Week 3: This Is Getting Easy

As routine starts to set in, my time here seems to become more natural. At this point in my internship I have left what I would consider the touristy stage, when everything is so new and you are just trying to figure things out. Now I have started to get the hang of things. I have figured out the best times to catch the train as to avoid having to ride in a jammed pack car and still make it to work on time. My week night evenings are starting to become a bit structured as well, similar to a normal schedule back home. I have found a gym that I like, which is actually in the process of moving to a location only two blocks from my house. I go into work and begin working on things I have to do without needing to ask for work to do. I go shopping for my groceries on Sundays as is done back home. After three weeks here I would say that I have adjusted and am in the process of trying to enjoy everyday here as my time here is flying by.

Work this week was another productive/enjoyable week. I spent more time photo tagging and have continued to race through them by the thousands. We did a little maintenance around our office building. The deck was stained and some planks were replaced due to being rotted out and broken. The people I work with and many other South Africans I have encountered are very ingenuitive.  I have seem some very clever ways of solving problems when doing things like fixing the deck and building other things around the reserve. I try to sit back, observe, and lend a helping hand where I can. Petro, my supervisor, two people with the city of Cape Town monitoring an evaluation department, and myself conducted bird surveys on Thursday. We did this with sound recorders, going to twenty different locations, ten in each the control and experiment site, and recorded for eight minutes at each location. Someone will then go through all the files and identify the birds from their calls and songs. They chose this style because of how dense the brush is and it would be impossible to get any accurate data from attempting point counts or other visual methods.

I had many exciting adventures over the weekend. For our Friday vactivity we went to the township of Khayelitsha were Mama Suli hosted the interns for a braai. We had some much good food, but even better than the food was interacting with the kids. They danced for and with us, we played soccer, used a soccer ball to play volleyball, and got to just talk with them. One conversation I had was with a twelve year-old boy named Matthew. We talked for quite a bit, mostly about soccer, and he could name every starting player for the french national team and many others. This event may end up being one of the best experiences I have while I am here. Check out Instagram to see photos of the braai. On Saturday a whole bunch of us went the the Old Biscuit Mill for shopping and food. Mostly the food for me. I started with “breakfast,” which was lamb curry. After a while I had a snack, which were some Greek bread filled with feta. I finished with a double scoop of delicious coffee and toffee ice cream in a waffle cone. But not to worry about all this eating because in the afternoon we went on a sunset hike up Lion’s Head. This was a pretty steep hike, using chains and ladders at some points, but ending with a spectacular view of the city and ocean. After this we grabbed dinner in out neighborhood and called it an early night. On Sunday, some of use went the the V&A Waterfront Mall to get a few things that we cannot find in our neighborhood and grabbed lunch in the food mall (yes, more delicious food). I got a Hungarian flatbread topped with mushrooms, lamb, arugula, and a sauce. While we ate we sat next to a pop-up dog adoption company. They are working very hard to save as many dogs as they can here in the Western Cape. Only 1 in 10 dogs that end up in a shelter will survive and be adopted. The WOOF Project brings the dogs to popular areas in town to help raise awareness of this issue. It will be very difficult not to adopt a pup while I am here. We finished out the week with another braai at my house, which I think is now a weekly event. We had good food, drinks, and played some games.

Well it has been another successful week in South Africa. Lets see what the next one has in store.

Week 2: Full Steam Ahead

I have now spent a full work week at my internship site., which was a good week at work. The first half of the week I spent the afternoons in the veld with the eland and a monitor, getting to know the project and understanding the importance of the monitors works. In the mornings I was working on getting a program called Timelapse2 set up to use for photo tagging. The nature reserve has had camera traps set up for the last two years spread out through control and experimental areas. They have divided up data collection on the camera traps into sessions. The first two sessions of photos (which for anyone who has used camera traps knows this means thousands upon thousands of photos) were entered using an excel sheet and simply going through the photos on a photo viewer. Each photo had to have its image file name and corresponding data entered manually. This is effective but extremely time consuming. So this is one of my main projects. I am working on the third session of photos collected which is several months worth. My first task was reading a 100 page long manual on how to set up the photo tagging software, create a template for the data collection, and then play around with it to figure out if I set it up right.

