There’s a significant amount of nostalgia to be found in the bush. Simply driving through the Londolozi reserve, I find myself confronted by an indelibly imprinted memory around almost every corner. Having spent the last four years of my life immersed in this amazing wilderness, it is hard to go anywhere on the property without being reminded of some incredible sighting, some hilarious adventure with another ranger, or even just a simple laugh shared with guests.
I am fortunate to be cursed with a photographic memory (a bit of a contradiction there, I know), so that every time I venture out of the Londolozi camps, it is like taking a trip down memory lane.
I can still conjure up incredibly vivid images of the colossal elephant bull that towered over our vehicle when we were helplessly stuck in the sands of the Manyelethi riverbed. He was less than a metre from the side of the Land Rover, and I looked him in the eye for over a minute, silently willing him to move on. My pulse can’t help but race at the recollection.
I remember the Sparta pride females growling at Mike Sutherland, Jacqui Hemphill and I, when we found them on foot in the long grass of the deep south.
The high-five I shared with Mike Sithole when we finally caught up to the Marthly male leopard at sunset after an 8-hour track will forever be in my top ten favourite moments at Londolozi.
People often ask me what the best thing I’ve seen in the bush is. And I can’t tell them. Every sighting is different, and on what criteria should you judge what is “best”?
The most exciting? The most emotion you felt? The rarest thing you’ve seen? A birth? A kill?
One can have distinct highlights, but I’m sure that most rangers who have been in the bush awhile would agree that to assign the title “best sighting” is an incredibly difficult thing to do.
I’m writing this whilst sitting at a coffee shop in OR Tambo airport, waiting to board a flight to go to the wedding of two good friends in Stellenbosch. It is going to be a wonderfully joyous occasion. And whilst the bustle of an international airport is a shock to the system after having just arrived from the peace and quiet of the bushveld, sitting here while thinking about the wedding gives me perspective as to what I enjoy and value most about my life.
So I’ve suddenly realised that in twenty years time, when someone asks me what the best thing I saw in the bush was, I think I may have an answer for them.
It will be the smiles and contentment I saw on the faces of the friends I have made for life, as we sat around the fire under the Southern stars, sharing laughter late into the African night.
A few beers, a guitar strumming away, tales of what we saw that day and discussions about what we might see tomorrow are all the simple ingredients needed for a wonderful and deeply satisfying evening in the bush. With any luck, the lions might be roaring in the distance.
Although the wildlife experience is primarily what draws young people from all walks of life to work in the African wilderness, it is the memories made together and the shared love for what we do that draws us close as a group.
That is why as long as I work here I’ll call the friends I’ve made, family.
And like the Mashaba female, the Tsalala pride, and the genet that lives in the Pioneer camp roof, I will call Londolozi my home.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell