My little travel company, Thandeka Africa, turns 25 years old this month. I’ve worked from my bedroom, dining room and garden, in Melville coffee shops, and even once, in SANDTON. I’ve done business while hiking, from the top of mountains, on the beach and if you know me, from bathtubs too.
I’ve been lucky to get to amazing places and mostly, have loved bringing people to Africa. I’ve dealt with missed flights, lost suitcases, sleepy clients because of noisy lions, and Neil Young who thought the Kruger Park was just “a little too wide open.”
I’ve had good years and bad years; mostly good. My business is American, upmarket and word of mouth. Sometimes people are fussy and difficult but I’ve had a lot of repeat clients, made good friends over the years and once received a R 3000 cash tip in the post.
I’m remembering the small stories:-
The housekeeper at Singita who had to walk past a leopard every night when she did the room turn-down.
“We have a deal,” she told me. “He lets me do my job as long as I let him do his.”
My young child losing his Spiderman figure at the Mount Nelson Hotel. On check- out I asked them to contact me IF they found it. They called me five days later.
“We haven’t found the Spiderman yet,” they said. “But we are still looking.”
Getting an upset stomach while canoeing the Orange River. A leguaan squatting down beside me.
Having to duck inside a tent in Kariba while an elephant with the BIGGEST ERECTION walked by, so close, so terribly close.
Anderson Cooper calling and saying: ‘Hey Sandi, it’s Anderson. We’re keen to come back to South Africa, any recommendations…’
And a client who finalised his travel deal while I was in the bath. I’d answered the phone then sat as still as I could so he wouldn’t hear the water swishing. Eventually though, I had to move.
“Are you in the bath, Sandra?”
“I am Warren, but you know, I had to take your call.”
And then he laughed and gave me his credit card details.
So many incredible clients, sending me photographs of their experiences, keeping me updated about their travels, how the Royal Malewane tracker was the best in the world, that the Londolozi chef’s creme brûlée was to die for, how at Honeyguide they swam while elephant drank from their pool, and of course, that our Cape Town and Johannesburg guides were just brilliant.
These are the guys I am worried about today. The smaller people. The porters, drivers, tour guides, trackers, rangers, housekeepers, waiters and chefs. So far, I feel pretty damn lucky. My clients have not cancelled. They’ve postponed. But the people who rely on new business, daily tips, salaries, all that. I honestly don’t know how they’re managing.
I miss work. I never thought I would say that, but it’s true.
The name Thandeka means love.
We will find ways to support one another.
We will always be here.