Guests who are ‘aard work

New guests in the shape of an English couple in their 50s arrived in camp yesterday morning. It’s lucky they’re here because, it turns out, they know everything there is to know about safari camps. They know so much that D and I might hand them the keys and say, “You flew over with Kenya Airways and have read a guide book? You’ve got this.” and take the rest of the week off.

They’d seen an aardvark on a night game drive at their previous camp. I told them that they were very lucky; “D and I don’t get much time to go out on night drives – I’ve never seen an aardvark.”

The wife, Linda, looks at me pityingly; “Well, they’re about a metre high with a long nose and tail, and…”

She chunters on for a minute or two whilst I try to work out a nice way of saying, “Just because I haven’t seen one in real life doesn’t mean that I don’t know what one is, you patronising moron.”

I’m unsuccessful and she ends with, “…and they’re mainly nocturnal.”

Suppressing a laugh, D goes to show the husband, George, how to work the torch, “Be careful not to push the button halfway or it’ll start an annoying…”

“I KNOW HOW TO USE A TORCH, YOUNG MAN,” says George.

“…S.O.S. signal and…” continues D.

“I GO CAMPING IN SURREY ALL THE TIME!”, says George.

Linda adds, “He’s practically a professional.

Last night, which was completely moonless, we’re sitting round the campfire with the other guests when we notice that George and Linda are the last to arrive.

We look down the path to their tent to check if they’re coming. We can see a rapidly flashing strobe effect illuminating the tree canopy between the tents.

Dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.

“George, for goodness sake, use it properly.”

Dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot.

“I’m trying woman, I can’t turn this ridiculous thing off.”

We all hear a call of “Jambo!” followed by a high-pitched scream from George. I guess immediately what’s happened: seeing the flashing light make its way down the path, our askari, a watchman, has revealed himself in the darkness to guide the guests to dinner. His sudden appearance out of the long grass, supposed to be one of the most reassuring of sights has, in fact, had the very opposite effect on George and Linda.

As I quickly head down the path, I am greeted by the sight of the guests and Onesmus having a little S.O.S. disco under the acacias. Onesmus is the only one enjoying himself.

I must admit, the sight of his face looming in and out of darkness with the intermittent flashes is rather off-putting and could be a little scary as I imagine Africans leaping out from behind acacia trees are rather thin on the ground in Surrey.

Safari Stereotypes – Part 1 – Safari Snobs

They just can’t wait. Barely out of the vehicle and into camp before they start listing the countries they’ve visited, spitting the names out like a ticker tape machine.

One newly arrived guest told me yesterday (within minutes of arrival) that I ‘couldn’t imagine’ the countries he’d spent time in. I was a bit offended when he went on to list Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana amongst others. Far afield for many but beyond my imagination?

I pointed out the various tents that make up the main body of the camp; “There’s the dining tent which also includes a small reference library…”

The guest chuntered on in the background and in every available pause. “I’ve been to the Arctic four times, can you imagine?” [If Zimbabwe is beyond my imagination, it’s unlikely I could comprehend the Arctic.]

“…then to the left of the bookcase there’s the bar – our waiters will be happy to offer you any drinks…”

“…Antarctica by helicopter. I’ve seen more than one hundred polar bears. I’ve been on an icebreaker to see the Emperor penguins…”

“Lunch will be a buffet lunch with fresh salads from our garden.”

“…Madagascar, Reunion, Brazil, Uganda, Rwanda, India, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Tanzania…”

I give up my camp tour, put on my sunglasses and have a gentle snooze whilst the tally continues. As I doze off to the rhythmic listing of possibly every country in Europe, I wonder: what’s the purpose of this domineering bragging? In recognition of my pathetic, relatively untravelled life, should I quietly leave my seat and throw myself under the hooves of a passing buffalo?

Before I’m fully asleep, I recall that we already have in camp an equally tiresome, well-travelled guest. I get animated at the thought of introducing the two of them.

Over lunch, they do not disappoint. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The competition begins when Guest A enquires if it’s B’s first trip to Africa. Oh, such foolish innocence.

At first the names are casually tossed out there; Costa Rica, Russia, China. Breezily countered with Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam.

Poker-faced yet each recognising a worthy opponent the stakes are raised; “I’ll call your Kazakhstan and raise you three islands in Micronesia.”

Voices get frantic, higher-pitched. Benin, Iceland, Burkino Faso. Laos, Ethiopia, Togo. A staggering display of one-upmanship.

As far as I can tell, they’re neck and neck in the challenge to be the Most Travelled Show-Off Arsehole in the World. The tension is tangible. The rest of the guests, sensing some sort of apocalyptic event, sit silently, open-mouthed, cutlery hovering between plate and mouth.

They’ve both been to the Marshall Islands. They’ve both been to Inner Mongolia. They’ve both been to the Galápagos. [It’s obvious they’re both including the accent.] It seems the deadlock can’t be broken.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, Guest A goes all in and asks Guest B which month she went to the Galápagos.

Guest B hesitates. Smelling blood, the audience shift in their seats.

Guest B whispers, “April.”

One of the other guests turns to me eagerly, “Is that bad? Is that bad?”

“AHAAA!” shouts Guest A, throwing down her napkin in triumph, “If you went in April then you won’t have seen the penguins on the shores of Bartolomé!”

Slumped in his chair, Guest B admits this is the case, vainly muttering something about excellent weather for snorkelling but the game is lost.

In the ensuing silence, Guest C pipes up. Clearly carried away on the wave of A’s victory she blurts out, “I went to Paris in December once, it was lovely!”

Unsurprisingly, no-one gives a shit.

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Did you know?

A common guest habit is to assume that, because D and I live in a tent for 8 months a year, we are a little bit dim. Last night a guest very kindly took it upon themselves to tell me who the president of Kenya is.

Now, I’m not the most politically astute person in the world and I would struggle to tell you the name of the president of Mali, for example. [Just had to look it up; Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. See? Now I even know who the president of Mali is.] It would however take a special person not to know the name of the president of the country in which you reside.

The hospitality challenge is of course to react politely when someone tells you something that you’re very likely to already know. What I want to do is slap my forehead in a dramatic manner and yell, “KENYATTA?!You’re sh*tting me?” and then make the guest listen whilst I list lots of facts about their home country; “So, in England you’ve got the Houses of Parliament and you have a Prime Minister, David Cameron, that’s right. Now let me tell you all about the Queen ‘cos I read a 200-word paragraph in the front of a Lonely Planet Guide on the plane and am therefore now something of an expert.”