First week in Paris – 8th September 2014

Au Pairing in Paris

I can’t believe I’ve only been in Paris for 8 days. I feel like I’ve settled in so quickly, met loads of lovely people and seen some cool stuff and can’t believe I’ve got pretty much a whole year to explore this amazing city.

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As I’ve mentioned before, Au Pairing is a completely different world and it’s been a bit strange to fit into my role but I’ve found meeting up with other Au Pairs has been really helpful. Last Sunday I went to my first ‘meet up event’ in Paris; a big picnic organised for international students and au pairs in Champ De Mars, a park directly in front of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t know anyone there so just sat down with the first group I saw and discovered a few English girls. We all chatted for hours over baguette and some amazing (my new trademark!) Blanc Peche wine. It might be Paris’ version of Lambrini (cheap and sweet) but I don’t care as it’s so yummy. I was so happy I plucked up the courage to go as I met some awesome people who I’ve already seen a few times again since then.

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My actual ‘work’ has been enjoyable, I’m learning a lot about the children and they seem to be getting used to me as their new helper/playmate/friend.

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One of the biggest challenges here is managing my time and motivating myself to work. Some of you know that I’m studying a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course at the moment and I’ve completed the classroom courses so now the rest is online. It’s 120 hours split into about 7 different units; you learn each unit then have a review at the end to test your understanding. I’m in the early stages of it; it’s interesting but difficult to find the right time to do it. I’m also trying to re learn some french using the duolingo app and website, which are both fab. On top of these i’m supposed to be applying for french lessons at a language school for 1 day a week. I obviously want to learn more french whilst here but the cost of these language schools are a bit crazy so I’ll maybe do some more research before booking. So this is my ‘workload’ but there’s a ridiculous amount of other stuff I want to get done this year;

– I’d love to do some dance teaching as I hate coming completely out of the dance bubble

– I need to get my exercise on and stop being so lazy, the plan is to join a netball club

– More photography. I haven’t touched my DSLR in weeks (I always use my mini panasonic but actually setting up a photo is painful for me now) and that needs to change ASAP

– More diary writing as I love that feeling of reading back over great / average / crappy times, months or years later

– More fashion show, events, gigs, parties, meet ups etc!

– Less time worrying about not fitting it all in. And just doing it.

Mary 

x

today's view from lunch

today’s view from lunch

Markets, Cake & making my way to Paris – 14th – 16th June 2014

Europe

On Saturday I barely left my bed as I felt so ill, I think my travelling was starting to catch up on me. I did eventually manage to leave at 4 in the afternoon to go to some cafes and let Nina get on with her work. That night we went into town and found a great bar to people watch from, the next bar was our chosen spot to watch the England/Italy match. Somehow we were in the perfect spot to see the game with a full room of enthusiastic men behind us and there was a table of English girls in front who needed to go out and smoke every 5 minutes because the game was ‘so stressful’. I decided England aren’t too great at football and they just want to constantly chase the ball; I can confidently say most of the boys at Otjikondo play better than them!

