Thursday 13 December 2012

Bhejane 2012 - A Goodyear

By: Jean Michau
So I started last year at a place called GVI where we tracked our focus animals and spent 6months straight in the bush. I have always loved the bush and my dream has been to be a field guide. So I found Bhejane and was fortunate enough to get the chance in coming here to study which I thank Dylan and Christa a lot for. 
We started our year with FGASA level 1 which was amazing. Got to spend time at some amazing places. Was extremely happy that I passed Level 1 and that I got to carry on to what I was looking forward to most which was Trails. 
So after the Level 1 we started with our Back-up Trails which didn’t disappoint. Got to walk in on some amazing animals and experience some amazing things like being charged by an Elephant from about 30m away which was amazing. The adrenaline which was pumping through me was absolutely incredible and it was amazing and incredibly intimidating, but was amazing. We also got extremely close to a White Rhino and her calve where they were walking down the game path and we were just off the path and they walked about 5m passed us without even knowing we were there which was another crazy experience. 
After Trails we had our Marine level 1, the highlight for me was the diving. I absolutely love diving and to me it is complete different world down there and its always amazing. Got to see some amazing things like Green Turtles, Leopard Shark, Grey Shark, Sting rays and some amazing looking fish. Always amazing things down there and there is never a boring dive. Now we’ve been busy doing conservation and reserve management which I have really enjoyed. It really interesting learning how everything works and how we can make a difference. Its hard work but it will all pay off in the end when we are qualified to do certain things that other people don’t have a clue about. I have really enjoyed my whole year at Bhejane so far and I can only thank all the instructors for teaching us all they know and being so passionate in teaching and in what they love. And then a big thanks to the kitchen ladies for the amazing food and Tannie Lettie for organising the food, Oom Pine and Peter for the maintenance and Monica for the interesting lectures on ourselves and psychology. It has helped a lot to keep me sane which I appreciate. Thank you Dylan and Crista for the opportunity to come, it has been amazing and I can’t wait for next year.   

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Bhejane Memoir of 2012

By: Nicola Nicolosi

The nerves were running through my body so intensely I actually felt sick. That was the feeling I had on the journey to camp. As I arrived at Bhejane Nature Training I had could tell that this year was going to be one to remember, and I was right!

Never in my life did I ever expect to be in a place of natural beauty like this. As I was given a walk around, I met some people, like Rupert, Ryan, Khyle and Jay. I remember them because they were the first people I met and became friends with! I was still uneasy about being at camp because I didn’t know anyone and it was weird. I guess it was because I was in a new environment and felt uneasy about being here. As the next few days went by, I got to know some people better! On the first night of induku I met everyone else, Zee, Gerry, Derek etc! I got along with them very well!
The Bhejane Sand Forest
Over the next few weeks we had many long and agonising lectures but they were of importance and I took as much as I could out of it. During out terrestrial level 1, we had the most amazing opportunity to go to Zulu Croc and wrestle crocodiles out of the water and sex them! Never in my life did I ever have that train of thought that I would be doing such a thing. It was something I only saw on television not in real life and actually doing it. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever done thus far! The lectures we had over the next few months showed how important they were when we had to go and stay at Mkhuze game reserve to do our level 1 practicle. All that we had to do was guide in the vehicle in front of Dylan Panos, I will not lie I was nervous, I had no idea what to expect but the lessons I had received from Ryan Tippet and Nick Van De Wiel was now evident in what I relayed back to the group.

Our next part of the course was Marine guiding with Freya Van De Wiel, this was an experience on its own. We had to do our PADI open water and I have to say my mind was absolutely blown when I went down into the ocean for the first time. Something that was a new experience and I absolutely loved every second of it. I thought that I belonged down at the bottom of the ocean with the fish and corals. We also had the opportunity to go to Kosi bay and to the kosi mouth estuary, that was another experience that you had to do for yourself.

As the months moved by I got to know everyone so much better and eventually was friends with everyone, we all loved to have a great time together without having any troubles.

