My first week in South Africa is over! What a relief. This was a very hectic, busy, interesting, teaching and tiering week. I arrived in Dumela Lodge just a week ago and it seems ages ago since we were so busy, almost overwhelmed with information and tasks during this week.
Our base in the greater Kruger area is Dumela Lodge. It is located about 30 minutes away from Hoedspruit which is largely a tourist town, serving the many tourists coming to Kruger NP and the MANY private reserves and lodges around it. The city also hosts a military air force base whose airport serves as a civilian airport too.
Our lodge is quiet small, the rooms are simple, sleeping 4 (or 6) volunteers in bunk wooden beds, ensuite. One cabinet shared by all 4. I sleep in the bottom bed and the bed above me is very, very close, I cannot sit-up and had to ask for a chair. Rooms are cleaned up every day and we get our private laundry done once a week. To get a feel for the type of rooms just compare them to simple B&B in an Israeli Kibutz (of somewhat lower-level).
The grounds are very much like the surrounding areas. Since the winter in South Africa is the dry season the overall color is a kind of brownish yellowish. The grass is low and dry, many of the trees look almost dead without their leafs.
Breakfast is self-service cereals, toast, fruits, jam or peanut butter and served throughout the morning. Lunch is light snack and salad type and dinner is cooked main course or Braai (barbecue in Africans) and salad.
The food is simple but sufficient, of the “nothing to write home about” type. All of us eat on long shared tables in the courtyard. The Braai is served in the outside Boma (enclosed fire place in Swahili), where the volunteers seat and relax almost each evening for chatting, dancing and a bit of drinking.
Apart from the rooms the lodge has facilities for for conducting the research and conservation activities. The main mission of African Impact is conservation of wildlife and people in Africa. The team in our lodge is focusing on the nearby area.
We get tons of inductions, general rules of the place, safety and security, African Impact mission, animal behavior, poaching and anti-poaching activities. Each presentation lasts about an hour and is very educating.
The Photography Course
The course was delivered by Tim, a professional photographer and Sam, his assistant (ex volunteer who elected to spend more time with the organization). We had about 25 hours of lectures on photography. Since the volunteers range from newbies who just bought a camera to experienced ones the course covers from basics of camera to motion, macro, night photography. We also covered Lightroom (Adobe’s application that acts as a digital dark room for developing photos).
The course was very interesting, either new knowledge or it puts things you know in order and perspective. The course involved lots of exercises of each of the topics covered.
Our busy days ran from 6:30 in the morning (after breakfast!) to 20:00 in the evening, with almost no rest periods in between. On top we had to complete or homework and deliver our processed photos on time. This schedule is “kind of required” in order to squeeze 25 hours of lectures, two game drives and exercising in three and a half days.
The people around are very nice, both the volunteers and the staff. Most of the volunteers are in their early twenties, few are in their late thirties/early forties and myself as the eldest. The staff is a bit older.
Everyone here has positive attitude and contribute to the success of their period with African impact.
Our goal is to produce two types of photos. On one hand just “nice” photos which means professional quality appealing photos that will be placed in African Impact photography data base and used by non profit conservation organizations worldwide or, preferably, sold to whoever would like to use them in brochures, yearly reports etc. The money will then support the African Impact activity. The second type of photos is game “ID”s, which means photos that provide identification of individual game and its where about at the time of the picture was taken.
So far we went on three game drives. Two three hours drives in Buffaloland which is a private game reserve about 5 minutes drive from the lodge. Out of the “Big 5” we saw buffalos and black Rhinos. Other animals we got to see were various antelopes and birds, giraffes, zebras, monkeys and warthogs.
Our first “real” game drive was a 24 hours trip which included overnight in a non fenced, tented camp in Klaserie game reserve. Klaserie is a very large private game reserve, bordering Kruger Park NP and actually has no fence to Kruger, which means that the animals can freely roam between the reserves.
Klaseire is located about 45 minutes away to the north from the lodge. We were bussed to the gate and there we met our local guide and transferred to the open top safari truck. A short drive brought us to the camp. Tents (two to a tent), a kitchen tent, toilet, sink and a boma between the tents. The camp is not fenced and we were warned not to move outside the enclosed area, especially at night as the reserve is a home to lions, leopards and other animals. We saw and took pictures of two elephants on the way.
Brief reorganization (we had to setup our own beds) and off we go for our afternoon game ride. We shot nice sunset photos. The major game we saw was a male and female white rhinos. The highlight is a leopard. Leopards are very hard to see and every safari truck in the neighborhood rushed to get a glimpse. The sighting was very late in the evening and we vent straight back to the camp for dinner.
Dinner is burgers we cooked ourself. We setup fire in the boma and waited until we had enough coals to grill the meat. I volunteered to be the cook and prepared the burgers, the rest (salad, buns, veggies, cheese) we brought with us from the lodge.
After dinner we went for a two hours night safari, had not seen animals but the ride is nice. We stopped for some night photography, mostly stars.
Getting into the tents and sleeping on a mattress laid straight on the floor is something I have not done for many years but is not too much of a trouble. The staff warned me that if I have to go pee at night to pee next to the tent and not even go to the toilet which is a bit further away.
6 AM wake up, quick hot drink and off we go for sun rise photography. We drive to a waterhole so we can get some reflections and shoot some nice pictures. Three hours of morning game drive brings our trip to its end.
Quick packing, short drive to the gate, 45 minutes drive and we are back in the lodge which by now feels like home, sweet home.
Hoedspruit city tour
Late Friday afternoon we get to go to the nearby city. Most of the time was spent by the volunteers shopping for gifts and extras to improve their diet. I hopped for improved wifi but to no avail, for most of the time it is as bad as in the lodge.
Thst’s it for now.