Apprentice Field Guides
The week started off with a lecture on birds with the Trails guide instructor Piet, who is a bird specialist. I never really had any prior interest in birds before the lecture. They were pretty much just flying lizards that looked and sounded the same, not big, or impressive to me like some of the larger mammals like a lion or an elephant. I just never saw what was so special about these glorified reptiles.
However, that all changed after I took the lecture. I can comfortably say that I have been successfully converted! There are so many things that I never knew about the feathered dragons that, now that I am more aware of, am fascinated and intrigued by. I never knew how satisfying it would be to be able to hear a bird call and know which one it was. It felt like I was collecting Pokemon! I have developed a deeper admiration for birds and even the most common and seemingly unimpressive ones now pique my curiosity. It was my favourite and most interesting lecture thus far.
Tuesday was the most eventful day! We started off with the bird’s slide and sound lecture and soon after got prepared for a sleep out on Amakhala Game Reserve with the Apprentice Trails guides. We had slept out on the Carnarvondale side a few weeks earlier but there wasn’t anything too life-threatening or dangerous over there like lions, elephant or ostriches. Just a few cheetah and giraffe babies, but THIS was the real thing.
A night to Remember ~
On our game drive to the campsite that day we noticed that the elephants were making their way to the valleys that we were set to camp in. To make things more exciting we also found some lion tracks earlier that day, moving into the same area. The buffalo could be anywhere! We just needed a leopard to rock up and we would’ve had a big five extravaganza. What made it even better was that our designated camping site was in a nice little indentation on the side of the valley and was situated close to the only watering hole in the area. It was perfect.
The campsite was very relaxed upon arrival and we had a lazy afternoon collecting wood and lying about. The real fun came later that night.
As dusk turned to a moonlit night, we all gathered around the fire, quietly listening to the sounds around us and gazing into the golden embers, warming ourselves.
The trails group were nice enough to make us a few products to sell to us to aid us in our survival. I didn’t have any money with me as I left my wallet behind, but I was intrigued, nonetheless. The products were fragile string capable of breaking under tension, a mud-clay bowl that everyone tried to break to test its strength, a bouquet of flowers you can use to kill yourself with and a potential ‘knopkierie’.
But my favourite out of all of them was a sculpture of the ‘Archaeopteryx lithographica’ – meaning ‘Ancient wing scribed in stone’ – that one of the instructors made. It was crafted from a base of elephant dung, had a frame of bark and twigs and a headpiece constructed from some random animal bone. The instructor was kind enough to give it to me for free. Fantastic! It was possibly the most cursed object I have ever come across and I was convinced that if I brought it into my house my furniture would start floating. It had a haunting appearance like a scarecrow or something a ‘sangoma’ would use to cast spells. My only criticism would be that it began to fall apart in my hands as the instructor gave it to me. But other than that, impeccable quality. 10/10.
After the quick little auction, we braaied our meat and feasted. The Trails were especially grateful as they were malnourished and exhausted from their escapade.
As we got our night watch groups sorted and laid to rest for the night, we had an unexpected visitor. We didn’t hear or see it approach and most of us didn’t even realise something was there until we were all notified that an elephant bull was in the vicinity of the camp.
We were all told to remain calm and slowly make our way to the vehicle. It seemed to be the safest option until the elephant began approaching it for a closer look. It made low grumbling sounds and we could just make out its shape in the moonlight. He was very calm though. He just wanted a drink of water and went on his way. After he left, we all disembarked and made our way back to our sleeping bags.
I was on the verge of slumber when I was woken up again. It turned out the entire herd of elephants wanted to have a pool party and we were in the way. The matriarchs were not pleased that we had the audacity to camp so conspicuously near the only watering hole in the area, scaring their children with our strange odours, making fires with our human magic, moving branches around like we own the place and not even having the decency to wash ourselves.
They came rather close, intimidatingly waving their trunks, getting a good whiff of us, making low grumbling noises, obviously annoyed at us for stinking up the place and making such a mess. One came a bit too close making one of our members shiver so much they started shaking the vehicle. Luckily, the instructors and the Ellies are best friends and they calmed the behemoths down as they recognised their voices. It was fascinating to witness their intelligence as they sized us up and to see them respond to the instructor’s voices was phenomenal.
They decided to leave us alone and have some fun in the watering hole. I could barely make out their shapes in the darkness, illuminated with moonlight and the dimmed torches of the instructors. I could hear them splashing about, slurping up water, snapping tree branches off and feeding, making low rumbling noises, and just having a good time. I was starting to wonder if elephants ever slept but eventually, after about four hours, they had had enough and went on their way, silently like fat ninjas. It’s actually quite scary how such a massive creature can be so quiet.
When everything was deemed safe, we all could finally get to bed, not that we got much sleep that night!!
I felt like I was in Jurassic Park or something for the whole experience. I’ve seen elephants many times before, but it is such a different experience at night. They’re more agitated and their behaviour changes completely. It didn’t help that one could barely see or hear them and not really know where all of them were. Having these massive beings come so close under these circumstances was exhilarating and I would definitely do it again.
I almost wished that the kitties also came for a visit. That would have been a riot.
In the morning everyone woke up very tired and quietly reflected over the events that unfolded the night before. It was Wednesday which was the day of the first of mock assessment drives. And who better to start everyone off than yours truly. Everyone was hungry and grumpy and just wanted to go home and sleep. However, I mustered enough of a positive attitude to get us through the day and didn’t do too bad of a job despite the unfavourable circumstances.
