Volunteer Blog – 16th June – 27th June 2014

16 June
Shopped around in Swakopmund for essentials – snacks, drinks, head torches, gloves, batteries….all ready for build week. Long drive north to base camp through desolate grey sandy country with a toilet break behind a well-placed dune and some time for throwing a ball around. Entered base camp through windy track with rough large red boulders, sleeping in tree and looking at amazing stars at night.

On Tuesday, packed up building essentials – shovels, cement, etc. and rations for the week and started off. The wall was about an hour drive away and within a day and a half, we finished the end of the wall that they had started last week – this had consisted of putting a final layer of rock on and sealing the top with cement.

We were able to use the same camp site that they had used the week before, so got camp set up relatively quickly and spent 2 nights there before moving to the next site.

Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning we had to lay the foundations for a new wall around a windmill. The soil (well, the surface of the land) is packed with rocks of all sizes, so we had to use pickaxes, shovels and hands to remove all the soil down several inches about 2 foot wide. Once we had done that, we put back all the rocks we had taken out plus many many more! However, as one team mate pointed out, we put them back in a more orderly fashion – very large on the outside, mid-size inside, and small to pebble size as filler, with a top coat of cement like icing a cake. It’s a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle. No matter how many rocks we put in the wall, it didn’t seem to make a difference in the landscape.

As every other night we tried to sleep under our tarpaulin but on this Wednesday night we all woke up. It was a windstorm, which shook the tarp really hard and made a lot of noise. Everyone was waiting for the storm to stop to sleep again. After a while we build it up and slept under the sky full of stars. We hardly all still get a bit of sleep and were full of sand as never before in the week.

After the windstorm the tarpaulin was removed and we had to move the ground sheet under a nearby tree. We are making good progress with the wall and I am enjoying the physical work of collecting rocks, sand and mixing cement. The wall is more than a foot thick and can definitely keep the elephants out. I have mastered the art of getting the amounts of cement, sand and water right. I can also see when other people need water and sand.

 

By Saturday we were ready to head back to base camp, a.k.a Home Sweet Home. We saw a troupe of baboons on the rocks west of base camp, and they moved onto the rocks across the riverbed for the night. This put them right across from our tree house. There were lots of warnings that it would be a noisy night, and apparently many found it so. But it turns out I more-or-less sleep through baboon. At least until the morning, when I swear it sounded like they were disciplining the babies by torturing them. That, at least, is clearly what the babies must have wanted us to think, given that piercing screams at, I guess, being told to wake up.

Sunday afternoon several of us hiked up to the top of the rocks where the baboons had spent the previous night. It’s a great place to get a view of the area. You can see for miles in all directions. And we went shortly before sundown, so we could see the sun sinking behind those western rocks. The word awesome comes to mind (frequently on this trip). Since I had cooking duty Sunday night (grilled meats, roast potatoes, 2 kinds of squash) I left before the others to get started preparing. Willie, the incredibly sweet injury-prone adopted camp dog, had followed us all up, and he decided I shouldn’t go down alone, so he took me down. He was occasionally exasperated when I didn’t follow the path he chose, but generally was willing to re-adjust his route and take over leading again. He didn’t leave until he had me safely down. So I gave him an extra ear and chest scratching that night.

 

Hello my friends, I am Sophie and I have been at the EHRA project for 5 beautiful weeks. Every week was an awesome week on its own. I worked with great people! I think I can say we are all friends now. It feels better here than at home when I can be with my EHRA family.

I enjoyed every building week with a lot of hard work and great dinners. After my first building week I felt all my muscles when I was mixing the cement and collecting big rocks. The work got better and better after every week. I never had problems with the work. I can work more, faster and be better help for all now.

My first patrol week was so incredible and beautiful. I feel so free and happy, I think that it was on one side that we had the most beautiful landscape in Namibia and I spend my time with really lovely people. We counted two elephant groups, black rhinos, giraffes, kudus, zebras, oryx and baboons. Is there something that you can ask for more? NO! Every patrol week we had great adventures.

A big thank you to the EHRA team!!!

 

We also had the chance to help at the game count, but it is a tough thing on one side, but I am happy that we could help them. I also found new friends Franco and Thasima, two nice guys.

