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The first 24 hours on an EcoTraining Practical Course

It had taken us eight weeks, dozens of online sessions, and lots of studying, but our theory certificate was now in the bag. It was time to head out for the real deal! This story is about how my partner Sofie and I lived a dream we’d shared for a long time: to live in the African bush for the best part of six weeks and take an EcoTraining practical Field Guide Course

Back to our happy place

At first, it all felt familiar. For several years, we had spent every possible holiday in southern Africa. Hence, the walkthrough of Johannesburg airport and the rental car pick-up had a reassuring “back to our happy place” vibe. Butterflies kicked in on the road as we tackled the scenic Abel Erasmus pass. This time, our destination was no lodge or campsite but EcoTraining Karongwe! Coming out of the Strydom tunnel, smiling at those epic views over the Lowveld, we felt we were heading for proper adventure! 

Mind the buffalo, will you?

After a warm welcome at the gate, backup guides started the Land Rover and drove us in with fellow students. Amidst the excited chatter, it sank in: we were in Karongwe! A short tour around camp, and then the whole group met in the lecture hall. Our instructors made a quick scan of the room. Their experienced eagle eyes were assessing this new and international group of nature enthusiasts, and they were just as eager as we were to get to know everyone.

After an informative – and rather strict – welcome briefing (safety and organization are essential in the bush), dinner and bed awaited. “Oh, for you guys on the far edge of camp: a moody buffalo was grazing there these past few days, so keep an eye out and just give him his space, will you?” Proper adventure, remember?

Day 1: cat tracks and hippo coffee

The first of our 35 days on this Field Guide course started with a sunrise bush walk. We went through the safety briefing (the first of many rehearsals!) and set off in a single file behind our instructor. Three hours of walking took us. Well, not very far, to be honest. Because straight away, wherever something was interesting, the learning started. And boy, are these instructors good at spotting exciting things! We stopped at so many trees, attractive grasses and “did you know?”-spider webs that time flew by way quicker than the feeble distance would suggest. We spotted our first (fresh!) cat footprints and immediately learned how to identify leopard tracks. The instructor told us countless interesting stories about hippos at the coffee stop. Good timing, as about 30 metres away from us in the dam, a big male was kindly posing for us while we enjoyed our rusks. 

Breakfast television

Back at camp for breakfast: consternation! One of the students had spotted a small snake exploring her tent on the uncomfortable side of the canvas. It is not the ideal home for this creature, even if it turns out to be a harmless spotted bush snake (another thing learned!). The instructor swiftly grabbed the correct tools, expertly removed our slithery friend, and kindly put it back in the thickets where it belonged. We spotted the inquisitive reptile in a tree a short while later, chasing after its lizard-shaped breakfast. Breakfast TV, bush-style, and this was only our first morning!  

Nyala dreams

On our first evening drive, we started to grasp the scope of the task ahead of us. We stopped by a magic guarri bush to learn about its magical (hence the name) powers, by the droppings of a scrub hare (yes, exciting things to know here, too!) and countless other things to study. The learning curve on a practical course is steep and somewhat daunting at times. But as a gorgeous male nyala walked by, showing his peculiar gait against a perfect African sunset, our instructor whispered in his weathered, bush-savvy voice: “Welcome to the best office in the world, folks. Don’t worry: we’ll coach you through all there is to learn, like Nyala walks: one cautious but deliberate step at a time.”

We dozed off to the soothing soundtrack of fiery-necked nightjars (the first identified birdcall: check!) and dreamed about that nyala.

A FGASA and CATHSSETA-qualified guiding course.

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

Sign up for the 35-day Field Guide Practical Course today! 

For more information on the 35-day Field Guide Practical Course, contact [email protected] or call +27 (0)13 7522532

35-Day Field Guide Practical l Course Spotlight

Today we join EcoTraining students Debbie, Maurice and Stephane at Pridelands. They started their journey with EcoTraining by enrolling and completing their Online Field Guide course and then decided to come and do their practical component. They came together at Pridelands, where they started their 35-day Field Guide Practical course—thrilled with the real-time experiences and incredible wildlife sightings one can only have when in the field.

About the Author:
Picture of Wim Doms

Wim Doms

Living in Belgium and working in PR & Communications, at first glance Wim doesn't look much of a Field Guide. However, many travels in Southern Africa with his partner Sofie have had quite the impact over the years. The couple fell in love with nature and wildlife so deeply, they finally took the plunge and registered for an EcoTraining course together. In 2023, they obtained FGASA NQF2 Nature Site Guide qualifications at EcoTraining Pridelands. Less than a year later, Wim started writing blogs for the EcoTraining website. (And don't tell anyone, but we suspect he actually wears his khaki shirt and broome hat while he does so...)

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