Before coming to South Africa I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought that everything is going to be different to what I know but I couldn’t really imagine it. Of course I googled “Kruger National Park” like a thousand times but the pictures I saw were always the same ones. Stunning five-star lodges with pools and incredible panorama views. Hordes of impressive animals such as elephants, zebras or lions in front of the most beautiful sundowns I have ever seen. It seemed to be the most fascinating place in the world and definitely the place I wanted to be.
I was very excited to go to South Africa and even more disappointed when I arrived. The great Safari Tours that I imagined myself to be on turned out to be long hours on an open vehicle, seeing only a few animals from the distance. The soils were dried out and all the plants and trees seemed to be more dead than alive. There was no green at all, only some thorny bushes and dry, sandy grounds. When going to the community projects, we passed very poor regions with trash lying around everywhere, as if trash cans don’t exist in this place. I somehow didn’t expect a country which is known for its beautiful and untouched nature and wildlife to be so dirty and careless about the environment. I somehow felt like I came to the wrong place and that all these amazing landscapes I had in my mind are far from reality.
The only thing that exceeded my expectations in a positive way was the accommodation. It is a very beautiful and clean lodge, surrounded by nature and wildlife reserves. Also the food is very delicious and the cleaning ladies make sure that the animals don’t feel too cosy in our rooms!
It took me about three weeks to realize how beautiful this place really is. I even started to love the previously described dirty small towns situated next to the streets and have to smile whenever we are in the car driving through the area. I am falling in love with this place every day a little bit more. It is not only about the animals you see, but also about the amazing people you meet and the experiences you make. Some other volunteers fell in love with this place the minute they arrived, but for me personally it took a little bit longer. When finally the first raindrops fell at the end of September, it seemed as if the area came back to life again. Everything has changed its colour from brownish into a bright saturated green, making this place even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. Also the animals seemed to love the rain and we had the chance to be very close to them, creating incredible experiences and memories.
These animal encounters made me realize why it is so important to protect the wildlife here and why conservation education is crucial to the impact we can make. I also started to understand my role here as an intern a little bit better and know, at least somehow, what I am supposed to do within the next few months. The most important thing here that I had to learn the tough way is that it is important to ask whenever you have a question or are unsure about what you should do. They won’t come to you, but if you ask them they will try to help you as much as they can.
If there is an advice that I could give to anyone who is about to come to the Greater Kruger Area it would be this one: enjoy the time you have and don’t isolate yourself from the loving people that live here. Also take your time and step outside for a moment, go for a walk and breathe into the amazing surrounding whenever you feel like wanting to go home!
Let this place fill your heart with the joy and happiness that is around and I am sure you will fall in love sooner than you would imagine!
~ Melanie Frauenlob ~
Happy Africa Foundation Intern – read more about our internships.