A Travellerspoint blog

Departure and Epilogue

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Well, today was our last day at San bona. Last night I got a parting gift of a tick bite (again). Why me? Steve wasn't bit by anything! Me? A spider and a tick. Well, I don't have the symptoms of African tick bite fever, so I guess my little friend wasn't a carrier. There was a party underway when I discovered the tick. The party was a good time: music, great company and everyone here likes to have a good time - they're a lively bunch!

We hung around until 11AM the next day at San bona, just hanging out. The people there were so nice. Everyone gave us hugs and we said our goodbyes to the other volunteers and the staff and settled our account. We hugged goodbye and drove off into the dust out of the gate. It's so weird to leave a place that you spent so much time at, knowing you'll probably never see it again. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it's like Brigadoon, except this time, the reserve disappeared in the dust (not mist!) haaahaa

Claire, one of the volunteers, headed into Cape Town with us, to spend the weekend with friends from work who were in town (one of them works in Jo'burg). She was kind enough to let us drop off our bags at her hotel, so I got some more quality shopping time in : ) We met her and her friends for drinks at the V&A Waterfront. It was a really nice way to start our (long) journey home. We sat by the waterfront and enjoyed great conversation with an international table of people (2 Britons, a Scot, and us) and watched huge ships from China sway into the harbor. The table next to us were 2 Americans (one lives in Zimbabwe) and they recognized our accents (there aren't many Americans in South Africa). After drinks, and goodbyes, Steve and I grabbed a bite to eat (which I later regretted - vomiting at the airport as they were calling our row to board the plane was no fun!) and grabbed a taxi back to the airport. The cab driver was a Xhosa and knew English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and some Swahili. I asked him what he thought of the USA when he asked where we were from and he resented the "brain drain" out of South Africa and into the US. He was an interesting individual.

Our flight wasn't until midnight. We stumbled onto the plane and I slept for most of the flight, not feeling well (did I have African tick bite fever I wondered?) I awoke feeling much better and ready to take on Amsterdam! We reflected on our little Cleo cat during the flight (Jan 19 was the 3 year anniversary of her passing).

I could see the colors of the sky changing as the sun rose. I suddenly noticed that we were flying over the Sahara desert at sunrise! I was watching "Gandhi" on my personal entertainment unit, but was torn away from the movie to admire and investigate the cascading sands below me. I was completely fascinated with the land below - I fumbled around for a map and determined that we were flying over Algeria (close to the Libyan border). I could see the North Africa coastline and peered through our binoculars to actually see the waves crashing against the North African shoreline. Amazing!!

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Next we flew over the south of France and soon I saw snow-capped mountains turn into the Swiss alps! Fabulous!
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It was so weird to be in Amsterdam again, buying the same train tickets, and leaving the same station. When we exited Centraal Station it was a bit brisk at 50 degrees and it felt great to be in a quintessential European city like Amsterdam. That was a really nice way to break up all the traveling. We walked past our old hotel and wandered a bit aimlessly for awhile. We didn't have enough time for the Cat Museum. We had a fab lunch at De Vergulde Lantaarn on Nieuwendijk (a very old eatery) and walked around and I got some good pictures.....

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.... and we reminisced about our visit there 3 years ago. It felt great to be back in Europe again!
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The next leg of our trip was an 8 hour flight to JFK. We were met by a friendly driver and a wall of cold air when we exited the airport. He seemed to be fascinated with our trip and we gave him some highlights until we both fell asleep in the back of the limo (how did we end up with a limo? we certainly weren't complaining!)

20 hours of flying is a lot. We were so grateful to be home. Thanks for keeping up with us. I appreciate the comments about my writing, but I am actually planning on "cleaning up" the entries when I upload the pics. There were 2 computers for the volunteers and the staff to utilize. Often there was someone waiting, so I was in a hurry when I entered the blog in.

We're definitely changed people after having this experience. We met some amazing people and learned so much! We can't wait to share the photos and the stories with you. We feel blessed to have such loving friends and family in our lives.

I learned so much from Africa: both about animals & about life. Being in a place so incredibly different from everything you know is an interesting experience. Coming home is a bit of mind-blower. It was as if we never left, I just eased back into my life. I realized that I have a pretty damn good life. I was aware of it before and am a firm believer in gratitude, but this was different. I understand even more how easy it is to slip into thinking about what you don't have instead what you DO have. I will be doing that less and less, and one day maybe, I'll forget entirely about what I don't have.

As we go to different places, the world gets incrementally larger and we get incrementally smaller. The things that bother and please me seem less significant in the grand scale. I am not saying that life is insignificant, it's just different in a worldview. We touched only a small part of Africa, but she touched us greatly......

Posted by stevedana 04:50 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

Bush Camping & Giraffe Mating Rituals

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We came back here in the early morning. It was a chilly, bumpy ride back to Gondwana. On the way, we saw 2 jackal pups run by. That was cool. We got cleaned up and ate breakfast and then headed back out.

We were all pretty bedraggled. Our first stop was a dilapidated house on site that we were told about the night before at the campfire. Evidently, there's a chair that keeps moving in different parts of the yard every time they go by, yet no one claims responsibility for moving it. So we go there this morning and Steve and Anja move the chair to the roof and tie it down.

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We ran into Jan and Sandriette later that morning (they were tracking the cheetah and her 4 cubs) and they were freaked out because the chair moved, not knowing we were there earlier. It was funny!

Next, we visited Jabo and Queen at their boma (enclosure).
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They were feeding on a carcass when we got there. They are working on extending the boma. The volunteers will be working on that once we've gone. So they were explaining how you build a boma and what's involved and what the criteria are in creating one. That was interesting to learn about. So we said our goodbyes to the white lions.

