LEGEND OF THE KRUGER PARK AND GUIDING COMMUNITY
We at Nhongo Safaris would like to pay tribute to somebody who is still very much with us, as we think things should be said about a person while they are still alive, and not only at their funeral.
Frank Watts has been a friend and colleague for many years.
Firstly, been employed in the Kruger National Park as a guide, working in the northern sections of the park, conducting walking safaris and game drives, and later moving on to work for a large safari operator called Thompsons tours, also conducting wildlife safaris daily into the Kruger National Park.
We struck up a friendship while working together, talking on the radio, giving our guests the time of their lives, getting as many great animal sightings as possible that we could, but at the same time enjoying it tremendously, making peoples dreams come true.
Frank went on later to open “The Other Animal Safaris”, together with his partner Dianne.
A small company based in Hoedspruit, South Africa, doing game drives still into the Kruger National Park, together with a concession in the Greater Kruger National Park.
While reading this blog post, you might be wondering why we are writing a tribute to a guy by the name of Frank Watts, who is still alive.
Well Frank is going through a rough time currently in his life, and we think it needs to be shared.
The date was the 26th January 2023, while lying in a Johannesburg Hospital, Frank got the bad news, that he had “Terminal Pancreatic Cancer”, great gentlemen, friend and colleague was going to go through “hell”, although Frank is 73 going on 74, his energy, zest for life, is absolutely contagious.
For us here at Nhongo Safaris, who have been great friends of Frank, it was a very hard blow. We always thought that Frank would go on forever, even after not seen him for a while, we would just carry on with our conversation were we left of the last time we spoke.
Below is an excerpt from “Franks Facebook Page”, on what he went through, up to the point of getting back home after the terrible news that he received.
MY LAST SAFARI
“One month short of 3 years ago the world went into lockdown which dragged on month after month. We watched our lives falling apart as we lost everything – our business, our home, all our plans for the future. We grew closer as a family as we pulled together to survive. We learnt appreciation for the life we still had and found the value in the things one cannot buy. The love we feel for each other and more importantly our health.
The months and the years went by and slowly, somehow we got through the ravishes of covid.
My life was back on track, business was picking up, we were slowly rising from the ruins of the pandemic. I was doing the odd safari and spending hours in the gym. I was tanned and fit and happy – at 73 going on for 74 my status “18 ‘till I die” never looked so intact. The cardinal sin of taking things for granted slipped unseen back into my life. My bulging biceps and flat belly set me up for a crash that in my wildest imagination I could never have imagined.
It was June 2022 and the winter cold was really getting to me but not quite as much as a persistent belly ache that had started and gradually worsened. When it started waking me up at night I decided it warranted a trip to the doctor. This was the start of a very frustrating journey of tests, hospitalisation, more tests and finally a transfer to a medical facility in Johannesburg. On the way I had a kidney stone removed, my gall bladder removed and what felt like half my blood sucked out of me for test after test.
I could deal with everything except watching the alarming weight loss. I watched the tight sleeves of my T shirt trying to contain my biceps start flapping in the early morning breeze and my torso disappearing to where I could count my ribs. I shed 20 kilograms in a frighteningly short period of time. There was no doubt that there was something seriously wrong with me.
After two weeks in hospital I was lying in a hospital in Johannesburg waiting for the results of a biopsy taken from a lesion located on my pancreas. I was desperately depressed, the unknown allowing my imagination to run rampant. What little sleep I managed to have was scarred by nightmares. I knew that whatever was wrong I could not come back from this. I was emotionally and physically broken, a skeleton covered with skin weighing 56 kilograms, all alone in a huge hospital miles from my little home in the bush.
I was informed that the results of the biopsy were out. Separated by distance but connected by a tiny screen, Di and I waited impatiently for the doctor to visit. The consult was kind of like a dream, like I was sitting watching what was going on. The doctor was really sympathetic as he informed me in a soft, kind voice the dreaded words “you have cancer”. Di, always pragmatic and seeking answers, had obviously done some research and asked a number of pertinent questions about pancreatic cancer, treatments, operations & prognosis, all of which the Dr answered with an incredible amount of compassion, empowering us to ultimately be able to make wise choices.
