I have a firm belief, after many years of travelling all over Namibia and other countries in Africa, that it is your guide who determines your experience of your visit. A guide can make or break it for you. They are the glue that holds your adventure together, and so I started to ponder… what makes a great guide?
In August, I sat down with Isaiah Kapona at Ongava Lodge after two marvelous days on Ongava Game Reserve and asked him what life as a guide is like. Kapona, as he is affectionately known, has been working on the reserve for 20 years.
Ongava, the entire reserve with all four of its lodges, had been on lockdown since COVID hit last year. It only reopened in June 2021. When asked what he has been up to during this time, Kapona remarked that he and the others have been holding down the fort. A lot goes into safeguarding the natural world on a private game reserve. As much as into any national park. Having started his career at Ongava 20 years ago as a member of the anti-poaching unit, Kapona understands these needs more than most. He shares more about two decades of life on a reserve with us during our two day stay. And what a life it must be… that of a guide in Africa. The mopane bushland your office. Lion, elephant and rhino your colleagues. Nature your vocation.
So what makes a great guide?
According to Kapona, a guide needs an all-encompassing arsenal of skills. “You’re doing everything. You are a doctor. You are a chef. You are a teacher. We feel like we are ambassadors for the country. A lot of people come back to Namibia over and over. Why do they come back? Because they love what we share with them. They end up loving nature as much as we do.”
Is that all though? A deep love for nature? Surely it plays a crucial role, and it is always easy to tell if someone is truly passionate about their job, but I don’t think that is the only magic ingredient. A truly spectacular guide is dedicated to his or her craft. Beyond their people skills and ability to adapt to each personality type and nationality idiosyncrasies, they put in the hours of study needed to master their knowledge and understanding of the subject matters at hand. A good guide never stops learning. He or she does not limit themselves to the Cliffs Notes or the How to sell the bush handbook. They are zoologists, ornithologists, behaviouralists, meteorologists. They are mixologists and sommeliers. They are comedians and entertainers. They are everything you need them to be, and at the end of the day a really great guide enjoys every second of it.
From basics to going into incredible detail, a truly great guide quickly determines his guests’ experience level and knowledge of the bush or country and adapts his discourse accordingly.
May your next adventure to Namibia award you with the experience of meeting your new best friend on a safari. May they wow, entertain, educate and inspire. May they instil a deep love and understanding of nature in you and plant the seeds of passion for the outdoors and all things wild that comes with an obsession with Namibia. If you are looking for the best guides in Namibia, Ongava Game Reserve is the place to start… TNN