Right now there is a crazy storm happening outside. This is really where you feel the full force of the elements. Out in the African ‘bush’. Not the kind of endless drizzle you get back home in the UK, but full on torrential floods and burst-riverbanks-within-minutes-type rain. I haven’t experienced this in over 5 years and the angry sky noises always scare the shit out of me. Hope there aren’t rain spiders (HUGE black hairy spiders that come out after the rain, at least in Johannesburg) in the Eastern Cape at least.
The electricity keeps cutting on and off and am a little worried about the lamp next to me exploding, as well as my phone on charge. So I’m going to unplug both and type only by the light in the screen for now.
I flew in to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth this morning, arriving at around 1pm on a British Airways flight. My pick up was nowhere to be seen but I finally managed to locate the relevant person after a call to the Operations Manager of the project.
After nearly an hour-long drive we entered Shamwari Game Reserve. Within minutes we saw giraffe, swiftly followed by a whole herd of about 20 elephants with babies in attendance and a lone bull off to the side. Kudu and buffalo soon followed. All within 15 minutes. For those of you who haven’t been on safari, this is rare.
Shamwari means ‘my friend’ in Shona, one of the many official languages in South Africa. The reserve comprises wildlife (including all of the ‘Big Five’ – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo) that have been reintroduced over a 25 000 ha area. It also operates in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation, a big cat rehabilitation programme. Some of the most famous names in conservation have had a presence here, and the luxury lodges some distance away have catered to the likes of Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie.
There are around 12 others who arrived with me today to join the Shamwari Conservation Experience, and perhaps another 8-10 who were already here; all aged between 18 to 76 and hailing mainly from Europe (4 other Brits, Swiss, German). There is also one South African girl from Edenvale in Johannesburg currently on her Gap Year and planning to study Marine Biology, and my roommate is Austrian, studies and teaches Music, and is also a horse trainer. We also have a paramedic, small animal nutritionist (at a previous client of mine), real estate agent, and a (female) prison guard in our midst. Some of us can only take 2 weeks off work whilst others are staying for a month or more. The really lucky ones!
After a brief orientation of the common areas (dining room/canteen, lecture room, lounge with TV/computer/library, pool table, table tennis table, swimming pool, ‘boma’) we had dinner at 5pm where I went vegetarian due to lamb on the menu. There we met some existing volunteers from Sweden and Portugal who had been here quite a few months already and had some great stories to tell. I also learnt more about what we’d likely be doing from another older lady from the UK who loved her trip here so much last November that she is back.
The majority of us then proceeded to the ‘boma’ where we made a fire and sat around on logs chatting until the fireflies came out. Time goes very slowly out here. It is pitch black outside and some of the others were already going off to bed at 7pm. The rest of us headed at 8.30pm, which felt more like midnight. I’m a night person but this is definitely something I could do more, though perhaps I’ll revise this statement after 2 weeks of waking up shortly after sunrise!
Our arrival packs include various contracts that we have to sign and what really caught my attention was having to agree to tasks such helping to chop up bloody and smelly carcasses with machetes. Sure it’ll definitely be an experience, though this is one task I’m not particularly looking forward to!
The rain has ceased and I’m off to bed now. Setting the alarm for 6.30am in the morning as we have breakfast at 7am and start ‘work’ at 8am. I heard rumours that we may be attempting to find an injured lion to take into the animal clinic, and putting rocks down along fences so that animals can’t get underneath them in the afternoon.
Scratching noises are currently coming from the roof directly overhead, which I assume are monkeys. Happy days.