On Sunday I booked my travel to France(!!!) and then went to a vintage market in Mauer Park. I didn’t know the way when leaving the metro station so just followed the hipsters to wherever they went; like magic, 10 minutes later I was there. This place is a huge market; some stalls were just selling second hand clothes and unwanted things from home and others were selling handmade jewellery, badges, sunglasses, dog clothes and lots more. I could’ve walked around for hours as there was so much to hunt through but I knew I couldn’t spend too much money so I went to listen to some of the singers on the grass area next to the market. One singer told the audience how she lives in Cape Town for 4 months of each year and how much she misses it, basically, everyone loves Cape Town.
Next I went into town to catch a bus to see some of the more classic tourist sites. As I’ve been to Berlin before I wasn’t too fussed by the big buildings so just observed from the top deck of the bus… I wrote some postcards and bought a little sew on german flag which I did originally want to put on my jacket but I think I’ll get mum to put it on my camera strap and I’ll add flags from the other countries I’ve been travelling in. In the afternoon I arrived home to a hungry Nina so she took me to her favourite cake shop, Bravko, just down the road. I had a lemon pie whilst Nina had some fruity, crumble thing. We left, I packed and I said my goodbyes. It’s been awesome staying with Nina; we’ve got to know each other so much better, she has the cutest flat, she knows all the best places in Berlin, she prepares the best breakfasts every morning (fruit salad, german bread, smoothies woo) and is generally a fab host. So thank you Nina!
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I rushed to the coach station, arriving there at 6:45, really smug that I managed to get there 15 minutes before the coach was due to leave. I was then informed that I had to stand in a long queue in order to get my boarding pass. As soon as the guy at the counter filled it out (he tod me to CALM DOWN) I grabbed it and ran to my stop. I jumped on the bus with 30 seconds to spare. Luckily I hadn’t started thinking about what I’d of done if I’d missed it.
As I write this I’m sitting at the back of a coach that’s travelled from Berlin, through Belgium and we’re due to arrive in Paris any minute 😀 I have a few hours before I’ll then catch the train to Saintes. I’ll be staying with my sister, Georgie who’s living and working in Royan at the moment. I know she’ll rub it in my face that she’s more tanned than and she’ll probably complain that I haven’t bought her any presents but I’m still excited to see her after nearly 5 months apart!
Mary x

Walking tours, Walls and Wedding dresses – Berlin 12th – 14th June 2014

Europe

Nina couldn’t join me on my first full day in berlin as she had to do some work for uni but she gave me instructions on how to get Alexander Platz on the metro and recommended I do the ‘alternative’ walking tour. We had a group of around 15 of us; people were from India, America, Germany, France, England etc and our tour guide, Ryan, was scottish. Instead of the traditional sites Ryan showed us more of the graffiti of Berlin and explained the stories behind them. We saw the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall and took a walk around YAAM, a carribean and african beach bar. The guys working there were asking ‘hey my sister, when you be back again?’, probably thinking I was a lot more Jamaican than I am…

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I learnt loads from the tour and I didn’t lose interest even though it was 3 hours long, I definitely recommend it if you’re visiting Berlin, especially as it’s free! (You can obviously tip your tour guide if he did a good job). After the tour a few of us walked along the east side gallery, checking out the art work on the wall.
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That afternoon I was desperate to visit some shops so I headed to Postdamer Platz for some retail therapy; I was in need of a jacket as I only have a bright red sports jacket with me, but somehow left with a dress and pizza… I got the metro to Kotbusser Tor and stopped in some vintage store still looking for a jacket. One place looked more like a scene from ‘how clean is your house’ rather than a shop; piles of clothes almost reached the ceiling and you couldn’t walk from one wall to another without stepping on books, toys, shoes etc. I left there with a bright green jumper, still no jacket. This is what happens when I go shopping alone; I lose focus!
The next day Nina and I slowly made our to Frankfurter Tor, on the metro and tram stopping off at a coffee shop where every customer (excluding us) was on macbook, looking very unsociable. Humana is this huge 5 storey vintgage shop; we were there to meet Nina’s friend Phillip to buy a drag outfit for a parade. Before Phillip arrived Nina and I had a spare half an hour to kill so decided to try on some garish looking vintage wedding dresses. By time we were in them we had a bit of an audience waiting for us, an old man took photos of us while some woman were telling us that the dresses looked great and we should buy them. After the excitement of the horrible, itchy wedding dresses Phillip arrived so we started hunting for bright and shiny outfits for him. I finally found a jacket and Nina bought some amazing salmon coloured long shorts whilst Phillip bought 2 amazingly bright jackets. We stopped at a photobooth and stopped on the street after seeing 4 guys just staring at a puddle. The puddle was luminous green and we joined them to stare at it, trying to work out what it was and how it got there; aliens, spray paint, the liquid from a glow stick. We didn’t have a clue but it was cool to watch and we saw 3 more green puddles as walked on down the road, weird.IMG_1341
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We went to another cafe to eat paninis before heading home to sort out where we’d watch the Netherlands/Spain football match; Nina’s family home is in the Netherlands so it was essential that we saw the game. Watching it outside was ruled out as it was getting quite cold so we headed to her friend Thomas’ flat. Thomas is from Stevenage(-ish), about 10 mins from where I live and his friend Gordon visiting him is from St Albans, 10 mins in the other direction! Such a small world. We wanted Holland to win but we definitely didn’t expect it to be 5-1! German beer and a hilarious football match was enough to make Nina and I very happy.
Mary x

