My first full day on the Zulu Nyala game reserve in the heart of South Africa in September started with breakfast, when I met with the rest of our small safari group. Alan, our park ranger and guide, was what you would expect
a game reserve ranger to look and sound like. He looked the part perfectly, with salt-and-pepper hair and just the right amount of experienced wrinkles in his tan face. His South African accent (sounds similar to Australian) simply added to the big-game-hunter persona.
Alan’s tour truck was, I think, an old Land Rover. The vehicle was pretty banged up and was not always reliable about starting. Alan would make several stops for us to view the animals, and each time he shut the motor off so we could all hear him tell us about what we were observing. On many occasions, the old truck would simply click as he pushed the starter button. (Yes, he pushed a starter button!) I soon noticed Alan preferred stopping on downhill locations. He could, and frequently did, let the Land Rover coast and then pop the clutch to start the motor.
The prospect of being dinnerAt one flat location on the reserve, the Land Rover simply refused to start. For a few moments I was concerned about being stuck in this remote location and having to hike back to the lodge. I noticed Alan had a radio; unfortunately, my relief was short-lived, as he could get no reception and I found that this was a common problem on the reserve. Great! I could be lion food! I surveyed the tour group and realized this was not that major of a problem because I can’t outrun a lion, but I know I could outrun at least two in our group. In all seriousness, I did start to wonder how the reserve was doing financially if the guests had to push start a tour truck.
Later that day, we ran into three other groups who had converged because a small group of elephants had been spotted in the area. The other rangers appeared younger and, to my surprise, all had brand new, shiny Isuzu trucks. Maybe Alan was low on the pecking order? This seemed odd, given his age and apparent experience. Maybe he was being punished for allowing a tour group to become dinner? Maybe appearances were deceiving and he was not as good as I had thought. Alan then made his own path between thick dense bushes and trees. I discovered what had happened to the Land Rover emblems on the sides of the truck.
My concerns over Alan and his rank became apparent the next day. The word was out that the elusive black rhino had been spotted. The black rhino is an endangered species and sightings are very rare. The black rhino is also very dangerous. They will charge at the slightest thought of a perceived threat; we were told to be very quiet. When we got to the site, the other guides were safely in their vehicles. Alan decided to get out and walk around to make a popping noise to attract the rhino a little closer. It did work. The rhino cannot see very well but certainly heard Alan. The members of our group thought Alan was nuts; I think the other rangers may have thought so too. Watching Alan interact with the other rangers, it was obvious he had their respect and was well known.
During the rest of the tour, Alan made several off-road adventures through thick brush. Alan could work that old Land Rover as if it were a part of him. This truck was an extension of him, his persona, his image, his character, his overall charm.
WELL-WORN TRUCKS AND TOOLSWe found out that he had been offered a new truck, but he did not like the way it felt, rode, or the view. I suspect his list of complaints about the vehicle could have been quite long. I understood what he felt. Similar to a screw gun for a drywaller or a trowel for a plasterer, just as it gets broken in and you are comfortable, the time for a new one is not far away. I hated that. I suppose Alan does too.
One day our group was taken to another game reserve that required travel down the highway. The old Land Rover would not work. Alan showed up in the morning with a brand new Isuzu truck. We spent that day in the new Isuzu. The next day Alan returned with his old beloved Land Rover. To my surprise, the group was happier too; we all preferred the old Land Rover. Maybe newer isn’t always better.
May Alan and his Land Rover continue educating groups about the wonders of Africa for years to come.