Today (25th June) our day started early as all of us was motivated to find “Mamma Afrika”, the EHRA herd. We had a much colder morning compared to the past days, so we are all sitting together to be really warm packed in the cars, that looks a little funny in my opinion because we are in Africa. Kieran and I sit behind in the car and were listening to music with a big smile on our faces – it was a really fun day.
After driving some time without seeing an elephants but with a lot of tracks, we drove up to a hill to have a whole view over the area. Mattias and I counted the elephants and were a little bit confused because they were throwing dust and were running and maybe angry.

The safest thing we could do was to sit at the koppie and take a look at what was happening. They were moving all the time; they were not able to stand still, most of the time we were only able to see trees moving or a head from an elephant in our way. That was such an awesome moment. We were able to look at them from a higher point out in car, a kilometre far from us. The two groups “Mamma Afrika” and “Ugab small” were happy to meet us. It was such an interesting and beautiful adventure to watch them.

Thank you very much for this time we had in Namibia, with the EHRA team. I enjoyed myself a lot, it is one of the best times I had in my life-maybe the best.
I hope I can come back.
Sophie

 

So, it was my final week at EHRA waking up on Monday morning full of excitement on a cold Namibian morning. We load up the 4×4 with all the kit, food and people we need for the week of tracking. An hour later we end up leaving due to a fuel problem on the old girl (Mattias’ car!). But this doesn’t trouble us and we begin the trip full of excitement and anticipation for the week to come.

The tracking begins with sad news that a young male elephant had been shot as part of the conservancy quota. Our mission for this week then was to track down all the males and find out which had been killed to update the database.

We came across fresh, day old tracks by the side of the road. It was a male travelling alone. We spent the day going from farm to farm trying to pick up any clues about the direction he was travelling in. Finally we spotted an elephant shaped rock that actually turned out to be our elephant. It was an unidentified male from a different area, but he was very shy of cars and didn’t want to hang around, so we left him to his business and set off to make camp for the night.

The next day we set off to track a group of elephants which takes a through a very unused track. After being stabbed, scratched and beaten by every single branch we finally emerged 2hours later with an unhappy Chris as his paint job was ruined! We spend the next few hours finding tracks and after climbing a rocky mountain we spotted them in the distance. Unable to get close by the car Chris and Mattias set off on foot to get a closer look. All young males were accounted for.

The next day we set off to find “Mamma Afrika”. Spotting them from afar they are running and trumpeting. We are confused not knowing if there is a problem or not. Then Mattias begins to jump with joy “there is a new baby” he shouts. The elephants were most likely celebrating the arrival of a new baby. The rest of the day was an unforgettable blur of elephant encounters of which I will never forget. The little baby maybe only a day or two old and mother felt comfortable enough to eat and walk around right next to the car.

My week might have started with bad news that an elephant had been killed. But it ended with the discovery that a new life had been brought into the elephant family.
I would like to quickly say a massive thank you firstly and foremost to Chris whose hard work means that these amazing creatures have someone on their side and he makes these life experiences for others possible. Also Mattias for his joy and amazing tracking skills. And finally Christine who will make an amazing guide and who have all become great friends over this past month. So thank you everyone, I will never forget you guys or this experience of a lifetime!
Kieran Collinson

Volunteer blog 2nd June – 13th June 2014

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Thursday 3rd June

Today we started our “building week” at Welbedagt. Upon starting our build week we saw a lot of lizards as well as big and small scorpions. It was really awesome! They were so beautiful, I liked them. After a great dish (spaghetti bolognaise) we sat around the fire and enjoyed the silence and the beautiful stars, when I suddenly felt something underneath my feet. I remembered Chris’s words to first take a look. I looked down my leg underneath my feet and I saw a snake, a puff adder and my reaction was to whisper to Olifant (big Mattias) and told him “there is a snake underneath my feet!” I don’t remember having had no shoes on! “Oh…..” the next moment. After slowly and carefully moving away from the snake, we caught it and release it far away from the camp. Now I put my shoes on when it’s dark.

Awesome, nice first day!

By Sophie MONKY
Christin and the crickets!
Sophie and the snake!

