Leaving Africa ~the journey home during an apocalypse

8E9A453C-74F5-43DF-ABCB-46CDA3C9B524This post was originally from March 24, 2020

Friday was our last full day in Africa. We decided to do a tour around the famous township of Soweto. Soweto was created in the 1930’s when the White government started separating people according to their race. Soweto became the largest ‘Black City’ in South Africa and experienced massive unrest during the Apartheid regime. In 1976 South Africa put into place a rule where Afrikaans be the language spoken in schools. Hundreds of school children took the streets to peacefully protest. This turned into a deadly massacre where 176 children were killed and thousands of others injured.  It was this event that caught the world’s attention of how unjust the South African apartheid regime really was. No longer could the world turn a blind eye. It obviously took many more years for the apartheid to finally end, but this was the beginning.

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While we were in Soweto we were taken around by a resident. This man was quite amazing. He was able to get an education and even study in Germany. He had dreams of being a pilot and owning a fancy car, but after graduating he knew that he needed to go back home to Soweto and help his badly needed community. He is part of a youth project where they do empowerment and education for the community. Things that seem like second nature to us like menstruation,  hygiene and safe sex are talked about openly and they have seen noticeable differences within their youth. They also feed the kids which is another huge issue to tackle. We got to go into a family’s home. It was all a little too real that when the husband greeted us and let us enter his home we were met with a mother and her children having a midday nap. The entire home is a small room with the kitchen, bed and washing all next to each other. The corrugated tin roof made it hot and there was barely any light to see anything. This is the reality for thousands of families. They all share a main water source and have to use portable toilets that are emptied twice a week. (If you are more interested in this amazing organization you can email Jubulani at eachoneteachoneyouth@gmail.com)

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We were then taken to the home of Nelson Mandela and his then wife Winnie. Seeing a major part of history is quite surreal. On the same street as Mandela also lived Desmond Tutu. 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners living on the same street!

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After leaving Soweto we went to the Apartheid Museum. The parking lot was nearly empty due to Covid and there were only a handful of other tourists roaming around. It was a tough pill to swallow but I think no matter where I go in this world it is also important to acknowledge the ‘ugly’ part of a country’s history as well.

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Mandela’s boxing gloves

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A letter that Nelson Mandela wrote while on Robben Island

 

 

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These are identification cards that everyone would have to carry. This was a way to segregate people according to race.

Saturday Kris and I spent the day vegging out and waiting for our flight out of Johannesburg. We took an 11 hour flight to Paris and when we arrived it was completely a ghost town. Only one cafe was open and what was available was extremely limited. You couldn’t even find still water. All the crazy chic high end stores like Hermès and Burberry were closed and every second person was wearing a mask. It was incredibly eerie.

After a long layover it was another 10 hours to Toronto. Once there we had to acknowledge to customs officers that we’d follow the mandatory 2 week self isolation once we are home. We were looking forward to getting on our last flight to Edmonton and finally getting home when we realized that our flight had been cancelled again (this was the 3rd cancellation). The next flight out would be Monday morning so we decided to get a hotel for the night. We didn’t have our checked luggage so we spent $20 on mini airport toothbrushes and tooth paste. They know you’ll pay anything when you are desperate! Dumb and Dumber struck again when we took a $24 cab 0.9 km to the wrong hotel. Then became less dumb when we took an Uber to the right one. The airline wouldn’t set us up with the hotel but we figured that one night on an airport floor in Paris was all we could handle and damn that bed felt AMAZING!

Yesterday we were finally able to make it home to Edmonton. I have to admit that when we were hitting the pavement I had tears in my eyes. It’s always sad when a trip comes to an end but this one maybe even more so. It was probably one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken. It had everything – the volunteering aspect and feeling a part of something greater, it had the cultural aspect, it had a bit of swank that I’ve never had in my life, it had multiple wildlife encounters, it had seeing a part of the world that is barely touched and stunning, it had reuniting with a dear friend and of course traveling with another and finally it had meeting a few more amazing people that we now call each other sisters. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I know I’m incredibly lucky because had my trip started even one week later everything would have been much different. Discovering the severity of Corona on the other side of the world has been surreal. Like I’ve said, we didn’t have regular contact with the outside world and when we did it was hard to decipher whether it was truth or hysteria.  Corona was late to the table in Africa but we are extremely lucky we got out when we did as South Africa made an announcement yesterday that the entire country is under house lock-down for at least three weeks. (in the end lock-down lasted months)

I have to admit that when I come home from traveling I usually have to fight a mini depression. You come off of such a high and then get bitch slapped with the reality of mundane normalcy and of course the monotony of work. Keeping busy and being with others usually helps get me out of that funk but this time will be far more challenging. Being bound to my apartment will be something I’ve never experienced before. But also the realization and confusion surrounding this pandemic makes it that much more scary. It’s interesting that this virus puts us all on the same playing field. It doesn’t matter your race, religion, how much money you have, or any of the other divisive aspects humans seem to use as barriers from each other. The entire world is in this together. Corona will affect us all but I can’t stop thinking of the people in Africa or other parts of the world that don’t have much. We have met so many people (especially those in the townships) who literally live day to day. They rely on food parcels or perhaps tourism to get them by each day. Now what? They don’t have a social system like we do and many are already dealing with compromised health. It makes me so sad how this could literally break them. Even though this will probably change our lives dramatically, there are definitely others who have it far worse.

