Backup Trails Guides
Another amazing week of walking through the bush on Amakhala Game Reserve!
We started the week in the classroom with lectures specifically aimed at learning how to approach animals on foot, animal diseases and incident and crime scene management. Three very different but equally important topics. Something that was especially interesting for me was to learn about animal diseases and the impact they have on farmers and the economy.
Tuesday was a very sunny day and it started off early, meeting in the lodge at 06:00am. We had a great day; for me the highlight of this day was following the tracks of an elephant bull. We did not get to see the elephant but we knew that we were very close behind it. The tracks and signs we followed included footprints, dung, the markings of its trunk in the soil, small pieces of freshly broken vegetation and even the scent of the animal. After sometime following the elephant it was decided to head in a different direction and here we came across a group of eland and some zebra, with a beautiful view of the valleys behind them. Also, we even identified the footprints of a grasshopper!
Wednesday morning we left Ulovane camp prepared for an overnight sleepout on Amakhala. This day was my first day on the rifle, fulfilling the role as a back-up trails guide. This means that you start the day by giving a briefing and calling in your intended walk on the radio channel of the reserve. During the walk, it’s important to keep all your senses open and aware and to stay focused at all times, informing the lead guide of anything relevant that you notice. Another task of the back-up is client care, ensuring that everyone is happy and doing well. It was a fantastic experience to walk as a back-up, however, it was also harder than I had expected. This is because besides the constant focus you need to maintain, the rifle is also just very heavy. In the afternoon we made our way to one of the camping spots on the reserve, made a fire and had a braai. Thereafter, we went for a night drive through the park which was absolutely fantastic! I had hoped to see an aardvark, but this nocturnal animal we, unfortunately, couldn’t find. But, we did see a lot of springhares, which are very interesting creatures. And, we saw the biggest meteor/shooting star I have ever seen!
During the night we all kept watch in shifts of two students at a time. My shift was the last one, from 4:45 am until 7:00 am, which was magic as I got to see the sunrise and the changing of the bush from night to day. On Thursday we did a mock tracking assessment. This consisted of driving through the game reserve and stopping at various locations to identify animal tracks and signs. I did not know beforehand that we would do the tracking this day, but it was a nice surprise as we were all very tired after the sleepout, during which we could hear the lions roaring the whole night.
Friday’s walk was along the Bushman’s river, looking for the hippos. We did not find the hippos, but again we did find their tracks and we found some buffalo tracks too.
Every day that we walk through the reserve is amazing and unique, experiencing the best of the natural environment. And although I love safaris and game drives, it is even better when you are on foot because you really become part of the environment and you see so much more of the smaller details.
On Saturday we started off with some maintenance work on the reserve, continuing to help restore the location, “Bush Braai”, where we did our sleepout. Saturday afternoon and the most part of Sunday we had time to finish our workbooks for the week and to study for the next exam, which will be coming on Monday.
Enjoy the journey and try to get better every day. And don’t lose the passion and the love for what you do. – Nadia Comaneci
Time flies when you’re having fun! Without us having noticed it, we’ve already been at Ulovane for a month! In this month, our Field Guide group has become a really tight unit.
Monday started with a morning of fishing on a section of Amakhala Game Reserve called Carnarvondale. The sun was shining, and it was warm enough to swim in the river. It was very exciting to learn how to fish as I had never had a fishing rod in my hands before! I say exciting, but the biggest thing I learned is that fishing takes a LOT of patience.
This week we also learned a lot about botany (Koen went all out on the Algae!) and fish. It is unbelievable how plants have evolved to reproduce so efficiently, working together with animals, insects or wind to pollinate!
On Tuesday evening, it was time for us to do something a lot of us had looked forward to; our hospitality wine pairing evening! Candice had chosen a selection of wines and we had a plate with biltong, blue and cheddar cheese, amongst other things, to pair with the wine and rate the taste on a scale of 1-10. It was a great evening and we are looking forward to testing our hosting skills in our upcoming hosting evening!
On Wednesday, the annual highlight of Amakhala Game Reserve took place! We gathered with many guides, volunteers and other enthusiasts at a lookout point on the reserve named “Gods Window”. We were then split up into 6 different groups on game viewers, with each group being allocated a section on the reserve to cover, in order to count all the animals on the reserve. The whole day was spent counting animals and trying to identify their sex and age before they run off into the bush.
We practised our tracking on Friday with a mock assessment on the reserve. We didn’t realise it would be so hard to correctly identify all the different tracks if you have never seen them before!
On Saturday, we did our part in sustainable living with some maintenance on the reserve. We removed & chopped up some dead trees in order to utilize for firewood, and we also worked in the veggie garden on campus, sorting out the beds for next season as well as picking what is still growing through the winter. On Sunday, Lloyd and Jamal participated in a trail run on a nearby farm, well-done chaps!
It was a jampacked week full of activities, both educational and fun!
Success is not a destination, but the road that you’re on. Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day. You can only live your dream by working hard towards it. That’s living your dream. Marlon Wayans