Monday 24th - Sunday 30th
On Monday everything was back to normal, the boys all had to shave their holiday beards, we were all out in uniform and the camp had to be cleaned up and prepared for the coming month. There was meant to be a game drive in the afternoon but Sophie, the head of Bushwise came to visit us and have a talk about the course, so we sat out with her in the boma having a chat instead. The visit was meant to be to help improve the course etc and we all want desperately to have more practical time, it seems like all we seem to do now is study, and none of us have ever really driven into dangerous game sightings, so hopefully after the FGASA practical exam we will all be going out a lot more on game drives where we actually get to go looking for game and drive off road into dangerous situations…as scary and dangerous as trees are I would much rather get to try out my off roading with a rhino instead of a Leadwood tree. So yes we shall see what comes of the visit and fingers crossed more practicals coming our way, especially seeing as a few of us are either not doing (or in my case don't have to do) the FGASA exams, so I will be having a lot of free time on my hands without having to study.
Tuesday was a trip into town for all the drivers. Today we went to the traffic department and received our new licenses from where we did our driving test up at Mhala. It is a bit silly that you have to go and pick it up in person. I mean we drove over two hours to get to the testing center only to wait for about 40 minutes a queue to pick up the license. We then went back into Hoedspruit to have the medical so that we could go and register for our PDP the next day. It was rather pointless, we all just walked in and sat down. He asked us if we had any medical problems, I gave him the medical notes from the doctor at home, and then he signed my form, I paid a couple hundred rand and bam, declared medically competent to drive a big car. So yeah, the easiest medical I ever had! We finally got back to the farmhouse by 5pm and spent the rest of the evening studying. But because we were due to go back into town again the next day to register it was an early night for all of us.
The town trip on Wednesday was not as bad as the day before. We just went to the license department, had an eye test then waited in a queue to hand in our forms to send off for a new license. It didn't take too long so I was able to pop into Khaki fever and pick up some new uniform I had ordered for the summer, seeing as it is getting rather warm these days. Then we headed back to the farmhouse around 1pm and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the kitchen table studying for the practical exams. We set up a big white board with information on when everyone's practical exam was and who was going on it. Mine is not until the Tuesday after next, so I don't have to worry too much yet, and hopefully we get to practice in the meantime. I thought my exam was more just for Bushwise records to say I am competent etc, but it turns out I have to do all the FGASA practical exam and paperwork again for some silly reason, so I guess I will be stressing a bit more than I initially intended!
Thursday morning was a mock exam for Jacques. I was his tracker and we went for a drive round Garonga to test out his route for the assessment and pick up any key features that he would talk about on the way for example a tree that an elephant has used as a rubbing post or a certain bird's nest. So it was a fairly pleasant drive, but just not a lot of game about today. In the afternoon those of us that wanted to do a research placement or were still trying to decide what we were going to do, went to Mahlahla for a talk with the people from GVI Karrongwe. Ben, Nicky, Stefan, Ulla and I joined the others for this pretty interesting talk and then we were told if we were interested in the placement then we could go and visit them for a day or two to see what the place was like. I liked the sound of it, what with the elephant research they had just started to do and all the monitoring of the lions and cheetah they do as well. Ben also liked it what with all the work they do with kids in environmental education and Nicky wanted to see what research placements were like to see if it was something she would rather do than guiding, so the three of us will be going to visit this week to see if research is really what we want to do.
As usual it was time to study on Friday. We spent the day learning the trails guide module of VPDA (viewing potentially dangerous animals) and then for a break I went into town with Ben and Malcolm to go and get Ben's new shiny car to replace the poor Chico which really was just a catastrophe on wheels to put it lightly. I am sure that thing was cursed, constantly imagining it breaking down in the middle of nowhere or else having to drive it like Fred Flintstone. So we went into town in the 'Dirty badger' as it was better known and came home in the baby rhino (complete with mascot!).
Saturday was rather fun, after the VPDA exam in the morning then while everyone else stayed in to celebrate, Ben and I went into town to get out of the noisy farmhouse and get a bit of studying done. We ended up at Sleepers, seeing as there are no libraries of café's around, and studied until the Lions and Sharks rugby final. Victor from the Mahlahla campus stopped by to see how the exams were going and we chatted about the test, but it turns out they had just done the rifle test (not VPDA) so he gave us a heads up of what we did not need to know from the book which was nice to know we didn't have to revise ballistics! Then after he left the group of students behind us introduced themselves as the ecotraining students (another program like Bushwise, only it is a year training and about twice as costly) and they were very friendly, and wished us luck on the exams.
So once we had finished meeting everyone we watched the rugby. The game was fun, the owner of Sleepers kept giving us red and white colored shots in support of the lions who had so valiantly won much to his pleasure so after a fair few shots and no hop of getting back to the studying we stayed and talked to him and a couple of his friends for a couple of hours, seeing as they were all field guides back in the day and it was great to hear all of their stories. Eventually we got home to a braai that was in full swing, but after all the many shots and studies I was ready for an early night.
On Sunday Ben, Nicky and I were invited to go to GVI Karrongwe for the night for a sort of informal interview. So around 12am JP took the three of us out the reserve and a little ways down the road to the reserve. We got picked up by Caggie, a lovely American girl who once was a Bushwise student. We went to the base and met the other colleaues as well as having a bit of a tour around the place. Then we had a nice long chat with Andreas, the head of the program and had a bit of an interview. After that the volunteer students, the GVI people and us went down the road to the ecotraining camp and had an awesome game of volleyball. I was not particularly good as usual, but it was nice that we were able to have fun with everyone and also to meet the ecotraining people again.
We came back for lunch before the three of us were invited onto the second of the daily game drives to go and find the cheetah and lion using the telemetry sets that they have. They have two collared cheetah and two collared lions that they try to find twice a day to record their behavious, what they are doing, what species and how of ten they kill prey and to find out if they have had cubs or not. When we started the drive we came across the most beautiful rhino called Lucky who had the most amazing horns I had ever seen. He sat wallowing in the muddy pool of water, and he was so close that we could hear him breathing. Then after a few minutes we continued on to find the Cheetah. After stopping a few times to test the telem sets we picked up on the two brothers but alas could not see them in the bushes so Laura took us off the vehicle and took just the three of us to go and see them. It was so cool to get to walk in on them and stand not 5m away without them batting an eyelid at us. In fact they just carried on lolling around without a care in the world. Eventually we walked back to the car and continued on to try and find the lions, but unfortunately we could not get a visual on them so after about an hour of searching we had to head home.
On the way back though we spotted a beautiful civet and a barn owl that was sitting on a tree, when we went back to watch it sat for a few minutes before flying off the tree and swooping over our heads. When we got back we had dinner and then sat on the amazing comfy sofas on the verandah chatting to Caggie. She is a really lovely lady and we had such a laugh with her. It makes me think that doing placement here wouldn't be so bad what with how lovely the people are that you get to work with, and how cool it would be to see lions and cheetah everyday. The only thing is though that you are not really doing guiding and you aren't really doing any research, it's more data collecting and babysitting the volunteers, and for me it seems a bit of a waste of the last six months training as well as a zoology degree. I am going to have to think about it a lot more, but it was a wonderful day and so much fun to go out and meet other people from Bushwise and see how well they are doing after the course.