Monday, April 24, 2006

Today we went back to visit the HIV/Aids project in Paterson. The project was founded in 2000 by David and Cindy, a couple living with HIV.

While serving time in prison, David wrote a play about HIV/Aids which was performed for the inmates with the help of some women at the prison. This is how David met Cindy. When Cindy tested positive to HIV, David correctly assumed that he was also positive.

When released, David and Cindy decided that they wanted to give something back to the community for all their wrongs – a kind of gift. So they decided to start an NGO to help people affected by HIV/Aids. The project was called the Isipho HIV/Aids project, “isipho” being the Xhosa word for “gift”.

The project is really an NGO in its most organic form - a couple of people with no training or experience working on a shoestring budget (approximately $800 private funding a month) to help the lives of those in crisis and serious need. One of the main components of the project is the “orphanage”, which is actually a day care centre for HIV/Aids children. We spent most of our day today playing with the children. It is tragic to see how neglected and starved for affection some of them are. I have never seen kids so desperate for a hug.

At our last visit we learnt that one of the girls (aged 10) had recently been raped by one of her relatives as the myth that sex with a virgin will cure HIV/Aids lives on. The ignorance here about the disease is terrifying and heart breaking when it affects the lives of innocent children who are not safe in their own homes. Social services are almost non existent in the town of Paterson – which clearly appears to have been forgotten by the South African government. All that David and Cindy can do is cross their fingers when they send these children home at night.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

We spent a night in town (Port Elizabeth) with Chris and Yolundi playing games, go-carting, eating and generally enjoying the city.

When we got home Will told has that he wanted to catch one of the hyena in order to take its tracker off so we set off with a blesbok carcass tied to the back of the car and an eskee packed with beer and champagne. 3 hours and many drinks later we dropped the carcass in a boma (like a catchment area) and hoped the hyena would take the bait. No luck – seems that we are the bad luck omen when it comes to hyena sightings.
On Thursday we had an all day game count. A recent aerial count concluded that numbers for Impala, Red Hartebeast, Ostrich and Blesbok were down so we needed to take a look from the ground. This was an all day effort and it was damn hot. Nat was in the front recording sightings, with Jack on the back of the Landie trying to compete with the locals on ‘first one to spot’. Thankfully the Impala numbers were really good as they are the food of choice around here. Hartebeast and Blesbok were consistent with the air count and Ostrich was very low.

The nexy day we visited an orphanage in the nearby town of Paterson. There are 33 children aged between 18 months and 9 years whose parents have been affected by HIV/aids. We are going back tomorrow to officially donate some toys and throw a small party for the kids – many of whom have never eaten cake before. We will post a separate entry on our visit later.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The other night the lodge’s ranger, Chris, and some others came across a baby springbok which had been abandoned by its mother. They rescued it as it was unlikely to have survived in the wild on its own – particularly given that the hyena were found in that exact spot the following evening.

The arrival of the springbok at the homestead was very exciting! It is about a week old and is just tiny and oh so cute with gorgeous big brown eyes. Nat has fallen head over heals with the little guy.

As mentioned in one of our earlier entries, we also share our garden with Lightfoot, a young male cheetah (see photo below). Lightfoot is currently undergoing some R&R to recuperate from an attack by Oscar, the dominant male cheetah on the reserve. Lightfoot is to be re-released on to the reserve in a few months time once he is strong enough.

Whilst one of our daily duties is to feed the serval cats, Lightfoot is fed by Will or Nyansile as cheetahs tend to put on a bit of a show at feeding time. However we have gone into Lightfoot’s enclosure at feeding time, standing a mere 1 metre away from this awesome animal.

We started out as usual. Coffee, big breakfast, playing with the kids. Then we went for a drive to see if the Brown Hyenas have cubs. We checked out their den and there were suspicious tracks but couldn’t confirm anything… even with Will using a whistle that sounded like an injured animal to lure them out. We then passed some giraffes, stopped for some pics, and drove on to check the entire western and southern fences.

