I wake up to the sound of lions roaring somewhere nearby. I went to bed at 2am, it's now 6am, and I feel surprisingly fresh. We're all leaving today so the morning is spent sweeping, mopping and wiping down the house in preparation for the next batch of volunteers. Suddenly Antoine is calling us all to the truck. He has just received word of a cheetah sighting not far from the camp. We jump in and get to the place described with no one around and no sign of a cheetah. Antoine is rereading the message and wondering what has gone wrong. We're on one side of a bridge and the cheetah was described as being on the open plain just before the bridge. I suggest trying the other side of the river.
"No, it's not open enough across the bridge, he must have been talking about here", says Antoine.
After a while we give up and leave, our quest to find a cheetah still unsatisfied. More details come through later and it turns out the sighting was on the other side of the bridge...just at the place I suggested we check! Antoine is preemptively on the defence. "OK, I have three reasons why we wouldn't have seen the cheetah anyway", he says. "One, the visual was four out of five which means it was on the move; two, there is no network coverage in that area so the person sent me the message after leaving the vicinity; three, there would have been lots of other cars if it had still been there".
He keeps repeating these reasons as though trying to convince himself.
[No Cheetah but there's plenty of other animals around]
We finally get our packing done and load up the truck to bursting point. Cathy is leaving us into town so we say goodbye to Antoine and the park. Kate, Lisa and Selina are moving on to new reserves, while myself and Elena are unfortunately leaving. Elena gets left at the airport in Richard's Bay, while I get dropped off at McDonalds, along with Francois, a volunteer that was at a different reserve. This is where we have to wait for the Greyhound bus to Durban in five hours time.
[When I saw these crisps in a supermarket I couldn't resist buying them - "Irish Hot Pot" and "Blarney Black Pepper and Sea Salt". Make sure to read what it said on the back. Another great representation of Ireland!]
Deborah from SAYTC, the sponsor of my prize, luckily lives in Richard's Bay and picks me up to go for lunch with her at the waterfront. We end up at a seafood restaurant where I order a plate of huge prawns and chips with peri-peri sauce. Francois, meanwhile, is probably eating a Big Mac. While I'm with Deborah I realise I've forgotten my ostrich egg! I've been carrying it all over South Africa for three weeks and now with five nights to go I've left it in the pickup truck with Kate, Selina and Lisa. I get in touch with Cathy and ask her to see if Kate will hold onto it for me. She has six more weeks left. Given that I couldn't manage to keep it longer than three, will she really be able to manage six? That's your challenge Kate!
Last night's wine and lack of sleep begins to catch up with me but Deborah has the solution. She brings me round to her house and loads me up with vitamin C and liver tablets (whatever they are). A forty minute nap and two cups of coffee later and I'm back to normal - in fact I'm better than normal! I never drink coffee unless I really need it so two strong cups has me buzzing. By the time the taxi arrives to take me back to McDonald's I feel like I could fly. The driver apparently feels the same way too, absolutely flooring it as she zig-zags around cars and breaks all speed limits. 'Drive it like you stole it' springs to mind.
The bus is delayed forty-five minutes but I already knew that because the company kindly called a few hours ago to warn me. When I do get on the bus I find my seat is behind the toilet and in front of a baby. I wonder which will start to smell bad first? I don't have to wait long to find out - it's the baby. I get up and move to the top deck where Francois is sitting. He's in the front row with a big window looking onto the road ahead. It's like being in the pickup truck again, minus the rushing air and the need to blink constantly and wipe splattered flies from my face. Oh, and the chair has a backrest too - what a luxury!
At the terminal in Durban I somehow negotiate 50% off my taxi fare without a whole lot of effort. I ask a taxi driver the price to get to Happy Hippo Backpackers on Mahatma Gandhi Road and he quotes 100 Rand. I offer 70, he says 80, I agree and he sends me to the front of the line of cars. I'm directed to another taxi whose driver tells me it will be 70 Rand. I agree again but when we arrive at my destination I only have 50 and a 100 Rand notes and he has no change. He suggests trying at Happy Hippo's reception but they have no change either. Instead of trying the garage next door he says he will just take 50 Rand. That was easy!
Happy Hippo seems like a nice place. All of the bedrooms are situated around a huge lounge area with lots of sofas and ornaments, along with a pool table and some balconies with more sofas and comfy chairs. I imagine it would be a good place to relax for a few days or be with friends. Unfortunately I'm leaving early in the morning for Drakensberg but the relaxed atmosphere at least guarantees me a good night's sleep.
A big thank you to Wildlife ACT for an unforgettable two weeks. To support, volunteer with, or learn more about Wildlife ACT visit their website here.
Thanks as well to Happy Hippo Backpackers for putting me up for the night in Durban.
And lastly thanks to Deborah and SAYTC for the lovely lunch and for keeping me entertained in Richard's Bay!