My next section of the course was trails, and now that was an amazing experience, walking in a reserve with a high calibre rifle looking for dangerous game! Wow, what a thrill indeed. Before we could walk on trails we had to do our ARH (advanced rifle handling), which is a set of drills that has to be completed before a set time and we use a high calibre rifle. This was the first time I have ever discharged a firearm and the adrenaline after shooting rifles and doing those drills is somewhat mind blowing because for someone that has never shot a rifle before and having to do ARH was an incredible thing to achieve, something that I thought I could never be able to achieve. On trails we walked far, I mean very far just to find dangerous game for our encounters, but to be able to get within 20m of elephants, buffalo and rhino is something I cannot describe. The adrenaline pumps through your veins as you watch these animals knowing that at any moment, things could go terribly wrong! That is a thrill on its own.

Our next part of the course was conservation principles and ethics, this part to me made me understand conservation a whole lot better, taking a look at how we should manage a reserve and manage a biome in a reserve. It is a difficult task because we had no idea how to do it, but through experienced guidance we learnt a great deal and can now put it all into perspective.

So I would have to say that in the year of 2012, I had no idea that I would change this much, do what I thought was impossible and to be able to say that I have my niche which is field guiding in its entirety.

Creating Awareness Through Wilderness...

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Advanced Guiding and Nature Conservation – Damn Straight

By: Dylan (Bob) Dempsey
I was lucky enough to work and guide in arguably one of the most isolated and vastly open areas in South Africa: the Orange River Basin, situated in the only part of South Africa which is part of the Desert Biome. So there I was, a hired hand, helping build a camp from scratch, and when I say scratch, I mean all that all there was, was dirt, thorns and stone; when the opportunity to guide a trip on a six day excursion presented itself. “Dr D, pack your stuff, you’re hitting the river as a hantie” (Hantie is just a nice way of saying slave donkey boy…) said my then Boss, Dr H. We referred to each other as Dr since it definitely sounded better than the usual curse words we abundantly used for each other. And so my fate was set: River guide. I cried on the first three days or so, all the thorns, the sunburn, the paddling, but, by day four I was in love with what the Richtersveld had to offer – An abundance of birds, my favourites being the bee-eaters, kingfishers and the myriad of large waterbirds scattered along the river; the hardy trees that lined it, and the stars at night, wow, the stars at night… the desert has a lot to offer, but the clarity and blinding brightness of the stars in the desert night was other worldly in its beauty. We used to tell guests to sleep with their sunglasses on at full moon, which they laughed at, until it came time to sleep… The moon turns night into day in the desert, and as a guide I enjoyed ragging the guests a bit. Out here we were more than just low-paid river rats; we were the Authority, the Fun and the Teacher. After two years of living like a bush monkey, resorting to showering on Fridays only since the river was way better to dunk into and meeting more people than I can bother to try and remember, I figured it was probably time to pursue my passion for nature and its processes in more depth. I handed in my one month resignation, did my last few trips and said adieu to the desert river that stole my heart and soul with its intrigue and mystery, and headed home. “Dylan, you are going to Northern KZN in two weeks…”

That’s what my mother told me upon my return, the smell of desert life barely off my skin, and that’s how I got my chance to study what I love: “… To study advanced guiding and nature conservation with Bhejane Nature Training.” Alrighty, I thought, and enjoyed what little time I had with family and friends before being shipped off to a camp just outside of the small town of Hluhluwe to start my adventure as a three year student…

