“I had a dream, then I woke up and lived it.” The journey of Daniel Welmers’ first steps of becoming a Safari Field Guide.
I am a South African guy from Boksburg, South Africa. As a child, my family took us to the bush for a holiday. Life was bliss, constantly connected with nature, the smell of the trees and funny shirt tans from spending so much time in sun. Then life happened, and as my brother and I grew older, we were unable to find the time to return to the bush and instead focused more on school. It was nearing the end of my high school career and I was faced with the decision of what I wanted to do for the next chapter of my life. I knew I loved the African wilderness but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make a career from it and rendered the idea futile.
The conversation that changed my entire life
One day I offered to help my mom at her job and coincidentally got chatting to one of my mother’s work colleagues James. Since James enjoyed wilderness photography, we got talking about our shared passion for the bush. He mentioned that he had attended the Wilderness Photography Course with EcoTraining and suggested that I look at doing their Field Guide course. I started doing further research online about EcoTraining and their courses. I showed my mom that there was a 55-day FGASA Field Guide course starting in April and I convinced her to let me attend. I had a dream, then I decided to wake up and start living it.
Part one of the course at the Karongwe Game Reserve
The course began at the gates of the Karongwe Reserve. Also standing in front of the gate were many other people with varying accents who were likewise starting their first day of the course. These people emanated from all over the world, the United States to Australia either looking to pursue careers as Field Guides or for the educational bush experience. The EcoTraining staff met us as the gate and escorted us to the camp which was going to be our home for the next 55-days. This was it, it was really happening.
The first few days was about adjusting to bush life and getting to know your new course companions. This really takes you out of your comfort zone, but after a while my new friends became family. I learned so much and besides the lectures and course activities, we went on excursions and did ‘sleep outs’. A sleep out is about sleeping wild in the open bush under the stars. We collected wood for the fire and rotated patrol shifts around the area where we camped out. This was exciting as you never knew when some small or large nocturnal animal would come say “hello”. I had the early morning patrol shift and after doing my rounds, I sat quietly by the fire and admired the calmness of the land while watching the sun rise over the horizon. Anyone who has ever seen an African sunrise will understand when I say it was a ‘Lion King’ moment. The time had come where we would bid farewell to Karongwe and depart for the second part of the course held at the Selati Game Reserve.
Part two of the course at the Selati Game Reserve
The second half of the course takes place at the EcoTraining camp in the Selati Game Reserve. Upon arrival, we were greeted by three elephant bulls walking through the camp. Elephants are regular visitors to the camp and while you slept at night would often hear the snapping of branches coming from elephants enjoying their midnight snack. As amazing as it sounds, was not always timed well, especially when you need the restroom desperately but outside your tent is a massive elephant chomping away, quite relaxed and no desire to move on. On one of our days off, we were privileged to be taken to walk amongst the dinosaurs of the plant kingdom, the Cycad Reserve and gazed upon the expansive reaches of the Selati Reserve.
It was nearing the end of the course and the peak season for written and practical assessments. We were well versed for our written assessments although you could hear a penny drop in my stomach from nervousness. We were well prepared for our practical assessments as we had been preparing every day with our instructors and team mates going on practice game drives. The instructors were so great, helping us refine our knowledge and offered us little tips and tricks.
Final chapter, is it the end or only the beginning?
I successfully completed the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 / NQF 2 Course. With appreciation, I thank EcoTraining for imparting the knowledge and skills I needed to take the next step of becoming who I was meant to be, a Field Guide. So, what is next for me? Was this course the end or only the beginning for me? I can tell you, it was only the start of great things to come. I have been afforded the opportunity through EcoTraining to gain practical experience and further my knowledge at the Okavango Delta. Hopefully, you will hear from me soon when I share with you my next chapter of my journey as I guide my dreams.