7/11 - Friday - Arrival in South Africa and Makalali.
So the plane landed at around 7am this morning, and I found two other girls from the course on my flight, so we proceeded to a Café and chatted for ages while others gradually arrived. By the time we were to meet at the information kiosk there were a dozen of us that had met up, but then walking round the corner to the kiosk found the rest of the 26 strong group. There were a lot of names and a lot of baggage! We found the people picking us up around 10.40am and went with them to the driving lots, the crazy thing was everybody takes their luggage trolleys on normal escalators, I was not amused by this and my knack for being extraordinarily clumsy, however we made it without flattening anyone on the escalators in the process!
We separated ourselves and got on the mini buses ready for the six hour drive to Makalali, I was sat next to Ben from the US who unfortunately had to endure my constant falling asleep on him, I apologized in advance and did try my best, but to no avail, I simply cannot stay awake on a moving vehicle! After a few rest stops we finally made it to Makalali at around 6.30pm. There we were separated into two groups and sent to different camps.
I met JP, the instructor who was on the 2009 course that I did, and so the hour drive into the game reserve was spent catching up and reminiscing on the course from a couple years ago. I was a but scared when he said he was going to test me the next day, but im pretty sure he was joking…hmmm. The drive was pretty cool, we ran into a herd of plains zebra and a hyena, not bad for a first day!!!
Anyways, so we are at this amazing camp, where lions walk right past our front door and there are a lovely bunch of people here, I am sharing the upstairs room with three other girls, Nicki from South Africa, Heli from Finland and Katy from England. There are 12 others in our group, but I will have to learn their names over the next day! After a brief introduction and some well received dinner, we unpacked and showered. The house is pretty cool, a big mess area and kitchen with bedrooms and hot showers off the sides, it looks like a proper game lodge, and there were even a couple of frogs in the shower enjoying the steam while I was in there! Anyways I am shattered, and its only 10pm! Well up early tomorrow to start the next most amazing year of my life! Can't wait!!!!
Day 2 - 9/07/11 - Saturday
Well today we were up a little late, around 7am and we spent the morning and a little of the afternoon going through the formal introduction, safety briefings and EAP's (emergency action plans). It was a little boring, but then again its not going to be like that everyday!
After all that was done, a fire was started in a big pit and we had a braii (barbecue) while getting to know each other. There are 16 of us in all, and they are a lovely bunch of people. In my room there is Heli, Katy and Nicki and then two other girls; Candace from England and Ulla from Germany. They are both here with their other halves, Dan and Stefan. There are also some other guys; Riaan, Evan, Sheldon, Malcolm, Jacques and Anthony from South Africa, Spencer from England and Ben from America. So yeah that's all of us! Being surrounded by all these South African accents has already made me get a bit of a twang when I speak! I only dare to think what I'm going to sound like when I get home!
Day 3 - 10/07/11 - Sunday
Today was a nice relaxing day, I got up at 8am, which is bloody late in field guide time! Anyways we just hung around the house all day. Nicki and I helped Rosemary cook the Brunch, while listening to the South African radio and singing along to the Gospel music! We made Quiche and muffins, which went down pretty well!
The afternoon was then spent learning some driving exam information and then I went to draw out back where the warthogs were mooching around as is now not unusual. Anthony, Dan and Candace joined and we spent a nice hour or so watching the birds around the water bath. We saw some red Billed oxpeckers, Blue waxbills and about a million Yellow Billed hornbills!
Anthony and I then came in and helped Rosemary cook dinner. It was so funny, they kept speaking Afrikaans and teaching me words. Jigga jigga means to dance (which we were doing round the kitchen) and then shya means to clout/hit, there were some others too but can't remember them. We made an epic dinner, beef stroganoff. Anthony told us he had never cooked a meal like this before, so he took a great deal of pride in his first meal which was loving stirred for hours.
The evening proceeded with another campfire and then a drink with a game of cards when it started to rain. We played Bulls*** and it was hilarious, the guys kept cursing when I called cheat on them, but they barely called cheat on Candace and I so were nearly always the first ones out! Hehe! Anyways we have to be up at 5am for our game drive tomorrow so best be off to bed! (I say this like it is very ate, in actual fact it's only 9.30pm!).
