Talking to Jan Bester from True South Travel
Jan Bester is the owner of the eco-tour company True South Travel, and he has been a specialist guide in the Swartberg Mountains for more than 10 years. His passion for the area is tangible. His excitement to share the wow-moments, the views, the geological wonders and fascinating bits of information adds to the experience and what might look like 20-something kilometres of gravel travel, gets turned into a treasure chest of finds, a journey of exploration that is more than meets the eye, more than what you could have ever bargained for.
Apart from his avid appreciation for nature, Bester is also passionate about leaving a legacy through encouraging responsible tourism practices. As the founder of the H.O.P.E Foundation he believes in empowering the local community and in association with the Landmark Foundation there is also the Leopard & Predator Project in the Swartberg Mountains; the ongoing leopard project is now one of the largest studies in world using GPS collars and survey cameras to help them understand the relationship between people and predators.
Jan finds fulfillment in introducing his guests to the simple things in life which restores purpose and says, “some things you just can’t buy with your VISA card…”
While exploring the area with Jan, a few questions came to mind. Here’s what he had to say.
For a lot of people, a mountain is just a mountain, but there’s definitely something special – even magical – about the Swartberg Mountains. What is it about the area that draws you back time and again?
The Swartberg Pass epitomises a bygone era when things were simpler, and people were in harmony with nature. A time before technology hijacked our lives and where people did not feel awkward when surrounded by the silence of nature and their own thoughts.
What is a hidden secret or titbit of information that not a lot of people know about the Swartberg region?
This UNESCO World heritage site treasures multiple spectacular caves in the limestone belt at the southern foothills of the mountain. These caves still offer mesmerising live crystals, stalagmites and stalactites, and remind us of how it used to be before humans invaded the region.
Tell us more about how the H.O.P.E Foundation is changing the lives of people in the community.
The H.O.P.E Foundation (www.hopefoundation.co.za) focuses not only on the well-being of the children of the Cango Valley but we also aspire to empower local communities by training indigenous Khoi guides. Our region is blessed with the abundance of indigenous knowledge and we want travellers who visit our region to experience the Swartberg Mountains through the eyes of a descendant of the first people who inhabited this region.
As an eco-tour operator, how can each individual take up the responsibility as custodian of our natural environment and heritage, in their immediate surroundings?
I believe that in principle we should all take responsibility to become ‘change agents’ at an individual level. We live in an era of self-centredness and non-accountability. Nature can no longer afford our consumer-paradigm. We need to fundamentally change the way we look at life and the environment around us. The current course we are on is not sustainable if we want future generations to enjoy the same privileges as we have.
Apart from the Swartberg Mountains and all it offers, what other natural areas in the region are close to your heart?
This is a difficult question to answer. For more than 12 years I have travelled our beautiful country as a national guide. I personally like to escape to the peaceful tranquility of the great open plains of the Great Karoo. I love the Anysberg reserve. I am also fond of the Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape.
To keep up with Jan’s mountain escapades and travels, and to book your own unique experience with him, visit his website and follow him on social media.
And visit www.truesouthtravel.co.za to find out more.