The Independent Traveller recently ran an interview with Wilderness' CEO Keith Vincent. Find out about his favourite travel memories and why he doesn’t go to the beach!
First holiday memory?
My first holiday memory was going to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe as a five-year old. It was a wonderful family time (mom, dad, brother, sister…) staying in in the Park’s cottages; braaing every night; seeing incredible wildlife encounters for the first time…therein began my love of wildlife! And we went every year from then onwards until I was 18 years old. At the age of nine I told my father that one day I would like to own a piece of Hwange National Park…the rest is history.
Favourite place in SA?
I’m a huge fan of all wildlife destinations that are off the beaten track. I am extremely privileged to be able to visit all the finest places in the normal haunts if I wanted to but we seldom go; my wife, Maureen, and I really enjoy getting away from it all and exploring far removed places that aren’t on the normal tourist road map. We love the Drakensberg and smaller wildlife areas like Addo; I’ve also been to a few non-descript camps in Madikwe that were fantastic experiences – I grew up in the Lowveld so really enjoy this area. When I do get time off, which is unfortunately rare these days, we usually go much further afield such as the backend of Zimbabwe or Zambia, Botswana or further up Africa.
I absolutely love spending Christmas and New Year in the bush with my family every year; it’s a really peaceful time where we all completely disconnect from the world. We can also make it as relaxing or adventuresome as we want to but as soon as the sun rises at 4.30 am I am off (much to my son’s dismay) and heading out on our first game drive of the day. We usually stay at one of the closed Wilderness camps in Hwange and as I have a home in Victoria Falls we can drive in ourselves. Definitely my favourite holiday of the year.
What have you learnt from your travels?
The immense learning I’ve had from travelling to so many different countries and meeting with various cultures along the way has been invaluable. Understanding local culture is crucial to ensure that one is able to run an authentic and sustainable business in various regions with numerous different cultures. It is imperative to truly understand what the people in the area need and to try and weave your dreams and goals together with theirs – in Wilderness Safaris’ case, this includes ensuring that our ecotourism business is successful in not only conserving and restoring the wilderness areas where we operate, but also in sharing the benefits with local communities.
A typical winter scene in Hwange National Park
Ideal travelling companion?
Friends and family, especially my wife, Maureen. Being able to share what I have loved and learnt throughout my life with my family is the ultimate experience for me.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
Adrenalin junkie. I have numerous stories that would keep you up all night around a campfire but two of my favourites include canoeing down the Zambezi River and hiking with just a backpack in Chizarira National Park…this trip became even more exciting when our tracker was mauled by a lion (he did luckily survive to tell the tale!) I don’t go to the beach.
Greatest travel luxury?
Is not being in contact …
The ability to ‘disconnect to reconnect’ whilst travelling to the world’s most remote and pristine wilderness areas is one of the greatest luxuries in today’s frenetic world (even if some travellers don’t even realise this yet!)
What are you reading?
I am always armed with my Kindle, reading a wide and varied array of books…usually about three at the same time. This currently includes a business book by Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last, a novel to put me to sleep called The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan and a biography about a French resistance heroine, The White Rabbit by Lucy Brack.
A large elephant bull captured in the late afternoon light at Ruckomechi Camp
Where has seduced you?
Africa! I have far too many favourite spots but a few include the Zambezi Valley, a variety of areas in the Okavango Delta, a place called Malabuta in Gonarezhou National Park and Buffalo Bed, south-west of Clarendon Cliffs…stunningly beautiful. There is also a majestic acacia tree on the drive from Wilderness Safaris Makalolo Camp to Hwange Main Camp which has seduced me since I was a child – so much so that I even got a painting of the tree for my 20th wedding anniversary present; every time I see it I say, “there’s my tree!”.
Worst travel experience?
This has to be my flight from Lusaka to Moscow in 1982 – extremely dodgy aeroplane that felt like being on a public bus; a plastic bag with your own food for the duration of the flight; no catering facilities; and bathroom facilities that should definitely not be spoken of.
I have stayed at many beautiful hotels around the world but was extremely impressed with the service we received at the Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong. Unbeknown to me, they had noticed the coffee that I loved to drink in our room and a year later, whilst visiting the Shangri-La in Vancouver, there was my coffee…exact make, flavour and as much as I wanted! It’s the small things that can make a big difference – I was very impressed.
Favourite walk, swim, ride or drive?
I don’t swim. Any drive in the bush…as a professional guide I spent 10 years of my life driving for 10-12 hours a day through the bush every two weeks; thousands of kilometres; day after day. The wildlife took you in directions where the roads were bad to non-existent – it was always an experience! One of my favourite drives/walks was in 1984 whilst guiding two guests from the USA. We broke down near Kinyemba at the Mozambican border. It took us four days to walk the 150 kilometres back to our camp in the Zambezi Valley at a place called Mana Angwa. I loved sharing this wild adventure with my guests; sleeping out under the stars; walking through the bush from spring line to spring line (bearing in mind there was no ability to call for help in those days; it was way before GPS satellite phones!)
Best meal abroad?
Being a meat and potatoes person, it has to be the meal we had at a steakhouse in Austin, Texas – I can’t remember the exact name of the restaurant but the atmosphere was great and the meal was superb. The Banana Leaf in Singapore also serves the best curry (at the best price!)
I have a few … Austin, Santa Fe, Seattle, Singapore; it is predominantly the way of life that gets me to enjoy a city. I like street café living so will most likely spend time in a city that has an energy and lifestyle that grabs me. I did, however, also spend a lot of time in Europe in the 80s when most cities were still under communist rule and Budapest and Vienna stand out as two of my favourites.
The newly-built Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools National Park
Where to next?
The Zambezi Valley to see our new Ruckomechi Camp that has just opened in Mana Pools and Little Ruckomechi opening in July. I still have my professional guide’s licence so will no doubt be doing a few of my own bush walks while I am there too; it is a great opportunity for me to just get out and do my own thing for a while. I would also like to go back to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast – a truly remarkable region, and to visit Virunga in the DRC this year too.
Originally posted by The Independent Traveller