Shamwari Conservation Experience CNSV:XP - July 2016
Sunday 3rd July 2016, a day I had been waiting a long time for finally arrived! Today was the day I was leaving for South Africa, along with 17 other students from my college for 2 weeks at Shamwari Conservation Experience. We were waved off by family and friends at 12:30pm from the bus stop and headed off by coach down to Heathrow airport. We departed from Heathrow at 9:00pm, which felt like a good time to fly, as after watching 'P.S I love you' with Chloe and eating our chicken and rice for tea, I soon enough fell asleep (with help from my travel sickness tablets). I woke up once throughout the night due to turbulence, which was a little scary but only lasted a few minutes and it wasn't long before I nodded back off to sleep...
Monday 4th July 2016 - This morning I awoke to a breathtaking view of Africa right outside my window! The sun had started to rise and rays of light were pouring in through the glass. Our 11 hour flight soon started to come to an end as we began the decent into Johannesburg airport. Everything still felt like a dream to me at this point and I was in such a daze because of all the excitement. We soon boarded our final flight to Port Elizabeth, where I sat in an aisle seat again next to Jen. This flight was super quick, however the cabin crew still managed to squeeze in a bite to eat for our lunch, which was much appreciated. After an hour and a half we came in to land at Port Elizabeth runway. We collected our luggage and were met by our trip organizer from Worldwide Experience (It was reassuring to see a familiar face). Our suitcases were loaded onto the bus and we began the final stretch of the journey. Along the way the driver took us to a supermarket where I bought some snacks for the first week at Shamwari. The views and scenery, even along the main road were mesmerizing and there were so many new things to take in. After over 24 hours travelling we had finally made it! 10 months in planning and we could finally see the gates of Shamwari Game Reserve. We were greeted by the staff, then taken to our tented camp and found 'Miracle' a hand reared nyala (antelope) living in camp, which was a lovely surprise! Arianna, Chloe and I were assigned tent number 6 where we dropped off our bags and headed down to the campfire to a braai that had been left cooking for us. I had chicken sosatjes, couscous and salad, which I really enjoyed. After 2 long days of travelling we all decided to get an early night and were in bed by 7pm, ready for a fresh start tomorrow!
Tuesday 5th July 2016 - I woke up at 7am today. It was a cold, crisp morning and the air was fresh. For breakfast I had a cereal bar and some orange juice from the kitchen tent, then the group met on the hill where together we headed to main camp. I drank hot chocolate whilst listening to the introduction lecture, then soon enough it was time for lunch! Our first lunch at camp was chicken burgers and chips, which went down a treat! Once finished, Juanita and Abel drove us to Shamwari's Rehabilitation Centre where we were watched a short video and got shown around. Most of the animals at the centre had been found injured on the reserve and were brought in to receive treatment and recover, before being released back into the wild. Juanita took us across a field, to a boma (holding pen) to meet two baby white rhinos named Noelle and Winston! They were absolutely adorable! This was the closest I'd ever been to a rhino, so as you can imagine it felt unreal to me to be standing where I was. The noises they made were unimaginable, they squeaked and grunted whilst nudging their heads up against the fencing. Juanita explained this behavior being as they were simply after attention. With cuteness aside, the reason they were at the centre wasn't so pretty. Both their mothers were brutally murdered by poachers in front of Noelle and Winston, for the keratin found in their horn. Their stories were heartbreaking and left everyone speechless. After hearing such a harrowing story, we continued our day with that little bit more of knowledge on poaching in South Africa. We carried on along uneven, bumpy roads and up large hills with breathtaking views; it was such an exhilarating drive. Whilst driving we came across a herd of giraffe in the road ahead! We were also lucky enough to see a yellow mongoose, mountain zebra, a pod of hippopotamus and many, many warthogs! This was our first game drive and we were all left extremely satisfied with its success. As the sun had started to set, we made tracks along the dusty road down for tea. Ready and waiting for us was a warm dish of chicken and rice in a creamy sauce, much appreciated after a long day outdoors. We headed back to our tents once dinner was finished and later met round the campfire to roast marshmallows (thanks to Adam!) With an evening of hot chocolate and conversations around the campfire it was soon enough time for bed. There was definitely a chill in the air tonight as the sky was clear, so heated blankets were a must! I soon fell asleep, ready for the next day of adventures!
