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Its 5:30 in the morning and the phone rings. I am seven time zones away from home. The sun is not yet up but I am surprisingly well rested. “Sawubona,” a friendly voice greets me via phone. “It’s time to wake up.”

I have a few minutes to get myself together. It is still dark, but nothing has ventured into the camp overnight so I am able to walk from my surprisingly luxurious bungalow to the lodge unattended. The porter is not needed this morning. I venture out into the brisk predawn hours towards coffee, juice and a small bite to eat. There is no need for makeup or showering this morning. My husband and I will spend the next three hours on a game drive in the African bush. Thanda Private Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa, will be our home for the next six days.

I never expected to find a Leading Hotel of the World in the African bush, but that is exactly what Getaway2Give (G2G) provided. We’ve been involved with G2G for about 2 years and just fell in love with the idea – a luxury destination club that donates half of our membership fee and part of each nightly rate to a charity of our choice while providing us with amazing residences and experiences at a significant savings. It just made sense for us to get involved. Without G2G I doubt my husband and I would have ever really considered this kind of travel experience. Sure many people say they want to go to Africa, to a reserve, to a safari, but how many of those people actually DO IT?

Thanda did not disappoint. From the stellar customer service, to the amazing food, luxurious accommodations and adventurous game drives, we had a trip of a lifetime. Yes, we chose to be fenced in with the Big 5 on 15,000 hectares for a week. I’m afraid that a zoo will never be the same.

Our education began with an open-topped Land Rover, a botanist/zoologist driver, and a pair of Zulu eyes expanding our minds to assimilate the African domain. We didn’t just see animals; we experienced the full spectrum of the land and its creatures. We saw the beauty of a mother teaching her young, the family structure apparent in herd animals, the joy and playfulness of the adolescents, the coping and surviving instincts of the small creatures, and felt the panic and plight of the hunted. We were awed by the intricacies of even the plant life as they compensate for the harsh conditions of the bush. Yes, we saw lions, elephants, giraffes, and all the amazing critters in their natural habitat, but we experienced an intimacy and camaraderie that I will never be able to fully describe. I will never forget how a mother lion, with a mere shake of her head, sent all three of her cubs into “freeze” mode for safety when we encountered her on the drive.

Or how a bull elephant protected his herd and stood his ground.

Or brothers playfully demonstrated their strength.

Or how impalas instinctively drank at a water hole.

Humans are the aliens here, and we were awed by the knowledge and our insignificance.

The final piece in our Thanda puzzle was spending time with the Zulu people. Their history, strength and willingness to open their hearts and homes to us was overwhelming.

Thanda was established as a game reserve in 2004 by Swedish entrepreneur, Dan Olofsson. Thanda truly reverberates with love for the African bush, its flora and fauna, and the Zulu people who have lived in this area for thousands of years. Thanda gives back and enriches the Zulu people and the African conservation. The Thanda Foundation focuses on the preservation of the Zulu culture and other community programs. The Star for Life Project, founded by Christin and Dan Olofsson, is an awareness, education and prevention program to teach students about HIV/Aids. The project now reaches more than 100,000 children with its message of “AIDS-free, that’s me” using “mental vaccination” to help learners to make informed choices about sexuality. African Impact is a multi-award-winning volunteer travel organization that operates responsible and sustainable volunteer projects and internship programs throughout Southern and East Africa.

Thanda means “Love” in Zulu, and I can absolutely say that I loved everything about my holiday. Thanda’s dedication to their guests, their community and the conservation of Africa is spectacular.

Will you be able to enjoy a chef’s private dinner outdoors in an African boma as you listen to lions roaring in the background? With Thanda, yes, you can and we did.

Author: Tracy Thompson

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