majestic waterways in helicopters with no doors, full of adrenaline and pure delight at being alive. From there, we found ourselves enveloped in the warm embrace of Angama Mara in Kenya, the family property that Nicky Fitzgerald and her late husband Steve crafted so painstakingly as a legacy to the larger-than-life experiences they know to be home in Africa. Our days were spent hot-air ballooning over the Mara River and experiencing the instinctual thunder of wildebeest hooves as we sat watching the river crossing of the migration.
It was here that Kenya’s Minister of Tourism Honorable Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board Allan Njoroge surprised us by joining us for dinner to welcome our guests, bearing gifts and all the trademark hospitality we’ve come to expect from Kenya. Our final leg took us to Rwanda where, upon touchdown, we were whisked skywards in helicopters and transported off to Singita’s magnificent Kwitonda Lodge at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park. In this deeply spiritual place, we were welcomed by GM Lydia Nzayo before embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime trek to experience the gentle humility of the world’s last mountain gorillas – a moving encounter which needs to be experienced to be understood. I have seen these gorillas a few times, but their performance for us was nothing short of a top Broadway show. Perhaps, as our guide Jolie said, they had had too many bamboo shoots that morning.
A transformational journey
By combining the mystique and adventure of traveling in Africa with a beyond-first-class experience for informed, conscious travelers, we witnessed the transformation of our guests and the hope we created for all in our industry. There’s a fate in our willingness to experience new things when we travel and when coupled with the enchantment and allure of the unknown, this takes us to a higher receptive and energetic realm. Of course, nowhere seems to trigger this faster or harder than on the African plains. The instant connection amongst our guests and their shared moments of awe and wonder left little question that this trip provided much more than memories but lifelong friendships.
It’s my sincere hope that this journey will inspire a new wave of responsible tourism back to Africa. The enormous pride and eternal hope of the African people in each country made us all the more aware of the essential role tourism plays in Africa and how much is at stake. All I can do now is encourage you to travel where it matters most and know that we will keep you safe.
And if you want to experience going beyond first class, then The Greatest Safari on Earth on the Emirates Executive Private Jet is the answer. I simply can’t wait to do this all over again in 2022 and 2023! It’s the greatest trip I’ve ever done in my life.