The lucky sod

Posted on 28 February 2012

As with everything there’s the short answer and the long answer.

Who am I?

Here the short answer must do: I’m the lucky sod who won the Avis FTTSA/Getaway Blog Adventure competition: eight gratis nights in the top right hand corner of the country, in lodges so exclusive they have, amongst ordinary bourgeois South Africans, attained the status of myth – khaki Never Never Lands and sunburned Narnias, complete with lions.

Why did I enter?

Here the long answer is preferred. My father, who subscribes to magazines, sent me the competition link along with a one-liner email, a two-worder, in fact: potential freebie?
He knows how much I enjoy applying for things, and that I’ve had some success in this regard–not competitions so much, nothing requiring pot luck, but as a serial student I became adept at contorting my biography to fit the requirements of a particular fellowship, or grant (it’s what academics wind up doing best). Come to think of it, the last time I didn’t prevail was the day, years ago, when former Getaway editor Don Pinnock sent me the following rejection letter after I’d presented myself in his office hoping for a job as a photojournalist:

Dear Sean,

I can fix a journalist’s writing but I can’t retake photographs, so photographic excellence is what we look for in a journalist first and foremost.

– Don

I was hurt, I thought we had really clicked, my camera abilities notwithstanding. I wrote back matey-like to say the next applicant through his door must have been Kingsley Holgate, Kingsley Amis, or perhaps even Sir Ben Kingsley.

Icy silence.

So Don, I hope you’re well wherever you are, and rest assured, I still take kak photographs, as will become apparent to anyone who follows this blog. I became a journalist too, in the end, a very different sort of ‘out there’ hack, covering rural stories principally for Farmer’s Weekly and the Mail&Guardian. I suppose that’s one reason I coveted this prize: I was forever skirting the tourist reserves but from my vantages in Hoedspruit, Levubu and Tzaneen I was too manured in the realities of land reform, illegal border crossings, racism, farm murders, diseased ungulates, dehorned rhinos and rivers crammed with cyanobacteria, to catch the whiff of paradise. Less facetiously, I grew up on an undisturbed farm in Zimbabwe, spent holidays in Matusadona National Park, and will always be a little nostalgic for bushveld as it must have been 100 years ago.

But perhaps more than anything it has long been my perverse ambition to be amongst a certain class of tourist, the astronomically wealthy internationalists I have spied availing themselves of the Mandarin help desk in Paris’ Lafayette mall, or being hustled onto super yachts in Vancouver Harbour—a class of affluence that makes South Africa’s own ‘royal balcony’ droop in shame. This curiosity has been nurtured over the years by my sister and brother in law, respectively a ‘front of house’ lackey and game ranger for a number of luxury safari lodges over a span of many years. Far more rich and colourful to me than their typical game ranger-type tales—those scrapes with elephants and brushes with mambas that rise up in the bushveld air of an evening, were their tales of the clientele they dutifully attended to: Charlize and her penchant for a certain brand of Spar coffee (necessitating a shopping trip of several hundred kilometres); the son of an Indian IT billionaire who was so fat his thighs prevented the proper operation of a Land Rover gear stick, causing a minor accident. The person who recounted this story said he couldn’t understand the dear boy’s disinterest in the wild bounty the park had to offer until he was informed that the little prince had his own menagerie back in Mumbai.

And there you have it, the long and the short. And of course it goes without saying that I have a sincere interest in what the Fair Trade in Tourism SA accreditation looks and feels like in practice. I am convinced I have seen the very worst in bushveld tourism, a set of stories best left to the imagination (one stars a 25-stone Texan hunting from a sturdy deckchair), and it would do one good now to see the very noblest.


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