December 20, 2013

FIELD NOTES: 2013 FESTIVE EDITION


 
"When you contemplate the unfathomable depth of space or listen to the silence in the early hours just before sunrise, something within you resonates with it as if in recognition. You then sense the vast depth of space as your own depth, and you know that precious stillness that has no form to be more deeply who you are than any of the things that make up the content of your life."

It is that time to sit back and reflect on the year that was.

Looking at the last 12 months, 2013 turned out to be a rewarding year for EcoTraining. The participants on all our courses at our wilderness camps across southern Africa and in Kenya experienced unbelievable adventures. And in the process we reconnected hundreds of people to the natural world through our exciting educational and life-changing wilderness experiences.

Now we are ready to make 2014 an even better one. Nature is powerful - we cant wait for our course participants to spend time in nature, feeling her power and her peace, observing the interactions of life.  Our highlights will be to hear and see the positive responses from each as to what we are going to show them in the New Year!

Before that though, it’s time to open some presents that we collected throughout the last year…

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Selati: There’s never a dull moment on any of EcoTraining’s courses or in any of our wilderness camps. JP and Margaux le Roux are the instructing team at Selati and Margaux explains exactly why:
“As the assistant instructor and the ‘mom’ of the camp, I often have to tell students to pick up their belongings and to not let their things lie around. I always use examples of snakes, scorpions and spiders who often crawl into people’s belongings, and which when provoked, might end up stinging or biting some unsuspecting soul. Now however, I have a new example to use in my repertoire of ‘Please don’t let your things lie around’…
After all the floods and excitement of moving tents due to rising floodwaters, we decided to give the students a well-deserved ‘day off’ to spend at leisure. Most of the group went to either Tzaneen or Hoedspruit for the day, but a handful remained in camp, and to treat them, I said we could go out on an afternoon game drive on our own. What a treat we were in for!
The sun was setting rapidly and as darkness descended, the radio call came in: ‘There are lions in camp! They are close to Tent 13!’ We raced back to camp after I instructed all the guys in camp to gather in the main lecture area or to stay in their tents. As we approached the camp, we went to see exactly where the lions were and how many there were so that we could make a judgement call as to what the plan of action would be.


As we came around the corner, there they were: 3 of them, sprawled out in the middle of the pathway leading from the instructor’s tent to tent 13. It was a lioness and her sub-adult nephew and niece. They were quite relaxed before the young male got up and walked to tent 12. As he disappeared out of view we kept on looking at the older lioness who was very relaxed with in our company.
After a while we saw the youngster appear again: this time with a white object in his mouth. At first we could not see what exactly it was, but then the student that was sitting on the tracker seat exclaimed: ‘Hey! That’s my shoe!’ The youngster had walked all the way to the -outside of his tent and had managed to pick up his Reebok flip-flop. We could not help but laugh at the situation – especially at Christo, the owner of the shoe’s face. It was absolutely priceless!
The jokes started immediately with statements such as ‘Don’t get stroppy with me’ and ‘That youngster has a lot of sole’. He did not even seem guilty as he moved off towards the river to go and chew on his new found toy.
The lioness started to get restless and she started to move off before the two youngsters decided to follow her. We quickly rushed back to the rest of the students to fetch them so that they could also see the cats before they disappeared into darkness.
It was only 2 days later that we managed to find the shoe – half eaten and smelling really rotten. My moral of the story of course is: ‘Please don’t let your things lie around. We have lions with a fondness of chewing people’s shoes!’”

Karongwe: The only guarantee in life is that there are no guarantees, or something to this effect. On an EcoTraining course you can surely count on the unexpected to happen at any moment, to the delight of all involved.
Instructor Massimo Rebuzzi sent through this exciting update on a 28 Day Safari Guide course experienced at our Karongwe wilderness camp:
We were looking for rhinos for a while until we came across fresh tracks two days into the course. We ended up following and tracked down a mother and her calf and stayed with her for a while.
We did a sleep out in the dry riverbed of the Matumi river where we managed to get a friction fire started with two sticks after quite a few blisters. I also showed them how to make bark bracelets, wood whistles and snares in case of a survival situation, amongst many other things.
We found a big male lion on a zebra that he killed and had a good view. That same day we found a huge male leopard on a wildebeest which he killed the day before. We thought he was alone until he got up to drink in the open when a small female followed from behind the termite mound. We were pleasantly surprised when they came out in the open in the middle of the day to allow us to have a great sighting. They were mating the whole day. We also had a good day view of some spotted hyenas at their den with some cubs.


