This has been a bit of a varied week for most people. We started off the week with the final few assessment drives – everyone passed! All the practice drives, hotbox packing, fact learning, extra research, 4×4 training, route planning, branch clearing, map studying and vehicle cleaning all finally culminating in this last crucial 4 hours. Such relief and joy around campus; all our hard work at last paying off.
On Tuesday we had a nice relaxing day off to celebrate… yeah right! We had a full day of reserve work, working to block off the road either side of a broken dam wall and clearing branches from overgrown roads. Kind of an irony that we did this after we just used those same roads for our assessments! But it was a good day hauling around rocks and branches, getting tangled in thorn trees and picking black jacks out of each other’s hair- it’s nice doing something that feels useful for the next people who drive through.
Then the rest of the week we have variously been doing our Advanced Rifle Handling Assessments, and going out on walks on Makalali with Gerhard and Ed. Now that we’ve done our FGASA Level 1 exam and assessment, we’re gearing towards our Trails Guiding exam next semester and then most of us will be going off on a 12-day Lowveld Trails course. Six people a day did their ARH Assessments, and the rest went on morning or afternoon walks to try and accrue some walking hours and dangerous game encounters to count towards our Trails Guide Assessment on the Lowveld Trails course. The walks have been awesome, a few lion encounters and a cheetah with cubs (albeit very far away)! We’ve been developing the skills to walk whilst simultaneously looking for tracks, looking for animals, keeping an eye out for danger, looking for trees or termite mounds we could climb in an emergency, watching you don’t trip over, and listening hard for any signs of animals! Seems overwhelming at first but practice makes perfect!
Without our ARH qualification we cannot be assessed by Lowveld Trails as a Back-Up Guide (although we can still log hours and encounters on the course) so everyone was pretty keen to get the ARH under their belts. The ARH results have been mixed- it’s a notoriously difficult qualification to get, as even those who are great shots can be put off or unnerved by the tough time limits imposed, especially with the pressure you put on yourself to pass. The drill that has inevitably been catching the most people out is the simulated lion charge- having to shoot a “lion” target charging at you at 22 meters/sec is pretty stressful, let alone having to yell at it, and “manage your clients” at the same time! It’s a tough thing and no shame to anyone who doesn’t pass first time- hopefully reassessments next semester will prove fruitful.
I think everyone is looking forward to a well-earned off week next week, and will come back ready to ace the Trails exam and take on two weeks of walking!