It wasn’t just a dummy run

9th July 2014

Fever trees Makuleke

Monday 7th July 2014

Alan asked me last night if I would lead the walk this morning with Max as my “Back-up”. It would be a demonstration to the students as to how it should be done as well as giving me the opportunity to practice ahead of my “Lead Trails Guide” assessment.

Today was a great example of the need of switching on from the moment you leave camp. As we left the outer firebreak I underlined an elephant track with the toe of my boot, this was to make Max aware of elephant in the area. No sooner had I done that I rounded the corner to find an ele bull feeding on an umbrella thorn (Acacia tortilis).

I moved my guests back to some cover where we could watch him, at this point he came forward and stood in front of us. As he did this I told the guests to stand their ground. He soon turned and left us, at this point I asked Max to lead the group to the safety of the ridge where we watched him saunter down to the flood plain. The encounter was text book.

As we watched from our position of high ground we saw him gate crash a breeding herd’s drinking party down at the Lala Palm trough. This they were not happy with, there was trumpeting and elephants running all over the shot. Given their mood I decided that we would change course and head west, far safer than trying to negotiate an irate breeding herd.

This diversion took us through the lala palm scrub. Normally this wouldn’t have been too much of an issue. However, after missing some lion tracks and then misinterpreting the age of some other ones, they were a lot fresher than I thought, it was not the safe option. A little later on in the walk I was overly cautious when retreating from an encounter with three elephant bulls and chose a new route which ironically put us more at risk. It took us through an area where there was a fourth elephant, a straggler that I didn’t pick up on. No one else saw it other than one student apparently caught a glimpse and Alan heard something.

Once back at camp Alan told me that it wasn’t just a dummy run, it was my actual assessment. He said that I nailed it with the first encounter, it was perfect. My knowledge was good, I got lots of information across, a great example to the students and for enjoyment he gave me 95% – out of principle he never awards full marks. But, I knew there was a “but”, I could sense it, and there was.

Alan couldn’t award me full trails, not because of one mistake outright but the multiple effects of a few mistakes, namely the lion tracks and that fourth elephant which both resulted in me walking in an unsafe area. Looking back it was a tough assessment with little more that could have been thrown at me to test me but I made some stupid mistakes so I didn’t deserve to pass.

Whilst I was gutted not to pass, which of course left me feeling down I was pleased to know that Alan wasn’t just going to give it to me. As it stands I’m NYC, not yet competent. However, the best way to learn is from your mistakes so onwards and upwards. I’ve got another shot at it on Friday so fingers crossed it’s not quite as eventful.