My Birthday, time for a road trip!
Well this week started pretty awesome! Monday morning I got up and went out to the boma with the girls and we cleared out all the pens as usual then at 8:30am I was on data and tried to catch up with yet more Activity budget data. I then went out in the field with the girls at 10:30 to do nearest neighbour. It was nice being out there and getting to watch the elephants without constantly having to write stuff down! So I very much enjoyed it. Then Alice and I watched some True Blood while we stayed out of the sun and had some lunch.
That evening we had a Braai to celebrate Jane's birthday today and my birthday tomorrow. Maya and Wayne had prepared the whole dinner, though Laurie did make some cupcakes and I made Jelly. The food was delicious and I felt as full as I do on Christmas day. Then after the plates were cleared away I was presented with a Birthday cupcake complete with candle, and because Jane was allergic to Wheat she had a cut out slap of Jelly with sprinkles on it and a candle to top it off. It was hilarious! So the cup cakes went down a treat with Jelly and ice cream and finally I was too full to move! With that we all sat around the table chatting for a bit, and finally when everyone had gone to bed Alice and I sat up in bed and finished our episode of True Blood!
Tuesday was my 23rd birthday, but to be honest I didn't feel that old! I opened my card from Nan and G.P, then got up and started the day as usual. I made up Hay bales in the morning with Vania, but then I had an allergic reaction so had to keep away from that for the rest of the day which was a little annoying! I then went out on camera duty to film what happens at the barrier when the tractor arrives and the elephants are fed fruit. It was to assess how greedy Sally is and see how little food the baby's were getting. But then there were no tours first thing that morning so I spent my two hour shift just watching the herd until the first tractor arrived and Wayne took me off camera duty.
When I got back Alice, Charlotte, Laurie and I went out to do an AB comparison on Thandi to make sure that we were all reading the elephant behavior properly and taking down all the relevant information. It was hard though because Nathan and Ben kept trying to call while I was watching Thandi and I had to keep hanging up on them so I could see the time on my phone. Eventually though I rang my brother back and he wished me happy birthday and I had a nice chat with him about work and the elephant park. I hadn't talked to him properly in a long time so it was great to catch up and hear about what he had been up to.
That afternoon I was helped make the enrichments for the ellies. Enrichments are to give the elephants something to do so that they don't get too bored and work for their food. The buckets hang from pulleys on the ceiling with two holes in the bottom. The bottom is the filled with straw that pokes out the holes and then filled with pellets. The buckets are let down only as far as they can reach with the tips of their trunks so they have to work hard to get the straw out so that they can then knock out the pellets. So basically I was making up their buckets ready for browse time…though I just knew Namib and Harry would get to theirs beforehand…damn them being so big!
I had a break after that and then finished helping out in the boma. Alice and I then watched an episode of true blood before dinner, which consisted of all the leftovers from last night! Yum! I then went out to see the ellies and give them their enrichments but I also gave Thato, Thandi and Keisha some pellets and a scratch on the trunk. Thato put her trunk up so that I would put the pellets straight in her mouth and then she sort of sucked my hand I guess it was kind of gross, but at the same time very cute in a baby sort of way. It made me think of little Grace and how she sucks my thumb when she falls asleep. Well after that Alice and I played cards, I was rubbish at a game called slam where I could not for the life of me get my cards down quick enough, but then the phone rang and I got to talk to Ben as well as escape a humiliating defeat! It was a lovely night and so different to how I was celebrating my birthday last year that I felt like I was in another world entirely.
Wednesday was quite busy. I was doing Activity Budget on Nandi at 6.30 this morning and so I followed the elephants out of the boma that morning and walked with them to the old boma where they got to spend the morning grazing to their hearts content. Alice and Clara then came out and said that they were planning on going out for lunch if I would like to go during my break so I came in and swapped my data and break shift around and typed up Nandi's Activity Budget.
When Clara and Alice came in we changed into our flip flops and headed into town to the cute French café. We sat there chatting away with our drinks until the food came. I decided to have apple crumble and oh my goodness it was amazing. One of the best apple crumbles I had ever tasted. I could have quite happily eaten it again, but alas we had to head back to the elephant park to help with the sawdust.
When we got back nobody was in the boma which could have only meant one thing…no sawdust! Big woop! So the three of us made our way back to the office to work on some more data and their I stayed until my last shift out in the field watching Nandi. I did the 12.30 to 18.30 shift so as I had this morning I got to walk with the elephants back to the boma. They kept picking up pace and Thandi was so excited to get back to the boma that she started trumpeting loudly when we could see the boma from the bottom of the road. It was so cute watching them running up the road trying to be the first to get into the boma and have dinner.
