Apprentice Trails Guides
Our Italian Chiara, was with us last year on the 10-week Apprentice Field guide course, which she successfully completed and very quickly decided she had to come back for more of ‘her Africa’ to experience the bush on foot through the Apprentice Trails guide course. Read on for a moving account of her time here!
Time flies. And with time, memories also fly. But they don’t fly away. They fly within us, and if I close my eyes, they now flypast with these 7 weeks. Rather. These 17 weeks! It seems to me yesterday that I arrived at the airport in my yellow sweatshirt and Candice and Melissa welcomed us with their smiles. It seems to me yesterday that I shook hands with my companions who at the time were just plain strangers in front of an airport. It seems to me yesterday.
Exactly 5 months have passed since that day, those strangers have become the best adventure companions I could have, and Melissa and Candice have become part of what I can call, a family. Yes, because after 17 weeks together, here in Ulovane you can’t just consider yourself part of a school. You are part of a family, in the same way, a real big family lives the daily life with passion and determination, trying to achieve goals together. Mama Thabs and Mama Joyce who allowed us to study in peace, preparing hot dishes and taking care of our rooms, Jacques who made sure that the kitchen was always full of food and that with his sympathy and his jokes he brought the joy even when maybe we were anxious about exams.
Pete, Shani, and Justin, who accompanied us by the hand in this growth, with the patience and enthusiasm of those who seem to have started teaching yesterday … but with the skills and experience of those who have lived their whole life in the bush. Who, with a joke, with a scolding, someone with a smile, advice, a hug, a laugh, an example … for me they were not only instructors and teachers of “notions”, but they were teachers of ethics and life.
Schalk, who is like a true great dad taught us the art of being a guide: one day was enough, sometimes even an hour with him and the brain was already so full of information and thoughts that you were struggling not to ask any more questions. He is one of those people who, in the way he teaches, encourages to ask questions, stimulating curiosity, critical thinking, and research. Candice who from afar is like a mother hen has always made us feel safe and protected, taking care of every detail. Melissa… for me Melissa was like a sister (and as I write this page I’m crying at the thought of having to say goodbye tomorrow). We sit under the stars and talk about philosophy, walk together in the bush and laugh for a millipede, understand each other without even speaking… Melissa is one of those rare souls that you meet a few times in your life, but that when you meet you are sure that they will remain in you forever.
And then there are my fellow students, the brothers, and sisters of this adventure, who together with me have shared the magnificent experience of living in the bush for these 17 weeks. Brothers and friends, who made sure that there was a laugh behind each exam, who made every effort a challenge, who healed my wounds and accompanied my soul on this journey. This has been my family for the past 17 weeks. A family that I struggle to leave behind. And while I’m here writing this page, I’m sitting in the shade of a tree, in the grass … zebras run around me and a few meters away there are impalas and springboks enjoying the last rays of the sun. I will miss this lawn, this smell of wet grass, this red earth and this sunset that kept me company every evening during my walks. And it seems yesterday that with the fear and emotion of a European in Africa alone, I set foot in this “home”, it all seemed strange, all so new. I remember that my heart was beating fast and that I was so nervous and agitated… now the paths of this bush have become without secrets. I walked them, I explored them, I smelt them; I lay there to look for traces and tracks left behind; I climbed trees to photograph birds and hid behind bushes to observe animals… this has become my home and just like the whole family, it will take so much effort to close the gate behind me in a few days’ time.
It seems like yesterday and in these 5 months, I have grown as never in my life in such a short time. Africa made me grow as a guide, as a person, as a woman. I learned not to give up in the face of difficulties, I learned to manage hunger and sleep (not always though :), I learned to know myself, to give a name to my emotions. Looking at the animals and observing them from afar, in the ethics of respect for nature, this experience made me understand how human beings, out of the bush, is a destructive and dangerous animal. Being here, amid trees, lions and the savannah, made me feel protected, much more than in any other city.
This page of my blog is almost finished and I realized that I have not written anything about this last week yet… the truth is that I cannot write about only 7 days, although magnificent and intense, when there are 7 weeks behind us of walking among the elephants, lions running behind warthogs, sleep out under the stars, laughter around the fire, walking in the rain, sand in the hair, beautiful flowers that framed our steps, jumping springbok, majestic giraffes walking a few meters from us, butterflies, scorpions, colorful birds, rhinos that vocalized among themselves, red sunsets and pink sunrises. How can I write only for 7 days?
The last 3 days of walking, the mock assessments for Maurice and Lucian and their final exam. What to say? It was a great pride for all of us to be able to see our two companions – brothers finally as group leaders, proud and authoritative, in the middle of the bush. It was a pride to see them grow as guides! Together we still explored the meadows, the rocks, the animals with binoculars, the tracks, the insects, we still smelled the most stinking dung and together, we laughed together, again, like the first day.
We had dinner together in a beautiful hosting evening organized by the boys of the Apprentice Field guides: an evening with a South African theme, between typical dances, delicious food, and the last memories made and shared together!
