“My name is Sicelo Mbatha. My wilderness name is Black Lion… Nature is my spiritual home, my medicine and my teacher. I have dedicated my life to fostering deep connections between humans and nature. I believe that this medicine is needed to heal the world from the wounds of environmental destruction and social injustice. I invite you to walk with me on healing paths through some of the most spectacular wild areas in South Africa… Each offer a unique landscape to connect with nature, and with your soul, to reflect on your life’s journey, as you journey through wild spaces.”
Turning fifty this year, it felt only fitting to mark my coming of age with a little adventure – something to push me out of my all-too-comfortable comfort zone.
And so when a friend spoke of the book Black Lion, Alive in the Wilderness and Sicelo’s guided walks into the African wild, I was nodding and saying yes before reason could think of all the very practical and valid arguments to stay at home: I’m not a hiker, I have none of the gear. I am not walking fit … and I’m meant to carry a backpack of 12kgs? We walk in big-five African territory and sleep under the stars at night, with no cover, and no protection? We have to take night-watch and sleep on the bare hard earth … what about spiders, scorpions, snakes and goggas?? And we won’t even go into needing a wee or poo! Needless to say the six months buildup between my birthday and entering the wilderness were fairly anxiety laden!
But what gifts I received in preparation. First and foremost, I was overwhelmingly gifted with contributions from so many friends, helping me acquire everything needed to get me there; and secondly, Sundays became our walking mornings: donning new hiking boots and snazzy khakis, with a few light weights in my backpack, my world opened up. Who knew Cape Town was filled with so many exquisite walks? … Okay, probably 90% of Cape Town ‘cause I bumped into them all on our Sunday saunters, but it was a revelation to me – I even got to the top of Lions Head – whoop whoop!
The week before we were to fly up to KZN I fell ill. My world felt like it imploded. I cursed and cried and wailed: so much preparation, so many gifts received to make my trip possible, and now the threat of it all slipping through my fingers? After heaps of grieving, and drugs, my body began to revive; and with Sean’s reluctant blessing, and a promise to charter a light aircraft to fly up and rescue me, I said a teary goodbye and embarked on my adventure!
It sounds like I’m heading off to Antarctica on a six month expedition, not a five day, four night immersion into the bush! But in my world, it was My Big Adventure.
At this time of year I do an annual review process (ENDING 2022) reflecting back on my year, recalling what was created, achieved, let go of, etc. I’ve been blessed to find a beautiful second Heart Art studio; I am delighted with the birth and growth of a new love of mine, Heart Dance; I’ve met some amazing people who have taken the journey into Heart Art with me, my Nia community bond ever deepens, but above all, my bush adventure has been the beacon of my year. Why? Because it became a goal. It was a destination I desired. I was a bit scared, and that fear fuelled the donning of my hiking boots. My eyes opened to so much beauty.
I mentioned anxiety earlier. That’s one aspect I failed to manage. When it came I didn’t quite have my finger on how to mange it. My failing has given me a greater empathy for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, and an understanding that this is all a learning in progress.
On my flight home after my bush experience, I spent the two hours writing and crying, writing and crying. Why the tears? Parting from the peace, the stillness, the unhurried … ah, such sweet sorrow!
Here are some glimpses into my Sacred Pathway: A Journey Into The Wild guided by Sicelo and his 2i/c Sipho…
- “Let’s go home, guys!” ~ Sicelo, big, burly, cheerful, as we hoisted our backpacks and set off into the African bush.
- Walking single-file. Just the sound of our feet and the rustlings and callings of life surrounding us.
- Arriving at a stretch of land overlooking the river, our resting place for the night.
- Sitting around an open fire, preparing our meals together, watching Sicelo cook up hearty one-pot stews.
- One tin plate, one tin cup, one spoon. “Take care of these, guys.”
- Rolling out our mats and sleeping bags on the bare earth – eish, my body felt bruised after four nights!
- Night watch – hearing the calls of hyena, lion, baboon, elephant, leopard … and our instruction from Sicelo, “If your torch light illuminates any eyes looking back at you, wake us up immediately!”
- Rising at dawn’s light, the day slowly unfolds. No rush. No time. No agenda.
- Ah, the liberation of my first bush poo!!!
- Sicelo and Sipho leading us down to the river, rifles in hand, to loll about in the iMfolozi waters.
- Fireflies at dusk!
- Watching a crazy wild lightning show as heavy black thunder clouds slowly draw around us.
- The inevitable crashing down of unrelenting rain, thunder and lightning baring down … not my finest hour as I sat huddled under a collapsing fly-sheet silently wailing, The End is Nigh.
- Sicelo’s words, “Be the rain, guys.”
- My dismay at the storm’s ending: life actually continues! A fire is lit, we take watch, the sun rises.
- Time stretches as the heat of the day calls for much rest in shady spots.
- Shy zebra and giraffe keep an eye on us.
- Close encounters with rhino – my sadness at their crashing escape through vegetation to get away from the scent of human.
- The calls of a Green Spotted Wood Dove “My mother is dead, my father is dead, my brother is dead, my heart goes cooo cooo cooo cooo.”
- Sipho pointing out the tracks of lion, aardvark, dung beetle.
- Boots strapped to our backpacks, trouser legs rolled up, we wade through iMfolozi waters.
- Snake sighting, scorpion visitations, spider eyes reflected in torch light, and yet our heads rest on the ground and we sleep.
- Our final circle on the fifth and final day. The soft and gentle words from Sicelo:
“Keep a space in your heart for nature to thrive and grow. Let it be your refuge. Be gentle. Be kind. Go sensitively with whom you share this experience – others may not understand. Keep community with nature. Trust in the cycles of life. Everything has a purpose and a place.”
I feel blessed to have shared this experience with Karen, Alison, Richard, Andrea, Erwin, Chloe, Andy, Sipho & Sicelo. Together we shared in something magical and unforgettable…
Let’s go home, guys!
iMfolozi photos courtesy of the Faradays.