I woke to the sound of Mawande jumping off the bunk above me. I was pretty tired still and was really hopeful that it wasn’t time to wake up yet. I glanced over at my phone to see that it was only 1:30 in the morning and I still had another five hours of sleep. I wasn’t even annoyed that he woke me up, I was just so happy about the amount of sleep I still had left. An ongoing tradition of mine is to set multiple alarms leading up to when I have to actually wake up. My favorite kind of the sleep is the kind that comes just after waking up. Anytime I wake up in the morning and have the chance to go back to sleep is always a good morning! I actually experienced this a few more times, unintentionally, before finally getting up to shower just after 6.
By the time I got out of the shower everyone else was awake and ready to start the day. Dan and I had everyone up, dressed, packed, and with their teeth brushed by 7:15, which made perfect timing for our 7:30 breakfast. There was a bit of a mix up and they hadn’t been expecting us when we arrived. While the quickly prepped the dining room for us we relaxed on the sofas in front of the TV. The receptionist walked over and switched it on asking everyone what they’d like to watch. In unison they all answered, “Cartoon Network!” For the next 20 minutes their eyes were glued to, How to Train My Dragon. I used the time to access the free Wi-Fi.
Breakfast this morning consisted of scrambled eggs and toast. These weren’t chicken eggs though, they were giant ostrich eggs! Everyone, including myself, really loved the breakfast but we were ready to hit the road for our first adventure of the day.
We loaded of the van and drove just down the road to Buffeleift. This is where the boys would get the chance to feed, play, and interact with elephants. After signing waivers for everyone involved we walked with our guide to where the elephants would be waiting. We actually got there before the elephants because when we looked over our shoulders there were three elephants walking straight for us.
For the next hour or so the boys were able to feed the elephants, sit on top of them, and even play soccer with time! It was absolutely amazing watching them interact with these beasts. Their faces and reactions were priceless when an elephant would wrap their trunks around them giving them elephant hugs. Elephants are incredible clever animals and these elephants knew over 100 commands. Each of the boys took turns directing the elephants to lift up their trunks, or to lift up their feet. Amazingly, the elephants listen to the commands. When an elephants lifts its front right leg it’s a gesture known as a salute. We got a group picture at the end of our experience with all of us together giving an elephant salute! If you’re wondering how they were able to play soccer with the elephants, it was actually pretty amazing. The elephants were able to throw the ball with their trunks and one was even able to kick a ball. Even though they appeared very gentle it was easy to see the power they had when they kicked or tossed the soccer ball. I’m a huge fan of animal encounters so I was sad when it was time to leave, but I knew our next stop would be the wildlife range and they specialized in animal encounters.
The Cango Wildlife Range is home to many animals from all over the world. They have quite the variety of animals there so our first plan was to tour the facility and see what we could learn about everything they had to offer. As we walked around learning about everything from birds, to hippos, and crocodiles to lions, the boys displayed an interest to learn and the patience to listen.
When our walk was over we gave them each the opportunity to have 1 encounter. They could hang out with the ring tailed lemurs, or they could hold a snake.
The first three to enter the cage with the lemurs were Chester, Aphiwe, and Athabile. It was easy to see that they were pretty timid at first and none of them wanted to go first. I think Athabile was the first one to sit down and our guide coaxed a friendly lemur onto his shoulder. Atha went stone solid being sure not to move in the slightest. When the lemur moved down to his lap he was able to pet it and feel its fur. Aphiwe was the second to go and he seemed the least scared. When the lemur jumped on his shoulder Aphiwe started nuzzling his furry friend. He even tried to feed him at once point before the guide politely asked him to leave that to them. Chester was the final one to take a seat and his reaction was quite funny. As the lemur landed on his head he just slowly started shrinking down getting lower and lower to the ground. This had nothing to do with the weight of the lemur, he just didn’t know what to do. I got a lot of great pictures and the encounter also came with professionally printed pictures which we’ll be sure to provide the kids with at the end of the trip.
Next up were Mawande, Lupho, Avela, and Ski and they were all in line for the python encounter. The snake wasn’t poisonous and was just medium in size, but their reactions were incredible! When the guide reached out to hand them the python the boys looked back at him like he was out of his mind. The guide was a little reluctant to hand it over because he was afraid they may drop it or throw the snake out of fear. Because he didn’t want the snake dropped he moved onto plan B. Plan be was placing the snake around the necks of the boys! This made for such great pictures and I was able to get a video of each of their encounters. It was difficult to get them to look at the camera for the pictures because they didn’t want to take their eyes off the snake. After the session with the snake they each received a printed picture of themselves holding the python.