The first thing that stole my breath was the obvious difference between the deserts of the Northern Cape to the subtropical forests of KZN – Filled with trees, colourful birds and new and intriguing butterflies, insects, mammals and flowers. This place is still has some of the most amazing birds I had ever seen, and it took me a long time to learn to identify birds using their calls, since forest dwelling birds are a rare sight. We were introduced to the lecturing component of the course, namely Ryan Tippet, a walking encyclopaedia of birds, trees, grasses, fish, Amon Ndlovu, a butterflies expert, Monica Maroun our guidance and growth lecturer, Dylan Panos, a rifle handling assessor, bird specialist and our boss man (It was here that I got the nickname Bob, since there can be only one… Dylan), his wife Christa, our geography and conservation principles and ethics lecturer, Freya van der Wiel, our marine guiding lecturer and her husband Nick, our General Major and guiding skills lecturer. Not to mention our guest lecturers Jonathan Leeming, leading expert in his field of spiders and scorpions of Southern Africa, James Bristow of Magnum Shooting Academy, who assessed our SASSETA skills, Andrew Miller of S.M.A.R.T solutions, who lectured us on Wilderness and Marine First Aid and Dr Deborah Robertson-Andersson, a lecturer on biodiversity of the oceans of Southern Africa at UWC. Our first year was broken down into first obtaining our FGASA terrestrial level one, which was like injecting your brain with way too much knowledge and hoping it sticks, luckily, we had Ryan Tippet, who I still swear is a super computer that planted himself into the body of a human; after this we were split up and my group of renegade Impies (our group name, meaning ‘warrior’ in Zulu) were put through our paces with James Bristow, who made us all feel useless with a rifle, but we improved quickly, since we really didn’t want to be ‘Shot in the face’ by the big guy. After that it was training training training with the rifle, getting ready for our Advanced Rifle Handling assessment. Our fingers weren’t even properly healed from all the cocking and reloading when we were told to “pack your bags, it’s off to the bush with you!”. And so trails started, where we met Ronnie Brink, a trails lecturer and Dylans Right Hand Man in the bush. Here we walked. And walked. And then…. Walked some more. We learned about tracks and signs, natural indicators, judging the age of tracks, how to use the wind to our advantage and how to grow the biggest pair of balls imaginable to shout at an elephant as if it were a naughty poodle trying to bite your ankles. Trails was amazing: We tracked lions, found elephants playing in water, Rhinos walking with their kin, and birds that were amazing to watch as they drank, bathes and hunted. To be in the bush without the security of a vehicle to protect you is arguably the best way to be in it. Adrenaline pumps, non-smokers pull a cigarette in one go after an elephant charge, and back at camp we all swopped stories about our day and laughed at peoples renditions of pooping their pants at these experiences. It was here that we grew close, and some good friends were made. We visited some amazing reserves, namely Amakhosi, Kwazulu, Zulu Rhino Reserve, Makhasa, and a few others. Back up trails complete, it was time for Marine…

Just to put into perspective how I felt about the ocean, imagine a claustrophobic person being thrown into the boot of a car, and multiply it by at least ten: that it how scared I am of the ocean. I’ve been scared of it since I was swimming in the rock pools as a happy ten year old and saw a tentacle come out of a crevice and snatch a dead fish, only to drag it back into the abyss… I nearly drowned in half a metre of water, telling my dad that a monster was waiting to snatch me and drag me to hell to eat me. He laughed, I didn’t. Surprisingly, snorkelling opened new worlds to me: of fish, crustaceans, corals, and more, everything so alien it was hard to imagine that this was still, in fact, planet Earth. Colours so bright and contrasting I didn’t want to return to the surface. Shells so beautiful I’m surprised I didn’t try and pocket them all. My fear had turned to intrigue, then came the kicker: Our Open and Advanced Open Water Qualifications, diving with Coral Divers. Deeper we went, bigger got the fish, and more beautiful became this alien planet under water. Leopard sharks, loggerhead turtles, rays, fish, eels, nudibranchs, corals, crustaceans, dolphins… An explosion of colour, movement and shapes. I am now officially addicted to our marine world, which is under tremendous pressure to survive: Over fishing, pollution, global warming, to mention but a few.

It is a very sad truth that we are destroying this world with our ignorance. One thing that these studies have taught us is the importance of conservation, which couldn’t be any less important than LIFE, for that is exactly what it is. Our year has been filled with sad truths and juxtapositions, but that is why we are here. The importance of conservation can only be established through the constant reminding that we as guides have an obligation to do. We are, like I said, more than just jeep jockeys, khaki wearing nature lovers and hippies; we are the voice of reason, the open minded teachers and the hope for conservation to be heard. We are the future, and thanks to Bhejane Nature Training, we will be in a league of our own when it comes to ethical, conservational guiding.

