By now, many of you have seen this bird plastered all over our Reaching Out 2 The World blurbs and shirts.
Simply put, it’s an Earth Bird nestled on top of a “reaching out” tree branch. It’s kid friendly and the image sticks out, compared to the other logos and drawings we came up with. Chris drew the main design and I cleaned it up and added the text to it. We decided to order a bunch of shirts with the Earth Bird on it for us and the kids to wear on our trip. We also thought it would be a neat incentive for those who donated a certain amount. We don’t plan on Reaching Out to just these kids in South Africa. Maybe one day, we can reach out to other less privileged people in other countries. For the time being, we’re just focusing on here and now. Baby steps.
Everyone woke up early for Day 3. We had a lot in store! Backpacker’s Paradise prepared breakfast for everyone which I had no idea what it consisted of because I was too busy guarding all of my valuables that needed to be charged. But I heard it was pretty tasty! Afterwards, we all packed our bags and went into the van. The first place on our agenda today was an Elephant Reserve! Here the kids would have an opportunity to feed and interact with African Elephants! Some of these guys have never even seen an elephant in their lives! None of them have had the chance to be this up close and personal with an elephant before either. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with elephants here and here. And each of those times I had were incredible! So I knew these kids would enjoy it just as much as I did. There were three guides and each guide had an elephant. Once they brought them out, the kids immediately went silent as the three largest land mammals on earth walked right past them. They were definitely in awe, especially the ones who have never seen an elephant before, let alone this close up. We followed them to a different enclosure where the guides had food for the boys to give to the elephants.
I attached my GoPro to Mawande this time so everyone could see the action up close and personal. One by one, each of boys cautiously approached an elephant with a carrot in hand. Their first task was to feed the elephant and let the elephant wrap its trunk around their shoulders. Some of the boys were up to the challenge and a couple of them were also up for it but their facial expressions looked otherwise!
After introducing themselves to their new friends, the boys got the change to sit on the elephants knee and then on it’s back. Lupho was first up and he struggled a bit to climb on top of the elephants back. One of the guides actually picked up the wiggly Lupho and sat him on its back. Lupho’s face looked like either he was on the verge of tears, stricken with fear, or a combination of both! He got off the elephant with all smiles though. The other boys had a bit of an easier time with it.
Once they each had a turn, it was now time play ball with the three elephants. These elephants were trained to throw a soccer ball with their trunk and kick them with their front feet. The handler placed a ball next to an elephant and soon enough, the elephant sucked up the ball with its trunk and tossed it in the air across to the kids. The elephant did this a couple of times before it started to kick the ball to the boys. They thought this was the most amazing thing ever! After a few minutes of playing around, it was time to go to our next destination for the day, the Cango Wildlife Ranch. This is the place where I interacted with cheetahs, lemurs, and tigers last year. This time the kids would get that same opportunity!
We approached the entrance which was the mouth a giant crocodile, which was a great indicator of what was in store for them! We had a guided tour through the park where a guide told is about all of the animals there, which he referred to as “ambassadors”. They are ambassadors because the animals here will help create public awareness of the current state of those specific animals in the wild and what we can do to help keep their numbers at a growing or steady rate. I’m almost positive that the boys have never seen most of the animals that were in care here. We saw playful river otters, pygmy hippos, vultures, porcupines, and all sorts of apes and simians swinging about.
One of the main attractions of this place were the crocodiles. Crocodiles are viciously strong creatures that can snap a human body in half in one bite!
The guide told the boys this and jokingly told them to be careful when walking on the bridge that was suspended over the pool of crocs. The crocs here have been known to occasionally leap out of the water and gobble up unsuspecting visitors. As soon as he said this, the bridge began to shake and you could hear hungry crocodiles grumbling from the speakers. I have NEVER seen the boys move so fast! They reacted quick and darted to the other side of the bridge! It was all just a joke of course that the park guides would play on visitors all the time. It was just triggered by the push of a button. The boys thought this was serious and for a moment thought real crocodiles were coming after them! I almost died laughing!
We moved on further into the park and went through the cat area. Here they had a few big cats including white tigers, leopards, a couple of cheetahs, and a couple of white lions.
These cats were also ambassadors to increase public awareness. The boys marveled at the regalness and beauty of the big cats. Actually I’m not sure if they did but I couldn’t help myself gazing over the white lions. I’ve never seen them before! Once we reached the end of the park, the boys had a chance to interact with a few animals up close and personal. Unfortunately, the cheetahs and tigers weren’t available at the time to interact with but there was still the options of the lemurs and snake encounters. The boys were split: Chester, Atha, and Aphiwe interacted with the lemurs. Avele, Mawande, Ski, and Lupho interacted with the python. RiRi chose not to interact with animals. When I asked him why, his response was “I choose to live!” I suppose there was a chance a lemur could take his eyeballs out and a python could constrict his neck and kill him. There’s always that chance.
Soon we left the park and went further into the country to get lunch. I wish I could tell you what I had for lunch. At the time, I had no idea what I was eating. The boys knew what it was. I now know it’s something called Vetkoeken, which translates to English as “fat cookies”.
These definitely weren’t cookies by any means. It was more like puffy pastries filled with yellow and green mush. The mush was actually some kind of minced meat. I know what they are now but at the time I had no clue. I ate it anyways. The kids seem to have eaten these before…or maybe not. Honestly, these guys will eat anything that’s put in front of them to the bone! I’ve never seen them leave a plate with any scrapes of food left on it. Wasting food isn’t an option for them.
