Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


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Gallery Show and a prize

While I was off on my African Adventure five of my artworks were in the Annual All-Student Juried Show at the Station Gallery in Whitby, Ontario.

Before I left I had helped get the show put up at the Gallery. That was a great learning experience; seeing how much work goes into the process. Very physical and tiring. I went in every day for a week to do whatever I was asked to do. That involved unpacking and unwrapping the art, laying out the works in the various rooms, arranging them in theme groups, then moving things around, putting up the labels, etc.

Originally we were limited to entering three pieces, but for whatever reason, they opened it up and asked for more works. That’s why I ended up with five in the show.

The show took up the whole building which meant our art was in three main gallery rooms, hallways, lobby, etc. Was pretty impressive.

It was extremely exciting to see my art up in an art gallery. It never really gets old. I’ve had art in shows before but wasn’t involved, other than dropping it off, so this was a new experience for me.

Here are my works:

First are my two mixed media pieces, “My Chickadee” and “Evolutionary Ladder”, which had been hung together in the middle gallery.

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Then my acrylic nature study painting called “Autumn Reflection” was in the back gallery in a grouping with others of the same project/class.

Then my painting “Blood Moon” was in a hallway by the entrance with other fantasy works.

And finally, my ink blot painting called “Windswept Forest” was in the main gallery.

Hanging art is hard. Measuring repeatedly, deciding what goes together both by size and theme, mounting, hammering, repositioning… it isn’t like home, where if you are slightly off centre you say “good enough”… nope, take it down and start over.

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When I got home from my trip on June 6th, there was mail from the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington – it was a cheque that said “Durham Art Show Prize”! I was very excited but there was no notation to tell me what it was actually for.

I emailed my professors and classmates who had been there to find out what it was  awarded for. My piece “Evolutionary Ladder” was chosen as best mixed media work.

This was created by making a collage (I love Mod Podge) using recycled original work of mine in watercolour, pencil crayon and micron pen, as well as tearing up a few magazines and cutting up cardboard. Then creating a paper tole (a three-dimensional effect by layering multiple layers of the same image that has been cut out) of the ladder/double helix drawing. Then adding gold watercolour paint, then both dimensional fabric paints and acrylic paint applied using a squeeze bottle. Finally used Sharpies to add some details. The piece is 18 x 24″ and very light as I built it on foam core.

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When I got back to college this September I discovered that all my work from the show was now on display throughout the college.

Four of the works are in the B-wing in the second year display case (only four of us have our work there!)

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The other painting “Blood Moon” is on display in the Entrepreneurial Centre in another building.

I am “chuffed” as the English say! I can’t think of another word to use at the moment. Although proud and thrilled do work.

 


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Southern Africa Adventure – Part 8

This is the eighth, and final, post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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I left off with getting ready to leave Swaziland (eSwatini) in my last post. Sorry it has taken this long to get back to the story – had a very hectic month or so. School starting, found a new job then was informed I had to move. I’ve now settled into my new place which is walking distance to school. So time to get back to my routine.

I keep a daily journal when I travel. I find it is a great way to remind me of the little things that happen that get overshadowed by the big things (like Elephants!). It really helps when I want to blog later – and in this case, much later – about my adventures.

At 11 p.m. on May 29th those of going on the trip to Mozambique loaded up on the minibus and left for the border. There was a lot more leg room on this bus and several of the group decided to sleep on the floor – in the aisle and between the seats. It was going to be at least a 12-hour drive through the night to our destination. I think I did manage to sleep… I think. It was always black outside so difficult to tell if time was actually passing.

We stopped at the border after a couple hours and had to unload, go through the Swazi customs building, then walked through an unmarked gate to a dimly lit building. Wow… I felt like we were sneaking across the frontier to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. After getting our passports stamped by a very cranky woman, we got back on the bus to continue on into the blackest night I’ve ever seen.

We were stopped many, many, MANY times – by “police”. It is expected and apparently it is a lucrative side business form them… or maybe it is how they actually get paid? I don’t know. But our local guides handled all that. We had a “bribe fund” apparently. Some just stopped the bus and chatted with the driver and guides in a friendly way, others would open the doors and shine flashlights in our eyes, and a couple of times we all had to get off the bus and the bus was “inspected.”

We stopped a few times. Am I ever glad I’d bought the multi-pack of tissues back in Saint Lucia! I had them and hand sanitizer in my bag – oh man, did I need those. I had to “wash” off things with the sanitizer before I could do anything. A couple of times the facilities were so horrifying I decided to wait for the next stop.

