I’ve really enjoyed reading everyones take on this months travel linkup theme about ‘love.’ There are so many things I could talk about here but I thought I’d share one of my most memorable travel experiences in the form of a short story…

( G if you’re reading – this isn’t one of those ‘loosely based on’ stories! 😉 )

 

Surpassing the need to scream ‘We found it!’ is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I had just spent the last hour trekking through the wild African bush, fast enough to keep up with the guide, not too fast to create too much disturbance. Ducking low hanging trees, looking behind to check our small group was still together and every so often being surprised by a lovely sharp acacia branch brushing swiftly across my arms. Wounds that I endured with pleasure as I eagerly carried on to reach this moment.

A parting of the grasses revealed a species on the brink of extinction, here in Matobo National Park, two of the worlds few remaining white rhinos stood before us. Standing still hoping not to startle them, holding back breaths so the only sounds were that of the surroundings. We all shared the same gaze, staring in awe of this magnificent creature happily grazing, blissfully unaware of their threatened existence.

Only a few minutes in and the sun started to fall behind the granite rocks, we knew our moment was over and we had to act fast to get back to the truck. Here in the midst of winter, as the sun set, the temperature too dropped almost in perfect harmony.

Our guide Andy piled us into the car, ‘closing up the jeep’ as the cold winds started. The five of us shuffled close for warmth as the final door shut and we were plunged into blackness.

Every road bump seemed rougher in the dark. All excited talk about the afternoon’s adventure started to fade, as we realised the ride home was starting to feel longer. What was going on? We shouted through to the front, trying to get some answers. No reply. We tried again, in unison. No reply. The journey didn’t seem to end and every minute that passed felt longer as we all sat in silence.

After what felt like an eternity, we came to an abrupt halt. Andy’s heavy footsteps were the only sounds once the roaring engine was silenced. ‘We’re here,’ he gushed excitedly as he threw open the door. Gingerly, we each climbed down one by one. There was nothing around. No lodgings. No people. No trees, nothing?

It was an endless plain of open space. We were the only beings here. Just us, the ground we stood on and the endless starry sky surrounding us.

They were the kind of stars you see in textbooks. Bursts of light illuminating the entire sky. Shooting stars streaking every so often, the constellations mapped out flawlessly.

Andy reappeared, with blankets and mugs of deliciously warm hot chocolate. He talked us through tales of the cosmos and astrology. It was the real life version of a beautiful, night-time dream.

That’s the thing I love most about Africa. Every time I think I have had the experience of a lifetime, there’s always an unexpected surprise waiting round the corner, ready to take what’s left of my breath away.

 

What is that you love? A place? A person? An experience?

Love, love is in the air…. *saxophone music begins to waft*

We want to know what you adore. It could be a love letter to your favourite city, a special someone, a flavour you can’t live without or well, anything. Feel free to let those creative passions flow…

How to link up your post:

Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th February 2016), add it to the link up widget found on Angie‘s, Jessi‘s, Kaelene‘s or Emma’s blog from the 1st.

As ever there are no real rules – basically all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; tweet a few of the posts out to your followers that you think they will love and make a few comments here and there. It really is a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging joy!
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#BIGCATWEEK

 

I just cannot stop singing that really catchy song. You know, the one that has that line… “It’s the most, won-der-ful time, of the year” ?? Well that time is finally here!!

It all started on Saturday actually. We are now officially three days into #BIGCATWEEK !!!

Aside from travelling, I have a real passion for learning about wildlife. And my animal of choice has always been cats. BIG cats. So when Nat Geo WILD decides to host a week dedicated to ‘nature’s fiercest felines,’ I can’t help but obsess over watching and learning about this magnificent species.

If you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to do so A.S.A.P. Follow the journeys and struggles of lions, tigers, cheetahs etc, listen to their powerful stories and once you’ve fallen in love with these creatures – that point there is when you need to plan a trip to go and see them for yourself!

I was lucky enough to do so at Antelope Park and Vic Falls in Zimbabwe and I look forward to encountering these creatures again, maybe somewhere else… (Tanzania perhaps??)

To celebrate this wonderful week, I’ve dug out a collection of my favourite big cat snaps to share. For those of you who don’t have the time to immerse yourself in Nat Geo Wilds extensive programme schedule, I hope these photos will provide you some inspiration:

 

Has anyone else travelled to meet the King of the animal kingdom??? Any Big Cat stories or pics to share??

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During my travels in Zimbabwe, I was lucky enough to visit Antelope Park’s sister project in Victoria Falls.

The site here is nowhere near as big as Antelope Park. I think the main bonus of working here, is the proximity to Victoria Falls (stating the obvious I know). For anyone after thrill-seeking or adventure sports mixed in with conservation work, this is probably the best project for you.

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There are not as many lions here; when we visited, there were only two groups, but we were still able to take a pair out for a walk. They were older than the ones we were used to… Batoka and Bhubasi were in their final stages of walking and would soon be to old to be mixing with humans.

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With the 2B’s being older and as the area we were walking them was a national park, we were escorted by armed handlers – just in case. Made me feel a little bit uneasy, but of course, it wasn’t about to put me off.

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We had to be a lot more aware of what the lions were doing and where they went, as they were much more boisterous than the ones at Antelope Park. It just so happened, on this particular walk, lady lion decided to be exceptionally naughty and managed to find and catch a puff adder snake.

Marvellous. Bloody spiffing marvellous.

I am petrified of snakes. I hate them. And here was a pretty big lion charging around with one in its mouth, whilst the snake repeatedly bit her. The pain of the snake bites must have eventually got to Bhubasi as she eventually flung it out, luckily not towards us (but it landed pretty close!).

