Saturday, October 30, 2010

Coming to the Table

World AIDS Day is December 1st.

In South Africa, it is a day typically marked by testing sites and marathons and scattered red ribbons. In the US, Facebook campaigns and AIDS Walks and more scattered ribbons.

But what if this year it could be something different?

What if this year we all did something to take ownership of a global pandemic and to take action towards a solution?

What if this year we said it is not acceptable that 5.7 million South Africans are HIV+ resulting in approximately 2 million AIDS orphans?

What if this year we said it is not acceptable that almost 20% of South Africa's children have lost one or both parents resulting in an orphan generation of 4 million children?

What if this year World AIDS Day was a first step to a new future?

At Oasis Haven, we want to take that first step through Coming to the Table.

Coming to the Table is a simple idea that involves you inviting your friends, family, and colleagues to join you for a meal in your home, office, church or place of gathering. During that meal, through the aid of Oasis Haven's host kit, spend some time discussing HIV/AIDS and the orphan crisis. Then at the end of the meal, take a first step towards ownership and action by donating what you would have spent dining out to Oasis Haven. The funds raised through this event will go towards the care of our children, towards growth to provide for more children, and towards  placement of all our kids in Forever Family.

A simple idea with a big result.

I'm asking you as a reader to get involved. If you are in the US, send a quick email to If you are in South Africa or any where else in the world, send an email to me at

Thanks for stepping up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Impossible to be Succinct

When it comes to sitting down and writing out what I've spent the last month and a half doing and working on, I struggle. I know that many of you would like to know more about Oasis Haven and more about what my daily life looks like since I left Peace Corps, but every time I try to put it into words, words fail me.

Or perhaps it's that I have too many words, and I don't know how to put them down in a succinct, blog appropriate format?

What I would prefer is to sit down with each of my readers over a cup of coffee and share with you the fullness of my heart... Share with you about the almost 4 million orphans in South Africa--approximately 20% of South Africa's children. Share with you about our family home model and how we try our best to honor and protect our children through that model. Share with you our passion about adoption and the joy of seeing a child brought into their forever family.

But with friends and family spread out all over the world, the price tag for those cups of coffee is a bit out of my price range.

For this moment, I think that the best I can do is to ask you to jump over to our website, sign-up for our newsletter so you can find out about ways to get involved, and then let this picture say everything else.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Being Significant

My world got rocked in the past week when I started experiencing panic attacks as I moved into the Jo’burg environment.

Everything was large and unfamiliar, overwhelming to my already over-tired and stressed mind and body. Large waves of emotion and uncertainty washed over me as I tried to figure out how to be back in a place of vast availability and choice.

I missed the simplicity and the smallness of Mmametlhake. I missed the friends and family I have there, and felt small and insignificant in a sprawling city where I knew almost no one.


I was chatting online with a friend last night about how we all have a need to be irreplaceable to someone. God put in us a desire to be fully known—to matter to someone. We crave significance. We crave the knowledge that we are significant. But yet so many of us run from real relationship or choose the facsimile of relationship.

It’s the catch-22 that so many of us find ourselves in—the desire to be significant to someone but the fear of real relationships and the hurt they can cause.

I’ve been hurt by people. I’ve been hurt by relationships. We all have at some point in time or another.

But I’m tired of that hurt being what defines my relationships past, present and future. I’m tired of running and hiding and fearing. I desire to be fully known. I want the dark and ugly things inside me to be exposed to the light. I want to know and  believe that I am irreplaceable to someone.


The panic attacks have eased off in the last few days as I’ve begun to find my footing here. There are still things that I find overwhelming, but I am learning to compartmentalize those things and set them aside to deal with when I feel stronger and more mentally at ease.

I am also beginning to believe in my own significance again as I meet new people and remember the worth and value God has placed on me.

The readjustment phase is just beginning, and it will be sometime before I truly know how to live in this type of environment again. For now, it’s a day-to-day process of awakening to the promise I have in the Lord to be fully known and dying to myself so that I can share the fullness of that promise with others.

