HOOKED ON SAFARI FROM THE VERY FIRST TIME
Many moons ago (half my lifetime, in fact) I was given the wonderful opportunity to go on
safari. Back then, I worked for Orient-Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises (now called Belmond)
and I was hosting a group of Event & Incentive Planners on an all-expenses-paid
familiarisation trip. We were showcasing the Orient-Express hotels in Cape Town (The
Mount Nelson) and Johannesburg (The Westcliff, now The Four Seasons) and after the event I set off alone to Botswana in order to get to know the company’s safari camps.
What a job to have and a position to be in at twenty-something!
The adventure started the minute I landed in Maun. I was met in the arrival’s hall and led
across the tarmac to a small four-seater plane by, it turned out, the pilot himself. So tummy
churning and nerves jangling I explained my reservations. My light aircraft experience had
been reserved to flights with my Dad, some years before, when he was learning to fly and I
have to say, they didn’t always end well! The pilot kindly allowed me to sit up front with him
and despite my trepidation it turned out to be the best flying experience ever. I even got to
fly for a bit - headset on, holding her steady with my eyes on the horizon and Africa
stretched out below me. After picking up a couple of other guests from another camp we
finally came to land for my first night at Savute Elephant Lodge, close to Chobe National
The lodge certainly lived up to its name. We were immediately treated to the sight of a
small herd of elephants surrounding the waterhole just opposite the main tent. At my own
tent, while various small mammals made themselves comfortable out on my deck, I got
myself ready for my first ever game drive.
I should add here that I am an animal nut. Growing up, my father owned a pet food business
for a while and the result of this was that many a waif and stray would be delivered to our
doorstep where we’d take them in. So my love for animals started from a young age. I love
them all - big, small and especially cats.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the game drive. I’d seen the animals native to
Africa in the zoo and was, if I’m honest, feeling a little bit blasé about it all. But, oh my
goodness, I soon found out how wrong I was. To see the various species of antelope and
zebra out in their natural habitat was exhilarating. Then suddenly the guide stopped the
jeep, pointed to some bushes and said “Lion”. He cut the engine. We sat in silence watching
the bushes when, from somewhere behind us, we heard the call of a male lion. It’s an
extraordinary and almost indescribable sound - a grunting, gurgling roar that hits you full
pelt in the chest and reverberates through your entire body. At the lion’s call, a large pride
of lionesses emerged from their slumber from behind the bushes we’d been watching. They
were not alone. Their cubs came trotting behind them. So many cubs! The cutest things I
have ever seen. As the mothers walked with purpose towards our 4x4, the cubs gambolled
along playfully behind them.
A huge rush of emotion rose up in me and I cried. Despite trying to remain cool I just
couldn’t stop. It was so utterly overwhelming and I felt so privileged and humbled to be able
to see something so wild. As they passed by our vehicle - almost within touching distance - I
realised there and then that I was hooked. I felt like I would never go home and would
remain in the bush with the lions forever.
I travelled by light aircraft to a different camp each day. It’s certainly not the pace I would
recommend to my clients but it did allow me to get a taste and understanding of the style
and location of each camp that the company owned. I tried a walking safari and a boating
safari. On the Okavango Delta, I experienced an adrenaline-pumping safari in a Mokuru (a
dugout canoe) amongst the unpredictable hippos. Seeing a croc slide into the water from
the banks certainly got my heart racing. You just knew it was somewhere below you but
where? Who could tell?
And each time there was a game drive on, I was ready and raring to go. I loved the early-
morning wake-up with a flask of tea and biscuits delivered to your tent. I took to enjoying
the outdoor showers. I revelled in the cool misty mornings that greeted us and then slowly
peeled off the layers as the sun rose and the day progressed. I looked forward to the hot
chocolate at the end of the morning game drive. During the day, I got so much pleasure
from hanging around the stunning tented lounges with binoculars watching the natural
world go by. One morning, after breakfast, we weren’t able to return to our tents as a large
elephant had wandered into our camp!
The guides were extraordinary and ever-so knowledgeable. The food, the music, the sights,
smells, sounds, the culture - it was all so magical and I learnt so much. Not just about
wildlife but also about myself. Botswana had changed me. Like so many, I too fell in love
with Africa and promised to be back at every opportunity.
I’ve kept to my word. I’ve since been on numerous safaris in South Africa and Kenya. Each
one has been magical and each one different with their own set of rare sightings. Over the
years I’ve broadened my knowledge and fascination to encompass not just the lions but
every species and even the flora and fauna. To me, it is all truly fascinating.
If a safari is something you’ve thought about but wondered if it’s right for you, I urge you to
go. It’s an out-of-this-world experience to witness wildlife in it’s natural habitat. There’s a
vast number of countries, regions, camps and lodges to visit - each one offering a different
experience. And, of course, I’m at your service to help you navigate through them to find
your perfect match and create a safari experience you’ll never forget.