I LOVE YOU AFRICA!
Where do I start?...
I've been putting off this blog post since I got back (a week and a half ago) for a few reasons. 1) I've been a complete scatter brain since I got back. 2) I'm suffering from PAD (post-Africa depression). and 3) Even verbally, I'm struggling to find the words to explain my amazing experience. There really are no words that can do it justice. But I'll try.
The time I spent at Harnas Wildlife Foundation in Namibia was the best time of my life. Namibia is a country of mind-blowingly amazing wildlife, beautiful nature and land, and very special people. Harnas has all that and more. There's something magical about Harnas, something healing about it, something comforting about it. I felt like I belonged there, like it had been waiting for me to get there. For the entire two weeks I felt like I was receiving a giant hug from mother nature. Might sound a little wacky but there's no other way to describe the way it made me feel.
I experienced things that most people never will. I got lost in the African bush with a baby caracal, I took 4 cheetahs out for a "walk" (much like walking your cat, but without a harness!), I slept under the African sky with Atheno the cheetah and only one other person, I had my hand licked by a lion AND his sister, I gave some baboons a piggy back, I sat next to and brushed a full grown lioness, I met amazing people from all over the world, I, along with 12 other people and a baby baboon, built an enclosure for baby crocodiles, I met the neighbouring tribes people, I was given permission to go in to the cheetah enclosure whenever I wanted, and I got head-butts from leopards. And more. The list goes on!
Todays post is a pictoral and written account of each day at Harnas. I took over 2,500 photos in total, and I've uploaded just over 500 photos to an online album for those who would like to see more.
Day 1 - Monday 6th August
Welcome and champaign breakfast by Frikki and Danielle from Harnas in Namibia's capitol Windhoek.
Transported 3 hours to Harnas Wildlife Foundation, stopping at small city Gobabis on the way.
Drinks in the lapa on arrival and introduced to our guide Jaco.
Relax in our igloo accomodation "Bagera".
3 course dinner in the lapa at 7pm (we had a 3 course meal every night)
Early night - exhausted and jetlaged!
Our Igloo. From Day 1 we had this little cat, Spot, sleep on our bed. We loved him!
Day 2 - Orientation Day
Cold and cooked breakfast in the lapa 8am (this happened every day - we were treated like kings!)
Orientation training and Harnas induction (The story behind the sanctuary, realities, our living environment for the next two weeks, perceptions, what is in it for us)
Meet the lapa staff
Short tour in the open 4 x 4 safari truck (which became our regular ride): church, village, bauma, safe areas to walk!
Lunch at the lapa at 1pm
Meet the "young" volunteers (most are straight out of high school). We were doing the 'exclusive' volunteer program as opposed to the hard working youngens!
Tour of caracals, cheetah cub, Elsa the lioness, young leopards, baboons
Dinner at the lapa
Elsa the Lioness
Day 3 - Tour Day
Feed leopards and baboons
Animal orientation and reintroduction
Morning tour in the Lifeline - The Lifeline is a wild area (funded by Angelina Jolie!) where animals are/will be released. So far two brother cheetahs, a pack of wild dogs and a female cheetah named Pride have been released there. Pride mated with a wild male cheetah after release, and gave birth to two wild cheetah cubs. One sadly passed away but the other is now thriving. The day we left Harnas, another cheetah cub who came to Harnas as a result of his mother being shot, was introduced to Pride and her cub, in the hopes that she might adopt him. She did! Another amazing Harnas success story and part of the reason this place is so wonderful!
Tour of the lion, leopard, caracals, wild dog and baboon enclosures
Afternoon feeding of animals
Sundowner in the Lifeline - wine and beers while the sun set amongst wild animals - bliss!!!
Dinner at the lapa
Myself (wearing a CTM tee!) and the beautiful orphaned cheetah cub (who now has a mum!)
Me throwing a chunk of donkey meat to some hungry lions
Day 4 - Cheetah Day
Visit the Lifeline again - leopards, lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, caracals
Training input on cheetahs
Meet the cheetahs! We went into Atheno the young male cheetah's enclosure and interacted (cuddled!) him, followed by an enclosure housing 4 grown cheetahs and cuddled them too. From then on we were told we could go into those two enclosures with the cheetahs whenever we wanted!
