The relationship that develops between a guide and tracker is sometimes hard to explain to someone outside of the guiding fraternity. The two of you spend many, many hours together and have to learn to communicate, read each other’s minds and successfully react to unspoken cues. There is no doubt that a tracker adds immense value to a guided experience, especially here at Tswalu.
As a guide, I see it as a complete privilege to work with a tracker, to learn from a man who is often older than me and, on top of that, has often grown up in the area. He is able to point out animal tracks to me when I’m struggling, and will always have stories to tell about the place where I am guiding. Many of the trackers I’ve worked alongside learned how to interpret tracks and signs while looking after their family’s livestock or growing up on a farm. Others were mentored by an experienced tracker who passed on his skills.
A few years ago I found myself drawn back to the Kalahari and Tswalu after working in the lowveld. This place is a wilderness of wonder, especially since my friend and tracker, Jonnas Leeuw, began teaching me about the plants, the birds and their calls. He has tracked lions and we have found pangolin and cheetah. He has pointed out signs, given me his opinion on the weather and had the foresight to gauge what guests want. Often this involves planning a surprise for them, creating experiences from which memories are made. That guy sitting upfront in the tracker seat often has jokes to share with guests and a wicked smile that erupts when we have been searching long and hard to find a unique or iconic animal that our guests may have never seen before.
One of the things I enjoy about guiding is the special connection that often develops between guests and their guide and tracker. For a few intense days, we are all on an adventure together exploring the wide, open spaces for animals and the signs they leave in the wild. As a team Jonnas and I have the ability to bring joy and happiness to our guests by interpreting animal behaviour, providing the back story and delivering up-close or rare sightings. Jonnas’s warm smile and loud laugh are contagious, and he can make a killer cup of hot chocolate.
To work with a man who helps me to curate unforgettable experiences that leave our guests in awe is truly a privilege. Jonnas has a heart of gold, he is gentle and amazing with children, and has an incredible family of his own. I really enjoy spending time with Jonnas, whether we’re tracking animals or talking about his farm, the house he is building, how quickly his kids are growing up, or the delicious food his wife Ma-Griet makes for him.
All images by Barry Peiser