There is nothing quite like a “Wake up! There are lions in the camp!” to grab one's attention.
This is how I was woken at 3am on the first night of my Wilderness Leadership School experience in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. I had been warned we would be sleeping under the stars in Big Five territory, but the reality of the situation didn’t hit me until that urgent hiss in my ear from the person on night guard duty at that time. To be honest, up until then, I had been more concerned about spiders crawling over my face, or a deadly snake taking up residence in my sleeping bag while I slept.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of standing with my fellow traillists, huddled close to the small fire, watching Doric, our field guide, walk purposefully towards the three female lions about 20m away. And that roar is utterly indescribable to someone who has not heard it up close and personal. My mom still wavers between disbelief that this really happened and outrage that her daughter was so close to becoming a midnight feast for a lion. But, even though we were intruders in the lion’s territory, I felt oddly safe. I’m sure it had something to do with Doric managing to persuade them to move on by shouting and throwing small rocks and tree branches at them (don’t worry, no lion was injured).
I was invited to attend the Wilderness Leadership School trail by Tony Frost of Sirocco Strategy Management. He takes groups of young business leaders out of their corporate comfort zone for four days and three nights, introducing them to nature in way that viewing it from the air conditioned luxury of a 4x4 can’t. At the same time, participants are confronted with a range of situations in which one is forced to draw on leadership, teamwork and communication skills that you never knew you possessed. You know you’re in the bush and you know you’re on a leadership development course, but the melding of the two elements is quite subtle. For instance, when we all arrived at the Johannesburg departure point, we were simply pointed to all the kit that had to go with us. We had to figure out how to pack it in the cars and on to the trailer – not rocket science, I know, but it’s interesting to see the dynamic that unfolds between people who don’t know each other. And when we set up camp, we were shown the cooler boxes and the food but it was left to us to sort out what to eat when, who would prepare and cook the food, and who would wash the dishes. Let's just say some people clearly don’t like domestic chores.
Of course, there is no hot and cold running water in the bush, and although we had eight 30 litre water containers, I was really concerned that we would run out. But it’s amazing how mindful one becomes of scarce resources and how long you can make water last when you really have to – we only used six containers in the end, despite all the tea and Oros we drank. And in case you were wondering, no, we didn't shower.
I think being immersed in the practicalities of daily survival make this experience so unique. Learning about trust, leadership, communication and respect from a book or a business school is so limited – although they do have their place, especially considering not everyone has the opportunity to do what I did.
For me, one of the highlights (and there were many) was being forced to leave my life behind, in my head. There was no cell phone reception and I couldn’t do anything about the stuff that was happening at home or at work, so there was no point worrying about whether or not my children were managing their homework without me, or thinking about the pile of work I would have to attend to when I returned to civilisation. It was all about the group and I focusing on our immediate surroundings, in the moment.
Until I experienced it firsthand, I couldn’t appreciate the power of completely disconnecting from the exhausting, draining, frenetic world. I returned feeling truly relaxed but also challenged, stimulated and in awe that something so relatively simple and unpretentious could have such an impact on me.
I wouldn't hesitate to sign up for another trip if given the chance.
** Sirocco Strategy Management also runs similar courses for couples who wish to develop, mend or strengthen their bond with each other.
By Ashley Truscott