South Africa Diary: Final Installment

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Thursday 31st July 2014  8.30pm

Half day today!!!! Well…ish. We definitely started our day in high spirits with the knowledge that it was only possible for us to do one habitat assessment as well as our bird counts as the Rhino Anti-Poaching round-faced man would be doing a talk in the afternoon and we had to be back for around midday. So, après petit-déjeuner we set out and worked hard. I felt a little worse for wear to start with, flying around because I was being silly and didn’t have my legs up, and having to bandage up my little chill blane fingers, but I cheered up and apologised for my previous grumpiness later on, although I’m not sure the others noticed too much. We flew through the assessment and made it back to have a nice lunch (I let myself have bread – naughty ;P) only to be told that Mr. Rhino Man wasn’t coming after all. Knowing that we have the next 2 days in camp, Annie, Amy and I went out at about half 1 with Big Amy to track some elephants for her contraception project. (On a side note – beginning to think this is a bit far-fetched! Elephant DNA samples from dung…?) Anyway it was basically a focussed game drive, we watched a hard for a good while and eventually grabbed some still warm poo before heading back as the sun set. Dinner was fabulous as per, a lovely veg lasagne and some cake and yoghurt and now I’m being rather antisocial writing this in bed while everyone else is around the camp fire as it’s the WTSA peeps last night! Time seriously flies here – a week and we’ll be leaving too!?!?!

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Sunday 3rd August 2014  1.30pm

Okay so I might have been rather naughty and missed a few days out despite being far from busy! I’ve only been out for half a day in the past 3 but somehow I’ve managed to be really quite busy. Friday we set our alarm for 7.45 and had breakfast pretty sharpish as the WTSA gals were due to leave at about 8.30am. Sad thing is I’d never seen the German trio as happy as they were to leave!? We hugged a bit awkwardly and wished them a good journey but I’m pretty sure they were itching to run away. Caitlin was harder to say goodbye to, and we made sure that she would contact us if she ever visited the UK. For the rest of the day we cleaned the camp for the next group of volunteers, did some work and had a 1:1 chat with Prof. Stew which was really useful. It’s such a nice feeling to be ‘on track’ and know what the plan is; I’m definitely more motivated to get stuck into the writing and research now. The other group came back soon after with tales of swimming and rock paintings, so I listened for a while before running a little then sitting at the end of the camp quietly watching the sunset. I swear I’ll not miss another. Sitting alone down there watching the light catch the spider webs on the fences and the birds flutter in the fading light. I then I helped make dinner with Amy and Annie and ta-da, the new people arrived! I didn’t want to be one of the group staring at them like the new exhibit at the local zoo so I hung back in the kitchen and said hi to them later on when they had their tour. They are such a nice bunch I’m sad they didn’t arrive earlier on in the month! We had a bonfire and played some music as usual which seemed oddly mundane to us but they all appeared to really enjoy it as the stars sparkled overhead.

Saturday started with a roar! At about 7am we leapt out of bed as a male lion announced his arrival across the plains which must’ve been a fantastic wake-up call for the new people! I tried to sleep after that but the spring is definitely coming and the tent heats up ridiculously fast in the mornings nowadays so I just dozed until around 9am then did some stretches on one of the yoga mats in the morning sun while the smell of bacon filtered down from the kitchen. After a fab brekkie I helped clean the showers then wasted time for most of the day except for making a pretty good apple and cinnamon up-side down cake! The high light though had to be running along the road just outside west gate. It felt so good to finally stretch my legs but it also reminded me of how annoyingly unfit I am after 5 weeks of so little exercise – definitely going to train hard when I get back to get some semblance of my former fitness back! After dinner we listened to a rather long ‘Stew Talk’ about tiger conservation, which has made me just wanna go back to India now pleeeeeeeeaaaaaaase? Bonfire time meant some pictures to celebrate our last Saturday here and Simon jammed on the guitar before we all left for bed.

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And so today we woke up at the normal time to go out and do two more bird counts and a tricky hill-side HA before coming back for lunch which everyone seemed to think we were going to cook!? Since then I’ve sunbathed and mooched around. Hopefully later it’ll cool down so I can do some exercise before the sunset, then finish the satay chicken for dinner and watch a movie in the main room, although I might watch a cheeky movie now, it’s too hot to do much else – maybe Apollo 13?

Monday 4th August 2014 11.03pm

Camp day once again! Pretty sure everyone had a really great day chilling out with the new people and sunbathing for the most part. Simon and I were feeling particularly studious in the morning so grabbed our laptops, stuck on some ‘essential acoustics’ and made some key notes from papers over breakfast. We chatted with Megan and the German guys primarily and actually got quite a lot done! Lucia and I then went and sunbathed down in my favourite little corner, went to have a shower, then prepped lunch for the other group who arrived back really late from their half day as they had to wait so long at Main Gate. With Emily and Laurence’s help we started on making the pasta for dinner then went for a little snooze/ watch the rest of Apollo 13! *Best part of the day* Ran along the road for miles it was so so fun!! I ran at first with Lucia then back to west gate, then turned around again, met Annie and half sprinted back with her and I feel fabulous for it!! Really stretching my legs as the sun set is just the most incredible feeling, I feel so free and strong for the first time in 6 weeks. This place is fantastic but the feeling of real freedom is pretty infrequent for obvious reasons! We then leapt on the truck and trundled back in to have dinner. Next up was learning the card-game Shithead:

Shithead (best with 2 packs?)

