Africa, the continent of endless possibilities and amazing adventures. As a child, nothing fascinated me more than when Nat. Geo. aired episodes of all the wildlife that engulfed the area, especially the Cheetah. I fell in love with it at first sight; suddenly my little hometown somewhere in the Atlantic was not enough, and would never be. Traveling the world and learning about wildlife and anthropology of the area is also a big part of what I want to do with my life in the grand scheme of it all. So when I heard that I could spend, not two, not four, but five weeks in Southern Africa, I mindlessly signed my name on that piece of paper for International Student Volunteers, called my parents, told them I was going, and began my countdown to the greatest five weeks of my life!
The first two weeks were absolutely phenomenal, it was hard work, but I loved every second of it. Ten volunteers all eager to get their hands dirty and learn about South Africa was all I could ever ask for. We lived in huts made from dung and concrete, deep in the African bush with virtually no sign of civilization, equipped with two bush guides and a project leader. After the first two to three days, we all got used to the sounds, temperature, natural order of things, and each other. We did bird point counts, which involved waking up before the crack of dawn, driving into a protected reserve, listening, watching, and documenting our feathery friends. The hard, yet most exciting part of the volunteer work was doing Vegetation Condition Assessments. Several instruments were assigned to the respective volunteers and we would have to map out a transect line via GPS, and get to certain points on the map, set up a data triangle with ropes and rebar, and conduct a survey on whatever vegetation fell within the data points. Not to mention, we also had free time and my favorite part, the "game drives", where we would enter the reserve and drive around looking for any wildlife that we could spot. The best part about this time were the volunteers; we got so close it was unbelievable. Instead of becoming friends, we became family, staying up late, telling stories of home, eating new foods, playing games, working together, looking out for each other, and most of all sharing in this wonderful experience.
The second two weeks were all about adventure! Transported out of the bush and back into society, and given to a Tour Leader, we didn't really know what to feel but we got introduced to 23 new people with, mostly the same experiences so we got along quickly, and soon, they were family as well. I thought Africa couldn't get any more fun, and then we hit the activities. Now we were learning about the cultural side of Africa, as well as more on wildlife. On top of it all, the views were so unreal that at some points I would shed a tear or two at how beautiful our world is.
The last week was excursion time, we lost 27 family members and picked up one. There were eight of us. We were all mostly good friends already, but became even closer over the last week. We laid back, embraced more activities and spent what seemed like an eternity together. Again, I loved every second of it. After a few more wild nights, eventful mornings, and heartbreaking goodbyes, my trip was over.
Over these 5 weeks I have done; over fifteen game drives on multiple reserves, walked with elephants, cruised many rivers, pet a cheetah, went to rehabilitation centers, hiked up steep terrain, stood on top of countless mountains, saw God's window, kloofed heights of up to 50 feet, cooked a few braais, ate some South African pancakes, visited an orphanage with the most amazing children, entered Kruger National Park, looked at the stars, went extreme caving, went scuba diving, swam with dolphins, surfing, camped out with lions, leopards, baboons, hyenas and other wildlife, ate native food, white water rafted, saw Victoria Falls, touched Zimbabwe, and most of all, had the most fun I've ever had in my entire existence on this gas filled planet somewhere out here in the universe.
What I'm trying to say is get out there, live the life you want, never settle. I love all the people that I got the pleasure of meeting over this time in Africa. The natives, the volunteers, the project, tour, and excursion leaders, the places, and the animals have been more than I could ever have asked for.
Cheers to Masebe, Zingela, Ikhaya, and St. Lucia. I love you all.
Oh, and the countries: South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe (technically).
It's never goodbye, only goodnight. Until next time. ISV SA - 2016.