JoLt 2008 – Diary

JoLt 2008 Diary

Monday 14th July
Following twenty nine plus hours travelling since leaving Heathrow, 32 very weary, tired and worn out Jolters arrived at Swakopmund. We experienced some hairy turbulence on the way but the group coped very well.

After meeting our guests, we spent the first night in relative comfort, but after five hours’ sleep, an early start this morning was essential to prepare for the day. Africa is proving pretty cold early on! The day started with a boat trip from Walvis Bay, escorted by seals and a very friendly fur seal called Spot who literally hopped on board! We were entertained by heavyside dolphins surfing on the wake and playing in the bow wave.

An expedition on quad bikes took place across the desert sands scaling crescent dunes and dry wadis. Our first group challenge was to conquer as a team the summit of the largest dune, before sliding down on our bums and bellies! Some took a tumble but all is well… other than sand everywhere! The group worked together and created innovative methods of pulling and lifting and supporting and sliding and encouraging everyone to get to the top. People are adjusting and settling into a new, challenging, exciting and interactive way of life. With such a successful achievement, the group are looking forward to the next challenge!

Tuesday 15th July
Following our last night in a bed for a while, we loaded on to two trucks for a three hour drive on dust tracks. The journey was a bouncy sing along and an ideal opportunity to see the landscape of Damaraland, Northern Namibia.

We arrived lunchtime at Spitzkoppe, an imposing granite inselberg and an ancient spiritual meeting place of bushmen. The area is a vast flat area with granite boulders arising up out of the surroundings. The granite was formed from lava millions of years ago. It was clear from to all how the legacy of geological events has created such a beautiful and interesting place. Under the shadow of the Spitzkoppe, we set up camp, where facilities at were limited, with many experiencing ‘long drop’ toilets for the first time.

Roan, one of the support team, introduced us to aspects of this environment. We learnt about the Camel Thorn Acacia tree, spied a Klipspringer amongst the rock formations, and the Hirax animal. We are beginning to gain an insight into these special environments and appreciate where we are.

The afternoon challenge was to ascend a large rock at the base of a large mountainous bolder. It began on gravel followed by an increasing gradient on the rock. Midway was a large step up, many chose to crawl, bum shuffle, or work in teams over the obstacle. Finally we had to navigate around large craters in the rock before achieving the summit. At times it seemed like we wouldn’t make it or would require more climbing equipment. The team pulled together well to help everyone to the top, with everyone needing to rely on the support of each other. The vista at the top was worth all the effort with a panorama stretching out across the plains, speckled with acacia trees and only matched by the silence and tranquillity. From here we watched the shadows lengthen as the sun set. We enjoyed ten minutes of silence to listen and reflect upon our experience so far.

Following the challenge we all had to learn how to erect tents. Working in 4’s we set up camp and gathered around the camp fire to exchange stories, as the African night spread out before us. As a group we have risen to the challenges of living in such a harsh and barren place, and grown closer together as a team.

Wednesday 16th July
Yesterday we learnt to erect camp, now was the time to take it down and move on. It would be nice to settle for longer but the journey awaits. We were surprised to see it was still dark at six in the morning when we got up! And cold when we crawled from our sleeping bags. We are beginning to realise the levels of work required to maintain travel and camping especially in this country.

The journey today was six hours to Etosha National Park. We broke the journey with a brief browse around a few local stalls at the roadside. We haggled with ladies, still in missionary costume, over jewellery and precious stones found in the local area. We feel we gave a fair price. The highlight of this trip was being lucky enough to see ‘Safari elephants’ by the roadside. This is very unusual as they have the whole of Namibia to choose from!

After a long and tiring journey, we arrived at Etosha ready to prepare for the first game drive. We saw our first giraffes and springboks whilst travelling to camp. This was very special as our first sightings. Before tea, we managed to fit in a short trek to a waterhole near camp. This proved a magical way for Tom to celebrate his 18th Birthday! At the hole we witnessed six elephants greeting and sizing each other up. All were male so the tension was charged! From the night emerged two black rhino, another rare sight. People have visited Namibia for weeks and not seen black rhino or safari elephants but we managed them both in one day! Together, JoLt really does achieve amazing things! The evening meal gave us an opportunity to surprise Tom with balloons, banners, a feast, and lots of cake! He was clearly taken by surprise but did manage a speech.

“A dream come true, you’re all fantastic! I could not have wished for anything more.” Tom Evans. 18 yrs.

Friday 18th July
Up at 5.00am for a sunrise game drive. Impey (Zulu for warrior), one of our trucks, had a quiet drive with the Corrie Bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird at 19kg as the only new sighting. Monster, the biggest truck, had a great drive, sighting springbok and oryx, two lions close up and a wobble of ostrich. Our lion impersonations are perfected! After brunch in camp, we started a four-hour drive south to the Okonjima Cheetah sanctuary. The sanctuary has a wonderful campsite where we can make as much noise as we like………nobody is close enough to hear us!!

