Caitlin Spencer – African Bushveld Conservation in Southern Africa
Jetting off to a foreign country can be quite daunting. This was how Caitlin Spencer felt when she first signed up to take part in Projects Abroad’s African Bushveld Conservation Project in Southern Africa. She soon realised, though, that it was the best decision she ever made and she had the time of her life making new friends and experiencing the great outdoors and wildlife. She shares her experience of her four week African adventure with us here.
What made you decide to volunteer on this project?
I decided on the Conservation Project in South Africa/Botswana because the idea of working in such a secluded and animal-orientated environment was a very exciting prospect for me.
How did you feel before going?
At 3am the day before I left I felt at a complete loss as to what to pack (handy tip: a good torch became my most valuable possession) and I was so nervous.
During my flight to Johannesburg it fully dawned on me that I was going to the middle of nowhere without anyone I knew for four weeks and the nervousness increased.
How were your first days at the project?
The first couple days at the camp were a slight adjustment. The early starts, sleeping in a tent and showering with a bucket took some adjusting to! However on my second day when we went for a game drive and found ourselves surrounded by a herd of 56 elephants on their way to a watering hole, I realised that I had made the right decision in joining the project.
What was a typical day like?
Our activities over the four weeks I was there consisted of fence removal, road creation, erosion control, rubbish removal, road clearing, spoor ID and many different animal census’. Each week ended with a very welcome Sunday lie in!
It would be fair to say that this project provides you with quite a bit of manual work to do, but it also provides an equal amount of incredible knowledge from all the different people that you get to work with.
Did you see lots of animals?
I can easily say that I got my fair share of incredible wildlife interaction. Captain, a huge male elephant, otherwise known as the camp troublemaker, graced us with his presence on numerous occasions; not only kindly drinking all our bathroom water but also continuously pulling down my towel from where it was drying on the clothes wire.
Another wildlife moment I am sure to remember forever is waking up late at night to hear a very noisy hyena bathing in the birdbath just a few metres away from our tent, we watched her for a very long time!
We were also lucky enough to have a day trip to a different reserve, a few hours away from our own where we saw some rare white rhinos (including a tiny baby!). Some more incredible animal spottings were the times we saw leopards and giraffes (two of my favourite animals).
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What were some of your other highlights?
As well as some of the incredible interactions with wildlife, a lot of my favourite memories from the trip were simply relaxing with the rest of the volunteers. Over my four weeks I met over 30 different people of all ages and nationalities, and I am certain that despite the distance that we all live from each other, I will know a lot of them for a long time!
Some of my favourite moments of the trip came from stories and information given by the camp managers (Jo, Elsa, Sophia and Jens) and reserve owners (Helena and Judy).
Some of the best bush experiences I had were during our various sleep outs, where we would bring our sleeping bags out by the fire or to a hide and try and see nocturnal animals. Sleeping out by the fire was amazing, not only because of the insane amount of stars we could see but because we could hear the noises of so many animals surrounding us, including hyenas and elephants. It was amazing.
What did you do in your spare time?
Camp activities included playing a card game called Cambio or 30 Seconds, a game that involves trying to describe the words on a card to your team without using the actual word. When it was too hot to work during the day, we would read, play football, tell stories, play cards or make friendship bracelets, these are some of my most treasured parts of the trip.
On my last weekend, we all took a three-day trip to a town in South Africa where we stayed in a beautiful hotel with a pool! One of my final meals in Africa was when 18 of us went out to a sushi restaurant where we attracted quite a lot of attention due to the big window-less safari jeeps that we were driving!
How did you feel at the end of your placement?
Looking back on the first few days of my trip, it seems almost ridiculous that I was so nervous in the beginning.
Despite being with the volunteers at my placement for only four weeks I felt overwhelmingly sad to say goodbye not only to the friends I had made but also to the beautiful land that I was beginning to love. It was a fairly teary journey home but I am sure that I will stay in touch will these people for a long time.
What would you tell others who are thinking of getting involved?
To anyone reading this and who is maybe on the fence about whether or not to take the risk, do it! I could not recommend it enough. I will always remember the incredible experience I have had.
Read more about this Conservation Project here.