After sales colleague Yandisa’s week spent working at Vumbura Plains it was my turn to experience the “behind the scenes ” activities of our Wilderness Safaris camps – and what a wonderful experience it was!
We landed at Chobe airstrip and were informed that due to the heavy rains, the shorter drive to Kings Pool Camp was closed, and we needed to take the Chobe 123 road which was about an hour’s drive instead. I was happy; I was “back home”. Having lived and worked in a game reserve, in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, for some 20 years, returning to the bush always feels like I am coming home. I was fortunate enough to begin my week-long experience by joining an afternoon game drive where we were blessed with a sighting of the resident wild dog pack.
Heavy rains and muddy roads
I had been in the Linyanti area during October 2016 and I could not believe the difference in the habitat! Now in February, I am greeted by a kaleidoscope of hues and shades of every imaginable variation of green. The grass is long and lush, wildlife “fat” and healthy and puddles are everywhere with dark chocolate mud while mesmerising, white fluffy clouds fill the sky…
Later that afternoon I took part in a walk to see how all the back-of-house systems worked. This was led by Tshepo who is the GM of Kings Pool Camp. He mentioned that the systems are like clock-work due to the camp’s dedicated and hardworking team. The tour included a visit to the kitchens, both the main camp kitchen and staff kitchen as well as the training room. I’m guessing the staff chef is one of the most important people to become friends with! I had dinner with Tshepo and the guests in camp, and quietly watched the magic unfold as my first night back in the bush came to an end.
Tuesday was freight day at Kings Pool. Dry and fresh goods are delivered twice a week by Wilderness Air Cessnas and a utility vehicle is sent to fetch the precious cargo from the airstrip. It’s incredible to see the work involved with each box being carefully unloaded from the plane and loaded onto the vehicle. The pilot then takes his coffee and departs, no doubt a return trip to Maun to pick up guests. Staff is left on the airstrip packing the utility vehicles to the brim! Breakables go onto one vehicle with the light cargo on top. This was followed by an hour’s drive back to camp to unload the fresh foods and check that everything ordered had made it safely to the kitchen. This process gave me great insights into my role in Sales and to see just how important it is to make sure all our notes are in order for these big deliveries that come in each week. There is a lot of work involved for orders that are placed weeks in advance of each guest’s arrival.
Grubby and hot, and having finished the freight run, I went in search of my next job. It’s not only month-end, but year-end so I get stuck into bar stock-take with the F&B Manager, Colleen. This is followed by a short ride with Neuman, Savuti's Camp Manager, to check on the food waste structure, the Concession office and solar plant. There are 498 solar panels at Kings Pool which, according to Neuman, is enough to supply power for 30 housing units.
After dinner I made my way to my tent and was asleep within minutes.
I enjoyed another early morning drive with guests and we found two male lions which were relaxing by the roadside.
Back in camp I joined Ole, Head of Housekeeping, on her tent inspections. Wow. This was an eye-opener! We started in the first tent and EVERYTHING was checked. Ole has an amazing system. First check the booking sheet to determine who is checking in and then start at the cupboard. This is where the consultant's notes for making bookings REALLY come into play! We have gowns, slippers and towels for men and women. So the lodge needs to know the make-up of the guests coming into camp, not just the bed configuration. We had two guests checking in to tent three with a twin bed configuration. So, I start in the cupboard, check the gowns (one male, one female), slippers (one male, one female), towels (two sets of green, two sets of grey), matches, insecticide, umbrellas, soap dispensers, laundry list, teas, coffee, milk, mini-bar etcetera etcetera… Then Ole says to me, “Go and stand below the lounge sitting area and check that everything is in line.” I say “What?!” And she shows me that the door, the bed, the welcome card and information file, the coffee table and the magazines all need to line up! Her attention to detail was seriously impressive.
Again it was wonderful to be a part of this process, to see first-hand just how much effort goes into cleaning and making sure each room is ready and sparkling!
Later that afternoon, I attended the initial meeting with Botswana Tourism Operation (BTO) to discuss the star grading of the camp that is done every two years. This was incredibly interesting and it was great to be part of the discussion and find out more about the processes that are involved here.
As I walked back to my tent, now feeling very much a part of the Kings Pool family, I reflected on the remarkable camp staff and their day-to-day duties. I couldn’t help but think of the interesting lives they lead, the challenges they face with work-related tasks due to the remote location of the camp, and the wonderful stories that they must have to tell about their bush lives…
Friday morning dawns and I realise sadly that this is my last day in the bush. I cannot believe how quickly this week has gone by. We meet for our daily morning brief at 8:00 am.
After the “stand up” meeting I make my way to the main kitchen to see if I can offer any assistance, and what a lovely experience. I was shown how the kitchen and shifts operate and got to make melon soup and bread rolls for high tea, do some vegetable prep and death by chocolate mousse for dinner! There are two shifts, one that starts at 5:00 am which cooks and serves the continental breakfast and brunch and then preps for high tea and dinner. The next shift starts at 2:00 pm and they cook and serve the high tea and dinner and prep for the following breakfast and brunch. A great team effort once again!
I had met one of the chefs on my first day and Tshepo had introduced her as, “the naughty chef”. I got to know her a little whilst she showed me the kitchen ropes and what a delight!
That evening I was on duty to host guests, and whilst I waited for them to return from their game drive , there was a small commotion below the deck area. It all happened at once, the general assistant waved frantically and at the same time I heard the all-too-familiar sound of an impala’s last groan as it died. My brain was confused. How could that be happening so close to camp I thought? It can’t be. But it was! Right in front of us at the shallow waters’ edge was a single wild dog that had just killed a young impala. The wild dog gave an alarm bark at all of us peering over the deck into the murky, fading light at dusk. We were all totally speechless. Staff ran to fetch cameras. Other staff arrived. The wild dog disembowelled the impala and literally wolfed down two or three organs before he ran off. At the same time the guests arrived back from their drive and had another wonderful surprise in store for them. Luckily, said dog returned and dragged the carcass a little further into the undergrowth, had a couple more mouthfuls and left again. There was a feeling of euphoria in camp. I was later to discover that this was the guests’ first ever wild dog sighting! As you can imagine, they were in awe and will be true ambassadors for Wilderness Safaris in the future. Night time had fallen and discussions abounded about whether the pack would return. Most of the staff said no as it was too late and dark. However, never say never in the bush. The single wild dog had called his pack and five or six dogs return to a fitful, fast meal of torn apart impala before night-time settled in, and instinctively the dogs bedded down for the night, close to camp as we suspected.
I hosted dinner that evening, which was a jovial, but subdued affair with just two guests from the UK. After dinner we all went to bed feeling like we’d been part of the most amazing African experience ever!
I join the Management meeting with a heavy heart. I gave my briefing on the evening’s hosting and felt even more part of the camp family. I spent my morning taking a couple of photos of the camp, revelling in the quiet morning from the lounge deck. My transfer to the airstrip arrived all too early and I said very fond farewells to my many new Facebook friends. I was already planning how I could revisit this area.
Flying home, I was rejuvenated and again reminded of why I love working for Wilderness Safaris.
Written and Photographed by Alison May, Wilderness Safaris Retail Sales Manager - North America