Before dinner we went and met the Adams family – four rescued cheetahs, cut from the stomach of their hunted mother, and hand-reared by the sanctuary. The contented purring and relaxed nature clearly demonstrated the great work of this sanctuary. Charlotte was even lucky enough to stroke Gomez, one of the brothers in the Adams family.

Following a hearty meal around the fire, with the cold air closing in, a well-earned early night was enjoyed by all, especially Jack!

Saturday 19th July
As it was the weekend, we all had a lie in – until 6.30am. However, Ali managed to set his alarm clock incorrectly, and his dulcet singing woke all at 6.15am! First port of call for the day was breakfast with an habituated male leopard, named Wooha. His name derived from the noise he made as a cub. It was only later they discovered that the name meant pregnant woman in Swahili!!

“Being five metres away from a leopard, jumping two metres in the air to get raw meat from trees was surreal,” said Roxi. We then moved on to a family of wild dogs. Millie was very taken by the dogs and claimed an ability to tame them, a risk we weren’t going to take!

Back at camp we enjoyed a late breakfast and some time for postcard writing and washing of smalls. There was time for a freezing dip in the local pool – these pools are getting colder by the day! Ivana rose to the challenge, plastic bag safeguarding her hair, and braved the ice-cold water, to the delight of a cheering crowd.

After a light lunch we enjoyed a traditional Bushman trail with Dax, a man who has spent six months living with the Bushmen. We learnt how to make rope, and set animal traps, which were tested by Jolters! Emily and Jordan went back to basics and created fire, Ray Mears style.

Sunday 20th July
This morning we ‘broke camp’ in record time. We had to take all tents down and be on the road for 6.30am. This meant a 5am wake up! Everyone helped out, especially Emma and Chris. We have excellent team players in the group and they really help us to get moving! Today was a huge day on the roads. We virtually travelled from sunrise to sunset. The time spent in trucks provides an excellent opportunity to perfect our singing and get to know each other better. We also have some amazing scenery rolling past. After two weeks in rural Namibia, it was strange to enter a city again and here we used this opportunity to shop and send emails.

The endurance element of this trip is really underway, as we spend long days travelling, with more early starts! We arrived just outside Solitaire, at Boesman’s place, just after dark. Boesman, (Afrikaans for bushman), proved to be a very hospitable and interesting host. We spent the evening walking under the amazing clear sky, listening to Boesman explain the stars and significance of this very special place, and, as if on cue, we watched in awe as the moon rose above the horizon. Many of the group were amazed to see that Boesman hasn’t worn shoes for ten years. Sherry quizzed Boesman on his life and the farm he runs.

The evening meal was a banquet, with a spit-roasted lamb. We all gathered to take turns carving and enjoyed a hearty meal. Boesman had gone to the trouble to cater for every need, and while Ish may not have appreciated the lamb, the vegetarian options went down well.

This evening, the girls took the decision to sleep under the stars. They wrapped up in their sleeping bags, huddled up, and drifted off under a blanket of the beautifully-lit African night sky.

Monday 21st July
An early morning rise from Boesman’s base to head for the static dune field of Sousslevi National Park. Here we embarked on an education adventure across the sand dune ecosystem. Boesman revealed the mystery of tracking, including the movements of gecko, hare, spiders, beetles and even the shark of the sand…….the mole! Emily was outstanding in her traverse of the dunes on all fours, an example to us all.

Our next challenge was to descend into the dramatic Sessrien canyon. Here the team had to work extremely hard to lift and guide all to the base of this post-glacial phenomenon. The group showed initiative and determination against the difficult terrain and midday sun.

Following a hectic morning’s non-stop activity, we headed to dune 45 for lunch. The heat was baking as we sheltered under the only tree at the base of the dune. The dune is the 45th sand dune and the largest in Namibia. Jack raced Nathan to the top but was robbed by some questionable tactics! Joe and Ish made it to the top, followed by some wild rolling down in the red warm sand. A huge effort was required to reach the top with many surprised they made it.

A drive took us further south through Namibia, arriving at the Afri-cat centre. Here we were able to get up close and personal to habituated cheetahss, an agitated leopard and a caracal, an experience Natasha will certainly never forget! The team were treated to a three-course meal in the local lodge before retiring to their candle-lit campsite. Millie was particularly excited about the chocolate mousse and custard dessert.

Tuesday 22nd July
Another 4.00am start – we are getting faster at taking down camp, as we had a long drive south to Fish River Canyon. We stopped for a roadside bush breakfast of porridge and fruit (and bush toilets of course!) and continued on our long journey. Impy suffered a puncture right on Fish River and a spectacular view was enjoyed whilst the crew efficiently changed the tyre. We still managed to arrive at our destination – Hobas campsite – on time.

