Yesterday, we woke up a bit early to go on our seal-swimming escapade. After jumping into our wetsuits and slapping on our goggles, we were out at sea. Unfortunately the water was too choppy to go seal swimming. Regardless, the skipper told us that these 6,000 seals are on the lower-tier of the food chain in relation to sharks. When the seals hug the shore, they show fear of a predator. That was our cue to play it safe. Even though sharks don’t prey on humans, they can sometimes confuse us for seals. When we got back to Plettenberg Bay, the tourism industry prevailed through the water sports and boutique shops. It made me think what tourism dependency means for a community. Affordable vacation homes in these areas means that foreign individuals can purchase these houses for relatively cheap but consequentially raise the prices for the locals and drive them out of the community. When we went to the township for lunch, we experienced an extremely tight-knit community as shown through the local bar, local gardens and provided lunch. The local food garden initiatives set an example of a powerful yet simple way to be conscious about what and how we produce and consume. It seems as through these local garden initiatives are meant to combat poverty and hunger through resources and education, but some challenges hinder these efforts since both funding and land is limited and cannot necessarily be expanded. Anyway, when we got home, we had a traditional lamb braai once again which was a good, local, relaxing way to end the day.
This morning’s weather conditions consisted of strong winds and hail, but luckily calmed enough before our beach walk. The managers of Forest Hall kindly showed us the sea, land, low tide, and everything in between. We discussed the Leave No Trace movement, which essentially means that one should not leave anything behind except for footprints to leave the land natural and untouched. This meant property disposing of tissues, not taking shells, and using biodegradable products. They encouraged spending time in nature to develop a personal relationship with the land, which eventually can change environmental attitudes and subsequent policies. Later we met botanist who taught us the importance of fieldwork to support policy-changing studies. He also showed us his hands-on centrifugal way to extract pollen from a flower by using old tops of two liter soda bottles and string. After talking to these passionate people, we decompressed with another braai — a mixture of nostalgia from childhood campfires and South African culture.
My week spent on Gondwana Game Reserve with Conservation Global was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa with Franklin University Switzerland on academic travel in the spring of 2015. Bonding with the staff and learning about the animals in their natural environment made for one incredible week. Each day was filled with activities and lectures that were as entertaining as they were educational. As a group we had a lecture in the morning either from a member of the knowledge staff or from a local expert. We learned about native bee populations and were treated to honey samples from the region and were given a demonstration on the practice of tagging and tracking animals on the reserve. Perhaps the most memorable was when we were taught how to properly handle a tranquilizer gun and had a competition to see who could get a bullseye! After the morning lecture, the group would split up for the safari in which the staff took great care to make sure we saw as many animals as possible. Later in the afternoon we would regroup for a drink and to admire the scenery. I have the utmost respect for Conservation Global and the work they are doing—hoping to return to South Africa soon!
Conservation Global provided a comprehensive and engaging travel experience for a group of seasoned travelers. My expectations were exceeded due to the organization’s ability to strike a balance between learning and fun, academics were firmly grounded as the motivation for all activities. We had access to sustainability focused thought leaders who were great privileges to learn from; many of whom were only accessible through this fantastic organization and their vast network of environmentalists. From a beautiful sunrise hike of Lion’s Head in Cape Town to spending time with the students at Tsiba college in Knysna, I would happily relive this trip in a heartbeat. I am grateful for Conservation Global and the time and energy they put in to ensure a memorable, inspiring and educational South African adventure for all involved.