I lay in my bed, my gaze going from the doctor sitting next to my bed to Di’s worried face looking at us from the screen of my cell phone.
The doctor who was obviously very caring tried to present the best case scenario but Di’s questions chipped away at whatever unrealistic hope there was as I heard my life shrinking.
He finally shook my hand, told me the Oncologist would see me in the morning and walked out of the ward. Holding my cell phone I looked at Di. There was so much going on in my head but there was nothing I could say. Di also just looked at me fighting the tears and we agreed to wait until I had seen the Oncologist before we formulated any plans.
I could see palm trees from my bed and watched the fronds swaying gently in the breeze, brushing the pink from the clouds as the setting sun left the last bit of light on the 26th January 2023 exactly one month ago. I did not sleep that night. I thought of our journey through covid and how we learnt to take one day at a time and embrace the wonderful things we had and how we finally recovered to once again accept the life we had and not think too much of where we had come from and what we had lost.
The Oncologist visited the next morning and once again as he sat next to my bed, my brave partner ran the show from the screen of my cell phone. He was more realistic and although he gave us some remnant of hope, it entailed chemo therapy for months for what appeared to me very little return on the investment of the suffering that came with it. He too shook my hand and eventually stalked out of the room leaving Di watching me from the screen of my phone. Once again the words escaped us and we decided to address everything when she picked me up and we were able to spend time in the car on our journey home.
The 5 hours we spent in the car allowed us to laugh and cry and reminisce and plan. We held hands the whole way and I felt a bond develop that I knew would carry me through my final journey. My world had shrunk – my future was a mirage and my past was a bundle of memories which I would spend hours sorting out, eliminating all the regrets and what ifs so it was a kaleidoscope of happy times which would enable me to face the end with strength. I also needed to be happy during the days I had left before I finally succumbed to the inevitable.
The appreciation I believed covid taught me went to a whole new level.
My little world now consists of short walks up and down the road in front of our house waving at the people driving to work, reading and being with my family. We smile more than we cry. Living on a wildlife estate I am close to nature – I can hear the frogs after the rain, the birds singing to the sun every morning and the breeze whispering through the trees. I am afraid at times but mostly I am ok.
The support I have received from my loved ones and friends has humbled me. I do not know how long I have left or how it is going to be towards the end but I am taking one small step at a time getting as much enjoyment as I can from my final safari - a journey that will take me, I am sure to the depths of despair but also to the heights of being loved and supported.
In the words of someone famous (or not so famous) - we are human beings, not human doings. We are not here to "do", but rather to "be". If nothing else, this last part of my journey will bring me that. The time to focus on being present, being loved, being connected”. End
It is with great sadness that we write this blog post, but we know full well, that Frank will always stay a cherished friend, somebody who we had great chats with, and somebody with time for everybody.
I am just sorry, that more people did not have the chance to meet him, and have the ultimate pleasure of doing a multiple day, or just a day safari with him.
As you know, when having cancer, and trying to keep alive, there are always added costs, there is also the business of leaving loved ones, with the possibility of having to go through rough times.
We as a company, would like to share Frank’s “Back a buddy Page”, if there is anybody willing to help cover mounting costs, as well as sustaining life, after the passing on of Frank, we would really appreciate your donation to the cause.
Frank has also been the author of a book that he has written, called “The Other Animals of the Kruger National Park”.
It is available online and is worth the read.
Here is the link to purchase the book online.
Frank was also the guide involved in “The Battle at Kruger” video, that was aired on “Youtube” and “National Geographic” channels.
It was the 1st August 2007, when Frank drove into the parking lot at “Transport Dam”, that he got together with his American client, a animal sighting that would change the history books.
Over the years, it has amased 66 million views, and 79 000 comments, from people that have watched it over the years.
Below is the video, taken by Franks client while on safari in the Kruger National Park.
Thank you for taking the time to read this tribute to a wonderful friend, colleague, and all-round good guy.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you daily at this time my friend together with Dianne, as you go through this time in your lives.