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ALAN MCSMITH : Learning From Wilderness

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Through wilderness, we achieve deeper self awareness

Alan McSmith  - South Africa [2007 © Roddy ]
Through wilderness, we achieve deeper self awareness

For Alan, wild places in Africa represent much more than just seeing the Big 5, and he has gone way beyond leading the typical ‘safari’. He takes small groups on walking expeditions, typically in the Okavango or Kruger, and allows them to experience nature, including close encounters with large animals, to provide them with a new perspective on the world.

He maintains that ‘very few people return from a wilderness experience without a clearer understanding of themselves and their place in the world’. His work embraces nature; through experience of the wild and storytelling, he gives a great variety of people, from African teenagers to high-flying global executives, a place to reflect and achieve a healthier self-awareness.Alan McSmith  - Kruger Park, South Africa [2008 © Roddy ] - Alan McSmith - Learning From Wilderness - Great Guides
Alan is most at home "in the bush"

Alan McSmith  - Okavango, Botswana [2008 © Roddy ] - Alan McSmith - Learning From Wilderness - Great Guides

Alan had no hesitation upon leaving school to pursue a career as a ranger. At 19 he was employed as a guide by a lodge in the Timbavati and worked in the private reserves adjoining the Kruger park for several years. He was later employed to lead mobile safaris in northern Botswana and by the early ‘90s he was the specialist guide to the Okavango Delta for two major safari companies.

Alan creates opportunities to experience  wilderness

Walking safaris and poling guests in mekoros (traditional canoes) were his preferred ways to explore the delta. He also worked as a camp manager in Botswana and in the Kruger area. In 1999, with his wife Sarah, he made the leap and started his own safari company, taking small groups on specialist safaris to remote areas, including walking trails with the Bushmen in the Kalahari.

A particular project radically changed him. In 2004 he joined up with Peter Comley and Steve Bolnick in a madly ambitious plan to pole mekoros right across the vast Okavango delta, from the panhandle to Maun. The Okavango is a pristine wilderness and the myriad waterways and low islands host an abundance of animals, including hippo and crocodile. It had never been done before.

Alan McSmith  - Okavango, Botswana [2007 © Roddy ] - Alan McSmith - Learning From Wilderness - Great Guides
In 2004, Alan helped pioneer traversing of the Okavango by mekoro

A 76 year old Baye poler led the first expedition, navigating a route through the ever-changing channels of the delta. It took two weeks and they slept rough on islands. Then they poled back again. In all they made three return trips. It was arduous and very wild. Adventurous journalists wrote enthusiastically of this complete immersion into nature, and the strange, primeval combination of stillness, beauty and danger. But it was an economic failure, way beyond the limits of most tourists.

Alan McSmith  - South Africa [2010 © Roddy ] - Alan McSmith - Learning From Wilderness - Great GuidesAlan began writing about his experiences on those long traverses and realised how much they had changed him; ‘I got close to myself and re-discovered my priorities’. Inspired by the work of Ian Player, a conservationist who led young people on walking trails in KwaZulu-Natal, Alan and Sarah began ‘Wilderness Vision’, an NGO that aims to promote environmental awareness among youth through programmes ranging from walking safaris in the Kruger to national tree planting and vegetable gardening projects.
 Wilderness Vision, an NGO, was created by Alan and his wife Sarah

Alan also teamed up with a psychologist to offer executives walking safaris in the Okavango that explore the challenges of authentic leadership. He leads senior global businessmen on 7 day trails, typically sleeping out in the bush. Far from their normal world of high-tech communications and pressures, living only with the essentials in the richness of nature, these trips help them to re-evaluate themselves and their work.

Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 29 May 2011
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa, Botswana
Themes: natural world, living life | conservation, health, belief and spirituality