Wednesday 6th July 2016 - After a much needed sleep I woke up at 6:00am to the sound of my alarm. As I began getting ready the power cut out so we had to continue getting dressed in the dark! Never the less everyone managed to get ready in time whilst remaining in high spirits. At 8:00am we went for a lecture on ecology and reserve management, which was more interesting than it sounds! Lunch today was chicken and tomato pasta, my favorite meal yet! After lunch we went out looking for lions. Beforehand we were warned lions can be hard to locate and finding them could take a while, if we found any at all! Along the drive we saw many animals including warthog, impala, a cape glossy starling, giraffe, zebra and LIONS! As we drove along a dirt path, Abel told us to keep our eyes peeled as this area was prime lion territory. Chloe noticed something in the distance, which turned out to be a male and female lion with a kill. Abel drove us right up next to them which at first made me a bit nervous as we were so close, however I was reassured that they were only interested in the warthog carcass they had. We sat observing their beauty and behaviours for nearly an hour, I felt so overwhelmed to be where I was in that exact moment, it honestly didn't feel real! The male had the kill and was lying down eating, whilst the female sat inches away, watching and waiting for a signal indicating it was her turn to feed. These behaviors would be almost impossible to witness in captivity, making this moment even more spectacular. I felt so satisfied seeing these animals thriving and living the lives they deserved out in the wild. After an extraordinary encounter it was time to move on. We continued along small uneven tracks that made anyone sitting in the back jump out of their seat, which was hilarious! On the way back for tea we came across two white rhinos in the road ahead of us, we saw them for seconds before they ran off into the distance. Our drivers Abel and Juanita are mind-blowing, they can literally drive everywhere and anywhere! We got to main camp later than usual tonight due to our rhino encounter but that wasn't a problem! At 5:30pm we sat round the table to eat our chicken and beans for tea. Today had been breathtaking; I am so ready to see what the rest of the week’s adventures hold!
Thursday 7th July 2016 - Bright and early 6:00am start again this morning, but it's so worth it! We got ready as usual and grabbed some breakfast from the kitchen tent. Today was possibly the coldest day so far, so cold that I had to unpack my gloves. On our walk back from breakfast Adam spotted 3 vervet monkeys on top of our tent (we have to double lock our tent doors to stop them from breaking in)! At 8:50am we went off to do some road clearing in the reserve. In total we cleared 3 trees from the road using saws, machetes and lots of teamwork! This activity is beneficial to the reserve as it allows the paths to remain in a safe and usable condition. On the way to lunch we stopped to see 3 grazing white rhinos, we sat observing them for as long as possible until it was time to head to camp for casserole with African fried flour bread rolls (which were delicious!) Our task this afternoon had me excited all morning! We went elephant monitoring! Elephants are one of my favourite animals and we hadn't yet seen any in the wild. We drove round in search of any herds, and with Abel's knowledge and determination we managed to witness a herd of 20 plus elephants drinking down by the river. They began to cross through the water one by one over to the other side. We had what felt like the best view in the world, on the top of a cliff overlooking the river. It was such an adrenaline rush; I loved every second of it! After that surreal encounter it was time for tea, tonight was chicken and rice with chocolate cake for pudding! This evening we went up to a nearby hill to stargaze. We sat round a campfire where Abel and Juanita shared some stories; it was so nice to listen to other people’s lives as they were all so different. Once the conversations had finished we branched off into smaller groups. Chloe and me started speaking to Adam, Callum and Dan and soon enough we all became friends. It was a really nice, chilled and relaxed evening, we headed back down to camp in the dark and sat round the fire until it was time for bed, another end to an amazing day in South Africa!