Then we looked for giraffes. Evidently, one has a lump on its side and they wanted to look at it more closely. So we walked into the brush to closer to them to get a photo of the one giraffe. We were so close, it was so cool. Eventually, they all noticed us. I wondered what they thought of us? They are not used to human encounters - the Land Rover perhaps, but not people. They were busy eating.
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Some were more cautious then the others. Anja said the females seem to be more alert to us, and the males keep munching away at the acacia bushes. Then we witnessed their bizarre mating ritual. The male sniffs the female's butt and she urinates. Next, he tastes her urine to ascertain whether or not she is in heat. We actually witnessed this!!! It is inexplicable to be so close.

These are some gemsbock, which are an antelope species. There are a ton of antelope at Sanbona!

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Regular safari-goers do not exit the vehicle and walk around. This was the only way I could get close to these animals. So if you're wondering why I have been "roughing it" for the last two weeks, know that I'd stay in a cardboard box to be close to these animals!!!

Later, we were on the lookout for #39.
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Tomorrow we wait and travel and wait and travel. On Friday, we go to Amsterdam. I hope to visit the Cat Museum, since the maker of "Ocean's 12" had the audacity to film in the museum last time I was there! We'll see. It will be cold and wet, but I absolutely adore Europe. It will be a nice way to cap off our adventure.

Oh and I almost forgot: they're having a little party tonight to send Steve and me off. A good excuse for a party here - there's always a party : )
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We are ready to go home and return to our lives after experiencing this whole adventure together. See you all soon! We'll share photos and stories when we see you!!! Give our girls hugs for us, Auntie Stacey

Posted by stevedana 08:50 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Kinders - meeting the children!

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In the morning, the children came (kinders). It was so much fun. We played soccer and then colored and then made bracelets. That was a lot of fun. They don't speak English (the older ones know some). Some of them were the children of the ladies who work here. We were told that the laborers and maids in South Africa make about $7 per day.

Everyone was at the volunteer house (Gondwana). They put "Monsters, Inc" on the TV here. Most don't have TV or electricity, so that was a real treat - some were glued to the TV. Claire had a drive at her work, so the ladies were going through all the clothes she brought - they were unpacking them and holding them up to each child in a line to see what would fit whom.
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The children were grinning from ear to ear. There was a little boy (4 years old) there with he 3 older siblings (the eldest was 15) who was so cute. I got a nice photo of him. Sue - the Kool Aid was a hit. They had their version of hot dogs (ostrich sausages) and drinks and playtime and coloring. They were thrilled! So it was a good morning.
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The photographer was back. Incidentally he's a pretty famous sports photographer in the UK. He's friends with the guy who owns Worldwide Experience, so he is shooting photos for him for his website and brochures. So we'll be the poster-children for WWE, literally! He was snapping pictures left and right of us toiling away in the hot sun at the work site, so who knows how we're going to look!?

We worked more on the lookout, which was hot and tiring. We had more hands to help yesterday, so it went by faster. I doubt we're working on that today, I am looking forward to a nice easy day today. I won't miss THAT project.

Last night we slept in the African bush after enjoying dinner, a campfire, and scary stories with some of the staffers (Jan, Roland, Sandriette, Anja, and Paul).

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No creepy crawlies, just annoying flies and mosquitoes - at one point I put my hat over my whole head because the mosquitoes were so persistent! We did hear jackals twice in the night and baboons as well. The jackals remind me of shrieking or scary sound effects from a horror movie. So hard to explain, but really eerie. We got up shortly after sunrise (it's about 7AM now) and headed back here on the Land Rover. There were a lot of stars in the sky, and they were telling us what we were looking at, here in the Southern Hemisphere.

We're both pretty spent - we've worked hard and have been really active here. It's been a different kind of adventure for us. All our trips are different - so they can't really be compared - favorite/least favorite. This has certainly been a unique experience. Don't know what the agenda is yet. On Friday we spend the day in Amsterdam. Our flight from here is late at night, so I hope we'll sleep and be well-rested for a morning of sight-seeing. I am looking forward to that.

See you soon!

Love,
Steve and Dana

Posted by stevedana 20:57 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Pandora's Box

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This morning we were on a mission to take bug photos for Sandriette, one of the staffers here who studies bugs. They want to develop a catalog of creepy crawlies. So off we went with boots on, turning over rocks with our cameras out. We turned rocks over to see who would pop out. We saw spiders, beetles, scorpions, termites and other creepy crawlies. I was on the lookout for a few cool stones to take home as well. Steve was loving it!!!
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Afterward, we took refuge from the sun and watched an episode of "Big Cat Doctor" at Gondwana that featured San bona. That was cool, since we recognized some of the people in the episode (Paul, Ryno), since we're working with them here.

Next, it was 3 hours of filling holes at the work site. We were all pretty tired. No one had their A-game on, but we got it done!
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Next, we headed out to find #39 (the thin lion). They fed him a carcass a few days ago, so they're checking on him.

They let us take turns using the telemetry to find him. That was so cool! It was a highlight for me. It's actually not easy to use the system. Here is Anja explaining signal strength, direction, and geography in relation to locating an animal.
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I was able to get a signal, although we never found him. They think he's by the water, where there is well, water....and prey. So the carcass may have been the pick-me-up he needed. That's what they're hoping. [Update - they darted #39 days after we left! He was emaciated. I don't know if he's made it....sigh]

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Evidently, a British journalist is taking photos of Sanbona and of us! I think the publication is the Daily Examiner or something. I don't know. He's back tomorrow to take photos of us. Anyway, he comes rolling by on a Land Rover with this massive camera snapping photos and they tell us there are elephants (ellies) down below. We go over and they were 20 feet from the truck. That was a highlight! These were different from those in the sanctuary since these were never domesticated. They are wild animals and could charge the vehicle. So this was a different experience, since we were observing them exhibiting natural behavior. I even filmed them for a bit.

