Connectivity – nowadays no longer a fashionable term but rather an unspoken expectation of travellers as it has become the norm to be available and accessible, even when on holiday. When I travelled to Selous to visit The Retreat, I was very well aware that I would be in one of the most remote areas of Selous in Tanzania yet felt re-assured knowing that there would be internet connectivity. Prior to arrival in my conversation with the owner, the Swiss surgeon Uma Grob, she announced that I will be accommodated at Hippo Point, the most exclusive and secluded accommodation at The Retreat, also often referred to as exclusive use safari experience as it is further away from the main building and attended by its own private chef and butler with a separate pool and bar. With its prime location alongside the Ruaha River, it is not surprising how Hippo Point has gotten to its name as hippo viewings are guaranteed, in fact, the hippos actually become holiday companions as one does not only see them but surely cannot overhear their conversations, especially once the sun has set.
I felt privileged to be given the best accommodation for my site inspection until Uma casually mentioned that there won’t be internet access at Hippo Point, however internet would be available at The Fort, the main building. A wave of panic and disbelief washed over me before she had even finished her sentence. What followed next was a discussion between myself and Uma whereby I was arguing that today’s discerning traveller needs to have internet access and that it was a pre-requisite comparable to the existence of a mini bar. Uma was adamant that the provision of internet connectivity at The Retreat would spoil the experience and categorically refused to change her position.
Once arrived at The Retreat, my guide drove me to the famous Hippo Point which is about 3 km away from The Fort, the main building. With a rather unease feel I checked into my accommodation, accompanied by my personal butler who explained all facilities. Once I was left alone, I took in the beauty of the location, the comfort of my accommodation and the attention to detail. I tried to make peace with the fact that I would have to go back to The Fort to check emails until I noticed not even the absence of internet but also the lack of mobile phone reception. I was left isolated from the world in a tented suite at Hippo Point, with heavy duty canvas and fibre-glass mosquito nets being the only division between myself and the African bush. To stay in touch with the lodge, I would have to make use of the walkie talkies.
Throughout the day, I explored the camp and the area in which it was situated. Uma had arranged a spa treatment for the afternoon in the privacy of my accommodation at Hippo Point, so when I returned to my tented suite, I was greeted by the friendly spa lady who had set up a massage bench on the deck of my suite. The Senses of Africa Spa at The Retreat is certainly one of the highlights and the same natural oils are being used for in-suite treatments than at the spa. I chose the oil that appealed most to me and was melting away during the skilfully performed massage treatment. Unlike a spa treatment at a traditional spa that often is accompanied by commercial noises in a set up environment, my experience was enhanced by absorbing the sounds of the African bush. A natural silence, uninterrupted by artificial disturbances which contributed to the ultimate relaxation. After the treatment, the spa lady left me relaxed and feeling pampered. Normally I would fire up my laptop to check emails but this time, I actually allowed myself to lie on the comfortable loungers on my deck, watching the river in front of me and just letting my eyes and mind wonder, admiring the constant flow of the river. In that very moment, realization hit me and I understood why Uma would not want to have internet access installed at Hippo Point. And I acknowledged the privilege of being unavailable and just being present in the moment, to be able to take in authenticity and the untouched beauty that surrounded me.
What I took from this massage was more than relaxation, it was a deeper understanding of the importance to hit the pause button in our busy, daily lives and to appreciate places like The Retreat that allow us to do so.