I’m currently 3 floors high in an apartment in Berlin listening to the noisy street below and preparing for a day of sightseeing. The past 2 weeks have been crazy and I’ve worked out that I’ve slept in 6 different beds (alone, don’t worry!) in 3 different countries, in 2 different continents, in 6 different towns/ cities/ villages and gone from seeing donkey carts, bakkies and women carrying bags of rice on their heads to bicycles, Mercedes and businessmen in suits having meetings on the metro.

Back in Namibia –
I joined Paul and his son Matty for the 5am drive to Otjiwarongo; we saw a bat-eared fox, kudu and we nearly ran over a skunk, not your average drive to school. I then hitch-hiked to Windhoek in a 5 seater car and 7 people. I sat with a 9 year old girl on my lap for the next 3 hours, not my favourite car journey I have to be honest. I made my way to the Cardboard Box hostel, dumped my bags there, emailed people to tell them I was alive then headed to Katatura; the not so nice part of town. I had to travel to the Baileys Reo Liner ‘head office’ (basically a poorly constructed, messy concrete box), I’d booked a return coach ticket back to Cape Town that I could no longer use, I’d hoped to get my full $600 back until I noticed the ticket said NON REFUNDABLE.. oops. I found the manager and explained the situation, he told me there was no way he could give me any money back. I used my skills from GCSE drama and started crying and giving my best ‘lost, confused teenager’ look. I think he saw right through my acting but agreed to give me half of my money back. I then jumped in a taxi back into Windhoek and was laughed at a lot by everyone when they all tried to speak Afrikaans to me and I could give no response. My last few hours in Africa were spent trying to book hostels, travel and attempt to check in online (it wouldn’t let me, I panicked and then the women at the hostel convinced me it would be fine).
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I travelled to the airport with my new Swedish friends Martin and Emille, we enjoyed our last Windhoek lagers and Savanna ciders with pizza and chocolate before messing around in the (tiny) airport. We somehow lost track of time and ended up being the last ones to board the plane, about 3 minutes before take off! I kissed the ground outside of the plane, hugged one of the air hostesses and settled into my window seat, ready for the long flight. Luckily the plane was almost half empty so I could spread out over 2 seats, some people had 4 seats to themselves?! I watched most of ‘The Book Thief’ and avoided both of the sad looking plane meals. The most exciting part of the flight was waking up at around 3am to see we were flying over Nigeria; Martin, Emille and I noticed there were flashes of light in the sky below us every couple of seconds. We were watching a thunder and lightning storm happen from above, such an amazing sight.IMG_1049

We decided to start a clap when we landed in Frankfurt (you know, as people sometimes do at the end of a flight…), no one joined in an we had a really awkward 30 seconds as we stayed committed to the clapping (and the occasional ‘woooo go Germany!’) and everyone on the plane turned around and glared at us. Just glared. A tiny bit awkward.IMGA0056

Somehow I was the last person off the plane too! I said my goodbyes to the Swedish guys and they gave me one of the bank notes folded into a shirt shape for remembrance. I was now in Frankfurt with a few euros and my hostel name written down with no idea how to get there. I was directed by a really nice woman at information to take the shuttle bus to the train station and then take the train to the nearest station (I can’t even remember where I got off, oops) and then the hostel was a 20 minute walk away. So off I went, the morning before I was in the African bush seeing crazy wildlife and watching the sunrise and now I was sitting on a stuffy train with miserable looking businessmen. No one was talking to each other, no one even looked up from their phones. Such a contrast to life in Namibia and Cape Town. I just missed the noises and the atmosphere of ‘Africa’.

