When planning for the trip, I knew I wanted to go to Africa and I ended up finding an excellent volunteer site called African Impact (http://www.africanimpact.com). There were an overwhelming number of options for volunteer work all over the continent involving work with people, animals and the environment. Since I am terrible with making decisions, and that I had already taken over planning of the second leg of our trip, I left it up to Dan to decide. He had no problem finding one that called to him immediately: The Cheetah Re-Introduction Project.
We were really excited to be travelling to South Africa and we knew that seeing Cheetahs (and getting to work with them so closely) was going to be an amazing experience. We were picked up by the lady that ran the Dell Cheetah Centre and shuttled to the site, near the town of Parys.
**Note** We didn’t really know much about this project prior to going, which made it difficult to explain to our families and friends what exactly we were going to spend a month doing. I really rely on reviews to help me know what to expect and since I didn’t know the name of the Cheetah place prior to like 7 days before leaving, I felt a bit nervous. I suggest if this is important to you, ask the organization for the name of the people / place you will be working for so you can investigate first.
When we arrived we were instantly excited. The Centre is in a beautiful valley of sorts that was created by a meteorite impact long ago and so the features of the area are breathtaking.
The owners of the centre did a fantastic job making volunteers as comfortable as humanly possible. The house we stayed in was very spacious with 3 main rooms for sleeping, one large room with around 4 beds, one room upstairs with a big queen bed for two (the room was circular and reminded me of a castle tower) and one large room with three beds (where we stayed together). All of our food was provided for us, the fridges and freezer were completely packed with groceries and they had taken special care to ensure that I had lots of vegetarian options (which was thoughtful considering how frowned upon vegetarianism is in South Africa). There were two lovely local ladies who kept the house clean, cooked us breakfast 3 mornings a week and even did our laundry! There was a computer with internet access (as well as wifi on site), a television and books too. We were not expecting to live in such comfort!
The cheetahs lived down the lane in a large field with separate fenced enclosures for each. We were thrilled to discover that there were also two serval cats and a caracal as well. I will go into more detail about each cat in a later post.
One of my fondest memories about our arrival on site was when we came around a corner and saw a field full of horses. Immediately Dan asked our hostess, “Horses! Can we do some riding while we are here?” and the reply was “Oh those…We butcher those every couple of weeks and feed them to the cats”. That certainly answered the question in a hurry. We basically avoided any contact with the horses, but seeing as our windows faced the horse paddock, it was hard to ignore.
We were pleasantly surprised by our first impressions of the centre and while I would love to tell you that our one month stay was the most pleasant and rewarding experience one could ask for in Africa, the unfortunate truth is that it wasn’t.