Bush therapy

Beatrice Newbery seeks solace from her urban hell at a luxury safari lodge in Tanzania
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The Independent Travel

You know that feeling when you just have to get away? I got it in February. But when I told friends I was considering my first ever holiday "alone", the chorus was always the same. "You must go on this yoga retreat' or 'there's a great spa...'. I love yoga, and relish steam baths, but these suggestions left me cold. I didn't want group classes, and I didn't want to pad around in a dressing gown. And while I sought time to reflect, I didn't want to focus on "me". I just wanted space. .

You know that feeling when you just have to get away? I got it in February. But when I told friends I was considering my first ever holiday "alone", the chorus was always the same. "You must go on this yoga retreat' or 'there's a great spa...'. I love yoga, and relish steam baths, but these suggestions left me cold. I didn't want group classes, and I didn't want to pad around in a dressing gown. And while I sought time to reflect, I didn't want to focus on "me". I just wanted space. .

Then I heard about a safari lodge which until recently was a family home, where the exercise programme consists of running through the African bush (with an armed guide), and where I would be able to practice yoga alone looking out over a watering hole. I'd found the answer.

The Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is the ultimate contrast to the stresses of urban life. This vast reserve is Africa's largest - the size of Switzerland, and four times that of the Serengeti. It's an immense sanctuary of open wooded grassland, thick miombo forest, hot volcanic springs and lakes fed by two vast rivers, the Great Rhaha and the Rufiji. Its 55,000 square kilometres are home to over 350 species of birds, countless game and, crucially, just a handful of humans. In fact, there are only six game lodges and a few mobile camps in the reserve, and I was heading for the newest and most luxurious camp of all - Beho Beho.

I got a feeling for the size of the Selous as we flew in from Dar Es Salaam in a light aircraft. "Are we over the reserve yet?" I shouted to the pilot. "We have been for half an hour at least," he yelled back. "It goes on for ever." As we descended towards the lodge's private airstrip (and running track), circling the hippo bones arranged on the scorched ground to spell "Beho", giraffe and impala scattered off the runway and into the bush. Surrounded by mile upon mile of acacia trees, termite mounds and scrub, I pondered which direction I would head if I got lost. "The nearest camp is 18 kilometres away," explained the cook, Maretha. "But you'd never find it, and wow it's hot." I had just arrived and already my woes were falling into perspective.

Somehow these inhospitable surroundings serve to make Beho Beho an even greater haven. The lodge sits in the Selous hills, where a cooling breeze (Beho means "wind") blows under the eves. "This was my father, Christopher's, second home," explains Charlie Bailey, the current owner. "He loved Beho Beho. When he died, and I resolved to run the lodge commercially, I wanted to keep the 'private home' feel." With family photos in every room, it certainly feels like someone's house. Rita, the manageress, is the partner of Spike, the guide, and with Maretha and Zephaniah, the second guide, they call themselves "the family". As I was shown around the lodge for the first time, guests looked up from backgammon or books to shake hands. "You can do what you like here," explained Rita. "You can lie by the pool all day, or you can explore the bush with Spike."

Sitting in the lodge's English-style drawing room, it was hard to imagine leaving such comfort to venture out. Meanwhile, the eight private rooms or "bandas" spread out along stone-flagged paths, further conspired to keep guests from their safaris. Built of local stone and palm-leaf thatch, the rooms come with open-air showers, old linen chests and huge four-poster beds. From my balcony I could gaze out at my own personal watering hole where hippos would cool themselves in the mid-morning sun. In fact, when lunch was called, I found I had been studying hippo nostrils, rising and sinking in the murky water, for an hour. This was my idea of therapy.

By the time I was acquainted with the hippo, and had spent lunch watching an elephant trampling down a distant tree, I was ready for a spot of activity. A nasty cold meant that I had to shelve the idea of jogging along the runway, but a trip out in a 4x4 with Spike enabled me to at least get out into the wild. "I find being among animals is therapeutic," said Spike, as we bumped down the track towards the sinking sun. "Living in the bush is humbling."

As we drove, hundreds of carmine bee-eaters, red and blue, swooped and dived around our Jeep. "They've come for the insects that we're driving out of the grass," he explained. Next there were giraffes, wilderbeest, eland, a pride of lions, baboons, vultures and eagles. When we stopped to observe, Spike talked with insight on each species, from the number of different types of haemoglobin vultures possess (five), to the extent of an elephant's appetite (around 300kg of vegetation a day). And the more I heard, the more wondrous it all seemed.

I chose to accompany Spike at dawn and dusk most days. At dawn we headed out while the sun rose and a cool mist hung around the trees. We even had an unbeatable spa moment, when we bathed in the Maji Moto hot springs. Never did we share tracks with another vehicle, or face another tourist's lens.

During our safaris, the history of Beho Beho emerged. "It was originally built as a tented hunting camp, the first in the Selous," explained Spike. But Christopher Bailey kept the place "rustic" in the extreme, and welcomed few guests. "He was happier paying the game department out of his own pocket and running the lodge as his holiday home," Spike continued. "Only when he died did we start to rebuild and transform Beho Beho. We opened just last June."

The hot afternoons were the perfect time for a yoga stint on my balcony. When I opted out of dusky game drives, I lay on my sofa and watched cherry-red sunsets, read poems, and waited for the stars to pop out, counting until the sky was ablaze. Everything - from the huge woody moth that alighted on my mirror, to the inky night sky - served to belittle my anxieties by reminding me that, in the universe at large, I did not play a starring role.

The lodge provided a comfortable mix of solitude and cosy company, and I was never alone for too long. My ruminations were far more fruitful knowing that I would soon be having a G&T at the cocktail bar, followed by a lantern-lit dinner and billiards. And over fish kebabs we would discuss the excitements at Beho Beho, and possible improvements. "We want it to be one of the most comfortable safari camps," explained Charlie, "offering guests a very personal service." But when Rita asked for my suggestions, I found it hard to imagine any improvements. "Perhaps toothpaste in the rooms?" I responded weakly. I knew that I could not have found a better mix of luxury, occasional company, and wilderness. After all, I had arrived troubled, ill and anxious, and now felt happy, healthy and, when it comes to booking holidays, wise.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Dar Es Salaam on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Returns start at around £575. Regional departures are available with KLM (08705 074074; www.klm.com), which flies via Amsterdam.

STAYING THERE

Bandas at Beho Beho (020-8897 9991; www.behobeho.com) cost $460 (£242) per person based on two sharing. Return flights from Dar Es Salaam to Beho Beho cost $240 (£126), so a three-night stay costs $1,620 (£853) per person and a four-night stay $2,080 (£1,095).

RED TAPE

British passport-holders need a visa. These can be obtained from the Tanzania High Commission (020-7408 4063), 43 Hertford Street, London W1Y 8DB. Application forms can be downloaded from the website, www.tanzania-online.gov.uk.

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