After a wild and wonderful seven months, the sun has set on my South African adventure...

Working for UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve was a journey of self-discovery, determination and test of character. Few people are granted the privilege to work in an industry they are truly passionate about, and growing up as an aspiring biologist and conservationist, working on this wild continent had always been one of my ambitions. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have done so. UmPhafa is a truly beautiful reserve. In my time there I met many amazing people, kind enough to take the time to share with me a wealth of knowledge which has made my time in Africa an experience that will stay with me forever.

“I learned another important lesson in life, to always be present in the moment and to appreciate all that I see and observe around me.”

Though I was previously not a stranger to Africa, my time spent with UmPhafa once again became an overwhelming sensory overload. It is an environment where, without the right presence of mind or awareness, a situation can change in a single heartbeat. Once again I remark upon how the UmPhafa experience feels like a reflection of a primal way of life, as the immersion into the ecosystem begins to heighten your senses to an instinctual level. The slightest flicker of movement, rustle, alarm call or broken twig triggers the primitive and primal senses to override the conscious mind into a state of uncertainty. In many ways, it has provided a window into understanding where our ancestral instincts came from. Within this I learned another important lesson in life, to always be present in the moment and to appreciate all that I see and observe around me. Simply by watching the animals we are surrounded with, we learn that they do not ardently obsess themselves with the future, or what is to come next, they simply exist in the moment.

Living in the bush has taught me that unpredictability can be both healthy and advantageous for the mind and body. Adaptability is the name of the game in an environment where no two days are ever the same and the joys that came from working for UmPhafa were the novel experiences that came with each new sunrise. It provided me with the opportunity to engage my mind to learn and adapt to new situations. By having the courage to challenge yourself to move away from ritual habits and live an unconventional lifestyle we can open ourselves up to appreciate the beauty that is all around us that day by day that we could be potentially missing.

My final months with UmPhafa coincided with the eagerly anticipated reintroduction of the intern program. After a two year hiatus, new life was breathed into the reserve as our brand new interns settled into their new environment. After a few nervous starts whilst acclimatising to their new surroundings, the confidence of the interns grew. As each day passed their knowledge of the bush grew, and they developed an intrepid sense for adventure. On a personal level it was highly rewarding to watch their enthusiasm grow, as they eagerly learned a radically new range of skill sets and knowledge whilst making a tangible difference to the reserve when carrying out their duties.

“Despite the magical wildlife that I was blessed to be surrounded with, I’ve come to realise that it was the people I met at UmPhafa and with whom I shared this amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned during my time living in the bush, away from the hustle and bustle of England was around the dynamic elements of human behaviour. UmPhafa is more than just a reserve, it is a community. Here, we work and live together 24 hours a day. Our ordinary societal pressures and bubbles are soon dropped, and we often find ourselves sharing close details of our lives with others we have only known for a relatively short space of time. In short, there are few secrets when living together in the bush! For me it was one of the most special features of my time on UmPhafa, as I have formed unique and close bonds to those I have been fortunate enough to share my time with. The African experience draws many visitors from worldwide, with each bringing their own unique perspective and life lessons. Spending such a great deal of time with a small group of people taught us all to understand and appreciate the importance of empathy and tolerance to others. Despite the magical wildlife that I was blessed to be surrounded with, I’ve come to realise that it was the people I met at UmPhafa and with whom I shared this amazing experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

As a final summary, my time throughout my UmPhafa journey has been a wonderful adventure and personal learning journey. I would like to make a personal thank you to all those that made this adventure an experience of a lifetime. It has taught me of the importance of connecting with the natural world and that fundamentally that there is a pure richness of beauty to live within nature that few things can replicate and I shall miss it dearly.

We were born to be wild...
David Wilson

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