Around 6 a.m. we stopped to have our packed breakfast. This gas station at least had pretty decent washrooms.

Then we continued on to Tofo. We arrived at our hostel mid-afternoon – the Pariango Beach Motel – right on the beach! While it was not luxurious it certainly was miles better than I was expecting. I couldn’t get over the location – built right on the sand, you step onto the beach!

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My accommodations were called a “casita” – a little grass shack basically. It was really nice and I felt like I was a real beach bum. It had electricity and an oscillating fan, so was very comfortable. And as a bonus, there was a safe imbedded in the floor! There were mosquito nets, so I pulled the one down over my bed, sprayed everything with my bug spray, and left to go exploring.

These photos show the path to my casita… it was a really neat place to stay!

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The showers and toilets were in the main hostel building where the rest of the group was housed. So in the night I had to trek over to use the facilities, but the path was well lit and there was night security guarding the place.

When I did my nightly treks I was stargazing – the stars there were immense! It looked like a theatrical backdrop with fairy lights stuck through black velvet. I could only identify the Southern Cross.

This is looking at the back of the main building – you go through there to get to the beach, or hang a right to get to the toilets.

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Our guides put up a tent for our dining hall. They would be cooking for us all. There was an outdoor kitchen in the hostel courtyard and some of the local ladies worked there.

 

I opted out of a couple of the included activities and chose to chill on the beach, did some sketches from the covered porch/bar, lounged in the lobby, rubbed the dogs… just chilled. Was really pleasant.

This is looking back at the hostel from the edge of the water… so close!

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Tofo is beautiful. The beach is gorgeous and it not a developed tourist spot – I didn’t see any hotels. There are a few nice houses up on the ridge and some rental places, but the rest is all very low key. There are numerous adventure/scuba type companies operating there, and a lot are owned by people not native to Mozambique, but it all felt very authentic. It made me think of Hemingway for some reason. Run away, live on a beach, just work enough to eat… Was a very different type of experience for me.

 

I went out at dawn to get a photo of the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, but the angle is not right on the beach – both the sunrise and sunset end up happening behind things.

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I took photos of the rest of the group going out for the “ocean safari” – I decided that I wasn’t meant to careen through the waves in a zodiac. Turns out they saw nothing out there. So I didn’t regret that decision.

 

We all went on a tour of Tofo, timed to get to a point where we could watch the sunset over the estuary. We were all loaded into a couple of very old, very creaky, tiny pick-up trucks. The one I was in was an Isuzu. As the “elderly” member of the group the guides treated me like I was incapable of climbing into the back with the kids… for which I was VERY thankful! I was given the passenger seat in the cab. I had to take a couple photos to show the interior. Oh my!

 

We drove through the area. There are coconut palms everywhere, and they are so evenly spaced it looks like deliberate planting. We stopped for a demonstration of climbing and picking coconuts, then we all got a chance to drink/eat a fresh coconut. I have to say that was delicious! So completely different from the dried out stuff we get. I honestly could not have identified that what I was eating was coconut if I didn’t know. The liquid tasted like honeydew melon to me.

 

We all loaded back into the trucks and then raced to a lodge up on a high ridge in time to watch the sunset. The “road” was a track through the sandy soil and a couple of times I thought we were going to get bogged down.

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The sunset was beautiful.

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The next day we all went to Pig Island. We left the hostel around 8:30 to walk to the bus, then were driven out to the estuary. Then we had to walk… and walk… to get to the water where two dhows were waiting for us! We had to wade out and get ourselves into them. This was actually pretty cool.

These are not tourist boats, these are working boats. When they aren’t ferrying tourists they are fishing. There wasn’t much wind so our guide and the boatman pushed us with long poles. The estuary is not terribly deep. A one point the wind picked up enough that we had a bit of a race.

 

First they took us to an area for snorkeling. I stayed on board. After that, we stopped at a large sandbar and we all jumped off and waded onto it to do some beachcombing. At this point I realized that the $10 poolshoes I’d brought along were the most important item I owned. I found some nice shells and a sand dollar. Unfortunately the sand dollar didn’t make it through the day.  The dhows met us on the other side of the sandbar and we waded out and climbed back in.

Then we headed to Pig Island. By the time we got there it was close to noon. As the tide was out we all had to jump out and wade about a kilometer to the island (did I mention my poolshoes?)

The island has about 800 residents and no source of freshwater, other than rain. The chief is named Erik – he was 70, but didn’t look a day over 50! He asked us all our names and quizzed me – asked my age, how many kids I had. Then said he wanted to marry me – I declined. He already has two wives!