After I got Timelapse2 all set up I spent the second half of the week going through photos. Over the next couple of days I went through over 15,000 photos, which was only one months worth of photos. If I am correct this session has files from December 2017 to April 2018. So that means I still have 4 months worth of photos to tag. And if I am efficient at this session and time permits I will go through the previous two sessions’ photos so that all the data can be in the same format. Even though staring at a screen for 8 hours can take its toll on the eyes, it is fun to see all the wildlife that is out there. I have seen the eland and so many other species these last couple days. There are so many different types of birds, I have seen water and small grey mongoose, common genet, grysbok, hippo (the only reserve in the Cape Town region with hippo), my personal favorite the caracal, and my least favorite the boomslang. Boomslang are a venomous snake that tend to spend their time in trees and it’s not that I do not like them, I just prefer them on the computer screen and hope not to run into one out in the field. I also got to join in on a walkabout through the veld with city managers and other project members as they discussed what they were hoping to get out of the project and to talk about its future. This gave me a very interesting insight into how this project works and how it can stay viable for years to come. This was my work week, lots of new and exciting things.

I also had a busy week for the touristy stuff. Monday nights are a culture series put on by VAC. This Monday was an introduction to South Africa. Then on Thursday I went out with a big group of the other interns to the local neighborhood bar. Friday was our weekly activity put on by VAC, our “vactivity”. We went on a short hike to Elephants Eye Cave. It gave breathtaking views of Muizenberg beach and the cape flats area. Check out Instagram for photos. Saturday I went to Old Biscuit Mill, which is a local neighborhood market with lots of trinket shops and tons of good food. In the afternoon I went to the V&A waterfront and walk around the boardwalk area. Then spent three hours walking around the biggest mall I think I have been in, all in an effort to buy a second towel and an external hard drive. And the pièce de résistance was Sunday’s trip to Muizenberg beach, where it was about 80 degrees and sunny, followed by a braai with some other VAC interns at my house.

This was a fun and exciting week and I can’t wait to see what else South Africa has in store for me.

Week 1: Getting Settled

It is now the weekend of my first week here in Cape Town. There have been quite a few ups and downs getting settled in my new city. Overall it has been an amazing week, however, it is definitely important to make sure everything is all lined up when you are living somewhere else for an extended period of time.

Some of the things I wish would have gone smoother included: getting a South African phone, feeding myself, sleep, and Uber. On my first full day here I had orientation, when I should have got a phone set up. I was planning on using a burner phone. Well I did not end up getting my phone until the second day and ran out of time to set it up with my internship coordinators. Long story short, the burner phone was so slow and incapable of working to order Uber and use WhatsApp. The two things I bought it to use. So that means putting the SIM card into my US phone, not a biggie, a little frustrating but not the end of the world. Uber has been the bane of my existence this week. Because it did not work on my burner phone I was almost stuck at my work site on Thursday. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get the phone and Uber to work to get home for the day. Neither was happening, so I had to call the internship office and someone there order me one. Since I switched to my US phone I thought it would work just great. Well this morning I woke up to go on a sunrise hike at 7:30 am. At 7:15 I try to order a Uber. The data is working just fine, everything is loading, then “verify card.” So I spend the next 3 hours trying to get a form of payment for Uber. Spent half of that trying to verify my bank with PayPal. Hopefully, it is now all squared away but I don’t want to get my hopes up. Feeding myself this week took a few days. The first day here I had every intention on going to get groceries, turned out I was super tired and fell asleep as soon as I laid my head down. The next day, Wednesday, was a bus tour. I did eat dinner this day. Finally, got to the grocery store Thursday after work. The last trial has been sleep. I think I am finally on a proper sleep schedule. Throughout the week, if I was not in an organized activity I was asleep. But the weekend should put me on track.

