EcoTraining’s rite of passage – The Sleepout  

EcoTraining’s rite of passage – The Sleepout

A wild night out – EcoTraining style – looks slightly different from what one would typically associate with a wild night out’… The Sleepout is an EcoTraining rite of passage, a night where one’s senses become heightened to every nocturnal nuance, where you deepen your connection with nature and grow intimate with the sounds and sensations endemic to wild Africa. 

Departure from camp 

Before the adventure can commence, a lot of arrangements get done. Students spend much of the morning busying themselves with the logistics of packing their kit and organizing miscellaneous equipment. Surprisingly, even though the group will seldom venture further than 5km from the main camp, the necessity for sufficient water supplies, a trusty spade, tea and coffee, a table, as well as dinner, breakfast, snacks, and, of course, personal goodies, means the rusty old camp trailer is a vital sleepout accompaniment. 

Camp orientation

As part of the orientation, we address a few things like collecting a night’s worth of wood, heeding the safety brief, reaching a clear consensus on where the ‘ablution areas’ will be, deciding where to unravel your foam mattresses, and the ‘when, how and who’ of the night watch. 

Dusk to darkness: fire making 

Night-time in the African bush is an experience like no other. As the sun slips behind the distant acacias, it’s time to make a fire. Over the coming hours, a small one-log flame will keep the night watch complement awake and warm, create an almost negligible deterrent for predators, heat food, boil water, and enhance the bushveld ambience. 

Photograph © Victoria Craddock

The night sky 

Once the sun has wholly retreated, the stars come out to play. Being detached from the synthetic city glow and having not semi-blinded themselves with the glares of technological devices, students marvel at the night sky. Prominent celestial bodies and constellations light up the night sky. 

Photograph © Christoff Els

The African lullaby 

Once 10 p.m. rolls around, it’s time for the first night-watch shift. Campers, who are not sitting guard, make their way to their mats and unroll their sleeping bags. Hooting owls, laughing hyenas, crying jackals, and roaring lions all layer their calls over chirping insects and melodious frogs. As camp noises dull, this symphony intensifies, encouraging the emptying of the mind. This backtrack does a strange thing to the rhythm of sleep.

On the one hand, it’s the most restful night you can imagine. On the other hand, you never entirely lose consciousness. It’s as if the part of your brain responsible for self-preservation is at war with the feeling that you have returned to the place of belonging. 

Night watch 

While there is a time to surrender to the calming lull of the bush, it is also the time to be alert and have turns to do night watch. At some point throughout the night, each student must take a turn to keep guard. 

Your hour awake, alert and alone is a magical time. As long as the 60 minutes seem, doing regular torch sweeps, stoking the fire, and lapping up the immersive experience. It’s just you, a tiny flame and the vast expanse of the night. 

Rise and shine 

As dawn breaks, if you’ve managed to remain asleep, you are awoken by the evocative noises that intensify as the nocturnals send out their final cries and the diurnals greet the day. 

The crisp air hits your lungs and brings colour to your cheeks. Camp ignites with embellished stories of the evening’s affairs. It’s a brand new day; coffee from a tin tastes like the finest brew, and the crick in your neck feels like an adventure survived. With the lure of a hot shower and cooked breakfast, it’s time to respectfully bow to the bush and head back to the main camp.  

An experience like Victoria’s

If you want to experience a night under the stars like Victoria’s, why don’t you consider joining us on the next 55-day Field Guide Course with EcoTraining? It is an opportunity to enrich your knowledge and bond with nature, embark on thrilling adventures, gain insights into the wilderness, and create unforgettable memories.  

Immerse yourself in the African wilderness, expand your knowledge, and embark on a transformative learning experience with EcoTraining.

Sign up for one of the EcoTraining Career Courses today! 

For more information on our Career courses, contact [email protected] or call +27 (0)13 7522532

About the Author:
Picture of Victoria Craddock

Victoria Craddock

Explore more

elephant herd in Pridelands with the mountain range in the background

The Elephant is Watching You

Many people love encountering elephants on their game drive in the South African bush, regardless of whether it is on an individual or a whole herd. Besides the obvious visible behaviour, there are many smaller signs of body language. Knowing them and being able to interpret them can increase your enjoyment of any elephant sighting.

Read more

The African Wild Dog

African wild dogs are a sight to behold with their colourful coats and long, elegant legs, especially in large packs. Unfortunately, the wild dog is one of the most endangered carnivores on the continent. We find out what makes them unique and how conservation initiatives strive to protect them.

Read more

The people you meet on an EcoTraining course

Have you decided to take an EcoTraining course? Then, a wealth of information is available to take in beforehand. The course descriptions, enough pictures on social media to make you daydream for hours, packing lists, and videos on EcoTraining’s YouTube channel. You name it, it’s there! One thing you won’t be able to find out upfront, though – unless you sign up with a bunch of friends – is who will be the people joining you on the course. In this story, Wim reflects on the fantastic group on his 35-day Practical Field Guide course.

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.