We were taken on a tour of the island before lunch. They have a school, hospital and church… really makes you appreciate what we have. As it is all sand they can’t grow anything (other than coconuts) so they fish and trade/sell on the mainland to get what they need. It was very hard walking in the loose sand. There were some pigs too.

 

By the time we were ready to leave the tide had come in so we didn’t need to walk out to the dhows, but it was harder to get back in, in deeper water. Luckily I’d put my camera in a ziploc bag – as my pack hit the water as I was trying to climb in.

The ride back took three hours – Julio and the boatman had to push the whole way. We saw a flock of flamingos on a sandbar – wow! As the other dhow sailed by them, they all took flight at once. Spectacular. As the tide was in they were able to take us right to the shore in the dhows.

I had decided my one big souvenir purchase would be a custom made jacket! One of our guides had some clothing made by a tailor in Tofo, so I made sure to have enough funds to pay for it. He came by and measured me, and then brought the finished jacket over on our last day in Tofo. For approximately $140 Canadian, I have a reversible padded, hooded, bomber jacket with three pockets on both sides, in an African print on one-side and handmade patchwork on the other. Very colourful!  I think very suitable for an artist.

 

Sunday, June 2nd we left Tofu to head to Bilene for the last stop of our trip. It was a 6-hour drive (not counting the stops for police checks/inspections…)

We arrived around 8 p.m. at Villa Espanhola. WOW. This was not a hostel, but a resort! So nice for the last stop before heading home.  Wonderful setting – on a private beach. Took quite a few photos. We spent two full days here and left at 3 a.m. in the morning on the third night.

 

I had a private “chalet” with a massive bathroom, huge walk-in shower that had… hot water!

 

It was a fair climb to get to the beach.

 

I opted out of the activities, except for the trip to the market. I managed to find fridge magnets and got one carved with “Mozambique” on it. Also bought a beautiful large scarf/shawl. Saw lots of purses, bags and jackets that were similar in style to mine but not reversible and not the same quality.

I spent my couple of days lounging around, went down to the private beach, watched Portuguese soap operas in the outdoor recreation area, took many long hot showers. Was a beautiful place.

 

Bilene is a resort town. Many of the buildings look very European – reminded me of the Mediterranean coast. Nice wide main road, shops, restaurants, accommodations – meant for tourists.

On the last day we all had to have our luggage out before we went to bed, and had to be on the bus by 2:30 a.m. as we needed to hit the road by 3 a.m. It was over 12 hours to Johannesburg where we all had flights to catch.

Again, many stops by police. Got to watch a glorious sunrise from the bus – I was the only person awake, well, except for the driver! In one town we were stopped and the “official” took one of our passports and walked away. One of our guides stuck to him like glue and got it back, after suitable payment I assume.

It was nice to be driving through the country in the daylight this time. Was very interesting to see the contrast between old Portuguese colonial architecture in the towns with the rural buildings of the population.

Something that was very interesting was the roadside shops – communication companies and others have their colours and logos on almost every single roadside business. Also, there are little one person kiosks – an enclosed area with an umbrella – where you can buy cellular service for mere cents. Cellphone service is cheap in Africa!

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We crossed back through Swaziland, stopped for lunch, then crossed into South Africa.

At the airport in Johannesburg I took a lot of photos of beaded creatures – this type of craftwork was everywhere we went. The showpieces at the airport were amazing! Bigger than life Nelson Mandelas and fantasy animals. Little versions were in all the craft markets we saw on the trip.

 

Long flight from Johannesburg to Munich, long layover, then onto to Toronto and home. Relatively uneventful and I paid to upgrade my seat on the Munich-Toronto leg and managed to actually sleep.

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The whole trip was amazing. Seeing the wildlife, learning about the cultures in each area, the scenery and the experiences volunteering truly made this a once in a lifetime trip.

If I had to pick the part I enjoyed the most I would have to say the stay in Tofo – it was so outside my expectations and something I would never have considered doing as I am not a beach person, generally. But white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean are a lot different than grey sand beaches in British Columbia, obviously.

 

 

 

 

 


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Southern Africa Adventure – Part 7

This is the seventh post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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The night before we left Saint Lucia for Swaziland (which is now officially eSwatini as the King changed the country’s name) I had to start taking my anti-malaria pills. As Mozambique is in the malaria zone it seemed the safe thing to do. You have to start the drug I was taking two days prior to arriving and continue a week after you leave. Luckily I didn’t suffer any side-effects – I also do not appear to have malaria so that was a win-win.