We then headed to Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world, for a two km trek on rocky terrain along the vertical edge of the escarpment. Whilst Nicky was extremely anxious, she rose to the occasion and, with Lela coordinating a team of helpers and showing determination, we all reached the spectacular view point in time for a breath-taking sunset over the magnificent canyon.

A well earned dinner of pork chops was enjoyed on tables around the camp fire and Annie particularly enjoyed the coconut and custard pudding and animated company.

Wednesday 23rd July
On waking up early as the sun was rising at Hobas camp, as a team we quickly broke camp and said a farewell to Fish River Canyon. The destination for tonight’s camp was the Kalahari desert, for a special treat camping with the San Bushmen, some of the oldest and original desert inhabitants. The morning was spent catching up on sleep while travelling towards the border with South Africa. We had a roadside lunch at the border crossing waiting for the paper work to be completed. This seemed to take ages before we passed into no-man’s land. The Namibian immigration official boarded each truck to check identities, whilst holstering a Colt 45. The South African border was much quicker. However we had to leave behind one of the new crew who had an issue with his visa.

The miles seemed to mount as we whiled them away with singing, sweets, bush toilet stops, more singing, more sweets and more bush toilet stops! We finally arrived close to our destination and met Dante, our contact and guide. However, we were not able to get to the camp site because one of the trucks got stuck in deep sand (as well as a camel-thorn tree!), and the other suffered a puncture (again!). At times the adventure and challenge of travel comes thick and fast!

Our plans for accommodation were changed because of this and we travelled to a nearby lodge, Malelopo. The whole team were excited about the prospect of a roof over our heads and burgers and chips for tea. As we dined, we were entertained by a group of San Bushmen and women dancing around the fire, before we all settled down for the night together, in the Larpa.

A first for this expedition was all 32 of us sleeping in the same room on the floor together. The night was passing peacefully when three of the team were taken ill with a mild tummy bug. Many Jolters are coping marvellously with these new challenges, especially Corrie who is taking everything in her stride (now that she has ditched her crutches).

Thursday 24th July
The day began with many shouting good morning from their sleeping bags. Our destination this morning was only ten minutes away but required 4x4s to get there. To the delight of many we climbed in to the back of pickups for a bumpy journey. We were due to spend the morning with the bushmen learning their skills in a variety of ways.

Firstly, we set off to extend our knowledge of tracking from the people who rely on it to eat. This extended our knowledge and we were amazed at how people can tell which animals were present, the gender of each and how long ago they passed by. We were very impressed with how such small differences in marks can provide such detailed information.

The bushmen demonstrated how to make weapons. Paul took to the bow and arrow incredibly quickly and was the closest to a tiny target in the distance! With more time he would have hit the melon provided!

After seeing and buying many items of jewellery, we had a chance to make our own. We were taught to shape and pierce ostrich egg shell to create necklaces.

Friday 25th July
In Kamkhirri, following a relatively late start (7.30am), and quick breakfast, we began our briefing to prepare for ‘croc paddling’ down a section of the Orange river. The crocs are only the nick-name for the inflatable rafts we were using! We all squeezed onto adapted Land Rovers to make our way upstream from camp. This is where our first challenge unexpectedly occurred.

The wheel of one Land Rover was loose and could not continue. The group take incidents like this in their stride and did what was required. Some were left waiting on a track whilst another 4×4 shuttled us to our start point.

Once on board the crocs, we headed in to the head wind, supposedly downstream but it didn’t feel like it! Our first rapid proved exciting for many, especially Roxi who decided to fall out! All was well and she was soon hauling herself aboard to continue.

Ivana tackles the rapids!

Mark demonstrated his ability in the kayak and, working with his partner, successfully negotiated the grade two rapids, instead of finishing up in the reeds, like Dorothy!

The kayaking turned out to be a huge challenge with many pushing themselves to the limit. The wind was draining on the arms and the sand flies were out in force, which meant we actually took three hours longer than expected. Many wet, tired, and hungry JoLters dragged themselves up the banks to change finally into dry clothes and be rewarded with a hearty and delicious meal. Today was a new challenge and. as usual team work was essential to complete it.

Roxi departs company from Shirley and her ‘croc’!

Saturday 26th July
Again faced with a long journey, we loaded the trucks and prepared to entertain ourselves. We have tended to fall into a pattern when in the trucks – where all sleep, sing, play, chat, read, then sleep again! Our arrival at Kimberley, the ‘big hole’, was met with jubilation, an opportunity to explore AND stretch our legs! The tour was very interesting with many quizzing our guide to the limits of her knowledge! Sherry was awestruck with the sparkling vault containing South Africa’s first diamond and its biggest. The history of mining and how it shaped the country surprised many.

