My life changed in Africa, so I changed with it

Our honeymoon trip, booked with a company called Drifters took us through Zimbabwe and Botswana. In the beautiful area called ‘Mana Pools’, we enjoyed an incredible canoe excursion on the Zambezi river. I will never forget the moment I saw my first ever elephant in the wild. He was approaching the banks of the river to drink some water. This trip gave my husband and me many special memories and I knew at that moment that it had changed my life. Ever since that first visit, the wilderness of Africa got under my skin and I yearned to return. We then took some more trips to Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Each trip left me eager and curious to learn more about the African wilderness I was experiencing.

Lions with a giraffe kill (c) Arda van Dongen

So in 2002, we signed up to do the four-week EcoTraining programme which, at the time, was known as a ‘tourist’ version of the now-known accredited FGASA training. We were based at the camp in the Sabi Sands concession and we had two fantastic trainers: Anton Lategan, now EcoTraining’s Managing Director and Graham Cook. They were both such inspiring teachers and their knowledge of biodiversity was amazing. It was all new to us and fascinating. There was never a dull moment during those four weeks. Memories of highlights from that course included encountering a pride of lions at a Giraffe kill and being able to sit in the vehicle watching them. Anton stopped the vehicle during a game drive to show us a nightjar in the middle of the road and its huge gap. We were following lion tracks and then stopping to give one of the guards who was on his bicycle a lift to prevent him from spooking the lions. We were experiencing a problem with the vehicle and were stationary when an elephant bull was approaching Anton spoke gently to him in a calm and low voice to prevent him from bothering us.

Herd of buffalo visiting waterhole (c) Arda van Dongen

I can go on and on, but for me, this was a defining time in my life. I loved Africa and knew somehow that I wanted to be a part of this breathtaking country! Unfortunately, life gets in the way and good times fade into the background, but South Africa never left me.

In 2009, I lost my husband which was a very dark time for me and I needed time to recover so I chose South Africa to do so. Being in this wild place saved me and learning more about the environment and our connection to it helped me to heal emotionally. Several years passed, I remarried and after I took David to South Africa for the first time. He was hooked. We went back several times to visit Tanzania, Botswana and Kenya. We were always sad to leave, so last year we decided that we had to make a choice: either follow our dream or give up on it.

Assessment in the field with Graham Cooke (c) Arda van Dongen

So we decided to look into options to move to South Africa and after a lot of stress, excitement and tough decisions, we finally made it! On June 2018, we arrived in Johannesburg, a country that would now be our new home!

I have to share my gratitude to Anton, Graham and Lex for planting that seed in my soul so many years ago. My life over the years has changed dramatically both good and bad and I knew that I had no option but to change with it. I am grateful I took that uncertain leap of faith because I am so grateful to be here today.

About the Author:
Arda van Dongen

Arda van Dongen

Explore more

Instructor Richard Davis giving a lecture to several students in nature

Wildlife Conservation with EcoTraining

EcoTraining showcases its commitment to wildlife conservation and environmental preservation by promoting sustainable practices and educating people about protecting endangered species. EcoTraining sets the bar high with its courses, trains field guides, and instils a sense of responsibility towards nature and wildlife.

Read more
a group of students looking at tracks in the sand

Understanding Wildlife Tracking

The ancient art of tracking unveils the secrets of animal behaviour. We explore the key steps of identifying, interpreting, and tracking wild animals in the heart of the South African wilderness.

“Do not be afraid to get dirty. Get down on your knees and have a close look at the tracks. It is essential to take your time. You can make a mistake by being too quick on the trigger when identifying tracks,” said Gerhard Delport, a former EcoTracker student.

Read more
students at lanner gorge

EcoTraining Celebrates 30 Years of Excellence

Thirty years of EcoTraining is a significant milestone. This celebration is a testament to EcoTraining’s long history of promoting field guiding and wildlife conservation. It’s an opportunity to inspire the next generation of passionate individuals who will continue the legacy of creating guardians of the natural world.

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.