Well it came and went, just like that. I have returned once again from the beloved country of South Africa and it still never ceased to please me. Carmen, Farm manager Albert Venters wife, was always there to pick us up and let us know our plans for the day! We arrived at 9 pm. The airport was 3 hours from Shingwedzi and she had been waiting for us all that time. So much respect.
Amidst the craziness of travel time, the mornings were all common and always relaxing. I woke to the sound of lions roaring off in the distance coming from a nearby reservation (which I looked down upon because he sold those lions for hunting…but we won’t go there today) just miles from Shingwedzi where I stayed. In the mornings I indulged in waking up earlier than everyone else to make a cup of coffee and set out with my camera to take pictures of the morning sunrise. The air was always brisk and cold as it was winter in Africa due to the opposite seasons. I guess I should have packed properly because I didn’t bring nearly enough gear… no one thinks to pack their big ugly Christmas sweater when traveling to Africa, ha! Regardless, I bundled up fine and was still able to enjoy the early mornings.
Once it hit around 7:30 am we would find our way down to the Lapa for breakfast where Gladys and the most glorious Rika were always there, cooking away and greeting us with nothing but smiles. I would make a cup of coffee (notice a pattern, ha!) and I would drag a chair out into the heat of the morning sunrise, zoning out to the chilled sight of my breath in the air and the steam from my coffee. Every other day breakfast alternated. It was either cold cereal, yogurt, toast and coffee or it was hot breakfast which included eggs, cooked tomato, toast and jam and the occasional sausage or bacon side, as well. Sound like a boring breakfast? Trust me, it wasn’t! Rika is a great cook and I always looked forward to her meals.
After breakfast it was time to go to our morning work sites which either consisted of feeding rounds with Monique, cubby play time or pouring and laying concrete with Jaques (Jack). Working with Monique during feeding rounds was always my favorite part of a day. I would get to help prepare the raw meat and supplements and hear about all the injuries or issues certain animals had for being brought to the Shingwedzi conservation efforts as we made our rounds. Monique wasn’t a huge talker, which I really enjoyed because while I am outgoing, I often like to keep to myself and experience things without talking. To some it rubs off as shy or awkward but I don’t care, I know how I like experience life. She would warn me which breeding cheetahs were going to have a bit of a temper with me during feedings or what milk slopped meat belonged to which mother and cubs. It was a great system they had going.
During “cubby time” or if we finished early with Monique, due to our helping hands allowing her to make it a speedy process, we would go to the cub camp and sanitize ourselves and begin our morning with rambunctious play. The cubs were very young so we were to take extra close care to not get them sick. We would strip ourselves of work clothes and change into white scrubs followed by spraying our selves with sanitizer spray just before stepping into an ice cold bath which cleaned our feet of any bugs or germs from outside the cub camp. Play time was great and tiring, but the moments we had with the youngins were the most rewarding experiences of the entire trip. I really indulged in my photography whenever I was around them.
Lunch was at 12:30. Lunch was always different and always good. One day was scones, the next was grilled chicken. Everyone was in a bustle during lunch time giving tours to tourists and trying to finish paper work before the days end.
After lunch I often went to work with Jack. We were working on a project of laying cement around the fence bottoms of the wild cheetah camps. This is where wild cheetahs were kept when brought in due to injuries and such. It was critical that we lay the concrete because not only would they be able to dig their way out if they really wanted, but also because honey badgers are little shits and there for don’t give a shit. They know how to pry and bite the links and the bottom of the fence to get in the pen after whatever it is they think they’re in dire need for, leaving a big ole hole for the release of any animal being held there.
In the evenings we would have dinner half past six. Dinner was always my favorite meal of the day! Always a surprise and always over the top delicious. I swear by it, there is no better cuisine than South African food. Some dinners were in the Lapa and some in our chalet if it was too cold out.
On the weekends we were always off from work and would be able to get off the farm to go do some other fun activities in town. Our first weekend there we spent the day at Zebula wild life ranch and Golf Course. Here I got the chance to do some hands on with lion and tiger cubs, followed by a huge, lavish brunch and cappuccinos. It was very upper class for Africa and much needed! After breakfast, we went to do an elephant encounter where they had friendly, pet meerkats. Oh, they were so cute! The set up of the elephant encounter was much more “touristy” than the encounter I had gotten last summer where I got to go find the elephants in the brush and walk with them, but was just as incredible. I think elephants will always be one of my favorite animals. There is no way to describe the compassionate and human like actions other than being able to spend one on one time with them. They truly try to understand us just as we try and understand any other animal. They don’t speak our language but if they could, they would. One of the friendly elephants I had the chance to hangout with got a big kick out of spraying me in the face with a trunk full of water! There was no way I could be mad after getting sopping wet when I saw him shaking and bouncing his head playfully. He was wiggling his ears while he carefully danced in front of me. He was a joker. At that moment I fell in love with animals all over again. I feel so passionately towards understanding and observing these animals, I love them, they are truly the only thing in my life that have made me feel alive. It was so sad leaving those animals, I would have stayed there forever.
The friendly meerkat
After our long day of fun and adventure we went back to Shingwedzi for some relaxation time before the braai at Anna and Roy’s house. I usually spent this time uploading my photos to my computer in case my SD card were to crash like last summer. On braai nights we would cook up a bunch of steaks and sausages on the fire and spending the night jolling and playing pool and getting merry while drinking. They were always late nights.
On our second weekend at the farm, we went to town for our Saturday. I had acquired a sweet and cool roomie, Cassandra, and we spent our entire day shopping and strolling the town while my nana and Rika went and played at an arcade the entire time. We ended that saturday in town with not so great strawberry daiquiris and mojitos at a restaurant on the “waterfront”… where there was no water. That night we went to Anna’s for a braai as well.
Leaving Shingwedzi a second time was much harder for me. This trip did not possess the same excitement as last time. Last time every thing was new and exciting and I had no idea where I was. This trip felt like home. I had a mindset already that I wanted to move to Africa and I got settled so quickly and jumped back into my routine like I had only been gone a week. When I had to leave, I felt more heartbreak. It wasn’t real yet and I so had wanted it to be.
On our way out of town we spent the day at Anna and Roy’s real house downtown Johannesburg. They fed us and then took us to visit the Cradle of Humankind where the oldest humanoid fossils have been found. It was a great museum type experience and I’m glad we saw it. Later we returned to their house for a couple hours before we needed to be at the airport for our flight. I took a long bath, discussed with Roy plans of bringing other university students back and before I knew it they were dropping us off.
It was a great and frustrating trip because I know I will live in Africa at one point in my life. I just can’t wait to get back.
As for all you readers, I hope this tiny glimpse of my trip interested you. South Africa is absolutely a place to visit. Don’t listen to all the nay sayers who speak poorly of this country. It is civilized and headed in the the right direction all thanks to their dearest Madiba, Nelson Mandela; Rest In Peace.
I love hearing common interests or similar stories you may have! Please share them and have a great end to your summer, fellow bloggers!