Leader interview: Cronje Rademan - Namibia and Botswana safari
Cronje Rademan grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, where he also studied Nature Conservation. This enthusiastic leap into nature has since taken him to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a game ranger, private game reserves in the Dinokeng area North of Pretoria, and now to these safaris. His expertise as a guide is also infused with a strong anti-poaching politic, as well as a desire to share his knowledge about wilderness, wild animals and flora. When you are guided by Cronje, you will not only learn about the big animals, but also the smaller ones, as he is also an expert in bird watching, fishing and reptiles. This is a guide who thrives on being asked questions, and his ability to answer them makes you feel like you are walking around with the coolest geography teacher ever.
My personal favourite viewpoint is Deadvlei in the Sossusvlei region of Namibia, because it is basically a very ancient lakebed, which is full of acacia beds that have dried up and died.
And it is surrounded by these massive red dunes, and it really is a very beautiful scene. A lot of photographers love to go there, and as it is a desert, the weather stays the same all year round, so it is perfect all the time.
One of my favourite songs is by a guy from South Africa, a local artist called Johnny Clegg.
He wrote a song called Scatterlings of Africa, which actually really sums up Africa. It is a beautiful, beautiful song. He is very well known internationally, and it is a personal favourite of mine.
I once had a lion walk into our campsite the Okavango Delta . That was quite unexpected as we didn't hear them and didn't see any signs of them around the camp.
So we were under the impression that they were far away. But just one minute we saw this lion's head pop up. When he saw us he got a bit of a startle too, and then just turned around and walked away again. This was broad daylight, late afternoonish. That was pretty scary, but we've also had elephants pretty close in the camp, which made us panic just a bit. But I think it was more scary for the clients than the guides, as we know how to deal with these kind of situations. Elephants usually dictate what's going to happen, but if you keep still and stay clear of them, the rule of thumb is they will just move past the camp. But if it does so happen that one is a bit curious and wants to come closer, it is a good idea to make a big as possible, create a big noise and hit a pot or a pan or something to scare them off. Usually they are just looking out of curiosity, but when they know they are not welcome, then they turn around and move away.
Elephant leaving camp (Photo courtesy of Cronje Rademan)
A local staple diet is a dish called pap, which is basically a flour made from ground up maize, and we cook it with water to make a kind of stiff porridge.
You eat that with anything, and clients tend to like it as it resembles mashed potatoes a bit. You can eat it for breakfast as well and add sugar or cinnamon and all sorts of sweet goodies with it. Or if you make it a bit stiffer then it is a side dish at dinner. It is very versatile. It has different names in different countries, but basically it is known as pap.
The best local word for me is in an Afrikaans word 'lekker', which means nice.
You can use 'lekker' in so many contexts, for food, or if you have a nice time. Tourists often pick up on this word. It is really OK to speak Afrikaans here. In fact, it is one of the youngest languages and it is not just white South Africans who use it, but coloured people too. It has evolved a lot, and can be heard spoken in many countries in Africa, being adapted into local language now.
In terms of souvenirs, I am really into original art pieces. So specifically masks and wooden carvings, not your usual run of the mill stuff.
The guys are really very talented but sometimes you need to look into the nooks and crannies of the markets to find them. You just have to look at the guys selling it, because if the carver himself is selling it, you know it is unique. But sometimes these guys on the market buy stuff that is mass produced from other people, so I look for the unique one off stuff.
My top survival tip on this vacation is 'always have toilet paper with you'.
I would say that is one of the most important things you can take along with you when we go into the bush. Because that can spoil your camping trip if you leave that behind. Other than that, drink plenty of water.
A person who is not open to experience or learning new things probably won't like this vacation.
We get people from all walks of life, but what I have noticed is people who don't get along so well with others, or with the guides, are people who aren't open to experiencing new things. If you have got the wrong attitude, I would say better not come, but if you have a good attitude and are willing to learn and experience new things, then anybody can come.
The locals do make fun of tourists a little bit, especially their incapability of understanding how things work in Africa, especially around 'time'.
Because Europeans are especially very strict when it comes to time, and Africans are very laid back, so they tend to make fun of them being so strict with time. We've a saying that we often tell clients, to prepare them for how things work in Africa: When God created the earth he gave Europe the watch - and Africa the time.
There are a few misconceptions around the traveling distances that we have to do on this trip, which can be quite far.
Especially in Namibia, the little towns and villages are very far apart. In Europe they are quite close together and you won't usually drive for more than half an hour before you get to the next town or the next stop. But in Namibia, you may be eight hours on the road before you see another car. So the vastness and distance can get them a little bit.
When we are on game drives, the smells of the bush are very memorable, especially early in the morning when you drive past some fresh elephant dung.
And then twelve minutes later you see them. So we do make use of that sort of thing to find animals. And, ya, there are a lot of smells in the bush but that is the one that particularly comes to mind. It isn't a pleasant smell, like cow dung, and you can clearly see that on the clients' faces when they smell it. When it is completely dried it here is no scent to it, and in fact sometimes when there are a lot of mosquitoes we put some of that dung in the fire, which does create a smell, but the smoke does also chase all the bitey insects away.
I spend a lot of my own time in the bush when I am not working, just bird watching, or fishing or just taking photos.
The toughest bit of the trip is if you have a difficult client. The trip itself is pretty straightforward.
But if you have someone on the tour who can give you a bit of a headache, it can make things a bit tough. I don't think you have such a good time if you have to stress about someone who doesn't want to fall in with the programme.
The most precious time I have had with my visitors is probably sunsets in the afternoons.
Whether it is in the Okavango Delta or the Namib Desert, or at Victoria Falls over the Zambezi River. Sunsets are really special in Africa and, I have lots of fond memories of that.
The one thing that drives me mad about tourists is if they go into places where we tell them not to go, especially when we're in the wild, camping.
If we tell them not to walk past that bush, and they go and walk past that bush, then that is definitely a no no. Because of the dangers around. It is for their safety that we tell them, but if they don't stick to that then we have to run and drop everything we are doing and run after them.
If guests ask me a lot of questions, I really like that. Because that shows me that they really want to learn and know more, so the more questions they ask, the happier I am.
And at the end of the day it is about the experience they can get out of it, and the more they can learn and experience, the better their feeling when they get home again. The more I can show them, tell them and teach them, the better. I do see a transformation in people who are shy as well, especially after the first few days. Once the ice is broken and they have come over that fear they have of approaching the guide - because sometimes the guide can look a bit mean and hairy and scary, but once they get over that fear they open up and ask questions. And we always tell clients that no question is a stupid question.