What a week! I am absolutely mind-blown at how much I have learned in just my first week, it totally exceeded my expectations.
Upon arrival at Ulovane Environmental Training on Sunday the 10th of April, we had an introductory meeting where we were informed that we would be going camping at Bush Braai for the first three nights. Early the next morning, after packing the vehicle, we set off for our first game drive through Amakhala Game Reserve en route to Bush Braai. Within minutes, we had the privilege of witnessing a Little Sparrowhawk executing a hunt – a rather rare sighting! Our instructor, Karien, took us to a few hotspots in the hope of seeing hippos and elephants. Unfortunately, the hippos didn’t grace us with their presence, but we had better luck with the elephants. No more than 1km from where we had hoped to find the hippos, we were blessed with a relatively close sighting of two beautiful elephants. The elegance and gracefulness that elephants display is truly remarkable. I have always been a bird enthusiast, and on that seven-hour drive to Bush Braai, I learned more about birds than I have in my entire existence – I was flabbergasted!
The first activity was unpacking and setting up camp. We were shown our luxurious sleeping arrangements on a lawn of grass, where we would be sleeping for the duration of our stay, where the ablutions were, etc. We collected a pile of wood for the nighttime fire – which needed to burn throughout the night. To further improve our comfort, we were ecstatic to hear that we would be living on a staple diet of rice and ‘pap’. The first night we sat as a group, divided ourselves into groups of three, and planned which groups would be doing each of the required “night shifts”. This involved two-hour shifts, where each group would have a turn to wake up, and guard camp – although it was cold, it was wonderful to feel part of nature and have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the night sky each night.
Day 2 involved an early morning game drive, where our instructor explained a lot of what field guiding entails, the rules, and regulations, and how to interact with a vehicle full of guests. With that aside, we could focus on our surroundings and what nature has to offer at such an iconic Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. The highlights of the day included tasting “basil flavored” termites, enjoying the bitter tannins within a guarri bush, experiencing the diverse fauna and flora of the Amakhala Game Reserve (AGR), and having a very interesting coffee break – whereby every student scattered for a nearby “lave-TREE”. We had a magnificent view of the AGR basin, where Karien could easily point out the different areas that we would need to familiarise ourselves with throughout the Field Guide course.
That night, a night drive was planned, which was very exciting! We were exposed to certain animal tracks and taught what to look for when “tracking” and how to identify the type of animal that left the track – this sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know I had. During the drive, it was announced that a herd of buffalo had been navigated and we set off to go and experience them – buffalo have an amazing tendency to make one feel humbled. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, then returned to camp to feast on a nice bowl of rice with tomato relish.
Energy levels started to deplete, Day 3 started off with a lecture on the history of AGR, followed by a game drive. Another phenomenal sighting was witnessing how giraffes chew on bones to gain extra calcium – nature never ceases to amaze me! The flavor of the day today was wild garlic. If you think your fingers have a strong smell of garlic after chopping a few cloves in the kitchen, then you haven’t seen anything yet – it sticks to your fingers the entire day! To our delight, there was a slight change in the menu at camp that day, where we experimented with making bread, on a stick, over the fire – it was the best bread I have ever eaten. It was our last night at Bush Braai, and we all sat around the campfire reminiscing about the past three days, how much we had learned and what an amazing experience we had had. Even though our sleeping arrangements and diet seemed obscure in the beginning, by the end of our three days, we realized how privileged we are in our everyday life and how lucky we are to have the things that we have.
The next morning was our last morning in AGR before returning to Ulovane. To nobody’s surprise, the learning did not stop there. We went on our last game drive where we stumbled across both lion and hyena tracks. Looking at the size of the lion’s track put shivers down my spine it was so big! We headed towards Ulovane on a route we had not taken yet, to learn more about the different areas and roads within AGR. After a long and tiring drive, we arrived back at the Ulovane camp, where we were over the moon to find an extraordinary, cooked meal prepared and waiting for us – wow! We learned how to change tires the rest of the afternoon and then took some time to rest and recover a bit.
The rest of the week was a bit of a slower tempo, where we had a few lectures and time to catch up a bit on the theory work that we need to submit on a weekly basis. My first week at Ulovane Environmental Training completely exceeded my expectations! I am shocked at how much I have learned already, and it’s only been seven days. Words cannot describe how excited I am for the weeks ahead and to experience everything that Ulovane has to offer – I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience this course.
“Exploration is curiosity put into action.”– Don Walsh.