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Sleepout: night watch in the African bush

BY: Franco Hay

Camp manager blogs are written by our current students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week.

One of the main reasons I joined Bushwise and came to the bush was to escape the constant rush of the modern technology-driven world – and to reconnect with myself through the medium of nature.

Students sit on a game viewer observing a lion in the grass

Growing up I was very fortunate to have many avenues where I could enjoy the outdoors. From yearly holidays in the Kruger to playing in our garden during the week. Unfortunately, as I got older the constant immersion in nature slowly turned into an uncommon occurrence. As schoolwork and socialising became more important, time for silence and self-reflection disappeared. Until one day I turned around and realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I was truly quiet.

I came to Bushwise intending to slow down and embrace silence. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. Brand-new friends and learning soon dominated my time. Since I enjoyed the work so much and got along with the new friends so easily, I almost forgot that I had another goal for my time here. Luckily, after a few weeks, an opportunity arose that would force my hand – sleepout.

The sun sets over the African bushveld

When I heard we would need to keep watch during the night on sleepout, I knew this was my chance to sit in true silence for a few hours – and I couldn’t wait. The moment the schedule was opened I volunteered for the watch, from 2 AM to 4 AM. This has always been my favourite part of the night. When it feels like the entire world is taking a big breath before dawn. The only few hours of the day when almost all people are asleep. The two hours where I would accomplish my goal – a goal I had become too scared to attempt.

On a Thursday afternoon we packed our bags and headed out to the evening’s campsite. By 10 PM I was asleep. Just before 2 AM, I was awakened for my shift. Ten minutes later I was sitting with a cup of coffee in one hand and a spotlight in the other. You would assume that I would immediately be ecstatic to sit on my own in silence, like I had wanted to do for so long. However, sometimes if you have avoided doing something for long enough, just the thought of it can make you uncomfortable.

A pearl-spotted owlet sitting on a branch in fading light

So there I sat, and rather than enjoying the peace and tranquility, it was making me uncomfortable. I gave it five minutes, and then ten. But the silence was still too much for me. I was ready to go and wake somebody up to keep me company – until a pearl-spotted owlet started calling in the distance. My discomfort shattered like a mirror that had been hit by a rock, and I started to enjoy the sounds of nature around me. I could focus and do some self-reflection, with only the occasional sound to remind me where I was, and what I had decided to devote the rest of my life to.

However, the night on sleepout was not yet done with me. About an hour into my shift, when I started to relax and find myself again, I heard a sound that reminded me that nature is not only peace and silence, but also adrenaline. The sound was that of a hyena laughing – a hyena very close to the campsite. With only our spotlights and the moon for light, the three of us on watch duty started searching our sections of grass for the hyena. We knew we were safe and that it was only curious about the foreign smells in its home, but knowing something and believing it can be very different things. Over the next hour, we saw the hyena multiple times as it walked around the campsite investigating us.

A hyena peers through grass towards the camer

I often forget how different it is seeing nature from the back of a safari truck compared to sitting in the middle of the bush, on sleepout, without anything to offer a false sense of security. However, interacting with nature on such a personal level is also the moment that I feel most alive.

Does the idea of reconnecting with nature resonate with you? Would you like to have an experience similar to Franco? Apply today and soon this could be your story.

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