Yesterday I enjoyed my last lion walk as I said goodbye to the lions, the staff at Mesuwe, the other volunteers, and everyone else that I met in Zimbabwe. Although it was sad saying goodbye and I will most definitely miss the cubs that I may have grown a bit attached to, I was excited to head off to my next adventure in South Africa! Sarah and Monika, the two girls from Norway who I had become quite close with, also left the same day as me so fortunately we all were able to go to the airport together and wait for our flights together. Of course my luggage was a bit overweight so I had to pay extra—I was suppose to pay $200 but the guy gave me a “deal” and I ended up only having to pay $100. The “airport” was extremely small and gates didn’t even exist… rather when your flight was ready and boarding began, you simply showed your paper boarding pass (literally a piece of paper similar to a receipt that was written on) to the worker then walked onto the tarmac then onto the plane. Oh, TIA (this is Africa)! I had about an hour-and-a-half layover in Johannesburg before my next flight to Port Elizabeth. You would think that would have been plenty of time except when you have to get off the flight, wait for everyone to board a bus that takes you to the terminal where you have to wait for your luggage (which of course takes forever to move everyone’s luggage from the plane to the terminal). Being as it was an international flight, I also had to go through immigration and customs before I could recheck-in for my next flight. All was going well and I had collected all of my luggage (which is quite a lot not going to lie but then again I am here for six months so it is a bit justified) and headed to recheck-in. Due to my luggage exceeding the weight limit, I had to completely leave security and start the entire check-in process over. At this point, I began freaking out as I had to make my next flight and had about forty-five minutes at this point before my flight took off. The ladies working were not very helpful at all which added to the stress. She informed me that I had to go upstairs… alright, fine. I left the secured area with my luggage and fortunately a porter saw that I looked a bit stressed out and he offered to help me as I was in the Johannesburg airport (South Africa’s biggest) and had no clue where I was suppose to go. He took me to the check-in area and spoke something in Afrikaans to the workers to hurry my check-in process. He asked me for my flight information and passport… shoot, the lady who informed me that I had to go upstairs (the quite unhelpful one) still had my passport… ugh! Frustrated as I was already stressed out and realized I made just about the worst mistake anyone could make while traveling, I literally ran back through the airport, down a few flights of stairs to try to find my passport. Of course the lady was in a “secured” area and running back into the area would probably have gotten me arrested. I asked a few of the security guards how I could get back into the area and explained my situation but fortunately the lady who had my passport was right outside looking for me. Phew, I found my passport and had it in hand… a stupid mistake that was 100% my fault… fortunately it turned out alright and I learned a very good life lesson—ALWAYS make sure you have your passport before leaving anywhere. Alright, so I now had about 35 minutes until my plane left and I still wasn’t checked in. I ran upstairs and back through the airport (luckily I remembered the way) to the check-in desk where I met the porter who was next-in line to check me in… however we had to go to a specific check-in worker which I was a bit confused about. He hassled me about my overweight luggage and I explained that I already paid for my excess weight in Victoria Falls. He asked me for a receipt—of course I didn’t have one… they barely gave out boarding passes let alone receipts. Alright, important lesson number two that I would learn in just a matter of minutes: ALWAYS get a receipt no matter what. Again I was supposed to pay $200 but fortunately this guy as well gave me a “deal” and said I could get by paying $100. I agreed as I had to get on the flight and literally had 30 minutes if not less at this point and still didn’t have a ticket and it wasn’t worth arguing with him and missing my flight. He checked in my luggage and the porter took me to “pay” before I passed through security. On the way, he asked me for the $100… I figured I was going to pay at a legit location where they’d accept a credit card as it was the airport and all but nope… TIA! I realized at this point what was really going on… the check-in worker checked in my two bags as being underweight then the porter would collect my payment for the “excessive baggage” and the two would split the earnings… basically an under-the-table deal between the two. Now I got why we had to go to a certain guy to check-in. I explained that I only had $44 on me as I was expecting to pay with a credit card… fortunately the rest of my money was in my other bag and not right on me. So, I ended up just paying the $44 for the excess weight. I headed through security and got to my gate right before the bus was leaving to head towards the plane… wow close call! Luckily, I was on the flight to Port Elizabeth—I doubted that my bags had made it but at least I did.