The week is almost over. Tomorrow we have the final exam and our graduation. The sun is setting, disappearing behind the cliffs. The sky has turned orange. As it always has in the past 5 months.
This place will stay in my heart forever, and I know I’ll be opening that gate again soon.
This is not a farewell, Ulovane! See you soon.
Thanks for being the chameleon that allowed me to see nature and life at 360 degrees!
“Don’t worry if people think you’re crazy. You are crazy. You have that kind of intoxicating insanity that lets other people dream outside of the lines and become who they’re destined to be.”―
Simon, from the Netherlands, has joined us for our six-month course at Ulovane, where he will be doing the Apprentice Field, Apprentice Trails and Marine guide courses. Simamkele is from a nearby town near the famous Addo Elephant National Park and is one of the three candidates from our recent partnership with the Wilderness Foundation Africa. They are here to share week 7 of their Apprentice Field guide course with you all!
This week has been a thrilling week for sure. We had mock drives throughout the week, as well as the hosting evening and still going strong with the mock drives.
We started the week off with a lecture on mammals. These last few weeks all the lectures have been focusing on animal species, which for me personally has been very interesting as the animal life is the reason that I came to Africa in the first place. We learned about the different classifications of mammals, some interesting facts about the different families and Justin gave us the tip to read up on the behavior of some common mammals.
I couldn’t pick just one, but the moments that stand out for me this week came on the mock game drives. I loved being out on the reserve as many times as we have been the last week and especially on the morning drive, we had some great sightings. As Rebecca was driving us towards a coalition of two male cheetahs, one of us spotted a slender white bird standing on long legs walking gracefully trough the field; a pair of secretary birds! Secretary birds (in my opinion) are the most skilled and incredible birds in South-Africa: not only do they look like a dinosaur, but they sound like it too (as we had just learned the week before). They feed by literally kicking and stomping snakes to death, and despite being mostly ground-dwelling birds, they haven’t lost their ability to fly, which gives them the advantage of being able to nest on top of trees and shrubs. I had never seen them in real life before, so seeing them walking through the open, grassy plains was one of the coolest moments of the week.
At the end of the week, on a cool and wet Friday morning, we left Ulovane under the guidance of Yannick, not yet knowing what a great morning of sightings it would be. Being the good student that I am, I followed Justin’s advice and read up on some mammal behavior, so when we drove past a bachelor group of (male) red hartebeest scraping their hooves and faces on the ground, making a distinct huffing noise and sizing each other up, I knew we were in for a treat. A few of the males moved towards one another and started smashing their heads into each other! We could hear the ‘crashing’ sound of horn on horn, skull smashing into skull, as the two youngsters fought. Eventually, one of the males gave ground and retreated. The other male gave chase for a few 100 meters before parading back to the group.
When we drove further along on, we came across the main herd of hartebeest being in absolute chaos. Some of the calves were running away from a group of younger males, while making panicked noises, trying their best not to get headbutted. Just as it seemed the calves had run out of energy, the dominant male returned and drove the young males away.
The hartebeests weren’t the only animals looking for a scrap that day. We drove past two majestic waterbucks locking horns and trying to overpower each other and towards the end of the drive, we saw giraffe using their long necks as a whip to try and beat the opponent into submission. This showed us all that an animal doesn’t have to be of the Big 5 to make for an awesome sighting!
We also had our hosting evening this week. Everyone was part of a team and I was the unquestionable head of the decor team. As a theme, we had chosen South-Africa, so myself and my talented team had to come up with something good. In all seriousness, we all helped each other with ideas and in the end, it was a lot of fun to do and the decor turned out great. Matthijs, Oscar, and Megan all did a fantastic job. The hosting evening went way smoother than I had expected beforehand. The hosting team ran smooth and the kitchen produced some great food. We had an entertaining spectacle at the end of the evening, in which I had the honor to embarrass myself by dancing in front of the guests. I think all the guests left happy and satisfied after a great evening.
However, this was not the end of the festivities for this week, because on Friday evening we celebrated all the Apprentice Trails guide students successfully graduating from their course. It was a busy but fun night and a good farewell to the Apprentice Trails guides. I will not tell much more about the night; as they say: “What happens in the bush, stays in the bush!”.
My highlight of this week must be the night of the hosting evening which Simon described the details of so well above!
It was a very beautiful night where everyone showed dedication and hard work as a team can contribute towards the incredible and successful evening, we ended up pulling off. I, from personal experience, learned that with teamwork, anything is possible. My favorite moment of the evening though, if I had to choose one, was when we had to do an impromptu performance in front of our guests, as a form of entertainment to complement the South African theme and wrap up the festivities of the night.
Myself and my 3 colleagues and friends, Anthony and Sinethemba, played the African drum and sang and danced a traditional African dance, which was incredible to do, especially with Luan from Ireland and Simon, from the Netherlands, joining us in this action! That traditional dance healed me spiritually because, at some point, we as the young generation seem to have abandoned our cultures and traditions, so I was very happy and proud to embrace it. I also learned that it is very important to value and respect other people’s opinions and ideas.
“When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be.”Thomas S. Monson