We have had an incredibly busy week at Ulovane this week. We experienced the full range of Eastern Cape weather within a few days, something few of us believed was possible before this week. The slogan for the Sunshine Coast should probably be “all four seasons in one day”. Both of our groups had to overcome a number of obstacles this week. For our backup trails guides it was handling firearms for the first time and unbelievable temperatures on their walk. The field guides were driving game viewers for the first time, the boys tried their hands at hosting, had an exam covering everything they have done in the last two weeks, and with all the birthdays that happened this week, trying to ice a birthday cake without a piping bag, using cling wrap and tin foil. Being at Ulovane really does teach you life skills you never anticipated you’d learn.
Thank you Chris and Martijn for this update.
Ulovane Update: Field Guides
Another week at Ulovane started, the second week for the new training group. After three days of intensive first aid training with lots of practical simulations, the new week started with a Game Drive on a sunny Monday morning. There was news about a sighting of cheetah, so we tried to follow his tracks. Soon after we found out that the cheetah had vanished in the thicket and decided to have a coffee break at a nice view point at Ubenjame Lookout. Everybody was enjoying the mild morning sun sipping at their coffee when all of a sudden, we heard a short, deep groan from the thicket not too far from us. It didn’t just sound like a lion, it was most definitely a lion. We rushed to pack up the coffee table and jumped into the vehicle, listening to the roars that followed. As it sounded close, we decided to look for the lion. After about 15 minutes we saw it majestically strolling across the plain. We continued to drive a short way and we were lucky to see the lioness pass in front of our vehicle and find a good spot to lie down. From searching for a cheetah and passing by elephants rubbing themselves against termite mounds when all of a sudden we were surprised by a lion. Always expect the unexpected in the bush. A sexy, muddy car wash at the end of the day was our cherry on top of our successful day.
However, a vehicle does not only need to be washed after muddy and dusty game drives, it also needs to be checked thoroughly in advance and a basic understanding of the functioning of the engine and transmission systems is required in case the car breaks down as well as giving an idea how to handle difficult terrain when driving. The technical details of a vehicle might not be everybody’s cup of tea but can be essential when in the field.
Unfortunately, the planned evening walk as part of the astronomy class was obstructed by clouds and surprisingly cold weather. So, we will have to wait until the evening sky is clear again to find all the beautiful star signs helpful for orientation and in general enjoy the amazing starry sky you can see in Eastern Cape far away from the artificial lights of the cities.
Middle of the week and a new day at Ulovane begins; and what a beautiful one with a full day game drive including orientation of Amakhala Game Reserve. Although the day before was tiresome with almost 40°C temperatures, we were surprised by a cloudy and cool morning. Weather in Eastern Cape seems as unpredictable as the bush. The drive started rather quiet with a beautiful highlight sighting a herd of giraffes quietly eating their own lunch just before we stopped to have ours. You would think you can always see such tall animals from far distance but in fact they are very well camouflaged A graceful sight. The game drive ended for some of us with another breathtaking sighting, a pride of lion with their morning kill, feasting in the shade. Watching a sighting like this is a privilege we sometimes have in between lecturers, learning and fulfilling community/team duties.
The following days were filled with lectures and learning as on Sunday we were to write our first exams. Five topics in one exam is quite a lot to learn, including Guiding skills, vehicle skills, astronomy and geology. Some outdoor sustainable living excercises such as collecting dung for the vegetable garden, cutting fire wood or cleaning the camp did not make it easier to learn after lunch time for Sunday’s exam because we were so tired from a morning in the sun. Regardless, we pushed through and studied hard on Saturday, so we all felt confident in the exam we wrote. A relaxed Sunday afternoon to ourselves is soothing for the soul and body after two intense and exciting weeks so far.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow” – Hellen Keller
Ulovane Update: Backup Trails
We just finished week two of the trail backup-guide course and we had our first taste of both the ever-changing weather in the Eastern Cape and firing a firearm for the first time.
One of the reasons I decided to start with the 6-month program, starting with the Field guide course in July, was that by the time I would be doing the backup-guide course, the weather would only get better. So far that predication has worked out reasonably well, perhaps a bit too well. When we were looking at the forecast for this week, we were confronted with a weather forecast of temperatures of 39°Celsius for our walking day. To make sure we were all going to survive this ‘extreme’ encounter with nature, (which for a change wasn’t actually wildlife) our alarms went off as early as 4 AM, to be back before the hottest part of the day. Everyone brought at least 2 liters of water with them, and clothing against the sun. As soon as the first light appeared on the horizon, we were off for our 6-hour scheduled walk. After only two hours of walking the temperature had already risen to to low 30’s and, with many breaks in the shade and a lot of water, we made sure that everyone was coping with the heat. With the exception of some zebra taking a refreshing drink and the numerous tortoise that clearly enjoyed the weather we didn’t see much in the first hours regarding wildlife. I honestly don’t think any of us minded that, the large amount of animal tracks we came across and the weather itself was sufficient to keep us busy and entertained.
By 9 AM the temperature had risen to such an extent that we were dressed like a group of bandits about to rob a bank; all covered with bandanas, scarves and hats to protect us against the sun and heat. After another break in the shade it was time to head back, and just after 11 AM we made it back to the vehicle, all in need of a cold, refreshing shower, but we survived.
On Friday it was time to finally do our examination for our shooting qualification. The usage of a firearm in the wild (or any circumstance for that matter) is a means of absolute last resort and many of the instructors, with their years of experience, have never fired a single round during an actual walk as a trail guide. After almost two weeks of theory and dry-runs everyone was looking forward to getting this qualification done. After a long drive in the early morning towards Port Elizabeth we started with three examinations regarding the theory of gun usage and the South African law regarding the use and safekeeping of firearms. Everyone passed these exams without too much hassle thanks to the preparation we already were given by both Ulovane, and the instructors of Falcon Firearm Academy. Now it was time for a practical exam regarding shooting and gun safety. This meant we could finally start shooting with firearms. To pass the practical exam we had to shoot 10 rounds each, on two targets, one standing 10 meters away, the other at 50 meters.
The 10-meter target was shot with a low caliber rifle (.22 caliber). The use of a low caliber rifle means there is almost no recoil, and it felt and sounded more like you were shooting one of those toy-guns/cap-guns which I used to run around with as a kid. After that it was time for the much heavier .308 caliber rifle, at a range of 50 meters and with scope. This was a completely different type of ‘beast’, every single shot you fired you could feel through every fiber in your body, not just because of the enormous bang it gave, but also because the recoil of the rifle hitting your collar bone every time you pulled the trigger. Depending on how well you controlled the rifle, you might be able to imagine that after being hit 10 or sometimes even 20 times on the same spot, some of us got a bit sour. I still really enjoyed this experience. Luckily everyone passed this exam as well. Meaning that from now, its finally time for our group to work on our firearm techniques and shooting with live rounds to get our advanced rifle handling qualifications.
“With the right kind of coaching and determination, you can accomplish anything” – Reese Witherspoon