Home From Africa
So, after 4 glorious weeks in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique, I have returned to good ol’ Canada. I figure there’s a bunch of people out there wanting an update and some stories, so consider this your update.
Weeks 1-2 – Environmental Conservation Project at Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, South Africa.
Our group of 21 strong spent an incredible 2 weeks on the beautiful Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, volunteering by collecting data which would be used to monitor the park and make decisions such as whether or not the reserve could support elephants. They currently have no lion or elephant on the reserve, and although they both draw a lot more tourist attention, too many elephants in one area can be quite damaging to the ecosystem since they will knock over and trample anything in their path. Therefore, we did bird counts and habitat assessments, which included collecting data about the density of grass, type and quantity of trees in the area etc. The work was simple but satisfying since once our team of 7 got the hang of it we flew through the work, singing songs and joking around and thoroughly enjoying the brisk mornings and nature in general.
Our group of 21 was split into 3 groups of 7, each with a super cool team name…you were a cheetah, lion, or leopard (although some inter-mingling did occur). Each day, 2 of the groups would head out into the field at about 6:30AM. Most mornings it was really cold and we huddled together with blankets and sweaters in the seats of the open topped safari vehicle. After about a 1 hour drive, with us singing at least half the way, we would arrive at our site for the day where we did our bird counts and habitat assessments for anywhere between 1-3 hours. Once we finished, we would do a game drive (drive slowly through the reserve looking for animals) for 30 min-1 hr, and then go for lunch at some of the most beautiful lookout points I’ve seen. We labeled my personal
favorite Pride Rock (after the Lion King, of course); it’s very satisfying enjoying a PB & J sandwich, cookies, chips, and juice (every single day, by the way) with a breathtaking view after accomplishing a bit of work.
After lunch we would typically either go for a hike or return to camp, where we could play tennis or just chill around the fire with the rest of the group. The third group, which did not go into the field that day, was in charge of cooking and cleaning up dinner. Some might think this was a painful task, but with the crew we had it was always an adventure, and some of my fondest memories are of joking around with everyone as we cooked. We would have to go collect firewood everyday and get the fire going early so that the coals could be used for cooking the meat outside on the grill. It would always be dark by the time food was prepared, so we would usually all sit around the fire and eat and socialize or play games the rest of the night. It was always a treat if your group was staying in the next day, because then you had to get up for 9 instead of 6:30, and could therefore stay up later around the fire.
Of everything we did, all the amazing people I met and sights I saw, I think this aspect of the trip was my favorite. There was no internet or cell phones or TV to distract us, so we had to entertain each other and it was glorious! I have never spent so much quality time with so many people in such a short span of time in my life, and honestly it felt like that was how life should be lived. I didn’t Facebook or email or text people to communicate, I went and found them and had a “real conversation” with them. There was a real sense of community, even family among us, and I think that’s a critical aspect of humanity that has been lost, to our detriment, by the advancement of technology. In business we always talk about how important the internet and social media are for “connecting” with people and growing our business around the world, and that’s very true. We acknowledge in school that this is a double edge sword in that it makes our relationships less personal, but never has this fact been as apparent to me as during those 2 weeks at Lapalala. I really felt like the structure of our days there was how humans were meant to live…in tight nit, sharing communities that are one with nature. I can feel everyone thinking “hippie” at this point of reading, and I suppose it was a bit like a hippie convent, but it was also like how people used to live a very long time ago in tribes, and I loved it. It’s funny to me now to say that we “connect” with others via social media and even texting, because sitting at my computer writing on friends’ Facebook walls or IM-ing sure as hell doesn’t feel like the same type of “connecting” I did with my friends at Lapalala. This is one of the major revelations I had inAfrica that is sure to impact significantly the rest of my life. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to using technology to communicate and gather information, so I suppose I’m going to work on clearly defining what type of role I want technology to play in my life. Clearly a synthesis of paradigms needs to occur in order for me to function in North America, so ill keep you updated on how that goes.
There is far too much for me to tell about Lapalala, so ill just highlight my favorite points.
- Playing tennis with Rick (my very good friend/roommate/co-worker/hockey wingman) and tying our matches 6-6, and not being surprised at all that we tied exactly when neither of us had played tennis before.
- Going without alchohol for 2 weeks (minus one absolutely insane night) with a bunch of like-minded 18-23 year olds, and having some of the best times of my life actually “connecting” with each person there.
- Hiking. I need to take this up asap. Bouncing off rocks, playing the lava game that everyone played as a kid, keeping our eyes out for black rhinos and leopards, spitting dried impala poop as far as we could (Rick won by a long shot), and of course seeing the sights of Africa.
- Meditating under the insanely bright and close stars on the tennis court with a few friends and our Guardian Ranger, Eddie, who braved the cold to ensure none of us got dragged up a tree by a leopard.
- Gathering firewood and painting our faces with the ash. Ridiculous, but insanely fun.
- Cooking and cleaning the kitchen and playing the “hot seat” game to entertain ourselves…and entertain we did.
- Sitting around the fire, playing games, telling stories.
- No distractions, only people, nature, and food!
- The general structure of our days! No stress, no technology, just work, play, socialize, eat, and learn.
- Throwing people in the pool, and all the shenanigans that resulted from it
- Our enlightening conservation lectures, the Lion King, and Rhys Darby in the freezing cold main room
That’s all for Lapalala, I want to give a shout out to our project leaders Elliot (I can’t believe how much you’ve done and how many places you’ve been) Smith, and Tribute (Birdie-sweetest, smartest, and most humble, passionate conservationist I know) Mboweni for taking such good care of us, teaching us so much, and putting up with all our “energy”.
Thanks to Samir Randera-Rees and Eddie John Sales for protecting us from anything that might eat us, the best lunches of all time (even though they were the same everyday), your amazing accents (ya ya), putting up with all our “energy”, and generally making sure everyone had a wicked good time in a safe manner at Lapalala.
The people were what made Lapalala as special as it was, so thanks to everyone (guides, leaders and volunteers) for bringing your A-Game toSouth Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with you all, and my life will certainly never be the same as a result of the time I spent with you.
Lots of gratitude is required for a trip such as this I think, so might as well keep it rolling. Thanks to everyone at home, family and friends, who helped make my trip possible with your generous donations. I sincerely appreciate the support, and you can rest easy knowing that your investment was a good one. The perspective I gained on this trip can be gained no other way than by going on such a trip. Many thanks
One last thing for us insiders, favourite quotes/references from the trip:
- “They still stop for deer!?”
- All forms of grunting, and the insane amount of communication that relied upon it
- “Sweet Caroline, buh buh buh”
- “Come to Africa they say, have a good time they say”
- “I don’t want no tick, a tick is bug that can’t get no blood from me, hangin on the back of Mike’s leg, makin him sick, trying to get on my knee”
- “Do the robot”
Can’t remember anything else, help me out team?
I still can’t believe how quickly our trip went, anyone wanna head back?
Ok, that’s all for now, the rest of the trip will require another blog post or 2.