What's it like to be a guide at Virgin Limited Edition's Mahali Mzuri?
There isn’t really such a thing as an ordinary day at Mahali Mzuri, Virgin Limited Edition’s safari camp situated in the Kenyan Bush. Safari guide Betty Maitai takes us through her not-so-average day
So what does your daily routine entail?
My alarm goes off at 4am and I immediately start getting ready for another day of guiding our guests on safari game drives. As they start at 6am, this gives me a couple of hours to prepare, and every morning is as busy as the one before.
After I’m dressed and ready for work, I do thorough checks on my vehicle before driving to the camp. Once I’m there, it’s all about preparing every last detail so our guests enjoy their game drive to the fullest. We try to think of everything from blankets and hot water bottles for keeping cosy to picnic baskets filled with breakfast treats. I always have a cup of tea or coffee with our guests before heading out on a morning game drive; it’s a great way to get to know them so we can tailor their game-viewing experience to their wishes as much as possible.
As our game drives take place on the private Olare Motorogi Conservancy, there’s plenty of animal life to be seen, and no two are ever the same. This means that the game drives will typically finish at 9am, but it’s entirely dependent on the day and the animals that we see. Sometimes we treat our guests to an extra special picnic breakfast in the bush. Nothing beats seeing the look on their faces when they realise that this is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Once the morning game drive is over, I chat to the guests about their afternoon plans and help to advise them about the activities they can get involved with. It really depends on the guest, but quite often they just want to chill out and enjoy a little free time. As our infinity pool overlooks the bush, you can occasionally have a safari experience from the comfort of your sun lounger, watching the animals passing by. I also suggest heading out on our community tour, which our guests often say is one of the most memorable parts of their stay. You can visit a local village and see the hustle and bustle of Maasai life, or head to a school to meet the students and their families.
What are your responsibilities?
My job is all about ensuring that guests are happy with their experience. For me, the best moments are when I know that I have helped our guests to learn something, whether it’s a fact about their favourite animal or teaching them about the community and culture in the Maasai Mara. It’s the most amazing feeling to know that our guests have left us feeling happy and eager to come back after making new friends and seeing Kenya’s wildlife.
What do you wear to work?
I actually have a couple of outfit changes on a typical day. In the morning I wear khaki trousers, a shirt and a jacket; it’s usually cooler in the mornings, so wearing practical clothing is a must. In the evening I wear my Maasai dress, but I’m always prepared for changing weather, so I take my jacket in case it gets cold.
What kind of jobs have you had in the past?
I took a Paramilitary course at the National Youth service, which prepared me for some of the leadership and outdoor skills required to be a safari guide. I’ve been interested in nature all my life because of my Maasai background, and I used to take care of a herd of sheep and goats.
What was your job interview like?
The interview process to be a safari guide at Mahali Mzuri started with questions about the environment, animals, and my own experience. After that was the practical test, when I was able to show my own safari guiding style… I passed with flying colours.
What was your most memorable work moment?
It happened during migration season [between July and September], when up to a million wildebeest make a 600km journey through Tanzania and Kenya in search of food and water. My car got a puncture, and the jack failed. The other guides had already passed the crossing that the wildebeest were headed to, and I was stuck next to a pride of lions with small cubs. This was one of those moments when you have to pick up your courage, so I focused on changing the tyre as quickly as I could.
The guests got to see the wildebeest crossing and were very happy, which was the most important thing to me.
What’s the best part of your job?
I truly enjoy chatting with our guests. I get to meet people from all around the world, from all kinds of background and share my knowledge and culture with them, which is fascinating.
And what’s the most challenging part of your job?
As we have twice-daily game drives and communal dining at Mahali Mzuri, it can be challenging to have guests who aren’t open to asking questions or chatting to other guests. On the other hand, it’s always wonderful to see our shyer guests come out of their shell over the course of their stay as they become more confident and get swept up in their safari adventure.
What would be your alternative career if you weren’t a guide? What job did you dream about growing up?
If I had another career, I would be a businesswoman. Sometimes people are surprised to hear this, but there are actually a lot of similarities between the two career paths; you have to be good at leading people, you need excellent communication skills and you have to follow your instincts. My community is also incredibly important to me and whatever job I do in life, I know that helping others would have to be central to my role.
What do your family and friends think of your job?
My family were certainly a little surprised when they heard that I was going to become a guide. To them, it’s not a normal job for a woman. My friends’ reactions have been mixed, some have been incredibly encouraging while others aren’t so sure. Personally, I am happy because I feel I have succeeded in a male-dominated profession and I feel that all people should be educated and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams: men, women and the whole nation.
Visit Virgin Limited Edition to find out more about Mahali Mzuri.