My name is Jake; I arrived in Knysna on September 10th 2017 where I was greeted by wonderful people and fantastic scenery. As I type this it is the 26th January 2018 and I am due to leave in 2 weeks, which I almost can’t bare to think about. I have had an amazing experience so far, doing things I never thought I would, meeting so many incredible people, ticking some things off the bucket list, but most importantly discovering the magic of helping others.
I am preparing to study environmental science at university, so I signed up for all the conservation projects.
The greatest of all these for me has to be the Elephant conservation as to get to spend so much time and be so close up to these fascinating animals is something I will always cherish and something not many people can say they’ve done. Along with this I got the opportunity to make two trips to Addo Elephant National Park where I saw 3 of the big 5 both times, just the illusive Leopard and Rhino eluding me. However to see an incredible amount of Elephants in their natural habitat and Lions dozing in the African sun was something I’ve always wanted to do and will always remember.
Another conservation project was the dolphin and whale, where I ticked yet another thing off the bucket list by seeing a Southern right whale mother and calf in the Indian Ocean. Even more stunning than that was seeing a Humpback whale go on a breaching frenzy, rising out of the water with incredible force and thumping back down with a tremendous splash. Not to mention the countless pods of playful bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the boat and a rare sunfish sighting.
The other conservation efforts included forest and tidal surveys. For the forest surveys we walked through the indigenous forests of Knysna, tracking any animals we saw or any signs of animal activity. The best of these for me included some close up vervet monkeys and some leopard scat, unfortunately no leopard sightings though. For the tidal surveys we recorded life we could see in rockpools at the coast such as starfish, limpets, mussels etc.
A slight surprise of mine was how much I have enjoyed the community projects, as I mainly came here for the conservation.
However, having seen so much of the townships and met so many amazing local people, doing my bit to help them has been an absolute pleasure and a truly humbling experience.
‘Ipana Banye’, Xhosa for ‘food sharing’ part of the food security programme. We made nutritious soup and took it up to the townships to feed as many people as possible. For some people this would be their own meal of the day, shocking to hear, but a tremendous thing to be a part of.
A personal favorite part of the community work for me was the sports coaching as I’ve grown up with football as a massive part of my life, playing it ever since I can remember. I had a regular group of around 30 kids which would come to most sessions and I coached them for around 2 months. It was fantastic to actually see the progress with the kids getting better through the weeks. They’d recognise me as soon as I came round the corner which was very nice in a personal way. Even if not all the kids were aspiring professional football players, just the fact I got to give them an hour or two of fun and distraction from the real world every few days is enough for me to call it a success. That’s what sport is all about, to me, and I’ll definitely never forget their broad smiles and the funny moments.
As I stayed with the project for 5 months, my stay spanned the Christmas break so I got a month off to travel before returning to Knysna. This isn’t exactly specific to the project but I feel is important as South Africa is truly the most beautiful and interesting country I’ve ever been to and if you’re lucky enough to come you should definitely put some time aside to see more of the country.
Firstly I travelled the well documented ‘Garden Route’ which included the Tsitsikamma National Park and Storms River Village. I highly recommend this place, if you’re the adventurous type as there’s lots of activities to do to get your blood pumping such as blackwater tubing. Even if you’re not there’s no shortage of walks and hikes through the stunning scenery. Nearby is the Bloukrans Bridge bungy jump I’d already done, a must for the adrenaline junkies.
I then got the bus to Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world as the local taxi drivers will have you believe. Of course I did the must see’s. Table mountain. stunning views of the city as expected. Lion’s head, a nice hike and stunning views again, great for sunset along with signal hill. Cape peninsula tour including Hout Bay, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, and of course the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Long Street, endless bars and clubs, a must for the party-goers. Especially if you’re there around new years eve as I was, I certainly won’t be forgetting new years eve 2017 in a hurry.
After ten days or so in Cape Town I rented a car travelled some more of the Western and Eastern Cape. This included: The West Coast National Park, The Cederberg Wilderness Area and sevilla rock art, Beaufort West and the Ko Ka Tsara game reserve, Graff-Reinet’s Cambdeboo National Park and Valley of Desolation, The Mountain Zebra National Park, Hogsback,Cintsa, Kei Mouth, Morgan’s Bay,and finally Addo Elephant National Park for the second time.