A totally new environment can be over-stimulating to the nth degree. So many unfamiliar sights and sounds are coming at you that it can get quite overwhelming, and after a while it’s certainly possible that reality and imagination start to blur together.
First time visitors to the African wilderness that have travelled from overseas – particularly those who are city-based – are usually blown away by what the bush has to offer. The first sight of a giraffe browsing on a Knobthorn tree, hippos honking in the water, or even just some impalas walking slowly across a clearing, only serves to validate how foreign yet how real your new surroundings are, and you struggle to keep pace with it all.
Hear a lion roaring next to your vehicle or watch a leopard hoisting its kill, and you’ve just ratcheted up the experience 10 notches into hyperdrive, and the best thing you can do is probably enjoy a stiff gin and tonic to steady the nerves.
This is where the guiding aspect comes in. As a first-time visitor (and on future visits as well, but the first time is particularly important), you place implicit trust in your ranger and tracker. They are the people that will navigate you through this exciting, brand new and potentially dangerous environment. They will (or should) quell any anxieties you might have, explain away any confusion, and separate fact from fiction. And it was only recently, when I was completely duped into believing something ridiculous on foreign soil, that I realised just how important the guide is to your first safari experience.
I was in Florida, watching a college football game between Syracuse and the Florida State Seminoles. A flight of what looked like F16s had just flown over, I had had my first shot of pickle juice and whisky (already weird), and the pageantry of the event was overwhelming. Tailgating (great term) at the edge of the parking lot, there was a little mound of earth in the grassy area we were occupying, and I was walking to the coolerbox just next to it when someone happened to say “Watch out for that ant’s nest”.
Now, let me get a couple of things perfectly clear (I’m getting my defence in early).
In Africa ants can be nasty. In Malawi I’ve been forced to completely abandon a campsite to a veritable army of Siafu ants that must have literally numbered millions, and I’ve heard stories of how the same type of ants have moved through chicken coops and skeletonized their occupants. A nasty way for the poultry to go.
Thankfully we don’t find little critters like these at Londolozi, but when I hear “watch out for that ant’s nest!”, I’m bound to be on the alert.
Africa has evolved a multitude of creatures that will take no greater pleasure than gorging themselves silly on a marching column of whatever ant species might be passing through. Aardwolfs, aardvarks and pangolins won’t think twice about hammering an ant colony (although I’m not so sure how they’d fare against the really nasty species), and have specialised to the point where ants and termites make up petty much their entire diets.
Likewise, America has its own set of ant-loving creatures. Anteaters – the name says it all – would, I imagine, be fairly effective in dealing with an ant problem. Agreed?
Anyway, when I heard the warning I quickly took stock of the apparently harmless little mound of earth with no sign of an ant anywhere near it, when a certain defence attorney who shall remain nameless said to me, “James don’t worry about the ants; there’s a guy with an anteater who cruises around taking care of the nests”.
Ridiculous? Not to me right then. I lapped it up!
I was so excited about this ingenious idea of ant control that I immediately enquired which direction the ant-eater man had gone in, and then set off in pursuit, determined to get some pictures and congratulate him on providing a simple and cost-effective problem to many tailgaters’ ant problems. Before I had gone ten yards, the roars of laughter behind me made me stop in my tracks to turn and see everyone rolling on the floor in mirth. Realising how I had been duped, I blustered for a bit to try and convince people the idea actually had merit and someone should really look into it, but I could see it was hopeless, so retreated into an embarrassed fog and grabbed a beer.
The whole point of this story is that my gullibility at the time made me see just how important it is to be guided through the first-time safari experience. I’ll move away from the word gullibility and describe it instead as being incredibly open to new and exciting information and experiences. Your senses are getting assaulted and you are scrambling to keep up; birds are flying past that you’ve never seen or heard of, you’re in an open Land Rover exposed to the elements, elephants are trumpeting down in the river, the guy sitting on that weird seat in the bonnet has just identified fresh lion tracks and gone walking off into the bush on an apparent suicide mission, taking your ranger with him… It’s almost too much!
