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Beauty in the details

Very little compares to hearing the roar of a lion, following the tracks of a leopard, or witnessing the strength of an elephant as it breaks branches off a tree, but being on a bush walk or game drive is not always about the large mammals.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. For without the smaller flora and fauna, the larger species would not survive.

As a regular visitor to the bush, I found myself slipping into that first category – always in search of predators preferably “snacking” on something. Not that I was being complacent about my time spent in the bush, just that I was feeling jaded and not really getting excited about seeing one herd of impala after another.

So, I decided to try the EcoQuest course that EcoTraining has on offer. The EcoTraining camp is situated in Karongwe Game Reserve in Limpopo, which is adjacent to the Kruger National Park. The 9 000 hectares of land is also home to the ubiquitous big five (leopard, lion, buffalo, rhino and elephant).

EcoTraining’s mission statement says it all: to be the global leader in environmental education by reconnecting people with nature. And doing so by offering inspirational and immersive learning experiences.

On my arrival at the camp in the southern part of the reserve, I was surprised to find no perimeter fence – not something I was used to. The other members on the course were international visitors from Italy, Belgium, France and Singapore.

Tented accommodation set in thick foliage and joined by sandy paths was where we were going to be spending our nights. The cacophony emanating from the bush surrounding my tent was quite unexpected. When asked why they visit the bush, people will often say that it is for the peace and quiet. Being a living and breathing environment, nothing could be further from the truth!

The wind rustled the reeds on the banks of the nearby Karongwe River adding to the litany from the birds and insects. Like the instruments in an orchestra, each of the natural components had a specific role to play. Their sound washed over me like a breaking wave, and, in doing so, it gave me a sense of tranquility while the stress I had brought with from the city disappeared.

Then the wind subsided. All noise ceased, the air became perfectly still and in that moment of total calm, the resultant silence was almost deafening.

There is a course curriculum that splits the time between lectures, walks and drives. On foot or in a vehicle, each outing became a learning opportunity. Discovering how diverse ecosystems work in tandem was a unique experience explained to us in layman's terms by highly-qualified field guides.

The leisure time in camp was enjoyed either in our tents or in the library, brushing up on the skills that we learned in the practial part of the course.

Unlike a regular game lodge, course participants are encouraged to get involved in camp life. Not by doing the housekeeping, but by helping out at meal times when it comes to setting tables and carrying food and utensils to and from the kitchen to the dining area. It becomes second nature relatively quickly and all the participants in the group were keen to be involved.

Outdoor activities are weather dependent and, of course, the safety of the guests is paramount. Bush walks are not undertaken in the rain but we did go out on adrive in a drizzle and saw nothing but wet impala watching us as we watched them.

For those times, when being in camp is the only option, there is a basic gym secreted in a Tamboti forest where urban frustrations (and the delicious camp food) can be worked off. While sitting on the deck in front of my tent, a young nyala stepped into the path. Feeding together with its mother, they stopped for a short while directly in front of me. And it is these moments that the course teaches you to appreciate and savour.

A large boulder near camp became my place of contemplation, and it was here, free of electronic devices, where I was able to relax and enjoy my surroundings.

Even a raiding party of Matabele ants on the pathway became the source of an unscheduled talk. In an urban setting, ants are often seen as a nuisance. Out in the wild, it is the exact opposite. Here they have a very important role to play and the time we spent watching them was an invaluable lesson in how to never take anything for granted.

Being reliant on solar power and wood for the fires, the repetitive and rhythmic sound of wood being chopped lulled me to sleep. It was a struggle that I was destined to lose and my bed beckoned for a nap before an afternoon game drive.

Additional reporting by Richard Brown.

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