This evening was to be spent in prison!! The hostel we are staying in used to house the workers of the diamond industry! We arrived in darkness and had to help everyone to find their blocks. Our evening meal was held in the main hall and proved a great opportunity to catch up and exchange stories of the journey so far. Many are amazed at how fast time is passing and we all look forward to the challenges and experiences the next two weeks may hold.

Sunday 27th July
Another very early morning and farewell to our beds! We all enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs before beginning our endless drive up to the mountains of Lesotho. As a group, we are becoming hardened travellers and have developed the ability to sleep in any position! The highlight of our journey was the border crossing in to a new country.

The final section of this leg proved quite hair-raising along steep mountain tracks in the trucks. (See photo for details!)

We were all ecstatic to arrive at our mountain lodge – Malealea. An additional bonus was arriving at 3pm instead of the usual 6.30pm! Hence we are all currently enjoying time to sort bags, washing, and stretch from a bone-shaking journey.

The scenery from here is truly breath-taking. The whole country has a different feel to both Namibia and South Africa, especially the cold!

We look forward to a warm meal tonight and preparation for visiting the local school, singing practice!

Monday 28th July
The day started with a hearty breakfast as the sun steadily rose over the desolate mountain ranges in the distance. All our rooms are individual lodges decorated in traditional Basotho patterns with thatched roofs, nestled amongst hardy evergreens with their distinctive smell, and a soft needle carpet beneath. The trees are full of birds, too, ranging from peacocks to kestrels. The resort is such a peaceful and relaxing place.

We were greeted by our local guides for a morning tour of the village. The village of Malealea is a dispersed settlement of approximately two hundred residents that flows gently down the hillside from the lodge. Each family follows a traditional subsistence farming lifestyle, and, in small groups, we were taken into their unique rondavel houses, made of sticks and clad in mud and cow dung, with a thatched roof. Inside there was a small fire and we were welcomed as guests as we sat on their floor and listened to some of their stories. All remarked on how much we had learned as we explored their garden farms and we were introduced to the many uses of the indigenous plants, such as the blue agave.

After lunch, and with much anticipation, we donned helmets and were introduced to the horses we would ride for the afternoon. All of the team were mounted on horses, with support from our guides and leaders and we set off into the dramatic landscape of Malealea. Although many had some initial reservations and anxieties, all worked together to support and encourage each other. Roxi was a natural and rode around helping others, while others overcame their fears, such as Shannon who, after a while, took the reins herself and beamed with delight.

The trek arrived at an imposing canyon where we all dismounted for a group challenge. We helped each other descend into echo cave where we took it in turns to cast our voices across the valley and listen to it reverberate many kilometers down valley. The voice of Jolt was loud and clear! We then returned on horseback to the resort with a new spring on our step and a smile on every face – a real highlight for us all!

Tuesday 29th July
This morning the group were up eagerly as the anticipated school visit was our first itinerary item. We all followed our local guide down in to Malealea along a dirt track to the school. Excited faces greeted us through the windows as we approached the classroom. We were immediately welcomed by a larger-than-life lady who introduced herself as Mother Theresa. She was responsible for the school and turned out to be an excellent teacher, host and comedienne!

Following an introduction and chat, JoLters and local children mixed to enjoy a maths and English lesson. The levels of English and work shown were very impressive, Mother Theresa was justly proud. Emily demonstrated her mathematical ability on the blackboard to cheers from all.

We were then privileged to receive a welcome song by the African children. It became very clear that many hours of practice and dedication paid off as their harmonious voices echoed across the room and beyond. JoLt replied with a rousing chorus of ‘Animal Fair’ followed by ‘Old McDonald’. What we lacked in harmony, we made up with enthusiasm and actions!! These were nervous times for some, as singing in front of people we had just met can be nerve-racking – especially when those people are so talented!

The last lesson on the timetable was P.E on the field. This was not the grassy area we were used to but a dusty clearing with football nets. Following some ball games in mixed teams, we enjoyed an international football fixture against Malealea! Charlotte proved our best defender and prevented a certain goal. The fixture was close, especially as some players had swapped teams and it became very difficult to identify team members! The game was played in an excellent spirit with a just score of 4-4.

Finally we all settled down in the midday sun to share lunch and chat with our new friends. Many realised this meal was significantly more than the African children were used to. The whole visit was uplifting and educational for all. We gained friends, learnt more about rural Africa, and saw how others lived. Hopefully, Malealea gained friends, learnt some new games, and enjoyed a different morning in school. Jordan, Annabel, Roxi and David thanked Mother Theresa and her pupils for their hospitality and presented the school with a donation from JoLt, presents, and some sports equipment. Mother Theresa also received a t-shirt and brochure. The four did a fantastic job, publicly expressing our feelings of gratitude.

