This first week of my Trails Guide course has put me and my fellow student on a rollercoaster of mind- training and overcoming our previous limits.
I have long thought that the trails was much more of physical ability, to be able to walk long distances and interpret with guest, but it is much more about having a strong mind; and the tiring part comes from that constant awareness. So our instructor wanted to wake our senses up, so he had brought up one of the old trail guide training (what he is calling “the good old days”) which was to start the first week with 4 days in the bush with only our most necessary equipment in our backpacks, and to leave our phones and electronics behind at camp. We walked with limited food sources of two meals per day and water. We slept on the ground and we had a fire burning during the night. With night-watches of 2 hours shifts all night. It first was a shock to us all but now afterward is the best and biggest lesson we take with us.
“In order to learn new things, to be better, to push yourself beyond limits and appreciate more of what we have, we needed to stop doing something old”.
Most outstanding moment
The first day of that Monday was overwhelming of information to take in, we went through guiding techniques on how to behave in the bush and towards our guests, where and how to look. Train our observation ability (sight, hearing, smell) was something my fellow students and I were new to and it was hard to instill that new habit. We needed to be on high alert because we only have seconds of handling the situation if there were to be a dangerous animal charging toward us.
We had our first amazing encounter with an elephant just 50 meters from us on Old Bay road. Both the elephant and ourselves were curious about each other and we learned some of the behavior an elephant is doing in a relaxed state but still has his attention on us. It was amazing to see that and always a pleasure and appreciation to be up close to such a giant.
We learned about new animal tracks and how to follow them, animal behavior, new flower species, arthropods, snakes, grasses, how to handle and be cautious about where to point the rifle and safety handling the rifle, and much much more.
On our way to our destination, of sleeping at Bush-braai, we came across a crash of white rhinos from a distance. We approached them to get a closer look… all at a safe distance. We approached the rhinos at a comfortable distance for us and them, which was fascinating to me, by being there behind the bushes and watching them without the rhinos knowing that we were even there. The wind was coming from the right direction so that they could not sense us at all, but they would have seen us if they had lifted their heads and listened in our direction. We went to them, looked, watched them, and left them without them knowing that we were there. What the instructor taught us that day is that is what an “ethical encounter” looks like and that every encounter should an ethical one.
The night around the fire was long and cold and it was hard to get up to sit up for your shift. To feed the fire with wood, but always appreciated once you come to the insight that you are in the bush of Africa with elephants and rhinos close, and around you, without you knowing it and sharing that moment with like-minded people. The night skies of finding the constellation of the Southern Cross and Scorpio is a nice treat. Being from the Northern hemisphere, I find myself always looking up and staring at the Milky way for long periods of time, until my neck hurts, because it is just stunning for me.
On days 2 and 3 and 4 we walked and repeated everything on our first day. Right outside on day 3 where we had been sleeping, we found fresh white rhino tracks that we followed where it had walked. We saw the middens where the rhino bull recently had been, scratching on the ground and the urine spray to mark his territories, the rubbing on trees to get rid of the mud, it had been accumulated after the mud bath. All the signs pointed to the fact that he could not have been far away. We did our best to find him but to no avail. On day 4 though on our way back to our main camp we almost came too close to two rhinos; we were so focused on the tracks that we had in front of us. Another important lesson that day that we learned was that we can be too focused on a mission that we get tunnel vision and miss our surroundings.
When we didn’t walk, we rested and had lectures with our workbook in the best classroom we could have, with no walls, roof, and grass under our bare feet. Birds’ songs and the sounds of insects next to us. The workbook was much about rifle handling, ethics, and terminology/parts of the rifle were all new with new words and learned how bullets behave and the effects it has in flight and hitting the targets.
What new skills have I developed
The skills of knowing that your body is capable of much more than you think. Many times we convince ourselves that we have enough, we come up with an excuse that “we are done. I can’t do this anymore. I am hungry and must eat. Or I´m cold” and so on. But the case is that our body and mind are so much stronger than we give it credit for and talk to ourselves into. We get surprised when we get tested on the ability of persistence but we haven’t been trained or needed to in today’s daily life. I love the fact that we have been tested on that and it is a great experience that everybody should try.
Personal /emotional discovery
My biggest lesson for this week was to be a part of nature and focus on what is important for us as trail guides but also to general living. To convert this to daily life again is to be less distracted, more observant, and much more appreciative of what each person already has. We, as humans, are so distracted by all kinds of things around us that we are so unfocused on what is around us and what is important. Unfocused on what we already have, a roof over our head, a bed to sleep in, clothes on our bodies, food in our belly, the list goes on. But even knowing that there are people out there that do not have the luck that you have, who is reading this. Find appreciation you have around you and be grateful for what you have… even the smallest things. The animals in the bush are hard and resistant to different weather and adapted skills, niches of surviving make you think that every human has his/her own unique niche of surviving/habit too and special abilities… can you think of what is yours?
For me to get this insight, I needed to disconnect from my previous habit, phone/media, and beliefs, to be connected again with true nature, my mind, and my new abilities and beliefs.
Developing inner values is much like physical exercise. The more we train our abilities, the stronger they become. The difference is that, unlike the body, when it comes to training the mind, there is no limit to how far we can go. -Dalai Lama