More from the Serengeti, where forward-thinking people are dedicated to sustainability
Dear Reader, still in Arusha, Tanzania, and still unable to publish photos. However, in an effort to provide an ongoing dialogue about good news stories, here is more. Full articles with gorgeous photos will follow as soon as I am able to sort out the computer issue. You can find plenty of visuals on the links provided. Thank you for your patience.
The Serengeti, which is misspelled from the Swahili Sirinigit, or endless plains, is a massive, broad area of some fifteen thousand square kilometers. I recently returned from about eight days exploring that land with one of my favorite guides, Alladin (that is the proper spelling), who drove me to four camps owned and run by Lemala properties.
My trip, as always, was planned by ETrip Africa, who deserves a mention because they are the source of nearly all my best stories about people and companies doing the right things in their part of East Africa. That is because they too are doing the right things, but that's for another article.
While in all fairness to Lemala it is difficult to express the sheer beauty of their facilities without photographs, kindly again be apprised those are coming as soon as possible. Please follow the links so that you can see their galleries on the Lemala site. Meanwhile I wanted to continue to share stunningly good news as I find it, which is everywhere, despite the glaring headlines to which we are all subjected.
Alladin drove me from the small airport in Central Serengeti to the Ewanjan Camp, which was an intimate layout of luxury safari tents centered around a broad, open, comfortable seating and bar area. All that looked out over the Serengeti where wildebeest rutted and fought over harems, zebras grazed and giraffe, well, giraffed. They do that very well.
The fun started, as it did every single time we drove up to a new camp no matter where I stayed, with being greeted by name. Those old enough to remember the popular Cheers series in the US recall the tag line of the place where "everyone knows your name."
Well, kindly imagine how it feels to have Juma, the energetic, enthusiastic gentleman who opened his arms wide as soon as I stepped out of the Toyota, say welcome JULIA!
I already feel at home in Africa, and this only underscores it. Because more than the greeter remembers your name. It's part of the culture at Lemala.
At each property, the standard of service is as good as or better than a goodly number of five star hotels I've used as a professional speaker. It's even better that the location trumps anything a big city will ever offer.
From Juma's joyous welcome, here's the good news to know, which was shared across each property from Serengeti to Ngorngoro Crater to Tarangire National Park, which were the ones I visited.
If you've never been to any part of Africa, and are unfamiliar with its many faces, the level of sophistication at these camps can be quite stunning. Part of it involves offering a close-to nature experience for those not quite ready to seriously rough it. By that I mean you can get a hot shower by bucket (yes you can, while inside) OR, and this was my unadulterated pure joy, hot shower outside either in full sunlight or at night.
OR, and this was the pentultimate for me, a long long LONG hot soak in a huge tub for which scuba gear was optional, watching the sun go down, on the outside deck. I am sorry, that's just decadent. Again, more details follow with my own photos but if you're curious where that was, please see this link about Mpingo Ridge. I admit, that outside tub was hard to leave.
In this article, however I simply want to set the larger stage, which is the attitude and commitment which underscores what Lemala is all about. For my part as someone who has come to Africa many times since 2000, this is the future. It's not just the right thing, it is in many ways the only way forward as it relates to sustainability and the environment.
In terms of what Lemala is doing, this is from their website:
Protecting the Environment
We are leaders in using renewable energy with state of the art power and water systems ensuring that we:
- Operate 100% off the grid with zero emissions and fuel usage, using solar energy in all locations.
- Lead the way, removing plastic bottles from inside the national parks and conservation areas and upcycling them into school desks and chairs. Money raised through the purchase of these plastic school desks and chairs will go towards building a new Primary School at Eluway.
- Completely eliminate single use plastic water bottles and provide clean drinking water throughout our properties by investing in reverse osmosis water treatment plants.
- We are the first company in Africa to give our guests 100% biodegradable and plastic-free lunch boxes.
- Recycle – what we take into the bush (if not biodegradable) we bring out.
- We have successfully eliminated plastic straws from every Lemala property.
- 30% of the steel used to build our Lemala Lodges is recycled steel from scrap metal.
I can attest from first-hand experience. For example, I got specialized lunches made to sometimes irritating requirements since I don't eat bread, and every lunch box was woven by hand and packed with luscious healthy goodies. It feels even better to know that the lunch boxes that Alladin and I took out every day provided much-needed work for local communities.
I had a wooden straw used to clasp my lunch box, just to make sure that if I need one, someone had crafted it for me.
When I was exploring the reception area at the magnificent Nanyukie tented camp, located in a rock kopje (outcropping, favored by big cats), I noticed something special about their gift shop. They offer items made by the very talented disabled Tanzanian folks at Shanga, about whom I have written elsewhere.
Shanga's story is separate; suffice it to say that when Lemala buys in bulk for their gift shops, these otherwise ability-challenged folks stay employed, busy and happy. This tells me that Lemala is constantly asking what else can we do? A lot, clearly. When you take home a Shanga souvenir from a place like Nanyukie, the impact is felt in Arusha and beyond.
You and I might not necessarily notice the smaller details, especially when you are greeted with trained Maasai warriors who walk you safely to your expansive tents. Especially when you face out from your bedroom into the vast African landscape, often dotted with a grazing giraffe. You might not notice that everything is solar-powered, or that the planks you're standing on are recycled plastic.
You may not realize that all the water you drink, and there needs to be a lot of it out here, is NOT trucked in using plastic containers.
Such changes take massive investment, planning and upkeep. These fundamental commitments both to Africa's future and to a sustainable planet have to start both at the top and at the local level. When companies such as Lemala create a successful model for making tourists happy with their African experiences while also limiting the environmental impact, the competition gets the message.
There's a driving force behind that, too, and it's economic.
Today's more savvy tourist is demanding that their dollars not only allow them to enjoy what I saw: lions sleeping in trees, endless lines of migrating zebras disappearing in single file into the far, far distance, undertaker-like Maribou storks and vultures taking care of the last of a hyena's meal- but also to do it in such a way that our dollars have an impact up and down the entire supply chain.
I can attest to how it feels knowing that what money you spend, the tips you leave, the investment you make in a safari contributes directly to local communities, education, employment, opportunities, recycling, reduction in the use of fossil fuels and much more. There's something quite marvelous in knowing that even as you enjoy a decadent evening soak watching the African sun sink, you are making a contribution in your own way.
That is the way of the future. American corporations would be wise to take notes and follow suit. We are woefully behind.
I collect good stories sharing good news. Lemala is good news. I will be sharing a lot more of it shortly, along with the breathtaking photos that Alladin helped me secure in some of the world's great wild places. It gives me enormous pleasure to share news about people and companies dedicated to changing how we do business, how we do tourism, and how we treat the planet.
I can't wait to share more. Thanks for your patience with my bandwidth challenges, and thank you as always for reading.