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Something I learnt during this experience was Zimbabwe has an extremely limited supply of anti-venom (or in some cases none at all). The lion had been badly affected by the bites and had actually passed out. We were lucky to be near the country’s border, so the handlers/coordinators were able to send for anti-venom to be brought over straight away from neighbouring Zambia.

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The staff at the project stayed exceptionally calm and knew exactly what to do, which was so reassuring, as the rest of us were pretty much crapping it throughout the whole ordeal (or at least I was).

Bhubasi recovered perfectly fine from her trauma and has hopefully learnt a valuable lesson in the process.

It was nice to visit another lion project, for the experience more than anything, meeting new lions and new people. It was nice to see the quality of volunteer work was just as good here and really reinforced my faith in the work African Impact do, and makes me feel that if I were to book on another project elsewhere, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I also learnt a valuable lesson, big cats (other than their size) are no different to domestic ones… always curious!

 

Click here for more tips if you’re planning on volunteering in Africa

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Zimbabwe wasn’t an unfamiliar country to me, I have been on a family trip there when I was quite young and my mum’s sister is married to a man who is Harare born and bred and luckily he was on hand to provide some useful volunteer tips

When I decided to go Antelope Park, I knew I had to extend my trip slightly to be able to spend some time with my wonderful family (albeit not enough). Not only did I get quality time with my aunt and cousins, whom I miss dearly, but as my uncle had lived in Zim his whole life, he was able to give me a number of valuable things and advice that I would need when I went off on my own.

Alongside the preparation and research I had done beforehand, I have compiled a list of useful tips to bear in mind if you are embarking on a project like mine:

 

1. Take cash

I never used my card once, I didn’t really have any opportunity too. I know not many people approve of carrying a lot of money with you when travelling but I had mine split in different places, and the majority of notes I carried were low value ones. This made it much easier to buy bits and bobs when I was out in the local town.

 

2. spare camera battery

If you’re picture mad like me, Africa is brimming with opportunities to take wonderful photos, there’s just so much going on. I always had one fully charged spare battery with me if I was out for the day, as there is nothing worse than getting half way through and the power light starts to flash. I remember an instance on one of our safari drives where one of the girls had her camera die halfway through and she was pretty devastated, as you never know what you will come across and whether you’d ever get a chance to see it again.

 

3. memory cards

Whilst on the topic of cameras, make sure you have spare memory cards! I came back with over 2000 photos plus a number of video and sound recordings. The volunteer coordinator when I was there did offer to burn cd’s for people who were running out of memory and needed to offload which was handy. But if you want to be safe, just take a couple of extra memory cards.

 

4. Binoculars

Nobody else seemed to have them and if you’re just going to be working on the conservation project than you may not need them. If you plan on travelling or going on any game drives then you totally should get them, they were invaluable for animal spotting.

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5. Head torch

Sound silly? It’s not. Say its pitch black and you need the loo – necessary. The most important use I had for the head torch was when we were at Matopos National Park and we were taken to climb this massive rock in the pitch black… so we could get high up to watch the sunrise. Climbing on all fours and holding a torch is not easy – enter head torch. They’re not expensive, they’re not bulky I’d take it just in case, trust me you will find a use for it.

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6. Mini wind up room light

This is something my uncle gave me and I reeeeally didn’t see the point at the time, it just seemed like excess weight for no reason. It was obviously me being totally naĂŻve. Power cuts are very common in Zim and it’s just part of everyday life. This light however could brighten up a whole room and when the powers one off before the morning walk and its pitch dark, it does come in handy. I gave mine to one of the lion handlers before leaving, as I knew it would be of real use to his family and he was ecstatic with it.
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7. good pair of walking boots

Yes it’s Africa and it gets really hot but that doesn’t mean you want to be walking around in your flip flops. I took a pair of walking boots with me and pretty much wore them day in day out. With conservation work you spend nearly all of your time outside in the bush, sometimes you could be doing quite manual work and having your feet protected, supported and comfortable makes a big difference.

 

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8.Nat Geo Buff band

My trip to Zim, was in June – technically winter. The mornings were very cold but by 11am the sun was beaming and the layers of clothing could be stripped. This band works in all weather, great for keeping your neck warm in the cold, putting your hair up or back when its hot. There are a number of ways to wear them, they are just super multi functional. You’ll probably find they’re handy for all kinds of trips.

 

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9. Bring as much as you can afford

IF you can afford to, it’s worth taking whatever they recommend on the ‘things you might need list’ not just because you’ll probably need it, but because sometimes they might not have enough to lend you once you’re there. I decided to leave quite a lot of what I took with me there for either the park to use, or for donating to families who may need them.

 

10. Treats for the locals

Extra space in luggage? Organise a whip round for donations. During my stay, we were given the opportunity to visit the local orphanage and spend time with the children there, a heart melting experience. I had read about this trip before going and I bought a whole load of treats to take over for the children. I truly wish I had planned before hand, written to my airline to request an extended luggage for charity goods and asked my friends and family to donate more. Being able to donate anything to these beautiful children is a blessing no one should miss out on.

 

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Most importantly when you’re out there – Smile (To be fair, it’s really hard not to). 

I know it’s cheesy,  I’m stating the obvious but seriously you need to embrace all that you can. Africa is a beautiful continent and the people I met and came across in Zimbabwe were good natured, polite and without fail, always happy. It’s quite infectious! I will never forget their hospitality and how they truly appreciated it when you are doing everything you can to be involved and help.

 

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So no matter how hard you work, how tired you are, smile through it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

 

Anyone else got any tips for travellers taking on Conservation/Volunteer projects? Always good to know for when I plan the next one!

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