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Week 6

19 August 2018

4 am wakeup – 3 exams to cram for

Another week wraps. Sorry I haven’t been keeping up so well these last couple of weeks. The work load has really started to pick-up as we are reaching our assessment time. It doesn’t seem possible that we could be nearing the end as it seems that there is still so much to learn but every day we are reminded that yes indeed get yourself prepared to show us what you’ve got.

Sundays always bring anxiety as it is exam day and then we typically depart for the afternoon. It is our only chance to leave. Our only window of opportunity to buy supplies and drink a real cup of coffee but that too becomes yet another crazy hurried time. Today we stayed on the campus to celebrate Colin’s birthday. He turned 22 yesterday – young pup. Everyone is keeping it pretty low key as tomorrow is the start of another busy week.

Our topics this upcoming week will be Arthropods, weather and geology. One would think that potentially Taxonomy would have come before Arthropods but then again, one would have thought it would have come before all of the topics given that a fair bit of the content relies upon the scientific names – sigh… I guess nothing has prevented me from doing it on my own other than the fact that every moment of every day is scheduled and filled with memorizing the week’s lessons.

Fingers are crossed the exams will be returned before I turn in for the night. Always good to know where you stand before you start a new.

Also up this week are 2 walks with the Trail guides. We are their guests for their assessments. They will be long days. We pull out at 6:30 and will be back in time to make our 2:00 lectures. I am hoping that the walks help prepare me for this week’s Tracking assessment. Somewhere in the middle of this all, I need to study animal tracks, sizes and shapes for Thursday’s practical exam.

(I really had no idea how much work this would be – I knew that I was coming in without the base knowledge one would have if they grew up in this environment but each and every topic has been completely new from beginning to end.)

18 August 2018

Copy that

The day is stacked up. We each need to present one of the biomes in South Africa. I drew the short straw and will be talking about the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt. It is the newest biome and I think they just didn’t know what to do with the region as it is a mishmash with parts of all the others just quite fragmented, small, and wetter. This one biome has everything from forests and dunes, grasslands and thickets, marshes and succulents – it really does have all the options with subtropical rain and temperatures tossed in. I guess when you don’t know what to do or how to categorize something just make a grab bag. I would post an image of the IOCB from my presentation. It is a really lovely regions but the images I used were all downloaded from the web and I do not want to infringe on anyones copyrights. Google iSimangaliso – beautiful.

Remember being a child and having walkie talkies. Fun toys. Not necessarily the best communication and there was always a bit of a question as to what the other person was actually saying. Having radio duty is a bit like listening to others talk on walkie talkies in a foreign language and trying to comprehend what is being said, who is saying, what animal they are talking about and where on the reserve they are. There are specific protocols that are supposed to be followed and for the most part you can pick up on a few of the words. The accent is difficult, the speed of the talk, static – loads of static, names in xhosa, lingo shortcuts and road names I have yet to memorize because there is only 1 map that the names are not in 3 point type and that is hung on the wall in the classroom. Add in all the guides knowing one another’s voices so they are not using their names.

After 4 hours of attempting to transcribe everything I heard (12 pages of notes) I can say that I was able to understand more and have a much better idea of how to speak on the radio in a clear manor – slowly, clearly, with enunciation and the importance of following protocol but I sure do hope that for my assessment drives I know where the Lions are before leave the lodge and that they are lalapanzi (lying down) so that they are exactly in the same spot when I make my way to their “Loc”. Side note – the women speak much more clearly and concisely on the radio. I can cross my fingers and hold my thumbs (the sa equivalent of crossing your fingers) that only the ladies are out guiding when something really awesome happens near by. Good point though is – I can’t be any worse than what I was trying to hear for 4 hours today.

It will be a study cram session again this week though much less so than last week. Wish me luck and a few hours of sleep.

17 August 2018

Calling in at camp

oh no – I knew this day would come sooner or later – I was ill. My whole body ached. I had a nose bleed over night. My eyes were watering like crazy. My voice was scratchy. I didn’t have the energy to put my feet on the floor. Thankfully once they did hit the floor I had my cozy new slippers to put on my feet.

I called in sick on our sustainable living – it was fetch wood day – they seriously didn’t need my help and it isn’t like I would have been much help anyways. I wasn’t going to use a pruning saw to cut firewood. I will make up the time later and put in an extra 2 hours of community service doing something.

Turns out it might have been something going around. A couple people felt similarly last week – good news is that they said it passed quickly. Hopefully, it doesn’t develop into a cold. Otherwise, I am in for it.

I spent the vast majority of the day in bed, sleeping and preparing for my presentation on Saturday. So much for that cellular data plan… burned the mbs of data downloading information and images.

16 August 2018

Pretend Sparring

A day on the reserve – the best days are spent on the reserve. These days remind me of why I am here. The pros showed us what it means to guide yesterday and I have to say it has made a significant difference in the experiences of being in the truck with my classmates. Driving continues to be an issue for a few of the students that are not accustomed to driving standard transmission vehicles but even that is less painful to watch.

This whole thing is a bit odd though. We all pretend that we don’t know all of the same things that everyone else knows. We try to act as if we are new to the reserve, that we do not know where we are going in advance, that this is all a surprise. We ask questions we know the answers to. We ask questions we know are absurd but know that they are questions we will be asked at some point. We need to so that everyone can practice. We need to pretend it is our first day on a game drive. Not that I will ever be a guide but it is good to pretend to be that newbie on a safari. We will always need to be conscious that although we have seen this same herd of young bachelor impalas play sparing to build their fighting skills that it is likely the first time many people will have witnessed this in real life. It is fascinating to watch and to see the group dynamics.

Today’s take away – each day is new, each encounter will bring something new. And of course – Baby Zebra are just the best. One day when I don’t have anything to say I will write a post just about the zebra. (I really do kind of love them so no one better say they are just a donkey with stripes. They are so much more.)

Check out this sunset. We are still in the middle of winter and as soon as that sun goes down completely it is going to get really chilly, really fast but I still wouldn’t want to be tucked away inside and miss it.

15 August 2018

Guests

I think our lack of guiding on Monday inspired the instructors to show us what a guided experience should be.

Schaulk and Pete did not hold back and they set the bar pretty high. We were greeted good morning when we arrived at the lodge. Coffee was set and waiting. Trucks were prepped and nearly sparkling they were so clean. Blankets were perfectly folded on the seats with nasturtiums placed on top.

The drives were interesting and informative. All delivered from a guide not from the point of view of an instructor. Everything was paced well. Although we knew we were heading to the lions because we could understand the talk on the radio at no point did it feel as if we were rushing to a sighting or waiting in line to be the next group to enter the location. It certainly didn’t hurt that we were able to see the lion pride together. They were all lying down after filling their bellies last night or in the early hours of today.

(Did you find the lioness in the above photo?)

I learned a lot today. It was helpful to be reminded what a game drive experience is. I have been on quite a few game drives as a guest at various parks up north and recall them all being awe inspiring. The game experiences here have always been from the point of view of being a student being instructed. Each drive has a purpose, a focus and an intended knowledge outcome. Although the drives are enjoyable there purpose has never been that of enjoyment. Today was about enjoyment. The only thing that could have been improved upon were in the hands of Mother Nature. She was stingy with the sunshine and warmth – to be expected in the middle of winter…

(Lions are a little lazy. If they have a full belly this is how they can likely be found 16 hours a day.)