I guess I’ll end it here as I’m getting on a tangent. I just want to thank you all for joining me on this amazing roller coaster ride.

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The Last Tourists in Africa ~ the effects of Covid and a day at Kruger National Park

D808BEDE-9628-4B4C-9F28-7CC708E5D3ABThis post was originally from March 19, 2020

Well…s*%t has just got real on this side of the world. As I said in my last email, we have been living in a bubble and the severity of the Corona Virus was just so unknown to us. We were literally on a deserted island and when we got back we began to hear news that seemed to progressively get worse. I’m sure you probably all know much more than me right now, but s*%t got real when it was ordered that the people on our group from the UK and Germany had to go home. That meant our dear friend Lucy was one of them. Saying goodbye to her was gut wrenching. South Africa would not allow them into its border crossing so they had to get a flight out of Maputo the next day. That literally cut our group in half. The only ones remaining would be Kris and I along with the Aussie/Swiss couple. Thank god we also have our two guides who we have become super close with.

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Our last night with Lucy (Kris, Lucy, Liza and I trying to look cool)

Kris and I were hearing a lot from home and trying to figure out whether we needed to leave right away as well. We registered with the Canadian Government and contacted our travel agent. At that time there was no change to our flights and it seemed smarter to go back into South Africa with our guides. Although there has not been a single case of Covid in Mozambique it just seemed safer to be in an English speaking country where there would be more options for flights home.

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As things change so rapidly, by the time we actually crossed into South Africa and got connected to WiFi we too found out that our flights have also been cancelled. Canada is still allowing us back into the country so we just had to find new flights. Thankfully I have an awesome travel agent and she was able to get back to us with new flights. We leave tomorrow (Saturday) flying through Paris (with a lovely 10 hour stop over), Toronto and then will be home early Monday if all goes well.

Crossing into South Africa wasn’t as difficult as expected. They checked our temperature and such, but to be honest they made us do so much more when we crossed into Mozambique. Once on the SA side we made our way to Kruger! Kruger National Park is absolutely massive. It literally is the size of Denmark! We drove through it on our way to our lodging and even though we weren’t on a proper game drive we were lucky to see a crazy amount of wildlife. At one point this massive giraffe came towards us and walked right past our vehicle. From our van window all we could see was his massive nuts!!

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As he was walking towards our vehicle…

Our lodging was outside of the park in a beautiful patch of land surrounded by a river and macadamias nut plantations. When we arrived we had to sign a waiver saying we agree that we know the risk of hippos and crocs coming from the river and that if we pick a macadamia nut from the plantation we understand that the owner will shoot us. Not making this stuff up!!!!

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On Wednesday we got up at the crack of dawn so we could experience a day long game drive in one of Africa’s most famous National Parks. Because of our dear friend ‘Corona’ it allowed us to get the VIP treatment with barely any other tourists around. Our guide was telling us that we would be their last drive for some time. The day was amazing!!! Kris and I struggled to keep our eyes open in the morning – Dumb and Dumber come all the way to Africa to see wildlife but have narcolepsy in the vehicle. The lull of the Jeep and the early mornings (and late nights of maybe drinking a few too many) have certainly caught up to us. At one point there was an elephant quite close to our vehicle and I looked over at Kris and she was looking at it with one eye open. What a pair we are!

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Once we had a little stop to grab a coffee and move around to wake us, we were so much more attentive. In all my game drives over the years I’ve never seen the elusive leopard in the wild. It changed on Thursday and we stumbled upon a tree with a bloody kudu carcass hanging from the branches. With eagle eyes, not far from the kill we were able to spot the majestic leopard. Unfreakingbelievable!!!!!!!!!!

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Over the course of the drive we spotted the rest of the Big Five with sightings of all the other incredible wildlife included. I could be in that open air vehicle all day long looking for the amazing animals that only Africa can deliver. Unfortunately poaching is so very real and right now rhinos are being hunted more than ever. It’s brutal because the poachers only want the rhino horn. They stalk them on foot and instead of shooting them (because they don’t want to be caught) they gouge the poor animals with a knife and dig the horn out while the rhino is still alive, leaving the poor thing to bleed out slowly. Because the gestation period along with the length of time a baby rhino breast feeds is so long, you might only get a new baby every 4 years and the the amount poached is far greater than those that are born. We are losing rhinos at a rapid rate. The poachers are paid by the weight of the horn and are smuggled into both China and Vietnam. A rhino horn is made of keratin -the exact same thing as our nails! The Chinese believe it can cure a wide range of diseases and the demand is exponential. The keratin horn is absolutely useless to anybody but the rhino. People are absolutely horrid.

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Yesterday (Thursday) we left the Kruger area to return via the Panoramic Route to Johannesburg. The drive was absolutely stunning and everywhere we went the topography changed dramatically. From mountainous green hills, to canyons, to citrus plantations to grassy fields filled with endless pink flowers that make you want to run through them. It was absolutely breathtaking. There are three stops that are also out of this world. One was the exact point in the movie ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ where guy throws the Coke bottle off ‘the edge of the world’. Another was Bourke’s Luck Potholes where rivers meet and have carved out incredible circular  shapes into the rocks. And the last was Blyde River Canyon – the 3rd biggest canyon in the world. Again with barely a single tourist in sight we were able to get incredible views with ease. South Africa is bloody amazing!

