When reviewing my time with GVI in Karongwe it is incredible to look back on all I have seen, done and accomplished in my ten weeks here. I have achieved everything I came out to do and have enjoyed every moment of being here and would not hesitate to come back & recommend this to anyone thinking of doing a programme here or with GVI.
Starting from the very beginning..
My motivation to come out here was to experience Africa & get up close to the incredible wildlife and learn some more about the world.
The booking process was very smooth from start to finish, the staff at the office are very knowledgeable and eager to help. Marne was my first point of contact and she answered every question positively and made the whole process simple and stress free. My next contact was Jade who took over from Marne and again was very helpful and has since booked my next GVI trip to the Seychelles and had to deal with myself changing dates a few times, thanks so much Jade for putting up with me! the field manual was very detailed and useful and the kit list was spot on. My only point here was that the advised four hundred rand a week does fall short as side trips & food and gifts do eat this up very quickly, I would advise closer to 600-700.
On arrival staff were at the airport to greet us newbies, Sophie & Gregg who handled everything for us smoothly and without fuss, something that is really important after a long flight!
The set up at Karongwe is basic, if going do not expect 5 star luxury as it is research intensive but I had no complaints and we all more or less got on with it.
Sleeping - their are three dorms, one big and two small. I cant really comment on the big dorm as I was only ever in a small dorm however if you are a lightsleeper I would advise trying to get in a small dorm (4 person) as opposed to the large dorm which can take ten. Most nights are very hot and humid I found sleeping under the sleeping bag easier than sleeping inside it.
Food- volunteers&interns take it in turns to cook food on a base day with two people on base whilst the others are on drive, most weeks you will do base duty, I only missed one whilst at Karongwe. Their are set instructions on how to cook the food which is decided beforehand and all ingredients are provided. Other duties on base include cleaning the main house plus data entry.
Base itself - The main building where you stay has a long veranda which overlooks the front of the house and has stunning views all the way to the Drakensburg mountains (the view never gets boring trust me!!) their are no fences so wildlife does come in and out all the time. Whilst at Karongwe I personally witnessed elephants, lions, buffallo, giraffe and plenty of antelope come past and in the case of the antelope come right up to the veranda. The lions came to within twenty metres of the house one morning whilst preparing to drive and sat watching us for a good ten minutes which was one of the highlights of my time there. On the odd occasion you can also here leopards come close to the house during the night - the doors are all locked!!
Daily routine - If on drive you get a number of responsibilities such as data entry or vehicle check, if going out on drive at the normal time of 05:00 and 15:00 (two drives normally a day) it does mean getting up roughly 30 minutes before hand depending on the job. Vehicle check can take around ten minutes (longer if a problem occurs) otherwise if you have no job then people do get up ten minutes or less before drive and jump on. Once back from drive the time is more or less your own until the next drive unless their is a lecture or other acitivities but you do get plenty of notice for these. After afternoon drive dinner is usually straight away (19.30) then people tend to got to bed no later than 23:00 as it is a long day but their is no curfew. On base their is a volleyball pitch, table tennis, pool table plus plenty of books and the veranda has a number of beds laid out on benches to relax upon.
Drive - Drives can last anything from two hours to over five. Going out with the aim of finding the focus animals - Khwezi the female cheetah and her cubs, the Cheetah male boys and Sub-zero the male lion. Khwezi is the focus animal and the aim was to find her at least once a day. Every drive is different, some start of slow and got incredible within minutes, one of my most memorable drives started off with forgetting the data folders and coffee and then ended up finding a male Rhino communicating which is incredibly rare and was fascinating to watch! If you do go, don't expect to see everything at once, it does take time and personally it took me eight weeks to find Sub-Zero, the thrill really is not knowing what to expect. Finding animals randomly is amazing, I was lucky enough to have nine leopard sightings of 6 individuals and each one was incredible. My most memorable sighting was of a Caracal, the first one spotted on Karongwe by anyone in 18 months and it does provoke some insane reactions trust me!
Staff - All the staff are so passionate about their role and it really is amazing, the guys all have vast experience and knowledge and are on hand to answer any question, you really can tell they love their jobs!!
If you want to experience Africa, are not fussed about where you sleep or the facilities and dont mind roughing it for hours on elderly 4x4's then this is the project for you, you do get very close to the animals, I have personally been on the ground around 40 meters from one of the large bull elephants and withing 400 meters of a leopard. Value for money really is what you get, if you go to a high end lodge you will pay thousands for a few nights and see exactly the same animals but probably only once or twice (highly doubtful you will see a leopard!) if you go with GVI you see exactly the same animals but a lot more!!
In conclusion, my ten weeks here has been incredible, I have hundreds of amazing photos and memories that will last a lifetime. I leave in two days and I seriously do not want to go and would happily come back to Africa in a heartbeat. The exposure to wildlife is constant and does not let up, if you come seriously enjoy every moment but it truly is an experience.