It’s a process of faith, hope and love.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oasis Haven

Yesterday, I arrived at the Peace Corps office to begin the process known as "early termination." Which basically means that I am terminating my Peace Corps contract prior to the expected "close of service" date in April of next year.


Because I have accepted a new volunteer position with an NGO in Johannesburg and will start with them full time on September 1st.

I will be working for Oasis Haven of Love Foundation—a NGO in Johannesburg working to meet the challenge of the orphan crisis in Africa by rethinking the orphanage system and the adoption system. I'm volunteering as their fundraising coordinator, a position that will hopefully move into a full-time salaried position.

As I’ve gotten to know Oasis Haven over the last few months and as we have prayed about me coming on board with them, I have grown evermore excited about the ways that Oasis Haven is trying to follow our Biblical mandate to care for the orphan. It is exciting to hear about how God has called them, shaped them and reshaped them.

As fundraising coordinator, I will be developing a fundraising model based on their just completed revisioning and strategic planning process. I’ll also be in charge of event planning and coordinating their American and South African fundraising efforts.

It’s a perfectly nerdy job for a perfect nerd.

But beyond being the perfect job for the perfect nerd, I fully believe that God has brought it all together, putting all the pieces in place and asked me to come and be a part of what He’s doing at Oasis Haven.

I sent an email to them a few months back when I saw the post on Things in Mmametlhake and with Peace Corps were not as stable as they are now, and I decided to put out a few feelers. I got an email back from them at the first of June about a month after things had stabilized.

Since then we have all been conversing and praying about what God was doing. I approached my supervisor and counterpart at the care centre in Mmametlhake about it, both essentially said, “Go, we don’t want to hold you back from where God is calling you.”

It’s very bittersweet to leave Mmametlhake, and we all cried on Tuesday as we said goodbye. Even though we are making plans for me to continue my involvement at the centre from afar, I have greatly enjoyed my time working with them and will miss them dearly. I will miss the easy, quiet pace of Mmametlhake, and I will miss all the good friends I have made here.

Please be praying as I make this transition.

Pray as I begin in Jo’burg that God would give me wisdom to understand fully the path that He has led Oasis Haven on and how to create a fundraising model that would honor the work He has done and is doing. Pray also for wisdom on how to continue my involvement with the centre and with Mmametlhake. Pray that I would quickly find community in Jo'burg, especially community with women, something I’m starved for at the moment.

In many ways it seems that the transition process has taken forever, and in other ways it feels that it has not been long enough at all. I'm excited and looking forward to this new leg of the journey. Thank you for your prayers and joining me on it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Only Skin Deep

Natai's 50th Bday (28) A few months ago, I had the privilege to participate in my host mother’s 50th birthday party—well it was at my house, so…

During the course of the day, I made a new friend in a ten-year-old boy and subsequently his mom. I was sitting chatting with his mom and he was chatting with one of my little cousins. He turned to ask me something calling me “lekgoa” (white person). Generally, when children refer to me as “lekgoa,” I reply, “Ga ke nna lekgoa. Ke nna Amanda.”—which loosely translates to, “My name is not white person. My name is Amanda.”

Usually that satisfies the child and they are content to call me Amanda from then on. But this little boy was not having it. He turned to my little cousin and said, “O lekgoa” (She’s a white person). His mom entered the conversation, saying in Setswana, “No, she’s not a white person, she’s Matswana” or that I was part of the Batswana tribe. Again, her son was not having it. To his eyes, and he was right, I was a lekgoa. No getting around it.

Natai's 50th Bday (10)The subject eventually dropped, but I could still see the wheels spinning in my little cousin’s head. Eventually she spoke up again. She asked the little boy if he knew Rachel, a little girl in our village who is albino. He said he did, and she responded, “Sissy Amanda is like that. She looks like a lekgoa, but really she’s Batswana.”

