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Published: October 29th 2009
I had a unexpected trip today. I was sitting alone in the cool morning air hands cupped around a mug of hot tea when Carmel joined me, not dressed in uniform. I asked where she was going and she said that she'd been talking to a tour guide who'd been telling her about Glen Afric, a game reserve nearby where they film the ITV series 'Wild at Heart' and when she'd expressed an interest in going he'd said he was taking a couple of people there today and could take her along too for a reduced fee! When I said I was familiar with the series she asked if I wanted to come too and said that she'd already invited Em-J. I decided that since practically everyone had had a trip away from the park yesterday there would be no harm if I left for half a day so I excitedly agreed.
I went up to the park for my last day on nursery shift. We found T-K with the tiniest little brown cub ever. She said it was only a day old and had been found on the ground near the edge of on of the camps. We tried to
ask more but she was obviously busy with the tiny ball of fluff and Princess bustled in giving out chores to do so we were all soon busy. I was also asked to make food for the porcupine. Porcupine? I didn't know we had one of those!
We took the cubs and meerkats their food and then started the messy process of feeding Georgina who slurped her way through four full bottles this morning. We took the empty bottles back up to nursery to begin clean up. Glenn joked he wants me to go home with him as I'm so thorough at cleaning up, I didn't like to point out I'm not nearly so dedicated when lions aren't involved! I walked back down through cub world and found Carmel doing the first part of giraffe shift and stopped for a chat and to feed the giraffes (and interfering ostriches) a quick snack. I saw Purdy had managed to get into Georgina's pen and the staff were standing around looking very frustrated.
I walked back to camp to change out of my uniform and then walked back up to join Carmel We made it almost to the end of our giraffe
shift before handing it over to someone else and then walked up to the front of the main building to wait for our guide. Em-J met us there and then we saw Kirsty and managed to ask her about the tiny cub in nursery. Aparently the staff weren't even aware there was a lioness pregnant and the cub had taken them all by surprise. Usually when the lionesses are pregnant they are put somewhere slightly away from the rest of the pride so they can give birth and take care of the cubs. This one had been placed in the long grass, which in the wild is what the lioness would do to hide it from predators, but in a small camp puts it at risk of being killed by one of the other lions. It is also strange that there is only one as lionesses normally give birth to a few cubs, so the staff are currently on the lookout for any more who may have been born since. The cub has been removed for safety as the staff don't know who the mother is and other adult lions will kill a cub.
Finally our guide arrived with his
actual tour group, a German woman and her little boy. We all climbed in the taxi and set off for Glen Afric. We made a detour by 'The Village of Joy' first. This is beside Lesedi Cultural Village and is an enterprise begun by our tour guide's mother. She bought the buildings from Lesedi and her son pays the rent on them. She has turned the place into a home for children who have been removed from their families by the courts, usually because of drugs and imprisonment. She makes no money from the place and the home is entirely run by charity and bartering. People donate food and clothes and toys, and anything she can't use for the children she exchanges with the local tribespeople in exchange for labour. She looks after around 10 children and also provides meals for 600 local school children. She gets a lot of help from tourists and word-of-mouth. She said one tourist who visited spoke about the village to the person they sat next to on their flight home. That person said they worked for a company that had recently changed its name and they had 400 spare school bags with the old
logo on, so they got in touch with the village and donated the school bags, so 400 children got a school bag for christmas that year. The Village is amazing. The buildings are all beautifully painted like in Lesedi, and there are so many works-in-progress, the place is going to look incredible when it's completed. We saw the meeting place which is like a mini ampitheatre around an open fire, a full computer suite, nursery and school rooms. It's a wonderful place. We got a fully guided tour and heard all about her future plans for the home.