Wednesday evening was quite special as we had a hospitality evening which was hosted by Candice Pretorius. I only just met her that night and she instantly became one of my most favourite people. She was like an exotic bird of paradise, dazzling me with her display and vocalisations. After spending about five and a half weeks doing lectures with the various mentors and being in a classroom setting all the time it was just so refreshing to have such an expressive individual for our hospitality evening!
The dining hall was fabulously decorated with lanterns, incense, flowers, sequined tablecloths, fairy lights and dismembered kudu horns. It was such a delight to the senses as the hall danced with vibrant colours and the scent of burning herbs.
The cuisine that evening was Thai themed, and we had the opportunity to make our own spring rolls with rice paper from Thailand. It was a bit tricky but fun and delicious. The main course was a Thai chicken curry which was divine.
Candice gave a very impactful speech on how hospitality plays its role in the industry; how important it is to care about others and most importantly to know how to make others feel like they are cared for. It really made me think about how I could improve in that area and implement it in my drives and life in general.
Our slide and sound exam came the next morning! After listening to about 40 birds, driving myself to the point of insanity trying to distinguish them and learn their little nuances, I can comfortably say that the secretary bird is the most demonic sounding of them all. This week we saw more secretary bird activity than usual and even witnessed a pair roosting on a nest atop a Searsia tree. Unfortunately, they didn’t sing their horrifying song for us.
Later that day we had a marvellous sighting as Tim did his mock assessment drive. As we drove out onto Amakhala we stumbled upon one of the most majestic creatures that could possibly walk the planet. A leopard tortoise. Out of all the leopard tortoises that I have seen on this reserve, I never thought I would ever see one that was alive. I can’t tell you how delightful it was to actually see one that wasn’t a hollowed-out carapace lying on the side of the road. The lucky coincidences did not stop there! But out of all of them the tortoise was my highlight. Who would have thought a tortoise of all things would make me so happy?
Our week ended off with our fun day drive, which we drove around to a section of the reserve we hardly ever visit. We got a bit lost and even the instructor was a bit confused as to where we were. On our way back we had an extraordinary sighting of two elephants playfully fighting on a cliff road. I was a bit concerned one of them would go tumbling down but they seemed to just be having a friendly bash. It was so entertaining to watch as they put their trunks on each other and even sat on the side of the embankment. They truly are wonderful creatures. Sadly, our sighting of them was cut short when the one pushed the other down the road and out of sight.
Later that evening we celebrated Hannah’s birthday and ended the week off with a small party and some Malva pudding.
Overall, this has been my favourite week thus far on the course. It was very eventful, and I will always treasure this experience.
Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. ~ Winston Churchill
Apprentice Trails Guides
Week six was an eventful week all around! Jesse and Adriaan are here to share their view of the second last week of their Apprentice Trails guide course with you all!
We started our week oﬀ leaving camp for our sleep out on Amakhala Game Reserve. I was walking in the lead Trails guide position, Veer and Jesse were our backup rifles for the day. We took day one of walking easy, as we knew we had two full days on foot ahead of us. We made camp in a section of the reserve referred to as the ‘valleys’ due to the terrain. We had to move our campsite however, as a herd of elephants began approaching us. Although we escaped the elephants the lions weren’t too far behind as we could hear them calling throughout the night.
Jesse and I were on the last night watch shift because Jesse was walking lead rifle the next day, and I was back up. When the sun came up and it was time for Piet to leave, we had noticed the Ellie tracks had come between us and the vehicle! We then left for one of the only water sources in the valleys now, Archie’s pan, at 7 am. We eventually reached the campsite at around 2 pm. We then watched a Giraﬀe drink at the pan for the rest of the afternoon. After having settled and prepared camp for the night to come, we embarked on making our ‘products’ from the bush, with the aim of making things that could be utilized and ‘traded’ amongst ourselves! The Apprentice Field guides were due to arrive and join us for our sleepout that afternoon. They arrived and cooked us dinner!
We then presented our products to the group and got some good feedback. Around 9 pm an elephant bull came past our campsite. We quickly moved into the vehicle, and the Ellie quietly moved through to the watering hole. This was our first encounter and thereafter the whole herd followed!!! This encounter lasted about 4 hours! An absolutely incredible experience. After we finally got some sleep, we woke in the morning to start our day with a beautiful golden hour.
On the walk back to camp the next day, I was assigned to walk back up rifle for Veer, who was walking as lead rifle. We walked back along the Ellie tracks and followed them to a section of the valleys called ‘Langkloof’, where we took a game path above Ndlovhu crossing and enjoyed a half an hour break. We then walked along Old Ndlovhu road back down into another river crossing, sadly now dried up due to the drought we find ourselves in. We then took our final break at the bottom of Ndlovhu gate and then pushed on for our last stretch home onto Ulovane. We were then welcomed into camp with a nice hot meal and a much-needed shower. That night we participated in the ‘Thai’ themed hospitality evening of the Apprentice Field guides, what a lekker evening we all had.
We ended off this eventful week with our final two days ‘Cybertracker’ Track & Sign evaluation over the weekend, with Taryn Ingram-Gilson, from Down to Earth Nature training. Tracking is an essential part of becoming a Trails guide! This experience taught us all not to doubt ourselves and listen to our gut feeling. We all passed, achieving a Level each, a great end to our week!
Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. ~ Lou Holtz