Friday, May 2

the beginning of a new life....

Tomorrow is the 51st anniversary of my birth and yesterday was the first anniversary of me chucking in my corporate, urban-jungle lifestyle and setting off for misty horizons.
The first 3 days of May will forever be a most auspicious time of the year for me, I think!!

Yesterday I had a delicious lunch and lazy afternoon with a couple of good friends at a luxury country hotel hidden away in the Magaliesberg (Magalies Hills) north west of Johannesburg, and tomorrow I will be spending most of the day driving 2 safari clients 600km north to a Rest Camp in the far reaches of Kruger National Park.

Yes! I am now officially, and have been for 3 months, a safari guide (and for at least 1.5 days of each safari also a “tour” guide). And I am loving it!

The company I work for is based in eastern Johannesburg, very convenient for both leaving the city for Kruger NP and for me as I only live about 3km from where they have their office. They have 3 other guides also working for them and we predominantly do 3-6 day safaris to Kruger. However, there are sometimes variations and last weekend I took two clients first for 3 days to Sabi Sand Game Reserve (on the border of Kruger) and then on a day trip to the Pilanesberg National Park. We also have a variety of Rest Camps that we stay in at Kruger, so no trip is identical to the previous one! The exception is the last day of any safari as we always do the “panoramic” route through the Eastern escarpment / Northern Drakensberg range, so that may just begin to get boring after a while.

As the guide on any of these safaris I am responsible for almost everything except making my clients beds! I drive them to Kruger, take them on wildlife / game viewing drives around Kruger (routes planned by myself), tell them about the animals, birds, bees, trees, geology and anything else I can think of; hopefully see the “big 5”; and then when we are back in camp I cook & serve both brunch and dinner (and of course do the washing up afterwards!). Our company specializes in “small groups” – between 2-6 people at a time, so in theory 1 guide can cope with all the work.
Hopefully once my “routines” are a little more established, and I know Kruger NP a little better, my days may be a bit shorter, but at the moment they start at 4am and don’t end much before 10pm.

The toughest part of the job up until now has been prevaricating about my rather, so far, limited experience in Kruger. I am not allowed to look at maps or any other aids in front of the clients and I have to imply that I have masses of experience! Well I have – but not in Kruger National Park – so I spend most of my evenings after putting my clients to bed, reading books on Kruger; planning the routes for the next day, memorizing the maps and so on. It is already getting a little easier thank goodness.

I would also recommend that in future, none of you take me on at a game of poker! This job is 90% about dealing with people and I am getting really excellent at keeping a straight face, no matter what is going on! I must say though, that is one aspect I am definitely enjoying, meeting new people all the time and getting to know them just a little.
The other absolute pleasure of course is being able to spend days at a time in Kruger National Park (or some other wildlife reserve) looking for and watching the animals, birds, insects and so on – what an office to have!!!!!
No trip has been the same, and what one sees always changes from day to day – so there are always surprises (all pleasant so far, except for some of the car & equipment problems I have had!) None of my safaris have been without any challenges but all my clients have appeared to be very happy so far (and that’s the other really great thing about this job – immediate feedback!).

I have started wondering why I didn’t start doing this a hundred years ago – I feel as if it is my calling. But I do know why – the pay is pretty awful – so it’s just as well I spent a few years putting some savings to one side before I started as a guide.

One does NOT do this job for the money, but it is incredibly enriching in so many other ways.

Last weekend in Sabi Sand, while being driven by one of the rangers from the Lodge we were staying in, I had my best EVER sightings of lion, buffalo, wild dog and leopard. At sunset we were parked 4m away from 4 adult male lions who were just sleeping off their meal of buffalo, when they decided to make their presence known to all and sundry, far and wide, and all four started roaring together – words fail me – all I can say is that tears sprung to my eyes it was so awe inspiring.
We also spent an hour the next morning with a young male leopard (who had an impala kill up in a tree) and his mother who was resting in the bushes below. Needless to say, I was able to get some really good photos.
The wild dog were also incredible – we spent over ½ an hour watching a pack of 14 dogs gambol about and then eventually just flop down in and around the road we were on. They are so incredibly rare now that this was a real privilege.

My trips into Kruger Park itself haven’t had quite the same level of intensity on the wild life side, but every safari has had it’s highlights:- at midday the leopard walking across the road in front of us, the African Giant Snail seen on the road early one morning; the Martial and Brown Snake Eagles swooping over the river banks; the Water Monitor Lizard stalking around the water hole; the large troop of baboons entertaining us with their antics in the middle of the road; the Dwarf Mongoose trekking from one lair to another carrying their babies in their mouths; the baby giraffe with it’s wonderfully fluffy horns; the 4 baby elephants chasing and playing with each other and literally prancing around in the khaki weed……………

 Well, I must start signing off now – I have 3 safaris back to back over the next 10 days – although March / April has been a quiet couple of months for the company and I have had nice 2-8 day breaks between safaris up until now – my bosses want me to get a taste of what it will be like during the busy season (frequent back to backs and very few breaks in-between) so they have given me everything that is going at the moment. Apparently this is just so that I am sure that this is really what I want to do– little do they know me – anything that sounds like a personal challenge ………….

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