Eventually we set off back on the road and soon reached Glen Afric. Glen Afric is a 1,500 acre game reserve, nestled amongst the Magaliesburg Mountains. The reserve is owned by John Brooker and the country lodge is the familie's original homestead built in the 1980s and turned into a luxury safari lodge in the 1990s. The reserve also has its own breeding programme and rehabilitation centre. As we drove in we caught our first glimpse of the 'Wild at heart' house through the fencing. Glen Afric has been used as a film location for several documentaries and films but more recently
has become home to the long running British series 'Wild at Heart' and its short lived American counterpart 'Life is Wild'. The film sets were all built from scratch and the house is merely an ampty shell with indoor scenes for the show being shot in a studio. The house looks impressive though and blends into the surroundings as if it has always been there. Producer Ann Harrison-Baxter says: “We literally walked every inch of the reserve to find the best place to build the house and then it was all created from scratch and aged to look like it had been there for more than a century in just 10 weeks!”
We left the taxi and walked through to the back balcony, passing through planted areas and a pond below the wooden walkway where a few local birds were taking a dip. We took our seats on the balcony and a waiter brought us menus while we chatted and admired the views. We could see for miles across the reserve and our guide helpfully brought out some binoculars so we were able to spot a few kudu and impala in the distance. He told us a bit about the
different animals in the reserve and Carmel, Em-J and I showed of our knowledge of wildlife we've been picking up. He was impressed I knew where the impala's nickname of 'McDonalds' comes from but personally I was more impressed when Carmel was able to remember the different types of zebra and how to tell them apart. We got to know our new travelling companians as well. It turns out the woman is an air hostess on a two day stop over in South Africa and she decided to bring her son with her to see the country. It is the little boy's second time in South Africa, last time they had two days in Cape Town and he insisted on spending nearly all of it in a monkey sanctuary.
We ordered our dinners (I was amused to notice the 'Wild at Heart breakfast - a gobble and go breakfast especially for movie crew') and also met the son of the owner who had wandered out onto the balcony. He recounted a few stories of growing up on the reserve and said as a child he used to sleep in a hammock on the balcony where we were now eating. We
also learned that Glen Afric is randomly named after Glen Afric, a small town in Scotland near Loch Ness, which the owner is particulary fond of.
After dinner we were shown to a safari jeep where a member of staff was preparing to take us five, plus a couple fo German tourists, for the game drive. We climbed up onto the high seats and our driver asked us if we knew much about Glen Afric. As we all shook our heads he grinned and said he wouldn't tell us then, it would all be better as a surprise.
The first thing we drove through was part of the Wild at Heart film set. Since the tour was of the game reserve our driver obviously wasn't intending to stop but when he saw Carmel surrupticiously taking a picture he stopped the jeep whereupon Em-J and I both pulled out our cameras and started excitedly taking pictures. The German tourists looked very confused at the crazy English and Irish girls taking photos of fake buildings some of which were obviously just wooden boards. The tour guide saw their confused expressions and said 'It's the film set for a British TV series'. The
Germans looked a moment longer, then pulled their cameras out, obviously deciding it must be worth having a photo of then!
We drove on and saw our first animals, a female elephant with two calves. We were told one calf was her own and the other was an orphan she had adopted. Our guide gave us a quick lecture on elephants and then jumped out of the jeep and said 'come on, hop out'. It took us all a minute to realise we were actually allowed to get out and go and meet the elephants. The elephant handlers were sitting nearby and came to join us and make sure the elephants were happy with us being there. We were able to walk right up beside them and pose for pictures. The calves were quite happy for us to touch them and carried on pulling leaves from the bushes as we stood there. The guide asked if we wanted a photo with the mother as well so the three of us ran round to the front and handed over our cameras. We successfully got a picture on the first camera. The second time around we were all happily posing when the
baby came running up behind us and bowled into the backs of my knees causing me to almost sit down (quite glad I didn't as I wouldn't fancy having my fingers trodden on by an elephant!). The mother moved so for the third camera we posed our picture all peering through her trunk from behind! We stayed some time with the elephants and even when our tour guide promised us there was more to come we were reluctant to leave the beautiful animals.
