A few weeks back, I mentioned that it’s been a year since the Elephant Ignite Expedition – a year since we left South Africa, turned the key in the ignition, and pointed our Avis Safari 4×4 vehicles (aptly named Courage, Hope and Love) north, for a life-changing adventure… I haven’t had the courage (until now) to put our journey into writing – it was such an intense, personal experience for me. I still sometimes feel like it was all a dream! Today is the first of many journal entries about the expedition – I want to share the incredible work that we did, as well as the wonderful organisations and projects that opened our eyes, and the brave unsung heroes we met along the way. So here we go…
Departure Day: Tuesday 9th August 2016 (Women’s Day)
The line of vehicles and Harley Davidsons snaked their way towards Ballito on the M4 road…such an emotional sight. They gave us a final wave and a hoot and then veered off in another direction. Their short escorted trip had ended and ours was about to start. We were on our own. The drive to Thula Thula went quite quickly and as you can imagine, there was quite a lot of banter on the radio – going over the day’s proceedings, some laughter, and so much excitement in the air. Yolande Kruger and Shannon Saunders were driving with me in the front. And we were taking turns to drive as reporters kept calling for last-minute comments about our journey.
The drive to Thula Thula took about two and a half hours. Once we arrived, we went straight to the Rhino Orphanage (which was sadly attacked earlier this year and has since closed down). We met with the team that was in charge of looking after these tiny orphans – a heartbreaking job and a reality-check because our wildlife is constantly in danger due to poaching. It was also a strong reminder of why we needed to go out there into Africa in the first place, and support these organisations that are protecting our wildlife.
Afterwards, Francoise Malby Anthony (wife of the late Lawrence Anthony ) put on a spread for lunch (even the monkeys were trying to get at the food) and arranged for a game drive to go and see “Lawrence’s elephants”. As you can imagine, Nana, Frankie, Mandla and the rest of the herd put on such a great performance. It was like they knew what we were doing and had to come and wish us a safe journey. The energy that surrounded us was tangible. We did a few interviews with the 50/50 team under the acacia trees and then departed for Phinda Game Reserve, where we were spending our first night at Bayete Camp.
We arrived after dark…
On the dust road to Phinda, we had lost the 50/50 crew, so I had to go and find them on the road to Sodwana. We eventually found them and drove them back to where we were setting up camp. Camp setup was a chore that we would have to do for the next 100 days. It was our first night of sleeping in our vehicles, so it took a while for everyone to set up their beds.
Afterwards, we sat around the fire and chatted to David Bozas, Simon Naylor (Phinda Farm Manager), Cilla Pickering (Elephant Researcher) and Charlie Thompson (Phinda workshop). It was so interesting listening to David telling his stories of the elephant encounters he’d experienced alongside Lawrence Anthony. The sparks from the fire floated upwards like dancing fireflies and the stars flickered in the night sky. This was the start of our daily experiences in Africa. Ildiko Bischott, our EIE crew member from Netherlands, celebrated her birthday in true African style with a fine feast, and then we all settled into our “beds” for the night with full stomachs and happy hearts.