Teaching at the school, helping at the orphanage and another thunderstorm

I woke up just before the wake up call at 6.30am. It was misty outside, only the second day it had been like that since we arrived. Luckily it meant it wasn’t too hot for the ellies when we mucked them out. When we had finished there I came back and had a quick shower, because you usually smell quite bad. There is even a dedicated draw for elephant gloves to try and stop your hands getting too dirty. Then I had a large breakfast, even eating an apple, because mucking out is quite hard work. We then had to prepare for teaching. Only half of us were doing this, whilst the others prepared the orphanage for building work. We left around 10.30am to get to the school for 11. Our group started teaching Grade 4 (10-11 year olds) at 11.30am. We didn’t have one of our group because he’d gone to help someone else teach a maths class.

Zulu children at school. Image from: suerego.com

There were around 40 pupils and we soon found they had only done one term of English. So we ended up making them each write a letter of the alphabet in capitals and lower case, and then write a word beginning with that letter and draw it. I had fun, but it was pretty hard at first to get across what we wanted them to do.

The next class we taught were Grade 6 who understood us much better, and we gave them scones. We played hangman with them and also helped them with the Social Science skills work. We asked them what they wanted to be when they were older and most said pilot, engineer, teacher, doctor and even president! When we did hangman one of them did ‘Ben Clock’, which we realised was ‘Big Ben’ so they did know a bit about England. Yet when we asked them what they knew about England they were silent. Perhaps they were shy or just told not to call out in class.

At around 2.30pm we got bored so went to the orphanage. It was just across the road, and we managed to get some sandwiches for lunch. I had cheese and lettuce, and tuna. We had to shut ourselves into the Quantum because the children hadn’t eaten yet. I hadn’t realised it was that late as I had munched on food so much during the morning.

Volunteer with child at the orphanage in the shelter. Image from: yearoutgroup.org

After eating we played with the orphans, they then sat in the shelter, prayed and we handed them food from the outdoor kitchen around the back of the orphanage. Then after the building materials had been delivered by John, I headed back with two others, plus the horsey girls. Two of the girls had sat in the back of the pick up to and from getting the building materials and said it had been a bit scary when they had gone fast!

African thunderstorm near Coffee Bay. Copywright Jon Hicks/Corbis. Image from: bingfotos.blogspot.co.uk

When we got back I chilled and wrote my diary until the others got back. I ate a leftover scone with some marmalade we had found in the fridge. The others got back after a while and the guys decided to play volleyball before a lovely dinner of spaghetti bolognese. Then another wonderful African thunderstorm started and Mark, the head ranger, turned off the power. We had thought when the power went off it was power cuts, but apparently it’s to stop any major damage happening from lightning striking the power cables. However, we had to wait to turn off the power because the guests at Manyatta were still eating. We had candles to sit by. One of the guys went to get trousers at around 8.30 and never came back because he had fallen asleep. I headed to bed at 9.20, read for a while and then slept. I woke up at 5am because the power came back on, which turned the air con on in our room. I shouldn’t complain though because our room was the only one with it in!


Climbing koppies, shopping in Malelane and baking scones

This morning we did some more weeding of the veggie patch before breakfast then it was our group’s turn to do the washing up. We were supposed to go into Malelane, but Manyatta had taken the Quantum we were meant to use. Instead Luke took us all on a bush walk. Most of the boys had gone to help set up some tables at Manyatta though, so we were left with just 3 of them. We climbed up a koppie known as Leopard Lair because the leopards are often found asleep there. Luckily they weren’t at home, but we got to see a beautiful golden orb web spider. We had to jump over quite a large gap to get up onto the top of the kopje, but the view from the top was spectacular. Getting down was much easier and one of the guys even tried pulling us down which was funny. One person did somehow manage to slide all over the place trying to get back down though.

Leopard. Image from: babies-dangerous-wild-animals.blogspot.co.uk

We returned to Gazebo for the usual lunch of sandwiches, then we headed into Malelane. My teaching group for the school headed to Superspar where we bought some pencils, paper and ingredients to make scones for the children. I also bought some coke, a bar of Top Deck, a Dairy Milk fruit and nut bar, lemon creams and a P.S. bar which is a lovely chocolate wafer bar. I needed a few other essentials so bought a black strappy top in Mr Price and a towel from Sheet Street. Then I went to the internet cafe where I bought a chocolate Freddo ice caffe, which was like a milkshake and they put whipped cream on the top that tasted amazing, but made me feel quite full. I didn’t get to use the Internet, but it didn’t really matter. The guys and some girls dropped into a shop on the way back to buy football tops and have their nicknames embroidered on the back. Luke bought some very cheap avocadoes so him and his girlfriend could make ice cream.

