Meet Laurien from Holland! Laurien decided to join us here and at Ulovane and follow her passion and devote her time to nature and wildlife.
This week we had the pleasure of returning to the Ulovane campus, where the adventure is continuing for most of our Field Guide group after a lovely Christmas break. While it was nice to be back in the Netherlands for a few weeks, I could not help but feel a sense of coming home as soon as I drove through the Ulovane gates. There is just something about standing out on that deck, looking over Amakhala, with your face in the sun and your hair dancing in the wind that makes you never want to leave again.
As tradition has it, we had a bit of an awkwardly quiet first dinner together, but afterward, we did end up being a bit curious about each other’s holidays and we soon returned to our old ways. All of us spend the evening on the deck telling stories, making jokes, and laughing a lot while getting the newbies up to speed on inside jokes, nicknames, and bush adventures from our previous course.
Over the next few days, we spent some valuable time in the classroom learning all about dangerous game protocols and conducting a guided walking experience in an area where these animals reside. We learned a lot of new things from the FGASA material, but we learned even more from Piet’s stories out of his own experiences. After a lovely Christmas break, it was good to get back to our nature roots and realize where we are again.
With this new information in our heads, our shining new boots ready to go and our bodies filled with excitement, we headed out on our first walk over Woodbury plains, where we looked at many different types of dung and tracks and learned a lot about the little things we tend to overlook from our vehicle sometimes, which was really surprising.
We even experience our first amazing encounter, which was with an elephant herd of 18 individuals. They gave us a beautiful, yet very humbling view of them as they were climbing out the river line across from us. Elephants are just incredible, peaceful animals, what a warm welcome to trails we received! Tip for the day, make sure you stay rehydrated.
We were super keen to get out onto Amakhala Game Reserve for another trail early the next morning. Today we did not get very far every few meters, there was something so interesting that we just had to stop for it. We looked at Amur falcons, grass marked by springhare dung, mole rat tunnels, sand-digging wasp holes, murid pathways, and much more. As we stopped to look at some impala and wildebeest dung, the herd of wildebeest that was most likely responsible for it came beautifully running past us. We decided to try and trail some giraffes so we picked up the pace a bit, but we were not able to catch up with them as they were on a mission for water. A very understandable mission, since the temperature was getting up there again
Every afternoon once we return to campus and after a lovely shower, we get together as a team and do a debrief about the walk. From the sightings (how they were approached, how they should be approached etc), safety points are discussed, as well as tips and hints of what to do better or what to look for. The debrief sessions are an important part of our training and provide helpful feedback for all of us who will have a turn to lead the group for a walk.
As we headed out onto the reserve on day 4, we immediately came across a male and female lion. The male was a bit shy, but it still ended up being a wonderful sighting that made all of us feel the thrill of being out there on foot and understand the responsibility that is being a trails guide. The rest of the walk provided us with some lovely encounters on an open plain – a perfect position for practicing approaching animals on foot. We ended the walk resting in the shade of a popular water hole, which we can in fact see from the Ulovane campus. It was very special to be sitting there ourselves for once.
Our final day of walking for the week took us to a part of the reserve that most of us had not seen before. We encountered a herd of buffalo on the hill across from us and after they had moved off, we got a great opportunity to study their tracks. The soil had been moistened by the rains from the night before, which made even their false hooves beautifully visible. We continued our walk, learned a lot about termites, and even found a rare tortoise dropping as we made our way to a journey of giraffes. Once we caught up with them, they were curiously looking at us as we sat down, but unfortunately quickly lost interest.
All in all a very successful week of approaching animals on foot!
Saturday morning, the veggie garden was calling! She had been a bit neglected over December and it was time to get her to look nice and tidy again. We harvested a massive load of tomatoes, complemented by some delicious bell peppers and onions. The rest of the day was reserved for studying, and we had some nice conversations under the stars after dinner. We went to bed, our heads filled with new knowledge and excitement for all to come, and before we knew it our first week of the course had just flown by.
