When adventure turns to fate

Guest Caleb Shepard had no idea what was in store when he first travelled with us five years ago…

Jobs fill your pockets and adventures fill your soul. But what if you could find an adventure-filled job? That way both your pockets and your soul would always be full. Well, this story is about just that. Meet Caleb Shepard, an 18 year-old adventure-seeker whose journey with &Beyond extended far beyond the safari experience and into a photographic internship. Here is Caleb’s story, a wonderful tale of adventure and not knowing what comes next:

From the age of nine, my life was strongly influenced by two people – my Dad and my stepmother. In addition to the usual things that kids learn, my Dad showed me how to use a camera and my stepmother ensured that my brother and I got to experience the most incredible holidays at various destinations throughout South Africa. &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve became a destination I was promised I would visit as soon as I was old enough and my first visit to Phinda Mountain Lodge was an experience I will never forget. Encountering the world of &Beyond for the first time, I was mesmerised by the beauty of the reserve and blown away by the rangers who treated me as an equal, not just a kid and showed such interest in my questions.

Various trips to Phinda followed – each one as exciting as the previous – and gradually I started to understand the challenges of capturing wildlife on camera. I was fortunate to be a pupil of Westville Boy’s High School, which offers an incredible Art curriculum that includes the opportunity to utilise the school’s extensive photographic equipment. My all-consuming passion for photography made the selection of Art as a subject for Matric a no-brainer, and in my final matric Art project, I published a book of my wildlife photography entitled “Fragility” in which I wrote:

“I am a child of Africa. I was born with the sun on my back and the open plains before my eyes; plains that teemed with wildlife. In the noise and chaos of life, the escape to the African plains has restored my equilibrium and renewed my soul. We talk of ‘rights’ when we should talk of ‘responsibilities’ and the greatest should surely be to live this life by adding, and not by depleting. Each of us has the capacity to give back, to make a difference and to arrest the crisis. Let our legacy not be one of extinction. Let my images convey this message and remind us all of the precious beauty of God’s creatures and their fragility.”

In many of our family chats around the dinner table over the years, we would plan the next family adventure and a trip to Namibia was discussed as being something that every person should experience. Initially, I wondered whether a trip to the desert with very little wildlife was really going to be that exciting, particularly as we had just celebrated my Dad’s 50th birthday at &Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp – I was convinced that nothing could beat that experience! A trip to Sossusvlei to celebrate my 18thbirthday was planned. Not for one minute could I have imagined how my life would change as a result.

In January 2016 we travelled to &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge and my 18th birthday was celebrated dining on top of the sand dunes under the stars. Nothing prepared me for the beauty of the dunes, the sunsets and the night skies. The staff, and in particular our guide George, took great pleasure in showing us the secrets of Sossusvlei and I revelled in the photographic opportunities that Namibia offered.

On my return home, feeling quite nostalgic, I visited the &Beyond website and discovered that a photography competition had been running for a few months. I had been 18 for two days and accordingly was entitled to participate. Knowing just what an amateur I am, but wanting to share the photos of the amazing trip I had just returned from, I entered the competition. No one could have been more surprised than me when I heard that I had won that month’s category entitled “Care of the People”, and winning the following month’s category called “Care of the Land” completely floored me. The news that I had won the overall prize left me speechless – something that my family will tell you seldom occurs.

The four nights I spent at both &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp and the newly-rebuilt &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge as the category prize were exhilarating – sightings of leopard and African wild dogs filled the memory cards in my camera in no time, leaving me wondering what could ever top that experience. The trip to East Africa as the overall prize was for two people and it was a fitting tribute to my Dad and the role he has played in encouraging my love for photography, that I was able to have him with me. We embarked on the trip of a lifetime, our luggage comprising more camera equipment than clothing, and together we experienced the treasures of all that Tanzania has to offer.

I will forever remember:

  • Meeting our guide Erick at Mount Kilimanjaro airport – a man who I am proud to say has accepted me as a friend and whose passion and commitment to &Beyond and all that it stands for has inspired me;
  • The welcome we received from May, Linda, Dave, Yona and their respective teams at the lodges – who treated us like royalty and made us feel as if we were the most valued guests they had ever met;
  • The flocks of pelicans – too many to count – that filled the sky with colour when they flew;
  • Sundowners at the edge of Lake Manyara, watching the light change;
  • Being told by Erick to close my eyes as we approached the summit of the Ngorongoro Crater, and then instructed to open them as we reached the top – the vast crater landscape lying before us like an open book of infinite beauty;
  • The sheer magnitude of the herds of wildlife teeming over the plain – wildebeest, lion, hippo, crocodiles and the Colobus monkeys – a first for me;

I started 2016 as a 17-year-old visiting Namibia with my family and the year closed off with me being able to experience what makes the amazing lodges operated by &Beyond function as they do, being able to witness first-hand the community projects undertaken by them, and grasping fully the three core values treasured by them. I have learnt about the importance of teamwork in the workplace (not just on the hockey field) and the opportunity I have been given to participate in their team has been the greatest privilege and the realisation of yet another of my dreams.

~ Caleb Shepard

All images © Caleb Shepard Photography.


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