Over the river and through the woods, to the bush we go!

Sorry I haven’t written in a while everyone, but things have become more hectic then ever. So long story short my parents left and I was finally moved into school. I had my own room and already got blessed with some amazing roommates from all over the world. As soon as I get all unpacked and start making friends my professor informs me that I am traveling to the field site for 10 days. Though it was a huge pain packing everything up again and saying goodbye to friends I just made, I knew I would be back super soon. Plus, I was finally going into the field and was getting the chance of a lifetime to work with elephants. So I was just a bundle of nerves and excitement, not really knowing at all what to expect.

So to give you guys an idea of what I was expecting, I brought a tent and a sleeping bag because I thought I would be living outside. Well turns out that “the bush” has mush more civilization than most would guess. After a long 6 hour drive, my professor and I made it to the Kapama Game Reserve, where the lodge I would be conducting my research at was located. A big safari truck comes winding down the road and the ranger offers us a lift up to the lodge. My professor insists that I get in and he will follow behind; “Consider it your christening into the bush”. So here we go trekking it down this sandy path, with wild animals all around us and the wind blowing in my hair and it’s like an absolute dream. But then this GIANT insect comes screaming into my face and hits me at warp speed smack in the middle of my forehead. So I’m trying to keep quiet and pay attention to the ranger whose showing me all of this amazing wildlife, but I can barely concentrate because I was internally screaming the entire time as one insect after another hit and began to crawl over me. We make it to the lodge finally and I am excited to wash all of the dead bug parts off of my face before my big meeting with the head of the camp. At the meeting we go over my research plan and whats doable and what is not. After some talking for a while we all come to a consensus and I am crazy excited to start conducting my research. Oh, but those 10 days? Yeah that turned into 2 and a half months…

I have been in the bush a week now and I am still alive. Insects are everywhere, but you learn to become one with them after the first few days. I fall asleep to the sound of squirrels trying to chew through my roof and Red Romans crawling through my door jam. I run into the bush daily chasing after elephants and recording their every move. I have a pet gecko I have named Finn that lives in my room and eats all of the mosquitoes for me. Lions occasionally walk and call by my front door in the middle of the night. Oh, and I cant recall a time in my life that I’ve been this happy 🙂

Oh and for those of you wondering, this is what a Red Roman is…


Yeah… its technically an ant… oh and the best part about them? They run at the speed of lighting, defy gravity and they cut pieces of your hair off in the middle of the night to make their nests. Sick right?



Change:To make or become different

Adjusting to any new place always comes with its up and downs I think. Everyone remembers that feeling of uncertainty and fear as your parents dropped you off for your first day of school or camp. That feeling followed you through the first day of middle school and high school and even college. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone behind and trade it for the unknown. But, you would think after going through this process time and time again it would make another transition easy peasey, right? Well, maybe there’s some type of threshold you must pass or an equation for figuring out how X amount of changes results in Y amount of feelings or effects (hey, I’m a scientist, not a mathematician, so I’m sure this makes little to no sense). Anyway, I don’t respond well to change in life, but I may have just reached that threshold where you accept and adapt to the change instead of trying to fight it.

Luckily, I didn’t have to get on that airplane alone, or I think I would have been quite a hot mess for those flight attendants. My parents were so supportive and endured the whole 18 + hour trip with me and even stayed in South Africa for almost two weeks so they could help me “sort things out”. On a side note, there are a ton of phrases people say here that I’ve started to notice. If something is not figured out yet, ranging anywhere from making plans to hang out to finding a place to live within a span of a day or else you will end up sleeping on someone’s stoop, it will all be “sorted”. No worries!  Anyway, back to my awesome parents. So, we ended up staying in this beautiful hotel on a hill where birds would chirp and wake us up in the morning for breakfast and a whole table of fresh fruits, breads, juices and coffee would be laid out for the guests, like literally a scene from Snow White. Fortunately, there weren’t 7 little men with beards running around our hotel for added effect. Though it would have been great to just lay by the pool all day and enjoy a proper vacation, there was a ton of things that were still not “sorted”. We basically came to South Africa with nothing more official than a promise that I would have a master’s project waiting for me when I arrived and a “conditional acceptance” letter from the University. I still needed to secure funding, find a place to live, submit all my foreign documents, get approved by SAQA (South African Qualification Authority), and get officially accepted by the school. So much for the snow-white fairytale? Well, she ends up eating a poisoned apple and almost dying, so I’m glad my fairytale has only included a battle with paperwork so far.

Not to keep droning on about the negative, but everyone hits some speed bumps along the road to success or your dreams, right? (If I get anymore corny with this blog it’s going to turn into a side dish for my next meal) With the help of my parents, professor and some great friends we made along the way, we were able to get everything “sorted” just in time for my parents to head home. For many of you who know me personally, you know how close the Grotto clan is. My sisters, Katie, Madison and I, are all attached at the hip and basically have caused one another to go partially deaf because we are so obnoxiously loud and excited when we are together. For those of you who have seen any of the National Lampoons Vacation movies (those of you who haven’t go watch them now and prepare to pee yourself, you will laugh so hard), we like to compare our family to the Griswold family. We do crazy things like drive cars in countries that drive on the opposite side of the road, which includes the driver seat being on the opposite side as well! Or we visit a monkey sanctuary and are the only family that gets pick-pocketed by the monkeys (I’ll go into more hilarious details in another blog post). Our pets aren’t even normal! Our cat, Lilly, likes to wake you up at 3 am by sitting on your head and gently punching you in the face. Our border collie, Abbey, pees all over herself when she gets too excited and throws her body over fences for fun. Our one dog Gracie, a big beautiful yellow lab, would slobbers over our guests and accidentally knocks down small children to terrorize them with her kisses. She even tried jumping through a swing once and got stuck swinging back and forth until we found her. I think it’s easy to say “normal” wouldn’t be the first word used to describe my family, but I wouldn’t change or trade them for anything else in the world.

When you travel, people tell you about all the amazing things you can expect, like how many new friends you’ll make and how worldly you’ll become gaining new experiences. People even warn you about the possible dangers of going abroad and where you should take caution, but I don’t think anyone prepared me for what I could miss out on back home. Halfway into my parents and my trip here, my dog Gracie passed away. Suddenly all the paperwork and stress over planning a research proposal couldn’t compare to the sadness I felt not being there for her when she passed. Luckily, my sister Madison and amazing neighbor were there for her in her final moments, but it still hurts to know I couldn’t do anything to be there with her when she needed me most. There’s a risk when you travel, you might not be home to see your best friend get engaged or your sister graduate from high school or even be there when your dog or another family member passes away. Life has a weird way of working out sometimes, but you need to learn to make your peace with it and understand that whatever is meant to be will happen. I miss everyone back home every day and it still breaks my heart that I couldn’t say goodbye to Gracie, but I know that everyone is supporting me through this crazy journey I’m taking. An experience like this can only help you grow into a better person and for that I am so thankful. So, I guess the best advice I have is, hold the ones you love dearly while you can and tell them you love them every chance you get. Don’t be sad because it’s over, but be happy because it happened. Treasure each day, especially the little moments in life, those are the things you find missing the most. Lastly, don’t be afraid to travel because you’re afraid you might miss out on something back home. Travel because there is so much life out there to live, experiences to have, friends to make, and growing to do.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my amazing girl Gracie. May you rest peacefully now sweetheart.