It’s a long long road….but we ladies are overflowing with excitement for the unknown, a few hours later we arrived safe and sound…
Upon early arrival of the first team of ladies and a short meet and greet, accommodation allocations were given and time to settle in.
One of our regular “Renostermaners” sponsored a load of Lucerne for the now drought stricken area, which we were privileged and eager (of course) to off load the truck with the 210 bales weighing at 35 kg per bale in the feed shed.
This was the first of many exciting and immeasurable experiences for these women all from different walks of life, some corporate woman, some entrepreneurs and some home makers.
At the start of the weekend I thought to myself this might be one of the most challenging Renostermaan weekends ever, firstly the fact that we are taking so many of these women out of their comfort zone(the city), and secondly without any men to lend a hand when times get tough.
But this was the whole purpose of this weekend, to show all these wonderful women that they are much more than wives, moms, bosses and employees, they are individuals they are unique and they are strong beautiful human beings, and that they too can make a huge difference in something as distinct yet sometimes overwhelming as conservation.
Soon I realised I was underestimating some of these women, many of them friends of mine for many years.
You get used to seeing a women with her husband and/or children and easily forget that this is a person in her own right, with her own opinions and own strengths, she doesn’t necessarily make use of these unique gifts if when their husband or children are with them.
Soon all 14 women were there, the other group making a pit stop or two along the way, and all were welcomed with some snacks and welcoming drinks and coffee before we started the formal proceedings. The introductions to all the personnel for the weekend began, and a great deal of time was spent on the safety briefing. A short course on the types of snakes native to this part of our country triggered a few murmurs and nervous giggles, but all the woman were in good spirits and the energy they radiated were contagious.
Everyone had to pull a colour bandanna out of a bag for some of the team activities planned for the weekend. More giggles and a few humorous comments later, it was safe to say that this was sure to be an entertaining weekend for all.
Time were given to grab something warm and flashlights for the night patrols, then everyone were on the back of the game viewers off for an adventure none will soon forget.
We drove up to a point and another security briefing were explained, and the walk began, laughter and comments were in full swing after the first kilometre, and I saw some of them doubting their decision to join us on this weekend or were unhappy with themselves for wearing certain shoes, luckily most of the women knew each other and words of encouragement got everyone focussed again. Some women were ecstatic with the bush around them, while others couldn’t stop themselves form pointing out all the birds they saw, others couldn’t help themselves from taking photos of everything that were interesting to them. We were heading up to the highest point of this reserve, one chosen for its scenic whereabouts.
After another few 100 meters climb, all were in awe with the breath taking view, and the outstanding sight of a bonfire lit and a table full of snacks and drinks to choose from. After one and all have caught their breaths they really started getting aware of their surroundings, and the magnificent sunset that played off like a movie scene right in front of our eyes. All were really unwinding in this tranquil environment and it looked like we should start get the blood pumping again before they became too relaxed for the night ahead. We packed up and headed back in the direction we came from, you could see the relief in all the ladies eyes when they saw there were vehicles waiting in the road to pick them up, and they don’t have to walk all the way back.
Arriving at the bushcamp the ladies were happy to have cup of coffee to boost them a bit, we started with the presentation, it was inspiring to see all of those exiting faces before us, listening with great curiosity, a lot of questions were asked but thankfully between two of us from Rhino Connect, the owner, the security personnel and the guides we were able to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. This interaction and ideas some of them shared were a very welcoming reaction to the information session.
Every once in a while a jackal called, and you could see some of the faces lit up with excitement, and others became a bit anxious about the rest of the activities planned for the night.
After another successful overeating session on the delicious food served, we divided into two groups, one doing the foot patrol and one doing the vehicle patrol for the night.
The group doing the vehicle patrol team were full of energy as we set into the night, slowly driving along the fences checking for any disturbances or breaches. It was striking how these womans observation skills were naturally excellently, their eyes catching the finest detail. After making the guide stop 10 times in the first few minutes he decided to stop the vehicle and explain exactly what we were looking for and precisely what was natural occurrences in the bush and what were man made disturbances. How an animal would move graciously through a fence, and how clumsily a human would. How an object can be in a certain spot moved these by the elements of nature, and how a human will place an object as a marker. This is part of any the vehicle patrol on a Renostermaan, but we usually wait until we get to a good example of a certain scenario and then show the Renostermaners how this happened. Still these women were scrutinizing their surroundings with hawk eyes and we had to stop quite a few times to investigate a few rocks, sticks and wholes blue wildebeest made to take an afternoon nap.
The team doing the foot patrol had loads of exciting moments with a troop of baboons scaring the living daylights out of them, and some warthogs made them believe they are experiencing their last seconds on this planet.
All back safe and sound and full of adrenaline, the women retreated to bed, excited for the next day’s activities planned for them.
After a good few hours of sleep some were even eager enough that they went on a predawn foot patrol at 4am with one of the security personnel and his working dog, a phenomenal Belgian Malinois we would find more about later the day. The rest joined at 6:00 am for some coffee before we headed out to the rhinos for a session of soul searching. This revealing talk were done at the rhinos, all the rhinos were there, which made this particular talk extra special. We were sitting on our backsides in the sand with a cup of coffee and rusks listening intently to how a woman’s role in the world, society and in her own family is of the uttermost importance. Everything was explained referring back to animals and the role they play in the ecosystem. This was a true eye opener and one could observe from the reactions of some of the woman, that some of the examples given hit close to home. The whole point of this conversation were to give each and every one of these women the reassurance that they are playing a vital role in their own environment, no matter on which level, they were needed to keep the balance healthy and others form suffering in their own daily whereabouts.