  1. First shuffle the pack and deal every player 3 cards facing down, 3 cards facing up on top of the previous 3 and 3 cards (unseen) for them to pick up.
  2. The magic cards: 2= start over, 7= choose higher or lower, 8= invisible and 10= burn the pile. The magic cards are useful because they can be played regardless of the previous card.
  3. The rest of the deck is placed in the middle and the game is played aces high, using the cards in your hand you have to play higher than the previous card or make us of your magic. If you can’t you have to pick up the pile.
  4. For every card put down a card from the deck must be picked up until the deck is gone.
  5. Once the hand and deck is gone you use the table cards, first those on top, then unseen.
  6. Winner= first without cards, Loser= The shithead who has cards last.

I lost that pretty badly a couple of times but then won speed against Emily wooo! Rematch has been called though so we shall see. Oh my gosh I forgot about the cake!? Yeah so before the card games everyone was pretty hangry because the new guys seem to eat so much and our portion sizes have reduced quite dramatically as a result so it was time for the lemon driz to come out accompanied by some hilarious mid-mixing Beyoncé butt wiggling! Less than an hour later people were actually calling for the recipe they loved it so much – day made!

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Wednesday 6th August  7.37am

Today was the last day out for Team Zebra L but I think we made the most of it. On the cards were 3 bird point counts and a pretty awkward HA but we just wanted to attack it and get them all done to make the most of the rest of the day. The drive was great, the cold still biting at our cheeks leaving me always feeling as if I’ve just had botox and unable to form coherent sentences, but the sunrise was lovely and we all chatted away as we searched for some interesting wildlife. We hit the jackpot around 8am after Gearbox Loop when we encountered a huge herd of elephant. A tiny baby emerged as favourite of course, until this enormous bull strolled in, easily a head taller than all the others! He came so close and I got some nice shots but my heart was racing, even after 6 weeks of becoming accustomed to this kinda thing. After that the HA dragged as the temperature began to soar, I was really suffering from the heat in the end. Either I’m anaemic or just stupidly stereotypical English because my energy levels just plummet after about 2 hours and I can barely keep my head from swimming and my feet from dragging – it’s ridiculous! The idea of lunch made me feel pretty ill after that so I just sat in the shade with a cold beer until I felt normal. Then for the game drive!!! In reality we didn’t see anything too special, but it felt special with us all together laughing and joking, posing with crocodiles and comparing kudu to satellites, klipspringers to Asians etc. We watched 2 of the D class rhino up close, said goodbye to Sporo and spotted a lilac-breasted roller before heading home. I cleaned out the lunch box then napped until dinner, after which we played cards again and I helped Emmi make her Finnish ‘Pannukakku’ which literally translates to pancake. I was pretty worn out by that point but then things got hectic – mouse chasing time! Eventually we cornered the little guy behind the oven and are planning to release him later today.

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So now I’m sat in the main room having seen off the other groups with some music, a coffee and plan to do some laundry, have breakfast and read some papers before having a go at packing. In a way I’m excited – packing means change and 6 weeks in a place feels like plenty but then everyday seems to bring something new, something worth staying for. So packing also comes with a heavy heart at the idea of leaving the fantastic people, the landscapes and wildlife but then again, I’ll come back one day for sure.

Friday 8th August 2014   10.31am

The past couple of days have run away as if taken by an African whirlwind across the plains. Wednesday followed exactly as planned, I stayed awake from 6.30am for some crazy reason, helped myself to a branny-laden breakfast and read a little before cleaning the last of my clothes and packing everything else. Once organised I’m pretty sure I just mooched about, it was a rather odd day, waiting for the others to return and figuring out what needed to be done to make the next days go smoothly.

Thursday our last full day, was pretty awesome. We woke up after a great sleep, all able to move about without worrying about the amount of noise because for once we were leaving the camp altogether! Yesterday was the day of Taaibos, the famed place of swimming and general merriment except well, there wasn’t really any water! We packed up our bags, wore our bikinis and leapt onto the trucks ready for the windy journey towards main gate along the main road. The place I’ll admit was a little underwhelming; the lack of water revealed the bare rock of the bottom of the swimming lake while the giant zip wire hinted towards the usual depth. Nevertheless we had a great day of sunbathing, mudfights and chatting in the winter sun. We left a few hours later, cooked an amazing braaii with all of our usual favourite trimmings and blared the music extra loud. There was definitely a strange mixture of excitement and sadness. The knowledge of leaving hung heavy with some but as the party picked up and the beers were cracked open, we all loosened up and really began to celebrate the past 6 weeks together. A merciless game of ring of fire later and I was really quite drunk, for the first time in months!!

And the rest is a fuzzy history, I’m on the coach to the airport in Jo’berg now, most people are snoozing softly in a hungover foetal position but I like watching the world stroll lazily past. It’s been an amazing trip, one that I’m sure to replicate in the future whenever that may be but it won’t be quite the same without the 2014 gang, that’s for sure.

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