 

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5th of June 2014
****The cement wimp****

“John, you look big and strong, but at cement mixing, you’re a wimp!” So said Sophie to me, and she was right. I am totally useless at mixing cement, but I have strong arms and legs and can lift the heavy stones all day. Sophie on the other hand is an A+ mixer of cement. Others in the group can find the perfectly sized stones to fill out the wall. Others are Jack-(or Jill’s)-of-all-trade who pitch in wherever a hand is needed.

Together, we made tremendous progress on our wall today. This morning when we started, we had laid the foundation along with a second layer of rocks covering about 20% of the wall’s perimeter. When we concluded this evening the wall was over a meter high in some places and at least a meter for the rest. The rapid progress and cool weather today made the day pass quickly.
We are a bit disappointed that we didn’t finish the wall, but were looking forward to wrapping up our build week tomorrow and getting back to base camp to take a shower. (That part will not be as a team).

 

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6th of June 2014

The  Final Push

With 6 cement bags left we begin the “final push”.
The wall was slowly taking place and we were all on a mission to finish all the cement bags. We went for a final rock collection, me, Sophie, John and Anne made it our mission to collect the finest rocks to add to the wall. We then travelled to collect the sand to make the final batches of cement. Mattias developed a technique of throwing cement at the specific rock he wanted. This was quickly picked up by Ernest which provided much amusement for all of us.
Ernest took on a technique of laying random “anything will do rocks” as fast as possible. Whereas Matthias expertly selected each rock to fit the next place. The excitement of the last day gave us the extra push to finish all 6 bags and build the wall as high as we could in the time we had. The hot work from the day meant everyone appreciated the stop at the shop to pick up a cold beer. We then unpacked all our kit from the building week. A cold shower felt luxurious in comparison to the wet wipes on build week. And a mug of red wine and chatter around the fire provides an amazing end to the building week and the “final push”.

Kieran Collinson

Leamington Spa, England

 

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13th June 2014, Patrol week

As I write this we are bumping along the road back to Swakop following the end of an amazing and rather special patrol week. Our week began with a full day of tracking elephants on Monday and we were lucky enough to find a beautiful unidentified bull. Tuesday and Wednesday were a little different as EHRA had been asked to help out with the yearly game counts on Ohungu and Otjimboyo conservancies. This was a fantastic opportunity to discover how things are done in Namibia – slowly and with much discussion as it turns out! Our 9 am training session began at 4pm (after the awkward moment when “Kevin” was asked to lead the opening prayer!), but thankfully Cards Against Humanity kept us in stitches for hours! It was also a privilege to meet, eat dinner with and work with the local people who were all very welcoming and interesting people. Despite the low numbers of game spotted (Chris and Matthias saw nothing!) we all had fun and a good feeling about the way it was conducted and the progress being made in discussing issues like poaching.
Another eye opening experience for us this week was removing 4 lines of wire snares being used to catch sand grouse and on one line we must have disturbed the poachers as they had left behind 41 dead or dying birds. Although distressing, it was good for us to see the problems EHRA is facing. Thankfully the day ended on a high note with some fantastic sightings of the Ugab small herd – it’ll be hard to top on my next patrol week!
Thanks EHRA for a fantastic first two weeks – I can’t wait for more stars, campfire cooking and most of all elephants!

Emma, Scotland

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13th June 14, Last day of Patrol week

Sitting in my room at Villa Wiese in Swakopmund I try to go back to yesterdays patrol day. A good part of the day was already over, but we did not see an elephant yet. Would we not meet any today? Chris and Matthias did their best in tracking them and around noon we finally saw very fresh tracks + elephant poo. With today’s hot temperature, the poo is still quite wet and green – it can only be half an hour old!!! Climbing a small mountain, we were able to see one adult and 2 baby elephants, but just half a minute later, they were gone again, lost in the bushes and under the trees! Back to the car, driving for 1km and climbing another mountain: and here it is – the Ugab herd! 3 female adults and 3 baby elephants. We made it; we tracked them, and can finally enjoy watching them. We observed them for at least 30 minutes and were so grateful to be part of their day.
After a short lunch break we wanted to head back to base camp, still discussing the herds and the pictures took when a massive elephant head just next to the riverbed (where we were climbing) showed up and scared us to death!! We should never freak out, that’s what Chris has taught us the first day, but hey, what you can do when this big elephant takes you by surprise!? We stopped, slowly reversed to give the elephant more space. When she came out of the bush closer to the car, starring at us (as if she wanted to tell us off for ruining her siesta time), surrounded the car, winked at us for one last time and disappeared into the bush again. What an encounter!!!(See the video on youtube – Kieran shall provide link)