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Eventually we made it back to Johannesburg to the lodging where we started the tour. Saying goodbye to the all-star annoying couple was a breeze but it was a whole different ballgame with our guides/friends/sisters Liza and Ferne. I was already crying in the morning knowing we’d have to part later in the day. They had to fly back to Cape Town so it was Kris and I who were seeing them off. Just like Lucy, these girls quickly became like family. We bonded so quickly (perhaps through almost getting arrested) and throughout the trip laughed more than I have in one year combined. On a good day I’m absolute crap at goodbyes so this one was especially heart wrenching. We plan to all come back next year where a bunch of us will road trip through Southern Africa. I guess that makes it a tad easier knowing our paths will cross again fairly soon.

Today we will explore Soweto if all goes as planned and tomorrow we will leave this spectacular continent. More to come later…

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Mozambique, Kruger & Swazi Discoverer

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Eswatini ~ The Kingdom of Swaziland

5D694A63-B984-48D8-9BC6-16714F1095CBThis post was originally from March 9, 2020

On Saturday Kris and I flew to Johannesburg to meet up with our G Adventures group. Not only were we excited about starting our tour but this is where we got to meet up with our friend Lucy (aka Sally). We met Sally/Lucy last year in Brazil and I was able to do my Greece trip with her in September as well. It’s just so awesome when you can make life long friends while traveling and still maintain the friendship even though we live so far away from each other.

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Sally (Lucy), Kris and I reunited!

Yesterday morning we left South Africa and crossed the border into Swaziland which is now called Eswatini. It’s a small country bordering South Africa and Mozambique and has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. The life expectancy is merely 50 years old because HIV is so rampant here. A shocking statistic is that 50% of the population is under 15 years old. Swaziland  is run by a monarchy and the King currently has 15 wives. His first wife was chosen by his mother and every year there is a major celebration where virgin women come and do the reed dance in hopes of becoming his next wife. Basically this like a Swaziland Bachelor – tune in next week as the King chooses his next wife! They dance topless and are chosen based on their beauty and their child baring hips. The first wife then chooses all the remaining wives each year. While we were at the border crossing leaving Swaziland a very official car pulled up and a man wearing the traditional scarves, cloths and beaded jewelry stepped out of the car. He even had what looked to be a cheetah paw hanging from something around his waist. We were told that he wasn’t the king, but clearly was someone within the Royal Family.

For our only night in Swaziland we stayed at the Milwane Game Reserve. It is nestled among the rolling green hills and it truly feels majestic. We stayed in an amped up version of the traditional Swazi beehive hut. They were so cool – there were beds and a full bathroom inside and it was made of a circular thatched roof.

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We also got some unforgettable evening entertainment.

Wildlife was literally outside of our door, as when we woke up to go for an early morning bike ride there was a family of springbok waiting for us. Warthogs were everywhere and there was a family of them who particularly loved laying by the fire to keep warm when the sun went down. On our bike ride we saw plenty of antelope (kudu, springbok, so many horned animals that I can’t remember the names), zebra and crocodile. The hippos weren’t in the water when we went by which made me a bit wary as they had to be in the bushes somewhat close by. The birds where also super cool – colourful ones that I’ve never seen before with dazzling, long tail feathers.

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We only had one night in Swaziland as we’ve got so much ground to cover in Mozambique. Crossing the border into Mozambique took a few hours as the people that work there move at a snails pace. We needed to get Visas so the process was a tad painful. The best part was that they needed to take our pictures to put into our passports with our Visas. We joked about pulling weird faces but both Kris and Lucy were worried that we’d end up in jail. I have a hard time backing down from a challenge so I took on this feat with gusto and walked away with a classic picture. The man processing mine hesitated when he saw my face, but then continued on in his turtle-like manner. I tried to act like making a face was normal, as the rest of the time while I sat there I just kept twisting my face into different expressions. Although Lucy and Kris didn’t pull a face, Kris walked away with an even better picture. It looked like the dude erased half of her hair in Photoshop so she looks like half of her head is bald. We couldn’t have even dreamed up a better picture!IMG_8641 (1)

Tomorrow morning we set off at the crack of dawn where we will reach Mozambique’s coast which is supposed to be absolute paradise.

Until next one…

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventure’s Mozambique, Kruger & Swazi Discoverer

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Farewell Frat House ~ Leaving Port Elizabeth

This post was originally from March 7, 2020

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The last few days have been jam packed with activities. It’s crazy how you can have so many amazing experiences all within the span of just 48 hours.

Thursday morning we booked a boat tour in Algoa Bay to the island of St Croix to see the penguins. It was refreshing to actually be out at sea. You can see the ocean from our balcony but because of safety concerns we haven’t been able to spend any time by the ocean. The tour was so great. We sat at the front of the boat where we had incredible views of the wildlife around us. Our first stop was the island of St Croix. From the boat we could see tons of African Penguins perched on the edge of the rocks as well as jumping into the ocean. The area is protected so only certain boats are allowed to go near this island. 360E1D0E-4654-4A43-8076-28B67E2EC34F (1)3B8FDB99-FC84-48ED-BE6C-335C8EBA4A601FB8EAAB-7D01-499C-82C7-9E80AEC0B0EC

From there we located several pods of dolphins all swimming together. There were so many that you couldn’t keep count. The skipper told us he estimated that we saw about 150-200 dolphins!!!!! It turns out there was a lot of love in the air as so many were busy doing the ‘nasty’. I even got a show and saw what a male appendage looks like (very pink). The skipper told us to be prepared for a show because often once a male has ‘finished’ with his lady he will then dance across the water with his body fully out of the water just to show off. Our dolphins didn’t disappoint as we got our own personal dolphin show!

