Now that the stresses of the FGASA Level 1 assessments are behind them, the Bushwise students have been busy preparing for their Trails Guide Exam. Being a vehicle based guide is one thing, but the pressures of guiding on foot are a completely different story. A vehicle allows plenty of ley-way when it comes to interpreting an animal’s behaviour: should the subject become aggressive, the psychological advantage of having an accelerator pedal means that most unfortunate situations can be easily avoided. However, being on foot in a whole new ball game…
Since the beginning of the course, our instructors have been drilling into the students that guiding is all about enhancing the guest experience through interpretations and interactivity, but the most important facet has always been safety. The next step is to teach them the appropriate way to act on a walk and the most important thing is return from your walk with the same number of guests you left with!! In order to achieve this, a guide must learn ‘situational awareness’.
This phrase has become synonymous with the guiding industry and basically describes a state of mind where a guide is conscious of everything around them. Of course this means keeping your eyes open at all times but even more so, your ears. The alarm call of a francolin or a squirrel might alert you to potential danger; oxpeckers taking off close by could betray the presence of a rhino and the crack of a branch could be the only indication that you are about to walk into a herd of elephants!
This is a skill that cannot be learnt from a text book and the only way to gain this knowledge is to experience it firsthand. Walking in the bush is a surreal and powerful event. Senses are heightened as the primordial instinct to survive is awakened from its evolutionary slumber and the danger of finding yourself in a perilous situation becomes far more plausible. That being said, the point of a walk is not to view potentially dangerous game (although it is a definite possibility) but more to rekindle the ancient connection of man and nature. Botany, birds, insects, tracks and signs are the bread and butter for any walking guide and a solid foundation of this knowledge allows a guide to bring the bush alive to their guests.
For the last week of the semester, the students have begun to explore their surroundings on foot. The goal of this exercise has been to find dangerous game in order to impart wisdom and experience in how to read and anticipate their behaviour and approach them safely, as well as react accordingly if the situation goes sour. A perfect encounter is one where the animal being viewed is totally unaware of your presence. The goal is to view natural behaviour. So many factors need to be taken into account when approaching big game from the direction of the wind, to the position of the Sun, the terrain, composition of the species being approached and of course, an escape route. Bushwise instructors have been on hand to help the students juggle all of this information and make informed and safe choices. Unfortunately, encounters have been sparse thus far but with next semester on the horizon, students will once again dust off their walking boots for another foray into the unknown!
In the meantime, the Bushwise staff would to congratulate them once more for their performance in the FGASA theory and practical assessments and wish them all a well-deserved rest before the commencement of the final part of their training before the much anticipated work placements begin towards the end of July!