During the journey back to the lodge, JoLters discussed the morning and were clearly moved by the whole experience.

The afternoon was spent sorting bags in preparation for moving on and reassessing individual targets and goals for the remainder of the trip. Some found time to squeeze in a game of pool whilst others were exhausted and slept in this beautiful mountain environment.

Wednesday 30th July
Following yet another dawn get up, we hit the trucks for our longest journey by road. Our destination, Graaf Reinet, promised to be a larger town nestled next to the Valley of Desolation. After another successful border crossing, a jubilant group entered South Africa for the final time. Although the drive was long and arduous, we were all delighted with the accommodation. On arrival we set off for a local viewpoint before the sun set. Phone contact with home for the first time in three weeks provided a great opportunity for a JoLt scrum to see who could phone home first!

We were truly spoilt this evening with burgers and chips, a suitable treat after three weeks of camp cooking and challenges.

Thursday 31st July
After a chorus of Happy Birthday to Sherry, we left at 8.30am for a short game drive through the Karoo National Park, heading off with three guides. Our destination was an amazing viewpoint on top of a dolorite mesa which towered over the Valley of Desolation. On the ascent we passed kudu, elands, mountain zebra and ostriches and were entertained by blue-bottomed monkeys. Perched on a boulder was the unusual rock hyrax, which looks like a hamster but is in fact a member of the elephant family! On the final leg of the ascent, we all worked together as a team to lift, push and clamber over the rough terrain to reach the summit. Once there, the panorama opened up with 360-degree views stretching 140km. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we were accompanied by a pair of black eagles only a few meters overhead.

Before heading back for lunch, we also went for a short nature walk where many of the group had the opportunity to ride horses.

The afternoon saw us aim for the local township to the north, a sprawling settlement of simple buildings extending up the hillside. We were taken to the local school where we observed part of a lesson to Year 1 children. We were shown how they were taught both Kosha and English and listened to them sing, full of excitement and energy. The quality of teaching was encouraging with accuracy of phonics and classroom displays very similar to those found in the UK. We were also fortunate to meet some pupils with special needs, and we accompanied them out on to the field for sports. Emma, Millie, Liam, Emily and Jack took part in a traditional African game of Cat and Mouse, whilst Charlie and Roxi played an equivalent of Hopscotch. Many Jolters shared their skipping abilities, (Georgie was first up!), whilst the JoLt seven-a-side team played an international football fixture! The crowds gathered around the pitch to witness this spectacle as a real atmosphere of fun and unity developed. African signing and chanting on the edges accompanied the entertainment as JoLt lost 4-2! The time spent at the school concluded with a presentation to the headteacher where Jolters were able to pass on gifts they had brought from the UK and make a donation towards the great job that the school does in the community.

Following the school visit we set off on a tour on foot of the township with a local guide. With an air of apprehension we walked through the dusty streets, as we noticed there were no cars, no street lights or drainage system. This apprehension soon lifted as we were greeted so warmly by local children, many barefoot, accompanying us. The experience was quite humbling as we looked at local housing, some made by the occupants out of wood and metal sheets, but many starting to be replaced by Mandela Houses. These new houses had a house number, a letter box, electricity and running water. The modern however, was juxtaposed with the traditional, as many of these houses has a pole adorned with animal bones in the middle of the yard, where goats are sacrificed for religious and cultural purposes.

Our posse of local children grew and grew during our walk with many wanting to interact and pose for pictures. This instant enthusiasm and affection touched many of the Jolters, with several saying it was their best experience yet. This was an experience for all that will be remembered for a long time to come. The day ended with an English tradition, a huge birthday cake and candles! “It was one of the very best birthdays I have ever had!” Sherry remarked.

Friday 1st August
Following a long journey, we put Graaff-Reinet well behind us and entered Addo elephant park. The group enjoyed an afternoon organising tents and observing inquisitive elephants wandering about next to camp. Luckily, an electric security fence separated them from us, which was personally checked by a foolish male leader!

We spent the evening on our first night drive. The cold African air quickly closed in to create an edgy atmosphere as we ventured deep into the park. One group watched as two huge silhouettes finally revealed themselves as buffalo, thus completing our set of viewing the Big Five! The other Land Rover sighted hyenas which was also a first. They observed a complete family protecting the youngest cub. This included three generations on show with the cub only the size of a small domestic cat. By this stage the continuous bitter wind and cold was taking its toll! Nobody said Africa could be this cold! Upon return to camp, we were delighted to be greeted by a warming fire and hot soup. Over the weeks we have learnt to appreciate even the most simple of creature comforts. Slowly we all defrosted and headed off to warm up in our sleeping bags.

