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.
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.
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.