So to conclude, I have met like-minded people whom have become good friends. I have learned about the ecology of the earth and all the processes which make life on our blue planet possible. I have seen some of the most amazing things that nature has to offer, and these continue to surprise and enthral me. We have had some outrageously arbitrary themed parties in our beautiful sand forest camp, which have seen us grow together incredibly. We have some amazing lecturers who are always there to help, and are our peers as well as our friends. This is not just a Training Provider; this is Bhejane: A family of conservationists, tree huggers, frog kissers, bird watchers, socialisers and the best damn people there could possibly be for the future of conservation in Southern Africa or even, the World. This is Bhejane. TIB my friends. TIB.


Monday 10 December 2012

Bhejane 2012- A Memoir

By: Khyle Pretorius

Some time ago I was faced with a decision, to remain in the hustle and bustle of the city or leave it forever for a life in Nature. I decided to leave the world behind and venture into the unknown, to take the leap and turn my world upside down. This meant leaving behind old habits and worn out friends and seeking fresh, new knowledge and experiences. So I went with my heart and chose to enquire at Bhejane Nature Training.
Eager but apprehensive of what I would find there I climbed on a plane to Richards Bay on the 10th of February 2012. Never having visited this part of South Africa, I really was going to an unknown place. I said my farewells knowing that things would never be the same, what an understatement!

Dylan Panos
The first person I met was Dylan Panos, at first I was very intimidated but from speaking to him saw a man who sat in authority and knowledge (Boss man). When we arrived at Ehlathini, we were greeted with the sight of the ancient sand dunes, False Bay and the mysterious Lebombo Forest. I met Jana, who showed me around the camp. Entering the forest for the first time I felt at peace and my mind fell into a sense of wonder and excitement at being present in this beautiful piece of Nature.

