In 1993, I got a call from a stranger wanting to know if I could take him on safari so that he and some friends could learn a bit about wildlife photography. I was just starting to take people to a special little 10-bedded camp in the northern Sabi Sand Game Reserve and so I invited him to come and spend a few days with me, looking for wildlife and taking photographs.
In June 2016, most of the original members of that first group of people joined me for their 23rd trip to the same little bush camp in the northern Sabi Sand. As we finished off our breakfast together on the last day of the safari, we looked in our diaries and set the date for 2017.
Why would anyone want to come back to the bush year after year, to the same camp and with the same safari guide? I think I know why.
First, if there is one thing that is consistent about the bush and the daily game drives, it is that they are completely unpredictable. It is impossible to know what is going to happen as you set out expectantly before dawn. This unpredictability is similar to discovering new places. You can come back again and again to the same place, doing the same activities, but no two game drives will ever be the same.
Second, as time goes by the guests become more and more familiar with the place until it starts feeling like home. We explore a vast wilderness and it takes a long time to cover every nook and cranny, but after a time the initial sense of exploration and discovery gives way to familiarity. The guests get to know their favourite waterholes, trees, sunset spots and other places which give them great memories of past experiences.
This familiarity applies to the animals as well, particularly the predators which are mostly territorial. The guests have gotten to know many of the individual leopards, the prides of lions and the clans of hyenas which frequent our area and they have become intimately involved in following their lives over the years. They want to know what has happened to Karula and the new litter of cubs that we saw last time. They want to know about the Nkahuma pride of lions and whether or not the spotted hyenas are still in the same den. To some extent, they’ve become emotionally attached to them.
The guests try and visit the camp at different times of the year so that they get a much better sense of the changes that take place, from year to year, and from month to month. Some years are dry, some are wet. Summer months are hot and lush and green and flowery. Birds are nesting and herbivores giving birth and thunderstorms light up the night sky. Winter months are cold and dry and dusty with concentrations of game around the waterholes and crystal-clear star-spangled skies at night. This gives guests a much better sense of the natural cycles. Needless to say, these people have become good friends and we all have many special memories of a very special wilderness which we’ll keep coming back to until we can’t anymore.
Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real www.safariforreal.com