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My Moment of Discovery

Photographic guide and former Londolozi ranger James Tyrrell thought he had seen it all. That was until he stepped onto the deck at Angama Mara
Above: Capturing the colours and shapes not often found in South Africa

After more than a decade of living and working in the African bush, the truly ‘wow’ moments are inevitably going to be harder to come by.

Despite retaining the same level of childhood excitement, I have always felt when heading out on a game drive or bush walk over the years, there is just the slightest drop in the impact a sighting would have on me, thanks to a certain amount of repetition (and I hesitate to use that word since nothing in the bush is ever the same).  

Perhaps working in the bush for so long means it’s just harder to pick specific sightings out of the thousands accumulated over the course of my career, just like Kilimanjaro would be tougher to point out if it was part of a mountain range instead of being free-standing. Maybe not the best metaphor, but it’s the closest I can think of.

The first time I saw a leopard hoist a kill is indelibly imprinted on my mind for the rest of my days, but the 25th time is a bit harder to zero in on. It’s not that one becomes jaded — not at all — but more that you have a surplus of experiences to choose from, and many of them start to merge into each other over the years.

Capturing his first sunrise on the road down into the Mara

Having a moment then, at which you know, in the moment itself, that this is going to stay with you forever, becomes a rarity.

Walking onto the Angama Mara deck for the first time was one such moment for me. I can still go back to it in my head and feel the same sense of wonder and awe. I can still picture exactly what the light was doing and how cloud shadows danced over the grassland far below. I can still hear the air rushing over the white-backed vulture’s wings as it soared past, just beneath me.

It’s not often I am at a loss for words, but seeing Africa laid out before me in all its vastness was something that, upon consideration, would have made anything spoken superfluous.

You never forget your first time

There’s a surrealism to that view that grips you. It’s almost like a live version of the lovechild of Google Earth and the best nature documentary you’ve ever seen. When elephants look like ants, the teeming herds of wildebeest resemble a moving carpet and you can make out every little twist and turn in the Mara River in the distance, you know you are somewhere special.

The vast plains of the Mara Triangle as seen from the deck

What we refer to as ‘moments of discovery’ are one of the first things you learn about when training as a guide. They come in a multitude of forms, from the first time a guest exits their plane to the first time they enter their room, to their first encounter with a lion. Hundreds of little moments — some more noticeably impactful than others ­— that aggregate over the course of a safari to create an intangible experiential synergy.
Each one is an opportunity for a guest to reconfirm to themselves — whether consciously or subconsciously — that this, right here, right now, is where they ought to be.

The top guides, lodges and companies in the safari industry — and other industries as well — recognise these moments of discovery as being instrumental in making guests or customers want to return time and time again.

What is a trip to the Mara without seeing its lions face-to-face?

One rare occasion, one single moment of discovery is all it takes for a guest to say to themselves, “I could go home right now, and I’d be happy”. More often than not these are the wildlife sightings normally associated with National Geographic; a leopard hoisting a kill, a wild crossing during the Great Migration or a pride of lions taking down a buffalo bull in the rain.

Sometimes though, they are something else, and for me, it was walking out onto the Angama Mara deck. When such a moment occurs before a guest has even gone on safari, you’re onto a pretty good thing. The view breathes life into your soul and captures your imagination.
A safari lodge that can do that is one that’s always going to occupy a special place in its guests’ hearts — and mine as well.

Filed under: Inside Angama

Tagged with:

Angama Mara , Maasai Mara , Wildlife Photography

About: James Tyrrell

After pursuing an Honours degree in Zoology, James worked as a guide at the inimitable Londolozi Game Reserve in Sabi Sands, South Africa for over a decade. Known for his storytelling in photo and video, James recently began working as a private photographic guide across Africa. You can follow him on Instagram @jamotyrrell.

Browse all articles by James Tyrrell Meet the angama team

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20 January 2022

Very nice

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