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…