Woofing in Africa

Trip Start Sep 30, 2006
Trip End Dec 24, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Nelspruit we take a bus to one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Johannesburg, famous in the 1990's for crime, crime and crime. Trying to shape up their image I read the local government have enlisted the help of former New York mayor, 'zero tolerance policy', Rudolph Giuliani to help bring down the crime rate. The eyes of the world will turn to Johannesburg soon as they host the opening and closing matches of the 2010 world cup. We were only on a bus transfer, so we didn't get to experience any of Jo'burg as 30 minutes after arriving and two Wimpy burgers later we were going South bound, with our final overnight bus trip. It felt good.

Arriving on the South coast in Port Elizabeth the next morning we took a taxi to a hostel and met Monique the hostel owner. She is our first experience of the complicated racial issues in South African that simmer just below the surface. Monique was very friendly and gave us plenty of information about the local area, she finishes up her chat by angrily mentioning "and don't go into that area because those little black bastards will steal everything you've got" She looked at us with a face that said don't you agree with me?

We went out to find a cafe and the owner who greeted us checked if we were South African. "No South Africans allowed in here" We were not sure if he was joking but he said he had a private function and sent us off to another cafe with the positive words "its ok, they accept blacks and whites". Apartheid, not totally finished in everyone's mind yet.

The next morning we traveled over to the next town, Humansdorp where a couple from TerraPi had driven down to meet us.
"Are you woofers" they asked.
"Yes, we are woofers".
"How long have you come to woof?".
"We want to woof for two weeks".

No, not a strange dog cult, but an acronym, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Its an international movement that helps people share more sustainable ways of living. You volunteer your time in return for free food and accommodation. Great for cash-strapped backpackers who need to save some money and have an interest in organic and ecologically sound living. We had been in contact with TerraPi and arranged to spend the next two weeks of our time in South Africa as willing volunteers on the 10,000 hectares of land known as TerraPi. 

What the farm is trying to achieve is best explained with the following text I pinched from their website:

Education empowers people. At TerraPi we understand that caring for the people who live on the land plays a vital role in the sustainable success of any conservation project.
An empowered positive community will mean that the work at TerraPi will continue for generations.
By exposing those who visit us to our work at TerraPi the potential for the spreading of this vitally important knowledge is endless.
Within this beautiful landscape we hope to facilitate a greater environmental awareness and compassion for nature in our visitors and community. Even if this is simply in the form of sipping a cool drink, while truly appreciating the quiet serenity of a blazing sunset.
We provide three month volunteer conservation programs, and educational conservation courses for schools, corporations and groups. 

We drive through rolling green hills covered in bush scrub and many wattle trees. Our first stop is the building site known as the op centre. We meet the team of four other woofing volunteers and ten people living and working on the farm. The op centre will be a conference room, restaurant, solar shower block, compost toilet and a meeting place for people staying in the soon-to-be ten giant teepee's that surround it.

We visit the farm house where the owner Harry and his wife Saskia live. Harry is in charge of TerraPi and all of the project taking place. He is very passionate and enthusiastic on the subject of volunteers, calling us the voice of the farm to the outside world. He explains that normally woofers are working on the organic projects of the farm but as completion of the op center is a priority for a few weeks, we will be helping out on the building site.

We pass the team of men clearing the damaging wattle trees. These alien trees are damaging the environment as they demand all the water available, drying streams up and killing any other species that grow in the area. There is a water shortage in this area and over the next two weeks we learn the wattle tree is a large reason people have to conserve water in an area that gets regular rainfall.

Further up the road I spot a yellow cape cobra, about 2 meters in length. Its an incredibly poisonous snake, its venom will give you about 20 minutes till death. The snakes head rears up at the 4x4 we are in and its cape expands in true cobra style. Its a rare sight to see and we were lucky to be up so high in the vehicle, safe from its jaws.

We arrive in the house we will be living in for the next two weeks. Its a beautiful farm house surrounded by soft hills, inside old beams cross the ceiling, wooden floor boards creak as we walk around. There is an eight bed dorm but luckily we get our own room. The living room has cable tv and a wifi link and the kitchen is stocked full of South African food, that is huge amounts of meat; sausages, chops, steaks & chickens.

We get our first afternoon off work and sit outside on the deck. Around us, along the hills herds of game graze past, springbok and kudoo. In the garden two giant ostriches stride around looking menacingly at anyone who comes close while they peck at the ground. Danny another woofer tells me he has ridden an ostrich. All we need to do is put a bag on its head to subdue it while you jump on, hold the wings and ride it like a bucking bronco, only its not only the largest bird on the planet but the fastest capable of reaching nearly 50 miles an hour. Wear a crash helmet.

They are not the only wandering around the garden that you can ride on, large tortoise's pad up and down the hills. As its spring in S.A. we watched one tortoise following the other, head butting the one in front, trying to turn it over. It looked like a fight as they chased each other around the garden but someone told me it was a mating thing as they tried to flip each other over. I didn't get to see a tortoise flip another so I'll never find out. By the way it is fine for a small person to stand on the shell and get carried around.

The next morning we walked over to the op centre and started work, varnishing chairs and tables made from reclaimed wood. By our 1'o'clock lunch stop the weather had changed for the worse and it was raining to hard to apply coats of varnish. With little other work to do all the woofers were sent home early. On Wednesday the rain hadn't stopped and we received the great news that work was canceled for the day, leaving us to hang out in the house.

Thursday and Friday was back to varnishing tables and chairs again, on Friday afternoon Harry arrived on site and asked if we would be interested in going on a cool kayaking weekend away, kayaking into a wilderness park on Saturday, sleeping on a river beach for one night, and continuing till Sunday afternoon. He said he needed to check the general course and state of the river after some huge floods earlier in the year may have changed the rapids. We all said yes, or yah as they say here.

Cooper Out to kayak some rapids.

Love Dan & Kat
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