Welcome to the beautiful Cape Town, South Africa where we spent the next 8 weeks of our travel and volunteer adventure. Our accommodation was with a South African host family, where we lived in the southern suburbs of Cape Town in Grassy Park, and was the place we called “home” while performing our volunteer building assignment. We felt very lucky to have such a wonderful host family and accommodation - the Benjamin’s were always there when we needed them and super at accommodating for us when we asked to park our rental car on their property and when we asked to use their kitchen for cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 12 of our friends. It was so easy and nice to live with such a great family. We not only shared our accommodation with the 6 members of the Benjamin family, but we also had up to 7 other housemates from various parts of the world, most of which we traveled with on weekends for day trips and enjoyed many great times together.
Every workday we would get picked up and taken to our work site, in the informal settlement of Village Heights located within Lavender Hill in the Cape Town flats. Our work place was located behind the house of a resident of Village Heights from which they were operating a daycare. The partnership Projects Abroad had with Gift of Hope and the Zandvlei Trust was for the volunteers to build a community center for the children to have a safe and productive learning environment, and to be a place (in the future) for members of the community to come for classes - an exciting project by itself, but it was also selected as a featured project in that helped make Cape Town the World Design Capital of 2014. The project began 4 years ago and the volunteers before us had built a library, a classroom, a playground, and had added running water for a bathroom facility. We were asked to spend our time building the walls for another room, and adding a drainage system for clearing the rain water from the structures that will utilize the water for a garden expansion.
For the most part each day was spent mixing sand and concrete, digging and plastering - we became fine cement technicians and excellent plaster finishers! To add to the excitement of our work day, in any one day we had between 10 and 20 children on the building site, which, added to the fact that we were located between the Village Heights settlement and the Zandvlei Nature Reserve, our days involved seeing the hardships of life living in one of the poorest communities in Cape Town; the gang related activities in the settlement areas that impacted our work schedules; and the government’s interest in ensuring the informal settlement remained “informal” - no permanent structures are allowed - as well as their keen interest in the great work that was being done by volunteers for the people of this community; all in addition to our building work. Our project supervisor was instrumental in keeping all of these outside influences in check while also providing us his wonderful guidance and leadership as we continued to complete this partnership vision. Above all else we had a great and wonderful time on the building site. Our supervisor, teammates, the care givers, Macy (the dog on site) and yes, even all of the children made this hard working volunteer assignment a fun and fulfilling experience. We were very lucky that the last day of our assignment was the holiday party and graduation for a few of the children who would be going onto primary school in January. The party made it a fun celebratory day, but leaving the assignment and our supervisor, our teammates, and the children, who made us feel like family was more difficult than we ever imagined. We will truly miss our South African host family, housemates, our project supervisor, our work teammates and all those involved in developing the Gift of Hope.
We only had one week at our project in Bostwana and it was not nearly enough time (have you heard that before?). After the long flights from Barcelona, through Paris, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg to Polokwane, we finally got to walk around in the fresh air - before being shuffled into a van that didn't quite have enough seats for all 9 of us. Two hours later, we were at the South Africa/Botswana border, passports in hand, when we were informed that we would be walking from there. So bags in hand, we set off across the Limpopo river, entered Botswana, and were released into the wild for a week.
We only walked the quarter mile to Botswana's border patrol and then were picked up by a new vehicle (with more than enough seats) and drove into the bush to our camp. That night we were given a tour of the camp, shown the boundaries, informed on how we would be showering, and warned about the hyenas. The camp consisted of 6 tents and a bathroom in the volunteer area; a separate camp for the staff; and a common area where we ate, hung out between activities, and charged camera/kindle batteries.
Our project in Botswana was conservation, so we had plenty of activities to do while we were there, but because we were only there for one week, we only had the chance to do a few of the many we were told about.
The main activity we did in our week were censuses. We did at least one every day we were there, though every time we were at a different location (or hide). The first time our location was on top of a kopje (an isolated hill in a very flat area), where we sat and watched elephants, zebra, and a water buck for about 3 hours before heading home. We also had one census where all we did was try to identify birds (we weren't very good at that). And then another very special census that we did was an overnight in a hide which looked over a watering hole. We didn't see much that night, and we were very thankful to have the first two shifts, but it was very cool to sleep out in the bush underneath the full moon.
Our first manual labor activity that we had was road creation, where we spent a hot morning under the sun with pick axes, axes, a chainsaw, garden shears, and machetes taking down trees and clearing rocks from the path of the soon to be completed road. It sounds like the kind of activity that is the exact opposite of the reason we were there, but in creating a new road through the bush, they will be able to close off an old road, and allow the grasses to grow back.
