In this week’s Shamwari series blog post, it’s time to say goodbye to South Africa and begin the long journey home. This comes after surviving a night drive that saw an angry white rhino charge our vehicle, and my last ever day on the reserve. You can read all about that in the last Shamwari Diaries post: Act 5 Scene 3 – Swimming with sharks or, read the series from the very start here.
The final hour
Wednesday 15th October 2008
I woke unusually early this morning after my final night at Louis’ Bar, to a mixture of sadness and excitement.
My lift to the airport was due to arrive at 9.30am and my fellow volunteers all left to go out on the reserve at 8.00, so rather heartbreakingly, I had to stand on the Madolas steps and wave goodbye to everyone as they drove away in the Land Rovers!
My driver to the airport was the same man who collected me when I arrived, so during our hour and a half return journey to Port Elizabeth we chatted away about my experience in the weeks that had passed.
Port Elizabeth airport was tiny, so I had no problems finding my gate and where I needed to be.
I stopped at a cafe for a hot breakfast (heavenly!) and a white hot chocolate, (which was amazing!) before boarding the tiny ‘ExpressJet’ plane to Johannesburg.
For this short flight I sat next to a nice, chatty South African man, though truthfully, I was glad when we landed an hour and a half later, because he had incredibly strong, sweet cologne, which made me feel sick!
Arriving at Jo’burg, the airport was huge in contrast to P.Es!
Fortunately, I managed to find the international flights terminal on my own, even though the signs I followed led me through three different car parks!
I had a five hour wait before boarding the flight, so I just bought dinner and read a book that I’d taken from Madolas’ book exchange.
A parting picture
Thursday 16th October 2008
Had no problems with boarding my main flight home, and was lucky enough to get a seat behind the divide between business and economy class — which meant I had lots of leg room!
Sat next to a posh South-African business man and although he was South African through and through in his attitudes and culture, he had an English accent, which made conversations much easier.
Although it was a 12-hour flight, I hardly slept at all as I was really excited about seeing everyone again.
I passed the time by watching the new Narnia film (Prince Caspian), which I found a little disappointing! Funny to watch a CGI lion after seeing real wild lions for the first time.
When we came in to land I felt overwhelmed with excitement, but tried to keep my cool as still had to get my passport checked and collect my luggage.
It felt like it took forever for my luggage to come around the conveyor belt, but the second I saw it I dashed to grab it and tried to get out as soon as possible!
As I walked out the doors I could see my mum peeking out behind a huge bunch of flowers and dad grinning. I was so nice to see familiar faces!
Monday 1st September 2008
In the 11 months since I returned to the UK after my trip, I’ve been compiling a collection of photographs and art work to display at a local exhibition, to raise funds for my beloved rescue centres at Shamwari Game Reserve.
I’m hoping to share the experience and the beauty of Africa in my hometown, with people who may not be switched on to the wildlife and the heart and soul of Africa’s landscapes — and the threats it faces.
I’m hoping to raise around £300 from this exhibition, and will be sending the money to Born Free Foundation to go towards lifetime care of animals at the Shamwari Rescue Centres — and I’ll be sending out a package of toys to the Alicedale community centre, where all the children used to braid my hair!
Perhaps one of the most exciting revelations, however, is that my Shamwari room mate, Steph, will be traveling up to see the exhibition — the first time I’ve seen her since we were in South Africa!
As well as all the incredible memories of the work and the wildlife, the greatest gift I’ve been left with after my volunteer experience is the wonderful friendships I’ve gained.
I’ve recently learned that Shamwari means “my friend” in Shona, and it seems very fitting. Hopefully there’ll be a proper reunion sometime in the future.
Dedicated to the memory of a dear friend…
I would like to dedicate this blog series to the memory of our fellow volunteer, and friend, Richard Cann (pictured above left, helping to remove alien plant species at Shamwari Game Reserve). Richard has appeared several times in the images that accompany these diary entries, and went on to volunteer for an orangutan project in Sumatra, where he sadly passed away in 2014. The Richard Cann Wildlife Foundation was founded in his memory, and if anyone feels inspired by our volunteer work and would like to pay tribute to Richard’s memory, and honour his dedication to wildlife, please donate to: https://www.justgiving.com/richardcannwildlifefoundation