14 August 2018

Time to bury my head in the sand

We are one month from our final FGASA exam – wow – at times it seems that I have been here for eternity and at others I can’t believe that we are on the downward slope to finishing the guiding portion of our program.

We went on a field trip to the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. It is a small regional museum focused on natural and local history with a bit of planetary information mixed in. It reminded me a bit of fieldtrips to the Fairbanks museum without the lovely architecture and beautiful wood and glass cases.

The afternoon was spent in a biome lecture with an evening of filling in the workbook lessons so not a lot to add of interest to today’s post. Except I did breakdown and bought myself a pair of fuzzy slippers to keep my toes warm when I am not wearing my boots. We still have a fair bit of winter ahead and if all goes well I will be here at the onset of next winter. That seems like a very long ways off right now but I expect it will arrive faster than I could ever imagine.

PS – that is an almost baby Ostrich and it’s mom

13 August 2018

be brave

Today was a good day – stressful but successful.

I was dreading today. It was my day to be the guide – Not Driver but Guide. Anyone that knows me knows speaking isn’t exactly my preferred activity or mode of communication. Even much less so when I am not speaking from a place of knowledge or experience. Although I have learned a considerable amount about being in the bush, I also know the limitations of my base knowledge. The guests are your peers and your instructors – a person that knows what you should know and the people that know exactly the same things that you know so you are basically telling them information that they have also just learned so you feel a bit silly discussing the stripes of the zebra. Needless to say it is a little awkward but it is the only opportunity to practice before the upcoming assessment drives so I figured I might as well jump into the fire and see how it goes.

It also rained over the weekend so there was a lot of water on the roads. Deep, long, muddy trenches, and slippery clay. At times water was up to my doors and I was praying not to stall or bottom out. Fortunately neither happened and driving went fine.

The guiding was not nearly as difficult as I had expected – one of those things that once I began I just kept going and it became slightly more natural. I would not say that I excelled but it was better than I had thought it would be. It will get better before my assessment drives in 2 weeks. I need to add to my knowledge base but it will come with time and practice.

To top off the day we had a dress up evening of wine pairing. Fun was had by all and some very surprising combinations really worked. Who would have put fresh lemon and port together?

Week 5

10 – 12 August 2018

ugh — this week…

I knew there would come a day or two that I would not either have the opportunity to write or the inspiration to do so. It seems that a number of factors all came together which prevented me from updating the blog.

Last week was incredibly hectic. I understand why the word hectic gets used so frequently in South Africa just as a general description of the current state of being.

We covered a tremendous amount of material last week. Many walks, and a few drives trying to gather plant, grass and tree samples. Attempting to find grasses with their inflorescence, flowers and trees in the middle of winter is near impossible. That impossibility only manages to make identifying them also impossible when trying to match them to the vibrant full photos of the same species in full bloom.

Add on that we also had a cold snap – a really cold cold snap. There were a couple of nights that dipped down to nearly 0 (likely 0 but no one wanted to acknowledge it being that cold) with the days in the low teens. Pretty miserable when there is only 1 room with a wood stove that only slightly warms the space. Needless to say, I spent most of the week hugging my hot water bottle.

Did I mention the rain – yes that is right – add in a full day of rain. No sun, no solar, no charging, no computer, no wifi.

There were a couple of highlights.

We had a vegetarian lunch on Women’s Day. That was followed up with a “Glad you enjoyed it, it won’t happen again” sigh… Six months of meat twice a day, 7 days a week might just turn me into a vegetarian to compensate for the gluttonous consumption of flesh. I really do find it difficult to rationalize one moment training to be respectful of nature and animals and on the next being served pounds of food that are detrimental to the environment, our individual health and the animals that are killed to feed us.

Saturday went as Saturday goes. We began with our Sustainable living chores. This week we went to a brush lot to gather wood for the wood stove. I can’t say that it was quite like any other experience I have had at a wood pile. Granted, we are in the Eastern Cape. Most trees here are bushes, not what a Vermonter would consider a tree. The vast majority of branches pulled off the mound were about 2 inches in diameter. That might actually be a good thing though as the tools we had to cut the wood consisted of pruning saws and machetes. After 2 hours of 12 people working we managed to gather enough wood to fire the outdoor brick oven to cook our flat bread pizzas for dinner. They were absolutely delicious.

The remainder of the day, night and morning everyone spent cramming for our Sunday Plants, Trees, Flowers and Historic Human Habitation exams. There was an overwhelming sense of dread expressed by all. We haven’t received the exams grades back for this week but it will not be pretty for anyone based upon general impression. 75 to pass… we shall see.

Thankfully, the week ended on an upswing. We had a fieldtrip to the beach. I found a nice little cove tucked a bit out to the wind where all I could see was sand and water and all I could hear was the sound of the surf. Perfect.

Back at the lodge now. I intended to turn in early for the night to catch up on the sleep I didn’t get last night but alas I will be driving the game truck first thing tomorrow so I have a bit of homework to do to prepare for the drive. This upcoming week we will be focused on Fish, Biomes and Weather so I want to read-up on the sections to figure out how I may be able to incorporate the topics into my guided drive.

Hoping that this week turns a corner. I could use a bit of a boost. Missing a sense of normalcy, feeling healthy, getting exercise, being with friends and family, etc.

09 August 2018

I will be back to write more but I want to make sure to get this up.

Today is Women’s Day in South Africa.

I want to celebrate this amazing group of women

Akashinga- The Brave Ones

www.iapf.org

check them out. Gotta run – Late for class.

08 August 2018

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the content of the week but today added a bit of clarity to the chaos.

This week we are covering Trees, Plants and Flowers. South Africa is one of the most diverse places on the planet for their immense endemic plant species and we are not even scratching the surface of the topic yet the quantity of the material is daunting. I do have a true interest in plants and I do wish that I had time to really learn the material. A week just isn’t enough time for any topic yet it is all we have before we move on to the next set of lessons. At times I think the only thing I will take away is the knowledge of how little I have learned and how vast each topic could be if we only had the time to focus.

The number of species we need to identify cuttings of are considerable, we also need to know the medicinal uses, the folklore of the plant, the science behind it’s structure, it’s method of reproduction, how palatable it is for grazing and the favorability of the soil based upon the plants established in the area. It truly is fascinating, I am just disappointed that I will only be memorizing it for my exams and likely have limited opportunity to put the knowledge to practical use before it slips my mind when I become focused on whatever I next have to “learn” for an exam.

In a previous post I also made mention of it being winter. Winter isn’t exactly the pest time to be trying to collect samples of grasses or flowers in bloom. None of the trees are flowering of fruiting. The grasses are brown and lack their inflorescence. A few early blooming flowers are opening but nothing like it will be in a month’s time. All these factors add into the difficulty of the lessons this week.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t a scientist among our group of students. I think we have thoroughly frustrated our instructor with our missing vocabulary (or more accurately stated missing “appropriate” vocabulary) and with our lack of base understanding for taxonomy. I can feel for him. I have stood in front of a class of students talking quite eagerly about the structure of typography to only be met with blank faces and worse yet mystified faces trying to comprehend my level of excitement for the letter A. It is truly dreadful and I think we collectively did that to Koenraad over the last two days.