First, we saw a big bull.
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Next, the rest of the herd was across the way and they started to come out of the brush: the others and the babies. They were eating and playing a bit and the calves were hiding behind their mothers.
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Mother was corralling them and it was absolutely adorable and completely indescribable....it was like being IN an episode of Wild Kingdom.

Paul explained that we were on a public road that runs through the reserve. Shots were heard toward where the rhinos are. There are 7 here. They want to ensure none of them were poached. So we need to do a rhino count as well. Another hike into their world......but it's for a good cause. They're in the process of privatizing the road. Until then, poaching is an issue here.

Anyway, the children will come tomorrow now. That will be in the morning - we're going to play and color and do fun things. In the afternoon, it is back to the work site. And in the eve, we are camping. I am nervous since we're sleeping with all the creepy crawlies we discovered under the rocks today, plus snakes and whatever else lurks here at night. There are no tents, so...... But I understand a whole group of us is going, more staffers too. That brings me comfort. We'll check in again soon!

Love,
Steve and Dana

Posted by stevedana 10:30 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (2)

The Indian Ocean & Elephants

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Thanks for all your notes and kind words. We're both kind of pleasantly surprised by how closely everyone is following along.

We got up at 5:30 AM and made the trip out the the main gate and then the drive out to Plettenberg Bay (about 5-6 hours). We didn't know what we were doing, but Claire said a friend suggested Plett. So off we went, all 5 of us in a nice air conditioned Toyota Corolla listening to Jack Johnson and Bob Marley. Claire and Lou were hung over from the party the night before. They were really funny. All 3 girls were sleeping in the back. We retired earlier the night before since we had to drive, but Nelly Furtado was playing well into the morning in the common room.

We saw some shanty towns on our journey from Sanbona to the beach community of Plett.
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We stopped in Calitzdorp to get our bearings, which is where we discovered that we could not use our ATM card.
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Thank God we had the girls with us to give us cash, while we paid for the rental car and the B&B with our credit card, which did work at those outlets. We just could not get cash in South Africa!

Anyway, the plan was to go to the cheetah rehab place, but it looked like a zoo when we got there (we actually weren't sure if that was indeed the place!). When I went to the tourist info place to ask, I saw a pamphlet about the ellies. Claire loves them also, so we changed plans. Personally, I thought the ellies situation was a bit dodgy, because I felt they were performing for us a bit too much.

Here is a close-up I took of one of the elephants.
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Here's another shot I took that I turned to black and white.
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But considering that they were rescued from circuses or from being culled, they have a pretty good life at the sanctuary. We got to learn about them, walk with them, touch them, feed them..... It was indescribable for me. I was in heaven.
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It was cool to be so close. Did you know the end of their tails has wiry hairs (like a wire brush! Their eyelashes are like that, too!)? I got a great pic of Steve and me with one of them.

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Plettenberg Bay is a very well-to-do beach town for wealthy tourists. It was a world away from Sanbona. We checked into our B&B. Let me tell you something. If I had a dream house, this would be it. It was a multi million dollar beach house overlooking the Indian ocean. It was a modern white stucco setup, with huge glass sliding doors separating the different parts of the house. Steve and I slept upstairs with the glass door open listening to the ocean.

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I didn't want to leave!!! It was about $175 US dollars for the night. That room would have been at least double at home. It was the first time I felt really clean in a week! No bugs, no dust.....white SHEETS! Water that was clear. We had gotten accustomed to drinking water with a brown (sedimentary) tinge to it at Sanbona. Plus it had the little touches (like a beach basket with towels in it next to the door, and a double headed glass shower). Initially, we were booked into a different room, but 2 of the girls were kind enough to switch - we bought them drinks as a thank-you.

That evening, we all went to a fabulous dinner in town at a place called Miguel's. A taxi picked us up and dropped us off. We stayed in an exclusive beach community outside the town center. We all ate like pigs - There we all were with tan lines, bruised knees, and scratched legs, gorging on these "expensive" meals (but not by US standards - everything is 50% less here). We had been talking about how great we were going to eat ALL DAY! Steve and I ordered a shrimp appetizer - they were sitting over a bed of lettuce and sliced avocado with a creamy cocktail sauce drizzled on top. Ummm! For dinner I ordered a Thai dish (fish in coconut milk). Steve got this funky kebab thing. All was delicious. I even ordered a fruity cocktail - I can't remember the last time I ordered one of those! We were at Miguel's for hours until we decided to hit the pay phones and call for a taxi.

We were all pretty spent, so we all turned in early. Steve and I left the sliding glass door open (we were upstairs - the girls were down), so we could hear the ocean and feel the breeze through the white linen curtains. At one point, I woke up and realized it was sunrise (we had been getting up early at San bona as you know). Steve and I quietly stumbled down to the beach to catch a glimpse of the sun rising over the ocean, and then crawled back into bed.

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In the morning, we had a fabulous breakfast at the B&B - eggs...croissants....brie.....the whole enchilada, as we all listened to the ocean. Zonja (the proprietor) had a huge spread out for us and had ladies make us hot breakfasts to order.
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Earlier I had granadilla soda and liked it. I surmised the a granadilla looked like a passion fruit or a plum and I saw one such item in the fruit bowl and one of the ladies confirmed it was indeed a granadilla! I wish we had more funky fruit here!

So we head down to the beach and all ran into the Indian Ocean - it was great. Claire and I not being strong swimmers bailed out after a bit, as the undertow was strong. It was pulling us into the ocean and we got nervous. When Steve came out, walked along the shore and went shelling.

