EcoQuest South Africa – Anny
In her review, our wilderness course participant Anny tells about her impressions from roaming South Africa's wilderness as part of her EcoQuest adventure. Learn more
Finally, my journey starts today! After a short chat with Daniel from Natucate on the phone, I am heading towards Frankfurt to catch my flight to Johannesburg. An EcoQuest in South Africa is what I will do for the upcoming two weeks. The next morning I am getting picked up on time at 6:30 AM at my hostel in Johannesburg. Ten minutes later the other seven course participants get in the bus as well. Six Germans, one guy form Britain. I expected the distribution of nationalities to be a bit more diverse, but okay. On the several hours drive from Johannesburg to the Karongwe Game Reserve we talked a lot. On the entrance of the game reserve our instructor Jasper was waiting for us and drove us to the camp.
After our arrival at the camp we were informed that the water pump was broken and there was no running water. Welcome to the bush! We moved into our spacious two-man tents and had a look at the camp where we will spend the next seven days of our EcoQuest course. The rest of the course participants arrives during the day and when we were complete there was a lunch and a short safety briefing. The camp is not fenced which is why animals can stroll through camp which they do from time to time. Therefore, we were told to look left and right from time to time… the golden rule in the bush when having an encounter with a wild animal: “Whatever you do, do not run!” In the bush everything moves faster than you, that is for sure.
Well it sounds quite simple. Unfortunately – or luckily 😊 I will not face a situation where I need to test my instinct to flee while I am in the camp. During my stay at the camp we only have visits from nyala antelopes and monkeys. And Bruce, a buffalo from a safe distance. But who knows which nocturnal guests have visited our camp while we were asleep?
The days in camp start at 5 AM with a wake-up call. Every day another tent is on duty and must wake up the other ones – always in a different tone. At 5:30 AM someone blows the kudu horn and we can grab some coffee and rusks (very hard and dry biscuits) before we are off to the bush. Either by foot or with the landie, we always split in two groups. At around 10 AM we return to camp where breakfast is waiting for us, prepared by the kitchen ladies. Afterwards we have some free time and at 1 PM a lecture, followed by lunch. In the afternoon we are leaving camp for another game drive or walk. Back in camp dinner is prepared for us and a nice fire where we enjoy the rest of the evening with a beer.
The Karongwe Game Reserve is situated next to the (mostly dried out) Karongwe River, the landscape is covered by thick tree savannah, from time to time interrupted by giant granit rocks, so-called kopjes. In the distance we have an amazing view of the Drakensberg. Searching for animals in the thick bush is not easy. We need patience and after hours of driving – while I am enjoying the scenery – we always receive a treat which lets us forget the long search. Once we found a lion family while they are having dinner – zebra is on the menu – the male with its impressive mane is already full and lying in the grass. Another time we find a cheetah mum with her three cubs and the next day three male cheetahs which are recovering from an impala snack and rest in the shade. The rhinos which wanted to flee from us are coming back, after our guide imitated their call and we had the chance to take some great photos.
Unfortunately, poaching is a problem in Karongwe which is why the horns of the rhinos are cut off to protect the animals. This is very sad, but better a rhino without a horn than no rhino.
When we are walking we focus on the small details. The guides explain a lot to us about the plants, we find tracks of different antelopes, follow the tracks of two leopard tortoises until we find them in the bush. Jerry, our tracker in Karongwe, is incredible and can tell a fascinating story to every track.
We also observe the droppings of animals very carefully and after a couple of days I am able to answer the questions “Who shit that?” with a correct answer. During our lectures we have a different topic each day: Geology of the reserve, birds, navigation, behaviour of animals and tracks.
For our last night in the camp we head out into the bush for a braai (barbecue), grill some delicious steaks and boerewors (a rolled sausage) over the fire and Jasper gives us an introduction to astronomy on the impressive African night sky. On the next day we are driving by bus to Makuleke, to our new camp.
Makuleke is situated in the far north of the Kruger National Park between the Luvuvhu River and the Limpopo which marks the boarder to Zimbabwe. The Makuleke Concession is not accessible for visitors, there are only two private lodges. Which means that we basically have the north of the Kruger National Park to ourselves – which is already not visited by many tourists. There is no mobile phone reception, which means bush feeling at its best. Our guides are called Ross and Norman, we got to know Norman already in Karongwe. Our tents are a bit more comfortable than in Karongwe, and we even have our own shower with toilette in the tents. We enjoy our first sundowner at Crook’s Corner, where the Limpopo and the Luvuvhu meet and mark the country triangle of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
On the next day we are met with the usually routine, but we need to get up half an hour earlier and the wake-up call is a drum instead of a kudu horn. We are split into groups again but have to stick to the one group now as our plan is a bit stricter for the upcoming days. One group is supposed to go for a drive in the morning, while the other one is supposed to walk, then they switch in the afternoon and on the next day we all go for a drive. But on the second day one of the landies decided to break down and so we walked a lot more than planned – with temperatures over 40°C. We explore a nearby fevertree forest which is beautiful and treats us with some shade.
The landscape here is very different to the one in Karongwe – more open and wider. The north of the Kruger is known as a paradise for birds and a must-see place for bird lovers. I must admit I have developed a bit of an ambition as well to check different bird species. Advanced birders are able to identify birds also by their call. Personally, I can only remember the call of the cape turtle dove or ring-necked dove which I heard all the time. It sounds like “drink lager” which makes this one easy to remember for me 😉
My absolute highlight was a morning walk in the fevertree forest with Ross, when we observed a herd of around 40 elephants on a clearing. We were hiding in the bush and tried not to make any sounds, but still the elephants knew we were there. It is fascinating to see how the animals behave: how they take their young ones in the centre of the herd to protect them and how the matriarch exhorts the younger ones when the move to far away from the herd. I am very angry with myself that I did not take my camera on that day, but it does not matter, I enjoyed every second of this encounter.
The night before our last night is very special: We are sleeping in the bush. We hike for two hours packed with our sleeping bag and mats. We end the day with a tasty braai and everyone is signed up for a night shift. Grouped as pairs we have to watch out for potential nightly visitors such as hyaenas and take care of the fire – the fire is actually more important for coffee than for our safety. I sleep much better than expected and my duty started at 4 AM when the sun already made its way up and there was no danger in sight. I sit next to the fire and listen to the sounds of the bush.
The two weeks flew by and the day of our departure is approaching way too fast. We enjoy our last evening around the fire with a goodbye beer.
The two-week EcoQuest course was a great experience, we got along well as a group, always had something to talk about and laughed a lot. To be in the middle of nature, offline, without electricity, without the noise of civilisation (in fact the African bush is everything except quite…), fantastic night skies with millions of stars and a bit of adrenalin when red eyes appear in the light of my flashlight – but I am relieved to see it was only a bush baby.
The guides have told and shown us so much! By joining an EcoQuest I have experienced a wonderful and authentic safari holiday – and gained a lot of interesting background knowledge. Those who are thinking about taking part in the one-year FGASA course to become a Professional Field Guide can join an EcoQuest course to get an idea about living in the camps, the course structure and about the way of life in Africa.
Everyone should be aware, though, that this two-week experience cannot be compared to the intensity and tasks of a one-year course. There is only theory whereas the practical part follows as part of, for example, in the 28-day Safari Guide course.
Those who are looking for a more intense course which is more than a special holiday should think about booking a course with a longer duration.