Saturday 2nd August
Our penultimate night under the stars proved very cold. Many resorted to additional clothes and thermals and some ran out of clothes as they were wearing them all! By now the routine was well established – up early, break camp, and load trucks for the journey out of Addo. En route it was interesting how the scenery and vegetation changed. We were heading towards an area of higher rainfall, with the highest bio-diversity in South Africa, which was in stark contrast to the nature of the Karoo (meaning thirsty land). The ancient trees of Tsitsikamma provided the ideal location for Africa’s only tree top canopy tour. This involved a series of terrifying zip wires in the upper canopy of the forest. The group excelled at this activity, conquering all fear and rising to the challenge. Big grins on everyone’s faces and an air of excitement showed how we all felt about our achievements.We finally ascended out of the forest depths, invigorated and retelling tales of drama. Ivana demonstrated her love of speed and reluctance to use the brakes!

The accommodation this evening was intimate with lines of bunk beds next to each other! Four lucky JoLters had the privilege of sharing with the male leaders … a real treat! The evening meal was African-themed, prepared by the crew. Kudu steak and stuffed squash were gratefully received and enjoyed. The effect of adrenaline and challenge clearly fuels the appetite!

Sunday 3rd August
Today was packed with significant events. We began the day by travelling to Plettenburg Bay to board our boat for whale watching. The whole group were crossing fingers for the correct conditions and luck to see whales, and were not disappointed as the sun was shining and the sea calm. In anticipation, we boarded our vessel on land before it was launched. This was done by receiving a 4×4 push down the beach followed by severe braking, hurtling us and boat into the water! The whoops and cheers of delight could be heard across the bay!

Before we even started the engine, a pair of dolphins popped up to cross our path. The trip had started well with many gasping in amazement. An air of excitement consumed the group as we headed to see a seal colony before the main attraction of whales. The Cape fur seals were plentiful, lying on rocks in the sun. We all listened with interest to their plight and remembered back to the last sight of these creatures …three and a half weeks ago during the first few days!

After watching seals surf the waves, we waved goodbye and headed towards where whales had reportedly been sighted. The bay was beautiful with calm waters, cliff tops, and the promise of the largest land and sea species in the world! We all enjoyed the speed across the bay. Emma even managed to lose her hat in the breeze!

Our journey was immediately rewarded with an amazing view – eight Southern Right whales all jostling for position, and blowing water vertically into the air. The rainbow created from spouted water was beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged mountain coastline.We watched in awe for about half an hour as these creatures allowed us into their world.

We were enthralled to discover the method for landing was called ‘crash and burn’- a simple system of hitting the beach clean on at maximum speed! The skipper was cheered on as we slid up the beach to a standstill!

After viewing such large animals, we felt it only fitting to locate the equivalent land-based animal. Hence the arrival back at Knysna Elephant Park, our previous night’s accommodation. After a tour of the elephant museum and informative video, we grabbed buckets of fruit and boarded our tractor-trailer to head towards the fields. Immediately we met a baby elephant besides the open-sided trailer. He was clearly used to visitors and very interested in the contents of our buckets!

After further discussion about conservation and elephant behaviour, we headed towards the main attraction. A quick disembark and path downhill revealed four adult elephants waiting to greet us. They had brought two baby elephants with them to add to the excitement of coming face-to-face with these amazing giants. Every JoLter rode an elephant before thanking them with buckets of fruit. The whole experience will be remembered for many years to come … a truly African experience!

Monday 4th August
Today was our final evening under canvas before enjoying the relative comforts of backpackers’ accommodation and the hotel on our last evening. The camping alone has been a real challenge throughout the trip. We have experienced many different camps, ranging from isolated and barren to busy safari parks. The group have learnt to overcome the continuous difficulties of camping and the challenge of cold early mornings searching for hot drinks in the dark! The pressure this morning was centred on timings and ensuring we didn’t miss our train from George Town. Due to some frantic packing and team work, we made the train and loaded on with time to spare!

The train was an old steam train which took the coastal route to Mossel Bay. The journey followed the spectacular scenery along the coast with views of the sea across wide sandy beaches and unique coastal homes. All JoLters enjoyed the break from bumpy trucks and relaxed to enjoy each other’s company and an old style journey.

Following such a pleasurable journey, we transferred by truck, with a packed lunch en route, to the Cango Ostrich Farm. The group listened with interest to the presentation and facts regarding this historic creature. After interviewing our guide for all details, some took the opportunity to present a finger for the ostrich to have a nibble! This proved quite nerve-racking due to the speed at which the ostrich pecked!! We were assured ostrichs do not have teeth! The highlight of this activity was the opportunity to sit or ride on the world’s fastest two-legged animal. Many overcame fears whilst others seemed to take it in their stride, and there were whoops of delight as each took their turn to rodeo ride the excited ostrich! Dorothy led the way followed by lots of JoLters.

