As a young man barely into my 20’s I was fed up with the drinking, fast cars and partying life I was leading. I had an unfinished legal degree and was running a mobile discotheque as a business. I felt like I was stuck on the records I was playing at parties!
One Monday I made an appointment to see the Londolozi boss in Auckland Park for an interview. I had some bush experience through a close friend who had a camp In the Klaserie reserve, where I had been fortunate enough to spend considerable study vacation time!
I was introduced to Dave and John, sitting feet up on a desk, in the most untidy and cramped office I had ever seen. “Good morning, my name is Peter Pyburn and I’m here…” I started.
“I see you went to KES”, Dave cut me short.
“ Yes”, I replied, “great school and you?”
“Parktown”, said John. And that was that! The interview deteriorated into a free-for-all as to which school was the best at cricket. No testing of any bush lore. No testing of any mechanical skills. No testing of people skills. Just an offer to join the camp at a salary of R104 per month, board and lodging provided. I left with a job, starting in four days!
Friday saw me in Skukuza after a flight in a Dakota which had to power-up the engines to fly over the power stations cooling stacks en-route from Johannesburg! Then a true beauty – Veronica – approached me to enquire if I was the new ranger? Shoo, if this was a dream let it never end! We climbed into a small white Triumph car. ”I’m going into Skukuza, so I’ll drop you insider the reserve and they’ll pick you up soon”, Vee said. And there I sat, on a large rock inside the Sabi Sands reserve. And sat. And sat. I played on my guitar, smoked my pipe and patiently waited. What if no one arrived? Was this my first test?
Eventually a somewhat worse-for-wear landy appeared. And sitting, again with feet up on the dashboard, was John. Driving was “Mad Mike” Penman. Seriously, I had just made this monumental decision to drop the Johannesburg partying life and here was one of the architects of propping up a bar counter, in the bush picking me up!
Perhaps because I was bouncing the landy off the ground over the storm water humps and virtually doing two wheel turns on the track!
“China, if that’s how you drive guests, better you get out now and go back to Skukuza”, John cuttingly commented. Mike was roaring with laughter in the back! I slowed to the customary crawl and on we went.
On the way I had my ranger pre-FAGASA test! “Pretend you’re a game drive and we are the guests”, said John. I did, describing the animals, birds and insects I could identify. I passed, although was told I needed to learn a lot more bush lore if I wanted tips!
We arrived at the lodge. From what I could see, it consisted of four rondavels, a reception/come office along a wooden walkway and a lovely thatched lounge with a large deck jutting into the Sand River.
“Let’s see if you can shoot”, said John handing me a rifle. “See that Marula? Put a hole in it”. I took aim and pulled the trigger. I remember lying on my back in the dirt! My shoulder felt broken. John and Mike were again crying with laughter. Yes, I had been given the .458 Elephant gun! Yes, the Marula had a sizeable chunk blow from its trunk. And yes, I had passed one of the rookie tests!
Written and Photographed by: Peter Pyburn