I was so proud of her at this moment. She knew that somehow I was a part of her, the same as her, she just needed a little time to work it out. I’m not Batswana, but at that moment I was really proud to be called Batswana.

South Africa is definitely still healing from the hurts of it’s past. There is still a long journey ahead, but if this is the future. If girls and boys like my little cousin are the future of South Africa—girls and boys willing to look past skin color at what is in the heart of another person—South Africa has a great future ahead of them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The World Cup in Mmametlhake

The World Cup came. I think many thought that it would never arrive. And then it was here and for a month all eyes were on South Africa. And it went well.

It was an honor and a privilege to be part of the World Cup, to see the games (I had the opportunity to go to the Denmark vs. Cameroon game in Pretoria) and to feel the “fiva.”

But the greatest honor was getting to see the faces of 256 fifth and sixth graders who joined us for the Mmametlhake World Cup Day Camp. For four weeks we worked with the students from the four primary schools in our village, teaching them valuable life skills through drama, games and crafts. Throughout, it was my joy to direct the 26 high school students who served as camp counselors during those four weeks. They were an amazing group of students that simply made my job easy every day.

DSCN1608 From our staff to our students to their parents and teachers, everyone saw Mmametlhake come alive. It was more than the World Cup Fiva—it was the confidence, the self-esteem and the dreams being built up in our students. It was a simply beautiful thing to see.

You can see the photos here on Picasa.

Thanks to all who supported us throughout. Oh and to all you country folk out there, you really missed out seeing our kids dance the Cottoneye Joe.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mom and Dad in South Africa

Two weeks ago, I put my parents on a plane and sent them back to the States. I did fairly well with that goodbye until I told my mom to hug my sister, brother-in-law and nephew for me. That’s when the tears started flowing.

Not including air travel, my parents were in South Africa for about nine days. And it was a great nine days.

When they arrived at the airport, we all broke down into tears at the sight of each other. Sixteen months. It was the longest by far that we had ever been apart. Thus, the scene we made was fairly predictable.

IMG_0990 But there was only nine days. The first six was a whirlwind tour through the Western side of South Africa—The Drakensburgs followed by Durban followed by St. Lucia and Imfolozi Game Park. Then we came back through Pretoria and on for the last few days in Mmametlhake.

Those first few days were great, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking for those days. The most special to me, and I think to all of us, were the days that we spent with my community.

There are many stories that I could share with you of those few days but here’s some of the highlights:

My host brother receiving his t-shirt from the States—he’s worn it at least three times a week since they left. Pastor Bethuel greeting them, sharing tea and sharing stories about how my organization came to be. Local children running wild with excitement at the site of the camera. My host mother preparing lunch for my parents and inviting the neighbors and the immediate family to join us. Visiting the chief at his house. Having my IMG_1208parents see, touch, experience the people and places that have become such an important part of my life.

I don’t think that Mmametlhake will ever forget the day my parents came to visit. They are now asked after regularly, everyone wanting to know they are well and thanking me for bringing them. It was an honor to them to have Mom and Dad come, and it was an honor to me to have them here.

I greatly look forward to visiting over the Christmas holiday. Getting to hug those of my family who couldn’t come and to hold my sister’s second child for the first time. It was a sweet, sweet time.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Snapshots of March & April

The last two months have been more than a bit crazy for me with lots going on. And as usual, when life gets hectic, blogging is the first thing to go. So here’s the snapshot overview of the last two months. Enjoy!

