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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome to C.A.R.E.

In the spirit of saving $600, I took a zigzag airplane ride half around the world, quite literally, and slept in every airport in which I landed.  Picture this on a map:  Fly from Orlando to Chicago, layover for 2.5 hours.  Then to London (7 hours of single-seated madness Gumby-like sleeping), hang out in Heathrow airport for 8 hours (and sleep).  Then 11-hours to Johannesburg, South Africa, hang out in Joburg airport for another 8 hours, then on to my final tiny-airport destination of Phalaborwa.  WOW!  Most (all?) of South Africa is 6 hours ahead of East coast time.

I was collected at the Phalaborwa airport by C.A.R.E.; the airport was undeniably the most unique, quaint, intimate and warm airport that I’ve ever seen.  The baggage claim involved a staff member wheeling a buggy in from the tarmac and handing your baggage to you.  This airport is also the departure point for Kruger National Park, the most touristed national park in the country where one can see all of the “Big Five”, thus catering to many high-rolling tourists and sightseers.

The road to C.A.R.E. was full of 25 miles of bumpy, jagged potholed, jet-lagged confusion.  After we entered the guarded gates of Grietjie Nature Reserve, I noticed the sides of the road were heavily laden with great big piles of dung.  An animal must pass through or live in the area to drop dung…  this was ELEPHANT DUNG!  FRESH!  Wow! (Sadly (and safely), no elephants were spotted during the drive in.)  As we approached the volunteer house, “Mountain Lodge”, I was informed to prepare for (wild) baboon mobbing, as we were driving the open-back big truck that normally hauls daily food runs.  Immediately, fear entered my body.   I was well aware of a large wild troop that has also made C.A.R.E. home, amongst the enclosed baboons, but I had compartmentalized their activity to daylight (working) hours.  This scene was the beginning of a very interesting new chapter in my life…
Candelabra tree at the C.A.R.E. entrance in Grietjie Nature Reserve
Coming in after nightfall and 48 sleepless hours, I saw or comprehended very little.  Upon morning waking, I came to realize that THERE ARE BABOONS EVERYWHERE!  Holy shit, hundreds more than I imagined.  Approximately 650 baboons are living at C.A.R.E. (in enclosures), and there are another 300 or so wild baboons (the “Longtits”) that also call C.A.R.E. home.  In addition to baboons, there are human companions totaling about 10 staff members (7 from SA), 13 volunteers from around the world, the founder Rita Miljo, 2 dogs, 1 meerkat, 1 bushbaby, and all of the wildlife that exists in the South African bush.  It is a dynamic, exciting, and visually and auditory stimulating and colorful place.  Amazement.

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