Having been to South Africa and on safari a few times, I wanted a different, more immersive ‘safari’ experience. I wanted to feel what it was like to live in the bushveld and learn how safariLIVE operates, on and off camera.

Honestly, I wondered how I’d be perceived as a ‘viewer in camp,’ how I’d fit into daily life and if I’d genuinely be welcomed. I hoped that everyone would carry on as if there wasn’t an outsider in camp and that I was just Andrea.

Upon arrival at Djuma Research Camp (DRC), Jamie and Seb greeted me as they were getting ready for the sunset drive. Shortly after I met Lungile (Lungi), a guide in training at Djuma Game Reserve and host for my stay.

At every turn, there was someone new to meet, and every greeting was as friendly as the last. Lungi showed me around – where Rusty, Wendy and Jigga are parked, the long tables where we would eat our meals together, the kitchen where I’d meet Lauren and find out we were both vegan, and final control where some of us gather to watch the show or rehearsals. It all felt anlot like summer camp on the first day.

I’d learn my way around and the routines. After breakfast, everyone would break off to do his or her job. For the production team, they might work on videos to share on social media and the YouTube channel.

For the camera operators, they might set up and test new cameras or film visitors at camp. For the camera operator interns, they might film something or meet with Jeandré for training.

For the new presenters aka the trainees, they do self-study or go out with James, Brent or Jamie to learn the roads, trees, animal behaviours, and general bush knowledge 101. I had a few opportunities to go on training drives with Lauren, Trishala and Jackie and caught a glimpse of what it takes to be a presenter. It is harder than it seems especially during a live drive with a director in your ear with questions, “live live,” who you are linking to, the game drive radio channel connecting all guides in the reserve or trying to drive off-road through the bush and listen for the telltale sounds indicating the presence of a predator.

I’d remain in the dining area to take advantage of the better Wi-Fi signal, do an activity or go back to my room and do some work on the porch. I’d often get distracted by birds, dragonflies and butterflies whizzing by, geckos and squirrels running around, a nyala passing by just outside the fence or the sound of elephants nearby. I’d retreat to my room as the day grew hotter and sat under the fan spinning overhead and sometimes take a nap. By about 2 pm, I would grab a light lunch in the air-conditioned kitchen and would often find others there too.

The DRC is a busy place, and everyone works to do their part and then some. The interns and trainees would also do other jobs around camp such as wash down the vehicles, straighten out the antennas on the vehicles or fetch ice. You know it’s summer at DRC when temperatures climb into the 40s (Celsius, over 100 Fahrenheit), and bags of ice disappear in record time.

In my 10-day visit, there were 2 occasions that I saw the crew take a bit of downtime. Once when I joined a group that went to the pool at Inge’s on a warm day. Even then, Brent quizzed the trainees about some of the birdcalls that could be heard. And the second time was at the year-end party. Oh, what a great night.

I was in final control watching the live show when lightning struck, and Louise felt an electric buzz through the radio base set. The show ended, and we waited out the storm, but it didn’t appear to be moving away. In between the lightning strikes; we ran to the dining area to begin the party. I’m from Ontario, Canada and we have some great thunderstorms there, but nothing like when the skies opened up that night in Djuma and the thunder roared the loudest I’ve ever heard.

How befitting it was when Gerry put on the song “Africa” by Toto after the rain had stopped. It attracted others to the ‘dance floor’ in final control. In the dark (power outage), we sang our hearts out to the words “I bless the rains down in Africa.”

What I found special about the Wild Earth team is though they all have different backgrounds, personalities, experiences and knowledge; they come together like a caring family. You often hear “can I take your plate?” when a meal is finished, “can I get you a coffee, tea or drink?” in final control and “that was great” on the trainee vehicle.

When someone goes on leave, it’s hugs and kisses all around, and though it’s for a short 2 or 3 weeks, their presence is missed dearly by those remaining in camp.

After 10 days of great conversations, meeting some of the safariLIVE animal characters, riding on a vehicle during a live show with James and Lauren, learning tracking with Herbie, seeing a puff adder up close, and getting to know the hard-working people that bring us this incredible show, it does feel a lot like summer camp when it’s over.

Handshakes turned to hugs and kisses, numbers were exchanged, and I couldn’t have been more welcomed.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone I met at safariLIVE – Stef, James, Brent, Jamie, Jeandré, Seb, David, Conrad, Alex, Marcel, Kirsty, Gerry, Lou, Emma, Lexi, Charlotte, Lauren, Trishala, Jackie, Yvonne, Thulani, Marcel V., Lungi, Amanda, Mama Zee, Herbie, Rexon. Graham and Emily.

Written by: Andrea Rees