Me and one of 'The Four'
Day 5 - Caracal Day
Meet the carcal babies and take them out for a "walk" or rather they walk you. That was evidenced by the fact that me and four other people got lost in the bush with the female baby caracal. She got spooked by some dogs barking, and we were told to stay with her, so we did. It was an adventure! She led us in to thick thorny terrain for what seemed like forever. Finally I took the lead and picked her up. We gave her some of our water and slowly started making our way back to where we thought we came from. Along the way we came across wild Springbok and giant Oryx, and we were later told there are also wild brown hyena that roam the area (!!). We were eventually found by our guide Jaco, who tracked out foot prints.
Lunch! Outside on baboon lookout
Meet the 3 legged and blind adult caracals
Meet vervet monkeys and birds
Dinner at the lapa
Myself and Ed, another volunteer, giving our runaway caracal some water. We are lost in the bush at this stage!
Day 6 - Leopard Day
Feed leopards, baboons and wild dogs.
Visit the young lions, Zee, Shiloh and Angie. This was amazing for me because we were told to bring our water bottles to hand feed the lions water! I had my hand licked by Zee, the beautiful male! His tongue was just like our kitty's sandpaper tongue, but it was about the size of my hand! I was on a high after that.
Training input on leopards
Clean leopard enclosure and waterhole - with 3 leopards present! We were greeted by them with lots of affection and playfulness. I was rubbed on and headbutted by leopards, which is probably one of the rarest things I'll ever do. Leopards are the least endangered of all the African big cats, but also the most elusive and hard to find. I know people who have been on safaris that lasted months and never even saw one leopard!
Start project. Each exclusive volunteer group are given a project to do on the sanctuary. Most groups just build a water hole, but we wanted to do something different. We opted to build an enclosure for baby crocodiles! Hard work, but amazingly rewarding. We also got to hang a plaque (made by me!) on the fence with our names on it.
Me hand feeding Shiloh some water from my bottle
Me and a leopard!
Day 7 - Nature Day
Late breakfast - 9am
Church at 11am - another rare experience. We got to see the singing and dancing of the Bushman, or San people
Nature walk - vegetation identification, how to make rope and a fire, tracking, survival. On our way to the nature walk we were so lucky to see the rare wild giraffes that roam the Harnas grounds!
Dinner amongst nature by the fire
Night walk and star gazing - you've never seen more amazing stars than in the African sky!
Day 8 - Research Day
Join the research team - the girls who monitor the released animals in the Lifeline (one of whom is a very cool Aussie!)
Track animals using GPS - I had a turn and was lucky enough to pick up Max the cheetah. He was too far deep in the bush for us to locate him though. We then moved on to find the wild dogs, followed by Pride the cheetah and her wild born cub. A great experience!
Cheetah walk with 'the Four'
Me on the front of the safari truck, tracking some cheetahs!
Pride and her wild cheetah cub found! They were eating from her latest kill - a springbok
Day 9 - Project Day
Work with young volunteers in food prep (the area the food is prepared for the animals). Feed caracals, baboons and store prepared food for afternoon feedings
Hang out with vervet monkeys
Relax for rest of morning
Work hard on our croc enclsoure
Me and Izzypoo
Cutting the fence for our croc enclosure
Day 10 - Culture Day
Culture visit to 'The Mission' - The Mission is a place run by the church and funded by the government. Local people live, go to school and work there. We were treated by some performances by the locals - some of the most beautiful harmonies I've ever heard!
Lunch on the road
Visit the San (Bushman) village. A very emotional experience - these people have no money and live on little to nothing. We took food and sweets for the kids. One of the German girls in our group gave them the shoes off her feet!
Get back to Harnas and work on the croc enclosure
Day 11 - Wild Dog Day
Meet the wild dogs and go into their enclosure. Very intimidating, as these are one of the most agressive animals on the sanctuary! It was asumed there were puppies somewhere in the enclosure, as it looked like a female was lactating, but we had no luck in finding them after looking for a few hours (their enclosures are huge!)
Work on croc enclosure
The night I'll never forget. Myself and one other girl, Christiane from Germany camped out with Atheno the cheetah. It was a wonderful experience, like no other! He was a big cuddly kitten! He slept in between the two of us all night. But when I say slept I don't mean sleep! None of us got much sleep due to the thunderous beat of Atheno's constant purr. Cheetahs are one of the only big cats that purr like domestic cats. Atheno literally snuggled with us all night. Every time I opened my eyes I'd see this big cheetah face staring at me and as soon as he saw I was awake he'd try and squish his head inside my sleeping bag! Other times he'd rest his head on my shoulder. I'll never forget it.