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My hostel was huge and looked really clean and safe but the next day I was proved wrong when I was covered in bed bug bites… I made friends with one portuguese guy who was travelling back from 6 months in South East Asia; basically, he looked exhausted. My explorations in Franfurt included trying to find a shop that sold a travel adapter, it took over 6 hours and cost €10 😮 I know in Bags Etc they used to be around £2.50?! I visited the Skyline Plaza shopping centre and spent way too much time in shops like H&M, Mango and Zara. I couldn’t believe how expensive everything was; I was converting money in my head from €’s, then to £’s and then to South African Rand and standing in shock at almost everything. A day in Frankfurt was enough and a message from my friend Nina made me book a coach ticket to Berlin for the next morning.

9 hours on a coach is like a breeze for me; soon enough we arrived in Berlin to some cloudy skies. I hadn’t actually arranged where or when I was meeting Nina so hunted for a cafe with internet so I could check my Facebook. The only place I could find was a chinese restaurant with awkward waitresses pressuring me to order more than a glass of water. I gave in a got some disgusting tuna, rice roll things. At least I managed to find Nina and meet her friends Emma and Daniel. We waved Daniel off as he was getting a bus back home then we went to get ice cream, yay!

Nina and I met more than 3 months ago on a coach from Namibia, we then were on the same coach back to Cape Town by coincidence and did lots of driving around and beach hopping before she moved to Berlin. So to see her in Germany and stay with her for a few days is strange but awesome!

Mary x

Africa, Europe

Hello Otjikondo, Goodbye Otjikondo

Africa

This time last week I’d just booked a flight to Frankfurt but had almost 4 days to wait around in Windhoek for it; 4 days in Windhoek is 4 days too many, so with some broken communication, Gilly agreed for me to come and visit Otjikondo with Ottilie and Chelcie for the weekend. Our wait in Windhoek included ice cream in the park, shopping for fabric for Sara, making use of the internet at the Carboard Box, eating at Nando’s and Joe’s Beerhouse before meeting Paul on Thursday morning.Image

Chelcie and I ended up in the back of the open bakkie with a very strong natural air conditioning, lots of luggage and 2 mattresses to sit on. The mattresses would have been perfect if only they weren’t covered with plastic sheets that flapped around in the wind and made so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear each other.Image

 

Arriving at Otjikondo nearly 5 hours later was no less than magical; Paul beeped his horn and kids came running. Chelcie and Ottilie were greeted by hugs and squels, I got a few of the same then some ‘Miss Mary you’re back again?!‘s… It was great to see everyone again but I had to explain quickly that I could only stay for the weekend so the chance for them all to get a dance lesson was pretty slim, sorry kids!

Seeing current GAPs Rebecca and Eleanor again was awesome and they haven’t changed a bit since I last saw them. We got straight to work on Friday, I opened the shop and helped Destiny learn her rap for one of the songs in Wind in the Willows, their summer play. That evening most of the children watched Frozen in the evening but I went to look after the little boys as their hostel sister was away. We watched Antz and Matilda, I fell asleep on the freezing cold floor and woke up to some of them having a giggle at me. I got a few cuddles before I walked home.

Saturday’s normal routine was replaced with sport; the under 11s, 12s and 13s played netball and football against Kamanjab on maybe the windiest day I’ve ever experienced in Namibia. We won all games except 1 which was amazing! I looked after Brenda’s baby Crushanda and hung out with my girls Tjazupo (my sponsor child) and Eengwi (her best friend) whilst some of the older girls somehow convinced me to let them use my camera so went around documenting the matches and supporters.

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That afternoon was spent running the shop whilst the others did bank (gave the kids their pocket money). I don’t know how it took so long but Priska and I were in the shop until it was dark; we couldn’t find our way out and had to stumble over to Gilly’s house without dropping the bags full of coins and notes we had. I was exhausted and felt so ill but decided not to turn down Paul and Sara’s offer of dinner!

Sunday’s church service was enough church to last me a lifetime; it went on for 2 and a half hours and I can’t bring myself to write any more about it. Tjazupo, Fillemon, Tenesses and Dankie (our sponsor children. + Eengwi came as her and Tjazupo are pretty inseperable) were invited into the GAP garden afterwards and were spoiled by us with presents and sweets. Tjazupo and Eengwi loved their plastic princess accessories and I showed Fillemon how to play snakes and ladders and do races with his toy cars.