The flight went well and when I arrived, so did my bags. I have absolutely no clue how my luggage made it on the flight but I was just glad they did! I met Persy who was waiting for me on my way out of the airport. Persy is the owner of African Dawn, my third and last volunteer project here in Africa. He seemed very friendly and had even bought me dinner as the rest would have been done by the time I arrived. Simply driving through Port Elizabeth, I quickly was able to recognize that I was no longer in Zambia or Zimbabwe but rather a much more Westernized part of Africa. We passed by a mall, traffic lights, McDonalds, and KFC as we made the thirty minute journey from Port Elizabeth to African Dawn. African Dawn is located pretty much right between Port Elizabeth and Jeffrey’s Bay, a top-notch surfing/holiday town! By the time I arrived, it was completely dark out so I was able to see all of the stars as there was little light out on the farm but very little of the farm itself. I met some of the volunteers, unpacked a little, and talked with a few of them before we all headed to bed.
My first day at African Dawn, I had a “lie in.” I was quite confused however as I heard this as “lion” and had absolutely no idea what that meant… clearly I’ve been around lions a bit too long! I am no longer in my lodge paradise of Zimbabwe however as I am back to roughing it on a farm essentially. They advised us to bring a sleeping bag as they said the winter could get quite cold… well I figured I was here just a bit under two weeks and I figured that I could surely handle the weather as this was Africa and really, how cold could Africa get. Oh boy, was I wrong. The floors are just made of woods and there are lots and lots of cracks which equates to the room being just about the same temperature as the outside… which was freaking cold! I’d say the nights get down to around 35-40 degrees and with only one blanket (literally, no sheets or anything just a blanket), I was so bitterly cold the entire night. I put my head under my one-and-only blanket and rolled up into a tiny ball and basically just shivered as I fell asleep… oh it was rough. Fortunately, Matt (one of the volunteers) informed me that a girl had left her sleeping bag in case a volunteer didn’t bring one… yes, score. So I only had to suffer from the cold for one night. Anne, a girl here from Germany, also arrived the same day I did so we were able to sleep in then walk around and explore the place after breakfast. It is definitely farm-life here. There are cows, sheep, chicken, rabbits galore, dogs, cats, and just about any other farm animal one could think of that roam around the farm. I’m living in a cabin that is located just a few minutes’ walk from the reception area itself in a “game park.” There are impala, loads of different antelope, zebras, giraffe, and a few other wildlife species that live in the game park area. Persy said that you often even wake up to zebras or other animals around the cabins—kind of neat! In the wildlife park itself there are animals galore that include lots and lots and lots of birds, monkeys, cheetah and other cats like serval, ostrich, emu, kudu, all kinds of buck, meerkats, and many others that I can’t think of right now (I’ll get back to you on all of the different animals here!). After lunch we were given a formal tour of the park before our first feedings began. There are ten volunteers here right now (but this could change day to day as volunteers come and go) and we are in charge of preparing the food and feeding all of the animals twice a day, looking after those animals that are sick or being rehabilitated, cleaning and keeping the park clean, and doing whatever else is necessary. We definitely keep busy throughout the day with various jobs and although the routes and such seem overwhelming at first, I’m sure it will all become second nature in just a few short days!
It’s hard work here and the days are definitely tiring. I’ve always wanted to live out on a farm or try living an “Amish-style” life so I guess this is my opportunity! Although it is tough work, I love being around the animals so it makes the days go by much faster and the work definitely seem worthwhile. I’m glad I made it to South Africa with only a few minor bumps along the way but I’ve settled in here at African Dawn and have a lot to learn, a lot to experience, and a lot of people to get to know!
Also, as I said I’m living literally on a farm and the idea of WIFI here is farfetched… as well as the idea of a computer probably! Luckily one of the volunteers let me borrow her internet chip thing to update my blog but I probably won’t have a chance to update again until I head into Jeffrey’s Bay and get one for myself. But, life is good… I’m being worked hard which is probably a good thing for me and I’m enjoying my time here—getting to know everyone as well as the animals!