Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gentle Giants

Roused from deep slumber, my day began very early, and then went on with driving through the dark morning on a very windy road through the approprietly named Misty Mountains. The road - usually stretching through lush green hills - allowed us only a glimpse of the next five meters that lay ahead as the headlights created a milky white bubble around us.

Dawn finally broke, painting the world in shades of gray and slowly breathing color into it. The landscape changed from mountains to plaines and my curiosity as to where we were going increased even more. One sign made me hesitate. Turn right for "Kruger Gate". No, it couldn't be, I thought. 
However, as the sun rose in an overcast sky, making the clouds blush, we passed the main entrance into the Kruger National Park. My heart was pounding with joy, with utter excitement as it dawned on me that I was about to see the magnificent animals of Africa in the wild.  

Fortunately the morning sky stayed overcast, 
keeping the sun from cooking us, only a glimpse of blue peering through occasionally. A pleasant breeze played with my hair as we rolled the windows down a bit, not too much since we didn't want to have a leopard stucking his head inside the car to say Hello. 

At first I was afraid I would be bush blind, not able to see any animals. But that fear was soon laid to rest as I saw a buck, then two - including a little baby who was quite busy with his breakfast. Later an elephant cow with her baby stood in the high grass amongst the trees not far off the road, ripping leaves and branches.
It was incredible: lions sunbathed on the road, a rare white rhino grazed peacefully in the distance...

A day to remember...and a place to return to. :)

However, the day wasn't over yet. There was another surprise waiting for me. Again we drove with me having no clue as to where we were headed, but not long and we turned left: Elephant Whispers a sign greeted.
I remembered it. We had passed here in the morning on our way to the Kruger Park. Elephants. I had loved them since I was a child and watched them in the zoo. Now I wanted to know....

When we stepped inside, a woman greeted us and handed me two envelopes. One even had a cream-colored bow around it. No clue what that was all about, I was way beyond curious now and opened  it up, my hands shaking slightly. 
Adoption papers. 
Tears couldn't be stopped when I realized that not only would we meet the gentle giants, but that we also had adopted two of the elephants.
Andile and Tembo.

I was eager to meet them. After a couple of minutes of waiting, we were finally introduced to Elephant Whispers' six tamed and trained elephants who were rescued from planned game reserve culling operations by Elephants for Africa Forever (EFAF). As ambassadors for their species, this herd has an important conservation message to share.

You come ignorant and leave educated - and filled with awe and respect. Being able to feel their constantly curious trunks, touch their rough and in some places incredibly soft skin, and offer tasty treats while learning about their behaviour and history from the Elephant Handlers was a once in a lifetime experience.
Having a big, gentle giant like Andile begging me to feed her little treats directly into her mouth so I could feel her soft tongue was incredible. 14 years old, she is a beautiful, young female African Elephant and I'm proud to be her Mom. ;) 
Trusting, playfull and gentle....this herd reminds us that we share the planet with magnificent and incredibly intelligent creatures.

I'm grateful for these unforgettable memories.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

The day started out rather quiet and calm, which was a relief since I needed time to acclimatize to the sudden change - from the frosty cold of winter to the humid heat of South Africa. I enjoyed the warmth of love, the sun on my face and a cool swim in a pool. You see, I had been taken to a place unknown to me right after I landed in Johannesburg. However, as noon approached I was told - with a wicked, happy smile - to get ready and dressed...a surprise awaited me.

Curiosity ate away at me during the long drive, but I was only offered one small clue:
"We will meet a world-renowned personality."
Huh? What now? 

After more driving we finally turned left onto a smaller road...and then I saw the sign on the side of the road: The Jane Goodall Institute, Chimpanzee Eden Sanctuary.

right outside the JGI SA Chimpanzee Eden Sanctuary

"For real?"
The only answer I got was a smile and a nod. For real.
I cried. 
I'm not used to someone who actually gives a damn, who creates memories and makes them the most incredible and dearest presents of all. And I hope I will never get used to it.

We followed Dr. Jane Goodall on her adventure. From the gray of the UK to setting up camp in the remote Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in her life among the wild primates.

We shared her despair when she only caught fleeting glimpses of the chimps that were frightened by the sudden appearance of this strange white ape.Then felt the joy and amazement as she won their trust and came to know the chimps as individuals, as she observed previously unknown behavior, such as the use - and even the making - of tools, which was until then believed to be a skill exclusive to humans. 

Jane Goodall brings to life a profound connection between humans and the chimps. Reminding us that one person - who would have never thought that her work would be praised as one of the Western World's great scientific achievments - can change so much. Reminding us that not only the chimpanzees still need our help, but so many other animals as well. The magnificent rhinos of Africa are only one example, but one that touches my heart. 
Time is running out and yet...there is hope.

It's one of my favorite words: Hope. Stay postive, keep believing...and do something. It's better than to slump your shoulders in despair. 

The man who opened my eyes to the brutal reality and absurdity of rhino poaching is Mario Saincic
..with Mario Saincic and Dr. Jane Goodall
He knows that time is of the essence for the rhinos and has therefore decided against the traditional - and more lengthy - way of publishing and self-pubbed his romantic suspense/adventure novel My African Dream on Amazon. Most importantly, he pledged to donate 50% of author proceeds to rhino conservation.
If you want to know more about the pledge and/or the supported organizations, please click here and have a look at his blog.

It was my first (yes!) and most wonderful Valentine's Day ever.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Heading home...

After visiting my family in Germany for Christmas, New Year's and a bunch of birthdays in between, I'm heading back to South Africa. To the life and love I found there so unexpectedly.

Since the plan was to get a long stay visa (which takes the embassy up to eight weeks to process), I enjoyed the time available with my family. I don't know when I will see them again, but in our hearts we are connected no matter where we are.

Getting my visa was quite a struggle and had my stomach in knots. When I finally got the email telling me that it was issued and was on its way to me, the weight of worry was off my mind and pure joy and happiness burst like a bubble inside. I was quite literally bouncing around and jumping up and down.

Ready for take-off!
I'm coming home...