Will then suggested a night drive at about 6pm. He had stocked the car with beer and champagne (which is almost becoming a daily ritual) and we set off, with Jack wielding the spotlight from the front seat. These drives can go through the night. Will ends up fairly smashed telling us the history of South Africa and his dreams for a future in which the whole of Africa is a game park. Buffalo, jackal and the usual antelope were about all we saw until we pulled up at the lodge (below) and were told we were eating there.

This was an exciting prospect because we eat pretty simple food all the time knowing that only a few k away the guests are enjoying 5 star luxury. So we sat with the guests, a couple from Berlin, a couple from Sydney and a couple from Holland, and enjoyed 4 courses of delicious food. Safari life, for the guests at least, involves two game drives a day and constant pampering the rest of the time. At the end of the night, Nat and I returned to our humble accommodation to sleep… although we were woken at 5am by Will knocking on our door asking us to go with him to look again for Hyena. We declined.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

There are about 15 staff who work for Will and Sharon (the lodge owners). They are of Xhorsa (pronounced "korsa") decent and speak the Xhorsa langauge which uses lots of clicking noises in the back of the throat. Most of the staff also speak Afrikaans and only a few speak English.

The staff and their families live in a small camp behind our residence here on the reserve. On Tuesday, two of the female elders, Selena (pictured far right above) and Elise (pictured below) took us on a tour of their very basic but comfortable homes, introduced us to their families and neighbours and shared stories over a cuppa. The women were so welcoming and hospitable depite their humble means.

A number of people decided to join our tour along the way and everyone wanted to have their portrait taken with our digital camera. One old lady even got changed for the occassion!

It has been challenging for Jack and myself to get use to the cultural and socio-economic divide amongst the people here in South Africa. It seems that despite the end of apartheid, the blacks are often still treated as second class citizens. For example, if we are driving and pick up some of the staff to give them a lift, they stand on the back of the truck whilst we enjoy the comfort inside.

We spent our first few days out on game drives looking for a cheetah who they think has cubs. Game drives are amazing (the best bit really...), you try to piece together the clues nature has left (tracks, smells, bent grass) and keep feeling like an excited kid sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next animal to pop up.

We also took a drive to see the two lions and their cubs - hard to believe we were sitting only metres (about 5) away from these beautiful creatures in the wild. They shot a Blesbok (big antelope) and we took it to the Lion area where Jack and Will had to drag it off the back of the truck upwind from where we thought the lions were. The above photo was taken from our car only a few minutes before he demolished the Blesbok.

Will is a hard Afrikaan who has spent his life on game parks and gets out of the truck only metres away from completely wild animals of every's great for us to be guided by someone with such experience but weird at the same time for two urbanites to be working so closely with someone like Will.

We also found two Rhino playing in the mud - the Rhino are incredible and look just like dinosaurs. They are one of our favourites and the other night, during a crazy night drive with beers, champagne and a spotlight that lasted until 1am, we found the baby Rhino.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Day 1. On our way from the airport to Modgaji we stopped off to search for cheetah cubs. Highly technical. Nat and I, without even having unpacked our bags, got out to help and look out for the mother (while Will tried to sniff her out a little closer to the ground).

This is the reserve we are staying on. It's called Amakhala and is on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Amakhala is a private, big 5 game reserve about 1 hour from Port Elizabeth.

The reserve consists of 6000 hectares of bush and is home to a number of animals including: four cheetah (known locally as 'hlosi'), four lions (two of which are cubs), giraffe, white rhino (one baby), elephants, zebra, hyena (spotted and brown), jackals, and heaps of antelope.

There are 8 lodges on the reserve, run by different owners who co-own the land (which is gradually being bought back from farmers). One of the lodges is owned by Will and Sharon Van Duyn who run the Modgaji volunteer program we are taking part in. We stay in a small cottage just next to the family house and our neighbours include two cerval cats and a cheetah named Lightfoot.