Alastair Kilpin returns to Angama Mara after a year long absence to spend time reflecting and reviewing the past year with the Guiding Team, specifically looking at lessons learnt at the guest coalface
Every great trip has a song or a catch phrase to remember it by. ‘Funga macho yako’ is a simple KiSwahili phrase meaning ‘close your eyes’ that I found myself saying over and over again. The start of some humour was that I pronounced the first word as fungo with an ‘o’ which is the word for a civet (yes one of the creatures which produces luxury coffee by pooping out the beans). This renders the sentence unintelligible unless you are issuing a command to an animal!
I returned to Angama Mara after a year-long absence and found myself gaping at the finished lodge with its breath-taking views and a myriad of thoughtful details. I was back to spend time sharing thoughts about guiding with the wonderful Angama team and putting those thoughts into action.
We started with a great session reviewing the past year in guiding, specifically looking at lessons learnt at the guest coalface. The refreshing openness with which the Angama guides shared was fantastic to experience. What was most obvious is how each guide’s sense of awareness had developed. Their stories were all born from being aware to what is going on behind them in the vehicle and keying in to the conversations and responding. I heard about everything from calling for the lodge to bring beef instead of pork sausages to specifically halting a planned birthday singsong which was exactly what was not wanted! One shared about how he’d thought handling children was tricky, but had now developed a range of skills to not only cope but also enjoy these young guests. The guides have risen to the challenge of working hard at finding out what it is that will really make a guest’s trip memorable rather than simply taking a game drive. I found this very encouraging. With this mindset, Angama’s guides will flourish.
The training last year focused on opening one’s eyes and ears to really tune into the environment thereby unearthing all the possibilities a safari can offer. We did more of this on drives and forest walks and were constantly amazed at what we could find if we really looked. At one stop we had a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers pecking in the desert date tree where we’d stopped for coffee (not the civet brand in case you were wondering). Simple enough. Just identify the bird and you’re good, right? Well, when you have just seen a herd of elephant and now notice the elephant damage on the tree which has created access for borer beetles, then find the Giant Longhorn (a massive borer) hiding in a crevice of the tree and realise that the woodpeckers are most probably searching out its larvae you have uncovered a classic piece of ecology right at the coffee stop. This little discovery set the tone for the entire training session as we started to link our discoveries together.
But with all things comes a flip side. Our sessions in the field started stretching to 8 or more hours as we kept seeing more and more. Promises of comfort breaks and tea stops evaporated as the sightings kept coming, big and small. We found a hornbill provisioning a nest with African Thief Ants and watched Banded Mongooses forage just a metre from a buffalo’s face. Vultures cleaning up a hippo carcass, a leopard with two Thommies stashed in a tree and more elephants than we could imagine. The list goes on. The Mara is really alive in the green season. And so the words were said for the first time … funga macho yako. Close your eyes! I never thought I would find myself saying this on safari except to listen to the distant roar of lions. But I soon realised that without these words, we would never make it home on any given day and I would not yet have penned these words. I am sure the guides were all peeking. They can’t help themselves. But please don’t close your eyes, especially if you are not sure which type of coffee you are being served!