That evening Alice and I had dinner and watched an episode of True blood before going to bed. I can't believe how much we love watching it; it is really so terrible that it's brilliant.
Thursday morning I was first in the boma, collecting dung and cleaning pens. I then had some time to type up the last of my Nandi data before the office meeting. Debbie, Laurie, Lisa, Charlotte and I got together and talked about what all our duties were now that we had settled in and they gave out new projects for me to do. I now teach the new volunteers how to type up data and also how to do Activity Budgets. My data project is put on hold until Lisa has finished collecting her data and I am to travel with her to Indalu when the elephants are relocated, so I am pretty happy about that.
That evening Alice and I went out into the boma to do browse and I took my camera with me to take some pictures. After we had pulled the branches in Alice and I gave Keisha Thandi and Thato some pellets and got a few pictures of us feeding them. It was wonderful to be able to say good night. By doing so it helps with them getting to know us, and Thato and Keisha do seem to recognize us now, which is great. So after saying goodnight to the ellies Alice and I headed off to bed too.
So today has been a bit manic to say the least, right now I am sitting in a lush flat with Alice at a little backpackers half way to Addo. How we came to be here was a complete whim and a matter of running out of time to get away so here we are! This morning started out like a normal Friday, we got up and went to the boma to collect dung and pick up all the old branches the ellies had munched on through the night, then it was off out in the garden to try and get the volunteer area looking half as good as the employees vegetable garden.
Maya and Wayne have been doing a fantastic job getting a fence made and planting all the butternut squashes that seem to grow out of every dung ball around the park. I was trying to weed but the ground was unbelievably hard-even after watering it- so I went and added ellie dung compost to all the car tyres that we use as flower pots, dead headed the plants and tried to make sense of what I can only assume was a tomato bush instead of a tomato plant. All those years in the garden with mum I guess paid off in the end!
After a couple of hours in the garden I was on duty to weight the fruit buckets and count all the different numbers of pieces and fruit varieties etc so that we can tell how much of what fruit the ellies eat and then we can tell the percentage of what ellies get when we do Activity Budgets on them. I then came in and quickly typed up the data. Once that was done Laurie came into tell Alice and I that the Indalu trip was definitely not happening this weekend but could be any day after that for the next three weeks so if Alice wanted to do a trip somewhere then this weekend was the best time to do it.
We walked off to the computer room deciding what to do and before long we were ringing around trying to hire cars and book backpackers etc etc. At first we wanted to go to Addo, but the accommodation was full, then we couldn't find a car in Plett, but after some persistence we found a car, booked some backpackers and planned an itinerary (well I planned the itinerary…I just can't not be organized!).
At 2pm we were dropped into town to get some groceries as usual, so Alice and I picked up everything we needed for the trip and then got dropped off at the car rental place to get our car. Unfortunately it hadn't arrived back from George yet so we had to wait in the hotel lobby for an hour until we could pick it up. We finished organizing our trip and costing things up, then finally the car arrived and we were ready to get back to the park. We drove back, had a quick shower, packed and at 6pm were finally on our way to our first stop - Jeffrey's bay.
It wasn't too long a drive to Jeffrey's bay, our first stop for the weekend. We followed the N2 past Plettenberg bay and Tsitsikama and made it to Jeffrey's bay with no problems. However I did kind of direct us to the wrong back packers at first, I was turned onto the next page of our coast to coast book, but I did finally realise it was the wrong place and after fifteen minutes or so we finally made our way to Cristal cove, parked and went to check in. Unfortunately the guy at the desk had given our room away to the people who had just arrived on the Baz bus! My heart sank. If only I had not gotten us lost then we would have been fine! However the guy at the front desk felt really bad because there were no more rooms available, so instead he took us across the road to one of the flats that people can book out, and said that for his mistake we could stay there free of charge! Well that was certainly a change of events! Here we were in this huge flat all to ourselves, and we settled in very nicely indeed. Eventually Alice and I made our way back over the road to the bar in the backpackers
We sat down and planned on just having one drink before bed, but then a whole bunch of people staying at the backpackers joined us and before long we were heading out into town to the local hang out on a Friday night. It seemed that every person from Crystal cove had gone out that night, and we had a blast! Us girls danced the night away, and every so often we would go to the bar and have a jelly shot, the technique of getting it out the shot glass I was yet to master, so Alice was constantly laughing at me for not doing it right. Then finally it was closing time and we all made our way back to Crystal cove. A few of us stayed up for a bit when we got back, there were a few guys that had been training as dive masters so we talked to them about the best places to go diving, apparently there is a Shark diving place which will take you out not in a cage, which means doing some actual proper diving with sharks…awesome! But then it was starting to get late so Alice and I said goodnight to everyone and went back to the swanky flat. Now I am laying here in a huge comfy bed with the doors to the balcony open and an amazing sea breeze blowing into the room. It reminds me of the backpackers I Durban with the cool salty air and a feeling of total relaxation. Aaah bliss!
