Apprentice Trails Guides
Jenna is with us here at Ulovane for the full-year course. She joined us as she has a huge love for the bush and would like to pursue a career as a guide with the aim of moving up to lodge management. Jenna is on the Apprentice Trails Guide course now, and WOW, WHAT an incredible story she has to tell of week 4 of their course!!!
This week was one of the most amazing weeks on our Apprentice Trails Guide course so far.
Our week was scheduled to start with a walk, but we had to call it off because the wind was blowing at speeds of about 40km/h in the morning and almost 70km/h in the afternoon. Wind is one of the most important environmental factors to consider when going on a walk because it carries our scent towards the animals if not blowing in our favour, and the animals themselves are nervous and skittish in very windy conditions because essentially their guard won’t be as sharp as normal in order to detect any danger approaching them. All in all, windy conditions are NOT safe to walk in for both us and the animals. The day was not wasted however, as we had a very informative and helpful lecture on approaching animals on foot, animal diseases and incident and crime scene management. It was all very interesting and I enjoyed the lectures thoroughly.
We had a very exciting and interesting walk on Tuesday afternoon; we followed the tracks and feeding signs of an elephant herd in the hopes of catching a glimpse of them. We followed for about 10 km but unfortunately, we were unable to see them. It was still a beautiful walk because we went to places in the reserve I had never seen before.
Wednesday!! The day we set out on our three-day walk and two night sleep out on Amakhala Game Reserve. It was a tough challenge but the most amazing experience ever! Over the three days, we walked a total of about 40km. I was a little nervous when we left on Wednesday morning as it was my first time on second rifle, walking as a back-up guide. I wasn’t sure if I could do it but to my amazement and positive mindset, I completed the 15km walk! It was tiring and very hard, but I felt so proud and accomplished once we reached our spot in the bush where we camped – under some beautiful and old Milkwood trees. Once at the camp, we set up where we were going to sleep and then collected wood for the fire. Not with firelighters or a lighter!! But with traditional fire-making tools that the Maasai tribe in Kenya use. Without practice in the skill, the technique is very precise so sometimes it takes hours but luckily for us, we had the ‘braai master’ Francois, with his lucky hands, and it took us less than 5 minutes!! Once the fire was going, we sat together discussing the day’s activities, and the night watch around the fire that lay ahead, as we were completely submerged in the middle of the bush on Amakhala Game Reserve; no fences and animals all around us! It is imperative to take shifts to tend the fire and have two people awake to watch the camp while everyone tries to get some sleep in. My shift was from 3 to 5 am.
Once my shift had ended, the most amazing thing happened to me!! I was on a bathroom break and the next thing TWO HONEYBADGERS ran right passed me, less than 2 metres from where I was! MIND-BLOWING!
That day we walked to an area on Amakhala known as the ‘Little Grand Canyon’. It is truly a magnificent place. It is an area of eroded gullies that formed from a very old cattle pathway that collapsed and over time the elements have shaped it to what we see today. We made yet another incredible discovery here; the Lanner Falcon is a bird of prey that is classified as near threatened, and we discovered a female NESTING with a chick on the cliffs on the Canyon. We are very privileged to have witnessed this!
After a wonderful rest here, our group decided to walk through an area of the reserve no one walks in, a section of the valleys on the reserve. I am so glad we did because it was the most beautiful place ever; the place where the elephants on the reserve go when it is windy and cold. We followed and walked along the same path they use, which was amazing to almost ‘walk in their footsteps’ and see what they go through daily. Whilst down there, we followed the call of a bird people travel far and wide to see, a Scaly-throated Honeyguide! What a truly magnificent day!
Shani then joined us at our camp that afternoon, arriving with treats for us all which we had an awesome treasure hunt for! The hunt tested our direction skills to find the treats, which were condensed milk, caramel treat and a tin of mixed fruit.
When we got to back to camp, we had a very interesting activity where we had to make something out of the natural environment around us. I made tongs to pick up our cans of food once they have been heated up in the fire, Sandra made a dream catcher, Chris, a guide from Amakhala who joined us, made a pillow out of grass. Then we all sat around the fire and tried to sell our products to each other! We were all exhausted and most of us went to bed early, but only an hour after falling asleep I was woken up to move around to the fire as the Anti-poaching Unit from the reserve came to tell us that lions were very close to our camp! WHAT an eventful day from start to finish!
Friday morning at about 6 am, we left our bush camp to start the 15km walk back to Ulovane campus. About ten mins after leaving camp we encountered three buffalo bulls, which was great because we don’t see them often. Halfway through the walk, we found a skull of a very old male warthog with HUGE tusks!
Overall, we all had an amazing adventure. We were all physically and mentally exhausted, BUT so proud of ourselves for accomplishing this; we wouldn’t have changed a thing about it! We all felt we accomplished something amazing that many people may never get the chance to do.
“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” ―
Apprentice Field Guides
Meet Chiara, who is from Italy! She is with us for the 10-week Apprentice Field Guide course, fulfilling her dream of living and working in Africa. She works in Italy as a naturalistic guide, so now she would like to learn much more about Africa and have the opportunity to work in both Africa and Italy.
This week has been an intense one. As we progress further each week, we learn more and more, our heads filling up with so much information, from numbers to names of trees, plants and grasses! It is so great to see how your knowledge can increase so much, day after day. It is an amazing thing to see how there are always things to know, learn & discover; discovering new corners of science, nature… of yourself. Every day.