But… (and this is crucial)… you need to be this open to the experience. You need to trust your ranger and tracker. There’s a vulnerability that comes with placing yourself in the hands of strangers in a Big 5 area that is totally necessary if you are going to maximize your enjoyment of the experience.
The Ranger/Tracker teams here will show you things you never imagined. They will open your eyes to the wonders of wild Africa if you let them.
Just don’t believe it if they say the insects are controlled by the tame bats we release every night…
Filed under Featured Safari experience Wilderness teachings Wildlife
James, what a true story!
I agree James. Going on safari for the first time in Africa with the benefit of a ranger and tracker is probably the best way to experience the bush. Imagine going to the Amazon or Antartica on your own. You will definitely need a guide that is experienced.
I think an anteater for hire is a fabulous idea. They use dogs to sniff out bed bugs and rats to find land mines, so why not have an anteater for lawn maintenance? I’d hire them. 😉
Alfie and Terrence were our tracker and guide, what an amazing 4 days. Leopards, lions, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, a leopard kill and then a hyena swipes the kill. I think you get the message a safari to remember!! Beverly
James, you’re absolutely the best. You captured well what blows most of us urban folks away when we first visit a wonderful place like Londolozi. And, you can laugh at yourself. A great quality, mate. When next you visit the United States, please come to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We’ll show you how we use our household bears to nab fish from the streams for our dinners. It’s really quite amazing. All the best to everyone at Londolozi.
As an experienced traveller , first time guests can be refreshing with their excitement and enthusiasm and sometimes we need to see with their eyes and not our own.
So true. Complete trust in my guide and tracker. Had the team of M&M. They did not disappoint
The only exposure I had to the African bush was via nature programs on TV here in California. My thoughts when my partner wanted to come to Londolozi were, “Ho-hum, been there, done that, seen that.”
The game drives in Londolozi changed my life!
Great storytelling James! I certainly had a laugh when it came to the handy, walk about anteater on the grounds of a football stadium. Your friends? really got you. What you say about rangers/trackers is so true and I learn something new on each drive, now numbering well over a hundred. What a great way to experience growth in a beautiful area surrounded by nature’s special gifts, enjoying the camaraderie of the people around you, open to learning and then being rewarded with that special g & t at the end of the day….. until next time.
So true. We once had a couple in the vehicle with us from upstate New York. She asked the ranger to not go close to any animal except zebra because ‘they don’t bite.’ And she meant it. Spent the drive cowering in the seat🙄
James, How funny you are – and obviously gullible! So happy that our Florida ants didn’t get you! Thinking of the many experiences we have had in your vehicle over the years, we feel lucky to have had you as our Ranger!
James, your storytelling is superb and it’s wonderful to see someone tell an embarrassing story on themselves. Coming from the wild bush of South Africa, the anteater was great thinking on their part! But….pickle juice and whisky IS weird! Makes me want to gag….or was that another “gag” on you? Lol….
No matter how many trips we’ve made to Africa, it’s always a little unnerving each time we watch both ranger & tracker disappear into the bush looking for a predator. It’s a cross between concern for them and self preservation for us but it inevitably results in an exciting sighting. But we still say a little prayer for all involved!
James, be ware Floridians, particularly at Florida State football games!
First game drive–I can re-create nearly every minute–such a range of emotions/reactions.
It’s amazing how easily/quickly the staff gains trust!
I have not heard about the bats Londolozi released st night to protect us! But I have to say that my first visit I did not have enough eyes to take it all in. We stopped one afternoon and there were four male lions asleep. One of them woke up and walked over to the car and sat down at what looked like inches from my husband. Jess said everyone just sit quietly and it will be fine, she was right but Phil said later that he was looking for some place to go. Since then I have often thought that the animals amuse themselves by checking out the humans and commenting among themselves about what a weird group we are. Victoria