With almost 20 years in the safari business and three highly acclaimed books to his name, private guide Peter Allison talks us through what Africa means to him.
NS: What drives an Australian teenager to become an African safari guide?
PA: “All good adventures start with bad decisions, and I made even more than most teenage boys do. At the heart of each though was a desire initially to see as many wild animals as I could, then later to protect them.”
NS: You’ve written three books. If you were to write your memoir what would it be called?
PA: “If I was to give it an honest title it would be ‘Don’t buy this book, read the others about when I did interesting things'”
NS: Where’s your favourite area to guide and why?
PA: “It’s changed in recent years from the Okavango to Namibia’s deserts. There’s a uniqueness to landscape there and it’s a real joy watching people’s reaction to it.”
NS: What’s the real value of a private guide?
PA: “It really varies from guide to guide, as some bring special interests, some great experience, some mere charisma!”
NS: What do you most enjoy about guiding?
PA: “Having people fall in love with the wilderness is like someone praising your child or laughing at a joke you made – but more important than either of those as the more humans connect to nature the greater the army to protect it.”
NS: You’re known for your humour, please tell us your favourite safari joke.
PA: “No. I charge for that.”
NS: Which species would you least like to be surprised by any why?
PA: “A T-rex, because I really thought I’d seen the last of them.”
NS: What’s your favourite campfire story and what should we drink while you’re telling it?
PA: “A story from the earliest stages of my career when I was a 19 year old barman pushing a rickety wheelbarrow full of beer to stock a bush dinner. I made myriad mistakes that day, and was tested rudely for it.
The drinks pairing is a rolling one – gin and tonic to start, red wine for the middle of the story, and a good negroni to finish (the secret to a good negroni is not in the gin, which should always be dry, but the vermouth – something I learnt recently in a safari camp!)”
NS: If you could take five people, alive or dead, on safari, who would you take and where would you take them?
PA: “I’d start with Botswana as it has not just an abundance of wildlife but gives the feeling of Africa in times past (not the horrible human histories, but the vast open landscapes that feel boundless). The guest list would be David Attenborough so I could learn from him; Stephen Fry for the same reason but the laughter too, any trophy hunter that is open minded and who could be lured to the light side, Alfred Russel Wallace (who was gazumped by Darwin) as he deserved it and it would be a form of time travel, and lastly the president of Botswana in the hope he would be moved by the beauty of his own country and carry on protecting it.”
NS: Which species’ qualities would you most like to possess?
PA: “It’s tempting to say the cheetah as I have always loved running fast, but more practically I’d go with termites, or any social insect really as I’d love to be able to alter the moods and behaviour of those around me with nothing but my own smell.”
NS: There’s a zombie apocalypse – where do you go and why?
PA: “I’m so ready for this. The Okavango. There’s food year round (fruits some season, fish in others) and with such a low human population you wouldn’t have to worry too much about the undead pooping your party as you sit down to a delicious Marula fruit feast. Just baboons. Thievy lot those fellows.”
All photos by Peter Allison
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