So now that it seems like I had a terrible week, lets talk about all the fun and amazing things. On Wednesday I took a bus tour. It was one of those giant double decker tourist buses. Always thought they were kinda lame, but honestly a great way to see Cape Town for the first time. I went with 6 other interns. Our first stop was in Constantia where we visited a winery. Turns out at 11 am, going on your third day with minimal food, wine tasting gets to you quick. The wine was delicious though. Next we stopped off at World of Birds. Starting as a personal bird collection years and years ago, it is now a bird and monkey sanctuary. There were so many different birds and we got to go in an enclosure with some monkeys that just climb all over you. Our final stop was the waterfront. Here I had my first proper meal in Cape Town. Went to a restaurant that served just about everything. I had a pizza, which I made sure to have leftovers for work the next day. Thursday was my first day at work. I started the day by going to a post mortem (necropsy) of a porcupine. Then the afternoon was spent out with the eland and a monitor. They are magnificent animals. The monitors are with them whenever they are out of their boma (enclosure) to not only collect data but to protect them from poachers and other hazards. The monitor was telling me how violent some of the neighborhoods are (not mine) and how he hopes he can one day and afford to move his family. It is really a different world here and in just the few short day I have been exposed to so much. Everyday here make me appreciate so much more what we have in he states. We take so much for granted. Here in Cape Town it is inadvisable to walk down the street by yourself after dark. In my neighborhood to avoid getting mugged for your phone or wallet, but in the monitor’s neighborhood it is to avoid being killed. Gang violence is so bad that he said even the police are scared if they are not in a large enough group. It is so important to understand and have an awareness of what goes on in the world outside out little bubbles back home. Friday, VAC is took us to do a wine tasting like an hour to the north at a vineyard and farm. They do different activities every Friday. Next week is a hike and the week after is a braai (BBQ), weather permitting.

We will see what the rest of the weekend has in store for me.

48 hours from PDX to CPT

After 48 hours of travel I am finally in Cape Town. The trip started on Friday, leaving my apartment in Corvallis in the early afternoon to allow time to stop at IKEA for some last minute things. Actually, I only went there for a pillow, but picked up a towel as well, which should have been one of the first things I packed. Good thing too, because after that many hours of travelling, not being able to shower any longer would not have been enjoyable. Flew from Portland to JFK in New York. Then an 11 hour layover in terminal 4 and no it was unfortunately not nearly as exciting as Tom Hank’s Terminal. Apparently you cannot check bags with Delta until 6 hours before your flight, that meant 7 hours in the arrival waiting area that has a diner, Dunkin Donuts, and the most uncomfortable seating I have ever encountered at an airport. But, once I got through it meant a date with Shake Shack and an amazing strawberry shake. JFK to Amsterdam was almost the same duration as PDX to JFK, so that was nice. Although, I was asleep when they passed out breakfast which was rather unfortunate. After a short couple hours of waiting, it was time for the long leg. 11 hours from Amsterdam to Cape Town. Now I have done long stretches before, PDX to Frankfurt is about the same duration, but it is still brutal. 48 hours of traveling does lend itself to lots of movie watching though, 6 to be exact. Bright, The Kingdom, Jumanji, Justice League, 15:17 to Paris, and Tomb Raider.  And after all of that, landed in Cape Town , met my internship contact, got dropped off at my house, unpacked, and managed 4 hours of sleep before I got restless. Unfortunately it was already dark when I landed so I didn’t get to see any of the wonderful natural sites, but in about 40 minutes the sun should be coming up and my journey in Cape Town will begin. This week will include an internship orientation, walking tour of my neighborhood, bus tour of Cape Town, visit to my internship site, and a braai on Friday. Should be an exciting week. Check out the follow on Twitter and Instagram links to see all of the amazing things I get to experience these next 3 months.


As my trip nears my preparation is coming to an end. It has been over 2 years since I decided I would pursue an international internship, 6 months since I submitted my application to IE3 Global, 5 months since I chose to go to Cape Town, and 4 month since my internship was confirmed with Volunteer Adventure Corps (VAC). I navigated spring term with minimal distraction of my pending adventure and now I have waited 3 weeks since my last spring final to begin the 2 day trek from Corvallis to Cape Town. In the last couple weeks I have finally immersed myself in the excitement of the coming 12 by reading and watching as much about South Africa as I can. One of my favorite prep days included watching 4 movies from a pre-arrival list provided by VAC. Starting as soon as I woke up taking me all the way until it was time for bed, I watched Invictus, District 9, Cry Freedom, and Stander. All of which I would highly recommend.  It is now time that I begin to pack my bags and try to think of anything that I might have forgotten. This time next week I will be about as far away from home as I can be. I will be travelling through 3 different continents, across the equator into the southern hemisphere, and switching seasons from summer to winter. I could not be more excited and anxious thinking about what the next 84 days have in store for me.

In the beginning…

In one week I will be leaving Corvallis, Oregon for Cape Town, South Africa. This is where I will spend the next twelve weeks interning at the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust. Follow my blog to hear about my experiences working in conservation abroad and all the different adventures I have over the next three months.