For lunch we went to a local eatery that specialized in “vetkoek”. A vetkoet is a popular in South Africa and can be served many different ways. I think they are best compared to a less sugary donut. The fried dough is very lite and can be filled with just about anything. Ours were filled with mince meet and vegetables. Mincemeat is like ground beef and ours was served in the style of a curry. I liked my lunch but couldn’t help but think of how good my fat cook would have tasted with jelly or chocolate inside just before being powdered in white sugar! I’m a bit of a sucker for donuts.
Once everyone finished eating it was time for Wilderness Canoeing. To get there we’d have to drive through the mountains and valleys of the Garden Route before popping out along the Indian Ocean. I was unsure how we were going to go about the canoe trip, but I was ensured that we could just put two kids in each boat and everyone would be alright. I had my doubts about this because I know they aren’t the best swimmers and don’t think any of them have ever paddled a canoe before. I made sure that the two smallest and least skilled swimmers when with myself and Dan.
We fitted everyone for a life vest and handed out paddles to everyone. By the time I made it to the water’s edge 4 of them were already in their boats and had pushed off the shore. The kids got a brief lesson on how to use the paddles and were reminded to never stand on the boat. We stressed multiple times that if you fool around or stand up on the canoe you WILL tip it. Mawande and I were the last ones in our boats and had to play a little catch up to everyone else. Ski and Riri were in one boat and looked like professionals paddling in unison. Aphiwe and Avela also worked really well together and got the hang of everything fairly quick. Dan was in complete control over his boat with Lupho, so that just left Chester and Atha. I first saw the two of them aimed perpendicular to everyone else headed straight for the shore. By the time I caught up to them they had turned themselves around. I continued on to the next group but turned around to see that the two of them were now headed straight for the opposite shore. I stopped my boat to keep an eye on them to make sure they redirected themselves back forward. At this point the rest of the group was starting to pull away and I watched as they rounded the next corner. By the time I looked back at Chester and Atha, Chester was no longer in his boat. He was next to his boat splashing away. I don’t know how he ended up there but I was later told that Athabile convinced him to jump out. The current had taken my canoe a bit further down the river so I had to do a bit of work to get back to them. As I was paddling over Chester seemed as though he had successfully climbed back into his canoe. This was shortly lived through because as soon as he got on he stood up and flipped the whole thing. They both fell into the water and quickly swam back to their canoe. In a state of panic they each grabbed the same side of the canoe at the same time to pull themselves back up but only accomplished filling their boat with a lot more water. When Mawande and I pulled up they were both laughing and splashing in the water, clearly not understanding how much this was going to suck for everyone involved. The water was too deep for them to stand and right the boat up, and neither of them were strong enough swimmers to be of any help. At this point I was pretty frustrated with them and felt bad for Mawande because he was stuck helping these two all because they were just fooling around. I don’t think the rest of our group even knew what had happened because they had already rounded the corner. I first told Chester and Atha to start pulling and pushing the boat back towards the launch. While this worked a little I knew that it would take forever and Athabile was struggling with his swimming (they both still had their life vests on). I probably would have been less frustrated had they not been laughing and had we not gone over countless times not to stand on the boats. I pulled our smaller canoe around and had Mawande hold onto their front rope. I paddled backwards like this dragging their boat back to the launch. In the mean time I told them both to just swim to the shore, figure out a way to climb out, and start walking. I didn’t really know what was over on the sides, but it looked like tall grass, bushes, and a steep riverbank maybe 8 feet high. As I dragged their boat back I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get this over with so that I could at least give Mawande a bit better of a trip. We only had an hour to begin with and this incident and used up the first half of it. Isaac was waiting at the docks for us when I pulled up with the two boats and I told him Chester and Atha were finished canoeing today and that they could pull their boat the rest of the way. I quickly pushed off and for the second time today played catch up with Mawande. When we rounded the first turn I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rest of our group had waited not too far down stream. By the time we made it to them we were only able to continue downstream for another 5 minutes before it was time to head back. Everyone had a blast with the canoes but I felt bad their trip was cut short. When we all arrived back to the docks a few more of the kids decided to go swimming, but only after returning their boats. Our next stop would be Myoli’s beach so we just had them stay in their wet suites for the short ride.
That short ride ended up being a bit longer than expected due to road work but I think they kids enjoyed sitting on the floor. We didn’t want to get the seats of the van wet and only a couple of them had towels. The lodge we’d be staying at tonight was called Afrovibe and was located right on the beach. As soon as we got there the kids were ready to go back in the water but we had to first bring our bags up to our dorm.