Saturday morning I did not enjoy waking up, needless to say I had had one jelly shot too many. I got myself out of bed, had a shower and ate some breakfast after which I was feeling a little better. Alice emerged a while later slightly more worse for wear than me and we giggled and chatted about how much fun we had last night, even if we were paying for it now. Well anyway once we were up and showered we headed off to a nearby restaurant for pizza, which I must say cleared the hangover right up!
We then came back to the backpackers, picked up some vouchers and headed back out with some of the people we met the night before to see if we could get ourselves some cheap surf shop stuff. After a very pleasant walk and a trip to billabong I emerged with a nice new pair of boardshorts that only set me back £12, so I was quite pleased. Then we went off to the beach with the guys to check out the famous Jeffrey' bay tubes, which are basically big waves that surfers can surf through. They were not too impressive seeing as the weather was quite mild, but the beach was still lovely and we had fun walking along it watching all the sea snail trying to avoid the beached jellyfish.
Soon enough, it was time to set off to Port Elizabeth so we said goodbye to our new friends and headed of in search of our new backpackers. The trip to P.E was not bad, it was just the journey through it trying to find a backpackers with the worst instructions known to mankind. We must have asked four different people at petrol stations but they all gave different directions. I finally became too flustered to keep on driving so Alice took over. After about ten more minutes of hopeless driving finally spotted a street sign that was in the instructions and so we finally found our way and made it safely to the Hippo backpackers. It was quiet, and we were the only guests at the time, bliss after such a busy day and the dreadful hangover! We unpacked, went down to the communal area to make dinner and sat on the sofa eating dinner, enjoying the season finale of True blood! After that it was quickly off to bed because we had to be well rested for our big day at Addo!
Sunday was amazing! We were up at 5.30 and left at 6am to get to Addo. I drove us there while Alice had a little nap in the car, and I woke her up outside the big sign so that she could have her picture taken next to it. I immediately grinned because only a few months earlier I had come here with Ben, had my picture taken under the sign and then had the best time watching the animals. I could not wait to show Alice what we had seen! We started off at the main camp, at the interactive centre and the gift shop, then by 8am we were going through the gate into the main park and headed to Domskrag dam.
The first animals we saw were zebra, about 6 of them rolling around in the dirt, and a baby trying to keep up with the herd. We watched them until they finally took off and went over the hill, then kept driving until we came across our first big bull elephant and some red hartebeest laying under some bushes. The male was having a bath, and threw mud and dust everywhere. He was magnificent, but quite far away so we left him to it and went on to find some eland, warthogs and ostriches before coming up to one of my favourite spots, where we got to enjoy watching a couple of male Buffalo, or Daggaboys wallowing in the muddy waters. I was so delighted to see them, Ben and I had searched for days following all the tracks and spoor, not to mention driving to all the places where they had been sighted earlier in the day. Finally I was sitting there watching the first buffalo I had seen in months. It'so sifficult to see buffalo roaming freely now because there is such a high risk of TB at the moment, causing all the reserves to put the buffalo into boma's away from other animal interactions. It was great therefore to see them enjoying the day and sitting in the cool waters of the dam. After that I did not think the day could get much better, but off we went to my favourite spot, Harpoor Dam, and I was left speechless! Sadly the baby Egyptian geese and the meerkats that Ben and I had gone so often to see were no longer there, however, instead there was the most amazing aggregation on elephants I had ever seen!
About 200 elephants had come to Harpoor Dam to Mud bath, drink, play, spar and feed. There were herds everywhere, with baby elephants running after other each other, and the older elephants trying to steer them back to their herds. Males were gathering on mass, greeting each other and sparring. It was an Activity budget nightmare! Everywhere you looked there were crowds of elephants, and so we sat ourselves on the road and took in the 360O view. We must have sat there for about an hour just enjoying everything the elephant interactions. I was now a lot more aware of their behaviours towards others and was constantly trying to spot self directed behaviours or trying to work out the tiniest movements. I realised that elephants in the wild were so much more different to ours at the park, and I felt bad that ours had just the park to live in when they used to be or could have been in the wild with countless other elephants. It was really an amazing sighting and one which I will never forget.
