Written by Leon van Wyk, Assistant Head Guide, Singita Sabi Sand
It would not be difficult to write a whole book on the subject of what makes a guide tick. It is somewhat more challenging to write such an article in précis form, but a guide should always be up for a challenge. Having been a guide for almost two decades, perhaps I am in a good position to share with the reader a little of what it is that keeps me passionate about what I do.
It is always good to wake up a little earlier than really necessary. I’m not one who can leap out of bed twenty minutes before I’m due to meet my guests for a game drive. Setting my alarm for the seemingly indecent hour of 04h00 means that I’m not rushed. I can have an invigorating shower and enjoy the feeling of waking up with the birds. The dawn chorus of birds is something to be enjoyed and appreciated at every opportunity. Having had ample time to wake up and get ready at leisure, I believe a guide is much better prepared for the day, and in a more relaxed frame of mind, than if he/she stole an extra half an hour in bed and had to rush to be on time to meet guests.
As guides, we are all obviously passionate about the environment in which we are privileged to live and the game drive is rightly what we enjoy most about this line of work. Every guide who lasts a long time in this industry needs to also be genuinely passionate about people and sharing knowledge and experiences with his/her guests in such a way that the guide’s passion and enthusiasm is infectious. Not every game drive is an action-packed, adrenalin-charged sequence of events. There is no doubt that many guides and guests want to see predators in action, or get a kick out of seeing the so-called “Big Five” on one game drive. Being a guide who is no longer a novice, I still gain a huge thrill when I see guests enjoying themselves, particularly when they start taking a keen interest in the little things. Guests who were once not very interested in watching birds at all, have become avid birders. I love seeing them appreciate the things that I appreciate, whether it is a massive dead leadwood tree, a relaxed old elephant bull having a slow drink, a bee-eater feeding its mate or a nursery group of twenty baby impalas, all exuding freshness, innocence and curiosity.
The sounds and the smells are all very much part of the experience as well and it is so important to pause frequently to enjoy the sounds of the night, smell the damp grass and earth after a good rain and gaze at stars in sheer wonder at the enormity of it all. Finding fresh leopard tracks in wet sand is still a thrill to any guide and it is not difficult to involve the guests and encourage them to share in the excitement, hope and expectation.
There is just so much to share with guests, and once a guide has bonded with them and starts seeing everything through their eyes, the guide-guest relationship has the potential to become very meaningful indeed. There are often just not enough hours in the day to do everything you would like to do with your super-keen guests. For many, a trip to a game reserve is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and as guides we have the opportunity, the privilege and the responsibility of making it unforgettably special for our guests.
Very few careers can offer the variety that a guide enjoys. Sure, the hours can be long at times, but when you’re having fun, you hardly notice it. There is often an opportunity during the day to pull off the boots and take a half-hour cat nap. There has never yet been an occasion when I have not looked forward with eager anticipation to my next game drive. Of course it is not only the game drives that we look forward to, but the walks too, as they often offer better opportunities to focus on little treasures and allow time to become acquainted with guests a little better. Joining guests for the occasional drink or meal is also a privilege which we guides enjoy and it allows the guests and their guide a great opportunity to chat about the day that they’ve experienced, or the one that they look forward to experiencing, together.
I have hardly scratched the surface, but if I had to cut it even shorter, I would conclude that the most brief answer to the question “What makes a Singita guide tick?” is “A passion for people, a passion for the environment, an insatiable desire to learn and a willingness to share with others what we enjoy”. I sincerely hope that these attributes are still a part of my humble make-up and will continue to be for many more years. Guiding is, without a doubt, one of the most privileged careers.
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These photographs of Singita Sabi Sand Reserve were taken by Singita Guide, Leon van Wyk.