Day 4 - 11/07/11 - Monday - First Game Drives in Makalali
Today has been absolutely phenomenal, probably the second best day of Game drives in my life! This morning we were up at just gone 5am to get ready for the drive, we left around 6.30am just as the sun was coming up, so it was absolutely freezing being in an open top Backie (land rover). At first we saw just some Impala just off of the airstrip, but as we were sitting there I managed to spot an African Wild cat lurking in the grass. We all only saw it for about 30 seconds before it went behind some dense bushes, but it was amazing, I had never seen one before, and they are very rare and very skittish around humans.
We carried on the drive for a while longer to come across a Jackal which I had also never seen before, it was just standing there in the middle of the road, but as we tried to get any closer it too disappeared. There was also a troop of baboons that were making a racket, it was wither distress or some other animal upsetting them so we went to check it out. Turns out it was a baboon kidnapping, a male had stolen a baby, most likely in a dominance dispute. It was quite sad to see this poor baby being put in the middle of it. Margaux - who took us on the drive said that she doesn't like baboons because she sees far too many human characteristics in them, and I totally agree! They argue, steal, fight, kidnap…evil little b*****s really!
Anyways we stopped at the Mopane Dam and had tea (I actually drank tea, it was a bit weird and I didn't finish it, but I totally drank tea!!!). There is another sleep out deck which looks had a stunning view of the reserve and the mountains, I can't wait till we get a chance to sleep out when it's warmer.
Well after the rest break we went back to camp pretty much the same way that we came in just so that we could start to learn the road names for practical's and such. There was a Blue wildebeest on the way back and some more impala, so we stopped to look at them and talk about their droppings. We got out of the backie and were told to pick up a piece to observe. However it wasn't what we thought it was, it was actually for a game that was to initiate us to being a field guide. We had to put the dropping in out mouth and then spit it as far as we could!!! It was disgusting, and I totally did not win, but I think being small was a bit of a disadvantage compared to the taller people like Stefan! Sheldon however was awesome and spat it over 10m (I'm pretty sure he had done it before!). So yeah that was a new experience for sure!
After getting back to the camp and having some lunch a bunch of us were going to be driven to the gate so that we could go for a run. JP began to drive us up the airstrip but suddenly stopped. There were three cheetah sitting there right in the open on the airstrip!!! We were in complete awe. They were three males, seeing as they were all of similar size and therefore not a female with cubs. JP called the others to get in the Backie and come over immediately so they appeared about two minutes later. Unfortunately Riaan was left behind as the other Backie was full, so we went back for him and grabbed cameras in the process. The cheetah were so majestic, completely relaxed and not put off by our presence at all. It was so refreshing to be able to view big game like that and not have all the other public cars crowding round or getting in their personal space and scaring them off. We sat and watched them for at least half an hour along with the huge flock of vultures that were flying above obviously chowing on the rest of the cheetah kill. Yet another thing I have never seen, and another amazing experience! It's only half way through our first day of game drives and already I never want to leave!
This evenings' drive was phenomenal! I actually cried! First of all we saw the cheetah again, and even when a Cessna came in to land they did not move away, once again completely magical. Then Sebastiaan drove our group over to a giraffe kill to see if the hyenas had come back, but there were not there so we crossed some epic drainage lines to find some animals and came across a troop of baboons. We came back past the kill to go to the other side of our camp as there was a sighting of some lions, and after about 10 or 15 minutes of crazy driving we finally got to them. I was so overwhelmed, there was a mother lioness and three absolutely adorable cubs. As it was dusk the photos were a bit blurry, and I can't even begin to explain how fantastic they were. They played together, pissed off mum a bit and chased the spotlight of the other Backie that was there watching them. I guess just generally being mischievous kids! Anyway we watched them for about half an hour until mum went off to hunt and the kids went and hid in the scrub. Another absolutely fantastic drive. Yup definitely don't want to leave!