  • In March, I started working with my organization to develop a four week day camp program to take place this winter (summer for those of you in the northern hemisphere) during the 2010 World Cup. This has been the project that has consumed majority of my time. We should be hearing soon about a grant that we applied for through Peace Corps. I’m sure you will be getting lots of blog updates about this project, so I’ll leave the details for a later post.
  • March 25th, I turned 28. It’s not an incredibly important birthday year per say. But I will say that 28 officially feels like I should be or am an adult. Good friend Anne baked me a cake the weekend before when I visited her place, and my host family bought me a cake day of. (Got to say Americans do cake better than South Africans—sorry, but its true.) Also received lots and lots of calls and emails. Fantastic goodness.
  • On the weekend of March 27th, a good number of PCVs came together to run the Longtom Ultra Marathon and show support for the KLM Foundation. I ran the 21k (half marathon) in 2hrs 32min. The course was mostly downhill except for a few excruciatingly painful and steep hills. Props to my buddies who ran the ultra marathon (56k), first going up the mountain and then coming back down.
  • As the weekend closed, a few of us also decided to take in a Freshly Ground concert. Freshly Ground is a favorite find in SA, a fantastic Afro Pop group with a host of incredibly talented musicians. To all of my music aficionado friends out there, I really recommend that you check them out. I already know that you’ll love them.
  • April 2nd, SA19 (my intake group) celebrated one year of service. 14 months in country, 12 months at site, 12 more to go. A few days later, we came together in Pretoria for Mid-Service Training and mid-service medical checks. We celebrated with our usual wild rumpus through Hatfield Square, the local college spot.
  • Mid-service med check also meant for me a visit to a specialist to have my left knee checked out. It has been hurting off and on for several months, but training and the subsequent brutal nature of Longtom led to constant pain. Diagnosis: My ITB (the band that connects your knee and your hip) is too short, causing it to rub against the knee joint whenever I bend my knee. Treatment: I’ve started taking the 2 1/2hr taxi ride to and back from Pretoria twice a week for physical therapy, trying to lengthen the ITB. I’ll be doing this for probably around two months (I’ve been going for three weeks at this point), and then the doctor will re-evaluate. If physical therapy is not effective, I will likely have to have surgery.
  • At the first of April, I started facilitating the training that I’ve been developing for the home-based care workers at our organization. I was very pleased with the participation level and the feedback I received from the care workers following the first session. We’ll have two sessions a month for the next few months.

Between developing and implementing the training, developing and preparing for the day camp, going back and forth to Pretoria and keeping up the friendships I’ve developed here, life is suddenly very full. But I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Things to look forward to in May: continued work on the afore mentioned things, my host mom’s 50th birthday party (big plans are in the works) and my parents’ visit at the end of the month. Its been almost fifteen months since the last time we saw each other, so their visit promises to be the highlight of May.

I hope that March and April were fantastic months for all of you. No promises, but hopefully May will see more blog posts coming your way. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Hate to Ask, But...

Its always been true. I hate asking people for money. I hate fundraising. Weren't we taught that it's better to give than to receive? And it is, isn't it?

So when I found out that the Longtom Marathon that Peace Corps South Africa volunteers participate in every year meant raising a minimum of $100, I was skeptical. I didn't know this KLM Foundation except through what other volunteers had told me. And while the idea of running my first half-marathon was appealing, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put myself through the agony of fundraising for said organization.

But I believe in education and I believe in giving children the opportunity to reach their full potential. That is what KLM is about. I know what the benefits of a good education are. I experience it every time I meet an extremely intelligent adult who is jobless because they lack the educational qualifications. Or see malnourished bellies and threadbare clothing.Or find myself caught in the hopelessness that can be at times all too encompassing.

So the marathon on March 27th is more about a chance for a quality education and a chance for a child to rise above and less about the miles logged. So I'm asking you to consider donating what you can $5, $20, $50 or more to the KLM foundation to sponsor my run and the education of a promising child.

Please go to the KLM website right now to make a donation. Just click on the 'donate' photo and make sure to put my name in the white box where it asks for the Longtom runner you want to sponsor.

The online donation is preferable, but if you need to mail in a check, please make it payable to "Kgwale Le Mollo (US)" and send it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107

Please make sure to include a note that your donation is on my behalf.

