By Allan Larson
This morning we head to Ongava Camp on the south side of Etosha National Park. Near as I can count, this will be the 26th African camp in seven countries where I have photo’d. We are always with guides or rangers — mostly black, some white — usually in safari trucks, occasionally walking and even sometimes in canoes. The thing that never ceases to impress me is the quality of the guides. They are universally good and often beyond excellent. They recognize and know a lot about all the birds; they recognize bird calls and can mimic them. They know every animal’s track and can follow them through stuff where I can’t even see a single track. They know animal behavior and are wonderful animal story-tellers. They all seem to be multi-lingual. In South Africa, for example, the black guides all speak English, Africaans and a couple of native languages. It is a priviledge to be out with these people.
Different countries have different training requirements before a guide can take out photo clients. In Botswana, I’ve heard they train for six years. In Tanzania, it is more like a couple of years. But most of the native guides grew up in the bush and they’ve always known the birds and animals. A Maasai guide in Kenya told me his biggest problem with birds was converting their names from Maa to English (or German or French). But he knew them all. Belinda, a charming Zimbabwe ranger, told us that in Zim a ranger had to have shot, I think, two elephants and two cape buffalo before taking clients out alone. She had done so, and her well-cared-for 458 Lott went with us every day. The Maasai guides in Kenya never part with their traditional long spears and a long belt knife. I don’t remember any Botswana guides carrying guns.
In South Africa, we had a tracker a few years ago named Lucky. He rode on a little seat on the front fender of the Land Rover looking for tracks. All business, quiet, the total professional. But he wanted us to see his village a few miles from our camp. So we loaded up with some soccer balls we’d brought for village kids and visited the school where Lucky’s kids went. He was proud of his kids, the school and even us, as his guests. It gives you a different perspective from simply the total ‘man of the woods’ to see him as husband, father and community member.
Over the next three weeks, I’ll try (technology willing, obviously) to blog from each of the camps, emphasizing the guides skills and as much as I can get of their background and personal life.