Day 5 - 12/07/11 - Tuesday - Town Trip
Today was the trip into town to get the ball rolling concerning our drivers licenses. It was the biggest polava of my life. We went to a photo place first to get 16 passport pictures, and then went off to the drivers license issuing place. We were given some forms and told to head off to the police station for fingerprints. So we headed off there, waited forever to get prints done, which was done in the pre jail bit where the mug shots are all done so we thought we were in trouble (but that was not the case). We went to go finish the forms and we were told we couldn't get them sent off until we had some paperwork from the drivers license issuers. So we headed back there… you can guess what ended up happening a half a dozen times! However on one of the last visits I realized 10 of my 16 photos were actually of Nicky, so I had to go back to the sodding photo shop and get them done again.
Well that was the morning anyway, a lot of hassle, but we made it to the uniform shop eventually and got kitted out in all our khaki. It was fun, but I have to take up my trousers a crap load! (mum was totally right when she said I would need to learn this for later life, mums are always right!) Most the boys need theirs taking up too, which they have all asked me to help them out with, though I did the mum saying and have said I will show them how to do it, else they wont learn!
Anyways Nicky, Candace and I popped into a couple other shops for a rugby ball and some rum, then we eventually headed off home. The drive back was lovely compared to the drive there, it was so cold this morning, but this afternoon the view of the mountains was amazing. I had to sit in the back cross legged as I was the smallest and there was all the shopping and cooler boxes in the way, but made the most of the view from up on the high seats and played clapping games with Anthony, which kept scaring Sebastiaan, he thought we kept crashing into stuff, it was funny!
Riaan and I threw around the rugby ball when we got back, while the others played volleyball. However the ball landed in a thorn bush so we ended up joining the others playing volleyball, I was terrible at it to say the least. This evening though I was well proud! I ate veggie cottage pie, literally the first time I have eaten mash since I was 6 years old! Very proud . Anyways, after that we didn't really get up to much, just some studying around the table, it has been a tiring day after all with all that to and froing! Though I think all that sitting cross legged has made me strain a muscle or something, will see how it is tomorrow.
Day 6 - 13/07/11 - Wednesday - First Aid
Today was pretty cool, we did our first aid course today. Just as well, my leg bloody hurts! I definitely strained something a wee bit at the top of my leg because it really hurts to bend and flex it or walk upstairs. Which is not good when I keep forgetting stuff and need to go back for it! It was fun this morning though, getting into all our uniform, but they gave me the wrong size trousers so I had to wear my shorts, pretty nippy I can tell ya, but I got a thumbs up from JP. Proper safari guide I am! Hehe. Anyways we went to do first aid and it was hilarious. The booklet said things like 'don't attempt CPR if the casualty is decapitated'. I literally could not stop giggling. We practiced CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. It was hard though because the girls had paired off or were with their other halves, so I was left with Anthony and I'm pretty short so I had trouble reaching round and reaching high enough. Damn being so tiny! So basically I just kept breaking out in fits of giggles and I think the first aider got his own back when he used me as a fainting casualty and pinched me to show how to wake up a fainting patient. I jumped up swearing ever so slightly, but I have a really big bruise now!
It was hilarious bandaging everyone up, Evan was already a casualty and had demonstrated a protruding breakage, and then I used the other arm to bandage just for practice, he sort of looked like a mish mash transformer at the end of it. It was pretty funny. We did a final practical exam, where Katy was a casualty and everyone had to go and help her, I just stood there looking out for lions, as it was just outside the gate and I had done the scenario thing before. We all passed the course though! And no one got eaten by lions!
Day 7 - 14/07/11 - Thursday - Lectures
Today was our first proper day of lectures. We started at 8am as it was so cold out, but it soon warmed up! We covered 'Viewing Potentially Dangerous Animals', 'Radio Procedures' and 'Introduction to guiding' today. Lectures were done by early afternoon so we read books around the pool and played a bit of Volleyball. I was still terrible, but my serve is now pretty good! The first aider from my old course also paid a visit which was really lovely to see him again, and he totally remembered me, which is cool as he teaches about 1500 students a year!
This evening I sat round the campfire for a wee while and then came in and studied for a while with Nicky, Anthony and Jacques. Mark, the head of Bushwise came out and Anthony and I sat with him for ages chatting about how to get a job as a Field Guide, turns out it is really hard for a foreigner to get a job here unless you can speak another language or get a green card. That is how hard it is. And it bloody sucks. I hate that this dream job is right here now, but in a years' time it could all finish and I wont get a visa or anything. Not in the best of moods right now.