The start of something new!
From being picked up at the airport to arriving at Ulovane I was blown away by how hospitable, patient, and friendly everyone at Ulovane is. Everyone is like-minded and ready for a challenge. Our group is very diverse in age and where we come from which is super cool so we can learn about different people’s backgrounds and hear about different cultures and their stories.
Having the opportunity to be on the tracker seat is also one of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far. The fact that you’re able to even use it is exceptional and you probably won’t have that experience anywhere else. This week a whole herd of elephants came over the ridge and continued their path right where our vehicle was driving. Something had clearly upset them so to see the dynamics and the mini-groups they formed was really interesting as well as seeing who took charge or guarded the babies and others who just let us be. Our vehicle was stopped about 15 meters from the elephant’s pathway which was both terrifying and exciting. Just imagine sitting on the edge of a car with no protection and 3 tons of elephant directly in front of you with flapping ears and trumpeting. Having been in the bush several times and surrounded by elephants before this was an even more unique experience. I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body and still knew that I was in safe hands with Schalk driving the game viewer.
Besides cool game drives we also spent a lot of time in the classroom which although can be less exciting than being outside, it’s still amazing to see how much we are able to learn and grasp in such a short time. For example, a lot of our first week consisted of a vehicles lecture. This is probably one of the most pertinent lectures I’ve had in a long time because not only is it important for guiding but also as a general life skill. Next time my car breaks down regardless of if I’m out guiding I can take charge and know what happened to the car.
Even though this is only my first week of the 10-week field guide course, I’ve already had an unforgettable experience and know it’ll only get better from here as I get more confident in my driving and guiding skills.
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein
My very first game drive
Thursday, the 21st of October, is the day my very first game drive is going to take place. I’m teamed up with Zoe. The drive is going to start at 3 pm, and at 2 pm we’re busy with preparations. Vehicle check: brake fluid – check! Cleanliness of the vehicle – check! First aid kit in the car – check! The radio works properly – check! Plenty of other things – check! Running forth, running back, consulting, organizing… Preparations for the coffee break: milk – check! Spoons – check! Fruit – check! Table cloth – check! Plenty of other things – check! It’s pretty hectic.
We make it in time. At exactly 3 pm, all our fellow students and our teacher Schalk, sit inside the vehicle, looking expectantly at me, ready to go. Ok, pre-briefing: Man, I am nervous!
“Good afternoon, everybody, welcome to Amakhala Game Reserve. My name is Nils and on the tracker seat, you’ll find Zoe. We’re going to be our guides for today.” I believe I manage the briefing decently well, which gives me some security and makes me a bit less nervous about the driving of the big vehicle. My guests told me they would like to see a baboon and – we get lucky – two minutes after leaving camp, we stop in front of a chacma baboon.
“So here is the baboon you wanted to see. Chacma baboons, as they are called, are one of two types of monkeys we have here at Amakhala. The other one, the Vervet monkey, is smaller and you might have seen it around camp.” Alright, what else do I remember about monkeys? Pretty much nothing… Ok, let’s just not show and drive on. It gets better, though, as soon after the baboon, herds of springbok and zebras cross our path, and I prepared some information for both of these species. Strike!
“Springbok, when feeling threatened, erratically spring around as if jumping on a trampoline. We call this springing gait pronking. It’s a term used only for springbok, as none of the other antelope species spring in that particular manner.”
“Zebras, even when they are ill, will always have a full, round belly, looking pretty healthy and fit. That’s to do with their digestive system. They have got a lot of gas in their stomachs that puffs up their bellies. When you want to know whether a zebra is ill or healthy, you look at its mane instead. When the hair of the mane points upwards, a zebra is healthy, when the hair falls down on its back, the zebra is not well.”
Encouraged by the information I could pass on to my guests, I continue my drive. Suddenly, we spot a three-banded plover, a beautiful-looking bird, running hurriedly forth and back right in front of our vehicle, tail feathers straight up in the air. I stop immediately. The bird’s behavior is very peculiar, it’s definitely stressed and tries to communicate with us. Then we see it – a baby three-banded plover running across the road right in front of us, disappearing into the bush. The mother just tried to protect her little baby, making us stop so we wouldn’t drive over it.
Zoe and I had a very precise plan of the route we were going to take: Enter Amakhala through Klipgat gate, drive on to Bushman’s grave to show our guests the excavation site of two bushmen who were buried there 7000 years ago. From there, further on to the Big Hoek to see whether we can spot some animals. Of course, our route is being changed for us the moment the radio blares:
“All stations. This is Michael speaking. I have got a cheetah sighting at Carnarvon Dale. The cheetah is lying down. I have got one approach and one stand-by available.”
I turn around to address my guests: “So does anyone care to try and find the cheetah or would you prefer to just go on with our planned route?”
“Cheetah!”, I hear in unison from the back of the vehicle. So, we drive to Carnarvon Dale and are lucky to spot the male cheetah within minutes. It’s an unforgettable experience to see it rolling on the floor and feeding on the kill it had made the night before – an unfortunate young eland. We’re so excited to be at the cheetah sighting that we completely forget about our coffee break, so we have to drive back to Camp through the night without having had coffee. Well, next time.
“Why is it you can never hope to describe the emotion Africa creates? You are lifted. Out of whatever pit, unbound from whatever tie, released from whatever fear. You are lifted and you see it all from above.” – Francesca Marciano