We decided to try track some white rhinos on foot. We battled to find fresh tracks until we looked in the river bed. Not only did we find tracks, but two rhinos walking our way, so I briefed the students as to how one should handle the situation.
They kept coming closer till I had to send the students to a safe zone behind a tree,  and then they picked up our scent and decided to run in our direction which made life a bit more exciting.
When we arrived back in camp that evening, the elephants were everywhere, throwing rubbish bins around and forcing our staff to retire into the bathrooms for two hours. We had a spectacular view while they mingled around camp then I had to escort the students back to their tents. There was also a huge male lion which walked through camp just before the elephants.
This afternoon we found a female cheetah with her four cubs. She was very relaxed and let us watch as her cubs played with each other on top of her. 
Last night was the same, we watched the whole herd feed through camp while we were safe on the upper decks. They have been in camp almost every night, providing the students with some amazing experiences.
I would say overall a great course!”

Makuleke: When one decides to come on an EcoTraining course, you’d better believe that each day is going to be better than the previous.
There are however certain days that will stand out for individuals. Ruth Welti, a participant on a 28 Day Safari Guide course at our camp in the Makuleke concession in the Kruger National Park, describes one of those days.
“We had this perfect day.
In the morning our group went out for a game drive and the other group for a game walk. We met up for morning coffee at the same place, Lanner Gorge, a beautiful spot. 
Back at camp, Mark (Gunn, instructor) gave us a lesson about knots and the various things you can use them for. After some siesta time and lunch, we all went out together to have sundowners at Crook’s Corner. The two vehicles filled up with giggling people intend on having fun.


We arrived at Crook’s Corner, the spot where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet, and we just soaked in another beautiful spot in the concession. The Limpopo River didn’t have a lot of water, if we wanted to, we could have walked over to Zimbabwe or Mozambique.
We sat down for a couple of minutes, then decided to have a drink.
I can’t remember who saw or heard the elephant first. But then someone said ‘There is an elephant coming.’
Mark and Ian (Kruger, assistant) got up to have a look…and the elephant was literally just around the corner! They quickly moved the vehicles closer to us, just to make sure that the elephant didn’t come between us and our escape.
All of us were standing next to the vehicles snapping away, as this big bull elephant walked past…
He decided to walk through the bush and for a couple of minutes we could just hear the movement, without seeing him. It amazed me once again how quickly this big, grey animal just vanishes, incredible! 
Then the elephant came down to the spot where we were just sitting a couple of minutes ago. So beautiful to look at! He probably felt so safe, he wasn’t in a hurry, had a snack from time to time, and then proceeded to walk slowly across the Limpopo in the sunset. Stunning!!!”

Mashatu (Botswana): There’s no such thing as luck, some would say. It’s rather a case of time and opportunity meeting at the right place.
A group of EcoTraining Professional Field Guide students then most certainly hit the jackpot while they were on the trails guide part of their course in Mashatu in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana.
Here is Jomi Krobb with details of this exciting tale:
“Brian Rhode and Chantelle Venter (EcoTraining freelance instructors) arrived in camp and immediately it was clear to us that these guys know the area exceptionally well. We have had some awesome sightings on foot and on night drives since they’ve been here.
Days like this - on the morning walk one group went into the thornveld area and had four elephant encounters, while the other group had two elephant encounters and identified a wild dog track. This was something very promising, as they have not been seen in this area of Tuli for quite some time.
On the afternoon walk we had an extremely close encounter with a breeding herd of elephant numbering about 20, with some very young individuals. They had us scrambling down the river bank as an escape route while Brian and Henry had to stand tight as the older females in the herd decided what to do. Luckily they left our group alone. We then had an encounter with another bull.


