Kirsten Blackburn Testimonial – Volunteer, 20th July – 17th August
At first, I thought I had all the time in the world. After booking this volunteering trip a year ago, I considered it a lifetime away and thought I had months ahead to plan and prepare myself for the adventure ahead. Turns out no amount of time or planning could truly prepare me for what was in store.
The first hurdle came with the daunting prospect of travelling pole to pole completely alone, a little uncertain of what lay ahead. I felt very strongly about doing it on my own, I wanted to experience travel in a whole new light. The freedom that came with that journey alone was something I never anticipated, as from then I felt a whole lot older and wiser and so fearless for any future solo-voyage.
Next came the real adventure. Working for AERU at Knysna Elephant Park has exceeded all my expectations. I was already aware of the amount of dedicated research the team do here, and quickly began to understand my individual role within it. Everything else that came along after that was an extraordinary bonus. Getting up so close and personal with all the elephants amazed me, I was content simply watching them from afar, but to see them every day and begin to recognize not just their physical features, but emotional triumphs and personality traits was something I was not expecting. They are truly magical to watch, and I feel so humbled to have been welcomed into their secret lives.
There is so much compassion and understanding between the heard and their guides, and yet so much we just don’t know when it comes to their inner thoughts and mysterious methods of communication. I loved to watch the guides with the elephants, to see how they interacted and the immense level of respect and love they have for one another.
The staff and Knysna also played a big part in creating such a special trip here, who at any time were more than happy to answer any questions. After speaking in greater depths with them I began to fully appreciate their work which in turn motivated the work I was doing every day.
The environment stayed relaxed and fun, all the while dedicated and focused on the jobs at hand. The park has great ambitions for itself and all the elephants within it, I know already I can’t wait to come back in a few years and admire the progress they will have undoubtedly made.
The weekends spent in South Africa have followed suit and done nothing but delightfully surprise me in the overwhelming choices of activities and adventures to embark on. Hiking around Robberg Island (or should I say, rock climbing), Whale watching (accompanied by a pod of 500 bottle-nose dolphins!), Horse-back safari rides, strolls along the beach, Plettenberg Bay night-life, Monkey Land, Birds of Eden, Shark cage diving, zip lining, cannoning and paragliding… Safe to say time definitely flies when you’re having this kind of fun.
The people I’ve met here have made it all the more worthwhile. They have come and gone over the past 4 weeks, but getting to know other people from every walk of life is a really inspiring and eye-opening experience in itself. Like everything else I’m happy with just the elephants, but to share these moments with a group of people you’re sure to never forget makes it so much more rewarding and basically, fun! They have taught me so much about themselves as well as myself.
All good things must come to an end, as they say, but not a moment of regret has been had and the memories I have made here will last forever. The month has passed too quickly, and yet given me the time to feel really at home and content, I feel like I’ve been here forever!
It’s a sure thing that I’ll be back, but until then I can only hope to use the lessons learned here back in the ‘real’ world – lessons which I know will only make me a better person and that I will use to remind myself of what is waiting to be experienced with the knowing that I can trust myself to get there.
Thank you to everyone who has played a part in what has been and will be one of the most unforgettable, rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.