Variety is the spice of life, or so the saying goes. And the diverse group of people who attend an EcoTraining course is certainly testament to this. Each one has his or her own reason for choosing to come on either the shorter excursions or the longer courses. Like Bob Godfrey, an Englishman who has called California, USA home for the last 30 years, or Jean McNeil, a university lecturer in English Literature in London, UK.
Both of them are attending the FGASA Level One 28 day Field Guide Course currently being run in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Jean sat down with Bob and they conversed about the fantastic time they’ve had so far:
Just as we approach the middle of our course here in Lewa, I ask Bob about his motivation and interest in obtaining the qualification.
“Having retired some years ago from formal work, I’ve been doing odd things here and there, but I found I was lacking purpose,” Bob says. “So I’ve started organising little safaris, mostly friends of friends. But I’m trying to do three safaris every year.”
Bob brings his guests to South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, so Kenya is a little out of the way. I ask him why he chose to came to Lewa.
“I’ve been in Kenya twice before, once on a horseback safari and once on a regular safari. Initially I was not that excited about Kenya because the tourism industry is so developed. But Lewa is spectacular, and there are a lot fewer tourists.
“It was timing, really. I would have loved to do the 55 day course. My daughter did it, and it was one of the best things she has ever done. But I couldn’t take any more time from home, and the timing of the Lewa course was perfect.”
Bob and I agree the course has been fantastic so far. On the day we sit down to talk, we see five lions and nine rhinos, both black and white, in our immediate environment. The sheer diversity of wildlife here, from the bush babies and tree hyraxes who keep us up at night near our camp, to the reticulated and Masai giraffe (which both Bob and I have never seen before) to the wealth of bird life we are beginning to get to grips with, makes it worthwhile on the level of wildlife.
But really, it’s the people who make these courses, we agree.
“First let me say, I think Mark (Mark Gunn, our instructor) is absolutely fabulous,” Bob says. “I can’t image a better teacher. To say he is knowledgeable is an understatement.”
On the other hand the sheer volume of information we have to learn and process is sometimes overwhelming. “I’m a concepts guy, rather than a detail guy. And as you get older your memory isn’t what it used to be,” he laughs.
Part of the challenge with these courses is to balance the daily stimulation, delight in what we observe in the natural world, and each other’s’ company, with the serious business of passing an exam and a professional assessment.
We agree our bushwalks here in the sable grassy hills of Lewa have been a hightlight.
“To walk in the bush has been very exciting,” Bob says. “When you’re on foot, you get close to a large or dangerous animal, it’s pretty exciting. I like being in this environment with other people. By and large, the people who do this have a similar outlook on Africa. I like being around people of all ages. The energy and excitement they bring is a wonderful thing.”
(Thanks Jean and Bob for sharing your experience with us!)