To me, Africa has been a place I have loved and dreamed about from the age of about nine. Now stepping down from the game viewer on my last evening at the NJ MORE Field Guide College I was full of sadness at the feeling of leaving this wilderness and returning back home to the hustle and bustle of life in England.
The day had been a good one, my only wish on this particular trip was to observe two of my favourite animals in their natural habitat – the elusive leopard and the even more elusive aardwolf. After spending six months studying at the college and not seeing either species (albeit seeing some other equally amazing animals) I was yet to see my favourites, so riding out that last afternoon with the other students for our last game drive I was not feeling hopeful.
The game drive proved to be as amazing as the others, another beautiful sunset, the company of the other students and trainers whom I had formed great friendships with and a refreshing last sundowner overlooking the stunning scenery of the Marakele National Park.
Driving back to camp and happy with my lot, the shout came up “leopard!”. There is a perfect view, with the sun reflecting golden off his coat, a beautiful male leopard in one leap clears the dirt track ahead and makes off into the bushes. I can tell you it took a long time for the smile to fade! Even more so when carrying on with the drive, not one but two aardwolves were spotted with the red light filter on the cruiser. My wish had come true on my last twenty minutes of the last game drive.
At this moment in time I am uncertain of when I will come back to South Africa, but spending time at the college studying the flora and fauna of the African bush has been a privilege and will remain imprinted on my memory for years to come, much like the first sip of homemade cider at the cosy village pub in Devon with the welcome fire and warm company. Memories that will last a lifetime.
I’ve achieved things I never thought I would and being able to say that I am now a qualified Field Guide is still quite unbelievable. Hard work and dedication paid off and the friendships formed with students and instructors again are once in a lifetime, along with the support of my lovely family!
Now, that cider is calling, and the company of people at that quiet Devon pub whose good wishes and words of encouragement have also contributed greatly to me making my dream come true.
Stepping down off the game viewer the smile is still there!