We also spotted a large lioness from a ridge and managed to approach her within 70 metres without her noticing us. It was very satisfying to sneak up on the 'king of the jungle' or 'queen of the jungle' rather. 
As it was Brian and Chantelle's last night they took the students on a night drive and given the fact we had seen an aardvark a few nights previously on a drive, most people eagerly came along.
And what a drive it was!
We saw two brown hyenas together, which is extremely seldom to see. We also saw the small bat-eared fox. And then a big surprise – two hippos, which in recent days have been spotted in the pool by Solomon's Wall ran out into the open in front of the car. In their long stretch as head instructors here, Brian and Chantelle had never seen any in Mashatu.
We also managed to see the very rare Selous’ mongoose.
And the absolute highlight and first for all the students – a striped polecat! To put into perspective how rare this animal is to see – in their 25-odd year long careers as guides, Brian and Chantelle have seen around three striped polecats each. And that is considered a lot.
It was another fantastic day in Mashatu, wow!
PS: Brown hyenas and striped polecats don’t stick around to be photographed, sadly…”

Lewa (Kenya): What an epic 11 hour game drive! Instructor Mark Gunn and participants on a 28 Day Kenyan Safari Guide course in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy had an adventurous day exploring.  This is what transpired:
“Up at 04:30. Quick breakfast and off to Borana. Hope to find their lions. Impala alarm calling in our camp. Can't see the predator.  Verreaux’s eagle owl and pearl spotted owl calling.  05:00 depart... the headlights cut a thin line through the darkness as we drive over the grass plains. Stop at a dam. Crocodile, marabou storks, pink backed pelican, white stork, yellow billed stork and other waders. Lovely! Trees and hills are taking dim shape as the sky lightens. The stars are fading... Mount Kenya to our left, Borana hills visible in front... sunrise...two giraffe to our left. Hyena calling. That is what was out there.  Southern Cross, Scorpius and the Big Dipper are up...eastern sky is starting to lighten. Jackal family with five pups... Hadedas and turtle doves greeting the dawn. Plains zebra on the right and grants gazelle to the left. Flock of 34 sacred ibis flying past... Yellow necked spurfowl in the road... Black bellied bustard just flew past the front of the vehicle. More giraffe. Now entering mixed savanna... Acacia seyal and Acacia drepanalobium. Kori bustard male up ahead... Eland in the background.  At the Borana gate. We are waiting for the gate guard... oh here he comes. We are on Borana. Riverine trees along the stream... A giraffe on the left, four on the right and another five on the left side. Long climb up the zigzag road... another giraffe... giraffe silhouetted on hill. Low range, second gear... the valley drops away behind us. Six buffalo on the left, two on the right... waterbuck crossed the road. We are rushing to meet the guy who monitors the lions... the lion man is out with guests. We are on a hill overlooking the area trying to see them. Waiting for him to come out...can hear the lion in the valley below... elephant on the opposite hill. We have now found the lion man. Very steep downhill... have wound our way up another valley through thick trees. Huge tree euphorbias and magic guarri trees. Stopped to use the telemetry... still no lions. After a lot of back and forth getting telemetry signals from all angles, we have found a large male lion peacefully dozing under a bush amongst the trees...he is looking up now. A battle scared visage stares out across the lugga (valley). We have left the lion. 


On the way to return to the lion man we have a bull elephant on the right in a lugga browsing on the trees. Early lunch near the windmill. Elephant herd just below us... snow-covered flanks of Mount Kenya visible up the valley. Our lunch break was cut short by a herd of elephant coming to drink... we are all in the car. We and the elephants are waiting. They can smell us. They are suspicious but thirsty. If we behave they will come drink... cool. We have retreated to give them a chance. They are moving in now... reposition to see the water from a nearby slope. Fantastic view. Elephants at the tank. Fever tree behind and then Mount Kenya behind that. Moved off now...going into the forest. Elephant and buffalo... We are following an old road round the mountain and then down the escarpment. We can see out over Lewa in the distance and Isiolo even further. The Matthews range of mountains to the north... we are now down the escarpment. A drop of about 300m... bad road... tiring driving. Giraffe everywhere. Stopped at a nice exposure of metamorphic rock. Driving alongside the Ngare Ndare river... 3 elephant and greater kudu. Back on Lewa. Stopped at big dam. Swap drivers. Rhino at water... pelican floating around...Grevy’s zebra, looking red because of dust bathing. Beisa oryx and warthog... another reticulated giraffe. Grants gazelle and a kori bustard... passing the jackal den. Only one visible this time. Rain clouds looming out of the east. We are all looking forward to a hot shower prepared by Richard, the camp man. Oryx and Grevy’s zebra...two more rhino. Camp is in sight... sorry it is three rhino... lone buffalo bull out on the plains... herd of about 40 Grevy’s zebra crossing the road ahead of us. All out to fill two aardvark holes in the road... small herd of elephant at the swamp. Long crested eagle perched on a tree... large breeding herd of impala... we have just driven into camp. An eleven hour epic game drive. End of the adventure.”


WATCH THIS SPACE FOR 2014



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