I brought a bag of sports down to the beach which consisted of a rugby ball, football, soccer ball, and Frisbee. The lodge also lent out boogie boards and we were quick to grab 4 of those. We had about 3 hours before dinner and 2 of those hours were spent playing on the beach. Dan buried Mawande with the help of some of the other kids and everyone else swam. The water was a bit chilly at first but didn’t feel so bad once you were all the way in. It was also a lot warmer than the water around Cape Town and that’s due to the fact that we were swimming in the Indian Ocean which had its warm currents flowing South. When the guys got tired of swimming they found that they were able to use the boogie boards for sledding down the sand dunes. The only problem with that was that they were now completely covered in sand and I told them they all had to go rinse off back in the ocean before going inside. There was a small hose to clean off their feet but they were completely covered.
About an hour before dinner we started the shower process again but this time only had one shower to work with. The lodge generously lent us another 8 towels and one by one the kids made their way through. While one was in the shower the rest were working on post cards. I’m not sure how many we’ve written up to this point but I can promise it’s a lot. I imagine Dan and I will be sending those out sometime in the next week.
Dinner was held on the back deck of the lodge and there were two fires burning away. The ground was covered in sand and there were tables set up all around. In the back of the deck was a huge pizza oven and that’s exactly what was on the menu. I had to run up to the room briefly and when I came back Dan asked me if I wanted wine or a margarita. I told him a margarita because I wasn’t in much of a wine mood. I then heard him tell our waitress which kids would be getting wine and which would be having a margarita. I figured he was just joking but she wrote it down and walked away. I was confused for a minute before I found out that he hadn’t said wine, he had said Hawaiian. And he was referring to the two types of pizza they were offering, Margarita pizza and Hawaiian pizza. While we waited for our pizza we grouped around the fire for warmth. Even with the large pizza oven we had a bit of a wait because of how many pizzas they were making. Just our group alone had ordered 11 pizzas! The pizzas were very thin and were the right amount for the kids.
After dinner Isaac had a treat for everyone, marshmallows! I asked everyone if they’ve ever roasted marshmallows and the general consensus was most definitely not. Before passing out the marshmallows I gave a quick how to on the proper way to toast one. I even told them that it’s okay to stick their mallow in the fire, because some people like it that way… but that it was important for them not to wave their sticks around to distinguish the fire. Images of Dennis the Menace flashed through my head and I didn’t want anyone to end up with a flaming marshmallow on their face. I also only gave mallows to the kids who properly asked me. Keep in mind that English is their second language so this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. You’d be surprised how fast someone will cooperate when the reward is a delicious mallow!
When we finished the two bags of mallows I had another plan up my sleeve. I wanted to take the guys on a night walk along the beach. Six kids would be coming on the walk with me and I told them not to bring anything along. No shoes, no phones, no flashlights, no nothing. I had a head lamp with me that I brought just in case but I really wanted everyone to just enjoy the night and take it all in. When we first got out there our eyes were not yet adapted and the boys complained about how dark it was, but I knew it was only a matter of time. The moon was was full and we could actually see quite well once our eyes adjusted. One thing I wasn’t expecting that was really awesome was that when we walked along the beach our steps were glowing. I had no idea why this was happening but we were all very fascinated. I think it was because of the water being pushed up from under the sand and reflecting the light from the moon. Whatever it was, it was awesome. We walked pretty far along the coast until we got to these cliffs. I was told that if the water level was low enough we’d be able to walk all the way around and then circle back, but the water was still pretty high. We tried climbing up the cliffs which was difficult but we did make it to the top! The view was pretty amazing but it was too dark for my camera. The moon shined high above and reflected the crashing waves onto the beach. I was surprised at how much you could see. After realizing that we weren’t going to be able to walk all the way around we climbed back down from the cliffs and began our walk back home.
Back in our room I had everyone get ready for bed but allowed them to play cards, or draw for a bit. I told them they had about 15 minutes before we be reading and they were all game. Before we started reading Aphiwe brought me over the picture he had been working on. It was a thank you card to Dan, Isaac, and I for taking them all on the trip. I loved it and thanked him profusely!
We recapped what we had read up to in our book and I told them to try and read between 1-3 pages before passing. Things were going pretty smooth and we continued to discuss each page as they finished. From where I was sitting I couldn’t really see everyone and hadn’t even noticed that four of the kids had fallen asleep. I’m not even sure at which point they had fallen asleep. I just figured they were being such great listeners and didn’t think much of it. Oh well, we’ll be sure to have them read extra the next time. Wednesday was a long day and filled to the brim with awesomeness. I consider it the highest of compliments when someone passes out do to sheer exhaustion from the days events I helped plan!
Tomorrow would be our final day and it consisted of a morning game drive followed our long trip home. So far the trip has been amazing! Thanks so much to all our supports, and all the help we’ve received along the way! Everywhere we’ve stayed, and toured at have been extremely accommodating and welcoming! Thanks again HotSpots!