We headed next to what many of the boys called their favorite part of the day. We had a canoeing trip booked at a kayaking shop somewhere out in the countryside. There were ten of us total which meant there would be two people per boat. Chris and I split up with who we thought might of been the two weakest swimmers in the bunch: Mawande and Lupho. I was with Lupho and Chris was with Mawande. Chester was paired with Atha, Ski was with RiRi, and Aphiwe was with Avele. The worker at the shop gave all the boys a very brief lesson in how to steer the canoe. Soon after we went out to the river. I thought I would be most of the power for my canoe with Lupho on board, but he actually surprised me and was able to hold his own and always powered through even if he was tired. Even though he’s the youngest one here, he definitely has a whole lot of heart! Lupho is 11 years old and unlike the rest of the group, he is still in a Primary School. He attends Ikaya Primary and is in grade 6. “Lupho” means “gift” in Xhosa. Chris and I decided that he was around more often and got along with the others well when we were looking for a replacement for Fudo. He was pretty pumped to be part of the trip now, as I bet he never expected an opportunity like this to happen to him out of nowhere. Lupho speaks English very well, even on par with some of the kids who are much older. His English is so good that Chris and I interviewed him earlier last week for a special project we were working on which you can read all about here. Lupho can be a little quiet at times, but maybe that’s because he’s surrounded with all these older kids who already have a history together. Regardless he’s a great kid and I’m glad he was able to come along. He was the perfect rowing partner! We paddled along when we noticed Chris and Mawande, who were far behind us, stop and turn around. He was too far and I had no idea why he turned around. I decided to continue on, but only just a little bit with the other kids, minus Atha and Chester, following me. I didn’t know where those two were either. I stopped at an area nearby close to a small wooden bridge – it’d probably be best to wait for Chris and the others. Lupho decided this was the best moment to jump and swim in the water! All the kids had life jackets on, and there was barely any current in the river so I was fine with it. The water was cold but Lupho didn’t care! We waited around for about fifteen or twenty minutes before we finally saw Chris and Mawande paddling back. But there was no sign of Atha and Chester. What happened to them?
When Chris and Mawande paddled closer, he explained that he turned around because Atha and Chester weren’t following directions and capsized their canoe! Neither can swim too well but had life jackets on. Chris had to turn over their boat, empty out the water, and pull their canoe while gaiting in the water back to the dock. He made them stay behind and wait since they couldn’t follow directions. With these two, Atha and Chester, it wasn’t too surprising to hear this. While I was here last year, I was warned by Chris and another volunteer to “watch out” for Chester, he’s a sneaky one. Chester would keep telling me that he knows he was a bad kid when Chris was here two years ago but he’s changed since then. I thought he was fine when I was around the first time but noticed through time that he is a bit of an oddball. Chester is 13 years old and attends Mukuphula High School in Kayamandi. His real name is Khanyisa, and his name means “to give light”. He’s nicknamed Chester because one of his favorite rugby players is named Chester. Whenever Chris and I are still fast asleep in the morning and we hear a knock at the door, I’d say 90% of the time, it’s probably Chester. He’s over more often than any other kid in Kayamandi! As I’m typing this now, he’s sitting on the foot of my bed; first one here today like usual. I’m not exactly sure why Chester was so bad the first time Chris met him but since then he must of grown up a bit because he isn’t so bad anymore from what I can tell. I honestly think the excitement got the better of him and Atha, so therefore they flipped their canoe. Tough luck.
The rest of us paddled along the river under the main bridge and did a loop around. Along the way back, I passed out all of the snacks I had in my canoe to the others. We came back to the dock where Chester and Atha were waiting and pulled our canoes up to land. It was most of the boys first time on a canoe but they all got the hang of it very quick, especially Lupho. I was pretty impressed!
We went back to the van and Isaac took us to Myoli’s Beach, where we stayed at one of the coolest beachside hostels for the night called Afrovibe. I’d say, more than anything, the boys love to go on the water! So as soon as we got to the hostel and dropped our bags in our dorm room, the boys took off to the beach which was right over a sand dune a few meters away from the hostel. In the sand we spotted the freakiest, alien-like substance moving in the sand! It was probably a jellyfish. Could of been an alien…
I thought this was the perfect moment to bury one of the boys in the sand and sculpt a silly body on the sand. I picked Mawande because he’s the smallest and easiest to bury. I tried to get the kids to dig a trench next to him so the tide wouldn’t flood over Mawande’s face but they were more interested is seeing that happen rather than protecting their friend! They got their wish as I wasn’t able to sculpt a body on Mawande and the tide came and washed over him.
Meanwhile, the others were body boarding on the waves and throwing the football and rugby ball in the water.
Afrovibe was kind enough to give us this hostel free of charge after Hotspots let them know the purpose of our trip. Thanks again Afrovibe! They also prepared each of us our own personal sized pizza! We had the choice between a Hawaiian style or a typical Margherita pizza. Most of the boys chose the latter, while Aphiwe and I chose the Hawaiian. Afterwards, the boys roasted marshmallows Isaac had brought with him in the huge fire that was going on.
They made way back to the dorm we all shared and all of them wrote a few postcards to give to our contributors. We aren’t even halfway done with sending out these postcards but we’re working on them! The night ended with the kids playing cards and talking amongst each other. We had two more days left of this trip and so far everything has been going pretty well!