You are all packed for your Africa Safari.
You read about or heard about this luxury lodge in South Africa or Botswana or Tanzania, the location is irrelevant.
It has a private plunge pool, outdoor shower, huge king size bed and a large tub overlooking the plains of Africa.
The excitement is unbearable…the dream of a lifetime has materialized.
When you arrived at the lodge it was just as a you hoped it would be’.
However, there is one element of the safari experience that you won’t find in magazines and or on web sites. Past friends or family members who have been on a safari may have alerted you to this vital missing piece which is the safari guide.
No matter how luxurious or how rustic it may be, every participant who goes to a private safari lodge will spend many hours with the allocated safari guide.
Here is the bottom line:
If you don’t connect with the guide, your safari experience will be shaded.
The safari guide is the essence, the heartbeat of the whole safari experience.
Sure the wildlife is the main focus and the main reason why you went on your Africa safari in the first place
There are many places with hot tubs, private plunge pool, outdoor showers…. there are very few of them that are located in the middle of a wildlife setting where you spend about 6 to 7 hours per day exploring deep into the Africa bush being enthralled and entranced by the magic of this unique environment, and it’s the safari guide that makes this come to life.
Your safari guide will bring this magical place to life happen through their knowledge, skill, their experience to track, locate the wildlife and though their enthusiasm communicates to you about a whole range of diverse wildlife topics from insets to birds to the grazing animals, hippos, crocs, lions, leopards, elephant, rhino, and cultural insights regarding medicinal uses of some of the trees, bushes etc.
This skill set of knowledge of the safari guide is deeply broad and diverse, and they open up the natural world to you so that you can become enthralled and entranced at the magic taking place in front of you.
So what makes a good Safari guide and how can you as the guest make it work for you
1) Language and pronunciation:
Guides come from many different backgrounds
Some come from the rural villages where formal education and the completion of school is not always possible and some of these guides don’t even make it through high school
Others go to schools in an urban area and or study different aspects of post high school conservation.
No matter what the background of the guide is, every guide has to pass the guides test. No lodge worth anything will allow an unlicensed guide to take guests out.
So what has this got to do with language and pronunciation…for most black African safari guides English is not their mother tongue so sometimes their pronunciation of English words does not resonate with what you are used to.
In the South Africa safari industry some Afrikaans speaking white guides who are also not used to speaking English as their mother tongue have equally the same difficulty with their pronunciation of English words and they do not always resonate with what you are used to.
So what is the solution and this solution is also one of the main keys to a successful safari experience.
Talk to your guide, communicate with them. If you don’t understand ask them to re explain.
If one can summarize a safari guides whole reason for their role in a few words it is “to give” to the guest, none stop giving in the form of time, attention, knowledge, understanding etc.
By showing interest in what they are talking about makes for a greater enhanced experience on the game drive vehicle.
2) So many facts
Sometime I think Safari guides are reincarnated nutty professors as they know so much about the bush meaning not only about the wildlife, flora/fauna/trees/medicinal uses etc are all part of this bundle of facts.
Yes, that same rural guide who never completed school is now about as knowledgeable about the bush as you will find anywhere, and by anywhere I mean in academia, conservation nonprofit organizations and the very well-read up modern day traveler.
In many cases, the safari bush guide knowledge of the bush, animal identification and behavior far surpasses many who work in the field of wildlife conservation and academia.
If you love facts, ask for more.
If you don’t like facts, just enjoy the bush until you hear a fact that you like.
3) Safari guides relate, make conversation and ensure you stay safe.
The amount of driving a safari guide does over a 2N or 3 N safari stay will utterly floor you.
Not only are they driving to ensure you are safe, they are engaging with you, communicating with you, making the bush come alive, seeing wildlife you don’t see, drawing your attention to them, identifying the bush life around you and also knowing when not to talk to allow the natural sounds to take over.
Driving in that rough terrain 6 hours a day is by no means an easy thing to do.
This becomes really apparent when you are on the vehicle and they get wind of a sighting or need to get to another location to try get a better view of the animal.
With all the adrenalin that comes with that moment, the guide wanting to please the guest, the guest not wanting to be tossed about in the game drive vehicle. It’s a delicate balance that the guide has to follow.
The good guides will explain what’s going on, will get your buy in and off you go. It’s part of the process, the thrill to see that elusive leopard etc…
The safari guide wears many hats in that moment: of a safe but sometimes a fast drive coupled with communicating to you for any low tree branches or thorny branches that may be in the way, talking to the tracker or talking to other guides on the radio multi-tasking at its best, but is it so worth it.
4) Safari guides keep a balance of what you will see or except to see
Maybe the hardest part of the safari guides skillset it to manage expectations.
These guides live in the bush; they know the cycle of the animals.
The better guides will promise nothing, keep expectations low to avoid the disappointment of not seeing say the Big 5 or one of the Big 5.
Many a time I have got onto a game drive vehicle and found that the quantity of animals was not what I had hoped for, only to find out that the previous day for eg a massive heard of buffalo has come through or the lions killed recently and they were sleeping it off elsewhere.
So if there is no Lion sighting, it does not mean that is a lousy lodge and or the guides are not doing their job, it means that you are experiencing the beauty of the Africa bush.
The Africa bush it’s not a zoo or credit card instant experience.
You are at the mercy of Nature, and what you get, that’s it.
The best way to enjoy this unique experience is to take in what you see and don’t allow the disappointment of not seeing to cloud your stay.
Africa is the optimal destination for a 2cnd or multiple visits as there are many different countries/eco systems to experience.
When the animals thin out, it’s time to take in the birds, when they thin out, take in the trees, shrubs, learn how important the termites are for the bush etc…there is so much happening all around you…the bigger brand name animals are a big piece but not the whole piece of the Africa bush.
You will learn about the little 5. Yes there are the little 5 and this expanded insight into the wholeness of the Africa bush, which is revealed to you by your Safari guide can potentially give you a deeper appreciation of what you experiencing.
So keep an open mind.
Allow nature to reveal to you its many faceted sides. It will surely delight and satisfy you.
I am reminded that there is one other role the guide plays.
For mourning tea and the afternoon sun downer the guide is your host, offering you snacks making you tea/coffee/drinks etc.
Engage with you guide, talk to him or her, find out about their back ground, tell them what you hope to see but don’t get attached to that happening, listen to them and above all obey their instructions about safety and the bush.
In ending take a moment to appreciate all that the guides do for you as the guest, as all that they want for you is for you to get the most out of your Africa safari experience, and they are the ones who work really hard on your behalf to make this experience as memorable as possible.
Stephen Abelson has been custom designing Africa safari for over a decade and counting and along the way has had the good fortune to safari across Southern and East Africa.
“It’s the culmination of many years doing this work that prompted me to write this article as I have developed a deep appreciation for the position that a Safari guide holds in the bigger picture of an Africa Safari.”
We design your Africa experience as you want it.