I'll be running a 10K in Pretoria this weekend that I'm looking forward to it as a nice warm-up before Longtom. I'll hopefully be able to post pictures of the race and blog about the event soon. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mmametlhake Family Care Centre

With the new year came a shift in organizations for me. I've spent the past month and a half working with the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre. The shift was finalized this week when Peace Corps came to have a final meeting with Tirisano Victim Empowerment Centre (my old organization) and officially close that placement.

The Mmametlhake Family Care Centre is a strong and stable organization that I had worked with on occasion throughout the first nine months in the village. They currently run a home-based care in Mmametlhake and the surrounding villages and put on HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns at area schools. In Mmametlhake, they provide much needed computer services, have a small library and often have food and clothing donations available. Established in 2002 by a local pastor who saw a need to care for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, the aim of Family Care is to provide for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in whatever way they can by whatever means they can.

My first project that I am working on is developing a training program and training manual for the home-based care workers. Many of the workers have already been trained through the government, but Family Care would like to have something that is more tailored to the centre. It's a big endeavor and has me back doing what I love--program development. I’m already having fun doing research and just generally being a nerd.

Although it has been hard to leave Tirisano and to feel as though I am disappointing my coworkers there, I am happy about the transition and feel that it is the best move for me. I am now getting the opportunity to work directly with HIV/AIDS work, which is a major reason that I accepted this assignment in the first place. Hopefully, I will still on occasion be able to assist Tirisano, and I intend on maintaining the relationships that I formed there.

The American funders of my new organization have an in-process website at You can go there to find out a little bit more about Family Care. The section on Family Care is on the "Projects" page and is still being updated. You can also find several articles about the centre if you do a Google search.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A New Top Ten

On this day a year ago, myself and 25 other individuals from all over the United States met for the first time in Philadelphia to travel to South Africa as the nineteenth group of Peace Corps volunteers to serve in South Africa. After orientation activities, shots galore, a blizzardy bus ride to JFK and a seventeen hour plane ride, we begin our South African journey two days later in Marapyane, South Africa.

To commemorate the day, I thought it appropriate to update old top ten lists and add a few new ones. Enjoy!

(Note: All lists are in no particular order.)

Top 10 sites I’ve seen in South Africa:
  1. Blyde River Canyon
  2. Indian Ocean
  3. My host brother dancing to Motown in our yard.
  4. Seaview Lion Park (nothing beats playing with lion cubs).
  5. A baby zebra on the road a few feet in front of me.
  6. Lions outside my tent when I woke up at the lion park.
  7. The sunsets in my village.
  8. A giant sea turtle on the beach.
  9. A herd of elephant in Krueger Park.
  10. The look on my coworkers’ faces the first time I made brownies.

Top 10 items received in a care package:
  1. Photos of people I love.
  2. Duct tape—of course it still makes the list. I’m about to be on my third roll.
  3. Sara Groves’ new album.
  4. Fall leaves from both Portland and Lubbock.
  5. Coffee from Jim and Patty’s in Portland.
  6. Drawings from my nephew.
  7. Individual-sized drink mixes. They’ve helped a lot in the heat when I get sick of drinking water.
  8. All the episodes of The Office that I’ve missed up until the package was sent.
  9. My new laptop—actually that was delivered by hand from my friend Anne, but still.
  10. And I’m still loving all the TLC granola bars.

Top 10 items that I just couldn’t do without:
  1. Photos, letters, phone calls, emails, etc. from home.
  2. Books—discovered during my computer’s long absence that these were absolutely invaluable.
  3. Toilet paper—I probably could if I absolutely had to, but I don’t want to go there.
  4. Duct tape—oh the endless uses.
  5. Cell phone—pretty much the only way to stay connected to anything around here.
  6. My Nalgene—hydration is too important in the heat.
  7. Buckets for all sorts of things.
  8. A table-top oven—even if the one I have is on the slow march, baking has become therapy for me.
  9. My Bible.
  10. My running shoes. The rainy season is slowing, and I’m finally able to get back out there. I had no idea how much I had missed it.