We left Saint Lucia and BiBs Backpackers close to 9 a.m. in the morning. It was a three hour drive to the border, then another three hours to our destination. While we were assembling at the buses, and the luggage was being loaded up, one of the VESA leaders was yelling every few minutes to keep your passports on your person as we would be needing them along the way. She kept it up and then came around to each bus to make sure everyone heard her and had their passports (this is called foreshadowing…)

We stopped once for snacks and toilets, then around noon reached the border.

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We all had to get off the buses, WITH OUR PASSPORTS, and walk through the customs buildings for both countries. Through the South African Border Control, then through the gate, and walk over to the Swazi customs office and line-up to be processed. All the passport stamps still say Swaziland I noticed; guess bureaucracy takes time to change.

The buses went through separately and were on the other side when we got there. This is where the reason for the foreshadowing becomes clear…

One of the leaders shows up agitated and needs to talk to the others. One of the volunteers packed his passport in his luggage which was loaded in a trailer… the one trailer that wasn’t an enclosed one, it was the one that had the tarp wrapped and tied down over it.  Sigh…

So they had to wait for his friend who knew what his stuff looked like to be processed, so he could find the bag. It took a bit of time but we were all relaxing and eating the packed lunch (everyone else was, I had to eat my snacks.)

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Then we all got back on the buses and continued on our way. Swaziland is very nice and tidy and more prosperous looking than the part of South Africa we had been in. There were miles and miles and miles of sugar cane, and dozens of trucks full of it heading to the plant. There was also a haze of smoke from the harvesting.

Geologically it appeared to be surrounded by basaltic rock ridges… I asked one of our leaders if it was sitting on a volcanic plateau, they had no idea. I actually was a little disappointed in the complete lack of commentary or information from our VESA guides after we left Saint Lucia.

There was a lot of infrastructure projects going on – highway improvements, etc.

I was very impressed with the country. It appeared relatively prosperous and clean. All the cars and vehicles were spotlessly clean and in excellent condition no matter how old they were. I saw the twin to my first ever car – 1998 model, and it was in absolute mint condition! The cities and towns we passed through were pretty comparable to home to me.

On our itinerary we had a stop at a “traditional craft market.” I was a bit underwhelmed. Not sure what I was expecting but maybe more local colour for the tourists?

As usual with these places, most of them had exactly the same items as the others. You just had to walk around to find the cheapest price and then haggle. I did find a couple hand-carved wooden fridge magnets (I’d also bought a few magnets in Saint Lucia.) That is the only real souvenir that I bother with nowadays, with a few exceptions.

Then once everyone was finished shopping we loaded up to head to our destination.

It was getting dark by then and we actually arrived at the gates to the game reserve in the dark. So we really didn’t get a look at anything until the morning.

We were staying at the Sondzela hostel which was inside the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a predator free game park and runs some programs to breed endangered antelope.

We got assigned to our accommodation and then had to find it… in the dark… That was interesting. We were warned to watch where we stepped as animals roam freely. Okay then, glad it was predator free!

I got up pretty early – was just starting to lighten up, and went outside to look around. As I went out the door a warthog bolted between me and the door! Scared the bejeezus out of me!

This was my “hut”… wow! Pretty cool – except for the no toilet part. There was a sink… I made it work.

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I then walked around taking some photos. It was very quiet and peaceful.

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There were animals about too!

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Warthogs were all over the place! Lots of us sat on the deck by the pool watching them. There was a little one who wouldn’t stop teasing the biggest one! Was really fun to watch them playing.

The main lodge contained a lounge and kitchen as well as more rooms. A lot of the group was housed in there, as well as another house (25 slept there). I got lucky to get the hut for myself. There was some nice art in the main lodge – particularly some batik work. This one really caught my eye.

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This shot is looking down the hill from the Lodge gate.  That’s the direction I went on my safari later.

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There were several optional activities to choose from and all but one were extremely physical – rock climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking, etc. I chose to go on the safari – in a Land Cruiser. I was there to SEE things!

We were picked up at the Lodge gate and headed out. Our guide/driver, Cava, was really knowledgeable and I finally got the answers to my geologic questions! Yes, it is volcanic! We stopped first at the main compound to pay for the safari, then we headed out. There was a display of snares that had been collected hanging by the side of the road.

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Cava was great – running commentary about Swaziland, the animals, the park, history, conservation, government, etc. The animals here are not nervous and pretty much ignore the vehicles and people so you can get quite close to them.