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What is so amazing about this tour company is that they work hand in hand with Bay Watch – a conservation organization (not the David Hasselhoff show). Not only do they do so much for the wildlife, but they have a program where they partner with an organization that places people from townships who want to pursue a career in eco-tourism and conservation. It is another example of empowering and uplifting those who in most cases don’t have the opportunity to flourish.

As Thursday afternoon was our last day at placement, we had the entire day on Friday to be a tourist. For the first half of the day we went to Kragga Kamma National Park for a game drive. It is a small game reserve but also incredibly cheap. For 2 hours on a utility vehicle with a guide it only cost $30! They don’t have the big 5, but the experience was still so amazing. We were able to see ostrich, buffalo, giraffe, rhino (with a baby), as well as many other beautiful animals really, really close. At one point Chuck Norris (the big male rhino) walked towards our vehicle straight on. He seemed a bit intimidating and our ranger was calling out to him ‘no Chuck, no’! Chuck stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at us. Because of how small the park is, they can identify most of the animals (which is how they can name most the major ‘big guys’). They also have a few rescued cats who like Born Free have come into their care from situations of abuse. Three lionesses came from a circus in Ukraine and as well as a bunch of cheetahs from similar situations. Like Born Free, because they were never taught how to survive in the wild, they can’t be released.

We certainly got spoiled by going to  Shamwari first, as the thrill of finding the wildlife in absolute remote areas was just not the case in Kragga. Nonetheless it was still an experience to remember.

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Later in the day we were taken to the most beautiful place along the coast with a bunch of the youngsters from our frat house. The husband and wife couple (Jeff & Arlene) who run the house have been spectacular and go above and beyond to make us feel at home, as well as show us the beauty around Port Elizabeth. It turns out that the wife of the duo actually went to the Moscow Olympics in 1980, competing for Zimbabwe in field hockey. The African underdogs came away with the gold medal! So cool!

Anyway, we went for the most breathtaking hike along the coast called the Sacramento Trail. It was about 4 km and ended at the sand dunes of Sardinia Bay. The sand dunes were massive and it made for the most beautiful backdrop against the ocean. As Port Elizabeth is known as ‘the windy city’, Sardinia Bay was no exception. By the time we watched the sun set, I had heaps of sand in every orifice! Not only was the place picture perfect, but I got a nice natural exfoliation too! EF159F9B-45E2-4FDB-902C-1871909481F47C87202F-8BA6-4DC3-94CD-7528D955F8F6 (1)D3B5233D-DAE7-43D6-A186-A3C87AF90E0C8E9FA3B4-6C9A-4EFA-A1BB-A0AF654FDCB2 (1)E35A3CC8-E1DF-4003-A5A1-AE4D2FD1FD6EA2FFB174-34E3-4C30-A28D-895BC25337F7E55E2C70-7932-4909-A8D4-A516CAF5D7F4

Today it was time to pack our things and move on to the next leg of our trip. It was bitter sweet leaving, as the frat house has really grown on us. Most of the kids are pretty amazing and it’s only now that we’ve started to create bonds. There were a few tears saying goodbye and it was so cute as the entire house stood on the balcony to wave goodbye to us.

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Saying goodbye to this wonderful group literally brought me to tears!

I leave Port Elizabeth almost completely unscathed. The only mishap I stumbled upon was getting stung by at wasp or bee. Not sure as they look very different from home. (Note to self-don’t stick your hand in the pool when a wasp is resting on it!) I had a few days of having a sore, swollen and itchy hand but now I’ll start our tour feeling as good as new! 13D2049B-093A-4BBB-B5A5-85EEDDF9C2B5

 

Saying Goodbye to Missionvale ~ 2 weeks volunteering in South Africa

F3233A74-C2EF-472F-8C34-7FBE7105DFC6This post is originally from March 5, 2020

This week has absolutely flown by! It feels like we have found our groove both at the ‘frat house’ and at our placement at Missionvale. I knew going in to the volunteer experience that 2 weeks wasn’t long enough, but I can truly say – it absolutely wasn’t long enough!!!! Last week I feel like we had to prove ourselves with some of the Youth Development coordinators, but this week it felt like they trusted us. The staff in the Nutrition Centre and Mother Christmas (Rachel) also started to really open up and it was really only on our last day that we realized how much some of them really appreciated us being there.

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Some of the amazing staff at Missionvale

Over the course of the 2 weeks we were able to create bonds with some of the kids as well. Their smiles are infectious and their hugs could literally squeeze the life out of you…but in a good way. They loved to touch our hair (and maybe play with Kris’ long hair a little too roughly) and the older ones were enthralled with my tattoos and earrings as well. Kids are kids and the simple act of just playing catch is enough to fill their little bellies with laughter.

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This week we were able to create a lesson on dental hygiene. We made games and sung songs based on teeth. We also bought 60 toothbrushes and gave them to all the kids so that we could teach them the proper way to brush. This lesson was a bit chaotic with all age groups lumped together. The younger ones definitely only speak Xosa so we had to have most of what we said translated. The toothbrushes however were a big hit and overall I think it was a big success.

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We also brought embroidery thread and little beads with letters on them. One day we had the younger ones partner with the older ones and we got them to make friendship bracelets with the initial of their name strung on the bracelet. This was again complete chaos but such a success with them all.