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Don't worry, we'll share! When we approached the girls, we noticed they were taking pictures of us! So hopefully one of them came out nicely!
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After drying off and cleaning up, it was time to check out. I could have moved in! It was a fabulous stay. We all headed out to do a little shopping. The girls wanted to go into town in Plett, but I was in heaven at a craft market, so Steve took the girls to town and I literally spent hours browsing. It was so nice not to feel hurried. We needed to pick up a few things at a strip mall and there was a surf shop there - remember, we're in a well-to-do beach area. The girls really like Roxy and Billabong and stuff, so I followed them in there, while Steve and Bex were at the Pick N Pay. Everything was cheaper.......

The girls were a pleasure to travel with. They're all British, so we're learning more about their culture as we're learning about the South African culture. In fact when we were emptying the trunk of the car, I asked Steve if he'd open the "boot" - that's what they call the trunk. And Lou said, "Steve, pop the trunk!" And we both laughed about it. I'll be speaking with a British accent went we return.

It was a long 5 1/2 hour drive home. We listened to a lot of Bob Marley since that was one of the few CDs I had with me. I struggled to stay awake to help Steve navigate (we took a different way home) We took the N2 most of the way. Claire's friend suggested we stop in at Buffalo (Buffel) Bay (Bai), so we did, and we snapped a few photos. Here we are:
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We got back to the gate at about 6:30 PM today. We're back to "normalcy" as it were- the African bush. The attendant now recognizes us and smiled as he opened the gate. They do make you feel at home here. Anja came ambling toward us in the Land Cruiser as we unloaded the "boot". Steve's having some pizza now, but I'm not hungry. Tomorrow the children come!!! We'll keep you posted.

Thanks for keeping up with us! We're thrilled you're having fun with us! Kiss the girls for us Aunt Stacey!

Steve and Dana

Posted by stevedana 09:56 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (4)

Sunrise to Sunset

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We were up before dawn and headed back to the lookout site - a COLD 45 minute drive the in the land rover. We worked pretty hard, watched the sun rise and were pretty tired by breakfast.
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I couldn't help but put down the tools and snap a few photos of the African bush at dawn. We'd look in this general vicinity for rhino, buffalo and giraffe, from time to time.
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After breakfast at about 9, we went to prune back some of those acacia bushes/trees I was telling you about. I got pricked twice on the fingers (even through work gloves) and it burns, let me tell you. Steve didn't believe me until he got pricked on the finger also! But we're okay. We're going to try to bring back one of the thorns/needles to show you guys.
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We saw a Cape Cobra on the way. It struck at the land rover. Steve was in awe of him. He had his hood out, you know, like a cobra does. It was magnificent. He made a joke about me being in the truck and that is why the cobra came out. Call me Harry Potter!

Oh yes, I got bit by a spider yesterday, but it was not poisonous, so there is no problem. I didn't write about it yesterday b/c I didn't know and didn't want to alarm anyone. I was pretty scared. Incidentally, the spider who bit me was a hunting spider and they're not poisonous, or I'd have a welt or a mark and I don't have one.

We also saw a beautiful red and black toad, but he was poisonous, so we didn't touch him. Every time you feel an itch or a little annoyance, invariably it's some sort of insect biting you. I am actually looking forward to returning to snow!

When we went to get the tools this morning, there was Boo-boo the owl perched on top of the cage where the tools are "hoo-hooing".

We're all pretty spent, but they don't work you THAT hard here. They want you to have fun, and our student coordinator, Anja, is very cool and very laid back, so she's made it fun for us.

For lunch we ate these little fried pumpkin things. They were pretty good. We had a GOOD lunch!

We saw elephant tracks and poo everywhere. So we're going to look for them at about 2:30 this afternoon (soon) to try and locate them. Afterward we're watching a DVD about the lions here (a woman at a sister reserve works for animal planet, so they have glossy shows about the lions).

Tonight, we're bringing wine up to a lookout with the gang and some of the staffers to watch the sun set. In the morning we leave for our weekend away, which should be interesting - taking a weekend vacation with people we've known for a week! It's a beachy place we're going to and I long for the ocean.

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Here's a photo I took of the sunset out there. I tried to make it look like a post
card!
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On Monday, we see the children! YAY! They are on summer break now, so the school is closed. I was disappointed that we were not going to their school. Brett arranged for them to come here to Gondwana. That will be fun. We'll also be working on the lookout. It's a big job and I don't think we'll finish it before Steve and I leave, but we've done the hardest part (digging the holes for the poles).

Steve's having a power nap now before we head out (we've been up since 4:30). He's really enjoying this whole thing. He's completely in his element - especially with the maintenance type stuff we're doing here and all the hiking and stuff. He wishes we could stay longer.

Oh and one more thing. The other morning while we were out, we stopped by a ramp (where they release animals) and in front of it in the sand, was evidence of 2 lions playing there in the early hours of the morning. One of the staffers, Paul, re-created the whole scene pointing out the markings in the sand. He said if you look closely, (and not just for buffalo running around), you can see all kinds of things in the African bush.

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This has been quite a learning experience. It will be nice to return to civilization this weekend. I'll keep everyone posted. Thanks for your comments. We look forward to reading them each time. Take care, everyone! Kiss the girls for me, Aunt Stacey.

Steve and Dana

PS - We thought we'd include a bit about the group:

Claire is 27 and works in London. She's really nice. She's a hard worker, too.

Louise is 21 and just finished college (a degree in geology). She's on her gap year (Europeans take a year off after high school or college and see the world - the US needs a gap year!). She's really nice. She's fresh out of college, so she's a lot of fun.