Now there were ample time to take photos of these magnificent beasts that were our initial point in being here this weekend. We had some amazing photographers with us the weekend, and if they didn’t have ears, their smiles would of gone right around their heads with the photo opportunities they got.
After brunch we viewed a demonstration by a highly trained volunteer with his search and rescue dog as they sketched a situation where they go out on a mission. Everything they would need to carry with was revealed to the woman, and then the K9 went out to look for one of the women who did a wonderful job of hiding in the thick bush. Within minutes the dog tracked her and two other ladies walked with to see how exactly the dog managed to do it. It was unmistakable how important a K9’s presence in tracking a poacher can be, and how much easier these animals can make a mission where you work against time and the elements.
Then it was time to show some team spirit as the ladies had the opportunity to show their steel on the observation course where points were given for each object found, while the stopwatch were ticking. Again these ladies were remarkable with their observation skills, naturally giving a lot of attention to small detail.
Back at the lodge each had some time to relax and they were spoilt by the owner of the lodge to a lady especially coming out to give massages. It felt like we were in heaven, what else can a woman ask for, peace, tranquillity, time in the African bush with old and new friends.
Before long the adrenalin were pumping again through all veins as we went to the shooting range. Some of these women have never held a firearm in their hands before, but with the expert gun safety and crash course in shooting with a handgun the ladies were ready to push their limits.
This was once again an surprising sight, not only did some of the ladies hours before mortified of with the thought of pulling a trigger, turned out to be excellent shots, earning more points than some of us that have been shooting for quite a while.
Again with the encouragement of the rest of the ladies, and great team spirit, these ladies had outdone themselves. I am convinced the absence of daily influences and routine can do amazing things to a women’s confidence.
After the shaking hands got steady again we moved along to a constructed tracking exercise. The scenario was drawn firstly to gather information on what happened at the scene, and next to plan the steps that were needed to be taken, and off the ladies went on a trail of tracks like professionals.
They were shown how to determine the age of a track, to trail tracks and do anti tracking techniques, and how to use natural and artificial light to their advantage. Like before there was no disappointment in any of these ladies abilities to go far beyond their normal daily roles, they picked up the makeshift markers, with not missing a single one, while the spotters in front kept their eyes focused on the tracks for kilometres on end, heading straight to the source of the tracks. This exercise was like the others before, one that sent these ladies into exhilaration with pride. Once more exactly the outcome that we hoped for.
Dinner was once again served at the bush camp, delicious potjie and sides were well rounded off with a scrumptious cheesecake dessert. All the eating made some of the ladies including myself seriously tired, but none were backing out for the night patrols.
The walking patrol was one for the books, never have I heard so much uncontrollable laughter and had so much fun on a night patrol. It started off as a normal quite patrol, but soon turned into intense excitement and moments of severe panic. On our way to the main road a car slowed down, and that is always a sign that something might go horribly wrong quickly, cover was taken and the security personnel went to investigate. Relief, the car drove past, some disturbances were noticed, but nothing to get too worried about, but still we decided to investigate, and everyone were on the outside perimeter of the farm, patrolling next to the road. This is a nerve-wrecking situation, you feel very exposed. Some went back to get the vehicle form where it was parked, and brought it to the rest of the group. A little less unnerved by the presence of the vehicle we all set out to look for any signs of disturbance, unfortunately you are next to a public road and you have no control about what people throw out of windows, or which goods fall off vehicles, nevertheless what people dump next to a public road. I am not going to go into too much detail, but at the end of the night, numerous ladies got sick next to that road after opening dumped bags, and others laughed so much that they had to take a relieve their bladders next to the road in the veld. This group were known as the CSI Limpopo group. This is TMI I know, this is why I am going to stop and just say, it was a night to remember, with some of the best conspiracy theories (only woman can come up with) ever uttered. We made a pact that what happened further that night stayed between the ladies present, so unfortunately I cannot disclose any further information. But please note that the situation were not as serious as we thought it were, this to many of the women’s disappointment and others relief.
The vehicle patrol group had their share of fun with a few bumps and bruises resulting from falling asleep on the back of the game viewer, and were fortunate enough to have some midnight rhino time.
Sunday Morning we woke up a bit later than usual, with the escapades of the previous night keeping us awake until the early morning hours. All the ladies were ready to take a nice long walk to the river bed were they were surprised by the most beautifully set tables and incredible brunch. Some of the ladies even took a longer walk up to one of the hyena dens further down the riverbed.
With the formal program done from the weekend, the certificate ceremony and announcement of the winning team were made, loads of laughter filled arose from the few highlights we looked back on over the weekend.
We were truly proud of this group of ladies, some overcoming serious phobias and others just relishing every single moment in the South African bush veld. These ladies showed us all and most importantly themselves that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, or if you had a bit of encouragement from your friends standing behind you.
Again the farewells at the end of a Renostermaan were hard for everyone, not only were new friends made and new bonds formed between human and nature, I knew most of them will be back soon, you can spot a person who’s soul changed over a weekend like this from a mile away.
The expression of achievement and pride were over their faces as they waved goodbye, and that alone made this one of the most successful Renostermaan weekends ever.