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On our last day (yesterday) some of the staff got together and sung for Kris and I. Their voices are so beautiful and their passion for life is undeniable. While they were singing to us, Kris and I were in tears. The moment was so beautiful and touching.

Over the course of the two weeks we tried to figure out how we could best be of help. Is there anything that we can do that could possibly make a lasting impact? Kris fell in love with one little boy as he reminded her of her nephew. She wanted to be able to maybe send money for him so he might get the opportunity to get out of the township and build a better life. We had lots of conversations about this because in theory this sounds doable but when you dissect it, this could lead to more trouble for the child. Would this separate him and alienate him from his peers? Would the family members use the money for the wrong purposes? (Alcoholism is prevalent in the townships). After talking to the manager at Missionvale, she suggested that monthly donations to the Centre itself would be the best course of action. We could specify where we want the donations to go to. We definitely want to help the Youth Development so we decided that this is what area we will help support. Perhaps we could start an education fund whereby youth that want to seek out an education can tap into it. We have the resources in Canada to make these changes, perhaps as a whole we can make this a reality.

(**we haven’t started raising funds for this yet due to the current Covid crisis, but we are hoping that we can still fulfill this dream)

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It was really sad to leave yesterday but I can say without a doubt that my time at Missionvale was one that I’ll never forget. Once again Africa grabbed another piece of my heart.

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From Frat House to Fancy as F&@*k!! (ShamWOW)

76DCD6CE-ED2A-47E7-8049-2B7253AB08EAThis post was originally from March 2, 2020

This past weekend has been one of the most magical weekends of my life. Where do I even start?

As some of you may know, last year I started working with Lena & David from the Divergent Travelers. They have a really successful blog and I’ve been able to work with them, writing a few articles here and there. Before we left for this trip Lena contacted some private game reserves outside of Port Elizabeth on my behalf. She pitched having me go to one of them in return for an article and social media exposure. We hadn’t heard back before we left, but during this past week Lena got a response, and on Friday Kris and I were being picked up by a very official man wearing a suit.

This isn’t just any game reserve – it’s a private luxury one! It’s called Shamwari Private Game Reserve and it’s so exclusive that one night can be up to $2500 per person!!!  Having this opportunity made me pee my pants a little. When I told locals which reserve we would be going to, they gasped as this is where the celebrities usually go. Needless to say Kris and I have been beside ourselves.

We were both a little worried because neither of us has packed nice clothes. My fanciest outfit consists of elastic-waisted jeans and a grubby T-shirt! But having spent the last week in a house full of 25 youngsters, Kris and I were thrilled at the idea of getting out of the frat house as we call it, and sleeping in a real bed. (My bed in the frat house has 3 legs so it wobbles quite nicely)

Once we arrived we were treated like royalty. I have never in my life had the service like we did there. Every minute detail was accounted for and each staff member went out of their way to make us feel like a million bucks. You could see that each staff member was passionate about whatever area they worked in and it made our experience out of this world!!!!

A little about the reserve … Shamwari is massive – the land is 27000 hectares! They focus on conservation and biodiversity. Historically the area was rich in wildlife but became completely decimated by hunters and settlers, becoming a lifeless dustbowl. Over the past 20 years they were able to revive the land and reintroduce wildlife – turning it into a thriving example of conservation.

There are 7 different lodges on the site. Each lodge has a different look – a different personality with its own character. Over the course of our 2 night stay we were given a tour of each of lodge. One was more colonial, another more rustic (in a luxurious way of course) and one that caters to children with its own outdoor jungle gym complete with a zip line! Guests have so many options to find the lodge that suits them best. The lodges are also very far from each other, so as we drove between lodges we were dazzled by our own personal game drives complete with amazing wildlife sightings.

We stayed at 2 different lodges. Our first was called Sindhile – meaning survivor in Swahilili. There used to be a leopard in this territory that fought off many of its rivals. It became the dominant cat in the area for many years and thus they named it Sindhile. After it’s death they wanted to dedicate the area to this cat, which is why when they built this lodge at the end of 2019 they proudly named it Sindhile. 51374EBB-EAAB-4664-A664-206ECF33D2DF

Sindhile was just built so it has all the new bells and whistles. It’s concept is based on a tent but inside I’ve never seen anything more luxurious. We had our own heated pool, indoor and outdoor shower, a bathtub that opened up so you could be outside, the largest most comfortable bed, the bar area had the most delicious cookies and everything imaginable right down to a lime for your drinks. There was a care package on the bed full of anything you might need on your safari – sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, after sun – all in glass containers from a high end company. At night they do turn down service and give you night cream and a card with the weather for the next day. The decor was to die for and the entire side of the tent was floor to ceiling windows which you could open up with the most spectacular view of the vista. Truly my words can’t do it justice. It was truly zen and I can’t even imagine a place more beautiful!

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The second night we stayed at Eagles Crag. This one had more of a tree house feel in the main dining area and the rooms were once again as luxurious as ever.

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In total we were able to do 4 different game drives. They lasted approximately 4 hours each time and our rangers were out of this world. They are the most top notch rangers with the most experience and an insane amount of knowledge. At sundown we would stop for snacks and drinks where our ranger prepared quite the spread.