 

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Thanks to the EHRA team for setting up this project and having us for the last 2 weeks. Two unforgettable weeks with lots of action, hard work, nights under the stars and at the campfire, good memories to take back home, and the new friends we could find. And Elephants!! Some of us will be back for 2 more weeks – see you all on Monday again!!

(Daniela, Switzerland 13.6.14)

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Volunteer Blog – 5 May – 16 May 2014

Image14th May 2014

Patrol week is everything and more. We have seen a lot of elephants and other animals such as giraffes, Oryx and Ostriches. Of course some cows and goats passed our camp. Patrol is about elephants but not only, it’s also about how to survive in the dessert. Now we know how to cook and eat a snake and to catch some fishes with a scarf. We caught them for the pool at base camp. Hopefully they will survive the rest of the trip.

ImageWe have realised that we don’t need that much out here, if you only have wet wipes you will survive!
Emelie and Theresa

Image16th May 2014 – Leaving Base camp

Africa gets under your skin. The heat, dust, sand and smells start to invade your senses, take over your system and run through your veins. In a few short weeks the dry river beds of the Ugab and the Huab fee like home, the strangers you have met are your friends, and the cycle of totally different way of life becomes your own. Returning to EHRA after 10 years has felt like a homecoming, and I have felt blessed to have been able to do so. I have been re-awakened. I have felt again the pulse of the desert; the beating heat of the mid-day sun, the breezes blowing through the Mopani’s, and the Ana trees, the chirping of the armored crickets in the bush. I have re-discovered the heartbeat of Damaraland in the low-pitched rumbling of the elephant herd as it communicates over kilometers of bush, rocks, sand and grasses. Waking in the cool sharp light of pre-dawn each morning and watching the sun pull warmth, and golden light into each day has been a benediction. Falling asleep each night under a pattered quilt of stars, with a backdrop of campfire embers and rocks still holding the heat of the day has been a blessing. And between the rise and set of the African sun there is the friendship and camaraderie found in shared work and living space, the laughter and knowledge and stories passed between your guides and your fellow volunteers. The comfort of having given something back to this land, its people, its wildlife and its very existence. We are here to make a difference – we are making a difference; that knowledge is what we take away. Thank you EHRA – see you again soon.

Jill. Hampshire, England

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Volunteer blog – 21st April – 2nd May 2014

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2nd May

If you don’t know what to think about camping before you come here, I’m sure you’ll absolutely love it after your weeks here. There is nothing more unstressful than wake up at sunrise, having some porridge for breakfast and then go to ‘work’. Watching the elephants is great, but I enjoyed the wall building even more. After a week of searching for the biggest, the best and the most flat rocks, I now see perfect rocks everywhere along the road. This trip made one addicted to rocks!

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This trip will teach you a lot about yourself and give you new skills. I now have a large variety of dance moves to use in clubs in the UK, inspired by my time at EHRA. The mopane bee dance, the pap stirring dance and the giraffe to name a few. Seriously some of the most fun I’ve ever had and want to come back!

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Getting out of comfort zone, getting in touch with a different way of living in a different environment with other conditions. All this opens up your mind and heart and soul. Moreover you’ll learn a lot about natural relationship, animal/animal, animal/human being, human being/human being. And during the whole time you are superbly taken care of, in a mindful, enthusiastic way. You can feel safe in any respect. An experience i would not want to miss and that I’ll take into any life I will have, hopefully for a long time. I can highly recommend this trip!