Friday 8th July 2016 - We had a lie in today until 7:45am! Up at main camp waiting for us was a cooked African breakfast, consisting of beans, pepper, scrambled egg and potatoes, it was delicious and enough to keep me full for the whole morning! We left in the trucks and headed to Bonwabise Old Age Centre in the local town of Paterson. On the way, many things were noticeably different to just a few meters down the road. There were cattle, goats and stray dogs roaming the streets and small colourful huts and houses built in close proximity to one another. Local people were sitting outside on their doorsteps, while walking along the roadside were children; singing, playing and waving to us as our car drove past. People appeared happy to see us, they waved with smiles on their faces and made us feel so welcome and accepted into their community. On arrival we met Mama Gloria, an inspirational women, helping to provide food and support to the elderly in the community. We were here to help renovate the garden, by digging new vegetable patches, weeding the existing ones and planting vegetable seeds to provide a sustainable source of food for making meals. The children in the street watched us as we worked and their little smiles encouraged us to keep on going. Once we'd finished for the day Mama Gloria thanked everyone and took us inside where she had made bracelets to sell. Everyone in our group, including myself bought one of her bracelets. We then handed over a suitcase full of books, stationary and supplies from college, along with beads for Mama Gloria. She shed tears of happiness and I think everyone in the room felt so proud and humbled to be there in that exact moment. We said goodbye and planned to return again next week. We then headed for the supermarket in Paterson where along the way two boys no older than 6 chased the truck down the road and hung onto the back, they were completely fearless! We soon arrived at the supermarket and it was interesting to just have a look around and see all the different types of things being sold. On the way to lunch we got a flat tyre that was quickly changed by Juanita who was a pro! For lunch we had cheese and eggplant toasties. In the afternoon we went birding, we saw many different species of birds, however when tallied up, the other group spotted and named one more species than us (23 to 24). It was then time for tea, which was macaroni cheese, bread and salad. We headed to tented camp after a lovely dinner to pack our overnight bags for the weekend adventure away from Shamwari. Once the bags were packed we sat round the campfire and I filled in my diary.
Monday 11th July 2016 - We woke up at 6:50am this morning to hear Vicky knocking on our door, only to realize she was at the wrong tent. I had a cereal bar and juice for breakfast and then we made our way up to main camp. This morning’s activity was pine tree removal in part of the reserve 40 minutes away from camp. We used machetes and saws again and between me and Chloe managed to remove 20 trees. Pine trees absorb a large majority of moisture from the ground, overpowering other plants that animals on the reserve need to eat in order to survive, therefore the removal of these trees is very beneficial. After this morning’s activity we were extremely hot and tired so headed for lunch which today was leek and potato soup with another delicious fried bread roll. Once lunch had finished we went out elephant monitoring which was by far one of my favorite activities from last week! It wasn't long into the drive when Abel spotted tracks leading to a MASSIVE heard of 30+ elephants! They were absolutely stunning and amazing to see in such a large number, all different ages and sizes gathered together as one. We parked up and sat in awe watching their every move. Our vehicle was surrounded and everywhere we looked an elephant would be standing, it was as though we were a part of the herd. At some points throughout observing they came within arms length of the vehicle. I felt so honoured to be within such a close range to wild animals and feel no threat whatsoever. After what to me was a once in a lifetime experience, Abel drove us to a nearby hill where we climbed out and sat watching the elephants move slowly down towards the river to drink. It was such a perfect sight to see and we had what felt like the best view in the world whilst sitting in the blazing hot African sun. Following this magical encounter we began to head back, along the way we looked out for buffalo in the predator free zone, however were this time unsuccessful. When we got back, a braai had been made for tea, which was chicken with a red sauce, mash potato and salad. Everyone, including myself was really happy to hear we had pudding, which was sponge cake with warm custard (absolute heaven when you haven't eaten cake in what feels like forever!) We went back down to tented camp after dinner where I braided my hair and me Chloe sat in bed chatting. We drank hot chocolate, ate our crisps and filled in today's diary entry. Tonight was an early night as tomorrow our tent (number 6) is on duty!
