Sharpening The Spear

16 July 2019 | Inside Angama |

Reading Time: 5 MINUTES

With blindfolded driving by day and Maasai singing by night, this year’s guide training was all about teamwork and taking on new challenges

It was an honour and responsibility to lead the fifth consecutive annual guide training with the Angama Mara team.

What was the next step for a team that had a strong foundation, consistency and had reached  such a high level of guiding? This team has been together since the lodge’s opening five years ago and has been trained every year by the same guide trainer, Alastair Kilpin. This is somewhat unusual in an industry known for its high turnover.

Guide training collage 4

The level of guiding they have achieved in such a short time has propelled them to be regarded as one of the finest teams in the Mara. What needed to be done to raise the levels even higher, push the boundaries further and raise the bar for others to follow?

Well, take them out of their comfort zone and challenge them to think and create a new vision for themselves and their team. Like a Maasai spear, guiding skills need to be continuously sharpened.

Tyler organised for the team to stay at Basecamp Wilderness in Naibosho. With the Mara at our tent flaps and incredible wildlife (from masses of wildebeest and other plains game to lion hunts and a cheetah kill stolen by hyenas) witnessed in front of the camp during the sessions, we reconnected with nature and with one another.

Guide training collage 1

We had such fun learning and overcoming the challenges – both mental and physical – that I threw at the team. The enthusiasm and positive energy they brought to each challenge was inspiring. This team has a tight bond, and I can see that they are a family within a family.

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One of the favourite challenges was blindfolded driving where trust and communication were key, but by far the most fun was had during the ‘pipe dream’ activity. The team set a high standard for themselves and I was impressed with some of the out-of-the-box thinking that emerged. Ultimately, getting the marble into the cup was the goal, highlighting that Angama Mara is one team, one family and that all its members work together to achieve the same vision, delivering the best guest experience they can.

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The Angama guiding team will be setting both their own personal goals and collectively the team’s vision moving forward, and it will be exciting to see the them achieve both. The training session with all its challenges, bonding, being on foot, fun and laughter not only sharpened the spear but gave the guides a renewed hunger to innovate and lead. The challenge is to spearhead a path of guiding that sets them apart – not only in the Mara but in Kenya and across Africa – and have fun doing so at the same time.

Guides fireside

Every evening, sitting around a fire, singing Maasai songs and dancing, made me think of three connections that the team and I shared. The first was when seven years ago, I met the majority of this team in the Mara shortly after my younger brother, Matt, had died in a tragic accident in Phinda, and for me the Mara started the magic of nature and the healing process. The second is a connection and passion for nature. And lastly and most importantly, the connection with Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald.

Collage 2 guide training

During the week we had discussed some aspects of leadership and what attributes a great guide should have. Steve was the leader, mentor and friend that we all aspire to be like. I left with a lump in my throat in parting with the team and our shared experience. But as I flew over the Mara, I reflected and remembered a sign I had noticed in Nairobi that said: “Smile, you’ve been to Kenya!”

All photographs courtesy of Tyler Davis

AUTHOR: Byron Ross

Byron’s ability to work with guides from diverse cultures stems from working with his tracker mentor Judas Ngomane who saved him from a honey badger (a story for a later). Byron first met Steve and Nicky twenty-four years ago when they were his guests on his first assessment drive at Ngala at andBeyond (formerly CC Africa). Byron was nervous, especially when Steve asked to see his favourite animal, a cheetah, in the most densely lion populated area of Kruger. Steve must have given Byron the nod of approval as he went on to guide at Ngala and became Head Guide at Londolozi where he met his wife, Val. Byron and Val then managed Sandibe and Nxabega in the Okavango Delta for andBeyond before leaving Botswana at the turn down of tourism in the wake of 9/11. Five years later, Steve and Nicky welcomed Byron back to Phinda where he ran the Inkwazi Ranger training school for seven years, training guides for Southern Africa and East Africa. Byron is a partner in Essential Guiding with Alastair Kilpin and Gavin Lautenbach and trains guides all across Africa and Madagascar. Byron lives in White River, Mpumalanga with Val and their two boys Nicholas and Duncan.

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