Bex just finished high school and is on her gap year. She wants to pursue animal science. She keeps things interesting around here.

The staff here range from age 20-37, so they're an energetic group. Our guide/coordinator, Anja is only 24, but she has quite a lot of responsibilities and she can do anything! Brett, the house manager is only 23. So it's a young crowd.

Anyway, thought you'd like to know a bit about who we're living and working with out here!

Posted by stevedana 03:45 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (6)

An Apple a Day.....

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We rose at 4:30 a.m. this morning, grabbed an apple and headed out to the site where we're building the lookout. The sky was beautiful - it was a bit overcast and there was a pretty light play on the mountains.

Oh and to clear up - the snake was not IN the house. The laundry room is in a building outside down a short path. I was told there's a local story that if you walk past a snake and it doesn't bite you then you attract them! They jokingly suggested I go into the bush with them when they're looking for snakes!

Anyway, we worked hard this morning, breaking through concrete and rocks with pick axes and metal tools. We're a good team.
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Anja, the student coordinator, said we're the best group she's had since she's been here (about 6 months or so). COOL! On the way to the site, we saw some enormous buffaloes chomping away at the grass. Actually I heard them before I saw them! They were HUGE and really cool.
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They didn't seem bothered by us as long as we stayed quiet and didn't move or stand up in the truck. We were listening to them chomping as they were only about 20 feet away. That was amazing. We also spotted some rhino.

Anyway, afterward, we climbed into some caves to look for more rock art to no avail, but the climb was an accomplishment, especially for me - mom knows how much of a klutz I am!
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Going up wasn't so bad.....it was coming down. There are no trees to hang on to (yikes!) As we drove off from the hike, a beautiful yellow cobra slithered across the road in front of the land rover.
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We learned about tennen (sp?). It's this chemical in trees. It is a bit poisonous to animals. That is why they move from tree to tree when they eat. Trees have different levels of it and they can release more or less. Anja told us that the trees communicate with each other by releasing the stuff. We didn't believe her at first, but I like the idea of "talking trees". There are lots of Acacia Karoo trees here. They have yellow flowers and HUGE thin thorns - like a miniature crochet needle - that is what they remind me of. She said the San people used them as sewing needles. The giraffe and elephant wrap their bulky tongues around the branch/twig and pull off the foliage and the needles/thorns usually stay behind. So that was educational. We looked for elephants to no avail.

There was ostrich sausage for dinner. I opted out having had fries and corn and some funky salad thing. The food is interesting. I have no idea what it is - I just eat it. It's good, mostly. They have a fruit salad with cool stuff in it - I think that's my favorite. Steve isn't digging the meat much either - there's this funky spice in there - it just tastes weird. We were told they have $4 to spend on us each day for food, so they need to cook inexpensively for all of us!

This trip makes me think of an internship. I feel like an intern in African bush biology although in 2 weeks, we're far from experts! Still, it's very exciting being here. It's so foreign and different. I almost feel like I am writing these blogs about someone else.

Here are some gazelles running away.
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We planned our group excursion for the weekend. We're traveling 6 hours east going to the Cango Caves, a Cheetah reserve and Plettenberg Bay (a beach community). We're going as a group, so that should be fun. We're occupying a B&B at the Bay. Tomorrow we're up early again (4:30). We're planning on watching the sunset in the bush with Anja and the gang. In the morning we're off - it's a long drive. I'll write back when I can.

In the back of the Land Rover, I was wishing I could wrap my arms around the girls......I miss them all the time....Steve's sitting here with me and just said he's been thinking about the girls all day today....that's the hardest thing.

We'll write soon!

Steve and Dana

Posted by stevedana 08:30 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Blood, Sweat and Puff Adders

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Today was a very eventful day!!!! We went out to start building the lookout and it was scorching hot! Backbreaking work....

On the way, we saw zebra and we went to see a rhino mother and calf under the shade of a small tree.
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We were less then 100 feet away. We were a quarter mile from the truck. I was a bit unnerved because we needed to sneak behind some brush and stay upwind the whole way quietly and in single file. Anja knew how to approach the rhino without being in any danger. It was very exciting - and hard to explain. We took great care to stay in line and stay very quiet. I was nervous about taking this photo.
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In the afternoon, we saw some of the REAL side to conservation work. Paul and Jan killed ostriches to feed Queen and Jabo. The carcasses were in the back of the pick up under a black tarp baking in the hot sun.....Steve helped them drag some of the animals into the freezer for later, but I am too gentle for that, it's just too sad to me. However, they did cut one open and explained some cool stuff to us, about how they eat small stones to help them digest food and stuff. Oddly, that experience didn't gross me out. What WAS gross however, was the stench. They had been in sweltering heat for many hours. So that's the ugly truth - the stuff the safari tourists will never see.
Here's a photo I swiped from Lou, but this is right where I was standing. A grisly sight, to be sure.
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Later, we were showered and were all hanging out in here planning our weekend. I swear it smelled like dead ostrich for days! Anyway, they spotted #39 (the thin lion). So we all quickly hopped into the land rover (12 of us) and checked him out. The sky was beautiful as the sun set and there he was walking around! It was an amazing experience.

So we're back, it's dark and we're doing laundry. A few of us go to the laundry room. I was in the back of the line. When they turned the laundry light on, I saw that I nearly stepped on a snake that everyone else unknowingly walked past (Steve walked by it 3 times in the darkness). So I jumped so high and ran into the laundry like an idiot (never run!). They said it was a fat puff adder (at about 4 ft) - one of the most venomous snakes in the world.