Top 10 things I never knew I could do or probably never would have tried without coming to South Africa:
  1. Cook a host of foods from scratch—tortillas, wheat bread, pasta sauce, brownies, to name a few.
  2. Learn to speak Setswana—I still have a long way to go, but I feel that I continue to improve.
  3. Jumping out of a plane.
  4. Be a good long distance communicator—probably still growing in this area too :)
  5. Live without a computer for almost six months.
  6. Live without a music source for a month of that time.
  7. Learn to sit in stillness for lengths of time without going crazy.
  8. Go without regular transportation.
  9. Go to bed at 9pm and rise at 5am or half past.
  10. Live in another country very different from my own for a year.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Running for a Good Cause

One week from tomorrow on February 2nd, I will have been in South Africa for exactly one year. It's hard to believe that it's already been a year, and still I am learning so much and gaining so much from this experience. And plenty of new experiences are yet to come.

One of these is the Longtom Marathon--actually a half- and an ultra-marathon. Though I'd love to tell you that my running has improved so dramatically that I'll be running the ultra, I'm going with the much more attainable half, 21.2km. The marathon takes place on March 27 in Sabie, Mpumalanga Province, not too far from Kruger Park. It starts at the top of the Longtom Pass and goes downhill most of the way into Lydenburg. You may remember seeing pictures from my trip to Blyde River Canyon. Longtom Pass is in the same region as the canyon. Longtom is a major annual event for Peace Corps volunteers. It will be a lot of fun for all of us to get together in one a place. Its rare that so many of us, somewhere around 70, are able to get together.

In addition to having a good time though, the main reason for taking part is to support the KLM foundation. The organization was founded by two PCVs (Peace Corps volunteers) who served here in South Africa a few years ago. They decided to use the Longtom Marathon as a fundraiser to provide the financial means for a worthy, needy child to attend an excellent independent high school in Mpumalanga called Uplands College. It's a great opportunity to bring great educational opportunity to a child who will become a leader in the future of this country. The children they choose for this opportunity are very carefully selected through a four-tier application process. In the seven years that KLM has been fundraising through Longtom, seven children have been chosen and are all excelling. You can read more about the work of the KLM foundation at

But why share all this with you? I am asking for your support. Please give what you can; any amount is appreciated. Even if you can only give $5, it is much needed. Of course, larger donations are welcome too :) And your donation is tax-deductible. So please go to the KLM website to make a donation, just click on the 'donate' photo. Make sure to put my name in the white box where it asks for the Longtom runner you want to sponsor.

The online donation is preferable, but if you need to mail in a check, please make it payable to "Kgwale Le Mollo (US)" and send it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107

Please make sure to include a note that your donation is on my behalf.

Thank you for your support, and especially for supporting the child who is chosen next year to attend Uplands College. I'll be sure to put up a post after the race, and let you know how everything went.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shipwreck Coast Photos

Pictures from the trip have now been uploaded to Picasa. From now on I'll be updating to Picasa rather than Flickr. But I'll continue to let you know when I've uploaded new photos. You can see the new photos here.
Posted by Picasa

Holiday Travels

Over the Christmas and New Year's Holiday, I went on a backpacking trip along the Shipwreck Coast with three other Peace Corps volunteers. It was a fantastic trip, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to see and experience so much more of this beautiful country.

We took a six day hike along the coast and finished up the week in the Port Elizabeth area. The Shipwreck Coast is a beautiful stretch of land along the Indian Ocean that is mostly uninhabited. We went days without seeing another person. We hiked along white sandy beaches with the Indian Ocean to one side and huge sand dunes to the other. Seashells, coral and seaglass where abundant. Absolutely one of the most pristine and beautiful stretches of coastline that I have ever been on.

