On paper, it shouldn’t have worked out. A Joburg-born, St. John’s boy on a path to do a B-Comm at Wits, with a secret love of the bush that would eventually lead him away from the city before his degree was done… and a British geek with happy memories of a childhood spent in Botswana, but with her eyes firmly fixed on Cambridge.
But then, things never turn out the way you expect.
Callum left his B-Comm midway, to pursue his real love, of all things wild. He studied Conservation and Lodge Management at Damelin College, before heading to Ecotraining to complete his practical field guide qualification. He ended up in South Africa’s little-known paradise: Pafuri. Here, he guided in the wake of many bush legends, hitting the ground running in one of the most diverse areas Southern Africa has to offer.
I joined him, unexpectedly, in 2008, care-free and probably extremely naïve, on a dream gap year experience. I arrived by vegetable truck, travelling up from Johannesburg overnight with a charming man named Ezeekil. Over the next four, character-building months, I learnt about living and working in the bush, and re-discovered my love of the wilderness. The next three years were spent travelling back and forth between Cambridge essays, supervisions (and parties) and the trails camps of Pafuri. Callum is now a Level 3 specialist walking trails guide, and although it almost broke his heart, decided it was time for a change of location – Botswana was calling. Having graduated in July this year (2011), I joined Callum in the north of this beautiful country, where we are now part of a lodge management team in the Linyanti concession.
From the longest, long-distance relationship to the closest of close ones, we now live and work together in a new wilderness. Here, wild dogs tear through camp after hapless impala; baby warthogs squeal beneath the front-of-house toilets; baboons break into the kitchen and steal from the breakfast table, and the self-indulgent resident male lion, Romeo, stalks his domain and roars at sundown every evening.
A far cry from the spires of Cambridge, I am learning, finally, a little of the common sense that my English degree failed to teach me, and Callum is learning that offices, computers and spread-sheets exist even in the middle of the bush. Jump-starting generators, lighting fires in the rain and driving 4×4’s through the mopane veld were among my initiations: there is never a dull day here.
We live in a little house overlooking a lake that links to the Linyanti channel, and are woken by a troop of baboons that roosts above us, every morning. Our jobs revolve around the translation of the wilderness to guests who visit from all over the world – some have never seen the bush before, and it is our responsibility to make sure the impression is a lasting (and positive!) one. Along the way, we have many adventures of our own: even walking home at night can be an adrenalin rush, if there is a large male leopard stalking his prey next to the boardwalk!
But I’m getting used to life in the bush. I no longer flinch at spiders, and I recently had a very close encounter with a python whilst trying to take a toilet break behind a tree, but it seems I have much to learn as the tropical season descends, and we embark on a new set of adventures.
Keep an eye out for our stories in Safari interactive magazine