I was pretty shaken and still am a bit - since I actually saw it by my foot. We don't know how it didn't bite one of us walking by. I now have a new awareness about walking around here at night. She now is in a pit with a cobra - they feed them mice and the two seem to be getting along. I reckon they will be releasing them soon. Here is her photo;
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Tomorrow we rise at 4:30 am to work on this structure before the heat of the day. Don't know about the afternoon yet. Will keep you all posted! Off to bed!

Posted by stevedana 11:44 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (3)

Lion Monitoring and Learning Today

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We just spent some time with the resident owl, Boo-boo (I assume his names is derived from the latin name for the species). He came from the aviary here, so he's used to humans. I guess he just never left when he was released. So I suppose he's keeping the mice under control. He tolerated Steve petting him, but barely. We were so close to him, and I LOVE owls (I got a good photo for ya dad).

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This morning, we went looking for some lions and they were just majestic. They were cooling themselves in the shade (5 of them). Here's a photo through my binoculars, before we got "close" and I couldn't have my hands up!
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3 are Queen's & Jabo's boys. The other 2 are tawny female lions. The hope is that they get along and mate, so that the white lion gene is reintroduced in the wild. It is an important project here.

Normally the bakkie (land rover) never goes off the roads created on the reserve, but since Paul, one of the researchers was with us and this is so important we went closer. They had blood on their mouths and he wanted to see what they just killed. We spent 2 hours beforehand talking about the white lion project here (it's been featured on Discovery and Animal Planet). These were the only white lions anywhere in the world since the 1970s (until recently in another country as well- Zimbabwe?) Anyway, the two females were introduced and it was exciting for them to see them integrating with the 3 males. They were really happy to see them all hanging out together. So that was VERY exciting. There's another male who is off by himself and he's thin, so they're looking at him also, checking on him. He is #39. To name the wild animals, would be counter-intuitive. Instead, they are numbered and their collars' numbers are programmed into the telemetry system (scanners) So we checked on him too, but they said he still looks okay...another beauty. #39 was about 10 feet away from the vehicle.
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We were instructed to sit low and be very still and quiet, so that the lion thinks the vehicle is one big entity and not one big entity with 6 smaller ones inside.

Next, we walked over to a couple of linked watering holes, what they call the "Pearl Necklace". Now we had to follow Paul in single file and be quiet since we were in rhino and buffalo territory. So that was very exciting. I have no photos, unfortunately, because I was too afraid to move out of step in the line.

Next some giraffes were hanging out and eating. One crossed the road in front of us - 50 feet away or so, and we were trying to get a good look at one them who has some lumps on its shoulder - they want to see what is wrong with the giraffe - apparently, tranquilizing a giraffe is very risky and could be deadly, so that is really not an option. We all tried to get very good photos of the "lumpy" one for the staffers since we spotted them so close. This is one of the very close giraffes, not the lumpy one!

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We learned what we'll be spending most of our time on (not dam repair or poop study) is building a lookout point (for humans not animals). They need sometime out there that is a respite from the sun. So it's not all lion monitoring I guess. It's going to be hard, since we're in the brutal sun and we have no power tools. We are using all-natural materials in this construction. It won't be don't before we leave, but the major grunt work will have!

We also have to eradicate a group of eucalyptus trees, also. Time-permitting, we're making a guide to the rhinos - getting their photos, and stats, and microchip numbers on a big laminated posters. I also volunteered to help prepare microscope slides, but we'll see. We have building to do...... Steve has got to be careful of his back!!!!

Oh and we smelled lion poop and held an ostrich pelvis left over from a recent kill site. I've never washed my hands so well!

Anyway, it is really nice hearing from you all. We look forward to your comments each day. We are feeling a bit homesick for the girls. We'll keep you updated! Love hearing about the girls....

Steve and Dana

Posted by stevedana 09:50 Archived in South Africa Comments (6)

Back at Sanbona

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We're back at San bona. Cape Town was cool. Yes, it was very touristy, but we got some good souvenirs, and I don't know when/if we'll do that again - get souvenirs and be tourists. It was fun being a tourist for a few days! We went in a cable car up table mountain and that was cool.
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The view up there was spectacular (and it was cold up there). We could see Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned).

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There were a bunch of African drummers performing in the city.
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They were in full traditional garb.

We went to Boulders Beach to see African penguins - boy are they funny little creatures.
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It was nice to go to the beach community. I bought a few baskets from a woman there.
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The water was glistening in the sun and the wind was blowing around. Many of the penguins (male and female) were nesting on their eggs.
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We checked out a flea market, which was a lot of fun. There, we got Steve the sunglasses he was looking for - 2 pair of "Oakley" sunglass for the equivalent of $5! I bought some glass charms for my necklace for $3 each.
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We went to table view and ate and did touristy things. We really enjoyed our meal at Castello's at Table View. Our hotel room was like a Wyndham Garden Inn and it was nice - and we got this free huge breakfast and that was nice! Cape town is a really nice city.

We're back on the reserve and it feels like a totally different country here. It's dusty and desolate and hot and yet, beautiful, because this is where zebras and gemsbock are at home........

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We spent the afternoon tracking a lioness - the researchers were hoping to locate her. We never saw her, but the transmitter indicated that she was in a thicket. We also went up into a cave on a cliff and saw some ancient bushman cave paintings. They were really cool.

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The earliest ones were just finger prints, then as they evolved there are actually people and animals. We will hopefully be seeing several other sites during our stay.

After dinner, I played my first round of cricket and then touch-rugby with the staffers here. Boy is rugby tiring!!! I am covered in sweat as I write this. In the beginning, I was hitting the ball with the cricket bat like it was a baseball bat - old habits die hard. As the only American there, the others were perplexed as to why I held the bat as I did. Still, I got the hang of it! They are a tight-knit crew out here. After dinner, down time is always communal.

