31/12/2014 10:52 GMT | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Botswana's Unsung Safari Heroes


Going on safari is mostly an expensive business. If you are going to spend anything from £3000 upwards on a wildlife holiday, it needs to be good. And so we consult travel specialists. They will hopefully direct us to the best lodge in the most inspiring place at the most appropriate time for what we're looking for. The really attentive ones provide an invaluable service which means that you don't waste your money buying a holiday which isn't right for you.

Of course when you actually arrive at your safari destination you're then in the hands of a completely different set of people. These people too can make or break your holiday.

On the whole it's guides who have the most impact on you each day. A superb guide can transform your safari experience from the enjoyable to the extraordinary, from the "oh that's nice" to the "wow, that's incredible!". I still remember the guide that found me my first chameleon, and encouraged it to walk so that I could see its comedy shall-I-shan't-I gait. I still love chameleons.


And then there were the guides who spent about 4 hours tracking wild dogs for me in the Linyanti. I had spent years trying to see one without success, and they took up the challenge. Eventually we found a large pack just as they were waking up. Not only did I see 16 wild dogs that day, but I followed them on their ensuing chase of a warthog until it disappeared down a porcupine hole. Sure, I was shaken up by the chase over rough ground, but also hugely exhilarated. Those guys made my dream come true.

But what of all the other people who do so much to make such safaris happen? The pilot of the light plane that brings you to the remote camp. The cook who rustles up such amazing meals on a campfire. The man who brings you the hot water for your bush shower. The lady who makes your bed and does the washing. Without an army of people behind the scenes making us comfortable and feeding us royally, the guides would have a much harder job keeping us happy on game drives.

A new website promoting Botswana, Botswana Specialists, is trying to redress the balance and give a voice to some of these unsung heroes. Some of the words found on their Safari Specialists page are professional and serious, some are funny, and some heart-warming and moving.

Take Jenny Camm, the laundry lady from Deception Valley Lodge who says of her work: "I love my job, I know it doesn't sound very exciting but everybody has a passion and a talent and being in charge of laundry is my department. I love my country because of its peaceful nature and the history of Botswana is not as violent as most African countries."

2014-12-31-XusheeXixae.jpgXushee and Xixae, bushman translators at Jack's Camp in the Makgadikgadi Pans believe that "visiting Botswana would give people the opportunity to experience our culture as Bushmen, and doing so also helps us pass our culture to the upcoming generations".

Amanda Collins, chef, tells us of a special place in Botswana: "One of my many favourite places is at Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, picnicking on the banks of the Gomoti River. In front of me, beyond the water and grazing animals, is Moremi Game Reserve. I am sitting on a heap of cushions under a jackalberry tree. There is a wonderful picnic lunch ready and all is right with the world."

Xhasi, a bushman tracker, explains: "I was born in Botswana, grew up in Botswana and therefore my heart lies with my country. Our people take care of each other and this compassion among one another is what makes me love my country so much."

Isn't it refreshing to be allowed to hear the voices of some of the people we can all too often take for granted? As Roy Wilford, chief pilot of Botswana's Delta Air puts it: "Without a doubt it is the people of Botswana that make every visit special".

Yes, the wildlife and the wilderness might be what you come on safari for, but quite often it's the people you meet who make the biggest impact.