The story of Umlani Bushcamp
I was born to a family of great privilege, my father Mario Schiess had decided to stay in South Africa after a type of gap year from his country of birth, Switzerland. He had come to SA to spend time here with his uncle and aunt. His uncle, Richard Fuld, had left Germany to escape the Nazi’s. Fuld had done well here in South Africa and had developed a love for the African Bush. He also enjoyed hunting, which is one of the reasons he bought property here in Timbavati.
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The early days of Timbavati the land was used as private hunting farms. As children growing up here on holidays the wilderness had way of talking to your soul that you can only know about if you have visited this place. I became very passionate about the bush and the wildlife and wanted to make it my life’s work. I studied nature conservation and this is when I met my wife, Marie-Louise, who decided to join me in our mutual passion.
We spent 1989 doing our practical year for our conservation studies. This year we did practical assignments and other ecological surveys. We were introduced to the Wilderness Leadership School, founded by Dr Ian Player, and soon got involved in taking wilderness walking trails for the school in Timbavati. During this year we developed our philosophies on tourism and conservation, very much influenced by Dr Ian Player’s writings. We noticed that most game lodges we visited were in a constant spiral of up-grading and that at some point in that process they lost something special. We decided to attempt to keep that “specialness” in the experience that only the wilderness has to offer. We asked ourselves what type of experience we would like to have if we were coming to Africa for the first time. With that in mind we developed the concept of Umlani Bushcamp on the basis of Ecology, Culture and Adventure.
I registered a closed corporation and we started building Umlani in November 1989. We opened for business on the Easter weekend in 1990. I was the ranger and I had employed a tracker, George Mathebula, from whom I learned a great deal. Marie-Louise was the cook, administrator and my business partner. As time progressed we employed new people to help us with the workload. Slowly we grew from strength to strength. In the early days we had lots of “days off”, especially during the build up to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 when tourism was at a virtual stand still.
We survived that and in 1995 as overseas tourism took off we renovated and built new rondavals with en-suite facilities. In the beginning it was quite difficult, constantly changing roles from marketing person to ranger to manager and sometimes to bed maker! We had started off by studying Nature Conservation and along the way had to learn lots of other skills in order to survive. The most important learned skill for me was, and still is, the ability to serve others with a smile on your face. It has been a fantastic journey and I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity.
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