Speaking of spread … the food! I have never seen so much high quality food in all my life. The cooks would come out of the kitchen to meet us and talk about our dietary restraints. The stuff they made Kris was out of this world. It didn’t look remotely gluten free. Kris would question it because it was so good. So let me give you a play by play on how much food was served. We would meet at 5:30am and there would be tea/coffee, fruit and delicious snacks. Then after the safari they would greet us with a hot towel and either Nutella hot chocolate or apple tea. Then we’d have breakfast. We walked into the dining area and there would be a buffet like spread with everything you could think of. Cinnamon buns, croissants, cheeses, meats, granola, yogurt, fruit…you get the point. So the first morning we filled our plates and sat down. However waiting for us at our table was our personalized menu with a full breakfast meal of choices. Hellooooooo!!!!!  Next would be lunch with a a multi course tapas menu with deserts. Then dinner would be another full meal with starters and deserts all personalized to our diet. This place would be any ‘foodies’ paradise! Apparently the process for the chefs to get a job here is quite rigorous. They have to go through a cook-off like you’d see on TV. Unfreakingbelievable!

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Now back to the game drives…I’ve done safaris before but these ones were unique in that because it is on a private reserve there are very few safari vehicles anywhere. You might see one or two here and there but on past experiences when a ranger calls the others you’d have at least 15 vehicles all packed together trying to jostle for the best position near the wildlife. Here we were usually completely on our own. We saw everything from rhinos, to lions, to elephants, to cheetahs. You name it-we saw it.

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We were also given a tour of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (where they care for sick or injured animals and release them back into the wild) and Born Free. Born Free is another spectacular organization. They work alongside Shamwari but are a non profit that rescue big cats from terrible situations like circuses and abuse. They can’t release the cats back into the wild because they don’t know how to hunt or fend for themselves. Instead, they live their entire lives in massive enclosures where they are free to roam. I was so touched by this place that I couldn’t help but ‘adopt’ a lioness who was found in France living in an apartment under terrible circumstances.

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Each pillar symbolizes a species that has sadly become extinct.

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My lion that I ‘adopted’.

I could probably write about my Shamwari experience for days as it was more than I could have ever anticipated. It just goes to show you what money can buy! I feel soooooooo lucky to have been able to do this through the Divergent Travelers.

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A Reflection of the Week

This post was originally from February 27, 2020

The last few days we’ve been able to settle in a bit at Missionvale and come to understand how things work … or not work. It’s like organized disorganization. Unless we assert ourselves with the staff regarding how we could help, we could easily spend the day doing nothing. The staff are all super nice and welcoming but don’t give a lot of direction.

Kris and I have come up with our own agenda of what units we prefer to work and how we can best be of help. I have to remind myself that we are on ‘Africa Time’ and things don’t run the same way as they would at home. Talking to some of the other volunteers they have said “what we get completed in Belgium in just one day, takes two weeks to get answers and complete the task here”. It’s just a different way of life and you have to learn to roll with it instead of get frustrated.

My mornings feel like I am running a marathon. I spend them in the kitchen where we get donations of food, prepare the food and distribute it out. I’ve cut so many loaves of bread that I’ve now got a blister on my hand. It’s complete chaos with hundreds of people lined up for their half loaf and cup of dry soup powder. Yesterday a fight broke out in line as a few of the young men kept cutting in front of the old grandmas and grandpas just to get a second helping, when the other poor souls still waited for their first.

Once that rush is over I then head over to Mother Christmas (where Kris is) so that we can either help wrap presents or prepare for a lesson that we will later do in the after school development program.

Yesterday we had a real treat when a bunch of 7th grade girls came out of the school and took a real liking to us. They played with our hair (yes, even mine), riddled us with questions and then asked us to join them to watch their ballroom dancing class. It was so cute as one of the staff members teaches the girls ballroom. The smiles on these beautiful girls truly melt my heart.

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Finally at the end of the day we get to work in the After School Development Centre. Yesterday I created an art project for the kids. Kris took the little ones and I had the older ones. They were so cute and so proud of their finished work. Today the topic was literacy, where we would read to them and ask questions to see how well their comprehension was.

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The last hour of the day is so much fun. Working with the children truly makes my heart so full. It makes the monotony of all the lulls throughout the day vanish. You see these little munchkins and they are full of spunk and joy and they are just like children at home. Children are children. But when you take a step back it so sad to think that because of lack of opportunity and money, these talented, gentle souls probably won’t have a hopeful, promising future. Kris was saying to me “this kid could be a track star, or look at that kid who can do flips so easily”. At home they could be anything, but here you just hope that they make it out. The township is so brutal – crime, addiction and obviously poverty. The problem is so gigantic and it’s overwhelming to think about what each child has the capability of doing and where he or she will end up. Yesterday we asked one 6th grader how far she had to walk from the school to the Centre. She said “not far-just one hour”. Every day she’s at the Centre and has to walk alone in the dangerous township for hours. Life is so very different for the children here compared to the lucky ones at home.

We didn’t realize how dangerous the township really is. We were told that we might be able to do home visits however when we asked the Centre’s manager, she gave us the answer of a definite no. Apparently last week a group of Irish volunteers were robbed when they were doing home visits and over the weekend there were a couple locals that were murdered. Don’t worry, we are completely safe within the gates of the Centre, but it  just goes to show you how unstable life is for those who live outside these walls.

Safety is obviously an issue here but don’t worry, Kris and I are not out gallivanting after our placements. We stay within the safety of our home and listen to all the precautions.