We really didn’t show our appreciation for our visit to the largest Cabbage Tree on the property. I am not tall enough to even attempt to reach the first branch on the Cabbage Tree but I did manage to find my way into this one (with the help of a knee up from Martijn).

07 August 2018

Are we having fun yet?

I am often asked the question – Are you having fun?

That isn’t exactly a question with a straight-forward response. I think the best answer would be that I am having a rewarding experience. Some of which is remarkable, some fun, some expanding, some difficult, some tedious and some plain un-enjoyable. It is like everything in life – there is good and there is bad but all is a learning experience.

The good is quite obvious – I see elephants in their native habitat, I hear lions roaring at night, I get to walk with zebra and I am learning about things I am truly interested in. On the flip side, I also get to be spoken to like a child being scolded and I am scheduled from the moment I leave my bed until I retire in the evening. I am never alone – you can’t be alone here – there is nowhere to go. As anyone that knows me, I very much value my alone time. I am most productive, most clear and most creative when I have space and time. I have neither of those things here. Oddly the most I am alone is when I am writing these daily blog posts.

For being so distant from the “real world” one would think that the opposite would be the case –I would hear nothing or I would be surrounded by the sounds of nature but that is so far removed from the reality. One can’t even find a quiet place to study unless you wait until the late hours of the evening.

We are still in the middle of winter so the sunsets around 6 pm. When the sun sets so does our primary source of heat. It cools down really quickly. This week has been really chilly (0-8 at night – mid teens during the days). More cold weather, wind and rain are ahead. My peers have a tendency to tuck away into their rooms early as bed is the only hope one has of being warm. The upside is that it does leave the lodge a quiet space most evenings after 9 pm. We also have early calls most days. This week we have had 6:30 meeting times every day and have been out on walks by 7:00 am. 9 to 5 is still far too many hours for me to even attempt sleeping even when the warmth of bed is typically calling my name.

Give me 3 months and I will be commenting to the sweltering hot days and how I can’t escape the heat. The Bay Area does have it’s benefits…

06 August 2018

Turning over a new leaf

A new week begins. This week we are focusing on Trees, Grasses and Plants. I know I say this about every week but this one might be tough as it is such a big section and there is so much to learn (like every week). I am still astonished by the pace of the learning. There is no way that it will all be retained but I guess exposure to what you don’t know will always inspire on to stretch further and push to learn more. As the say goes “If you don’t know to care, how can you be expect to.” Exposure is the first step to learning.

The schedule this week starts early and ends late. We begin each day at 6:30 for our pre-walk discussion. The days roll on from then with a walk, class, lunch, class, drive and then dinner and workbooks. I am glad that I got a headstart on the written work yesterday.

Not sure what the take away for the day should be today. Will have to think on this one before I shut my eyes tonight.

There is one update regarding ProjectThorn. I was interviewed yesterday for an article that is going to run in a South Africa’s Country Life Magazine about our horses at iMfolozi. If I can locate an online version I will include it in a post.

And Speaking of a New Leaf – we may have made progress on yesterday’s topic of a more vegetarian based menu. We were asked for menu requests and there are more vegetables on the posted menu. Not going veggie 4 meals a week (Maya’s request) but it is certainly progress. Hope it goes well!

Last week was amphibian week and we didn’t have much luck finding any given how cold it was but we found this guy today while we were on the reserve looking at plants.

Week 4

04-05 August 2018

Sustainable Living

Week 4 has come to an end. I am afraid there is ever much to report over the weekends given Saturday mornings are spent doing “Sustainable Living” and the afternoons are spent studying. Sundays we have exams in the morning and generally hire a driver to take us to town to buy supplies, eat vegetable and drink real coffee.

Since “Sustainable Living” is a topic we address weekly by doing chores around the camp I do wish that Ulovane would consider the topic seriously. They do when it comes to respect for the natural environment, reusing, recycling, repairing, and renewable energy. We do live off the grid for electricity and the water I believe comes from a well. Cooking and hot water are fueled with propane. We do have a backup generator but it has only been turned on twice since I arrived so the solar does supply the needs for the camp. (there are about 22 people that live here full time – 24 hours a day.)

The one area where we at Ulovane fall down severely is when it comes to the consumption and preparation of food. We consume meat at rates that are extreme. Massive pots of red meat are prepared daily for both lunch and dinner. I have never consumed so much meat in my life. The vegetable option is regularly pickled beets (don’t get me wrong – I do love pickled beets but as an accompaniment not a main side vegetable). Potatoes are also often the only vegetable, which I don’t exactly consider a vegetable despite the fact they grow. In my mind a potato falls into the starch category.

We have a couple vegetarians among us and I truly feel for them. Every day they receive either frozen vegetable patties or a soy based food that resembles a sausage. I have opted to not go that route for myself not wanting to consume that much processed food or soy based food. The quantity of meat has been difficult on my system. I sound as if I have a lion living in my abdomen most days. I have never made such uncontrollable vulgar noises.

One would think that this would be an easy shift for an organization to make given the commitment to sustainability but the cultural expectation is that meat is served at every meal. This will be a significant barrier. WIsh us luck.

I must be truly desperate for puppy love and warmth. I broke down and bought a hot water bottle to warm my bed. We are expecting 0 degrees Celsius this week. (Sorry Guston.)

03 August 2018

Always a Plan B

As with all things in the bush – plans are subject to change. Originally we were to walk out at the far end of the reserve in an area we had yet to visit but the other group needed the truck that can go on the highway so our walk was moved. …And that didn’t even go quite as planned.

The new destination was to walk along the side of the river and then back along the plain on the other side. When one thinks “Elephant Path” on would think a relatively open pathway. Not the case. It was thick thicket – thick thorny vicious thicket. I can’t imagine that an elephant passes through but that might be why they have such thick skin. I am also suspect as we didn’t see many elephant tracks or much dung spread around the way. We did, however see an excessive amount of lion tracks and evidence of their past visits to the area.

As we were approaching the crossing low and behold there was the elephant – the grumpy male in musth. Plan changed again as we were unable to use the crossing he was occupying. Our options were to return the way we came and we were already running behind schedule due to the difficulty of the terrain and the distance, to wait for him to move on or to find an alternate route. The choice was made to find an alternative. We were fortunate to find the boat at the bird blind. We borrowed it and rowed across the river.

In the time it took us to make it to the other side of the river the elephant made his way in our directions. We popped up to the plain just after he passed by our location. Thankfully he didn’t take any notice of us – neither picking up our scent or sound because the wind was blowing and was blowing in the opposite direction or potentially he just didn’t care about our being in his space.

Needless to say – we stepped along swiftly and scampered across the plain, back to the river and up to where our truck was parked.

Radio skills class is about to begin – Over and Out.

02 August 2018

Feeling privileged.

Today we had our first official walk on Amakhala. On past walks we were always within 200-300 hundred meters of the vehicle and always in a well inspected area or in an area where we knew there was no dangerous game. Today was different. We left the truck at the conservation center and walked for 4 hours. The reserve from foot is a very different.