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The rest of the day was spent teaching the drama kids a dance, having lunch (Mina’s chicken and chips!!!!) at Gilly’s, messing around with the over excited Grade 7’s, eating fudge in the big girls hostel, reading Mr Strong to the girls in Weavers Nest hostel, hearing the girls own stories and acting them out, dinner with the ex and current GAPs and watching Pitch Perfect in my room with the girls.

Although my visit to Otjikondo was so short it felt really special and it’s always great to see the Stommels, staff, GAPs and children. I said my goodbyes and made sure they weren’t too emotional as I wasn’t in the mood to cry and be upset! I’ll miss everyone huge amounts and know I won’t be able to visit again soon which is a horrible feeling! On the plus side, I’m so thankful that I was able to go back and visit twice less than a year after I finished my 12 months there.

Goodbye Otjikondo, thank you GAPs and Stommels for putting up with me once again! 🙂 Love you, miss you, mean it 😉

Mary x

Changes

Africa, Europe

The past week has been a bit of whirlwind for me and I’ve only just started getting my head together. I left Cape Town on Sunday morning and reached Namibia being told that I wasn’t allowed to return to South Africa for a while. I only had a bag with a weeks worth of clothes and was feeling pretty unprepared. I cried a lot and tried to make sense of the situation and decide what to do next; although I had no desire to leave South Africa I decided that this obviously happened for a reason and someone, somewhere wants me to go to new places. I considered travelling around southern Africa for a few months before going home but I knew I’d feel so close to Cape Town and it would hurt too much to not be able to go. I’d also love to see more of Africa with Callum or a friend because not having someone to reminisce on your adventures with is really hard. So, Africa was out of the picture but so was flying anywhere that passes through South Africa. Which is 99.9% of flights leaving from anywhere in southern Africa. Oh. Multiple trips to different embassies and high commissions resulted in me being none the wiser of my situation so I used my common sense and thought flying directly to Europe (there is only one flight, Windhoek to Frankfurt) was the safest option. I always feel really grown up when I book a plane or train ticket without any assistance from mum and dad, this time was no exception and being alone in Africa and going to a different continent was a new experience. I’m 19, in Namibia for the third time with no clue what was going to happen next.

Luckily I was joined by Ottilie and Chelcie on Tuesday. They both were volunteers (GAPs) at Otjikondo in 2011/2012, the year before Fran and I arrived. I’d met Ottilie last summer when she’d visited Otjikondo again but I’d never met Chelcie, despite many facebook conversations and a few stalks. They both cheered me up massively and helped me see the positive of the situation. That evening we went to Joe’s Beerhouse for meat and some free drinks. Yesterday I booked my flight to Frankfurt for Monday evening. A few more days in Namibia then a the long journey to Germany, ahh! I have no plans for when I arrive so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

Wish me luck guys

Mary x

Wild Wild West Coast – 19th May 2014

Africa

Our Trisha, Bill, Callum and Mary days are becoming numbered as they’re soon to jet off to Hong Kong on their next leg of their sabbatical so we made the most of a sunny and work free day by visiting the West Coast National Park.
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When we entered the park we didn’t expect to see too many animals as the reserve is more focused on plants and birds (that we probably don’t appreciate enough to be honest) but we quickly spotted ostriches, a few different types of antelope and about 20 tortoises. I don’t know how the tortoises avoid being squished by passing cars as we had a few near misses. I had to resist the urge to pick up a tortoise and take one home, I’m totally deprived of a pet 😦 Scones at a cafe confirmed our thoughts that South Africans like their scones to be stodgy while exotic looking birds stalked our table and ate our leftover crumbs as we admired the amazing scenery. The waitress told me how it was a popular wedding venue; there was a cute water feature, outdoor benches with flowing white curtains, beautiful archways, an altar (convenient!) and a stunning view of the lagoon. A wedding isn’t on the cards (don’t worry dad!) but I’d love to have a massive party there.

