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.

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.


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


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.