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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

 

 


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South African Experience – Part 2

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

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The second portion of the volunteer activities on my VESA adventure was Education. The first was Construction (covered in my previous post) and the third was Conservation. We spent two days at both a school and an orphanage/daycare.

It is pretty mind-boggling that they manage with such a lack of resources. The teachers are amazing and well respected, and getting an education is highly valued. The elementary school (that’s what I would classify it as) resembled old army barracks in construction. A series of long buildings divided into classrooms. Each room had rows of desks with up to THREE children squeezed into the seat! A table or old desk with no storage in it for the teacher. And some also had one set of shelves or a storage locker at the front of the room – all were broken in some manner and most contained nothing.

Many of us had brought school supplies and other items (VESA had sent lists in advance if we wanted to bring things) which were collected to be distributed later. The kids were all asking us for pens. And they really did need them.

The buildings were all painted green and yellow, and the school uniforms were also green and yellow. There wasn’t any playground – just bare soil and some walkways. But the kids are very resourceful.

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When we got there we were divided into groups of four or five and assigned to a classroom. Our first was a Grade 6 class. The kids all wanted us to sit with them – which was a tight squeeze in those desks! The teacher got us to mark the kids exercise books as she reviewed the answers. Then… she had some of us actually get up and teach part of the lesson! ACK! I got given a grammar lesson – I was petrified! The teacher gave me the answer key to teach from thank goodness! Honestly, grammar was always my least successful part of English classes! But I managed, I think. I hope!

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If you got out your camera or asked to take a photo you were mobbed with kids wanting in the photo – then they all wanted to see it.

During the break/recess, which was pretty long, we all hung out and played with the kids out in the yard. I got a frisbee and showed a group of younger ones how to play – which is quite the achievement as I’ve never played. I have to say we were all doing quite well – this is the official Frisbee Team photo.

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We spent two days helping out. The second day we were in a Grade 4 class helping with Math. At least they were teaching math there the way I actually know math. Not like they have been doing here in Canada lately.

The other part of the Education work was spending time at a “creche” – an orphanage/daycare run by a lady called Mama Doris. She started out taking in orphans and over time expanded into daycare for teen mothers so they could continue with school. Our activities there consisted of playing with the little ones mostly.

I had taken along face paints and supplies for them, so did face painting on the kids. They all wanted to paint and were getting into it so I just went with it (which if you know me and my sanitation procedures was hard!) One particular girl kept coming back for more painting and wanted to paint me, so I gave her a brush. Yep… here she is and here’s her work. Decent eye for colour and design for a two-year old.

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I had no mirror so until this photo was taken had no idea what I looked like! I kept trying to put her down but she would climb up my leg again. When it was time to leave it took two of the adults who were there to convince her to let go.

The second day I help paint a mural on one of the buildings. Raj, one of the other volunteers, had bought paint and supplies in town and recruited some artists in the group to help. See if you can figure out my contribution to this…

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We got Mama Doris to pose with it too.

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On the evening one of these days I went on a Night Safari – well, a Sunset Safari – in iSimangaliso Wetland Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Conservation Area. It was pretty cool – literally and figuratively! Saw quite a few animals, but some were too far or too fast to capture with my camera, but here is what I did get photos of:

Three Rhinos! All of these had their horns removed for protection. The third photo gives an idea how close they were. They were all strolling down the road towards us, and ignored us completely.

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Then Water Buffalo! That is two of the Big Five, right there! They were pretty skittish and the bull was a bit threatening, even at the distance they were from us.

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Also saw a few zebra – they were usually a bit far away and the light was fading.

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Then we went up to a lookout where you could seen the Indian Ocean from one side and the St Lucia Estuary on the other.

On the way back we passed this Kudu walking along the rode, completely unconcerned about us.

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We also saw Wildebeest, Warthogs and other antelope species. It was a pretty satisfying drive.

Stay tuned for Part 3 with Cheetahs and Crocodiles!

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

 


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South African Experience – Part 1

My trip to Africa – which included South Africa, Swaziland which is now called eSwatini, and Mozambique – lasted from May 16th to June 6th. It has taken me until today to share as I then left on June 8th to work at a camp as a cook/baker for the summer and only got back home this past Sunday!

It all started back in September 2018 when I saw a flyer on the bulletin board in the Student Services Building – it said VOLUNTEER NEXT SUMMER on it. I was looking for more volunteer opportunities so I took the flyer to my desk to read more. They were holding on campus information sessions and the last one was at 4 p.m. that afternoon. I was off at 4 so I hot footed it over to learn about the program.

The organization is called Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) and originated in Australia; they have offices in several countries now. They have projects currently ongoing in four countries – South Africa, Ecuador, Laos and Fiji. I was most interested in the South African one (mostly due to climate – not a fan of jungles, and it was on my “list”). So I filled out the interest form at the session.