Steve is trying to figure out our checking account info. Our bank locked us out of our checking account even though there's $ in there! So we had about 15 bucks on us in Cape Town. That was crazy! NO CASH IN AFRICA! After this, we're making an expensive phone call. If you want to phone us, do it around 8PM our time (1PM your time) at 011-028-572-1827 or maybe it's just 011-28-572-1827. Not sure which one. We so miss the girls! Thats the hardest thing!

Not sure what we're doing tomorrow, but we're told we're supposed to repair a dam and we studying poo - to see if there's anything distinctive in the poo. I am actually looking forward to that!

Here's a short film I took of what it is like on the back of the Land Cruiser. Enjoy!

I hear we're supposed to feed the lions. There are two white lions here. White lions are fairly rare. They hope to reintroduce the species in the wild and that means that some poor ostrich needs to pay for the damage that humans have done to this lion species. I understand the "big picture", but it is still painful. The truth is that Jabo and Queen can't ever return to the wild and they don't eat celery sticks!

They staff (usually Paul or Jan) kills an animal (usually an ostrich with one gunshot to the head........sigh) and feed it to Queen and Jabo (Jabulani - which means "happiness" in Zulu), the two lions in captivity here. We're supposed to slaughter it up for them and toss it down a chute from the truck. I don't think I can do that! No one is allowed ever to be near the lions or be seen by them outside the vehicle. These are semi-wild lions, after all. Here are Jabo and Queen after being fed.
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These two are white lions and they were formerly someone's pets. Queen was heavily bred (like dogs by us) and so Sanbona took them. Since they were raised by humans in captivity, they'll never return to the wild so they have them in a huge pen, called a boma and they are fed. They had 3 cubs (3 males) and that's it for Queen. They have regular (tawny) lions here and they may breed with Jabo and Queen's boys (white lions), we'll see.

San bona means "vision of the bushpeople". So what they're trying to do is return this place to reflect the fauna of the bushpeople's times. That is going to take awhile after so much human destruction. They have introduced a few species here for the tourists, like the elephants. I'll keep you posted!

Posted by stevedana 09:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

We're in Cape Town!

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Hi guys! So great to hear from you! 60s in NH???? Are we getting snow in NJ? I HOPE NOT! We LOVE hearing about the girls, thanks for the update....we miss them soooo much! Stacey - you'll have to tell us about what happened to your chin when we get back. What's left? An eye? Uht ohhh.

So we rented a car - which is a HUGE undertaking, in the middle of nowhere. They drive almost 2 hours to come get us. It's worth the craziness, since we like our freedom so much! So we headed out to Cape Town today - a 2 and a half - 3 hour drive from the Sanbona's gate (which is an hour from Gondwana - the house we're staying in - the place is HUGE!). We stopped to get gas and the attendant wanted us to take his picture and in Afrikaans he tries to explain that he wanted us to mail it to him. I figured out what he was communicating, so he scribbled his address, so I guess we need to go to the post office when we get home! He was so thrilled to see the picture of himself in the digital camera!

The city is QUITE different. It is as if we are in another country here. It's very westernized. Cape town is spread out, not like New York. So we're by Table Mountain which is on the beach. The view and the sunset were spectacular!!!!
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Everything is beach around here - which is quite different from the semi-arid desert we came from. We're in an internet cafe, so this is costing $$$, so we'll keep it short. We're going out to dinner soon and tomorrow we go to Boulders Beach to check out penguins and then look for a flea market and also find Steve sunglasses....he needs them here!

Oh and here's a photo I took of our feet at Table View.
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On Monday we start work back at Sanbona, but we're not sure what we're doing. Last night was a late night. These guys can party!!! We turned in at 2AM and when we got up this morning at 8AM, the later party-ers were up playing music. Did they ever go to bed, I wonder? They're a fun and crazy group!

Anyway, off to dinner and sightseeing tomorrow. We're staying in a normal hotel tonight - you have no idea how nice that is!

Can't wait to show you pictures!!!! See you soon! The hardest thing is missing our girls and their funny sounds. Sometimes they snore in stereo, but Nit is def. the loudest. Kisses for them!!!!

Posted by stevedana 10:58 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

Getting to know Gondwana

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Hi guys! Wow - this is so cool! I love hearing from you all. Firstly, I have great peace of mind knowing the girls are fine! WHEW! Oh and when we flew down Africa we were above the clouds....but I imagined what was below: cascading sands of the Sahara, animals running in the jungle and the sounds of African drums....it was almost as cool as actually seeing something!

Anyway, we haven't worked yet. I think they want us to settle in to our new surroundings, plus it is extremely hot and they want us to acclimatize (especially since the Britons aren't used to the heat). We start on Monday. Today we went on some game drives, saw lions, giraffe, hippos, zebra, and so much cool stuff! We have been asked to count the animals we see and record them back at Gondwana. This helps the staff keep track of where everyone is hanging out, out there and how many there are.
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Tomorrow we rent a car and are heading into Cape Town. It's one hour to the gate, where we pick up the car and then 3 hours out to the city. The only definite plan we have is going to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. Otherwise, we'll see when we get there!

We went to Tilney Manor (the lodge) where the rich people stay while the cleaning crew was there. At a thousand bucks a night you can't imagine! I never saw a room like this before!!! There was an outside shower, beautiful linens, a gorgeous view.....I guess this is what the safari experience would be like for tourists! Here we are in the Land Rover after grabbing some food from Tilney - it's nice to be on the inside : )
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This morning, we were briefed by Ryno, one of the staff here about San bona and what they do here and where we fit in. It was very interesting and very cool to learn about the place. Their intention is to bring the place back to the way it was when the San people lived here (ancient ancestors), hence the name "sanbona". They use tourism to help pay for this endeavor. We are here to help the rangers. It's cool. It is amazing seeing all these animals...I can't even explain it.