These are Burchell’s Zebras – they have that brownish stripe between the black stripes. This is the only species of zebra I saw the whole trip.

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Typical equines – put their ears back the second you hit the button!

Here’s a selection of antelope… I honestly tried to get the names of each species but there are so many listed I was having a hard time trying to identify them all, so enjoy the images! What I am sure of is that the centre two photos are of a Wildebeest aka Gnu, and the very bottom right corner are Springboks.

Then we went up to their current breeding program for the Roan Antelope. They were hunted to the edge of extinction as they are one of the largest and meatiest of the species. The program here started with breeding stock they were able to get from a Czechoslovakian zoo and now the species has been reintroduced to its native habitats as well to game parks around the world.

There were lots of termites mounds about. The bright red soil indicates a very high iron content.

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We saw a fair number of birds too – song birds, Egyptian geese, grey herons, some water fowl, but I wasn’t able to get photos.

Cava called this tree a “sausage tree” which makes sense as those do look like the meat hanging in an Italian deli!

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I saw some very nice vistas as we drove around the park for several hours. This is my favourite. In that body of water however… there are 25-30 Nile Crocodiles. So it is not a swimming hole.

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That evening those of us going on the Mozambique trip had to have our luggage out at 9 p.m. to load, and be ready to leave at 11 p.m. So we only got one night in Swaziland. The rest of the group was spending the night and leaving in the morning for Johannesburg to fly home.

There were 15 of us continuing on, plus the VESA group leader, two guides from Mozambique and our driver.  It was going to be a 12-hour drive through the night.

My next posts will cover the whole Mozambique experience and trip home.

 


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South African Adventure – Part 6

This is the sixth post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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Back in Saint Lucia we had a chance to go on a Nature Walk in the Estuary one afternoon.

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Love the warning sign – sharks, crocodiles and hippopotamus. That’s pretty impressive.

Our guide was a local expert who told us about the flora, fauna and how the estuary ended up being cut off from the sea – not naturally!

There had been an oil spill offshore and in order to protect the estuary the government brought in heavy equipment and filled in the openings. It was supposed to be temporary, but they didn’t have the funding to pay for removing the sand, so… it’s been left closed off from the ocean. There were major changes to the fish and wildlife once they were shut off, but nature adapts.

There was a boardwalk that went all the way out to the beach on the Indian Ocean. It was quite high in places and no handrails! I was walking really carefully as I have been known to trip over air and I did not want to end up in the murky mangrove swamp. It was a fair hike.

Along the way we had a good view of the area.

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That ridge in the distance is where the lookout was that I went to on the Sunset Safari I posted about in an earlier post.

Once we got to the sand of the beach we started to see signs of wildlife. The guide told us these were Hyena tracks!

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It is a quite spectacular beach – so big and deserted. Although, it does suffer from the typical mess of human plastics and waste. Why do people leave the liquor bottles on beaches?

I collected some shells, after asking our guide if it was permitted. I’ve been to lots of parks where you aren’t allowed to pick or remove things. He assured me it was okay.

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On the way back we passed a lot of monkeys. They were all over actually, but I hadn’t bothered with a photo until then. We were warned the night we arrived to hang onto our things and not leave anything outside as they would steal them!

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The hostel we were staying was called BiBS Backpackers. It has self-contained units, cabins, hostel style rooms full of bunks and a campground.  It backed right onto the estuary and had a really high fence to keep the hippos out!

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The night we arrived we were all assigned to accommodation. Initially I was put in with three girls in one of the hostel rooms… just a room with two sets of bunk beds and bins under the bottom ones that you could padlock to hold your stuff. The “facilities” were down the hall, around a corner and out into a courtyard… Through the door to the right was a couple of toilet stalls and a couple showers. No hooks, no shelves to put your things on. And the ground of the courtyard was sand.

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In the morning I was chatting with who I thought was the Cook as she’d met with us with special dietary needs the night before so I just assumed – turns out she was the owner -and the accommodations was one of the topics. I mentioned that I go to bed very early and also wake up super early so it was awkward trying to get up without waking the others. She told me to go see here when we got back from our project later.

When we got back she gave me a key and led me around to the other side of the compound to a private unit, with a bathroom and a shower! I have to say that age has its privileges.

Mine is behind the fence to the left side. There was a porch and yard, bbq, outside kitchen set-up, inside there was a counter, fridge, bed, and the bathroom. Pretty comfy, and quiet. I slept really well there. Oh, and it had fans!!

