“Moving around by day, looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting. Reawakening your senses” – this is the essence of a Wilderness Trail
As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.
With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.
While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.
Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.
After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.
The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.
But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.
Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.
The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.
With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.
The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.
Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!
The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.
But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.
There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.
It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!
The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.
The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.
The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.
Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).
Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.
As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.
Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.
The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.
The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.
And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.
Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.
It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.
In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!
Students participating in the Trails Guide Course are working towards attaining their FGASA Apprentice Trails Guide status and have already completed their FGASA Apprentice Field Guide/NQF2 qualification. One of the elements of the course is to pass their ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling).
One of the students are pointing out where the bullet should go. On this particular day, each student was required to fire a total of 10 rounds. These 10 rounds are broken down into 3 exercises. The first exercise was a grouping of three rounds followed by an exercise that required 4 rounds. Finally they were allowed to choose their final exercise that involved 3 rounds.
When you are staring into the eyes of a dangerous animal that is intent on doing you or your guests harm, this is how you want to place the rounds. That being said, firing the rifle and taking the life of an animal is an absolute final resort when all other avenues have been unsuccessful.
Safety is paramount at the range. Seeing that live rounds are being used, expert instructors take the time to explain what is expected clearly and concisely. Each exercise is fully explained to the student at the firing line. Neither a rifle nor the rounds are issued without all the relevant safety measures being in place and that includes ear protection as well.
The rules are simple during an Advanced Rifle Handling course. Keep the rifles pointing down range at all times. Do not turn around with a loaded rifle and if in doubt make the weapon safe and ask for help.
For the uninitiated, the sound of the first shot and the recoil of the rifle butt against a shoulder can be rather daunting. Not all of the students on this particular Trails Guide course had previous experience with a .375 calibre rifle. This can take some adjusting to make certain that the rifle is held firmly and that the trigger is squeezed and not jerked. By the end of the day, the instructors had made certain that all the students were competent to complete the exercises.
Watch for the brass. Look carefully at this image and you can see the cartridge being ejected from the breach. The rifles are single action, which means that each round has to be placed into the breach using the bolt action. There is a standard way of this being done and the students competency relies on all aspects of rifle handling being completed correctly.
For those who transgress the range rules, this was the consequence. Push-ups!
In the beginning, it was 40 repetitions, but by the end of the day, the final transgressor ended up doing 60! Although there was a lot of banter around the punishment, all of the students completed their allotted number without exception.
Have you ever heard a .375 rifle go off? During this Advanced Rifle Handling course there were many. Here’s an audio clip of the sound of the rifle cocking and shots being fired.