We carried on our way and I took Alice to Spekboom bird hide where I had stayed before. We waited to see if anything would come, but I figured the elephants were all headed to or at the dam, so we left and went to have lunch at Jack the Rhino's picnic spot. We sat there with our sandwiches and leftovers from the night before. We were joined by some birds and what looked like a small plated lizard who watched us while we ate. Finally though it was time to head off again so we went down south for the afternoon, where we came across some very lovely looking buzzards and baby warthogs. They were adorable! We went over the road into the southern section of the park and almost immediately were surrounded by orange elephants. The soil over the hill is really clayish so the mud baths turn the elephants orange and they end up looking like they had a bad run in with some fake tan or an oompa loompa. A male was being chased away by some females, and unfortunately or car just so happened to be right in the way of the elephant pathway. Alice got a little worried but I told her to back up just a little so that they could cross the road and then stay still, because we did not want to start a game with them. So as we sat in our little car the male and the entire herd walked past the car, so close that we could have reached out and touched them. I think it is amazing how much more relaxed they are here compared to places like Kruger.
So anyway after the ellies had passed us we went for a little drive around, though there was not as much as this morning, just some kudu and more warthogs. The baby kudu was so cute though, this little scrawny thing with huge ears, it's definitely going to have to grow into them. Well anyway it was still quite early so we decided to go back up for one last visit to Harpoor dam before heading back to Port Elizabeth. There were still hundreds of elephants around and also a wonderful yellow mongoose. It was a great last sighting and with that we said goodbye to the park and headed back in search of a backpackers.
While Alice drove us back, I opened our coast to coast book and began ringing around in search of somewhere to stay, I found one called Ingulie, and it seemed to have a very nice vibe to it, which was confirmed on arrival. What looked like a huge converted ski lodge within walking distance on the beach was this vibrant, busy place that was so inviting. We unpacked and relaxed for a bit, then I went to shower and accidently flashed a couple of people through the window in what I thought was a courtyard that nobody used, but in fact was a rather busy braai area. Well anyway we finally made it out, and went to explore a bit of P.E. We drove up to the penguin rehabilitation centre to check where it was for the morning, then on the way back into town I got a call from Ben. I was so happy to hear from him, and told him all about the places in Addo that I had taken Alice to see, reminiscing a little and rubbing it in (just a little) that I had finally seen the buffalo that Ben and I had spent so long looking for. We then chatted about the P.E and it turned out he had been there many years ago, stayed at the same backpackers and went to the rehabilitation centre too! For a moment I did not miss him so much because I was experiencing things that he had and so it was almost like he was there with me and not thousands of kilometers away. When we said goodbye to each other though, I was missing him more than ever, counting down to when he would be coming to visit and meet the elephants at Knysna.
Alice and I went off to explore the beach front and ended up at the pier. It was really picturesque looking back onto the lit up city, but it was very windy so we decided to head back in and go out for some dinner. Seeing as we were at the seaside it only seemed fitting to go to a seafood restaurant for dinner. It was a great place and we had fun watching the world go by. I also ate so many prawns I thought I was going to turn into one!
Finally we got back to Ingulie, settled on the double bed with our quilts and unlimited internet and watched Harry Potter musical on YouTube, which was 'totally awesome. I have had a great weekend with Alice, it has been great getting out of the park and doing something fairly spontaneous for once.
Monday morning we were up and out early fromthe backpackers to try and fit in a couple more activities before heading back to Knysna. Our first stop on the way home was the SEMREC centre for the rescue of penguins in South Africa. We got our own private tour of the place and met the people who help out there as well as getting to meet some very cute cape penguins enjoying a day in the sun. It was a great place and they had so many displays and interactive features, probably because of all the school groups that go there, but anyway it made me realise that our interactive centre back at KEP was definately in need of some TLC!
On the road again and our last stop was Seaview Lion Park. There was a really fun 4x4 trail that went around the tourism centre, and in our little Polo i drove up and down the roads which probably thinking about it i should not have really been driving down! We only got stuck once but i soon reversed a little bit and took another route up the hill. It was so much fun seeing all the Gemsbok, Giraffe and Sebra on the way round. We also went to go and see the lion cubs, it was amazing to interact with them, but I do feel bad that that is their life. It is nowhere near as free range as the ellies back at KEP and when our ellies don't want to be around tourists they can simply walk off, but these poor lions are made to sit here all day every day, I just never realised until talking to the girls who took us to see them. So yeah, i dunno it was nice to go and finally see a lion up close, because one day when a guest on a game drive may ask me how big their paws are or what does their fur feel like i can say that at four months old their pads are bigger than my hand and that surprisingly their fur is very brittle and coarse. So yeah a good experience, but i don't think I would go back again.
Anyway, we could not dwell on it long becasue Alice and I really had to get back for our afternoon shift. So with as much haste as we could we headed back to Knysna to go and see the lovely ellies. Fortunately we were only a few minutes late and so we were able to get out into the field by the last shift. Alice and I sat on the roof of the old boma singing songs from the road trip and talking about our highlights of the whole thing until it was time for the elephants to go to bed. It really is amazing how much you can do in just a few days!