Aside from the vantage point being quite different on foot than in a Land Rover, the sounds and smells are different. The sounds of nature take the forefront. You become acutely aware of the sounds you make with every step – The swish of your pants, the snapping of a branch, the landing of your foot on the soil. As you brush by the plants you smell herbal scents being emitted. Gone are the diesel exhaust and the vibration and rumble of the engine.

When we walk it is with a Trail Guide and a back-up guide. The guide is responsible for the route and pace and ultimately all of us should a situation arise. The back-up guide also walks with a rifle, is constantly surveying the surroundings and is responsible for communicating our locations to the APU unit and listening in for radio calls. We walk silently in a single file line and move as a unit.

The next thing you notice is that you are noticed. The animals are keenly aware of your presence. They have little fear of the vehicles. They have been desensitized to the approach of the game vehicles or they are just indifferent as they have no instinctual reason to fear a vehicle. A zebra that you can pass by at 30 meters without them lifting their heads is suddenly aware of your every movement at 300 meters. They are alert and watching your actions to determine if you are a threat that they need to flee from. With time a few will relax and return to their grazing but the male of the harem will remain on guard.

The thicket that you pass by in a vehicle is now a potential hiding spots for predators. You pass by with far more caution on foot. It is altogether a new experience and one that I very much look forward to in the next section of the program. Seeking the small, nuanced relationships between the land and its’ inhabitants will be much more my pace. Although exciting to rush from sighting to sighting I want to feel more connected to the place. Today was a excellent taste of what awaits.

Let’s hope my knee and hip are up for the task and that I pass my Field Guide qualifications so that I can move on to the Trail Guide portion.

The next thing you notice is that you are noticed. The animals are keenly aware of your presence. They have little fear of the vehicles. They have been desensitized to the approach of the game vehicles or they are just indifferent as they have no instinctual reason to fear a vehicle. A zebra that you can pass by at 30 meters without them lifting their heads is suddenly aware of your every movement at 300 meters. They are alert and watching your actions to determine if you are a threat that they need to flee from. With time a few will relax and return to their grazing but the male of the harem will remain on guard.

The thicket that you pass by in a vehicle is now a potential hiding spots for predators. You pass by with far more caution on foot. It is altogether a new experience and one that I very much look forward to in the next section of the program. Seeking the small, nuanced relationships between the land and its’ inhabitants will be much more my pace. Although exciting to rush from sighting to sighting I want to feel more connected to the place. Today was a excellent taste of what awaits.

Let’s hope my knee and hip are up for the task and that I pass my Field Guide qualifications so that I can move on to the Trail Guide portion.

01 August 2018

I have learn so much but have so much to learn

Today was our first tracking assessment – basically, it was a mock assessment so that we would understand how the process works before our first assessment that counts.

They do not make it easy. The tracks were not clear and never as pictured in the tracking book I have been studying. Additionally, the scoring seems undully harsh as well. Based upon the difficulty or the information they request an ID can be worth up to 3 points of which you can receive partial credit. The harsh aspect is that should you get the answer wrong, you don’t just not get the 3-points, rather you are assigned a -1. Should it be a level 2 question that you answer incorrect you score a -2. Likewise if you get an easy 1-point track wrong you receive a -3. They really make it hurt. You can imagine how ecstatic I was to score a 61 on my first try. There were critters I didn’t even know existed prior to trying to identify their track.

Shani, our most experienced tracker on the faculty and the person who assessed us, said we should all be happy with our first attempt. Typically, scores are in the 20s and 30s. I think we can all thank Pieter for changing the bird walk last week in to a tracking walk.

Tomorrow is a big day for the all of the Ulovane students. We have been invited by the Trail Guides to take a 5-hour walk on the reserve with them. They have been going through extensive trail training and firearms training the last 3 ½ weeks and we will be the first people they guide on a reserve walk. Instructors will be present but we are under their purview. This will be a preview of the next section of the program for those of us who have chosen to continue on after the field guide training. It should be exciting and intense. Hoping the elephants stay their distance and the cats are all slumbering with full bellies from the Kudu kill.

31 July 2018

It’s my birthday and it’s frog day!

We are headed out in an hour to catch frogs – Nothing like taking me back to childhood.

I will likely not be quite so excited about frogs once I start studying for the exam where I will need to identify them by their call but for now I am going to enjoy it.

It is a beautiful day here as well. Sunny and warm. I am done with my workbook early for the week so I took a nice long shower in the warmth. Our showers are outside so being winter you can imagine how unappealing a shower could be when it is single digit temperatures (Celsius not Fahrenheit – no way I would consider taking a shower in below freezing conditions)

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It’s also World Ranger Day. I don’t mind sharing my day with all the rangers out there that are protecting wildlife around the globe. All the student her put together a video. It can be found on the Ulovane Facebook page.

Gotta hop-to-it (corny I know) – off to frog!

We managed to locate 2 frogs on our trip of the same species.

The trail guides surprised me with a birthday cake when we returned from our late drive. The cake was enjoyed by all. Sweets are a rarity around these parts – near endangered actually.

here’s to another year

30 July 2018

5 hours behind the wheel and 4 hours in the tracker seat today. I am one tired girl. By no means am I complaining though. The tracker seat is the best seat on the truck. I will admit that I was a bit nervous and feeling quite exposed when we approached the lions. Thankfully the two sisters we napping after their morning feast. The family took down a very large male Kudu in the early morning. They were dozing for a bit while staying close to guard their kill.

I am becoming a more competent driver. The Land Rover is a temperamental one. It is a must to shift into low if you want to go up anything with a grade or you are guaranteed to stall. I do prefer Theodore though – He’s topless and aren’t you supposed to be in a Land Rover if you are on a wildlife reserve? It is all part of the romanticized safari fantasy.

We made it to another new part of the reserve. The main benefit of the full day drives is that we expand our range. Today we explored the Northern Territory to find the Buffalo. Not exactly sure how the Buffalo made the Big 5 list as they basically look like a big cow with funky horns on their head. Temperamentally they are more hot tempered and unpredictable then a cow. Yet they are one of the must see animals for first time safari goers. I know they are impressive when in a herd of 500. 500 of any animal is impressive to experience especially one of that size but I would opt for an hour with a few giraffe any day.

Going to cut this one short today. I have some frogs to study and tracks to memorize. We are having a mock tracking assessment on Wednesday to prepare for the practical tracking exam on Friday. Hoping by then I can tell the difference between a Springbok track and an Impala track.

Week 3

28-29 July 2018

Well another week has wrapped and with it another couple exams have been taken. The pace of the program is fast – too fast to have any chance of the information fully sinking in. Our topics last week were Birds and Reptiles. Two incredibly difficult areas for me. The birds involve sound recall – not a strong point for me (just ask Charlie about all the song lyrics I get wrong and how tone deaf I am when trying to sing along.)

As for the reptiles – I am reluctant to make friends with any snake regardless of whether it is a harmless little garden snake. Knowing more about them makes me even less excited by the prospect of one crossing my path. For example a Black Mamba can move over 20 kph (I certainly wouldn’t win that sprint). They can grow up to 4.5 meters in length (that is nearly 15 feet), a third of which they can lift off the ground to be right at face height. Should one decide to strike you, you will be injected with a 400 mg of a neurotoxin that will stop your heart. You only need 10 mg of the toxin to kill you. I think it is a bit over-kill.

