My first week in Nature's Valley!

Robin Fokker
20 February 2015


Monday the 2nd of February, I arrived in Nature’s Valley, South Africa, to research the distribution of litter on the beach in relation to the location of fishermen and other beach users. But how did I get here? Let’s start from the beginning. Ever since I was around 8 years old, I have been fascinated by the animal kingdom. It started with simple interest in the life around me. However, after a couple of years I discovered that this was more than just an interest. I wanted to work with this after school. During my secondary education, I discovered scuba diving. After my first lesson it immediately became my favorite sport. At this point I decided that I wanted to be able to be outside and explore. I decided I wanted to study marine biology. After I finished middle school, I immediately started searching for a higher education in Marine Biology. However, I found out that the course Marine Biology itself was University standard, while I could only do HBO (also called University in English, but on a different level in Dutch). I needed to find something that I could do. This brought me to Integrated Coastal Zone Management, with their major Marine Biology. I immediately applied and the first year flew by as the best year I had ever had. I met people with the same interest as me which stimulated my ideal for working as a marine biologist even more.  

During the Integrated Coastal Zone Management course, a mandatory part is to do two internships within the coastal zone management field of work. One internship in the second year and another in the third. After my previous internship in Slovenia, and while it was very nice and I gained a lot of knowledge from it, I did not experience what it is like to live and work outside of Europe. So for my second internship, I broadened my horizon and started searching outside of Europe. A lot of my classmates went outside of Europe, but one stood out. Shirley gave a presentation about her internship at the Nature’s Valley Trust in South Africa and it immediately spoke to me. The stories of what things she saw and of what she had learned inspired me to go to South Africa too. After the presentation I immediately asked her for the contact details of her supervisor, because I wanted nothing more than to go to South Africa as well.

After I sent an email to Mark, Shirley’s supervisor, I got a positive response and a skype appointment was made to arrange the project. I got to choose between two projects. One included surveying the beaches, pinpointing litter scattered on the beach and processing this data into a GIS map, and another to monitor flowers in the area. I had immediately made up my mind and I chose for the beach surveying. What I found funny was that during the skype call, after I had received a positive answer to my request for an internship, Mark started to tell me all the things I would do besides my internship, such as swimming with seals and taking a boat tour to watch whales. It appeared to me as Mark was trying to sweeten up the internship a bit, but I already had trouble containing my joy when my request was accepted. These side activities made it even more difficult to remain in one place and not jump through the entire house. After I finished my last few modules at the university, I booked my flight, some accommodation in Cape Town for the first night and a bus ticket from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay.


Robin and Lisa sorting rubbish collected on the beach

As if intended it started snowing the weekend of my departure and for one last time for the next 5 months I got to feel the snow melt in my hands. My flight departed at 10 A.M. in the morning and we were present at 7 A.M. as we had to be there 3 hours in advance due to the flight being intercontinental. My flight went very well. While it lasted for 11 and a half hours, they passed quickly after watching some movies. I had seen the desert pass under me and I thought I saw some vague shades of jungle trees pass under the plane. After I had landed I made my way to the taxi driver that I had booked in advance who then took me to the train lodge. It took the driver about 1 hour to get there as he had to deliver 4 more people to their locations first. The drivers accent was quite a funny one. A stereotypical straight from a movie. After he had dropped me off in front of the lodge I got my room appointed to me. While awfully small, I slept well for the first night. After a short 3 hours I stood up to catch the bus to Plettenberg Bay. The bus station was no more than 5 minutes walking from the lodge, but I still left well in advance so I had enough time to find it. After my bus had departed I took a few pictures of the table mountain, some ostriches and two elephants. After the 9 hour bus ride to Plettenberg Bay, I was picked up by Mark and taken to the house in Nature’s Valley in which I will be sharing with some other employees and interns for the next 5 months.

It was already quite late so I immediately had supper. Kellyn prepared supper for me for the first night and she had made pasta with a homemade sauce. I enjoyed it a lot but did not eat much as I did not feel very hungry. Perhaps the feeling that my life will completely change for the coming months had not hit me until this point. Kellyn and I took a final walk through the area so she could show me the store, the restaurant and the way to the beach. After a short walk on the beach and some introductions to the locals. I was exhausted after the last 2 days so I went straight to bed, only to find a large rain spider sitting on my window frame. It scared me as the size of the spider was immense compared to the spiders in The Netherlands. Kellyn tried to catch it but it ran away and hid in the walls. The next morning I wouldn’t have to come into work as Mark had given me the time to unpack my things and explore the area. I decided to go the office to check on any messages that my parents left me, as the house does not have internet. After an hour of chatting and uploading pictures I went back to the house.

After this I went back to the house to find another inhabitant of the house, Gills, a Frenchman, photographing a bush buck that was eating the grass in the front lawn. I quickly grabbed my camera and made some pictures too before it ran off. After the encounter with the bush buck I went for another stroll on the beach. This time by myself, to the side that I hadn’t seen before. The view was astonishing. Everything was different compared to the North Sea that I am used to in The Netherlands. On the way back from my stroll I walked past the local store to buy some post cards for my family back in The Netherlands. While the store didn’t have much, it had enough to get around. This evening, Kellyn and I ate at the restaurant next to the store. A double boogie burger was served to me with a side of very large fries. Almost the “Vlaamse friet” that I am used to in The Netherlands. After a very large but delicious meal we made our way back to the house where I immediately went to sleep. All the things that I had seen in the past days had exhausted me more than I had realised. These were, however, the best two days I’ve had in quite a long time and I instantly lost all the stress I had built up from the half a year of school before. I am looking forward very much to the next few days and to what I will see next.


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