Last night the amazing couple that run our house (Jeff & Arlene) took the entire group to an event. It was indoors with a bunch of food trucks, live music and vendors. It was so much fun and the food was amazing. We couldn’t get over how cheap everything was. Literally less that $2 for a crepe filled with Tiramisu filling!!!!! Huge meals for less than $5. It was so awesome and we had such a great time. Not only that, Kris and I were like kids in a candy shop as there were so many good looking men to ogle at. Edmonton might not have many beautiful eligible bachelors but hello Port Elizabeth!!!

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This weekend ahead of us is going to be pretty fantastic. We are going to be doing some safaris but I’ll give you all the details in the next installment. Stay tuned 😉

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Day 1 at Volunteering in a Township – Bring it on

This post was originally from February 25, 2020

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this is a part of Missionvale Township

Today was our first full day working at Missionvale Care Centre. Yesterday we went there just for the morning so that we could get a tour of the place. It is quite an amazing facility. It was started by a nun named Sister Ethel who saw the extreme poverty of those living in the township of Missionvale. She started serving food to the community under a tree and from there it has grown into a full fledged community centre. Walking around we were able to see how much the centre actually provides. There’s a distribution kitchen where people can come get food parcels, a community garden where they not only grow their own vegetables, but where they teach the locals how to grow and take care of gardens, a church, a hall where weddings, funerals and graduations take place, a primary school, a crafters unit where locals can learn to make handicrafts to sell, a youth drop in centre where there are after school programs that cover literacy, arts & culture, human rights and heath & well-being, then there’s the health clinic, pharmacy and a donation centre. I know I’m missing other units, but you get the point – there’s a lot going on.

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This is Sister Ethel!

Today when we arrived, it was a bit disorganized and without asking us where we preferred to work we just were taken to the donation centre. It took me back to working in Ritsona Refugee camp just a few months ago. I can’t say that I was all that excited to sort through used clothes again although I guess you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do! We did that for a while before heading to the kitchen. There we cut loaves of bread and put together food parcels. If a family meets the need criteria they get one food parcel per week. It consists of a can of beans, a can of sardines, 3 tea bags, a small package of sugar and flour as well as soap. They also hand out a half a loaf of bread and a scoop of soup powder to those who line up. It broke my heart to see the hundreds of people line up just to get a small ration of food. They would come with a used yogurt container or something like that and I would scoop a cup of dry soup powder into their container so they could take it home. Before the end of the line was even up, we had ran out of bread. You wouldn’t think that you could see so much bread fly out in just one day but it goes to show you how many people are in such a desperate state. It broke my heart to see just how many people are in dire need but at the same time the kindness and amount of gratitude they showed us was enough to fill the entire ocean.

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From there we visited Mother Christmas. Her name is Rachel and she is the sweetest little woman who runs a gift wrapping Christmas Centre. Basically all year round she gift wraps presents for children so that come Christmas Day every child in the community can leave with a beautifully wrapped present. I can’t even imagine the chaos and joy that would surround Christmas Day. We spent a few hours wrapping presents and decorating newspaper so that the gifts looked pretty. The gifts we were wrapping were for 2-3 year old girls – each consisted of a crocheted animal, a pair of Crocs and a pair of underwear.

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At 2 we headed over to the After School Youth Development Centre where today’s lesson was about health & nutrition. The kids were all given a snack and some juice and then they sat down for the lesson. First we took them to the garden so that they could be shown how vegetables are grown. I’m sure half of the kids weren’t listening but the point was there. Then we went inside where the facilitator asked me to read some questions to them. My eyes bugged out of my head when the second question was asking them how the best way to lose weight would be. I quickly told the lady that this isn’t the best question to ask children. She took that question out but in her lesson about food and nutrition she was giving them bogus information. At one point she told them that there are 3 types of milk-skim, low fat or buttermilk. She asked them which was the best for them to drink…her answer was skim. She also told them that it is best to drink a half a cup of water before every meal. Wtf?!!! In a place where food is scarce, telling children to eat diet-like food was probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. When I went up to ask the pre-written questions given to me I tried to explain things like vitamins and nutrients but it probably went right out their ears as I wasn’t speaking Xosa. I walked away just shaking my head. It was obvious that the facilitator was not quite educated on the subject and took a lot of her information from a website that was probably talking about dieting.

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Kris and I have come up with a few ideas that perhaps maybe we can help out in the coming weeks.

That was day 1. Bring it on!

The Long Journey to South Africa

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Originally written on February 24, 2020

Hi there everyone!

It was a long-assed journey but we have arrived in one piece to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There was a point during our travels where we questioned whether or not we’d make it in one piece, but thankfully here we are. Our questionable flight was from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. It was with a carrier called Safair. The plane itself looked just fine and we were relieved that it was a legitimate airline. That was until our landing however…we were descending as normal with the views of the ocean below us. It looked so beautiful but all of a sudden the nose of the plane started to head upward and we were climbing up once again. The pilot came on the intercom to tell us that they were having issues with the landing gear so they had to circle for a bit while they fixed it. Not sure how they planned to fix the landing gear while we were still in the air ??? I almost expected a little man to crawl out on the wing with his pliers!  Eventually after a bit of time we headed towards the ground and held our breaths while the plane hit the tarmac. It wasn’t a typical landing as it felt like our breaks were having an issue and it took forever for the plane to eventually stop. When we did, we were literally at the end of the runway. Next we saw emergency vehicles with their lights blinking driving next to the plane as we taxied towards the airport. The pilot came on the intercom once again to apologize for scaring us and he ended by saying I hope this won’t change your minds in using Safair again in the future. WTF! You know it must have been bad when they end with that!!!