The other manual labor activity that we did was fence removal, which sounds a lot easier than it actually was. Although that might have been more due to the conditions rather than the actual activity. The fence used to delineate the border between a farm and the private reserve we were working on, but after the reserve purchased the farm's property, the fence became a hazard to the animals there as they needed to be able to run freely without getting caught in the wire fence. The activity itself was us kneeling on the ground, bent over, untwisting wires from metal poles (about 12 per pole), and then moving the pole to a pile once all the wires were unattached. But then it was also hot. Really hot. We were informed it was 48.5°C (about 119°F) just before we left, and we got there about an hour and a half before sunset, so the flies in the area were going crazy to the point where there were hundreds surrounding each of us. Suffice it to say, we were very happy to go back to camp after that activity.
Since we were in the bushveld of Africa, it was pretty much assured that we would be seeing plenty of animals. And we definitely did! Between the three times we happened upon groups of more than 30 elephants, and all of the game drives and censuses we did, we had a pretty impressive week for seeing animals.
In addition to just seeing animals on our game drive, there were three pretty special moments where we saw something special and/or a little too close to "home" for comfort. The first encounter was on our second night in camp, as we were all leaving the communal area and heading back for our tents, joking to each other to not be attacked by a hyena on the short walk, we shined our head lamps out of the room and realized that there was a spotted hyena standing there, staring at us. Even though we were definitely more scary to her than she should have been to us, we were all pretty uncomfortable on the walk back to our tents. Our second moment was on a game drive we did after a pretty unsuccessful census, as we were driving between some kopjes, we were incredibly lucky and spotted a leopard lounging on a rock, who seemed to be just as interested in us as we were in it. And the final encounter was also in our camp, in the middle of the day. An elephant (named Captain) came into our camp and decided that our buckets full of water for laundry made a perfectly fine watering hole. So, as is natural when a massive animal is in your camp, everyone went to go watch him from about 30 feet away. He moved from the water onto the tree leaves, before deciding that he wanted the very small amount of water right next to us and moved very very verrrry close and trumpeted and knocked over a tree in his frustration at us. And even though we were incredibly tempted to run, we had to slowly creep away from him. It was a pretty exciting end to our trip in Botswana, that we will probably never experience again.
Because we were only there one week, we decided to put everything in one post for Botswana (sorry, no food posts!). We're both so glad that we did the conservation project and would have liked to have been able to stay for another week or two, but we've both agreed that any more than that would've been rough. We took cold bucket showers the entire week, because it is the dry season and there is no running water, and the food was typical camp food, so we were very happy when we got to Cape Town and enjoyed a nice, warm, indoor shower and a nice, warm, indoor breakfast. The work that is being done in the Tuli block is so impressive, especially as it is entirely private and not aided by the government at all.
Botswana Experience in 7 Words or Less
Living in nature and elephants every day.
Most Memorable Moment
Definitely when Captain the elephant "visited" our camp. It was one of those experiences that was wholly unanticipated, even though we were living in the bush, so when it happened it was quite surprising and exciting.
Things we do miss
Being so close to nature.
Things we don't miss
Being so close to nature.
One week in Botswana was not enough, but we probably wouldn't suggest a stay of longer than a month (some people really enjoyed their longer stays in the bush, many did not). Also. Always bring a flashlight. Everywhere.
Our accommodation in Rabat has been very different than in China as we are living in a large 5-bedroom house with all of the other volunteers. So far, we have had between 5 - 12 volunteers in the house, some of whom have stayed for just one week and others who have stayed (and are staying) for much longer (we currently have one volunteer who is staying until December). We all go to our placements in the morning, so by the time we arrive back for lunch we are sharing our daily stories and talking about what trips are being scheduled for the weekend. Our main shared living area is surrounded by comfortable couches, which we all like to lounge on with tables in the center for eating our meals together. Otherwise we hang out in our bedrooms. Here in Rabat we are spoiled; we have a full time cook, a cleaning lady, a security guard, a driver and a management team who work in the home and are available to take care of many of our needs and requests. We can’t remember the last time or if ever we had someone cook us 3 meals daily. Ann could definitely get used to this and Taylor can’t wait to get in the kitchen herself to cook all these delicious Moroccan dishes. Luckily for her, we have cooking lessons as part of our weekly “learning the culture” series taught to us by the house staff. The neighborhood we are living in is very nice and is filled with predominantly governmental embassies. It is very interesting how many flags of countries we need to look up, so we know whose embassy is close by. It’s a very quiet and walkable neighborhood and we enjoy being able to walk to our placements, Ann walks to the park in the morning, and we also enjoy the walk to our favorite ice cream cafe after dinner. As you walk down any of the streets, it’s hard not to notice all the 8-foot walls with decorated gates surrounding every house. At first, we wondered if the walls were there for safety and although that does make sense, we quickly learned the importance and significant emphasis the Moroccans’ place on privacy and their families.