Tuesday 12th July 2016 - This morning I woke up earlier than usual as today my tent was on duty, which involved beginning the day washing and drying the dishes from breakfast. We rushed our toast and orange juice then headed to the cars with crates to collect firewood for the evening. We got up to main camp where I had a hot chocolate and then it was time to head out for a monitoring session. Before leaving we washed both trucks, which turned out to be pretty fun! We headed off in the clean, shiny vehicles where we soon enough came across our first herd of buffalo. After our first stop we continued on up bumpy roads to the top of a mountain where we got out to look around at the view and take some pictures. The scenery was breathtaking, all that could be seen was endless miles of African bush and I kept wondering what incredible wildlife was lurking only meters away from us. We continued on in the vehicles to look for the endangered black rhino. With Abel's knowledge we managed to successfully find a group of 3 black rhino. This moment didn't feel real as to how critically endangered these animals are, they were noticeably more shy and timid compared to white rhino therefore we didn't get as close. We sat for a good 20 minutes in the truck, taking in the beauty of such fascinating creatures, that in a few years could well be extinct. After an incredible encounter it was time for lunch where we had chicken, couscous and vegetables. This afternoon’s planned activity was tracking. We began on foot in a predator free zone, when a call came over the radio saying that there was a possibility of escaped buffalo heading into the area we were in. This meant tracking was called off and we had to hurry back as quickly as possible. Our plans had changed slightly so instead we began a lecture with Juanita about human and animal conflict. It was then soon time for tea where we had a vegetable stew, salad and rice. We collected our firewood for camp and headed back down to our tents. We were given a warning before going back that buffalo are still roaming the surrounding area so there is a possibility of them coming into camp, this was a bit scary to hear but we just made sure to keep our eyes peeled for any tracks or signs of them. Chloe, Arianna and I got into bed early this evening; we ate our snacks, chatted for a while and then filled in our diaries. Tomorrow we are going to Shamwari's Born Free Centre, which I am really excited about!
Wednesday 13th July 2016 - I woke up at 6:40am today. We got dressed and then I walked to the kitchen to make some breakfast. Soon after everyone had eaten, we headed to main camp for a lecture on canned hunting and the lion industry in general. The lecture was intense and brought to light the sad reality of animal tourism in South Africa. It was upsetting to hear how farms are breeding lion cubs and using paying tourists to get hands on experience, only for them to grow up and be used in canned hunts - where they are confined to a small, enclosed area and shot as 'trophies' by hunters. Although this was a sensitive subject, I feel as though it was really beneficial and gave me a clear insight into the industry. After the lecture we sat round the TV on beanbags with popcorn to watch Blood Lions. The documentary showed how certain organisation’s are pulling wool over the eyes of the public on the harsh reality of the lion industry. After the film it was time for lunch, where I had a massive portion of cheesy pasta and salad. It was then time for a behind the scenes trip to Born Free. I sat by Adam and Chloe in the truck and we headed over to the centre. This rescue centre based at Shamwari offers rehabilitation for up to 13 big cats including lions and leopards. Many of the cats were ex-circus animals from countries as far as Germany and Romania. Some of the stories behind the animals were horrendous. There was a male and female in one enclosure with noticeable problems regarding their limbs. They were unable to walk without sloping to one side due to them being confined to a small cage and eating the wrong diet. This prevented their bones from forming correctly; leaving them with permanent damage and meaning they would never be able to survive in the wild. On the behind the scenes tour we got to see all the big cats really close and even heard one of the female lions roar for a good minute! It was then time to head out onto the reserve where we saw a hippo and it's calf down by the river. We continued on around the reserve, taking in the beautiful sights then headed back for tea. Dinner tonight was chicken, potatoes and vegetables and for pudding a square of chocolate cake. It was then back to tented camp where Chloe, Adam, and I played rummy on the decking. We met around the fire at 7:00pm to discuss ideas for our group presentations on Sunday. My group is Adam, Chloe, Callum and I but we have not yet decided on a project. We then went back to our tent where I got a shower. We went over to the boy’s tent this evening where we played cards and afterwards lay on the decking underneath the stars wrapped in blankets and duvets.
