A Walk in the Wild
Connecting with wilderness at its truest level is something few people get to experience. When the chance came up Bev Tucker leapt at it.
Right on time, our ride throbs into view. Driving the game vehicle is a huge red beard under a wide brimmed Akubra. Beneath that, a solid square of a man in an olive green uniform.
This is Bruce Lawson, a legend in wildlife circles, head instructor at EcoTraining. He is younger than his ol’ timey bushwhacker beard suggests but has packed in more adventure than most people manage in a lifetime.
We are at Pafuri Gate, at the very top of the Kruger Park map. To the left sprawl the villages and back roads of rural Venda. Up north squats Zimbabwe. Just hours after being met at the gate, we walk single file into the bush with backpacks hoiked to our shoulders. As we slip across a tar road and vanish into the bush I have a flash of how it feels to be an animal in the Kruger observing the human traffic from the hidden safety of the khaki foliage.
Apart from food, water bottles and camping stoves, we carry only what we absolutely need. “If you have to think about it, you don’t need it,” Bruce advises before we set off. “Trust me, that pack will feel a lot heavier by the end of today.” Necessity means different things to different folks. Harry, a smiling Belgian who arrived in a dazzling white Porsche, is big on gizmos, gadgets and gear. For Jens, young and hungry, necessity is a pantry of tinned food. To Stine, the petal skinned Danish girl who is already turning stinging-ant red in the sun, it’s a self-inflating sleeping mat and a stash of chocolate bars. For me, the non-negotiable is a giant pack of wet wipes squelched in alongside a change of clothing and our exactly meted number of meals to last the week. For my beloved, the Good Doc, it means literally what he is standing up in: hat, shirt, belt, shorts, socks, boots and gaiters. “Spare clothes? Just in case?” I venture. No. Apparently this is not in the spirit of an immersive wilderness experience. I leave it there.
Technology, too, is non-essential. In fact, “This is the problem.” Blue eyes ablaze, Bruce holds a cellphone at arms length. He invites us to abandon our watches, cell phones and addiction to social media. “You are here to re-connect with yourself by disconnecting from man-made constructs like time.” Some of us can’t shed our phones fast enough. Others balk.
Bruce’s second in command is a good-natured young EcoTraining graduate, known by his initials, FN, “Ja, like the rifle.” The rules are simple. “The less noise we make the more wildlife we can hope to see. Keep talking to a minimum. Try to walk quietly. Stay in single file. Don’t straggle or wander off. If you want to change place in the line just step out and let people pass then step back in. We eat when we’re hungry; we rest when we’re tired. If there’s trouble, do exactly what I tell you and we can argue about it afterwards. Let’s go.”www.ecotraining.co.za. Contact details (013) 752 2532, email email@example.com.
Who should do the course? Anyone who wants to get in touch with real wilderness.
What are the challenges? Everyone has different concerns. For some it’ll be bugs, spiders, scorpions. For others it might be the lack of toilet facilities, or the heat, or being cut off from the outside world. In the end, everyone confronts their fear and comes away enriched.
Who should not do it? Anyone who wants to chase the Big Five. People who’ll enjoy this course are happy knowing the animals are out there without needing to seek them out.
Is it dangerous? All EcoTraining guides are fully trained and qualified to lead groups in the wilderness. You’re safer out in the bush than you are driving to work in your car.
What will participants learn? In addition to basic wilderness skills and bush lore, they’ll get in touch with themselves and connect with nature in a deeper way.