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Well there's a party in the other room, so I'll make this short. Staff is young and they all live here - what an interesting lifestyle these people live. We had a tremendous view from here. We're in a valley surrounded by mountains and the African sky......
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The snakes are cobras, puff adders, crazy stuff. The scariest thing to me is this half scorpion-half spider thing. The girls in the room next to ours found one in there. Arghhhh! I sleep very close to Steve, needless to say. We are learning a lot here.

The people are interesting here. It is very much a mix of culture, even the language, Afrikaans is a mix of many languages. By the way, on the way down, we saw a woman holding bags in each hand with a huge bag on her head! What a Kodak moment!

Steve just took a dip in the pool and is hanging with the gang..
The music from the other room is calling me.....see you in a few days....
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It's so cool hear from our friends and family! I am delighted you are commenting....I didn't know what to expect. Take care of our girls......Going to sit outside with everyone!

Posted by stevedana 09:44 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (4)

We're Here!

January 4, 2007

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Well, we're here!!!
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It was a long day yesterday. We did fly into Amsterdam. We checked into an inexpensive room in Cape Town, with broken faucets and a dead bug on the bathroom floor, but after 18 hours in a plane we really didn't care! We arrived at night, so we couldn't see the barbed wire fence around our roadside hotel in the dark. We could see Table Mountain in the morning as well! We were both brimming with anticipation and were exhausted at the same time. We watched some South African TV and quickly fell asleep. The lobby seemed like the UN in the morning - all different kinds of people from all over the world milling around. We got a hotel shuttle to the airport to meet our new house mates!

After, a horrible breakfast at the airport, we drove off to San bona (meaning, "vision of the San") with our new house mates: Bex, Claire, and Lou. They were waiting for us at the airport as we were waiting for them, but we didn't know what anyone looked like! After some confusion, we all piled into a Volkswagen van. What was really cool is that these people were just as excited as we were! So it was cool to share the oooohs and ahhhs as baboons ran along the side of the road and we passed mountains. Steve is the only guy in the group - so he'll be getting in touch with his feminine side here! hahaaa.

Anyway, the reserve is in the middle of nowhere. There's Gondwana in there.
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We're at the volunteer/staff house (Gondwana) which is about an hour from the main gate. The other workers and volunteers are watching rugby and playing pool in the other room - so Steve isn't the only guy in the house! We all eat dinner in a common room with a beautiful view. It's a pretty nice set up out here in bush. They use a generator for power since there are no power lines out here.

When we got here, we were briefed on the rules and conditions of being here at Gondwana/Sanbona. Please don't worry but there are 3 extremely venomous snakes here, as well as scorpions and poisonous spiders. When we entered our room there were some huge crickets and moths in there, and Brett, our house manager said, "That's nothing!". So here's to exiting the comfort zone and experiencing something new. Steve is much more comfortable with it! I have already gotten past the little creepy crawlies - I step over them when I go into our room. We also shake out our boots in the morning, before putting them on, as a precaution. So I am getting there!! Also, Lou just reminded us that the gates are to be shut at night, so the lions don't wander in!

It was a bumpy ride in here on dirt roads. It is pretty isolated here and the people who work here, live here.
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In fact, Roland, one of the staff here is in charge of getting food and supplies in for everyone. This place is enormous!!!! So are the mountains. We don't know what we're doing tomorrow, but we start at 8AM after breakfast. This afternoon, Anja, one of the student coordinators took us for a ride in a land cruiser - now that was cool (and very bumpy)!!! We saw Springbok, Hippos, a yellow mongoose, and sit down for this one: a small herd of elephants! I almost wet my pants! One of our fellow volunteers, Bex, is 18 years old and she's got the enthusiasm for all of us, but we were ALL amped when we saw the elephants.

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I included two pictures, but they take a LONG time to upload out here and I don't want to hog the computer, so I don't think we'll be posting many images! (Sorry - photos are too slow......we'll show you when we return - I'll also put them in the blog the weekend we return)

We're off to bed.... See you soon! (Stacey - how are our girls!!? We miss them sooooo much).

Posted by stevedana 10:42 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (5)

San bona Anticipation......

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We don't really know what to expect from our experience at San bona. I'm blessed to be married to someone so open-minded & who is eagerly willing to along with my all my crazy designs! We expect this trip to change our lives! South Africa is beginning to feel real. Even all of my students have heard about our upcoming adventure. We have an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam on the way home - one of our favorite places.

I know we're also volunteering at a local South African school as well as at San bona. It will be interesting & sad to see the abject poverty firsthand. When we returned from spending time in a rural Mexican village where people lived with very little, we were inspired to simplify our own lives.

As I understand it, we are the only Americans in the group. We've already started communicating with our fellow volunteers, who all live in the UK. So far, there are 5 of us. We'll be living in a house with the other volunteers. There will be a common room for cards, games, music and hanging out in the evenings, as there isn't much to do at night in the middle of nowhere! We'll be volunteering in the morning and late afternoon, as midday gets very hot. We have weekends off also. We don't know how we're spending our weekends yet. Guess we'll find out when we get there! We're looking forward to our latest adventure! We'll try to keep everyone posted as best as we can in this travel blog!

Anyway, happy travels to you, wherever the winds happen to blow you....

PS - I don't know how often we'll be posting updates. I am not sure how it works, but you could try "subscribing" to our blog on the upper right corner of the screen.....and feel free to COMMENT on our blogs!

Posted by stevedana 16:30 Archived in South Africa Tagged volunteer Comments (6)

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