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Volunteer blog 7th – 18th April 2014

ImageApril 2014, Claire O’Reilly, Hayling Island, UK

What is there on offer with an EHRA experience? Turns out there are a lot more than was written in my travel brochure! Meeting a group of volunteers from across the globe, who all are here for the same reason: To help elephants, do your bit for the community and see a beautiful country while your there. Once you’ve got settled in Swakopmund and filled yourself with schnitzel, it’s off to build a wall for a week. Out of our group of nine, we had no building experience and were all a bit daunted by the idea of hand building a wall that can withstand elephants. But once we got going, we started to enjoy the rock runs and shovelling, even if you ended up filthy, tired and sweaty! It’s so rewarding to see something that you’ve all created. Apart from the building, you get to camp under the stars (and learn about the constellations!), cook on an open fire and enjoy the peace and quiet of no electricity, wifi and running water. A few beers and some warm red wine in the evenings helps a bit too! Then you are back to base camp for some ‘luxury’ (a shower and a swim in the elephant dam with the tadpoles) and a bit of a rest before starting your elephant tracking week. Seeing desert elephants in their natural environment is an experience none of our group will ever forget, especially some of the close encounters we had! Apparently elephants really like gem squashes……Not only elephants, but the opportunity to see giraffes, steenboks, ostriches and many other creatures. Driving through the landscape is also very beautiful, so make sure you have plenty of space on your camera!

ImageThere are so many highlights, but every experience is different. All I can say is that it’s one of the best experiences of my life and something I will treasure for a long time.
I love rocks!

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Volunteer Blog – 24th March – 4th April 2014

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Alyssa April 2014
As someone who prides herself on having a sixth sense for finding the best public toilet, the prospect of 2 weeks with limited/no facilities was challenging for me……however it proved not to be a problem! When your days are spent picking out the perfect flat rock, laughing at the physical comedy master (Mattias!) and hanging with the elephants; squatting behind a bush really isn’t an issue! I now also have a seventh sense – the ability to pick a ‘good big flat rock’ out of a field of rubble.

 

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Mark C April 2014
It was terrific to have had so many incredibly intimate encounters with the elephants on their own turf. To see them playing, eating, pooing…..we were so close we could just about touch them! Seeing them up close in their natural state was engrossing and enriching in equal measure.

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It was also educating and fascinating to learn about the battles local farmers have with the elephants. Our romance about elephants is contrasted with the realities of seeking out a living in the desert. EHRA definitely has a tough job to do to help people live with the elephants, but I was happy to help in some small way.

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Generally the base camp was spectacular and you can see all the hard work coming through in all the details. Chris and Mattias were terrific guides and top blokes to boot. Chris’ passion and knowledge of the wild really shines through. We definitely couldn’t have built a wall without Mattias’ help and his laugh and awesome dance moves will stick with me for years to come!

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Volunteer blog – 24th February – 7th March 2014

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6 March 2014

David French

‘EXTRAORDINARY’ is one of the many words which come to mind regarding this EHRA experience.  Namibia is, in its entirety, eye candy.  Its inhabitants are warm and welcoming, but to be emersed in its fabric, as the EHRA experience provides, steps it up several notches.ImageEHRA’s people are amazingly skilled at explaining the natural world around them, at dealing with the people issues presented to them at being remarkably patient with neophite campers and cookers , at building unity within diverse visitor groups and generally just being nice people with a purpose.

ImageThank you Chris for your ear and thoughtful reflections.  Thank you Mattias for your unrelenting joi de vivre, your voice and ceaseless dancing is an inspiration.  Ernst your skills at teaching wall building and your wonderful cheerfulness carried us through hot and dirty days. Bertus your laugh will echo in my ears for a long time.

ImageOh, and the cooperative herds of elephants provided excellent sightings and tracking opportunities.  I leave for home feeling enriched.  Thank you.

ImageWendy French and Helga Verghagh

What we remember:

Sleeping under the stars

Matias and Chris flying up the koppies like mountain goats

Getting to base camp setting up tents and at 70 years of age sleeping for the first time in a tent and loving it.

Watching the boys jumping off the cliffs in to the water hole

Seeing the first elephant in the wild

Napping in the tree house

Seeing 28 elephants on our second day of patrol

Watching a herd of 13 elephants crossing the bush like a choir procession

Also building week was great, Ernst and Mattias made it more fun than work

Chris’s celestial lessons under the amazing stars

ImageEHRA gave me unforgettable memories, and it was not just the elephants, the people, especially Chris made this one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

Last comment, ladies hone your fire building skills otherwise you end up washing dishes while the guys have fun at the fire!!!!!

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