I was very well treated and extremely grateful for it. She took great care to provide food that all the special diets could eat – Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, me who is LCHF, etc. And the food was good! One night she made me (and just me!) mutton curry! Was delicious. And my packed lunches were always great – fresh vegetables and protein.

The dining hall and kitchen were a building in the rough centre of the compound, down a sort of corridor of other building walls.

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The dining hall was open air so there were often flying things!

This is Millie… she was a couple months old and had the run of the place. Appeared to be part Corgi and absolutely adorable. Everyone was her friend.

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A couple of times I went down the street (with others!) and got a very excellent latte at a coffee shop. The whole group ate out at one of the restaurants one night… I actually am trying to remember what I had without consulting my journal… but, obviously it wasn’t memorable. I do remember it was missing items that were listed in the menu. They also had a party at a bar another night – I skipped that. I also skipped the beach day/bbq trip. I much preferred puttering and resting to either watching other people drink (I don’t drink) or spending a day on a beach.

There were a few interesting buildings along the strip where we were – being a tourist area.

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This one also had a hippo on the porch, but he’s not really visible – right at the end of the railing on the left.

We spent ten days in Saint Lucia in total, then packed up and headed to Swaziland/eSwatini for the next adventure!

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Next few posts will cover Swaziland/eSwatini and Mozambique. Totally amazing and unique experiences for me.

 

 


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South African Adventure – Part 5

This is the fifth post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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Our big safari was to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. This park is known to have the Big Five as residents, but no guarantees of seeing any of them. The Big Five are Elephants, Rhinoceros, Water Buffalo, Lions and Leopards.

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We left very early… Everyone up at 4 a.m. and we hit the road by 5 a.m. It was pitch black. The sun was just barely rising when we arrived at the park. We ate when we got there from packed breakfasts that had been brought along.

We divided up amongst the Land Cruisers and headed out. The best time to catch the animals is when they are moving to graze in the mornings.

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The one I got in actually left first but we were soon overtaken. The drivers kept in touch with each other so if one spotted animals they let the others know.

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It was really chilly, and there were blankets in the truck for us to use. Heavy ones. The sun wasn’t up over the ridge yet so the light was muted.

The first thing our driver stopped to show us was a very large Rhino down in the valley below wading out of a water hole. I zoomed in as much as my camera allowed, and then zoomed again when I edited the photo! If this was the only horned Rhino I saw this photo was going to have to do!

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It was very far away.

Then we continued on. The driver stopped again and said there were elephants down by the river… I took his word for it and took a photo. I actually couldn’t see the elephant until I looked at the photo on the computer. I really love the photo. But… I was getting worried that we wouldn’t see anything up close. Can you see the elephant?

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We were driving around for hours. It was a large park, mostly scrub brush with a few open grassy areas.

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The driver stopped again to point off in the distance and told us there were Giraffes. I could not see them. At all. But, again I took a photo at maximum zoom aimed where he said they were.

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Once I got a look at the photo on a computer – couldn’t make them out on the camera display – I saw them. Then zoomed and cropped. Yep, Giraffe. But… I wanted close up animals!

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We kept driving… and… FINALLY!

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The black across the top is the roof of the truck. He or she stopped to look at us for quite a few  minutes before continuing to meander along into the brush.

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That’s more like it!

Then we started to see more animals.

Warthogs. So ugly they’re cute.

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Many types of antelope – unfortunately mostly we saw their behinds as they disappeared into the brush. But I did manage to catch these shots.

Cape Buffalo, which are different than Water Buffalo. Smaller and more docile. This guy was just plodding along down the road and wouldn’t get out of the way.

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Saw several of them along the way.

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Zebra – these two blocked us for a bit and took their time wandering around the truck from front to back.

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Then we stopped for lunch – BiBs (the hostel we were staying at) met us at a picnic ground with a BBQ lunch. Was a really nice spot with lots of warning signs!

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After lunch we continued the safari.

And… HOLY SHIT!!!

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An entire herd of Elephants of all sizes and ages crossed in front of us!! Soon the other vehicles arrived. There were around 30 animals. They crossed the road, and then the drivers whipped around to tear up the road to where they were expecting the herd to be at next.

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I shot a bunch of video clips with audio but can’t post them on this blog unfortunately.

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Eventually, after crossing in front of us about four times, they all ended up down in the valley below us with other animals.

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Now for my really sad story.

