At this moment, while writing these lines, I’m just a few hours away from starting my adventure. But of course, the preparation started already several months ago. As there are so many birds, mammals, insects, trees etc. to learn, I started very early with learning with special focus on the different bird calls. In the beginning, this was really hard. But now I can recognize almost half of the most common birds in Southern Africa. Furthermore, I gained a lot more knowledge about the African savanna which hadn’t learned yet from all the documentaries.
Due to the fact that I spend a lot of time outside in the mountains with my tent, I didn’t need to buy that much new stuff – nevertheless, I spent a lot of time preparing all my gear and thinking about what equipment I would really need because I didn’t want to carry too much weight with me. After some hours I gathered all my stuff: a sleeping bag and mat, some khaki coloured t-shirts, shorts and a hoody and a little more. I hope I didn’t forget anything.
After the first week in Pridelands it was already time to say goodbye to the elephants and head out to new adventures in our new camp. Karongwe, our new camp, is a large private game reserve which is located not too far away from Pridelands. The camp is just magical. The tents we sleep in are almost small houses and offer a straight view over the savannah.
We are 21 students in this group. Many of them come from Germany but there are also people from Australia, Portugal, Austria, Canada, South Africa and, of course, me from Switzerland. As bushwalks and game walks within such a large group are difficult to manage we were split up into three subgroups.
Normally, we get up really early in the morning at 05:00 AM. I am still not really used to it but its getting easier. At first, we get some coffee and a little bit to eat. After breakfast we have time till 06:00 AM to get prepared for the morning activity – a bushwalk or game drive, depending on the day. We have already learned so much that now we are the ones who are responsible for the game drives. It is way harder than the guides made it look like. But we are getting better and better. We come back to the camp at around 10:00 AM where a big breakfast awaits us. Straight after breakfast it’s already time to go to lecture to acquire further knowledge about topics like geology, astronomy, birds, fish, animal behaviour and much more. After lecture we have time to study the topics until 03:00 PM before having lunch and taking part in another game drive or bushwalk. The afternoon game drives are quiet cool because we stop for a nice sundowner, which means having a beer and simply enjoying the beauty of the South African savannah. After the sunset we drive back to camp using a spotlight to spot animals in the dark which are hard to see during the day. Back in Camp Karongwe we enjoy dinner. After that we sometimes gather around the fire – but oftentimes the activities of the day got us too tired so we go straight to bed.
During our last week in Karongwe we had the chance to participate in a wilderness sleep-out. I had been looking forward to this day for the entire week! On the day we left for the sleep-out we packed our sleeping bags, mats, food and all the other small things we needed. We drove to a rock outcrop in the middle of the savanna. The first thing to do: gathering firewood so we could stay warm at night and were able to boil water for coffee. Since not all of us could stay up the whole night we split up into subgroups of two persons. My shift was from 2-3 o’clock in the morning. Before I even went to sleep, I already heard the first hyena. When I woke up to start my shift it was perfectly silent and I didn’t spot anything near our little sleep-out camp. So I decided to sit next to a small pond on the rock from where I could watch little terrapins feeding on insect larvae. The next day I was still a bit tired because it was not the most comfortable place but one of the most beautiful.
I love Mashatu – it’s one of the most wonderful places I have seen so far in Southern Africa. The landscape looks almost the same as it does in The Lion King. Our camp is situated next to a river called Motloutse where we have already spotted lots of elephants, wildebeest and zebras coming down to drink. It is also located next to a ridge where we found a leopard with its cub at a den site as well as a brown hyaena. A really cool feature of this camp is the volleyball court where we play almost every day.
It’s a real pleasure to do game drives in this reserve. You see so many animals and can immerse yourself into the beautiful landscape while enjoying sundowners or coffee breaks. But thinking of the assessment drive each of us need to do soon, we slowly but surely become more nervous.
Before doing this assessment drive we also get tested on our theoretical knowledge. The theoretical tests included birds calls, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods as well as an official theory exam. What “scared” me the most was getting tested on the 105 different bird calls. So I tried to learn all of them as good as possible. But due to the frequent game drives and the volleyball court next to the lecture hall it was much harder than I expected.
During the last few days before the exam everybody got much more serious and the lecture hall was filled with students almost all the time. After we finally finished the first tests everybody was happy and relieved. But the studying continued the next day as the official theory test was about to come. The subjects we were asked about included astronomy, geology, human history, arthropods, mammals and many more. Thankfully the intense studying paid off and everybody passed.
The most important part of our course was yet to come: We had to proof our driving and hosting skills as well as our bush knowledge as part of a 3-hour game drive. The following days we focused on planning the route and learning facts about animals, plants and geology. Two days before the first assessment drives were scheduled the assessors arrived. They were much younger than I had expected but were very experienced and relaxed.
The day before my assessment drive I had to do a guest briefing. I was really nervous because I knew I’m not the best entertainer. But nonetheless I successfully managed it. During the next night I woke up many times because I was so nervous. When I finally had to get up I prepared and checked the car. Shortly after, it was already time to “welcome my guests” which consisted of my fellow training mates. Finally, I started my drive. I was super nervous during the first 5 minutes of the drive but afterwards I became more relaxed was able to share lots of bush knowledge with my guests. After almost 1 ½ hours we took a break for some coffee and tea as well as some rusks. Right after the break we heard lion roaring in the distance and I decided to change my route back to camp and tried to find the lions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them. But nonetheless I was pretty happy about my performance – so was the assessor…and I passed the course!