I will definitely enjoy the upcoming week significantly more than the last. Our topics to cover are: Amphibians, Animal Behavior and Tracking. We will be on a full day drive tomorrow, a night drive on my birthday to find frogs and two 5 hour reserve walks at the end of the week. Somewhere in the middle we will still have lectures and lots of busy work filling in work books but the time out and walk-about should off-set it nicely.

Back to last weeks full-day drive. I haven’t had the opportunity to update you on all the amazing moments.

We found the lions again.

Actually, we heard the lions first…

We came upon them mating. It’s not really an uncommon sighting when the female isn’t pregnant. I am learning a bit about the mating patterns of all the different species. With the lions ovulation is induced unlike with other mammals that go into heat. The process happens over 4 days. During those days the lions mate 2 to 3 times an hour every hour. Sounds pretty intense but from the video below you can see it isn’t so much so. The average copulation lasts 28 seconds. From what I am told that by the time day 4 rolls around the dominant male in the area would have picked up on the scent of a female about to ovulate and would of made his way to her. As the dominant male in the territory the other potential studs would either step aside or risk a battle with the alpha for reproduction privileges. Natures way of making sure the strongest genes are passed along.

27 July 2018

Opeing up the floodgate seems like an appropriate title for today

Well today sucked.

I guess for every good day there has to be one that counters it. The pendulum does swing both ways. Yesterday was incredible – today wasn’t. Can I blame it on the eclipse?

Rather than recapping how awful today was, I’ll back track to yesterday.

We were on the reserve for a full 8 hours, which allowed us to explore the far corners of the reserve. It is a very large area so on a 3 hour drive you are pretty much relegated to the nearest corner. By no means is that area limiting in the experience it provides but you really begin to see the diversity of the landscape one you start to explore beyond the beaten path.

The image above is Amakhala’s Grand Canyon. It is remarkable beautiful and one would never see it from the game vehicle. What is really remarkable is that just 50 years about this canyon was a cattle path. Yes just 50 years about the canyon was just a walkway to the cows on their way to a water source. If one ever needs an example of the power of water to sculpt a landscape they need not look any further.

We only viewed the canyon from above for multiple reasons – the foremost being that it is a basically untouched environment by humans and the intention is to keep it that way. The area is not accessible to any guests staying on the reserve. The only people that can walk in the park are trained trail guides of which there are very few on the property. Secondly, it would be the perfect place to go should you want to be cornered by any predator. There is nowhere to go should you enter the canyon. 1 way in, 1 way out. Should a leopard pick up your scent and decide to follow you the end result is pretty obvious.

Once we have passed the first 10 weeks of field guide training a few of us will be moving on to the trails portion of the program. There would be potential to return to this location but it is unlikely. I am thankful to have seen it this one time.

(Again, I could have used the time to be learning about the damn birds, had we maybe today would not have sucked so much, I would not have swapped this opportunity.)

26 July 2018

Tastes Like Chicken

When you are traveling and exploring food alternatives (or maybe better said deciding between the only available options) you always ask “What does it taste like?"

The answer you want for all those times when one doesn’t know how to describe the food in your language or for when you REALLY do not want to know what you are eating, you hope that the person  responds by saying “Don’t worry – It tastes like chicken." Not the case today.

I can now say, that the number one source of protein in the world does not taste like chicken. Oddly enough it tastes like Basil.

Termite Pesto, anyone?

Today we spent the entire day on the reserve – lots of exciting and beautiful happenings. I just don’t have time to edit and upload images today. Tomorrow we will be here for the entire day and after the bird ID exam I am hoping to have the opportunity to gather my thoughts and will share them with you then.

25 July 2018

Just when you think you are ahead.

Today started off amazingly. There was a fine mist in the air and visibility was low. It felt a bit like coastal California where the air can be so wet that it is if you are standing in the rain. I could have almost fooled myself into believing I were there had I not been surrounded by the continuous morning calls of the birds waking.

Birding was to be the topic of the day. We all loaded into the Land Cruiser and ventured to a new section of the reserve. Much like the one were we live there are no predators so you can walk without fear of dangerous game. The intention was to go on a bird watching walk. Our exam is on Sunday and we need to identify 40 key species by sight and sound plus all the related information about nest, feet structures, social groupings, mating rituals and throw in taxonomy just to make it hard. Birds are one of those areas where I am starting off at zero. I have no base knowledge to build upon. I am starting off from scratch and I was quite looking forward to the 4 hours with a single focus.

Unfortunately, after the first hour the bird watching switched topics to tracking. Don’t get me wrong – I find the tracking absolutely fascinating but I really did need the time to learn about birds. It is definitely not something that is easy for me.

And on that note it is time for me to put my headphones on and listen to what a Bar-throated Apalis sounds like.

24 July 2018

Take Away

One of our instructors yesterday advised us to always review each trip into the bush and determine the one thing that can be taken away from the experience. Something that you have seen or seen in a different way, a smell, an interpretation, a sound. It can be anything – just take note of it.

This is easy in the beginning – everything is new. Too much is new. You can’t begin to take it all in. It is overwhelming. Once you have seen the big mammals on your checklist and another harem of antelope, a tower of giraffe browsing and dazzle of zebra you begin to see beyond the postcard photograph. (yes, it is a dazzle of zebra)

That is when it actually becomes even more exciting. I know that doesn’t sound right. There is nothing like the first time seeing a crash of rhino and I will never forget my first leopard sighting. Those types of encounters will always bring about a rush of excitement that is incomparable.

Yet once the bush has captured you imagination, you don’t need those exclamation points to find the experience rewarding. Every time you go out, you will still experience something new. If you don’t it means you weren’t present. There is just so much to see, an endless number of connections to make and relationships to observe. Everything is linked. The exclamation points are a bonus in the overall experience.

That is my take away for today.

23 July 2018

Monday, Monday

I look forward to Mondays!

Not sure I ever thought I would look forward to a Monday morning but my Mondays certainly are not typical these days. Our Monday mornings at Ulovane typically start with a trip to the reserve to kick off the material we are going to focus on this week.

Birds and Reptiles – eesh – it is going to be a rough week for me on the study front. I may sometimes be a bird brain but I do not have a brain for birds. I have an incredibly difficult time differentiating between the calls. Hopefully by the end of the week that will have changed though because one of our exams next Sunday will be to identify between 40 different birds by their call. I have a long way to go this week.

Today was not only the first time a student has driven the vehicles on the reserve (other than the brief 4 wheel drive practicing) but it was our first walk on the reserve. We took a little hike up the hill with hopes that we would be there as the birds woke for the day. Unfortunately, the wind didn’t cooperate so the birds didn’t appear as they were expected to – that is how it goes.

We did find a few other things though that you don’t typically find when you are focused on finding the big 5 on a drive.

We heard these guys last night. They spent their evening being quite vocal. I have to say – I love hearing the lions roar.

On our coffee stop we found a few tracks.

Ulovane instructor Pieter Dunn gave us a brief talk on analysizing the information we are given at a sight. He spotted the dried soil on the brush as we were driving by.

I am slowly learning to train my eyes to look for what is different and engage my other senses to look for the clues to uncover what took place.