Meet Matt Forest – our barefoot bushbaby – Matt left South Africa when he was very young and grew up mainly in the UK and the last few years completed his hospitality studies in the Netherlands and has been working in the hospitality industry. Interacting with guests was great for Matt, living in a city and working in a hotel, not so much. Being outdoors and being active is what makes him happy and he decided to make his dream a reality!
A huge motivation for Matt to do this course is to be involved in conservation and re-establishing a connection to nature –
“Having always lived in cities I’ve been able to notice the massive separation that exists between us and the natural world around us, and in many ways, this separation seems only to be growing. Too many people, including those who work to help improve the environment still place human beings above nature. I believe that if we really want to prevent the destruction of the natural world then we need to come back to what we really are and realise that we are a part of nature not separate from it. I think that by getting closer to nature we can learn to appreciate our place in the world and how delicate it is. I would love to be able to guide people in this way, not just showing them around but also helping them to understand how they can have a deeper connection with the natural world and ultimately with themselves. What I lack now is the right knowledge and experience which I hope to learn as much as I can if I get the opportunity.” – Matt you have come to the right place!!!
Two weeks in and time is already flying by, with everything we have done in such a short amount of time it feels like we’ve been going much longer. Adjusting to the life of a trails guide is already a totally different experience than anything before. Gaining a new appreciation for the finer details of the world around us. This is a much more important aspect than what many of us have been used to. Being on foot in the bush really gives you the time to slow down and see so many little details that would fly by unnoticed from a vehicle.
It’s definitely been a very eye-opening time for us to see how aware and switched on we need to be when we are out there on the same level as the animals we are viewing. We have very quickly had to learn to see the signs that are all around us indicating what’s going on and how we need to be prepared for anything. It could be a broken branch or a slight scuff mark on the ground that tells us there could be something waiting up ahead. Keep your head on a swivel is the name of the game! Nothing less than constant vigilance is acceptable when we are out walking in the bush. This fact became particularly evident when we took time to walk in some more dense vegetation where visibility suddenly dropped, we no longer had the security of a wide field of vision to see what was coming from a distance. We now had to rely on our other senses of sound and smell to warn us of any oncoming danger, not forgetting that all-important gut feeling that tells you something is out there.
This week has also brought us some amazing encounters with big game, in particular a wonderful sighting with the elephant herd where we sat with them for a long while just watching them moving and feeding before they decided to move on over the ridge to the other side of the reserve. It’s truly an amazing privilege to be so close to these animals in their element and to watch them going about their normal activities without the disturbance of the vehicles in the area. The need for constant vigilance was further reiterated when we were walking across the plains towards a crash of rhino we had seen from a distance only to see another couple lying down next to a bush close by, thankfully we managed to change course before they picked up on our scent but this was definitely a good reminder not to be lulled into a false sense of security.
This week was also our first taste of working with a rifle as some of us were given the opportunity to walk with an old air rifle to gain an idea of what it is like to walk with the rifle and get some practice with positioning while out on a walk this was also a great opportunity to see how the responsibility of being on the rifle totally changes how you walk and how your senses suddenly seem to be sharpened. We also had our first taste of shooting practice before beginning with advanced rifle handling next week. For most of us, this was the first time we had ever handled any kind of firearm but it was amazing to see how fast we were able to progress over such a short time.
A personal highlight for me this week was walking in the dune forest which turned out to be track city! I’ll take any opportunity to get my face in the dirt and look at tracks and this definitely didn’t disappoint. We started off with some beautiful clear hippo tracks down the road and were quickly met with a variety of lizards, spiders, millipedes, murids, jackals, elephants, and giraffes which we trailed for a while, and some very nice ostrich tracks.
Overall this was a great week with tons of new information and skills to learn as we prepare to dive into the deep end and hopefully get onto the rifles for some more walks.
“Nature is not a thing to be talked about. It is to be lived.”– Thomas Hardy