The last three years have seen Amos Kaggwa live his dream of being being paid to travel. As a driver of missionaries in East Africa, Kaggwa on a number of occasions, found himself chauffeuring missionaries to game parks whenever they wanted to unwind from the mission work.
It was during those frequent visits that he thought of pursuing a career in tour guiding. During such adventures, he frequently met and interacted with guides in different tourist destinations.
His early days as a guide
On one of his driving routines, Kaggwa met Herbert Byaruhanga, who was an experienced professional guide and a general secretary of Uganda Safari Guides Association. Byaruhanga, who was also a managing director at Bird Uganda Safaris, interested Kaggwa in early 2018 in the tour guide business.
“I picked interest and enrolled at Tourism Institute of East Africa to pursue a certificate in travel in 2018. Whenever I got time, I would guide tourists behind the scenes until I graduated,” says Kagwa.
Kaggwa specialised in tourism hospitality and administration and it took him a year to complete the course. Another 21-day certificate at the African Institute of Tourism and Field Guiding in Nature Guiding, Birding and Botany saw him officially kick off his career as tour guide.
Today, Kaggwa is a freelance guide, naturist and a wildlife photographer in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda with scores of tours under his belt.
The tour guide cum wildlife photographer has his base in Bwebajja off Entebbe Road, but the road has become his other office because he is always on the move.
“The privilege I have as a freelance guide is that I work with different companies, which gives me an opportunity to go about my photography business during safari breaks,” he says.
Being a tour guide comes with a catalogue of tasks. His everyday job is to show first-time travellers and repeated tourists their way to different destinations across the country.
This means his work is part of someone’s holiday or safari memories. Travelling across the world assume that as a tour guide, I must have an idea on most of the cultures and this calls for continuous learning.
“A small sign, symbol or gesture can upset a client while on a trip. How I handle clients matters a lot,” he explains.
The life of a tour guide is seemingly desirable but there is distress behind the glamour. Having to deal with different cultures comes with its own challenges.
“I have met tourists with temperaments that have tested my patience. Some argue about the weather and traffic and sometimes no amount of explanation will calm them down,” he says.
But the business has taught him to keep his cool amidst such tests. Patiently and professionally communicating with clients has been his winning strategy.
This is why he believes that communication is a vital skill for any tour guide. “Tourists rely on tour guide for direction, estimates of travel distances and time, sharing facts and information and keeping them entertained during the tour. As such, a tour guide must speak fluently and coherently and without it, no one will listen to you or pay close attention to whatever you say or direct them to do,” he advises.
A tour guide’s life also involves staying away from home for long. Kagwa says on one of the safari’s, he had to spend 30 days traversing Uganda and Kenya.
Preparing for a tour
Away from the excitement of travelling to different destinations, there is a lot more that goes into leading tours. Preparations are required or else the tourists will be left with many unanswered questions thus, giving a poor review of the tour guide and a tourist site.
Kaggwa, who prefers receiving a tour notification a week earlier, breaks down his preps into six parts namely personal preparations, crafting personal stories, looking smart, presentable and audible, time management and being precise.
“No matter how much you know about almost every destination in a specific country, as a guide you should research as much as you can,” he says.
According to Kaggwa, crafting personal stories adds colour to a tour experience. “It’s not all about a destination; it’s also about you,” he says.
He emphasises that first impression is the last impression. In this business, Kaggwa says every tour guide would rather wait for clients than vice versa.
Most tourists endure long flights and journeys and this is why it is important not to keep them waiting. Kaggwa breaks down some items a tour guide can carry.
“A guide’s carry list involves a pen, a digital camera, books, binoculars, scoop net for butterfly watchers, a speaker, pointer for birdwatchers, a metre ruler, a portable first aid kit, route charts, tour plans and itineraries, a map, a phone, a knife and a toolbox, among others,” he recommends.
For the years he worked as a guide, Kaggwa has had some memorable experiences, but one stands out.
On day six of a seven-day tour to Kidepo Valley National Park, he captured a fascinating up-close shot of eight lions.
He had led tourists through Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa and Pain Upe Wildlife Reserve in Moroto. The team passed through Sironko, Nakapiripirit, Moroto, Kotido and Kaboong but Kidepo was the icing on the cake.
“It was my first time to visit this park and I had this whole version of Murchison and Queen Elizabeth type of parks in my mind. But I was amazed by the wilderness in Kidepo. During our game drive in the park under the stunning sunrise, just before the Kidepo Aerodrome, we met a pride of eight lions on what is commonly known as The Lion Rocks,” he recalls.
He says this has been the highlight of his safari career. As the team relaxed on the tracks, they spent two hours interacting, sharing knowledge and facts about these special and social cats in the Felida family.
Best tourist attraction site
The mountain gorillas which reside in Mt Mgahinga National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Volcanoes National park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park of DR Congo have a special place in Kaggwa’s heart.
“I am intrigued by how these apes are closely related to us and how their behaviour depicts human nature by 97 per cent. The eyes, giant fingers and their adaptation to live in the bamboo zones are breathtaking moments,” he says.
Kaggwa’s nightmare happened at Lake Mburo National Game Park. “I had a client with a mental disorder. The three days we spent there turned into three years as I turned into a full-time storyteller for more than 14 hours,” he recalls.
Instead of getting irritated, he felt like a winner, knowing that he had tactfully found a way of dealing with the client.
Near death experience
On the evening of June 6, 2019, Kaggwa and a group of tourists came face to face with death in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park.
A herd of elephants surrounded their vehicle for about two hours.
“I was driving at 10km per hour through shrubs and trees and elephants kept us under siege. Then came a matriarch with a calf about eight months old and she stayed in the middle of the road right in front of us,” he says.
The calf would later race towards the car, sending shivers down Kaggwa and his clients’ spines. Their only way out was to keep calm as the matriarch watched over her baby with her trunk raised up to bonnet of the Landcruiser.
“All of the sudden, another herd gathered and we had no escape route. I advised my clients to stay calm and silent as this was just for a moment. It’s as if the savanna giants heard me whispering to the clients and they stayed for two hours, feeding from the acacias and stems around us until they moved to the next feeding ground,” he says.
The track was clear once again at 8:20pm with a 3km drive. It was a dangerous but captivating experience that the tourists kept talking about for days.
Kaggwa says tour is a guiding a great career full of adventure, knowledge sharing, learning and most importantly, making friends across the world.
Guiding is a fun-filled job that involves spending days interacting with nature. However, it is not a job that will show up on any school’s quiz.
It is a practical based job away from theoretical module offered by institutions. Determine whether you actually want this job and acquire the necessary skills.
Determine what kind of guiding you want, whether a nature walk guide, motro coach city guide, museum guide, adventure guide, tourist driver guide, birder, or a professional private guide (freelance tourist guide) and get the required training and licences.
With these under your belt, apply to any tour company or start your own company provided you have enough resources.