(that said I am not sure I really need to rub my fingers in the dried soil where the male lion marked. the night before. Think massive cat litter box x 10)

Week 2

22 July 2018

Anxiety

Exam Day — again. I am going to begin to despise Sunday mornings. Every week we will have a series of exams. Today we were tested on Mammals, Amakhala and Vehicle operation, safety and radio procedures.

Aced the vehicle exam (Thank you Whistlestop Wheels for all the driving experience), 94 on Amakhala (I can barely remember names in English – I am nearly helpless in xoshi) and sadly an 88 on the mammals. The dang Near-Ungulates hit me hard and then a few silly errors. Better next time.

After the exam a few of us hired a van and made a trip into Grahamstown. Unfortunately, it is a rather small town and many of the stores closed down at 1:00. We got there just in time to make it into the bookstore before the doors locked. I was able to pick up a few books that should make studying more efficient – hopefully. Regardless, it was very nice to sit in a café, have a nice salad and have a real coffee. The local Pick ‘n Pay was open so we stocked up on note pads, black pens and Tippex (correction fluid). It just happens that all of our work needs to be hand written in black. I only packed blue pens.

I have to say that I am really surprised with the amount of work that needs to be completed. Much of it seems like work to keep us busy with rote memorization rather than hands on experiential learning but then again there is a lot to learn in a very short time. Our time here is certainly not a holiday in the African Bush.

Tomorrow we return to the reserve and the last 3 days of classroom time and studying will be at the back of my mind except for the fact that I may just understand the calls on the radio. Then again, we begin the reptile and bird segments and I already know that identifying a bird by listening to it’s call is going to be quite difficult for me. Wish me luck.

Cheers!

So this is what really caused the anxiety.
This little guy made it’s way into our room. The responses I received from 2 of the trainers to the posting of the photo were “Eish…" and a couple of monkeycovering it’s eyes emoticons. A positive ID has not been confirmed but the small pincers, the long tail and the colouration indicates that you do not want to be stung by this one. “People don’t typically die from it’s sting but you never know how an individual will react." Not exactly the answer I wanted to hear. Good news – it is extremely uncommon for one to find it’s way inside. Not sure how much better I feel…

20-21 July 2018

A foundation?

I am beginning to see a pattern developing. The two days before exams (typically Friday and Saturday) will be cramming to complete our workbook exercises and studying for our Sunday morning exams.

This week we will be taking 2 FGASA exams on Vehicle operation and Mammals/Taxonomy and 1 Radio and Ammakhala specific exam.

Don’t expect very exciting things to be available on the hectic workbook/study days.

I am a bit baffled by the quantity of material we cover in a very short amount of time. I have no idea how I will retain any of it. I think the approach is to expose us to everything, see what sticks, and then we at least know what we need to learn. Establish a foundation and build upon it.

19 July 2018

So that is how it works

Today was a relatively non-eventful day although a large amount of information was covered. Ben, the owner of the property where the school is located, was our instructor for the morning. He is a bit of an automobile aficionado and was thus tasked with explaining how a combustion engine operates. Don’t laugh, but for the first time I have a vague understanding of how an engine’s pistons rotate the vehicles wheels. Although I have operated a vehicle for many years, I never had the vaguest of ideas as to how the system worked. I might even be able to explain in layman terms the different between a diesel engine and a gasoline powered engine (other than one gets great mileage but pollutes terribly (and VW lies about it).)

The game trucks are pretty basic and straightforward as far as the mechanics of the system – they are just very heavy duty in their build. Driving the Land Rover on the reserve in low with the differential locked felt very similar to driving a farm tractor. (Thanks for the tractor driving practice Dad.) We each got to take a turn driving up and down a couple of a pretty steep, deeply rutted hills with lots of loose gravel. We haven’t hit mud yet or river crossings but thus far I think the biggest concern when driving will be to not bounce a person off the back of the truck. The ride on the back seats is pretty rough in comparison to the ride in the driver’s seat. However, the best view is also at the top spot.

We also practiced vehicle inspections and tire changing. Game trucks have very big heavy tires.

18 July 2018

Turn on the Radio

Game reserves rely on radio contact for most communication between guides and reserve operations. We had our first radio lecture and reserve lecture just Monday and are already seeing the benefit of knowing the other drivers, what they are seeing, and how to request the next position.

We have 2 game trucks for the school – 13 sets of eyes out there seeking the next sighting. Thankfully, we have a few experienced people in addition to the instructors. Today’s sighting is thanks to Mailbongwe’s sharp eyes. Mailbongwe has been working on Amakhala and is now just beginning his training to become a guide. He is amazing. He is constantly spotting distant animals and plants, and repeating bird calls for those of us who are just adapting to our new environment.

Today it would have been so easy for the game truck to slide by the sighting without seeing the animal tucked into the cover of the thicket. I dare say that if any other of has been in the tracker seat we would have missed it. He noticed a flash of pink bubbling from a nostril in the gray underbrush.

Over the radio we hear Indoda Ihlosi Bamba and a location. Our truck immediately changed our planned course and headed in that direction. Once in proximity we requested an “approach”. The request was granted.

This is the scene we came upon.

We were in a pretty out of the way spot so there was little demand to have us move out of the location. We were able to stay with the sighting until the Cheetah decided to take a rest to digest his feast.

Look how distended his stomach is.

17 July 2018

Tracking Day

It was unofficially tracking day today on our drive. We had a bit of rain over the weekend so a few of the reserve roads were closed for 48 hours. The roads opened today for traversing. Between the soft soil and the undisturbed roads for 2 days the tracks were easy to find.

Jackle

jackle with toe nails showing with the print

Dust bowls created by a Speckled Mousebird while having a dust bath

Giraffe

Impala

Rhino – back track stepping on front track

Juvenile Warthog

Cape Turtle Dove

Heron

Kudu

Common Duiker

Waterbuck

Quick post today as we have a lot of homework from today’s lecture and tomorrow we will be on the reserve most of the day with a Land Rover tire changing lesson in the middle.

Please excuse if any of these are mis-identified. I am new at this. If you know better shoot me an email and I will make the corrections – Karriehovey@gmail

16 July 2018

A full day on the Reserve

I do not think many days get better than today. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened on our drive to make the day stand out, rather I think the sensation of this being ordinary is what made it so absolutely magnificent. There wasn’t one stand out sighting or rarely seen animal – it was just everything. Before we even reached the gates to the reserve there were Mountain Zebra and Springbok. A few birds are beginning to become familiar and I am able to identify a couple of trees – things only a week ago seemed as if they would be impossible to identify. I am beginning to gain a sense of where I am.

We did have a new sighting today. 2 Hippo were recently introduced to the reserve and today was the first time we have seen them. They were in the far distance sunning themselves on the edge of the riverbank. It was fun to see our trainers so excited. They were also seeing the hippo for the first time as well. I have to say how very impressed I am with the knowledge and quality of instruction given by our trainers.

The experience is really quite different from that of being on a game drive with a lodge. We are seeking out every aspect of the eco-system not just chasing the Big 5 or looking for the best angle to photograph a sighting from. They explain the behavior of the animals, the structure of their groupings, the symbiotic relationships between the plants, how to differentiate between 2 similar species based on flight patterns. A drive on the reserve is a fully submersive experience for hours. Smells, sounds, sights. I am just in awe.

