After a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing time at the dam, we headed to the main training camp, called Zinkwazi. This African name means the “Place of the Fish Eagle”, in Zulu and duly named as such, because of the resident Fish eagles living close by. Zulu is the local language spoken by many in Kwa Zulu Natal and is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa. Zinkwazi was a beautiful spot, situated off the beaten track, raised high above a natural flood plain and boasted the most spectacular views of the reserves lush bush. It was to be our home for the next 6 weeks!
There was an enclosed and designated area of study for all we “learned” trainees and seven dome canvas tents dotted about the area. A rather sturdy looking electric game fence surrounded our new bush camp, which gave us a safe sense of security and looking back, all fears aside, we were very grateful for it!
We were given our tent allocations and roomie’s name and then told to go and settle in. We had 10 minutes to unpack, make our beds, use the ablutions, freshen up and get to the classroom, so we hurried along as hastily as a Meerkat scouring for food. The tents were big enough for two stretchers and our bags, which was fine, but the heat of the day stood still in those tents like a Beefeater outside Buckingham palace!
We were ready as requested, except for one guy, who came in a minute late. Well, big mistake. The Gent had to run around the camp a few times and then return, sweaty and thirsty and without any further conversation on the topic or sympathy, we continued with our lesson.
We were briefed about all the rules of the camp, with a few examples being; no littering, always closing the gate behind us, checking the lanterns had paraffin in them for the night, checking the land rovers had diesel, cleaning the land rovers, cleaning our boots, washing our clothes, making our beds, being on time no matter what, checking that there was enough wood for the fire at night to heat the water for a shower, and for the fire in the boma, checking the trees for leopards and zipping up our tents, so that no snakes, spiders or scorpions entered them.
During our time there, we would spend a few hours a day learning some theory from our books which was completely necessary and the right thing to do, especially for me, but ultimately hugely boring stuff, that did not interest me at all. The four toed elephant shrew’s scientific name of petrodromus tetradactylus, had absolutely no meaning to me and I could not and still cannot, think out of all the various subjects of the bush, why was it this little creature’s name that we needed to know? Learning under a boiling hot corrugated iron roof, that crackled noisily in the heat of the day, was not my idea of fun and unfortunately obviously so, to the two Trainers, who were not that amused by my apparent dislike of most of that day’s syllabus and the discomfort of the room.
With only one desk top fan which was angled at the Trainer, our days in the Classroom, were to always be a bind and something that we all, never really enjoyed, just simply because of the sheer heat and no breeze through the room – but we were training rangers and had to suck it up or leave! The best part about the classroom was that every minute spent there, meant a minute closer to getting out of it. For the rest of most days, we were allowed to then explore the bush, either on foot or in the land rover, learning from God’s Classroom and her teacher, Dear Mother Nature – my kind of learning and to be out there in the great outdoors was so exciting for all of us and the real reason that we were there. Had we wanted office jobs, we would have stayed in town and been bored and unhappy for the rest of our lives and been possibly trapped in a job, like a wounded animal in a horrible snare, like most “townies” that you talk to. We were another breed of human beings and each of us were in a small way going to be part of the reason that conservation and eco-tourism continued to work and survive in South Africa – what a privilege and honour to be part of this course. Wow. The course had many applicants per year, so I was lucky to be accepted. There were twelve of us, including me and after one week, three were sadly, going to be fired. We just had to be in the Top nine to be safe – sounded easy, but it certainly was not. These amazing students of the bush had some great strengths and wonderful attitudes, even with degrees in the subject, that potentially could be lost to the outside world, along with their passion and desire. How very sad.