Interview with Paul Goldstein of Kicheche Camps
Co-owner of Kicheche Camps and one of our campfire favourites, Paul Goldstein is a world class safari guide and photographer, and never knowingly understated in his opinions. He sat down for a chat with Alice Gully, co-owner of Aardvark Safaris:
What’s the best thing about having guests back in camp?
Seeing staff busy and energised, giving them the opportunity to show why we have so many repeat guests, to see the evangelical eyes of people returning from special game drives and to stop me writing to my MP every day (452 emails to date, almost as many as you and Richard eh?) Our safaris are in precious Conservancies, everyone benefits from guests: all stakeholders, including the animals. Westminster would do well to realise this.
How has the wildlife fared with fewer visitors over the last two years?
Because of the Conservancies and the generous donors and indeed the few visitors who put two fingers up to the unholy trinity of traffic lights, quarantine and redlists, the animals are in good shape … perhaps better than me.
Have there been improvements in camp?
We are always improving. We are only ever as good as our last game drive. Electric vehicles are exciting as are the whole new public areas at Mara Camp: adding two more mess areas and a family tent with one of the best views in the whole Mara.
With fewer visitors how did you maintain the balance between landowners, Conservancies and wildlife / cattle?
With great difficulty. Monies still have to be paid, Kicheche is a private company owned by the same two who started it, we have not been taken over by some giant operator or indeed anyone else. There have been economies across the camps and the stakeholders but with a philosophical attitude and donors, we have survived. If we did not think it was worth it, we would not bother and boy is it worth it.
‘Paul, I had to postpone my safari three times but finally got here. Kicheche and these Conservancies are my drug, my unshakable narcotic and I have been cold turkey for far too long. I shed a tear at sundowners tonight as I was so happy, as was my partner. We will never leave it so long.’ Ruth and Peter … UK This was a comment from two days ago.
Why is Kicheche the best place to safari?
It is fiercely independent, staff and guides know every blade of grass, rock and tree in these precious parcels of land. We are flexible and sensitive to guests and the environment, and I believe we work harder and longer than anyone else. We have also swallowed the whole responsible sustainable aspect of tourism; four times we have retained our Gold Eco awards at all our camps … this is not luck.
Can you let us know a few safari secrets or hidden gems?
Early means early. You don’t get up at dawn, you are in position at dawn, if you cannot do this or are not permitted to, you have booked the wrong safari. If you find a decent quarry, stick with it. To enjoy remarkable encounters you have to put in some time at the faunal coalface. Ticking off species will seldom garner such rewards. Oh, and good binoculars, really good ones, not opera glasses.
Why should people safari with you?
It’s about delivery, the Times once wrote, ‘he has driven grown men to tears, but no-one will drag you up the wildlife photography ladder quicker’. This may sound harsh, but I don’t guide people for months on end, so I want to deliver when I do and I normally only have a week. To me, this is what it’s all about; making cozy friendships is great but secondary. But remember a good photograph or even a great one is only 5% about pressing the shutter, the rest of it is the fieldcraft, patience, sensitivity and graft that goes into getting people into that position. Each morning I am as excited as I always have been about guiding and indeed Kicheche, the day this burning passion dims, I will hang up my Swarovskis.
What’s the most bizarre wildlife sighting you have had recently?
Mara North – a leopard chasing a honey badger …. honestly.
What is the best thing about your job?
Seeing guests return year after year. Two weeks ago I guided someone who has done nine safaris at Kicheche in four years. She is not coerced to return and sees no cheesy discount either.
When did an animal last make you laugh out loud?
Yesterday when a lion cub did a Del-boy fall out of a fig tree.
What would be the one thing you would do to improve our planet?
Proper grown up punishment for littering and polluting.
What has been the most positive thing to come out of the last two years?
Not much but, finding out the real champions in travel (my industry of 37 years) has been telling. As an industry, our fight against Covid and the government’s lamentable response was pitiful. Highlighting awful decisions was the only way. I applaud the few who did. I include Aardvark in this limited coterie and thank them. Denying tourism to Africa via a series of dreadful decisions has impoverished thousands, it was unforgivable. Thank you to those who stood alongside me and a few others. Richard, Alice and the team at Aardvark, take a bow, this mattered.
We would be delighted to help plan your perfect safari holiday, perhaps including some of the camps in the Kicheche portfolio (Kicheche Mara Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp, Kicheche Valley Camp and Kicheche Laikipia Camp). Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.