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Today was definitely our busiest day thus far. We went on a hike of Lion’s Head, which supposedly looks like a lion from a certain angle but it looks like I have to work on my imagination a bit. Our tour guide, our extremely talented and qualified leader, helped us build an understanding between nature and fire, the human species and the land, and the half-hearted, hard-headed optimist. He recited poetry about what it means to be one with the land as we reflected on the mountain beneath us. At one point, I told him that I was impressed with the lack of litter on the trail, with the exception of two cigarette butts – then he asked me why I never picked them up. I used the “unsanitary” excuse but it made me think, if I didn’t pick them up, then who would? Conservation groups usually take on this responsibility, but it does not combat the problem, it more so mitigates the outputs of the problem. The guide and I talked about finding a solution to stop the problem at its roots by formatting the discourse around human and land working together instead of land being an object for entertainment and commodification. This also goes hand-in-hand with the shark cage diving industry, which we will be supporting next week; the industry is marketed through fear and exhilaration as it portrays sharks as scary beings. Unfortunately this tactic is successful and reinforces the “us versus them” sentiment between nature and humans. Instead, the industry should promote healthy attitudes in efforts of creating a mutually respected relationship. The view from the top of Lions Head was beautiful and we want to keep it that way through preservation.
We also visited Patrick “Terror” Lakota at the Mount Nelson hotel. Since he was Nelson Mandela’s cellmate, he could speak of many of Mandela’s ideals, habits, passions, etc. Not only was he Mandela’s cellmate, but he also played a large role in the anti-apartheid movement as well. Talking to someone who spent 13 years in jail really made me think about what it could have been like for him as someone who tried to follow the rules but then later realized that these ruled should not be followed in order to encourage a just legal and cultural system. He also talked about president Jacob Zuma concerning his contribution to a corrupt South Africa by trying to buy a new airplane with taxpayer money. I asked Mr. Lekota if he would change anything (either personally or as a movement) about how he dealt with apartheid. He said he did not have any regrets, but he wishes there was more grass root leadership once he, Mandela, and other leaders were incarcerated.
We then visited the Langa township, which was much more interesting than I thought it would be – I didn’t know what to expect but I hadn’t ever seen anything like it in my life. We explored the classrooms where women are empowered through subsidized community gardens. Our guide, Nathi, told us that the kids used to throw up when they ate raw vegetables because they weren’t used to it, however raw veggies are now being integrated into their daily diet. Nathi also taught us some words and clicking sounds, which symbolize letters, from his language. He also explained many customs to us:
– Not only did he tell us about cooking sheeps’ head, but also he showed us the women cleaning, scrubbing, and roasting the heads on a stick. This is a delicacy that many people in the township enjoy.
– Men often drink homemade beer made by the women through generations. The women can drink it but it generally looks bad when they drink habitually since they “have other responsibilities like cooking and cleaning the house” as Nathi said. We tried the homemade beer, but we all struggled, to say the least. They told us that tasting it was optional, but we had a “when in Rome” mindset, so most of us agreed. It was flat, warm, white, sandy, and drank out of the same metal 3-liter canister by everyone involved. They made us drink 2-3 gulps each, and I will say that it was not the most enjoyable experience.
We played with the elementary school kids and they would say, “shoot me!” which meant to shoot a picture of them. They were SO happy, friendly and welcoming. Julia Tomich and I have traveled to four continents together and I have never seen her so emotional. I taught them some hand games from my childhood and was sad to say goodbye after 30 minutes. On our tour, our guide also only had negative things to say about Zuma, however he had an interesting insight: He supports Zuma in power because he is putting a negative reputation on the ANC (African National Congress which was started by Mandela but shifted to be a corrupt power) and therefore allowing the ANC to finally lose support, which will promote a two-party system and democracy in the long run. People only voted for Zuma because they felt loyal to the ANC, not to Zuma, but regardless, our guide hoped that the ANC will finally lose power and it will strengthen other parties. After this township tour, we had a nice dinner with live music when Sonyah and I started a dance party in the restaurant. We followed the day with a theater performance about South African politics and barhopping with our new local friend Bianca. It was a great last night in Cape Town!
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.