Time to transfer all of my notes. Cheers!

Week 1

13-15 July 2018

Wilderness First-Aid – Africa Style

Not a whole lot to report for the last several days. The weather has been cloudy, cold and rainy. Although not pleasant, it has made it easier to sit in a classroom receiving our first-aid training. If the conditions were beautiful it would have been grueling to not be outside.

The approach to administering first-aid in South Africa is quite different from the training that Charlie and I received during the Nols Wilderness First-Aid course this past spring. I guess the thought is that the patient is never far from a vehicle for transport, a lodge for supplies, a road for an ambulance, or a helicopter for an airlift. Stop bleeding, using a splint if necessary and keeping the patient warm are the main actions that can be taken. Whereas, the Nols course seemed more about assessing the scene, monitoring vitals, gathering information about the person and the incident, choosing an appropriate treatment and deciding whether the person can continue or if they need to be walked out to the trailhead. As a trained wilderness first-aid person in the US you are the first and potentially the only person to provide treatment. You need to be prepared to be the only option for treatment for 2 or 3 days depending how deep into the wilderness you are. Legally in South Africa a person administering first-aid isn’t able to even use ointment on a laceration, dispense an Advil to reduce swelling or assist with an individual’s inhaler.

The campus is off the grid. We rely on solar for our electricity and propane for our hot water and cooking. After 2 days without the sun and the projector running fulltime we drained the batteries.

It was really quite lovely to dine this evening with only the light from candles and the wood stove. Unfortunately, someone fired up a generator and now the harsh led lights have taken away the warm glow from the burning flames, and the near silence of the rain drops falling on the thatched roof has been overwhelmed by the rumble or the generator’s motor. Not so far from civilization after all.

Tomorrow we will have our practical and written first-aid exams. Time to put on the headlamp and begin my preparations. Have a beautiful day.

<<< We all passed the practical exams. Just waiting to see if we passed the written exams>>>

Note: Our wifi access is at a picnic table outside. There will not be any updates posted during uncooperative weather conditions.

Faux first-aid scenario of the aftermath of my hand being crushed in a come-along with 2 tons of pressure. Lots of fake blood and wax skin were used this weekend.  Naomie did a beautiful job wrapping my hand and preventing me from hyperventilating.

Week 1

12 July 2018

Exam Day – 1 down 20 to go
(before the one that really counts)

There is an air of lightness and relief this afternoon. All of the anxiety of studying for the exam has dissipated and everyone is cheerful and relaxed.

I suspect this is a temporary state as we will begin 3 consecutive 12-hour days of wilderness first aid tomorrow morning at 7 am. Based upon the equipment that we have hauled into the classroom it will be a bit more extensive than the NOLS class Charlie and I took this spring.

Don’t plan on exciting updates for the next several days. We do not have any outdoor activities schedule and given it is dark by 6ish in the evening we will not be venturing out solo for walks.

The only game for the day was this yet to be identified locust. Give me a few more weeks and I will have a more specific identification. Yes – we learn about all the critters that creep, slither and crawl too. (That will not be my favorite section guaranteed.)

So long for now.

11 July 2018

With a sunrise like this to start the day, it can only be a wonderful day.

What to say about today – other than it was pretty fantastic. I believe that I will get used to waking up with the sunrise. Considering it is the middle of winter, the days still feel very long. It is overwhelming at the moment but I think the overwhelming sensation is because everything is completely new. It’s not just the mammals that we are learning about (even though that is what I have posted images of). We are learning about everything all at once.

On a walk we are introduced to trees and grasses with discussion of which are poisonous and which can be used as a source of water. How are the plants pollinated? What are the root structures? How are individual species of plants and trees utilized by other species for shelter, food, and protection?

As we walk, we search the ground looking for tracks and for territorial marking signs to see which animals have moved through the area and which have claimed it as theirs.

We also move quietly to listen to the calls of birds and look to the sky and search the bushes and scan the ground to see if we can spot them.

We are learning about the hierarchy within a species and the symbiotic relationships between species.

We are also learning wayfinding by referencing the location of sun and of the stars. We are gazing at the Milky Way and identifying constellations.

It has only been 3 days but in those 3 days I have realized how little I know and I am surprised by how much I have learned.

10 July 2018

A bit of a walk

I bet the person that said it is always sunny, warm and beautiful in California is the same person that said that of South Africa. I can confirm that the statement is 100% false. It is cold at night and bone chilling at daybreak. I learned the reason that it feels colder just after sun up has to do with humidity in the air. (no. it is not winter in Vermont cold, but it is I am living in a stone house without electricity or heat or dog to snuggle on cold.)

I was hoping to have time to add a bit more to this but I am truly exhausted. It has been a long day. My roomie is a bit eager to get out of bed in the morning and has her alarm set for 2 ½ hours before classes begin which this morning was 5 am. Anyone that knows me, knows I don’t sleep well and once awake there is no way I am falling back to sleep.

Today began with a 3 hour walk, followed by 2 hours of class, lunch, dish duty, 1 hour of class, an hour break, a 3 hour evening game drive, an astronomy lecture and 2 hours of written homework. Yes a long day. And it starts all over again tomorrow morning at 7 am (or in my case probably 4:30 when the roommate’s alarm goes off.). We have another full day scheduled with a drive, a lecture, and a walk, followed by more written assignments and studying for our exam on Thursday.

I am not at all certain how exactly it will all fit in, especially since we only have instant coffee until Friday when my Pick n’ Pay delivery arrives.

Good night for now.

09 July 2018

First Day – First Drive

There is one question on the FAQ blog post that asks – Why are you doing this?
and I responded: Why not? Wouldn’t you want to?

Well after day 1 drive 1 – this is why. ELEPHANTS!

Unfortunately, my batteries on my cameras were not charged so these are cellphone image. We are on a green campus and can only plug-in wihen the sun is shining and the panels are charging. They are charged now so hopefully I will have more images to choose from.

Yes – waking up and see elephants – that is why I am here.

Of course there are other reasons to be here. Seeing elephants on a regular basis in their native habitat is one very good reason for this adventure of mine.

RHINOS!

Rather rhi-NOs

The ProjectThorn site is about rhinos and helping to protect rhinos. Rhinos are also why I find myself here at Ulovane. Unfortunately the poaching crisis in SA has spread beyond the eastern parks in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Kruger. Reserves in the Eastern Cape are now being targeted by poachers. Thus, we have been asked to not post any photos of any rhino during our stay and training on the Amakhala game reserve. I apologize to all of you who want to see rhino images but I would rather disappoint a reader or two than aid a poacher in locating their next target because of a verifiable siting.

Disappointing but there will not be any rhino images posted during my training at Ulovane.

Tomorrow will be a long day and I have much studying to do before shutting my eyes tonight. Good night folks.