We had the privelege of being the second group ever to set off on the new trail--really decently priced for permants, etc. and most of the proceeds were going to an NGO set up by our trail supervisor. (I highly recommend this trail for PCVs, anyone reading this, email me and I can get you Dave's information.) Day one was mostly along the coast. We hiked barefoot through the sand and stopped often for playtime in the sand and the water. It was my first experience with the Indian Ocean which I had always heard was supposed to be warm--apparently not when its mixed with arctic waters. Highlight of the day was coming across a giant sea turtle and getting to get up close and personal.

Day two was split between hiking on the beach and then hiking into the bush to a gigantic treehouse, our lodging for the night. It was nice change for my calves that were aching from walking in the sand with my pack weighing me down. And the treehouse was fantastic. I was a little sad in the morning when it was time to go. (That was also the dead dolphin day. His carcass had washed up onto the beach. Not my favorite part of our travels. I much preferred the petrified leopard shark carcass we found the day before.)

On day three we hiked back out of the bush into open pasture land. Cows a plenty, but nice, fat, healthy cows unlike the village cows I've grown accustomed too. The pastures were beautiful and the elevation high enough that in many spots we had a nice view of the coast. Our aim was a Cold War Era, American funded, Soviet Spy Station, operational during Apartheid which would be our night's lodgings. Yes, we all fully appreciated the great irony of Peace Corps volunteers staying there. Before evening set in, the three girls in our party hiked down to the beach for some playtime on what turned out to be one of the most beautiful beaches we were on for the length of the hike.

Day four started with a short hike through beach bush to the mouth of the Kleinemonde West River where our trail supervisor Dave met us with the canoes. We canoed 10km into the Nyala Valley Game Reserve where we took a short hike to the Lilypad Hut, a beautiful bamboo, open-air camp ground set up by the game reserve. On our short hike we came across a baby zebra and had a great photo-op. Since the reserve was non-predator, we were free to walk around. It was an awesome experience to walk freely through the reserve and come across herd after herd of various types of animals--wildebeest, giraffes, nyala, etc.

The next day we hiked back out and canoed upriver against fierce winds. It was definitely not the easy canoe of the day before, but I'll say for myself that I enjoyed the challenge. After the canoe, we hiked along the coast through some beautiful rocky beaches before turning inland. We had already hiked up several sand dunes in previous days (not an easy feat in normal circumstances but especially not with a pack), but the dunes on day five were especially steep. Hiking more often meant crawling up them. But our reward was a beautiful hike through more pasture to the Stone Cottage. The cottage was built in 1854 and had recently been renovated to include a clawfoot tub, shower, stove, all the modern conveniences. Not only was it luxurious for hikers, it was luxurious for Peace Corps volunteers used to village accomodations. From the window, we could look out onto the pastures and watch springbok and impala herds. The whole experience felt like something out of Jane Austen, and I definitely wanted to live there forever.

The last day we hiked back out to the coast past the Fish River Lighthouse to the mouth of the Fish River where the trail ended. After seeing no more than probably ten people for the past five days, we suddenly came upon a crowded beach of swimmers. Our first stop off the trail with our grubby, sand-coated selves was a local pizzeria in Port Alfred. Ah, pizza and beer, nothing better for a first meal off the trail.

The last half of our day was spent driving to Away with the Fairies Backpacker in Hogsback, the supposed inspiration for JRR Tolkein's Hobbit and his boyhood home. We didn't have much time there and were all wiped out, so we missed the amazing hiking in the area. I'm looking forward to going back when my parents come to visit.

Our final day before heading back to site was spent at the Seaview Lion Park just outside of Port Elizabeth. Its a great little gamepark, but the best part was getting to play with lion cubs and then camping in the middle of the lion enclosure. It was an awesome thing to wake up, open the tent flap and have four adolescent male lions staring at me from about 30 feet away--thankfully with a lot of fencing in between us.

I'll hopefully get a lot of pictures posted soon. It was a really amazing trip and a great way to spend the holiday so far from home. Hope every one is having a great start to the new year!