Superspar in Malelane. Image from: tracks4africa.co.za

We spent quite a while in town so when we got back it was time to make dinner which was pap and beef. Here the meat is mostly bones, but you get used to it and you shouldn’t waste anything anyway. I forgot that on the way up to the koppie this morning we actually saw a bateleur and learnt that it has very prominent fingers and bent wings. It has brilliant eyesight so the vultures tend to follow it, as they were this morning. We also shouted ‘Manyatta’ and ‘Gazebo’ really loud and it made a cool echo!

Bateleur eagle. Image from: simonthomsett.wildlifedirect.org

This evening we made scones after we had finished washing up. We managed to bake loads of small ones and four big ones, so we all had one to try. In the supermarket this morning we bought jam and that cream you can spray so that they would be proper scones! We ended up having a huge flour fight with the flour we had used to roll the scones out on the counter. I had it all over my face and top, Boyboy had it all over his head and John had some on his face so decided he wanted to put more on mine… It was really fun though and all the others wondered what was going on when we kept appearing covered in flour. We were all quite tired and I headed to bed at around 10pm.

Football and a spectacular thunderstorm

I woke up at 8.45am because either the cleaners or John had put on loud music. I sat in the hammocks writing this diary and was grateful for the long lie in I had managed. The pool looked really mucky after everyone jumped in it last night. I saw some pied wagtails flying around then went to have breakfast. I had a bacon butty, melon, 2 pieces of bread with peanut butter, because there wasn’t enough to have a sandwich and some baked beans. It does sound weird looking back, but it was a really yummy meal. After breakfast we all just sat around talking on the sofas until lunch.

We learnt the other day that all the airports are closed in England because there is ash over them due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. It sounds exciting! Lunch was the usual awesome pasta. I love the way they add oil, peppers and courgettes. It is so simple, but tastes delicious.

Playing football against some locals. Image from: theleap.co.uk


At around 3 we went to a nearby town to watch some of the others play football against a team of local teachers. We thought the referee was biased. The first half of the game was 30 mins, and the second an hour so they could equalise 2-2. The match then went to penalties, and we lost because our goalie missed, bless him. Just after we had finished it started to rain, which wasn’t surprising because the sky around us had been getting darker. Then on the way back it got even darker and there was thunder and lightning. It looked spectacular and you could see the lightning behind the clouds and it striking the ground. It was truly awesome. We stopped at a few places to get chocolate and biscuits although I didn’t buy anything.

African thunderstorm. Image from: mitchellkrog.com

When we arrived back Mark turned the power off, but we thought it was a proper power cut. We ate supper by candle light. The storm raged on around us and it started to rain heavily. Tom used my torch to help get supper ready. Then I went to bed because there wasn’t much to do.

Successful leopard baiting, learning Afrikaans, SiSwati and Tsonga, and a big party

Today we had a lovely lie in until 8. It was my roommate’s birthday so we had quite a chilled out day! We were meant to be doing an Afrikaans and SiSwati lesson, but we swapped it to the afternoon because Mark returned at 10 to try leopard baiting again. Hopefully we would be more successful this time! We were meant to do firewood collection this morning but unfortunately we ran out of time.

We set off with Mark to the rifle range so he could get some practice in and adjust the sites on the gun. Then we drove around for about an hour and a half looking, but we couldn’t find a suitable impala out on the reserve. However, when we were returning to Gazebo there was a perfect herd right by the dam so one of those was shot and loaded into the back of the game drive vehicle. We then drove the short distance to Gazebo for a lunch of salad and jacket potato with melted cheese and bacon pieces on top, as well as a roux sauce over the top. It was very filling and tasty, John is just a brilliant chef. It should keep the hunger at bay for a while!

Leopards like to chill out up trees. Image from: Wikimedia Commons by Wegmann

After lunch we drove out into the bush, got the impala out onto the road, tied wire through its feet so we could attach it to the back of the vehicle and drag it through the bush. The task was then to cut open its belly to allow the internal organs to fall out, which would leave a scent trail that a leopard would hopefully pick up. The tricky part was cutting it open without making a hole in the stomach, because you’ll be hit in the face with gas and a horrible smell. It smelt bad enough just opening it up, most likely because we had left it over lunch in the back of a hot vehicle! Anyway we finished this and dragged it along the road behind us and the guts fell out like we had planned. Then one of the guys pulled it up a tree which had a perfect branch for a leopard to laze around on. The hope is that we get leopards used to the smell of humans so they aren’t afraid of coming near the road and visitors are more likely to see them. We checked two more bait sites but the meat had only been eaten by ants.

