By Ané du Preez
Exciting, adventurous, humorous, challenging and experiential – a few weeks on an expedition with Hayward’s Grand Safaris into the hinterland of Southern Africa.
On an early Sunday morning, with the sound of truck engines, the smell of coffee, calling off checklists, radio checks and a team leader briefing, the convoy hit the road before the break of dawn. Thousands of hours of preparation and planning, packing of the required equipment in an organized fashion into trucks, with detailed schedules and a full complement of crew… the journey to execute this event, has begun at last.
Apprehensive but exhilirated for a new adventure!
I found it fascinating to observe how important it is to keep a convoy together. The hair raising moments where a thicket of mist limits visibility, driving through towns in the early morning hours where fires are providing warmth to strangers and the empty streets make it appear as if it is out of a movie set. The intensity of getting twelve vehicles fueled without the diesel pump stopping once and the humorous moments of cutting branches and maneuvering a convoy of eight ton trucks to be parked in a tight space for an overnight spot. The shocking horror of realizing the leaking fridge trailer is not water… but rather a few dozen eggs that got packed in a rush the night before and were not wrapped as it should have been prior to departure.
The journey was as essential as the destination.
Entering the Reserve gates with a convoy stretching several kilometers, the posed question to establish the reason for our arrival, got the crew in stitches… “Are you here for a day visit?”
An arduous gravel road through herds of giraffe, zebra, buffalo and nyala, brought us to an indigenous forest at the water’s edge. Breath taking views of Lake St Lucia left me and the whole crew awe inspired.
It was a bare piece of ground with cut grass, on the edge of the water surrounded by forest and ancient trees. But nothing else. My first thought was…”what did I let myself in for?”
Followed by Peter Hayward’s enlightening briefing and orientation of the task at hand which got me into action instantly. At that point I realized it was up to all of us to build this mobile tented hotel hosting a corporate south African group for a VIP incentive safari event in a week’s time, and the clock was ticking.
Days followed with sweltering sun, intense Natal humidity, rain storms and howling wind. Nothing could stop the crew from ensuring the goal is achieved.
The impeccable organization left me astonished. Staff cooks carried juice and lunch packs to different teams. Ladies teamed up together to build ablutions for hot showers. Trucks got moved into position with specific equipment for an area. Supplies got delivered like clockwork. The communication between each other was something I have never experienced before. So precise, ensuring there was duplication without hesitation. It was a huge puzzle that got pulled together with many pieces slotting in sequentially. What a piece of work!
Each day, the teams start with a battle plan on how to conquer the various tasks for the day and at the end, each team reported back in a debrief. The camp changed shape daily. The teams sharpened their skills at every meal time with practical drills, training sessions, exercises and knowledge.
I loved that I could be involved with some of arrangements behind the scenes. How I enjoyed meeting a local crafter where we picked up traditionally woven Zulu baskets Celia ordered for the beach picnics. Sorting through rooming lists, luggage tags, menus and schedules got me realizing that not one event they do, can ever be the same or a copy-paste-one-size-fits-all. The care and detail were perfection personified.
Final touches went in from the lanterns on the pathways, Persian carpets in all the tented bedrooms, silver and copper got shone, themed décor got placed. The last minute rush to rinse and get that uniform on, the adrenaline of the guest arrival, the speed in everyone’s steps to get into position and the radio call to ensure you are…the moment that have arrived and you silently hope the guests could feel the same magic I’ve experienced whilst setting it up.
The days with guests in camp unfolded with artfully selected components. From guided walks and game drives, estuary boat cruises, helicopter flips and beach picnics to themed gourmet culinary feasts. From a sensory exploration of musicians to authentic African folklore. The reveal of the grandeur where the smallest detail is taken care of… each person playing a role in ensuring the creation is as intended.
I’ve observed just how much respect the team had for wildlife and conservation. One day driving to a set up with Peter he slammed on breaks, and I frantically looked around to spot the leopard… but he saw a dung beetle and a leopard tortoise with her hatchling, and made way for them to cross the road in safety. It is the small things in life that matter most.
Be inquisitive. Be interested. That is a lesson that has stood out for me. Be interested in people, their conversations, in mastering new skills, observing the signs in nature, in life around you every day. It gets you to pay attention, to extrovert, to listen and learn.
This experience awakened my senses and was truly life changing for me. I’ll reminisce about my early morning wake up song of a Turaco Lourie, the soft sun rays casting shadows on the canvas, strongly brewed filter coffee to kick the day into action, zipping my tent closed and showering under the stars.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside event Extraordinaires Peter and Celia. They are a team like no other where their organization abilities are like poetry in motion. They’ve created a dream team with such a contagious camaraderie, looking out and taking care of each other, keeping the spirit high by singing whilst they are working and going beyond the call of duty to ensure the product of an unforgettable grand safari experience that supersedes their guests expectations, are delivered.
“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.” – John Hemingway.
Hi there! My name is Ané du Preez and I am from South-Africa. I am a teacher, writer and a solo traveler. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. I love good coffee, having interesting conversations and I love traveling. This blog is to share my wonderful adventures with all of you. I’ve been discovering the gems of mother nature and its amazing people. Join me as we venture into the beauty and inspiration that is all around us. I am an advocate for all to live their life to the fullest. To travel is to live!