Recommended Reads: Safari Guide Students Share Their Favorite Books
I asked my fellow online EcoTraining students around the world what they were reading these days. What books inspired them, challenged them, or made them long for the bush? If I thought my list of must-read titles was already long, it got longer when I saw their recommendations.
Now, I know—after all the reading you do when you are preparing for your FGASA theory test, it might feel like you never want to open a book ever again. But if you are a lifelong learner (and what EcoTraining student isn’t?), it will not be long before you find yourself nose-deep in another book.
When it comes to titles that we blame for lighting some of our inner fires to travel halfway around the world to get up at absurdly early hours, Breakfast with Elephants by Gesa Neitzel is a book to blame. Unfortunately, this bestseller is still only available in German, but since the safari guide crowd is often multilingual, that is not a barrier for many.
“Without this book, I never would have met you all” online EcoTraining student Sabine Schlag avers. She says there is a translation in the works, and I cannot wait to read it!
Photographs @ Lee Bellware
My own fires were lit by the books of Elspeth Huxley’s Kenyan childhood: The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard. Her insights into the beauty of her childhood in nature and her reflections on the injustices of the colonial system, described so clearly, as only a child could have seen them, impressed me very much growing up in the American deep south.
Another EcoTraining student’s favorite book about Africa is Congo by Redmond O’Hanlon—a funny yet sincere account of a journey into the heart of the continent in search of living dinosaurs. Yes, living dinosaurs—the stuff of myth and legend. The motto of the story, according to reader Jean Bruijnzeels, should be,
“Don’t try this at home!”
Something for Everyone
Perhaps you would prefer a more contemplative book about nature? In this case, we hop continents and look into student Lisa Fugard’s recommendation for The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. It tells the story of a place and an animal that was almost unknown to science at that time.
Matthiessen wrote many books about Africa as well—I am currently deep in his Sand Rivers, which chronicles his safari into Tanzania’s Selous game reserve. He was a serious student of Zen Buddhism, and his prose stands the test of time and is deeply meaningful in this age of rapid climate change.
Or maybe you prefer an African novel that hits home during the pandemic? Andreas Rawiel, currently out on his practical with EcoTraining, suggests Virus by South African author, Deon Meyer. The author’s thriller might keep you up at night, but it will make for great conversations around the campfire.
Photographs @ Lee Bellware
Light, Funny, and Out There
Looking for something lighter? Guiding student and pilot Dozer Carinus recommends Wet Breams by Zimbabwean Bill Taylor for a light-hearted read.
Want something a little farther out and even funnier? Floriane Vacherand suggests The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Maarten Troost. It tells the tale of the author and his girlfriend trying to live on a remote Pacific island. If you can’t get enough, there is even a sequel!
Or perhaps stay in the bush and try Sam Koschi’s choice of Don’t Look Behind You by guide Peter Allison, an author who has gone on to adventure on many continents but who cut his teeth guiding in Southern Africa.
“At the end of the book he surprises me with a part of his youth and mental health that has my utmost respect for him and his journey,”
Sam says. Comedy, after all, is tragedy plus time. How many safari stories can you tell where, at the moment, there was real peril, but afterward it made a great story over sundowners?
Highs, lows, adventure, science, travel, and self-reflection are the themes of not just these books, but every safari. The thrill of seeing wildlife in their own habitat, the crush of a day without sightings, the awe of the open sky, and the lure of the open road: when you cannot be on safari, open a book.
There were so many recommendations sent in by my fellow students, I cannot share them all with you, but I do suggest that the next time you feel stumped on how to get to know someone, just ask them what they like to read. You will be amazed how much knowledge, joy, and insight a book shared among friends can bring.
I would like to thank Sabine Schlag, Floriane Vacherand, Jean Bruijnzeels, Lisa Fugard, Dozer Carinus Wayne Hamilton, Sam Koschi, and Andreas Rawiel for their wonderful recommendations.
- How the Zebra Got Its Stripes: Darwinian Stories Told Through Evolutionary Biology by Léo Grasset
- Confessions from the Abalone Underworld by Kimon De Greet and Shuhood Abader
- A Game Ranger Remembers by Bruce Bryden
- Blood Trail by Tony Park, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
- The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin
- Dangerous Beauty by Mark C. Ross