As we were tearing around to meet up with the herd on their next crossing, we passed an old Bull Elephant who was in the brush by himself. On one of our repositioning drives he decided to step out in front of us. HUGE old bull. And he was pissed off. Our driver stopped and revved the engine to try to scare him off. He wasn’t having it and started trumpeting. I pushed the record button on my camera and was filming the entire encounter… I thought. He threatened and came at us, it was thrilling and terrifying. As I thought I was recording I did not get any still shots… Sigh. When he finally gave up and walked away I went to look at the recording and the damn button hadn’t locked and I had NOTHING recorded!!! Whaaaaaaa…. One of the other gals shared hers on our Facebook group so I have access to it.

We did not see any cats at all, but they are notoriously hard to spot.

All-in-all it ended up being a pretty exciting day!

More to come –  Walking Nature Tour in Saint Lucia, then onto Swaziland/eSwatini to stay at a no predator game reserve, then Mozambique for a week!

 


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South African Adventure – Part 4

This is the fourth post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited.

Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.

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One of the included activities was a boat cruise in the Saint Lucia Estuary – it was called the Hippo Cruise! There are hippos all around. They come up into town at night to graze and are very dangerous.

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The cruise started late afternoon and lasted until sunset. There were several boats out doing cruises – I think there were a few different docks/companies on the estuary. It was like going whale watching – one boat would spot a group and then they all “chased” them to the spot.

 

The boat has the blue canopy on it – I sat on the top level, basically the roof of the canopy. At first we didn’t see any wildlife.

Then…

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They hang out in family groups and you have to watch out for the boss hippos! They are very territorial and defensive.

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The boat zig-zagged back and forth and we saw lots of different groups.

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In the distance at one point we spotted a group starting to leave the water but another boat roared by and the hippos all rushed back into the water. By the time we got over there, they were all back in. And there were three very large crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank.

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One guy had his mouth open…

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The sun started setting as we were heading back to the dock.

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At the Crocodile Centre they had a Hippo skeleton on display.

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We also had a visit on another day to meet the iSangoma – a traditional Zulu healer.  She would do readings for us, for a fee, and there were really strict rules about how to sit (depending if you were married or not, etc.) how to address her, whether you could talk to her or not, etc. I didn’t bother with a reading but a lot in the group did, but most didn’t share what they were told.

When someone is drawn to study to become a healer they basically give up their life – closest comparison I can make is entering a nunnery in the old days. They become a conduit for the ancestors and that is their entire life from then on.

The woman in the red blanket with the drum is the iSangoma and the other lady is her apprentice.

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We had Zulu lessons while we were in Saint Lucia but I found it difficult to remember. The only phrase/word I remember is “Ya-bo” which is basically an acknowledgement phrase. Sort of like “okay” – you say it to indicate you heard what the other person said to you, but won’t be responding in any other way. It got used a lot!

This photo is just one of my “arty” angles looking up through the tree we were sitting under. I liked the light effect coming through the leaves and the patterns they made.

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I’m going continue to keep my posts to a manageable length. My next one will be about my first game reserve safari… and… Elephants, Giraffe, more Rhinos and lots of antelope, amongst other creatures!

To find out more about VESA check out their website at www.vesabroad.org


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South African Adventure – Part 3

This is the third post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019.

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The third portion of the volunteer activities on my VESA adventure was Conservation. The first was Construction and the second was Education (covered in my previous two posts). We spent time touring and working at The Emdoneni Cheetah Project and at The Saint Lucia Crocodile Centre.

The first day of this rotation we went to the wildcat project. It was a fair drive to get out there. At the Emdoneni Cheetah Project they rehabilitate cats to be able to return them to the wild, or, if they cannot be returned due to human imprinting or injury, they are taken care of and used for education. Many of the permanent residents had been raised as pets and ended up there when they became too big, too aggressive, etc.

It was stressed to us that the purpose of the tours is to educate and that it is important to note that all the animals included in the tours are conditioned to humans and not drugged or otherwise incited to behave. We were warned to stay alert and not to get too close. Particularly with the Cheetahs who have to “accept” a person into their group before they let them get too close.

People and groups can “adopt” the cats and assist in supporting them at the project.

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It was immaculately clean and tidy with large compounds for all the animals. We started off with a tour with one of the staff veterinarians and were introduced to four species of native wild cats. We were able to go into their enclosures as all were used to humans but were warned not to turn our backs to them.

To start the tour they sprayed us with an unlabelled spray bottle… we were told it contained cat urine so that we would be more acceptable to the cats. I really hope that was just to make us squirm! One person said it was hand sanitizer… but it did NOT smell like hand sanitizer!