This day was packed with activity as we had to set off immediately to the Cango caves. The initial challenge of making our way into the caves was easily overcome as the full team took on the flights of stairs with determination and confidence. The caves date back 1.5 million years and were an awe-inspiring sight. Gasps of amazement could be heard as their true size was revealed by subtle lighting. This was the first time wheel chair users had descended into the caves. In the past, it was assumed too difficult!! The organisers had clearly never met JoLt!

Until 14 years ago, concerts were held in the large chamber due to its acoustic benefits, but unfortunately these had to cease because of vandalism. However, JoLt corrected this with a rendition of ‘I’m a believer’ !!

Tuesday 5th August
In order to get to Cape Town in time for our afternoon activities, we had one final 4am start. We crawled from our tents for the last time to make the final leg to the ‘Cape of Good Hope’. This was aptly named as it was half way for travellers aiming for India.

Our first sighting of this spectacular city nestled amongst the ocean and mountains was from a beautiful viewpoint where we enjoyed lunch. This proved a final opportunity to experience a bush toilet before descending to civilisation.

The monster and Impy proudly carried us to our final destination, passing many shanty town areas before reaching the urban centre and the waterfront.

The group were jubilant to learn of the afternoon’s activity. ‘Rubber Duckies’ waited in the harbour to zoom us around the coastline! The speed boats were capable of speeds in excess of 100km! JoLters love speed and excitement and weren’t disappointed, as we sped our way around the coast of Cape Town. This was a perfect introduction to our new home for the next four days. In the evening we visited the Spur restaurant, a chain of steak houses with a reputation for large portions! We weren’t disappointed as everyone enjoyed a huge meal.. The evening chat centred on favourite activities and guessing the surprises left in store! The leaders’ poker faces gave nothing away.

Wednesday 6th August
The morning’s challenge was to prepare bags and sneak around the hostel without waking other guests! The wooden floorboards creaked at every movement, especially when carrying kit! We were delighted to enjoy a different breakfast of fresh pastries, with most JoLters proving very creative in their choice of fillings! The winning combo was banana and peanut butter!

The previous night we had informed everyone that swimming kit was required under clothes but had failed to explain why. Reactions to the discovery that we were shark diving were incredible! Many whooped with excitement and delight while other, usually vocal, JoLters, went surprisingly quiet. This was to prove one of the most exciting and challenging activities yet.

Our destination, three hours out of Cape Town up the west coast, was nicknamed ‘shark alley’!. It was a small town clearly dominated by a bay with the reputation for large shark numbers. Many of the local businesses were centred on tourists’ fascination for daring encounters.

Following the customary briefing video, we split into two groups to complete the 20- minute journey into the bay. Some apprehensive yet excited JoLters exchanged nervous and reassuring glances. When faced with a challenge, the group naturally pulls together as a team with many individuals instinctively looking for opportunities to support others.

Upon arrival, the crew produced bottles of fish oil to attract the predators and huge tuna heads to use as bait. This immediately achieved the desired effect as a dark silhouette emerged from nowhere to snap the bait clean from the line. This even took our skipper by surprise as he was supposed to remove the bait at the last minute! Shark 1 Skipper 0.

Following a battle with neoprene, we were kitted up ready to enter the cage attached to the side of our vessel. As a group, we immediately decided Dorothy should be first in! The system worked by waiting in the cage, gripping a bar inside and listening for the instruction “DOWN!” At this point we took a deep breath and plunged under to witness one of the most feared animals within six inches stalking its bait! This experience will be recounted for many years to come!

Fifty metres away we could see the other group ‘enjoying’ their encounter. They too had huge success in attracting plenty of activity. Shark alley was living up to its reputation. The whole experience was thrilling, required teamwork, was a personal challenge, and right up the street for keen JoLters living their journey to the full. Nor did it pass without incident. Following an attempt for bait, a three metre shark misjudged its target and chomped down upon a flotation buoy attached to the cage! Having gripped something, it wasn’t about to let go. This resulted in a 20-second battle which shook the whole boat, witnessed by Roxi just 20 inches away!! Sharks 2 Skipper 0.

The companies we used were outstanding in protecting these immense creatures with conservation projects and also in their approach to delivering this experience.

For many, another less predictable challenge snuck up – Liam, Dorothy, Lela and Natasha all suffered from bouts of seasickness! Some green/grey JoLters spent some time ‘inspecting the water’ whilst leaning over the side of the boat. Others, with more sturdy sea legs, tucked into snacks and sandwiches!

Later in the evening, following difficulties in locating a restaurant to cater for veggies and 32 people, we finally squeezed into one in the centre of Cape Town. Some hungry and exhausted JoLters recalled tales of adventure whilst experiencing some smaller fish with slices of lemon!

Thursday 7th August
After sneaking out of the hostel for the final time, we headed to the Victoria & Alfred waterfront to take part in our last boat activity. The plan today was to venture to the iconic Robben Island, a place steeped in history and political influence.

