I am so excited to introduce you all to Abigail Trombley! She has very kindly written a guest post about her gap year in South Africa. You can see her blog, As She Wrote, here.
Let’s get into the post …
I graduated high school a year early, and therefore decided to take a gap year before I went to college. During my gap year, I was able to have several incredible experiences; I did an internship in Washington, D.C. I studied in London, and best yet – I spent three months in the South African bush, volunteering on an anti-poaching project.
During my internship in D.C., one rainy fall Sunday, I wandered into the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It just so happened there was an exhibit on wildlife photography. Seeing the photos of lion cubs playing together, herds of elephants in the water and giraffes against a savannah sunset, I knew immediately I had to see this in person.
I went back to my dorm room and that very same day filled out an application to join a volunteer conservation project on a game reserve in South Africa.
Arriving in Africa
A few months later I was in a jeep heading down a bumpy road, red dust already coating my throat. What had I gotten myself into?! I thought that, while they say to take the road less traveled, I was literally on that road.
The following three months was spent with a group of other students also on a gap year. I woke up at 4:30AM each morning, and we’d head out to the stables. We began our anti-poaching work early because poachers set out snares the night before. During the daytime it was too hot to do anything.
We patrolled the reserve on horseback to cover as much ground as possible. We waded through thick bush to find snares attached to tree trunks, to catch the legs or necks of impalas, lions, leopards, and even rhinos. Some days, we came up empty after hours of searching. Other days, we’d return to the stables with rings of metal snares around our wrists that we had successful removed. There were days we discovered we had arrived too late.
The beauty …
The magic of this trip was that we were completely off the grid and immersed in the bush. So much that we could not leave the house on foot, as we were completely exposed to the bush and all the wildlife that lives in it.
There were nights we’d be outside eating dinner, and we’d hear the bush literally start to rumble. We’d jump up, running with our plates to get back inside the house, as a herd of elephants would begin to traverse the backyard. We’d sit quietly in front of the window, absolutely mesmerized by their presence.
Wildebeest slept under our clothes line at night. There were evenings we’d have trouble falling asleep, the sound of the lions roaring just a little too close for comfort.
We’d hear the bush literally start to rumble
The dangers …
During our anti-poaching work we were also completely exposed in the South African bush, without guns or any sort of protection. We had two guides with us, but often the group would split up to cover more ground.
One day, I was riding with two teammates. The environment was tense that day, as a herd of lions had recently been spotted in the area. I was in the lead and spotted a snare wrapped around a tree, so I hopped off my horse to remove it. As I was doing so, a large bush in front of me began to shake, and I heard the unmistakeable sounds of an animal struggling.
My immediate thought was that a lion had caught a prey – and was devouring it right in front of me. My teammate behind me saw a flash of brown and shouted “LION!” I hopped on my horse’s back, from the ground, a move purely fuelled by adrenaline.
Hearing her warning, several teammates and a guide broke onto the scene, running to the other side of the bush. It turns out the noises we heard were not a lion, but rather an impala. It had gotten stuck in a snare and was thrashing about, only tightening the metal noose around its neck. We were able to cut the impala free and save him.
Learn more …
I write more about my adventures (and plenty more stories like that) in my book Mind the Gap: A Guide to Gap Years From Someone Who’s Survived One, as well as explain how you too can have incredible experiences during a gap year.
If you have any questions about how I planned, funded and executed my year, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Back to me!
If you guys want to know more about opportunities in South Africa, be sure to check out my posts on the Wildlife Act! Keep an eye out for my posts on endangered species, like the ones I wrote on vultures and rhinos.