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With our feet safely on the ground we were picked up by a staff member from Khaya – the volunteer organization that we are affiliated through. She showed us around the area that we are living in. It is just minutes from the ocean and in a really beautiful location. The only thing I’m a little hesitant with is that we have been warned over and over about our safety. We are told that there are safety in numbers and never to walk home after dark. I think a lot of it is common sense but two volunteers were assaulted walking home from a bar just a few weeks ago. There’s even a panic button in the house that will contact the neighborhood patrollers if needed. It’s just so different from the safety we take for granted at home.

The volunteer house has over 20 volunteers living in it. There are several projects in which everyone goes to during the day – from feeding street people, to rehabilitating penguins to medical work. The one thing that all the volunteers have in common but differ from Kris and I are their ages. The average age is about 20. As well , most are from Holland and Germany, so making conversation can be a bit more difficult. It’s only the first full day here though so I’m sure it will get better and we will soon feel like we are a part of the house. Having to hold 20+ volunteers, the house is pretty big. The front balcony looks on to the ocean and in the backyard is a pool. There are two house dogs that live here so that makes my heart happy too. Kris and I lucked out as they put us in a room with one sweet girl and we get sleep on normal twin beds. The three of us share one bathroom. This is pretty awesome as the others are on bunks and share 6-12 to a washroom.

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I had a bit of a scare yesterday when I  went to use one of the toilets. When I opened the lid there were worms wriggling around at the bottom of the water. These weren’t your typical insects. They were white and skinny and looked more like a tapeworm or parasite. I should have taken a photo but I flushed them before thinking about that. I told the owners of the house about my discovery and they quickly knew what they were. Apparently the volunteers who work with penguins have the possibility of catching these worms. Last week they were given deworming pills and clearly they had come out of a human. The horrifying thing is that the worms clearly swam back up into the toilet bowl. Gag!  Anyway, on that note I’ll leave it there.

Tomorrow we start our first full day at Missionvale so I can’t wait to see how that will be.

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Dumb & Dumber Do Africa

This post was originally from February 20, 2020
Hi there Everyone,
It is the final countdown!! In less than 24 hours I will be off in an airplane flying to the other side of the world. I couldn’t be more excited because this time I am heading back to South Africa and then Mozambique and Swaziland (which is now called Eswatini). For this trip I am lucky to have my partner in crime join me…you know the other half of ‘Dumb & Dumber’. Kris has never been to Africa so I am so excited to be with her when she experiences the incredible things like a safari for the first time.
Our first stop will be in Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is a coastal town at the southern part of the country. We will be there for 2 weeks volunteering at Missionvale Care Centre. Missionvale is a non-profit organization that operates in the extremely poor township of Missionvale. It is a centre that provides care for the poor with emphasis on those living with HIV/AIDS. I am not exactly sure what either of us will be doing during our placements as they have told us that they will decide upon arrival what they need most. The community centre offers a variety of services which include a primary school, child support and development, adult skills development, community gardens, a crafter’s unit, a medical unit, a nutrition & wellness unit and a distribution warehouse. I am really looking forward to this part of our trip. I am excited to see what I will be doing and hope that I can make a positive impact in some small way.
While in Port Elizabeth, we will be staying in a volunteer home where there will be others who are doing the same thing. From what I know, it is pretty close to the beach (however we will obviously be working during the day). I have to admit that I am hesitant to swim off the coast of South Africa anyway as I know there are plenty of sharks. Apparently there is a pool at the volunteer house, so that will be a bonus.
Once we are finished with our 2 week volunteer stint, we will be flying back up to Johannesburg to meet up with a G Adventures Tour group. Not only am I super pumped about where we will be going, but my friend Lucy (aka Sally) will also be joining up with us. Kris and I met Sally last year on our Brazil trip. If you can recall, Sally (we like to call her Lucy) is from the UK and met me in Greece this past September. She is absolutely hysterical and will round out the Dumb & Dumber duo quite nicely. Instead of Dumb & Dumber, it will be Dumb, Dumber & Dumbest do Africa. Who is Dumbest you ask? Well, I am sure that our roles of who is dumbest will change on a daily basis.
The G Adventure tour travels through South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. There will be some camping involved (lord help me), as well as some rustic lodges. The itinerary is quite spectacular so I can’t wait to share my adventures with you all.
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Our journey there is going to be a long one as we go from Edmonton to Calgary. Then to Amsterdam and on to Johannesburg. We arrive late at night and don’t leave for Port Elizabeth until the next morning so we have booked a hotel for those few hours. I am unsure how good our internet connection will be once we are there. From past experiences I can expect it to be pretty spotty with electricity cuts being a common occurrence. Needless to say, I will write as I go and send off my emails when I reach areas with WiFi. Everyone keeps telling me to promise them to not injure myself. I can’t make any promises but I will try my very best! The problem with me is that I usually sustain my injuries during the most mundane activities like walking to the breakfast table. I am going to be as cautious as I possibly can – that I can promise.
Anyway, I look forward to sharing my adventures with all of you. Thanks so much for all your love, support and interest in my travels. It means the WORLD to me!
See you on the FLIP side!

Ps. I got key chains made for Kris, Lucy and I and here is the picture on the key chain. I tried to get a photo of each of us looking our dumbest!

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The one on top was the winner, but the bottom two were runner-ups.