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A German student’s experience at Bushwise

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

This blog was written by Ben Franklyn Mertens, a German student doing the Bushwise Professional Field Guide course. Each week, Bushwise students take turns as camp manager to experience what it’s like to run a lodge or a team. Writing a blog is part of that process.

3 min read

My name is Ben Franklyn Mertens and I’m 30 years old. Compared to the rest of the students on the campus, I am probably one of the oldest. Since I finished high school, my big question has been “what do I want to do with my life?” 

I tried out a lot of ideas, including being a fashion designer, running a couple of start up gastro shops, a photographer and even going into real estate. All of this didn’t really fulfil me. But due to chance and opportunity, I was able to come back to Africa again and again. And through that I developed a love for the African bush and nature.

My love for the African bush


Ben stands on the ground next to another Bushwise student who is balanced on the end of a game viewer, as they do conservation work.

I chose Bushwise to rekindle and nurture that love. It combines all the things I like best: photography, meeting people from around the world, wildlife and nature. I’m a boy from a big city in Germany. But at heart, I’m a bushbaby that has found his place in the bush where my heart belongs. 

Being camp manager this week certainly has had its ups and downs. Due to rainy weather conditions, we were limited in our ability to drive on the concession roads and sometimes we could not go out at all. So we finished the remaining modules — including birds, mammals, ethology and reptiles —in one day (which seems like a lot, and believe me it was!!). But it had the advantage of allowing us to study the modules in greater depth before the upcoming big Bushwise exam. I saw this as my opportunity to motivate the other students and lift their spirits with fun games and study sessions – which we call bird parties

Game drives in Manyeleti

Ben, the author of this blog, and Lucas, another Bushwise student, stand with arms draped over each other in front of a table set with drinks and snacks in the bush.

We were spoiled to the max being able to do some of our drives on the neighbouring concession at Manyeleti, in order to utilise our driving/guiding skills. Seeing the faces of the people in my group driving out in a completely unknown area was my highlight of the week. The pure joy and excitement compared to the rest of the week when we were unable to explore was a delight. 

At Manyeleti, we were really lucky to have a sighting of an elephant bull. I was in the passenger seat, and it was good to trust someone else being the guide in this situation. We drove closer, but still respected his space. Once he started noticing us, he acknowledged us, and his curiosity got the better of him. We noted that his presence was calm and relaxed. Even for such a large gentle giant, his footsteps were cautious and silent in the vastness of the bush. It seemed as if this small mountain moved slowly towards us. Eventually he moved past us, giving us and himself some space while always keeping an eye on us. The calm and quiet of this sighting was so special and a blessing to all present. It is moments like these that will stay etched in our memories.

This is where I belong

Ben holds the camera for a selfie, with a group of his fellow Bushwise students standing behind him on the Graskop bridge.

Even after being here for only two months, being around the instructors and fellow students has reinforced my feelings that this is the right future for me. I want to be a knowledgeable and accomplished guide. I want to be able to amuse and enrich my client’s visits with knowledge about the bush. Show them the small things in our environment that a normal visitor does not notice. 

My aim – our aim – is to educate clients and guests as best as we can in the short time they are with us and hopefully with luck, help them feel the same way that we do about the bush.

Learn how you too can become a field guide with a purpose, by joining a Bushwise course. Apply today!

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