08 July 2018

Arrival Day

I started my day back in the car with a drive to Port Elizabeth. The Karoo is so very extreme in its' harshness. The winters regularly bring dry, freezing temperatures while the summers are 50+ degrees. I had to look it up too 50 degrees Celsius is 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Extremely arid, and extremely hot. I do not think I will be requesting a placement anywhere in the Karoo. Here are a few photos from the last leg of my road trip.
I met my group at the PE airport and we made our way back to the reserve. There are 11 of us enrolled in the full year program and 5 students returning for the 7-week walking guide program.
I wish I had something exciting to say about our arrival on the reserve but it was all about business. Upon arrival, we unpacked our bags and went directly to our introductory meeting. Rules and schedules. There are a lot of both. Our days will be beginning around 6:30 this time of year and will be earlier as spring approaches. We will be in class 6 days a week and taking the FGASA exams on Sunday mornings until noon. Our weekly blog posts are also due on Sundays – So plan to receive a real blog post at least once per week. The returning students have attempted to reassure us that it is manageable – I’m not sure that I fully believe.
The first game drive will be tomorrow morning.
Animal count thus far
Giraffe – too many to count as we passed too quickly and they were numerous
Warthogs – 5
Impalas – 3
Monkeys - everywhere
Great Dane – 1 (Shhh, don’t tell little Guston – I am going to be loving on that furry friend.)

 

07 July 2018

Driving Day

I needed to make my way from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth with a ton of baggage. Anyone who has flown on a domestic flight in South Africa knows how crazy expensive it becomes to pay for your baggage and carry-ons. Not an ideal option for someone with lots and lots of weight in her bags (I did have to pack for a year). So flying wasnt an option. I thought about the train but local friends quickly dissuaded me from choosing that option. I sent out an email to my fellow students to see about catching a ride but no one was going through Johannesburg. Last option (the American option) – Rent a Car and drive.

I had 2 days to make it and 2 routes to choose from. The first highway route was of course the fastest, and of course the easiest, and of course the one I did not choose. The second route was the walk-a-bout route that took me through scenic areas. I touched the corner of Mpumalanga, drove through the Free State along the border of Lesoto, and into the Eastern Cape. Below are photos taken from the car while on the roll. They will give you an idea of the terrain and vegetation in the winter season. Excuse the image quality.

I had hoped to make a few stops along the way to explore some of the towns. Unfortunately, the traveling was slower than I had hoped it would be and the daylight hours are limited in the winter and I didn’t want to be looking for a place to stay after nightfall.

One hazard of traveling after dark are the numerous and large potholes. There are highway signs to alert you to the presence of potholes. Wouldn’t it be better to just fill the holes than to dig a hole for a post to hold a sign to let drivers know there is a hole? Regardless – if you see the Pothole sign be ready to pretend you are the frog in frogger trying to make your way across the road without getting hit or falling in the water. The holes are difficult to avoid during the daylight and impossible to not hit after dark.

06 July 2018

Last day in Joburg

My lovely friend Lucy took the day off to play. We crisscrossed the city hitting all the old spots and a few new ones. Saw a few familiar faces and missed a few peeps I wish I hadnt.

Johannesburg never fails to surprise me with how rapidly it changes. Unexpected areas have changed in positive ways, others areas have seemed to slip

backwards

. To use a very Joburgian expression – Its Hectic.

Much love for JHB. I will be seeing you again.

05 July 2018

Shopping

Buying things in a foreign country is typically easy but never as easy as at home.

Things are always a bit different. Options are similar but never the same. There are brands you recognize so you lean toward those because evolution has taught us that there is safety in the known especially when it comes to the things we put in our mouths.

I have a 10 -

12 hour

drive ahead. Car food will be needed. To fill this need it required a trip to Woolworths (aka Woolies). Yes, Woolworths still exists and its rather swanky. Combine Macys, Target and WholeFoods into one store and you have South Africas Woolies.

This is a sampling of how the day went:
Potato Chips are a perfect

roadtrip

food. A stroll down the potato chip isle can change from a 10 second choice at a grocery store in the US into a 10 minute quandary that has you leaving the store hoping you made the right choice. (And this is in a location with many dietary similarities to the US.). There are Lays – Hooray – a familiar name, a known quantity. But are the Lays crisps with Smoked Beef the same as our BBQ? Do you suppose the Thai Spicy Basil tastes like red curry on a chip? You might not want to consider what the Roasted Herb Chicken crisp tastes like. Saved! Salt and Vinegar – a clear safe choice.

Trust me by the time you have that bag in your hands you are more than thankful that the snack isle is only 1/4 the length of the chip isle in the average American grocery store.

So that was one store, one choice – imagine tacking on the SA post office, cell phone service store (twice), 2 drug stores, 3 sporting goods stores, 2 banks, a stationary store, a salon, a farmers market and finally a bike shop – all without a cup of coffee because you just couldnt face another queue or make up your mind which coffee shop and which coffee to choose.

Unlimited options are crippling. I have a new empathy for people that come to the US. Can you imagine if you didnt speak English having to buy a tube of toothpaste in the US when at your local market the only options were Mint or Cinnamon?

04 July 2018

Happy Birthday USA

This blog post is the result of finding myself incredibly jet-lagged and wide-awake at 2 am, and at 3 am and still at 4 am. At 4 am I decided to give up tossing and turning and be productive.

I arrived in Johannesburg and thanks to those frequent flyer miles that upgraded my seat to business class my knee is not totally wrecked after 2 redeye flights. I would never be able to justify the price of a business class ticket but what a difference it makes on a long flight to extend and prop you legs up.

As I walked through the airport, I made an effort to not be on autopilot. It is ridiculously easy to just move without being aware of where you are or what is happening around you. My father will be coming to visit in September and will need to transfer flights in Johannesburg with slightly less than 2 hours. So rather than just following the moving mass, I took the time to look at my fellow travelers, look for signs, locate bathrooms, take note of the order of things – Do I pick up my bags, then go through immigration, or is it the other way around? (For those of you who are asking yourself that now – it is passport control, baggage claim, than baggage recheck if you are connecting flights. No customs in Joburg – or I didnt pass though it.)

Out the security doors and into the rush of people trying to give you a ride – Does anyone ever jump in one of the cars of the people that descend upon you offering to transport you? Someone must – right? Else, why would you be asked by every other person you pass if you need a ride? I still find this welcome to be a little overwhelming.

Sim card purchased, phone working, next up rental car.

Have you ever noticed that you never get the car they say you are going to get? I reserved a VW Golf (or similar). I have never received the Named car and have always gotten the Similar which is never quite similar. I left the lot with a Datsun Go .

Driving in South Africa

With 30 years of driving experience one would not expect it to be a source of stress until of course you are in a country that drives on the opposite side of the road.

Unlearning automatic processes takes active mental energy. Add in not knowing exactly where you are going and fatigue from flights, I suspect the roads exiting an international airport in the morning hours have to be some of the most dangerous roads in the world.

As a person that believes in education and enrolling in classes to gain knowledge and experience, during my first stay in South Africa in 2012 I hired a driving instructor before taking to the roads solo. I figured hiring a pro to guide me through shifting with my left hand, reminding me that the driver is always closest to the yellow line in the road, navigating on and off ramps on the left was likely time and money well spent. Plus, if there were any mishaps it would be on their insurance.

I believe my strategy was a success, I have spent many hours behind the wheel with only a few Oh Shit moments. The mantra I repeat at every robot (aka stop light) and every stop sign is The Right is Dangerous – a bit like Americas government at the moment

Thats all for the day – it is now 5 and I might have a chance of dozing off.