Monday, 13 February 2012. This marks the start of the first term and the commencement of our orientation. We missioned off into the bush on the clues of our wonderful new TA’s to go and get to know the land. This we did, thoroughly, up and down bush, into mud and thorns but we emerged victorious. What I learned on that day is that teamwork would play a large role in the future and that the personality types were very diverse amongst the group.
During this time we got to start knowing each other and forming opinions and first impressions. Friends were made, groups were formed, routines began and time passed. Lectures proved to be highly informative and more than enjoyable, all this new knowledge to apply to life. I learned here that knowledge really is power and 10 000 hours of practice will pay off, thank you for that motivation Nic. A definite highlight of this time would have to be when we went to Zulu Croc and handled live crocodiles, from catching them and subduing them to sexing them as well. I am badly afraid of crocodiles and to touch them and see that they are actually not that bad was a true conquest of fear in my life.
Time flies when you are in the bush and you begin to lose track of the days of the week so this brings me to Tuesday, 10 April 2012. We made our way to Mkuze Game Reserve to go and spend 2 weeks at the Eco Camp with Ryan, Jana, TJ and Ashley. I relate this story because I believe it was a transformative week for everyone. The camp was rustic and took me back to Nature. Every night we would sit around the table playing numerous games of Shithead and building very strong bonds with each other.  False personas began to fall away at this time because nobody had anywhere to run to and we began to see each other in a more genuine way. 2 weeks of drives and the most amazing animal sightings left me feeling tired but content with life. 
Monday, 25 June 2012. This sees the day that I was having most stress about, trails. I had a very bad impression of trails because of the rifle component of the course, this soon changed when James Bristow came along. He changed my mind about the use of rifles and I began to feel safer and less afraid to handle them. I was also stressed because the thought of walking amongst potentially dangerous game was daunting. Weeks went by and I practiced a lot with rifles and learnt more and more about trails.
Thursday, 5 July 2012. On this day I shot a .375 calibre rifle. Holy Cow! I didn’t hit any target but the rush of firing that weapon was enough. The most difficult part of this course for me was the Advanced Rifle Handling. Timing and accuracy were tricky for me but I will have that qualification before I leave!
From this point we entered into the real trails experience. My highlight stands out as Ibandla Camp at Amakhosi Private Game Reserve. The location of our camp was unequalled and the fact that we were right next to a river didn’t bother me, even though it was the middle of winter. The walking was amazing and we got fit as hell while enjoying the most pristine areas inaccessible by vehicle. Here we got to know Dylan much better and formed a new respect for what he does, SKILLS!!! The lifestyle we as a group were leading I feel was very beneficial to our growth. We had to cook on fire and go without commodities that we have become accustomed to. Through a certain amount of deprivation I learned a brand new respect for the Bush.
Sitting watch was also an experience I would repeat again. At 3 in the morning the waking world is asleep and the night time creatures come out to play, only that their playtime leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing upright. Sleeping out in the open air was also the most incredible activity. To go to sleep looking at the stars and waking up to clear, cloudless skies is not something that words can do justice. To hear leopard coughing next to you and lion roaring in the distance is the most intensely emotional experience ever.
A day I will never forget as we were charged by a white rhino. Never will you understand nor conceptualise that feeling unless you were there. It seems that a semi chaos takes over the split second that animal runs, as humans we seek to run away but must not as the first rule of trails is, well you know. Thanks Ronnie for always reminding us that “as jy dom is, moet jy #*&”, very valuable advice!
Being out in the rough, wild bush forces one to revaluate and face their fears and “demons” if you will. When you walk so many hours a day you cannot help but go inside your head and think deeply about the state of your life. All that introspection leads to insights and inspirations I never thought possible. I think that walking trails is good for not only your body but your mind and your soul too. I also made a very valuable and dear friend in Monica and we are now very adept in the art of debate.
These are but a few of the many highlights and experiences that I can relate as I bring this tale to a close. I would like to relate a few sayings that have become a part of my new vocabulary:
Bring solutions, not problems!
Don’t run!
Take responsibility for the world around you and your own actions!
Be the change you want to see!
Coming to Bhejane has taught me FAR more than just how to be a guide. I realise now that we have had experiences this year that the average individual will never get to see or feel. We have been taught invaluable facts that would have remained secret if not for coming here. I have been infused with a passion and great respect for this industry. My love of Nature has only been magnified by attending this course. As I said before, this place affects Mind, Body and Soul on many different levels. The changes I have noticed within myself are very real and I believe are permanent. I have learnt to respect my fellow man and to have more patience with the world. I have learnt that there is no rulebook for life and Nature herself, only the rules we as humans set up. I have learnt that we as mankind are not the most important species on this planet and that actually our presence here is hurting more than helping our ecosystem. I have learnt more about the animals of this planet (humans included) than I ever thought I would know. I have seen the healing power of the bush and watched not only me but all my friends change and grow over this year. The scenarios and situations I have found myself in this year have all shaped who I am becoming and I do believe although tough at times this year at Bhejane was integral to my growth as a guide and as a man. Through Bhejane I found confidence in myself and my abilities, saw myself in a very real light overcame numerous obstacles and made some lifelong friends. I never thought for one second coming to Bhejane would do more than equip me with knowledge but yet I encountered a profoundly evolved group of people and some of the deepest psychological healing a human will ever see.
This brings me to a list of names. This list is to mention all the important human factors that shaped my year. To these people I shower blessings for being big influences on my life and helping me to learn very valuable lessons. In no particular order:
Nic Anubis Nicolosi, Rob Neat, Ryan Biza Smart, Megan Modjadji Balouza, Axel Primmer, Dylan Bob Dempsey, Paul Josop, Gerry Jacobs, Graeme Stewart, Craig Bateman, Jean Michau, Derek Jooste, Zee Lemena, Mat Walker, Josie Easton, Emma Ascher, Jay Bell, Rupert Duvenage, Craig Robert Clowes. If I’ve forgotten anyone, THANK YOU to them aswell. I think everyone at Bhejane deserves a thanks.
Secondly, to the people who made this all happen:
Christa Panos, Dylan Panos, Ryan Tippet, Jana Beets, Amon Ndlovu, Nic van der Wiel, Freya van der Wiel, Ronnie Brink, Casper Bester, Mare Louise Bester, Paul Jensen, Hanroe Taljaard, Monica Maroun, Dr Deborah, Tannie Lettie, Oom Pine, Makhosi, Nonto, Dumi, Nellie, Peter.
Your hard work may go unthanked sometimes but we all really appreciate you and the input you have had on our lives.