Thursday 14th July 2016 - I woke at 6:30am this morning. We got dressed, went to the kitchen for breakfast and then up to main camp. We made hot chocolate then went into our morning lecture where we discussed poaching of rhinos specifically in South Africa. Halfway through the lecture we had a talk outside on the grass from the Anti-Poaching Unit at Shamwari. We were told about tasks they undergo daily and how they can be away from their families for long periods of time and even got to see some of the equipment they use. We had a short break where Chloe and I wandered round the grounds and found a cute dog, which we played with. Soon after Juanita decided that we should all write a letter to spell out 'PLEASE HELP SAVE OUR RHINOS'. I did a letter 'S' and we held them all up and had a picture taken. Soon it was time for lunch where we had chicken wings and potato salad. It was then time to get in the trucks and head to our tented camp for the afternoon. It was the hottest point of the day so we lay on our beds listening to music for a while, soon after Adam and Callum came round where we all sat and sunbathed in our shorts and vests which was nice and relaxing. The reason for coming back early today was because tonight's activity was a night patrol. The drive was amazing! I didn't manage to get any photos as I was happy just sitting back and taking things in as they happened and living in the moment. Chloe, Adam and I sat on the back seats, wrapped in sleeping bags to keep warm. The night started incredibly, we heard a jackal calling, which was walking towards a cheetah eating its kill. The jackal was communicating with others to come help steal the carcass from the cheetah. The calls between the jackals were incredible and sent shivers down my spine. We drove up onto a hill to a decking area in the middle of the reserve to look at the stars. It felt magical being in a remote area in complete darkness surrounded by wild animals that we didn't even know were there. Abel spoke to us about Orion's belt and how stars can be used to indicate your location if you were to become lost. That night we saw 3 hippopotamus close up which was incredible, as they were standing up we could see the cute little pink patches on their bellies. We even came across a brown hyena, which I was not expecting, it was stuck in the headlights and we got a really good glimpse before it ran off into the distance. After our AMAZING drive we headed down to our tents where we got into bed at 9:30pm, which was late for us! We're lucky and get a lie in tomorrow morning and are getting picked up at 9:00am, woohoo!
Friday 15th July 2016 - After an incredible night, I woke up this morning at 7:50am! We got picked up at 9:00am from the hill and taken to main camp for another delicious African cooked breakfast. We jumped onto the trucks once everyone had finished and Abel took a group of 9 of us onto the reserve to cut down spekboom branches to later on plant at the old age center in Paterson. Once we'd gathered enough branches we headed to Paterson with spekboom draped all over us, it was an interesting drive to say the least! After a short ride we arrived at Mama Gloria's. Here we began to dig holes to plant the branches around the vegetable patches. Digging the holes was extremely hard work as the ground was hard and dry, but together we worked as a team and managed to plant and water all the trees. I soon spotted Acacia, the stray dog we'd met last Friday, she was adorable and loved cuddles (definitely worth risking rabies for!) When we had finally completed the project we got together for a group photo in the finished allotment. It looked so much better than it did previously and we knew it would have a positive impact on the community for many years to come. Mama Gloria thanked us all for our hard work and then it was time to say our goodbyes. We were waved off by the community and some children that chased our truck down the road until out of sight. Before lunch we stopped off in Paterson town to post our postcards and grab some food from the supermarket. After lunch I bought a Shamwari CNSV:XP t-shirt to remember the experience by. This afternoon we had our final monitoring session, which was really sad to think of it as our last but we made the most of the remaining time we had left. Along the way we saw hippopotamus, giraffe and many zebra, warthog and antelope. We drove back through the predator free zone and left the car on foot to find firewood for this evening. Juanita then had an idea to take us to the 'wild animals crossing' sign to take a group picture of us acting as animals crossing the road, everyone was a different animal and me and Chloe together were an antelope. We headed back for tea, which was chicken lasagna and then went back to camp and to our tents to fill in our diaries. Adam later came round to our tent and we went to the kitchen to work on our presentation.
