“Its 1993 and apartheid South Africa is in a phase of change. At the age of 26 I realise I had no clue of the continent I lived in- Africa!”
How it all began:
After completing 2 years of compulsory National Service in the military and 2 years of college studying Hotel & Catering Management I found myself pursuing a career as an Industrial Catering manager… And so begins my story!
Many young South African were taking the option of travelling to London to find work and to explore the world. Tourism was not a big feature in South Africa during the apartheid regime and exposure to travellers from other countries was limited. It was at this point in my life when I packed my backpack and headed north.
I travelled for 2 years from South Africa to Egypt visiting most East African countries. It was during this time that I came into contact with Safari and Overland travel companies. I managed to secure a position with one of these companies based in Nairobi Kenya. The company specialised in short trips from Nairobi to see the gorillas in Burundi and Uganda. This was my first taste of working as a guide, I began as a cook and over a period of a few months I began doing trips solo with up to 8 clients at a time. During this time I was fortunate enough to attend a field guide course offered by the Kenyan Wildlife Association. The 3 month course covered basic field guide training as well as specialising in animal & bird identification and tracking on foot. It was during this time that my passion for the African bush and its abundant wildlife was fully awakened. After leaving Kenya I spent a further 3 months exploring East Africa. I then worked and travelled through the Middle East doing various jobs on dive boats and tending bar for visiting tourists in Turkey.
On returning back to South Africa from my travels, my career path was obvious: “to introduce as many tourists to the wonders of the African Bush as possible!”
A new direction:
On returning home at the end of 1996 South Africa was well and truly on the road to a new direction and tourism was alive and well and growing by the second. I began working as tour leader, driver and on many occasions cook. These 4 years provided me with a hands on experience not many guides today have ever had. Overland tours operated by South African Companies at that time were modelling there operations to those run by London based companies. The vehicles were old; breaking down often, the back passenger area was simply a durable cover over a metal frame with cut out zip windows. The roads were dusty, bumpy and often impossible. The campsites were basic and very often camping along the road somewhere in the bush was expected. The clients were restricted to between the ages 18 & 35, meals were basic, these were not tours for the faint of heart………. much has changed in 15 years.
As the volume of visitors to South Africa increased so too did the realisation that Southern Africa offered so much more. Bigger distances were possible and facilities were constantly improving with many more accommodation options becoming available. Trucks were no longer old army vehicles but modern freight trucks converted to accommodate up to 24 people safely and comfortably, or modern 10- seater 4×4 Land Cruisers. Vehicles are now better equipped and we have battery fridges instead of simply a cooler box. The industry now regulates Tour Guides; I have attended various courses and evaluations in order to become a registered and qualified Tour Guide. I am required to have a current first aid course, and when driving, a valid Public Driving Permit. I consider myself to be a Professional Tour Guide with more than 15 years of experience in the Travel Industry.
The average backpacker a few years back was generally a student, today the term backpacker is widely used by travellers of all ages who seek an alternative way of travel. I have had the privilege of working with visitors from as young as 14 to as wise as 83. Working with people from various countries is one of the highlights of my profession. The diversity of culture is as interesting for me as it is for visitors in a strange country. I try to promote and enforce local interaction whenever possible on my tours. One of the most vital parts of being a good tour guide is to keep your clients informed. At no time should a traveller be unaware of what to expect and with prior knowledge anything is possible. The client today is by far the most challenging part of the job. The expectations of modern travellers are very high and quite often the reality of daily life in Africa is far from what is expected. I consider myself an excellent judge of character and maintaining the balance in the group dynamics is a sure way to complete a successful tour.
The diversity of tours I have led has enabled me to be versatile and extremely adaptable. I have worked throughout East Africa and for the last 8 years extensively in Southern Africa. I have worked with groups like Ramblers International and the Breast Cancer Society of London. With birding and photographic groups, university students and even family tours, I have experienced a variety of challenges and accomplishments. I pride myself on excellent bush cooking and general culinary skills. I am a firm believer that a journey is only as enjoyable as the food you experience along the way. Fresh produce is a priority for me and the use of local markets is always an adventure for the clients. Cooking local food on an open fire is always a highlight on tour.
My biggest priority on a tour is the safety and security of the clients I am entrusted with. The modern traveller is made more aware of the dangers and a good guide needs to minimise that perception to help the traveller feel relaxed. I have had to deal with extreme and life threatening situations, things do go wrong! No matter how well planned and how excellent your equipment is, there is always the unexpected. I take my career seriously and the level of responsibility I set is always very high. On tour I ensure that my clients feel comfortable enough to approach me and discuss problems, to create solutions, before they become issues that only end in unhappiness.
Last but not least my tour should be fun and interesting. A sense of humour is essential to a successful tour and it’s always a thrill to see diverse personalities, from various countries, come together with a laugh or a great memory. I believe one of my strong points is my knowledge of local history and culture, as well as various other subjects which are relevant to the area. For example my knowledge of San rock art is valuable in certain areas, a general knowledge of local flora & fauna is important, interesting stories and local folk lore are always good for around the fire under the stars.
In conclusion I would like to portray myself as a guy who has slept just about anywhere, eaten a whole lot of strange things, seen some unbelievable events and witnessed nature with every season. I have guided thousands of people millions of hours to hundreds of places ,cooked yummy meals, experienced various situations, taught many valuable life lessons, overcome numerous obstacles and seen thousands of happy smiles …………I love my job!