We returned from a week off eager to get back to Bush life. The break had seen us all venture to a variety of places; Kruger, Pilanesberg, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Mozambique and even as far as Italy. Having welcomed the break and the chance to recharge, it was surprising how quick we missed camp life and our new Bush family.
The focus for this week was 4×4 training. Monday morning we welcomed the experts from Nostophobic Adventures and Low Range 4×4 Academy. The course started with a theory day learning about leaf springs, centre differentials, side shafts and all of the differences between the various vehicle types that we could be driving once working at the Lodges. With a practical assessment on Friday and exam on Saturday we were keen to get behind the wheel and learn fast!
One group at a time went out to do the practical training with the 4×4, tackling incredibly steep inclines, tyre changes on a sandy hill, and the most fun part – vehicle recovery from a river bed. The realisation that one day we could get stuck in a river bed in a vehicle full of guests, with crocodiles and hippos for company caused some wide eyes in the group. But after lots of practice recovering the vehicle we were a lot more confident of avoiding that scenario but also if it did happen we would know what to do. Unfortunately one of the Land Rovers fell casualty by the end of the week but after some TLC from the trainers it lives to fight another day… for now!
When not doing practical 4×4 training the other groups continued AM and PM game drives, the excitement of not knowing what you are going to see never waivers. Within 10 minutes of a drive one group was lucky enough to find a Leopard laying on a hill in the morning sun, once warmed up he went into the bush looking like he was in the mood to find his next meal.
Picture by Rory Wilson
The particular highlight of the game drives gave a group of students a moment they are sure to never forget. As we drove around a corner we spotted a fresh male lion track, smiles on faces we were all keen to put our recent tracking training into practice again and set off in hope. Having a level 4 tracker on board in our trainer (Vaughan) was a huge advantage and we continued in the direction the Lion had headed just before us. We arrived at a dry dam and our trainer went on foot to investigate which way it had gone once he’d crossed it. After a few minutes of watching Vaughan on the other side of the dam, he walked around a bush and in that moment everything went into slow motion, a loud roar accompanied the sight of the huge dark mane of the adult male lion appear just 5 feet in front of him. The lion had been asleep on the other side of this bush, out of sight and unbeknown to any of us, but now he was certainly making sure we knew he was there. After a few seconds looking into each other’s eyes, Vaughan calmly backed away from the Lion and walked back to the vehicle. The calm composure and confidence that only a very experienced Field Guide could have, whereas we Students had been sure it was going to be a very different outcome!! Once he was alone again the Lion went back to sleep and out of sight, we couldn’t drive across the dam but were keen to get closer so the only option was to go on foot. 4 of us at a time were led into the bush to get a close up with this majestic predator. At 30 metres away we stopped and crouched down in silence as the lion jumped to a stand to check us out. Adrenalin rushed through us, his breathing sounded so loud and drowned out the sounds of our hearts beating at a huge rate. Those few minutes we spent there will never be forgotten, it was a privilege and a stark reminder that we are the ones visiting their home!
As the week drew to a close we studied hard for the 4×4 tests, this paid off as every single group member passed the practical and theory. Week by week our skills and knowledge are rapidly increasing and although we all know that we have a long way to go, there is no better place to be inspired daily and it is a pleasure to watch so many people living their dreams.
Blog by Catherine Conroy