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“Look at me, I killed an alien!”

St Georges hackers

On the 22nd of July 2011, ten enthusiastic learners from the St. Georges Grammar School Environmental Club, ranging from Grades 9 to 11, departed for Fisherhaven, a small community just outside Hermanus, at the mouth of the Bot River. For many years, this small community has been plagued by a rapid proliferation of an alien tree species known as the Port Jackson. This tree has become a huge threat to many of the other indigenous plants inhabiting the area, as it was draining most of the valuable water resources in the area. So it was with this in mind, and with the help of the local facilitators, that we set about clearing some of the Port Jackson along the Bot River.

Clearing trees

In Fisherhaven we stayed at the home of Mr. Pfister who is also the Chairman of the Board of Governors of St Georges Grammar School. Upon arrival at our base for the weekend we were told to unpack, and before we could get too comfortable, we were whisked off to the Bot River. There we were met by a gentleman from an organisation called Friends of the Bot River who gave us a brief overview of the organization and an orientation of what to cut, and what to spare. Shortly after we set out into the bush with our various ‘weapons of mass destruction’, ready to chop, clip and destroy any Port Jackson in our path. After a long and tiring day of clearing a considerable amount of alien Port Jackson, we were glad to hear our job for the day was done. On our way back to the house, the only thing that was on our lips was: “I wonder what is for supper?”

Back at the house, Mrs. Salie, our chaperone and the Head of the St Georges Environmental Club, surprised us all with her superb cooking skills, when she presented us with a lovely meal of butter chicken and roti. This will probably be the topic of discussion for many us for years to come. After the holes in our stomachs were filled, some of the learners retired to their bedrooms, whilst others sat up till the early hours of the morning, discussing the experience and our expectations of the next day… The following morning we were woken up by the roosters on the plot next door to us. Some of us literally had to drag our feet out of bed, still tired from the night before, while others skipped and jumped in excitement into the van as we head off for the second day of work. When we got back to our spot beside the river, we were welcomed by two ladies from the Friends of the Bot River with a five star picnic breakfast consisting of eggs, freshly baked rolls, yoghurts and coffee which the ladies prepared for us minutes before we got there. It was a great start to what was going to be a long day. While working at clearing the alien trees up-river, the fatique from the night before and the full tummies started taking its toll on some of the guys as we started taking catnaps in between our work spells of clearing the alien trees.

Hard at work

Before we knew it, lunch time was upon us, and each worker received a parcel of fish and chips as reward for all our hard work. However, many of us could not do justice to the parcel as our stomachs were still full from the big hearty breakfast. During the afternoon shift things became a little quieter on the work front. The tiredness was clearly visible on everyone’s faces and all of the food really made us lazy. With the dark rain clouds gathering overhead a decision was made to “call it a day”. This announcement could not have come a moment too soon. Although we were tired from all the hard work, we were also happy and satisfied with what we had achieved. . We managed to clear a substantial amount of alien plants. There were a lot of smirks of pride on many of our faces once we were done for the day. Unlike the first day, food was the last thing on our minds, as we traveled back to base. A warm bath and bed was all that we could think of. Back at base some of us became impatient and irritated and started arguing about who was to use the shower first. Needless to say the girls won this round, leaving the boys to wait for what seemed like a million years. While the girls pampered themselves for the evening, the boys got a fire going and prepared a braai complete with salads and baked potatoes. The girls did not partake with some feeling very self conscious of their figures after gorging themselves on all the fattening food during the day. The guys did the complete opposite.

After supper a group of us went for a casual walk through the neighborhood. However, we couldn’t see much as the place was dark and there were no street lights which added to the sense of adventure for us. Later that evening most of us were just lounging around lazily while others decided to catch up on some school homework. Soon everybody retired to their bedrooms. Pulling an all-nighter was definitely not an option for tonight! We woke up the next morning with the rain pouring cats and dogs outside. How happy we were to hear that due to the bad weather, we will not be clearing alien trees today. Although most of us do not like the rain, we were indeed very happy for the bad weather. To show their gratitude and appreciation for what we have done, the two ladies from the Friends of the Bot River welcomed us into their home with yet another hearty breakfast, five star as usual. After the breakfast, we hopped back into the van and drove to Hermanus for the afternoon. The weather was at its worst when we arrived but this did not stop us. We split up into small groups and went for a walk-about around the Hermanus town centre and flea market. After visiting the various sights and shops, we headed to Mugg and Bean Restaurant where Mrs. Salie and Mr. Pfister treated us to lattes, coffees, waffles, and muffins, the trip couldn’t get any better than this…

View of the river

Driving back to Fisherhaven we first stopped at the Bot River mouth, where the ocean meets the river. We parked just above the river mouth, but the storm was so bad that we couldn’t see it from the cars. We then decided to rather walk towards the river mouth. Luckily all of us had on our trusted rain jackets so we slowly wondered through the rain to the river mouth, and what an experience it was! An hour later we returned back to our base, soaking wet and cold. Fortunately all of us had at least one more pair of dry clothes to put on. We then went through the house and did a full cleaning, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and plunging if necessary. The cleanup went quicker than expected, and in no time we were on the road back to Cape Town… This was truly an unforgettable experience which brought many of us together. Some of us came into this experience as strangers to one another, but most would agree that after this, we felt we knew each other our whole lives. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and we thank Mrs. Salie for arranging it and for looking after us. Last but not least, our sincere thanks and appreciation to Mr. Pfister for the accommodation and for being our second dad for the weekend that we were in Fisherhaven. We will never forget his interesting and funny talks about St George’s back in the day and about his travels to strange places. Finally big ups to the wonderful people of the Friends of the Bot River for all the good food and for all that they are doing to protect our environment. We are very proud to have met them and to have worked with them on this project. Together we have destroyed many aliens, and it felt so good….. Matthew Daniels Grade 10

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