This afternoon, for example, I took my camera, my sunglasses and went for a walk “close to the house” to look for trees and plants to practice for the botany exam we write on Sunday. We are all used to walking out of our houses, taking the dog outside on the sidewalk in front of all the rows and rows of buildings, maybe if there are any, stop to smell flowers in the flowerbeds, a small garden or courtyard. When we leave our ‘house’ here, we are immersed in the bush. It is difficult to understand the boundary that divides the house, from the classroom to the kitchen, to the games room, to the savannah. The border is so blurred that in a moment you can end up in your pyjamas in the middle of the bush and ask yourself, “How did I end up here? I just went to the kitchen to get a cup of milk!”
You should never walk in flip-flops in nature. Never. Dangers are tripled if you have bare feet. But having your bare feet touching the African soil recharges you with all the energy loss in the rest of your previous life. It’s true! It is extremely dangerous: there are snakes, scorpions, you can stumble on the ground, but during the daylight hours, it is amazing to feel this earth on your bare feet. When I arrived here four weeks ago, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without putting on my socks and sneakers rigorously closed and tied with a double knot. Now I walk through the bare savannah and I’m not afraid of anything. Not even grasshoppers. For those who know me, they know this is a BIG accomplishment! This is what the bush does; it cleans you up. Like when you drink too much and you need water to cleanse you the next day… that’s what the bush does- it cleans you from the alcohol of life.
The music of Nature caresses my ears and the warmth of the wind illuminates my feet. I hear only the sound of crickets, the wind that resounds in the distance like a great sounding board, like those of the theatres of the 1900s. The birds sing and let themselves be carried away by the breath of the wind, they seem to fall and instead suddenly stand out again, their flight playing with gravity. I walk. I don’t feel the weight of my body, I walk, I let myself be carried away by the energy of that road that cuts the clearing in two. Trees shade the zebras and impalas that stare at me from afar. As soon as they sniff my presence, they go on the alert. They stop, they don’t eat anymore and watch me as if I am in that moment the most dangerous threat in their lives. I am at least 100/200 meters away, but it’s ‘close’ enough for them to be on guard. As soon as you exceed the distance of their comfort zone, then it’s run baby run! They all leave. First, the zebras, running on the crest of the hill, and then the springboks, jumping high in the dry grass. One after the other, they run free, in the middle of the savannah, among the green bushes, the dead trees, they run there, to where the trees are thickest and they can hide from me, a dangerous unexpected presence.
I walk on, the sun begins to fall and become orange. Its contour becomes one with that of its rays. The clouds turn orange as if we had surrounded them with the highlighter we use to study in the classroom. The sun’s rays also colour the tree trunks, which reflect warm light on the dry grass.
I walk, I feel the Nature that enters me, through every pore of my skin. I feel the red earth dirty my feet, I smell its scent in my unruly hair that is not inside an elastic. The zebras seem to be getting used to my smell. Now I have them at about 20/30 meters. They stare at me, but their ears are less alert, less straight. Some even eat, as if I didn’t exist. I walk. I let myself be carried away by the sun. Oh no, in the end, I went back to my room without even going through a single plant. I could not. The bush took my soul and I let myself be carried away by emotions, by the wonder of Africa, and I forgot to come back to myself to practice more for the exam.
Friday was a day to remember, like every day here; we went fishing, as one of the exam modules is “fish”. I have never been fishing before… it was really exciting! We arrived at the Bushman’s river at 8 am, the air was cool, the river calm and the sun was pale in the sky. We lay by the river and enjoyed the calm of the bush. The birds sang the clouds moved over the river and we waited in silence. Someone listened to music, some studied, some read, while others talked softly. There was respect. Respect for silence.
Few times do we meet the respect of silence in the city.
At one point a Common carp fish took the bait, it was a very strange feeling … I had never seen a live fish so close. It was a quiet day for catching fish with the rods, so Justin decided to let us use the fishing net. We placed ourselves along the river with the net lying on the bottom and 3 of us put ourselves on the other side, to move the fish towards the net. Once they reached the net, the others pulled it up and brought it to the shore. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much luck even with the net, mostly we only found a few small River Goby’s. Even though we got a few fish, we went home with a heart full of serenity and peace for the morning spent together.
In the afternoon, we went to see a black rhino in a sanctuary on a neighbouring reserve. His name is Munu, he is 20 years old and has been in this space for about a month. Munu was blinded from many territorial fights with other males in the national park he came from. Left to fend for himself in the wild he would hardly have had a chance to survive. He would risk being preyed on, falling, not finding food or water, so Justin’s father decided to give him another chance and brought him to this protected reserve, where he has the chance to survive and to have people taking care of him. I do not deny that it was very emotional and strange to see an animal so beautiful, so powerful, so wild, now enclosed in an enclosure, where it risked crashing into fences and doors because it was blind. Gradually over time, as he gets more and more comfortable with his living space, the rest of his enclosure will open up to give him more space. The idea is to give him the best life possible, giving him another opportunity, taking care of him and guaranteeing him a happy future, despite his handicap. Only 254 black rhinos of this subspecies remain in South Africa and therefore the role of Munu is fundamental for the conservation of the species and ensuring they don’t become extinct. For this reason, it would be wonderful if we succeeded in having Munu able to mate.
Well… I wish you a good life Munu, good luck and thanks for being so precious.
Now I have to study plants, insects and fish… the exam is approaching. I cross my fingers and thank Ulovane and the savannah for giving me the best emotions and experiences of my life.
Aim for the sky, but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all those little steps that make the journey complete. Chanda Kochhar