Due to a delay with the boat taking us to the island, we took the opportunity to have a cup of tea at the waterfront. Everybody enjoyed relaxing for an hour watching people drift by, surrounded by boats, water and the hustle and bustle of Cape Town.

The educational content of the trip allowed us to understand more of the history of South Africa. We were guided by ex-prisoners from Robben Island who gave us a personal account of life in the prison. They described life during apartheid and how Nelson Mandela united a nation. The atmosphere and significance of this place sent shivers down the spine. The highlight of the tour was viewing Nelson Mandela’s actual cell. It was a tiny room within one section of the prison excluded from all other non-political leaders. The whole experience left you wanting to understand more of the issues and how the future of a nation could be changed.

Following a treat of pizza for lunch, a surprise was sprung on the group. As they had been convinced that it wasn’t going to happen, everyone was delighted to hear that helicopter flights had been arranged. The excitement of viewing Cape Town and surrounding area from the air was eagerly anticipated throughout our lunch.

Witnessing first-hand the beautiful surroundings of this city nestled amongst the mountains and dominated by Table Mountain was a fitting reward for braving the choppers. Not many cities are situated in more impressive and unique surroundings. For many, the helicopter ride was a first, and a highly suitable way to enjoy the last few days of a memorable journey.

Our evening meal was enjoyed at a traditional African café. Some enjoyed kudu steak whilst all enjoyed the African band! Shirley led the way in the dancing, hotly followed by many keen dancers! The whole restaurant was suitably entertained before JoLt exited in the form of a conga line! A very enjoyable evening had been had by all.

The topping on a great day was our accommodation. The St George hotel proved very nice and enabled us to sort dusty worn clothes and kit in preparation for our return to the UK.

Friday 8th August
Today we were fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the British consulate for a reception. Before our appointment we had to visit the castle in central Cape Town. This involved negotiating several blocks of crazed traffic on foot. Many realised how difficult it is to remain in a group and safely cross a city amongst bustling crowds and busy roads. The castle tour added to yesterday’s formative island trip. The history of the Dutch and English military was explained as well as some horrendous stories of torture methods. We stood in the very dungeons where many men had been tortured to death using shocking methods. On a slightly lighter note we watched a military display resulting in the firing of a canon. We were all surprised to see the size of the canon as we expected something significantly larger! It proved a surprise package making several jump when it exploded!

We had all scrubbed up as best we could to attend the consulate, which was fortunately located next door to our hotel! We mixed with officials from the consulate discussing our trip and enjoying some light nibbles. We were made to feel very welcome and put at ease by the friendly manner of officials working there. To add to our feelings of importance, it was great to learn two days previous the same consulate had hosted Prince Harry! Some very proud JoLters said their goodbyes and thanks before an afternoon of shopping at Green Market Square.

By the evening the mood of the group was varied. The realisation that the end was drawing near was sinking in. Mixed emotions of seeing family and friends alongside saying goodbye to others was causing some to reflect on a challengingly fantastic month. We were all determined to enjoy our final evening together and headed off to our restaurant. As always, individuals managed to lift the mood and we had a long three-course meal amongst chat of the trip. The fun and various incidents were remembered, favourite experiences recounted, as were the difficulties and challenges along the way.

As is JoLt tradition, it was now time for the end of expedition show! Groups had prepared their sketches and launched into a medley of entertainment, cheered on by others. Dorothy closed the evening with a poignant speech describing how proud and privileged she felt travelling with such a great group of youngsters. She wasn’t alone in this view and spoke for the whole leader team.

Saturday 9th August
Following an emotional and late night we were delighted to enjoy our first lie-in for 30 days! The wake-up call came at 8.30am followed by a relaxed breakfast at the hotel.

It seemed fitting to be going up Table Mountain on our last morning. Visiting an African heritage site and one of the most famous sites of South African brought the journey to an appropriate close. The fact we could stand on the table top and look out over Cape Town allowed us time to consider how far we had come, both physically and mentally.

Many took the opportunity for last minute gift buying before boarding the cable car for the journey down to the awaiting Impy. The cable car itself was an experience with a steep and rapid ascent/descent whilst the floor rotated to reveal the view.

Lunch was a lively affair in a Cuban restaurant! Many excited JoLters ate a final meal together before heading straight to the airport. Baggage check-in was relatively slick with many helpers and people realising the importance of this process. Security proved less so, with officials insisting we split up for some parts causing quick reorganisation on the leader’s behalf.

The group that boarded the plane home was a million miles from the one a month ago. We have travelled thousands of miles together forming friendships and bonds that we hope will last a lifetime. We have faced fears and challenges with team work and personal endeavour. We have done this together, we have achieved amazing things.

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