Two days later I was accepted and made my deposit. You pay your way and spend time doing volunteer labour, then have the opportunity for lots of adventure tours and experiences after. With the African project there was an add-on tour to Mozambique which I opted to take. Why waste the opportunity to see as much as possible while there?

VESA encourages the volunteers to do fundraising to offset their costs. I made and sold Christmas cards and did a Facebook Fundraiser – and I am incredibly thankful to all my friends and others who supported me!

I left home on May 16th – rode the GO Train for the first time and then the UP Express to the airport from Downtown Toronto. Was a good time of day as nothing was very busy.

My flight left Toronto at 6:20 p.m. and we landed in Frankfurt at 8 a.m. the next day (local time). Then it was a long day to kill, flight didn’t depart until- 8:45 p.m. for Johannesburg! Ate breakfast and dinner at a restaurant in the airport, used the “rest” lounge which had recliner style chairs where you could nap. Walked around, did crossword puzzles, etc. The flight to South Africa was 10 hours and 40 minutes long. They turned the lights off right after feeding us. I was really tired but sleeping is NOT easy is economy! Then another long layover as the flight to Durban wasn’t until 3:15 p.m.!

Finally arrived in Durban around 4:30 p.m. on May 18th, then waited for the VESA representatives to greet us. Then it was a three-hour drive to our destination.  This was the longest transit I’ve ever done on any of my various trips – from the time I left home to the time we arrived at our destination it was 52 hours! I was exhausted.

Unfortunately, as we were driving at night, I wasn’t able to see anything on the drive to St. Lucia. We arrived in the complete darkness at BIBS which is the hostel where we were staying. It was pretty late – around 10 p.m. They had dinner for us, and did introductions, assigned us to our work groups and briefed us on what we would be doing. And also gave us strict warnings about roaming about on our own and the dangers of the area – mainly the hippos!

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I was very surprised that we were actually starting work in the morning. I thought we’d be given a day to recover from travelling! They did let us “sleep in” so we didn’t have to leave until 9 a.m. My group was assigned to construction for the first two days, then we rotated off to the other areas – education (school and a daycare/orphanage) and then the conservation projects (wild cat sanctuary and crocodile rehabilitation centre).

VESA has posted the season report so if you are interested in specific details of what we accomplished you can read about it here.

The group of volunteers was around 72 I think, and there were a couple of parents who came with their kids in the group. So, while I was still actually the oldest, I wasn’t the only “mature adult” in the group.

Before we left for our projects in the morning on Sunday, we were taken on a walking tour down the street to see where the stores, coffee shop, pharmacy, etc. were. And more warnings about hippos and not going out of the hostel grounds alone. This was the tourist strip in St. Lucia – lots of hotels/hostels and tour offices. It was only a few blocks long and at the end there was a roundabout and the entry to the park was just past that.

 

Then we got on our assigned buses and were taken to a Zulu cultural centre which was fascinating.

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We were provided with demonstrations of traditional dances, dress, had social structure explained and the site was set-up as a village so we could see the buildings and compounds that were used.

There was a demonstration of reed mat weaving and I was the “volunteer” who got to try it! I thought I did pretty well.

We then ate a packed lunch in the parking area and after left for our assigned projects.

I consider that I was lucky to get the construction rotation first as we ended up working one and a half days, the other groups got two full days. Although, our two days were the hottest of the week! Really hot!

There were two construction sites so our group was split up and I was in the group taken to the smaller site down the road from the larger site the first afternoon, and then worked on the first site the second day.

Everything gets done the hard way – had to carry “bricks” (which are the shape of what I know as “cinder blocks”) from the roadway down to the building sites, then had to mix the cement BY HAND. That means you dump sand, gravel, bags of cement powder and add water on a sheet of plywood or just on the ground, and use a shovel to mix it.  This is not easy! Then you shovel it into a wheelbarrow and then hope the strongest person there will move it to where it needs to be!

All holes were dug by hand too. Luckily our group had an assortment of strapping young men who were a bit competitive in that area.

Above is Site 1 on day two. I was pushing wheelbarrows of sand dug up at the top of the hill down to fill in the foundation, then I got in the end “rooms” to spread and level off the sand. This house was five rooms long.

Above is the house from Site 2 – as I was there on the first day the construction stage is earlier on. The last photo is what it looks like now at the end of the season.

It was exhausting work, particularly in the heat. But satisfying.

So that was the first four days of my trip and the construction portion of my volunteer activities.

I’m going to break this up into a series of posts. For my benefit as well as anyone who is reading it!

If you are interested in finding out more about VESA check out their website: www.vesabroad.org