We next stopped the jeep beside a herd of impala amongst aloe vera plants. The guide jumped out and brought us back an aloe vera leaf to show us. I was amazed by how thick the leaves are and when we broke it in half it oozed green liquid. Since it is supposed to be good for the skin and soothing for injuries the three of us tried it out on our lion cub wounds. The Germans obviously assumed this was another strange British thing and watched us pulling up our sleeves and trouser legs and rubbing the green gel over our scratches with amusement.
We drove past a herd of wildebeest, including some very young ones.
We drove onto a large open plain and saw zebra, impala and waterbuck grazing on the ground, still blackened in places from the controlled burning the staff had been doing.
We drove on to a lake. Across the lake we had a good view of the film set and in the lake we could clearly see three hippos. I was delighted to finally see hippos properly after the elusive ones on the Zambezi river. We stayed a little while but the hippos soon began to get annoyed at our presence and started opening their mouths wide and making threatening sounds. The tour guide told them off for being so grumpy as we moved on.
Our next stop was at the lions. We were able to go in with two cubs, sigificantly older than the ones Carmel, Em-J and I have been handling every day. One cub was 7 months old and the other 9 months old. The little boy wasn't allowed to come in with the lions so he waited outide while the rest of us went in. The cubs bounded up to greet our guide entusiastically. I was a little wary of them. They were much bigger than the
cubs I'm used to, and even our little ones at the lion park can give nasty bites and scratches. We did all get to approach the lions. I managed to stroke the younger of the two but when I approached the older cub he decided it was playtime and rolled over on his back swiping at me with his paws. The little boy meanwhile was getting bored outside the pen and started to run up and down waving at the lions. One of them started to watch him. Suddenly, faster than we could keep track of, the lion lept up, bounded across the pen and flung herself at the fencing. I now see why they don't let young children in! The lions obviously viewed him as a corss between a chew toy and a snack!
We returned to the jeep, the little boy very excited about his lion attack experience, and drove on to see the adult lions (this time with all of us safely behind the fencing). Although I've seen the adult lions at the lion park I have never been this close to an adult lion. We were literally seperate by a couple of layers of fencing and
if not for that electric fencing I could have stretched out my arm and touched them. The lions paced up and down annoyed to find we were tourists and not the staff with their food and we were able to appreciate the size and strength of the animals. We also stopped to see a few tigers! The reserve has a few Bengal tigers which are also trained and used in filming. Finally we had to leave as our guide had been getting messages on the walkie-talkie for some time that we were taking too long. We thanked him for giving us the full tour and not trying to rush us on for the next group.
We stopped back at the lodge and filed back out onto the balcony, sitting round the corner overlooking the gardens, while a waiter brought us tea and cakes apparently paid for by our guide. He chatted to us and asked how we'd enjoyed the tour. He'd also told the owner that we'd come from working at the lion park and had expressed an interest in seeing their leopard cubs which are bred at the reserve, but we were told regrettably that we couldn't as the
cubs are still too young.
As we left we asked if we could stop along the way so we could get a good view of the Wild at Heart house. Our guide laughingly obliged us and we got a surprise bonus as no sooner did we stop to view the house then lots of animals started to wander over towards us. A giraffe came right up and bent his head over the fence and right into the car with us. Our German friends pulled out the remains of a packed lunch and started feeding carrot sticks to the giraffe. Soon other animals came to see what the fuss was about and we had a couple of giraffes, ostriches and zebras, including a mare and her foal all standing just on the other side of the fence.
We fianlly had to return to the Lion park. We came back much later than we'd originally guessed and the park was already shut. We paid our guide and said goodbye to our travelling companians and wandered back to camp for the evening. We ended up hanging out in and around the kitchen chatting to everyone. Carolina was interested in hearing about Glen Afric
as she's never been but no-on else was excited about the Wild at Heart film sets, so we're apparently the only three fans here.
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