Tuesday 4 December 2012

Bhejane 1st Year Ending in Style

By: Axel Roy Primmer (3 Year advanced Nature Guiding course)

Well I am recently out of school, very keen to start my studying career in the field of environmental studies or a BsC Marine biology. Instead I was surfing the web and came along Bhejane Nature Trainings website and I noticed that they offer both terrestrial, marine and conservation fields, immediately it caught my eye as it was always a dream to be out in the bush and not having to worry about the concrete jungle and next thing I know, I was applying for the 1 year course.

Knowing that I was going to begin my first year out of school and away from home, I was quite nervous to find out what this year had in store for me, and little did I know, it was to be one of the highlights of my life.

Firstly I’m doing what love and secondly it involves not being in an office, because as most people know, I would probably die in an office.

So being one of the very younger aged students and knowing that there will be older students, I was nervous to think how on earth am I going to be able to get along with them, I mean I’m young, active and motivated, but in the end it worked out well.

To begin my story, I began as a Amakhosi, getting to know a biggish group full of people of all kinds, I was quite shy at first but then I got into it and so did the others and we began to loosen up and ended up being good friends. Then I had to change sides cause I was falling in love with this lifestyle and that’s when I became an Impi (Skimpi) just after level 1 and before trails, luckily I had got along better with the 3 year group more then some of the people from my group and I could feel that I was kind of accepted into the group.

My first gathering with the Impi’s was to talk about trails, one of my many highlights of this amazing experience. Dylan told us what we will need to take on trails after the holiday and all I remember was going home and saying “Dad we have to go get many things” and while buying all that stuff in preparation, I was growing inside with excitement. That cold morning we left for trails I’m sure everyone could smell walking in the air that day, because we walked hard over the 6 weeks covering almost 600kms and walking for more hours then fingers and toes I have to count them. Every time we saw elephants and buffalo that same pulse of excitement shot through my veins with a big kick, I could feel the adrenaline and it is definitely not for those boring office men. Although it was a lot of walking and a lot of fat burning it was still a memory that feels like yesterday and I’m even more excited for Trails 2.0.

Then we began with the marine side of the course, which I really enjoyed the practical side more than the theory side, but nethertheless, marine is absolutely mind blowing. Seeing what we as a group have seen under the sea together, most people would give body parts to trade places, but I’ll never give up my place.

Some of my best highlights for marine has to be this one massive Loggerhead turtle that swam between our group as it was on a mission so people had to scatter, and not to forget the other one amazing moment on that same dive is the view of a Leopard shark we had just being all mellow in the sand at about 30m. One dive that some might find boring but not so much to me, was when we dove at Tiger ally where all the shark teeth are found. What was so awesome about this site to me was to be able to sit on that massive sand patch and actually let it sink it to where I’m actually sitting and it hit me! I’m about 16m below sea level and I loved that feeling of amazement that sunk in.

In my eyes, I believe us as a group have all matured, and personally I believe I have matured to, and having people around you that have helped you gain this maturity cause they care. I have learnt far more then just what the course offers and a few of those things would be ethics and to behave and look neat at all times cause no matter how you look someone is there looking at you and its not how you make your life but how you live it. On my arrival here I was not at all interested in birds and photography but over the year here those have definitely stood out as my two main interests and I’m looking forward to the bird specialist next year more than anything (except maybe the parties of course.)

Writing this story has actually made me think back at the times we have had here through the long agonising lectures, the long but exciting lectures, the practical’s which make the lectures seem the most important thing ever, (see how well you have listened). To look back at it all, the good times and the bad times, I believe as a group we have gained so much knowledge and in this field of work, we are all going to go far.

Id also like to thank Dylan and Christa for allowing us all to have this opportunity and to Ryan Tippett for making me love birds so much and getting me into photography. Ronnie for the good times and Freya for all the lectures on marine and Nick for the practical’s and the lectures and to our bar men and expert snorkeler (Paul) and our media man and camera man (Hanroe) and to Tannie Lettie and Oom Pine and to the KITCHEN ladies for making the most amazing food and also providing us this a load of dinner laughs.