First Week in South Africa ♥
I had been wanting to visit South Africa for a year now and I thought what best way to visit a reserve - to volunteer in one! and so through the volunteering organisation Oyster Worldwide, I signed up for a 2 week volunteering experience at Kwantu Game Reserve in South Africa for animal conservation with the Big 5 - Lions, Rhinos, Leopards, Elephants and Buffalo. It was an incredible 2 weeks :')
Induction day! The new volunteers (about 25 of us) had a tour around the main living area of the reserve to get to know our bearings and also to get an idea of what we'd be doing for the coming weeks. The reserve itself is 6000ha and so this bit was just where the reception area, dorms, dining areas and the rehabilitation centre was.
They had white lions in the rehabilitation centre
and regular lions!
Indian tigers as well! After rehabilitation, they would be sent back to India where they belong
After the induction and lunch, we went for a game drive in the afternoon!
This was shot through my binoculars which I bought at Changi airport before coming and it was so useful!!
And we saw elephants extremely up close! They were just 5m away from the jeep!
The elephant came even closer!!
and this graceful creature :'))
And saw rhinos in a distance!! It was insane how the ranger saw them from miles away!! You can imagine if this was through a binoculars, they must've been so difficult to spot by eye!
Seeing the animals for the first time in the wild honestly took my breath away! It was just so magical and unbelievable :') I watch Nat Geo documentaries all the time and I'm finally witnessing nature and its wonders not through a tv screen but in real life!
After the game drive, we had dinner followed by a bonfire hosted by the older volunteers (meaning volunteers who have been there for more than a week already). I headed back to the dorm after with a few others and chilled at the fireplace with Étienne, Noé, Jasper and Lisa. We talked about french pastry and passions and it's just one of those conversations that make you feel genuinely happy and positive about life and make you think - life is amazing!! Étienne and Noé who are french, couldn't speak English that fluently but we could hold such a long conversation despite that and it just makes me appreciate them even more as friends because there's so much effort that goes into these meaningful conversations :')
Breakfast at 8:30 and our morning activity starts at 9:30! On this day, we did road maintenance which consisted of laying out rock debris and bricks and pouring sand over it to seal the pathway. Despite this activity being rather tiring, it was most rewarding because you could immediately see the fruits of your labour :) After road maintenance, we drove to another part of the reserve to collect more rocks for the next session of road maintenance the following week!
This was the amazing view that we had whilst collecting the rocks
After lunch at 1pm, we rested till our next afternoon activity at 2:30pm and we went on a zebra game count drive! Game counts are for the purpose of carrying capacity in the reserve so if there are too many predators which would cause a decline in many animals in the reserve, they would then have to move the predators to other reserves in the area and similarly too many grazers would cause over grazing and therefore they would have to move to other parts of the reserve
After dinner, we get free time to do anything we like so some would head to reception to use the wifi and others would just chill in the common area watching movies or to play cards/chat etc. Tonight, Django was on the tele and so a group of us were watching that with a fire keeping us warm :) That night, I had one of the worst nights of sleep, I woke up 3 times because of the cold (and heard the lions roaring!!) and had to pee once :'( Winter here wasn't as cold as I had expected and I was still shivering despite having put on a t-shirt, a sweater, 2 fleece jackets and a blanket over!
I went for a morning run! It was such an energizing start to the day and after breakfast, we removed alien vegetation! We used machetes (how cool right) to cut down Black Wattle, an invasive Australian tree species that takes up a lot of nutrients and water and hence prevents the growth of native trees. It took 2 hours to successfully cut down a tree and it sounded just like thunder as the tree fell!
After driving back to the main part of the reserve and having lunch, Noé, Étienne and I went to the 'Petting Zoo' and fed the marmosets!
In the afternoon, we headed for a Rhino monitoring game drive but unfortunately did not see any of them. The point of this activity was just to locate the Rhinos and see how they were doing to ensure anti-poaching. The rangers themselves did not even disclose the number of rhinos and even elephants they had in the reserve as it was top secret info and rhino and elephant poaching is a very very very serious issue in Africa.
Witnessed an amazing sunset on the drive back to the main area of the reserve :)
Noé decided to join me on my morning run and after breakfast, I experienced one of the coolest things ever - I carried and touched a zebra! The point of this activity was to move a zebra to a different part of the reserve for breeding purposes and so we followed the vets (there were volunteers on the vet program and also a professional vet that works on the reserve) and saw the professional vet shoot the zebra with a tranquilizer! It was really quite sad watching that one zebra slowly lose its ability to walk and lag behind the others. The other zebras were also calling it to join them but it couldn't!!! I'm sad thinking about it now ☹
But we slowly carried it onto the green mat and it took 15 people to carry the zebra onto the tractor for it to be moved to the other side of the reserve!
I love this shot of Wildebeest running and the sand trails that they leave behind!
This is the typical view when you're in the jeep!
After that exciting morning, we collected rocks again for road maintenance and had lunch. I had a healthy-ish lunch of steamed veggies, potato curry and rice! Despite the food being extremely oily (especially for me cos I don't cook with oil or salt), I appreciate their efforts in trying to accommodate everyone's diet :) In the afternoon, we had a game drive just to see the animals in the reserve rather than with a goal, as some volunteers had left for their weekend trips already. We have a list of options for weekend activities and as long as we tell the coordinator in advance, you're good to go! This week I chose to go to Port Elizabeth, the city closest to the game reserve and that everyone had to fly to to get to the reserve. So later that night, I packed for the weekend trip!
En-route to P.E in a van of 15! Accommodation and transport was covered for to get to P.E and after arriving at the Albeit Lodge, a groups of us headed to the Boardwalk for lunch. It was an open-air shopping area which kinda looked like disneyland. I didn't quite like it as I felt it was really artificial and I wanted to get a local authentic South African experience!
I had a vegan pizza for lunch with vegan cheese!!! I was over the moon!!
That's Jasper and Lisa!! A Belgian couple who were so sweet and funny and amazing company :)
After lunch, we walked for 45 mins to the city centre and it was completely dead on a Saturday afternoon!! It seemed rather dodgy as well and the group of us felt unsafe and so we decided to take a cab back to the hostel. Unfortunately we got conned in the cab but we back arrived safely and that's really all that matters!! Later that evening, we played cards and had yummy ciders and slept early for our early morning of whale watching!!
Noé, Étienne, Jasper, Lisa, Coralie, Alessia and I got up at 7:30 to go whale watching!
We saw a pod of dolphins!
and about 5 humpback whales!! IT WAS INCREDIBLE :')))))
One major thing I learnt from this experience was that sometimes we get too caught up in trying to capture the perfect moment through an artificial lens that we forget to just appreciate things for what they are and to just soak up everything there and then! It was really a reminder to just live in the moment because I recall getting so frustrated after looking through my camera lens and failing to get the perfect shot and then feeling so silly for caring so much about getting the perfect shot when I was completely missing this amazing event through my own natural lenses!
The beautiful coast of PE!
Later that afternoon, the bus from Kwantu picked up all the volunteers to go back to the reserve. I sat next to Alicia (an old volunteer) on the bus and we were chatting about traveling and her previous volunteering experience in an orphanage in Sri Lanka. As the conversation dwindled, I took my earphones out prepared to listen to music the rest of the journey back but something about the conversations we just had inclined me to offer her a side of my earphones. So I did, and she gladly accepted and we listened to music together the whole way back! Though we weren't talking, we had a shared experience and it felt so good though it was such a small and simple gesture ☺
We arrived at the reserve just in time for dinner and after unpacking, I had an early night feeling so ready and excited for another week of volunteering!