Going into the last cycle of my placement at Madikwe Safari Lodge, I can hardly believe how fast time went and how much I’ve grown. Almost a year ago I started this life-changing experience, not really knowing what to expect but with an eager to learn and a passion to follow. During my first six months NJ MORE Field Guide College has equipped me with the best knowledge and training I could ask for, but it was the hands-on approach of the placement that made it complete.
The last couple of months I have been lucky enough to be in the company of great Field Guides, in a stunning reserve and surrounded by all the animals one could ask for. Sure, it hasn’t always been easy but was definitely worthwhile!
Let’s start with the reserve, coming from Marataba Game Reserve I was a bit reserved towards Madikwe. Marataba with its mountains and river is truly a magical place and although I looked forward to the abundance of wildlife and combination of bushveld with the Kalahari Desert, I wasn’t sure if Madikwe would match that magic. It did! It surprised me with some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen, wonderful landscapes and diversity in vegetation and wildlife that I love.
All of it would however not be the same without the experience of learning it all through the eyes of some of the best Field Guides I’ve met. The placement at Madikwe is a learning process. How do you go from a newly graduated student to a Field Guide that can provide a true bush experience for guests? Well, it takes time, hard work, learning and accepting you don’t have all the answers.
My placement has been a combination of driving with the guides and learning on the field how it can be done, study sessions, presentations, assessment-and training drives and lots of Q&A’s. I work on a 6-2 weeks cycle which means I work straight for 6 weeks and then have 2 weeks of leave. It’s tough, especially if you have never done it before. It means being on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 6 weeks straight. And all of us work long days…
By the end of the cycle, you’re tired, you get irritated more easily and on top of that, you live in a staff village with all your colleagues just right next door. So there’s little privacy and if you’ve ever lived in a small town or village, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But you push through, you help each other out, even if that means you’ll do just that extra bit more than your colleague, just because you know they’re even more tired than you.
Every day I get up early in the morning and I prepare the vehicle. Getting the hotboxes ready, blankets, ponchos, a hot water bottle (a treat in winter!!) and a morning meeting with the guides to plan our day ahead. During the day I’ll follow the guides with every move during their guiding and make sure I help out and take information in as much as I can. This also means making a cup of coffee when needed, doing dishes, picking up and dropping off guests, it’s not all glamour 😉 But in the end I’m not just the help, I am here to learn and all the guides make an effort in doing that and just appreciate the extra hand that is being offered in return for their experience. And that’s exactly what makes this placement special, I feel like part of the team.
Am I there yet? No… The placement hasn’t finished yet, the future is still uncertain, and the learning will never stop. But I am where I want to be, in the company of great people and, sorry guys and girls but you’ll understand, even better wildlife:-) I am excited about starting to guide my own guests soon and we will see what the future brings. In the meantime, I will keep enjoying every minute of being out here! Thank you, Madikwe Safari Lodge!
Words by: Annelies Waegeman