My last visit to Karongwe was at the end of 2019, just before COVID came along and closed everything down. But it was not the virus that destroyed part of the camp, but a fire in early 2020 that wiped out all the wooden and canvas buildings seen in this picture.
Instead of just replacing the buildings, a decision was taken to upgrade and re-do the public parts of the camp that included the kitchen, a lecture room, office and ablution block. EcoTraining also decided to incorporate a computer room for the students to utilize in the new design.
To put minds at rest, no one was injured during the fire and there was only a skeleton staff compliment in camp and they worked to contain and eventually douse the flames.
A burned gum pole is all that remains of the old buildings…and I had to look REALLY hard to find any remnants of what used to stand on this spot.
Those who visit the camp currently will have no idea what used to be here before the flood and the fire. But out of the ashes and the subsequent flooding rose a new and improved Karongwe Camp. Ready to once again become home to groups of students, both local and international.
While the building work was underway, the Karongwe River came down in flood and swept through part of the camp and the new buildings. This mark, at 1,12m, is a reminder of the height of the water as it came through the building site.
Chatting to camp staff during my recent visit, they tell me that they are still finding items that were washed downstream.
This is the new view from the car park. I was taken aback by the changes that had occurred and given that the buildings are only about 1-year old, they have settled into their surroundings quite well. Yes, there is still a lot of planting to do and the vegetation has to recover to the levels pre the disasters, but the buildings are beginning to root themselves into what surrounding foliage there currently is.
The heart of any training camp…aside from the lecture room…has to be the kitchen. I am always amazed by the kitchen staff at all of the EcoTraining facilities can produce such varied and interesting menus that are suitable for a diverse range of dietary requirements.
The fire had started in the old kitchen but it has been completely rebuilt, on a different site and is once again producing delicious food for students and staff alike.
On the left is the door to the new lecture room, while on the right is the beginning of the main admin block. Peeking through the gap is the are where the old buildings used to be.
And what is behind that door on the left in the previous image? THIS!
Forget the lyrics “You can always find me in the kitchen at parties”( Jona Lewie, released in 1980) It is in the lecture room at this EcoTraining facility you can more often than not find the students busy trying to come to grips with the names and descriptions of mammals animals, birds, plants and rocks.
Given the fact this course is a chosen career decision and not foisted upon them, they seemed to me anyway, to put a LOT of time and effort into the theory aspect of the course. (As an aside, they have only just started their course so the pressure that they placed on themselves was intense.)
The stone plinth in the centre of this image is another ‘survivor’ of the various disasters that have befallen the camp. It is still used by students as a meeting point before heading out on walks or other activities.
The replanted trees and plants are being meticulously cared for and are being protected from the resident herd of Nyala.
One thing that has NOT changed is the accommodation. The tents were untouched by either flames or rushing water, hence there was no reason to change them. Although they can be hot in summer, they each have an outdoor seating area where students can cool off if necessary.
In fact, I even saw one of the current students sleeping outside during an afternoon where the temperature had climbed to an uncomfortable level.
And having mentioned sleeping outside…This hammock appeared and disappeared on a daily basis. I could not figure it out until I found it in the computer room one morning and realised that it belonged to one of the staff members.
This area behind the outdoor dining area has been cleared of reeds and gives visitors to the camp a stunning view of the Karongwe River as well as the boulders on the far side. When the river is not flowing, part of the dry river bed is used as a volleyball court.
Not an actual farewell party for me as I drive out of camp, but a group of students who were heading out on a walk took a moment, together with their instructors, to wave goodbye to me.
Thanks to Instructors Richard and Michael as well as Christoff and Marie for their hospitality. And to the current group of students who made me feel welcome, thank you and I wish you well for all that lies ahead for you on your African adventure.
Walk softly on the Earth, be kind and be gentle to both Nature and each other.
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