Tying leopard bait up a tree; in this case it is a wildebeest leg. Image from: eebplymouth.blogspot.co.uk

After we got back we had our language lesson, learning SiSwati and Tsonga from Boyboy and Afrikaans from another ranger. I picked up the pronunciation of Boyboy’s quickly after writing it out in phonetics. African languages are usually written as they sound anyway, so they aren’t too bad to learn. Boyboy said I was the best and gave me thumbs up! I’m glad he thought I was doing his language justice! The other ranger asked if I spoke German because Afrikaans has a similar harsh sound. I guess I am just good at languages because I went to school with quite a few German people and speak French and Spanish.

The day had been a hot one so I went for a shower after the language lesson. That has actually been the trend for the last few days. Sweat is literally pouring off most of us! We then started the party preparations! We laid four tables out in a square in the boma, put banana leaves on them and flower arrangements in pots. There were really pretty placemats and we had our plates put out on the table all ready for later. There was even a banner saying ‘Happy 19th’ as well as balloons hung with fish wire from the ceiling. I feel we managed to rustle together some pretty good decorations for being out in the bush. We ate all the normal braai food with a nice salsa sauce and a bean mix thing which was very good!

The pool people jumped into. Image from: psamarketing.co.uk

Then we started the party with the big speakers plugged in. We danced a bit and had some great chats. A few people decided to go into the pool in just their underwear. Someone pushed Jo and Shaun, the elephant guy who lives in Kingfisher just over the other side of the dam, in. One of the guys made us toast as we were hungry. How can such a simple thing taste so good? I went to bed at around 2 tired from the day’s activities.

Leopard baiting and a small party

We all managed a lie in this morning until 6.30! I never thought I would be saying that 6.30am is a lie in, but when you are staying somewhere as beautiful as this you don’t really mind. Today our group’s before breakfast chore was to clean the lapa which is probably the easiest chore and pretty much just involves sweeping the floor, wiping tables and making a new flower arrangement if you want!

The lapa. Image from: http://www.psamarketing.co.uk

This morning we were all working together on road maintenance. Filling in holes by digging up sun baked soil isn’t easy and I would hope it is making me more muscly. We saw the ellies coming back from their morning walk which was lovely. I also somehow managed to get more cuts on my legs from thorns. I’m not sure if I would want to live in an environment with these thorny plants all the time.

Lunch was macaroni, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough to go around so I had a peanut butter and jam sandwich as well. It was our chore group’s turn to collect elephant branches, but it took ages because there was only one elephant keeper to help us. Luckily two of the guys decided to help so Samson didn’t end up doing too much of the work. Us girls didn’t just sit around though! Our job was to carry all the branches back to the trailer and load them in. When we had finished we all hopped onto the tractor to ride back to the stables. We usually sat with two people on each wheel, and the rest in the trailer or standing on the join between the tractor and the trailer. This time we even gave the rest of the group a lift back to Gazebo because we were passing by anyway, so in the end the trailer was quite full! Once we had dropped them at Gazebo we offloaded the branches at the stables and managed to get a glimpse at the new horses!

Some of the horses. Image from: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk

We returned to Gazebo when one of the rangers arrived to give us a lift back and relaxed until dinner. We got a delivery of new furniture which was exciting, including a new sofa with waterproof cushions for outside! Apparently there should be some bar stools coming soon too! One of the rangers also decided to try fishing in the swimming pool, declaring ‘I want to try and catch a big fish’. It may sometimes look quite grimy in there, but I’m pretty sure it’s not got fish in it! Dinner was a lovely beef stir fry with rice. One of the guys ate most of the rice leftovers which was a huge amount, and I don’t know how he managed it!

No fish in this pool! Image from: http://www.tripadvisor.com

After dinner we went out leopard baiting with the head ranger Mark who is a great character. Unfortunately we didn’t find any impala to shoot because you should only really shoot from a bachelor herd, but it was still great fun. When we got back Mark stayed to join us for a small party because at midnight it was one of the gappers’ birthdays! We all said happy birthday then headed to bed, with a thunderstorm and rain overhead. Luckily I was so tired I managed to sleep through most of it. I’m started to get excited for the visit to Swaziland on Monday. This place is lovely and the people so great I will miss it masses when I go!

Game drives, road maintenance and playing forty forty in the dark

This morning we woke up at 5.30 to leave for a game drive at 6 to try and find the lions. We are such a big group that we need two game drive vehicles, and luckily I happened to be in my favourite rangers today. He drove really well, but the problem with having no sides means you are always getting scratched by thorns. We managed to see the lions tracks, and he got out to follow them but they were headed into the dense bush. However, we saw plenty of other animals including wildebeest, zebra, impala and giraffe. Whilst in the kopjes we also caught a glimpse of some klipspringer, which have feet so small all four of them can fit onto a 50 pence.