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Most of the day was spent on a deserted beach. The sand was almost like quicksand, the sea was perfectly clear, there were arches made of the rocks and in the distance you could see flocks of flamingos. I got closer to them and loved seeing them up close and it was cool to see them fly off; the underneath of their wings was even more pink than their bodies. Bat and ball, countless games of catch and watching the workers throw a dead shark back into the sea concluded our beach day. We headed back to the pretty restaurant for dinner. I don’t know if it’s because we were starving or because the food was genuinely fantastic but we all praised our meals very highly. I ate mussels with a peppadew and mayo sauce with chips and it was the best meal I’ve had all year, the type of meal that I could re-eat over and over again.
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We reluctantly left the park at 6:01 (the gates shut at 6, oops sorry.) and travelled through a strange fog which prompted car stories about fog; think Hermonie, Ron and Hagrid in the forest with a talking Chihuahua. No decent evening is complete without lemon meringue pie and a large amount of Dairy Milk chocolate so we added back all the calories lost through running around on the beach, perfect.

Mary x

Baboons, braids and Thai tea – 20th May 2014

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Yesterday was a bizarre and exhausting day. And we’d decided that by 12:15.

An early start took us to a primary school in South Fields to see an educational show by Jungle Theatre, a company Trisha has been working with whilst in Cape Town. Traffic left us rushed and panicking about where to park; we soon realised we were actually at the wrong school so we became even more rushed in trying to find the school we were supposed to be at 25 mins earlier. With the power of maps on the iPhone we found it just in time and joined the classroom full of around 100 children to watch the show about baboons returning a human baby to it’s parents. The school children loved it and were so excitable that they actually made me feel tired. 
 
Bill, Callum, Trisha and I then made our to Long Street in town to tick off some things from their Cape Town Bucket List. Trisha and I had said we’d go for a Thai massage for a while so we tentatively entered the building that I pass so often and were greeted by a woman who looked like she’d expected us to arrive any minute (we hadn’t booked an appointment) and was really excited to see us. We had our massages in the same room and had 2 giggly masseurs who sometimes spoke to each other in their own language, leaving us to assume they were gossiping about us in the least discreet way possible! 60 mins was enough to leave us feeling relaxed and de-stressed and equally battered and bruised, standing on our backs and walking up and down our legs was a bit more intense than we expected. I think their idea of de-stressing us was giving us some green tea before we left.
 
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Our next task was to get hair braids! Yes, the type you got aged 9 when you went on holiday to France and you were giddy to show your mates at school after the summer holidays were over but then after a week the head teacher decided they weren’t allowed anymore so you had to unravel all the pretty threads and brush out that matted bit of hair. Yeah, those ones. I took us to the guy in Greenmarket Square (if you’ve ever stayed on Long Street you should know who I mean!) as everyone says he’s brill. Turns out he charges a fortune for a little braid. It was his lucky day as we were desperate enough to still want them; after a bit of haggling we paid the smaller fortune to have some coloured thread in our hair and small elephant charms on the end. Trisha went first whilst he told us that the braids he does last up to 10 years. Impressive, but we’d only planned to have them for a few days/weeks. I do like the thought of having a 10 year old braid in my hair when I’m 29 though, I’ll know then that I’ve become a full fledged hippy. I set up his table display whilst he did Trisha’s green, blue and yellow braid. I had different shades of pink and blue in my hair and the others watched in disbelief as he used his lighter to burn the knots. I love my little braid even though it may have cost me a weeks worth of food shopping…
 
Mary x

Hiya Addo – 9th May 2014

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Arriving at Addo Elephant Park was fab, our lodges in Matyholweni camp were so nice and homely but we quickly got back in the car to go on our first mini game drive round the park. Although we didn’t see any elephants that evening we did see warthogs on their knees (very weird sight), a huge buffalo, kudu and a jackal. The jackal was basically a glorified fox but unlike in the case of seeing a fox, we stopped the car, excitedly whispered and took an unnecessary amount of photos. It gave us a full display of it’s talents; scratching, sniffing itself, digging, sitting in the middle of the road and then howling. Well done jackal, you impressed us.

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Mary x