Last year, 20 year old Australian Issy Ashley-Wilson exchanged the sunny beaches of Sydney for a tent in the middle of the African bush with Africa’s leading field guide training company, EcoTraining.
1. Why did you decide to do an EcoTraining course?
Having been to Africa a few times previously with my family, my dad would always teach me bits and pieces about African wildlife when we’d go on game drives. However, every time I left, I always felt like I wanted to learn more and gain a real understanding of the bush.
2. Which course did you do and what is it about?
I did the 55 day Field Guide Level 1, which essentially covered all aspects of being a guide. One day I hope to follow it up with completing the Trails Guide course to further my knowledge.
3. How did you find the transition from living the city life in Sydney to living in the bush for 55 days?
At the beginning I found it quite challenging here and there. I’m the first to admit that I probably spend a bit too much time on my phone, as most people my age do, in the city. So, going from always talking to my friends and being on social media it was quite a shock to then go to not having that a lot at all. However, that gap was soon filled with other more interesting things.
4. Describe your accommodation?
I was at the Selati camp in South Africa first, where the accomodation was very simple, just a dome tent on the ground with a mattress that slept two people. I thought this would be one of the things I wouldn’t enjoy that much, however it didn’t even end up being an issue. In fact it was quite refreshing to feel that vulnerability you just don’t get elsewhere, it really made the experience more real. However in Karongwe, we upgraded to a larger elevated tent with proper beds and somewhere to store your clothes.
5. What did your days consist of?
It was always an early start, which was also something I wasn’t used to. However it quickly became my favourite part of the day, when the birds are all waking up with you. Then of course, coffee and a rusk (or 3) and sitting next to the fire to warm up before going on a drive or walk. After that, you would return for breakfast, and then have down time or some study or a game of volleyball or, all three. Then a quick lunch and back out for another walk or drive. We would return after dark to some drinks by the fire, waiting for dinner to be served. After dinner everyone sits around the fire telling stories or playing games before going to bed.
6. What was the highlight?
My highlight would be walking around in the bush. Having only really experienced the African bush from the confines of a game drive vehicle, it was really nice to track animals on foot, and appreciate the smaller things like leaves and insects which can only be seen up close.
7. The scariest moment?
We had been searching for lions for weeks, when finally we knew where one was. So we decided to try and find this lion on foot instead of the vehicle. In single file behind our instructor, we followed the tracks for a while. Until suddenly the loudest most terrifying roar came out of a bush next to us. We all took a huge jump back and realised how close it was. The lion continued to make a low rumbling growl, as we moved around the bush to try and see where it was. Looking through the thickets we saw this amazing big mane and head of a male lion. He seemed quite relaxed, despite not sounding it earlier. We watched him from a distance for a while, and then left him at peace respectfully. The roar and low growl is the most chilling sound I have ever heard.
8. What are some of the things you learnt on your course?
You really gain a well cemented foundation of all things on how to be a Guide. This includes not just birds, mammals, reptiles, trees etc. but also how to be an ethical guide, and how to deal with people and customers in general.
9. What was the most important lesson you came away with?
Of all things I learnt, the most important would be learning to have the utmost respect for the bush and the land. We all owe so much to nature, and in destroying it, we only destroy ourselves.
10. Why should someone do an eco-training course?
Doing an EcoTraining course really enhances your life experience, giving you a whole new perspective on nature by immersing yourself completely in it.
11. Has it changed the way you view nature and wilderness areas now? If so, How?
Most definitely, I have never been someone to take the wilderness for granted, in fact my parents imbedded in me an inquisitiveness of nature which in turn gave me respect for it. However, the EcoTraining course really solidified this, and also made me understand a lot more about why we need to save it.
12. Would you say it was a life-changing experience? If so, Why?
It sounds cliche, but it really was a life changing experience. Meeting so many like minded people and being so immersed in a natural world and surrounded by all things wilderness, I will now always have a huge love of nature and forever do my part to save it.