Klipspringer. Image source: http://www.edgeoftheplank.com

During the game drive we had to go help a ranger who had got stuck in a dry, sandy riverbed. It happens an awful lot in this terrain and you just have to hope your radio has battery left otherwise you might be there a while. After his vehicle had got pulled free we went down ‘Secret Road’ which has an old river down the middle of it, which meant we bounced all over the place! It had been really cold on the drive to start with, but by the time we got back it was just starting to warm up.

We got back at about 9am for breakfast, and then headed off to our respective tasks at 10. I decided to do road maintenance, but the rest of the girls went off to see the survival shelter which we’ve now called ‘Mock Charge’. Technically we should call it a boma, because that’s what it is i.e. an enclosed shelter like area. Anyway, I headed off with the boys and we found the pipe we were meant to be using to drain the road although there was a slight problem. The pipe was already in the ground being used to drain some other bit of round. Apparently this didn’t matter though and we proceeded to dig it up, first around the sides then trying to lever it out using a pickaxe.

Our pipe was about half the size of those pictured above, and a bit longer. Image source: http://www.kscranston.com

Eventually it was free and we rolled it along the road and into the hole we had dug previously! We then covered the pipe with soil, and filled the rest of the ditch with rocks, and covered those with soil too. However, that was short lived when another ranger arrived and told us we’d done it wrong, so off the soil came from the top of the rocks, more rocks were added, then grass, and then finally the soil. Mission accomplished, let’s just hope it works next time it rains. At one point the two tame elephants were being taken for their morning walk, so we had to move out the way. I may call them tame, but you still wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of them!

The elephants at Kwa Madwala. Image source: http://www.psamarketing.co.uk

We returned around 1pm for lunch, and personally I was pretty warm and tired. Returning late to lunch also meant there was no margarine left, but I had jam on bread, and a lettuce and cheese sandwich. The afternoon was great, because we had it off and we all greatly enjoyed the break from manual labour. Dinner came round sooner than we wanted , but was a lovely chicken pie and a really good salad. It was lovely to eat greens for a change!

After dinner we decided to have a bit of fun playing ‘forty forty’ which I hadn’t played for years. We all got dressed up in black so we were harder to find, and went and hid in various places around Gazebo. The problem is most of us kept forgetting there was a stream that went down the side of the lapa and most people nearly or did fall in it. On one occasion someone even fell in the terrapin pool! It was such a great game and we all had great fun playing it!

What’s that sound? Is it an elephant?

This morning we were woken up just before six. I think I am slowly getting used to these early mornings, but a ranger still had to come an knock on our door to wake us up. We then headed out anti-poaching at 6.30am, this time splitting into several different groups instead of stretching out in one long line. Our group didn’t find any, but one of the others found 4! I expect we found so many because we were close to the edge of the reserve, where presumably the poachers sneak in. However, we did find a skull. I managed to correctly identify an aardvark’s hole which I was happy about. I’m clearly starting to learn things whilst being out here. We also saw a baby porcupine’s footprints, but still no sign of the actual animal!

Porcupine. Image from: safarinow.com / South Africa Tourism

Whilst we were out this morning, we heard the breaking of some tree branches nearby and all stopped in our tracks. This is the telltale noise that elephants make, so we all quickly looked around for a tree to scale. It would just so happen that we were surrounded by horribly spiky acacia trees, which no one would want to climb. Luckily, after calling out we discovered it was one of the other groups making the noise. Phew! I would not have liked to encounter elephants in that spot.

Acacia trees can have pretty big spikes. Image from: bhamed.wordpress.com

Just after the ‘elephant incident’ we came up to the road and fence surrounding this side of the reserve. There were some rhino tracks in the road, showing that some had passed that way just this morning. Further along the road on the way back we did actually encounter very fresh elephant tracks. There had been some nearby after all! In true elephant style they had knocked a tree over into the road, but the guys managed to heave it out of the way.

Elephants eating an acacia tree they knocked down. Image from: Wikimedia Commons/ Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa

After all the walking, I had a big breakfast then we headed out to the survival shelter to continue building up the walls with branches. We came back at 12pm for lunch, and I managed to grab my laundry. It smelled so good, especially after enduring the smell of sweat everyday. After lunch, a group of us headed out to do more road maintenance on the road up to Manyatta. We dug a pretty big hole for a pipe we don’t even know the size of yet. The hope is that it will help drain the water away from the road, as a puddle always forms there when it rains. When we had finished for the day we were given a lift back to Gazebo which was very welcome! Digging into the dry soil that forms the road is hard work. It really isn’t a great distance at all back to lodge, but on this day we didn’t mind.