Before I could even get into my sleeping bag (typical cat)!
Day 12 - Baboon Day
Work on our croc enclosure
Finish croc enclosure!
Take the baboons out for a walk. So much fun! I had my water bottle stolen, but thats ok.
Dan and his buddies
Day 13 - Wish Day
Last day of animal interaction with your favourite animal - I hung out and played with the cheetah cub.
Make plaque with our group's names on it to hang on the croc enclosure. I also put the name 'Abu' on it. Abu is an 8 month old baboon, who was taken from his mother after she was shot, as a "pet" for some young children. After they got sick of him he was surrendered to Harnas. Abu caused havoc on the sanctuary nearly every day, interupting us for breakfast every day, stealing our sugar, fruit and ice cubes, and he was very much a part of the croc enclosure. Some days he pulled things apart, other days he helped shovel cement. We loved every second of his 'interruptions' and looked forward to the next time he interrupted. We loved him so much and I miss having him around. Such a sweetie!
Cultural Day on Harnas lawn. Performanced by local San children and volunteers who were game enough!
Watched Australia and South Africa play rugby in the TV room. Our first bit of TV watching in almost two weeks. I hadn't missed it at all...
Dinner - bbq
Yumi, Christiane and Abu shoveling cement
Our wonderful group. From left: Helga, Sabine, Christiane, Linda, Anke, Jytte, Ed, Beate, Yumi, Yoko, me, Dan
Day 14 - Lion Day and last full day at Harnas
Assit on the outside feeding again
Lunch in bauma
Visit the lions! We went in an enclosure with a 23 year old lioness named Elsa that I'd been visiting and talking to every day, and I was lucky enough to brush and stroke her. We then visited all the other lions on the sanctuary including Zee, Angie, Shiloh, Zion, Trust, Terri, Macho and more.
Lion Roar. Another amazing experience. At sunset we sat between all the lion enclosures and waited... and waited... and then it began. Two lions in seperate enclsures decided to have a race, and then Macho decided to assert his dominace. He began to roar. I was sitting a meter from him. All of the other lions answered his call and I felt something deep inside stir. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it again. The sound of lions roaring right next to you is amazing. I know I've said 'amazing' a thousand times, but thats the only word that comes close to describing it. It was so deep and loud, so powerful, so rhythmic and so beautiful. I could feel the vibration in my chest and through my feet on the ground. Tears streamed down my face during it. I felt so priviledged to experience that. When it ended we all sat in silence for a little while. And then it happened again! Another lion roar. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I've uploaded a video of it to You Tube, click here to check it out. You cant see anything because the sun had set by then, but its the sounds you want so turn the volume UP! Still, will sound nothing like it did in real life.
Lovely farewell dinner on the floor of the lapa - a special setting just for us.
When we went back to our accommodation that night, we were greeted as usual by our live-in cat, Spot (thats what I named him). Spot is one of the coolest cats I've ever met. He slept on our bed every night and loved us. We loved him back. On the last night when I was saying goodbye to him and telling him what a great cat he was, I started crying, and I didn't stop until we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa the next day. Actually, officially, I haven't stopped crying all together.
Me and Elsa
Me and Zee
Day 15, Monday 20th August - Departure/Sad Day
A very very sad day. As mentioned above, I started crying the night before and couldn't stop that morning. But I was not the only one. We had breakfast and then I spent some time saying goodbye to Atheno and Elsa, before we were awarded certificates and letters of recommendation (in case we want to volunteer or work with animals else where in the future). Our guide said something nice about each of us, as more tears flowed. He said I had so much passion, something I'm proud of. After this we went back to our accommodation to say one last gut-wrenching goodbye to Spot before we left Harnas as a group.
There were over 20 domestic cats on the sanctuary, and they were ALL so lovely and affectionate. But Spot was the coolest. I still miss him and get all teary when I think of him...
I will never ever forget my time at Harnas, and I hope one day I'm lucky enough to go back.
We spent the next few days in Cape Town. It was beautiful but it was hard to readjust to reality and Harnas was the only thing I thought about. Having said that, today is my third day back at work (after spending a week at home with my cats - who I missed dearly!), and I'm still struggling to adjust to reality and Harnas is still in my heart and on my mind 24/7. I can't recommend going there enough!