27 Jul 2012 The Day the Villa Burned
We recently had the good fortune of being invited to Camp Jabulani to spend two glorious days in the Zindoga Villa. Two days … 48 hours … 2880 minutes of sheer, unadulterated, hedonistic, decadent pleasure. By the time we arrived at the imposing gates of the Kapama Reserve, we were almost quivering with delicious anticipation of the royal treat that lay in store.
We were not disappointed.
We arrived after dark on Friday 6 July, and after a very long drive on the back of a crazy-paced couple of months, we willingly surrendered ourselves to Carl and Orbert, completely at the mercy of what they had in store for us. And what they had planned was, very simply, that we have whatever our hearts desired. Carl whipped our two agitated 6-hours-in-the-back-of-a-car pre-teens off on a game drive, and hubby and I were left to sip on a glass of red wine in the lounge, disturbed only by the chef arriving to begin the preparation of our four-course meal. “Pinch me now”, I thought. “Life does not get much better than this.” Luxury is beyond the five physical senses. Luxury is in the way you are made to feel. And right there and then, I felt like a queen. A very nice feeling indeed.
The children got back from their drive with Carl and rattled off the names of 13 animals they had seen, and how they intended finding another 13 the following day. Their pent up energy had been wonderfully spent!
We sat down for dinner, and were waited on hand and foot. By the time the last morsel had been eaten, and the last sip sipped, we were sated and satisfied. At around 22h30 my eyelids shut, and I sank into the deepest slumber I can remember.
It was from this deep slumber that I was viciously evicted just six short hours later. My husband had been roused by the sound of a thump on the deck outside. Rustling leaves and some out-of-the-ordinary commotion drew him to the window to investigate. Expecting to see the wind blowing through the trees, it took a moment for him to comprehend what he was seeing. A pile of burning grass lay on the deck! What? How? Fire? NO! Surely not! He looked up, and the magnitude of the situation hit him when he saw that the thatched roof was in flames.
We’ve all seen our share of Hollywood-scripted movies about blazing infernos. But absolutely nothing can prepare you for the ferocity of a fire that is running out of control. The sound of it. The heat of it. The smell of it. It is an intimidating beast!
I called Carl, who answered after just four rings with his most efficient, “as-if-he-always-wakes-up-at-four-thirty-am” voice. ”Fire, fire! Carl, the villa is on Fire.” “I’m coming,” said Carl.
We grabbed our bags, the kids stumbled out looking shocked and dazed, and Carl appeared in his black shorts and sweater – from bed to crisis in a mere few minutes! He instructed us to get out immediately, and to go to the lounge area at the lodge, as it was a matter of time before the roof caved in. He ran to evacuate all of the other guests in the camp, and to get his team in place. A blazing inferno in the bush is no joke!
As we headed out along the sandy path, a stream of very silent but singularly focused people made their way to the villa – each with their own bucket, and a look of something very personal in their eyes.
We got to the main lounge and watched the inferno from the safe side of the river. It was like watching a movie. Vicious flames roared gutturally, and the fire clawed at the night sky, as if tearing itself out of hell. Hard wooden beams succumbed and fell with a dull thud, like a giant landing winded on the ground.
For over four hours the Camp Jabulani team battled on, unaided. No professional firefighters, no large fire trucks. Just the combined effort of many hands, motivated by sheer will and determination and a personal investment that was very humbling to witness.
At about 11h30 the battle was eventually won. With the support of a team from Kamapa Game Reserve and the local fire department that had eventually arrived, the fire was overcome – beaten and suffocated. Miraculously the flames had been confined to the lounge and dining room areas only.
When it was safe to return, we walked with trepidation back to our Villa (in my mind, it will always be our Villa). What a sight. We gaped open-mouthed at the stinking, smoking, fire-ravaged remains of what was once a palatial room. The heavy, silver candelabrum lay black and defeated in the ashes. Broken crockery was scattered among the black detritus of what was – hours before – a beautiful mahogany wood server.
But what I will never forget is the sight of Carl. Still in his black pyjama shorts and sweater, he captained the hose, and like a man possessed he continued to fight every last burning ember. He was absolutely drenched from head to toe. This captain did not abandon his ship. Whether facing floods or inferno, he is always there to the end.
While Carl and his team fought the flames, Elsie co-ordinated hers with the calm focus that has become her trademark. Quiet she may be, but she is a force to be reckoned with and it is not difficult to understand why this camp runs like a Swiss watch.
Perhaps most telling of all is the way each and every person fighting that fire with Carl and Elsie was there out of choice, working as if fighting to save their own homes.
We left Camp Jabulani 1 day …. 24 hours …. 1440 minutes earlier than we had planned to. But what we took away with us is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life – the power of the collective human spirit in the face of disaster. Take away the bricks, the mortar, the bells and the whistles – it really is all about people.
I feel blessed to have witnessed this, and I will never forget it.