This week, the staff at Extraordinary Journeys was fortunate enough to have private guide Alf Ngwarai come to our office to tell us all about his experiences guiding on safari. Alf was incredibly kind, captivating, and an absolute pleasure to spend the morning with. We asked Alf a few questions about his experiences and below are some of his highlights.
Alf grew up in Zimbabwe where his father worked as the Chief Warden of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. As a result, Alf developed a strong connection and passion for the environment and its wildlife. Since the completion of his guide training, Alf has been privately guiding for the past 20 years, mostly in Tanzania, but also in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. In recent years, he’s really established himself as one of the top private guides for families and high-end clients. Alf prides himself on his ability to establish relationships with his guests, earn their trust, and gauge how to provide the perfect experience that he can exceed their specific expectations and needs. And he genuinely loves what he does! “It’s wrong to call it work. I live my life.”
When and why Alf became a guide:
After growing up in the national parks and developing a passion for the land, Alf began his 3.5-year guiding apprenticeship in Zimbabwe in 1994, which is known to be one of the most rigorous guiding programs in Africa. In 1997, he earned his professional guiding license and began guiding primarily in Kariba, Gonarezhou, and Hwange.
After a few years, Alf moved to Tanzania, guiding mostly in the Grumeti. Here, he really established himself as a high-end private guide. Alf really enjoys being a private guide because it allows him to spend more time with his guests, establish a relationship, and better gauge how to shape their experience. It’s more “holistic and fulfilling” than providing a more formulaic 2-day experience that many people opt for. Alf sees it as his responsibility to relate to the guests, read them, and give them what they want, which often takes time and therefore requires him to stay with them through the duration of their safair. He finds it a good exercise for reading people and managing expectations.
Alf’s most memorable experience as a guide:
There are so many amazing experiences to choose from! One experience sticks out to Alf more than others. In 2002, he was taking a family from New York on a 10-day safari in Zimbabwe. Midway through their trip, they were on a game drive when they spotted an elephant standing in a clearing. They drove toward it and eventually got out of their vehicle, moving toward it on foot until they were about 50 yards away. They had an excellent vantage point, standing behind a rock, with the wind blowing from the elephant to the group: prime position. All of a sudden the wind changed and began to blow their scent toward the bull. The elephant got very tense and was visibly spooked. The group took cover, and Alf stood firm with his rifle at the ready. The elephant began to charge at Alf with his ears out and trunk blowing. All the while, Alf was contemplating if and when he should take out the elephant to protect himself and his group. The elephant suddenly stopped only a few short yards away from the tip of Alf’s barrel where they stood face to face for 20 odd seconds. Eventually, the elephant made a quick move and charged back into the bush. It was a very intense experience for everyone! Luckily, the guests caught the whole sequence on film!
A safari moment Alf was most thrilled to have helped a client experience:
Alf was taking a family on safari to Duluti, Chem Chem, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Faru Faru. They had yet to see a lion and were anxious to see one. Alf spotted a male lion sleeping in the distance, but decided to keep this to himself. He drove the vehicle toward the lion, all the while talking to the family and directing their attention elsewhere. He drove right up next to the lion, while still keeping the family’s attention focused on the opposite side of the vehicle. Finally, he changed their focus to the other side of the vehicle where the lion was sleeping and caught them in total surprise!
Another similar experience was when he took a family out on a night drive where he knew that a pride of 22 lions was nearby. They were driving along the road when Alf saw the glimmer of a lion’s eye ahead of him. He quickly turned off his lights so not to frighten the lions and to soon give his guests a real surprise. Alf engaged with his guests, talking about the stars and the environment. Finally, when he sensed that the lions would be near he turned his lights on and the entire pride was only 20 yards away, walking toward the vehicle on the road. Eventually, as they approached, the pride split, walking on either side of the vehicle, giving the family a surprising and really special moment of a close encounter with an entire lion pride.
Alf really enjoys the staging and presentation element of his job. He likes showing rather than telling. In doing this, he can give his guests some really memorable and special experiences. “It’s the presentation of a scenario that creates a memory,” Alf recalls.
Alf’s ideal safari:
Alf’s ideal safari would include the Grumeti in Tanzania because of the limited number of vehicles and the ability to drive off road. Alf doesn’t think that there is a one-size-fits-all safari. It completely depends on the group, whether they’ve been on safari before, and what their expectations are. Generally speaking, he thinks that Tarangire is a good starting place for people because there is lots of wildlife. There are also lots of vehicles, but guests don’t necessarily know that yet, especially if it’s their first safari. Eventually he would move to more exclusive areas and properties where they would have a more intimate experience. Alf says that the experience is more about sequence than specific properties, but it is his job to really shape the guests’ experience.