Saturday 16th July 2016 - Today was the biggest lie in yet. We woke up at around 9:30am. Whilst Arianna and Chloe went to the kitchen tent for breakfast I rang my mum as it was her 50th Birthday! I was so happy to hear her voice and it made me realize how much I missed her, she told me how everyone at home was and that they were missing me and can't wait until I come home, even the dogs and the cat! I also got to speak to my dad who told me he missed me! This was an emotional but motivating start to the day as I wanted to make my parents proud. I said goodbye to them both and then headed up to the kitchen for a late breakfast of toast and hot chocolate. We were picked up from tented camp at 11:45am and went for lunch where we had chicken burgers and chips. At 4:00pm we did our presentations and it finally started to hit home that our African adventure was slowly coming to an end. We were handed our certificates from Juanita and all had our picture taken. Vicky's group did an Africans language quiz as their project and out of the whole group, I WON! My prize was a Lindt chocolate bar that I was so thankful for as I'd been craving chocolate for days! We then went for tea, which was chicken on the bone with yellow rice and vegetables and headed back down to tented camp at around 5:30pm. Me, Chloe and Arianna all had some time to chill in our tent for a while where we chatted about the highlights of our experience. We then went to the campfire for a while to sit around with everyone for one of the very last times. We headed over to the boys decking where Chloe, Callum, Adam and I played rummy, go fish and 21. Chloe and me have now just got back to our tent and are filling in our diaries for the day. I am starting to slow down and take in every single second of our last few days here because I know for a fact I'm going to miss this place incredible amounts.
Sunday 17th July 2016 - At 9:30am today we woke up after another lie-in! We got dressed, put our make-up on at the makeshift make-up station (made out of a mirror, bench and torch) and then we began to pack a few of our things back into our suitcases. Chloe and me skipped breakfast this morning and waited until 12 when we got picked up and taken to the kitchen for lunch. Today was PIZZA! It was so good, I had a chicken pizza and as there was so much of it leftover we all got seconds! Once lunch had been eaten we headed back down to tented camp and I had my first shower in about 3 days! I'd been putting it off for so long but it was so nice to feel clean again. Following my shower Adam, Callum, Chloe and I sat on the decking, chatting and listing to music. We filled out some surveys and questionnaires for the programme and Worldwide Experience. Soon after the chilled afternoon it was time to go for our 'Last Supper' where we had chicken on the bone, cous cous and vegetables. The last time Arianna, Chloe, Sarah, Nat, Molly and I would all be sitting round our table in the kitchen. After dinner was finished we went back to camp where our tent turned into a hair salon and I braided Molly, Nat, Chloe and Arianna's hair. We've all nearly finished packing and it's so sad to see our tent becoming empty like when we had first arrived, before we had made it our own. Chloe and me are now in our beds, filling in our diaries! We are going down to the fire shortly for a while when we've finished but won't be too late because we are up at 6:00am tomorrow and have to be packed and out of our tented camp by 8:00am, this 2 weeks has honestly flown by!
Monday 18th July 2016 - This morning we were all up around 6:15am. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and finished packing my suitcase (which took a lot of sitting on!). I had some breakfast and then we moved our luggage out of the tents and down to the fireplace. Everyone left behind clothes and toiletries on the end of our beds as donations for the local community. We had a one final look around and then left our tented camp and went up to main camp for the last ever time. We were met by Abel and Juanita who took us up to the hill where we had previously been to stargaze last week. We got a chance to speak about our highlights of the trip and Abel and Juanita told us stories from their time at Shamwari that not one of us ever got tired of hearing. We drank hot chocolate, ate biscuits and before we knew it the time had come to say goodbye. We collected our luggage and loaded it onto the minivan. I gave both Juanita and Abel a big hug and we all thanked them for making our stay such a life changing and incredible experience. My eyes began to well up and I had to stop myself from crying. We drove along up the dirt track and off into the distance, our whole group silent, we waved until everyone was out of site and then it finally hit us that we would soon be leaving this beautiful country.
Tuesday 19th July 2016 - The trip had officially come to an end! I, Rhiannon Owens had returned home from South Africa! A statement just under a year ago I'd never have thought I would be saying. Immediately the drive home, in a normal car with normal windows felt completely different. The roads were smooth and paved and there were no zebras, antelope or warthog crossing over the road, it was a sad realization. I am missing South Africa millions already, there feels like a piece of my heart is missing and has been taken by such a special country. Being at home is taking a lot of getting used to. But now I can begin planning my next adventure..............................!
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