Diary of a Wilderness Safaris Guide Mentor Workshop

Jan 5, 2016 Community and Culture
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Legendary guide trainer Dave Hood was a mentor at our recent Guide Mentor Workshop held at Banoka Tented Camp in the Okavango Delta’s Santawani Concession. Part 1 of the eminently entertaining article he produced for online magazine Into Africa starts here…

Part 1 – Let the Story Begin...

Day 1

‘I can’t believe they’ve done this to us!’ Brett muttered shortly after I met him in Johannesburg. We were due to fly out to Maun that morning and then hop on a smaller Cessna Caravan to fly out to Banoka Camp almost immediately but the schedule had been changed and the earliest we could fly out was around 5pm that afternoon. That meant one less afternoon jam-packed with the inspirational and motivational material that Brett so desperately wanted to give the guides.

Dave Hood Guide Mentor Workshop Nov15

Brett, at a towering six foot-and-quite-a-bit, is our team leader and workshop co-ordinator. A passionate photographer and guide, he also has an intimate knowledge of how the industry runs from a marketing perspective, having headed up Wilderness Safaris’ sales division for the United States of America. Not only that, but as a psychology graduate he has a profound understanding of people and loves to get guides thinking about how to communicate well with their guests and understand what they’re looking for in a safari.

The workshop is specifically aimed at those guides (or safari rangers) working for Wilderness Safaris across southern and south-central Africa who are acting as or have the potential to be guide mentors. Our job is to give them a fresh and inspirational outlook on their career and to motivate them to step into their role as mentors. Of course knowledge and good game drive techniques are also critical elements of good guiding and these were not to be neglected.

Maun is a sweltering 38° Centigrade and the thunderclouds are building. The talk is all about the possibility of an afternoon shower as it is already mid-November and there has not been much rain. Fires are ravaging vast swathes of the Okavango Delta and the grazing is getting low. The skies remain reticent and Maun had not had more than a few drops by the time we climbed aboard A2-BUF for a hot turn-around at Banoka.

And that’s one of my favourite things about the Okavango – you take off from the little airport at Maun and for a few minutes you can see dwellings and cattle kraals and the odd dusty field below before they are replaced with glistening channels winding their way between marginally higher ground dotted with mopane trees. And then, that is all you see – mopane and channels, maybe the odd pool, and look there is a herd of elephant, a pod of hippo, a giraffe among the fan palms. And more mopane, and more and more. Last season’s red mopane leaves cover the ground as if they were the only tree that mattered. Here and there, greener vegetation fringes the channels but there is nothing else – no telephone poles, no houses, no cultivation, nothing at all to tell you that man exists in this incredibly well-preserved ecosystem other than the odd dirt track winding its way to some secret place and perhaps the distant sight of another light aircraft hanging on the wind over the flat expanse that is northern Botswana.

Dave Hood Guide Mentor Workshop Nov15

On the drive to the lodge we get to see the mopane woodland close up – new red-tinged leaves hang like hordes of dying butterflies above the white sand whose almost perfectly round grains were deposited there hundreds of years ago by a now extinct channel of the Delta. Impala snort and run from our Land Rovers, heavily pregnant with the next generation.

In camp we are welcomed as guests with singing by the lodge staff and cool face-cloths to wash away the dust. At the lodge building, we meet Map Ives, conservationist extraordinaire and one of the grandfathers of Botswana’s guiding industry. He has more recently been appointed Botswana’s National Rhino Translocation Coordinator and has to oversee yet another introduction of rhino to Chief’s Island in a couple of days but in between he has managed to sneak away from Maun and the Wilderness Safaris offices to come and share some of his phenomenal experience as a professional guide on the workshop.

Dave Hood Guide Mentor Workshop Nov15

This is no holiday though and before dinner, Brett rounds up the troops for introductions and an orientation talk. Warren follows up with a brief resume of what Wilderness Safaris is and what they stand for as well as a where they came from – a fascinating story that began with a couple of guys who didn’t much like wearing shirts and began taking trips from South Africa into what was then the relatively uncharted territory of Northern Botswana.

The striking thing about Warren’s presentation is that he’s not giving us a sales pitch, he’s not trying to outdo the competition or prove anything, he’s just telling us what the company is and does in his down-to-earth manner and we’re all left in no doubt that if we had the money, we’d go on holiday with Wilderness Safaris! Well the good news is, we get to go there anyway, and soon Mams, our waitress, is reciting the menu to a bunch of rowdy (and hungry) guides. She won’t let us eat however, before we’ve had to solve a number of riddles – a procedure we’d get to know well over the next few days.

After dinner I’m up with a story and an introduction to the vast universe that is insect life and then we head back to our tents for a long-awaited sleep.

Read Day 2 of Dave’s inspiring report-back in online magazine, IntoAfrica, available as a free download here.

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