Becoming jaded is I think my biggest fear about living and working in the bush.
I would hate to think that I might ever get bored of spending time with a pride of lions or might not want to get off the vehicle to follow fresh tracks of a leopard. It is only natural for things to lose their sparkle slightly as you are exposed to them more and more, but the moment one doesn’t actively want to be doing what you are there to do and started off loving, is probably when it’s time to move on.
A good friend of mine who was a ranger at Londolozi and one of my early mentors, was in tears when he left the bush to move to Johannesburg to start his own business, and I remember asking him why he would want to leave when he was so upset about it. His answer has stayed with me, as he told me he didn’t want to go, but knew he should leave while he still loved what he was doing.
It would have been an utter shame to leave because he was tired of it.
Which makes one asks the question about one’s longevity in the bush. Some people want to do two years and then go back to a corporate career. Some stay longer as they realise how much they love it and some stay for life. I think many people who fall into the latter two categories don’t start out in them, but simply fall more and more in love with the lifestyle; the sense of community, co-existing with like-minded people who share the same passions, and the daily refreshment of the soul to be found in nature’s abundance are all intoxicating. I have never been one to think too far into the future, but if you had asked me on the day I started at Londolozi whether I would still be here 8 years later, my answer would most likely have been an emphatic, “No”.
Not because I wouldn’t want to be, but I think because at the time I wouldn’t have believed that I could still be so passionate about what I was doing and where I was doing it after that long.
The beauty of the industry is its own evolution, and the fact that there are infinitely more avenues to go down these days than there ever were in its early days.
In the 1980s there would have been front-of-house, ranger, chef and one or two more jobs one could do, but partly owing to the small scale of most operations and the more limited bush experience they would have been able to offer at the time, there just wouldn’t have been much more scope for other jobs.
Nowadays things have changed. Apart from guiding and managing camps, or some of the other employment positions that still form the backbone of the lodge industry, there are accountants living in the bush, on-site doctors, media teams, therapists, full-time teachers and far too many others to name here.
With the growth of the industry have come more and more possibilities and more and more people determined to make a life in the bush. Also, with the growth of what in effect are bush communities that encompass multiple lodges, has come the need for services to cater for those communities, which in turn has provided more options for people to pursue a bush lifestyle.
The dream of living permanently in the bush, a dream that many have given up all in order to realise, is out there.
It can be fleeting, as there are always new dreams, but when I think of why I started writing this in the first place, I’m sure it has something to with the fact that so many of the people I engage with on a day-to-day basis (I’m talking about the Londolozi staff here) are dream-chasers.
The camp managers, the massage therapists, the rangers… all have said to themselves at some point, “I wish I could live and work in the bush.” And here they are.
I remember one particular incident during my training period, when fellow trainee Dan Buys and I had had quite a late night entertaining guests, then a 4:00am start to clean the vehicle and get it ready for game drive. We had just left Founders Camp deck after serving morning coffee and were on our way back to the Rangers Room when monkeys started alarming above the river.
Dan and I knew that the monkeys must have seen a leopard, but given that we were focusing specifically on leopards during that period in our training and had enjoyed a spate of amazing sightings as a result, we hesitated before returning to Founders deck, both being pretty tired and just determined to get on with the day. Then the call came in over the radio that the leopard was visible on the big granite boulders in the river.
Looking at each other, we immediately felt guilty that we had even for a second debated whether or not to go back. We knew then, that the moment we didn’t want to go and see a leopard was the moment we should leave the bush.
Thankfully, that moment has yet to come.