Departing from Plett just after lunch on the 30th of November 2011, I felt both excitement and anxiety brewing up in me. Our destination – the single biggest environmental gathering in the world, COP17, in Durban. Travelling by bus, it took us a little over eighteen hours to get to our destination, but by sleeping on the floor, I was able to pass at least half of the seemingly never-ending journey.
Driving through the night, with a couple of stops here and there, we arrived in Amanzimtoti at about eight the next day. This is where we would be staying for the next five nights. The fact that we were overlooking the warm seas of the Indian Ocean suited me well, as I was able to get into the water for an occasional surf when we were given a moment to relax in our flats.
After checking in, we headed straight for Durban’s city centre, where the ICC building stands. It was here, in and around the building, that we spent most of our time. Feeling like a proper tourist amongst the thousands of people from all corners of the world, we made our way through the crowds to view the different exhibits. Taking photos with famous people, looking at the technology that will run our future and following the crowd as Jacob Zuma arrived, were among the highlights of the trip. If only it were Obama, Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie standing beside me!
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the many people, the stands provided us with opportunities to view the environmental ambitions of countries and organisations from across the world. Each stand had information and brochures, people who shared with us about the organisation they represented and some even had free samples for us to take home.
Day four dawned and it was time for my partner, Asie, and I to present what we had come to do, to share what Oakhill School, Percy Mdala High and the Knysna Municipality are doing to protect the environment, what our plans for the future are and what we could do to be more environmentally friendly. We had stayed up the night before, working into the early hours of the morning to perfect the 25 minute presentation, to ensure that it would grab the attention of the busy crowd. Rumours were spreading that the President himself might come and watch our presentations, which added pressure to the situation.
As would have it, and unfortunately President Zuma had to remain in an important meeting and was not able to attend our presentations, however, the people who did, did so with keen interest and left knowing a little more about the Eden District and the activities undertaken in the different municipalities and schools within the region. A nerve-racking experience it was, but one which was absolutely worth the hours and hours which went into strategizing and presenting it.
On the final day we all dressed in green, participating in some of the tourist activities in and around Durban. We ended up going to Ushaka Marine World for the day and experienced going down the single highest water slide in Africa, and then arriving at our flat just in time for a quick surf, I grabbed my board and fins and got some really good waves until the sun set. Then it was braai time and a final ceremony, ending off the trip in good fashion.
The journey home appeared to be a lot quicker than the journey to Durban and gave us enough time to recharge our batteries after six days of non-stop action.
This is a trip I will never forget, one where I made new friends and experienced more than I could ever have imagined, and as I sit here, entering Plett, I can only be forever grateful to all the people who were involved in giving me this opportunity – Vernon Gibbs-Halls, Eden District Deputy Mayer Lionel Esau, Doris Naylor, all my generous sponsors and of course, Oakhill School.
by Nik Martin
Student at Oakhill School