The first cat we were introduced to was the African Wildcat…

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Look at that poor little kitty behind that great big fence! Just the size of a regular tabby cat. We were warned to keep an eye on him when we went in. Apparently people confuse these guys with domestic cats all the time and start feeding them, etc.

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He wouldn’t cooperate and pose where the light worked – the sunlight was intense. But… honestly, would you not assume that was a regular old domestic tabby? They are considered the direct ancestors of modern domestic cats.

Then we met the Caracal. Gorgeous beasts! He was a poser, kept moving and flopping down in front of the group. There were apparently others in the enclosure but they stayed out of sight.

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They have ears like a Lynx and the colouring of a Cougar, and are not that big.

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The next cat we met was a Serval. This guy paced around and was checking us out the whole time.

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Servals are marked a lot like a Cheetah but are quite small. Because of that people try to make pets of them.

Then we got to meet the Cheetahs! Their compound is huge. There are two males – brothers – in the enclosure. They were raised by humans so will never be released to the wild. However, they are still wild and everyone was very careful. Although Moya appeared completely unconcerned with us being there. He also is very photogenic!

Those photos were zoomed in, the next was up pretty close!

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I love that photo!

After we listened to the talk about them we were allowed to pose, in very small groups, at a specific distance, to have photos taken with him. The lighting sucks due to the position, but Moya had no intention of moving. We were given strict instructions that if we shared the photos of ourselves with the cats we had to stress that the animals are conditioned to humans and are there because they cannot be returned to the wild, AND that in no way are they drugged or otherwise made docile.

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I’m crouching awkwardly as I am not able to kneel – I’m old and the knees don’t work.

After we finished the tour we went to work clearing out scrub brush in an area they were going to expand into. There were shrubs that were poisonous if eaten and thorn bushes, and things with monster roots to get out. Not to mention wasp nests and termite mounds! We went at them with rakes, pick-axes and shovels.

While I was raking out stuff my foot got tangled up in something. I stopped and looked down and there was a circle of wire wrapped around my leg. So I bent down to grab it and stepped out of it. It looked like fence wire to me – being raised rural I’ve seen a lot of wire left lying around fence lines. So I picked it up and put it over near the pile of brush we were making.

When our team leader came back he picked it up and asked where it came from. He was furious. It was a snare. I told him I’d been caught in it. He was really upset as it was actually set in the game reserve. He explained how they worked – animal steps into it, and as they struggle it tightens.

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We took it back to the tool shed and left it there.

Our next stop was the Saint Lucia Crocodile Centre.

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First we got a tour of the facility and were introduced to the various species and residents.

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They have several man-eaters there – BIG ones. I’m just glad the other groups got to clean their enclosures!

They rehabilitate to return to the wild (but not the man-eaters!) and also run a hatchery so they have crocs of various ages.

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They have residents from other parts of the world there too.

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Then we got to work. The project we worked on was a water purification system set-up in one of the crocodile enclosures. It was a series of “ponds” set-up to drain into each other. So it involved digging huge holes in the ground, lining them with cement, etc. As described in my first post about the Construction project, the cement was mixed and moved by hand.

I ended up plastering the end wall of the top pond – my experience with cake decorating came in really handy! It was a wall made out of bags of cement – onion bags filled with cement, with some bricks on the end. So it wasn’t flat, or straight. It started off with three of us being shown what to do but the other two (guys – they wanted something more… physical to do) left and it was just me. I was slapping fresh cement on the wall and smoothing it out all by myself. I really enjoyed it!

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Did that whole wall myself! Well, did the finishing on that whole wall.

Other work involved digging other ponds and lining them ready for cement. The group posed in one – a couple of us did not get in the hole as we didn’t think we would get out again!

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The enclosure this was in was really big and there were crocodiles in it. They were up at the top near the gate and we were told that as they were narrow snouted that they really wouldn’t hurt us, as biting us could break their jaws. Um… but did THEY know that? Luckily we didn’t find out.

The next project we worked on was painting the fence around one of the big enclosures of Nile Crocodiles. The fences are doubled up and we were painting the outer one, so no danger, other than bugs.

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This was the guy and his gals inside the fence we were painting.

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There were lots of butterflies around – swarms of them as a matter of fact.

That wraps up the volunteering portion of my trip.

My next posts will cover the other activities like the visit to the iSangoma – a traditional Zulu healer, the Hippo Cruise in the Saint Lucia Estuary, the safaris at a couple different game reserves, my visits to Swaziland/eSwatini and Mozambique!

To find out more about VESA check out their website at www.vesabroad.org