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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
6 March 2014
‘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.EHRA’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.
Thank 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.
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
Last comment, ladies hone your fire building skills otherwise you end up washing dishes while the guys have fun at the fire!!!!!
10/02/2014 – 21/02/2014
We’re sitting in Base camp and looking back at two amazing weeks. It started just wonderful with ‘the bull with the broken tusk’ visiting base camp just when we arrived on Monday.
Build week was tough. Collecting rocks, sand and mixing cement, but we have managed with only four of us to dig a foundation and start building a new wall. It was actually great doing this. Like Chris said: A happy farmer is a happy elephant’.
Patrol week was the best! On our first morning we tracked down Mamma Afrika and Ugab small herd. It was amazing to see the elephants from such a short distance. After that we tracked the elephants every day and tried to collect some poo for the American DNA research. We were lucky several times! Not having a shower and do your ‘bush business’ wasn’t that bad at all and the food was really good.
Thank you Chris and Matthias for taking care of us. We really had a fun(and swaffel) time!
Cameron, Hannah, Jennifer and Kate
For Chris this was an exceptional trip as this was the very first time they were offered accommodation on a farm in a room! He said they were very lucky to get that room as it rained heavily throughout the night and even the goats were trying to get into the room. He also is thanking the farmer for offering the accommodation and the volunteers for these past two weeks!
Cat from the UK
Paradise would have to work to beat the eco-wow factor EHRA base camp has to offer. After driving for a few hours through the awe-inspiring wilderness that is the Namibian desert and taking a dirt track over the dry Ugab river, we rolled up in our vehicle to base camp. Our bed for the night was built into the tree canopy, views of rock boulder hills and later at night a sky full of stars awaited our team.
However, no time to relax too much, as this was only to be for the one night before embarking further on our adventure!
WELCOME TO BUILD WEEK!
A 3-hour morning drive, picking cement bags up on the way, saw us arriving at the farm where our work was to begin. What once was a stoney sandy space with a couple of evil, spiky acacia trees soon transformed into our base camp for the next few days – tarpaulin up, kitchen tent (and fronts!) constructed, fire pit and “toilet dug”, it was starting to feel like home – well almost!
No rest for the wicked, at 3.30pm – once the heat of the day had passed – we headed down armed with water and work gloves to the water point. Here we admired the beginning of the wall the previous group have started. “180cm”- Chris yelled- this was the height the wall needed to be built – a big challenge given that a couple of us (me included!) in the team were only 160cm tall! Vertical challenges aside – the team was eager to start.
That evening, after baby wipe showers, we set our roll mats and settled in by the fire for some lovely food cooked in bush baby pots (or Baby bush as Rickie called them!) The team over the next few days worked between the morning and late afternoon and got into the swing of participating in the daily sand run, mixing cement in the wheelbarrows, rock finding and building – team work!
It was touch and go whether we would finish it despite our hard work as we nearly ran out of cement. Phew, Chris to the rescue drove to the town (1hour and a half away) to buy some more bags of cement!
Determined to finish, the team powered through the final hours at the speed of lightning and with Mattias’ expert skills-finished the wall! Elation! What a feeling-we had built a wall! The farm owners were so pleased with our work that they gave us a goat! It is a very high level of appreciation in the African culture, despite a couple of us within the team that wanted to free the goat (ha-ha!). The farmers ‘prepared’ the goat for the meat eaters within the group. A happy group set off back to base camp – via the shop where cool drinkers and copious numbers of magnum ice creams were consumed!! BRING ON PATROL WEEK! After a shower of course….!
BUILD WEEK SURVIVAL GUIDE
What to bring…..
-Baby wipes! And lots of them
-Work gloves (not woolly gloves-Who brings woolly gloves to a desert?!)
-Plenty of salty snacks – no chocolate!!
-Sunscreen, sunhat, glasses
-One change of clothes – yes it can be done!!
-Bottled water (the water from the tank even with juice taste gross!!)
-Sense of humour
-Team work mentality
Thanks for a fantastic week so far, I am really looking forward to patrol week and seeing the elephants!
Karen from Denmark
Victorious is how I feel when:
- I get out of my comfort-zone
- I decided to go
- I go through the heat
- I am at peace in the group without taking too much responsibility
- I am without a bath for 4 days….
Gratefulness is how I feel when:
- I am sitting at the fire at 5:30 in the morning listening to an elephant braking branches in the dark 20m away
- I see the baby elephant stumble around with his family
- I feel my senses kicking in as my ancient reptile brain awakens as it was always meant to do, but doesn’t!
- I listen to Chris being Chris – funny, serious and one of the most knowing people I have ever met!
- I know that Mattias-always in the background-silent, observant, helping and eye out for everybody!
I am leaving tomorrow, but the African sky, memories of shooting stars and this trip will stay forever. I had a dream of following a herd of elephants 23 years ago. The dream has been fulfilled! Thank you Chris, Mattias, the group and EHRA! It has been a heart-opening experience!
Emile and Riekie from Holland
Once upon a time…
When we fell in love with Namibia last year we knew we want to go back and do more. After searching we decided we want to do something for people and nature. It became EHRA and wow, what an amazing time we had. We choose 4 weeks, because we thought it will give us more sight in what they do. And it was rewarding. The first building week we started a wall at a farmers place with a wonderful group of people and of course Chris and Mattias made it complete. Sometimes the work was hard, but it was satisfying getting cement and the sand runs. Teamwork and a lot of laughs made it already a fantastic first week. Our reward came sooner than we expected. While driving back to base camp (lovely view) we talked about patrol week and seeing the elephants. There they are “waiting” for us at base camp. They walked by and this was our first meeting with Mamma Afrika and Ugab small heard. Patrol week starts and what a special week again. Especially Wednesday and Thursday. It was a wonderful lunch surrounded by elephants and what about Thursday, Voortrekker the largest bull came closer and it was like he said goodbye. What an amazing experience!
Unfortunately these two weeks came to an end. The last dinner and going out night was the best way to say goodbye, we shared the best moments.
And then it was Sunday and a start of another 2 weeks, new people and new experiences. During building week we did a great job finishing the wall which we started with the first group. The people were grateful and gave us a goat! We are not really used to this type of presents, but again…..a real African experience. So another patrol week is coming. Could we have so much luck again? Yes! Again seeing elephants every day. Yesterday it was almost a show. The little 4 month old Otumbwe came to see us at the car and show us how tough he was. Ulysess also came to us and say hello to the people on the rocks, and could almost kiss him :)
On Thursday, we woke up early because we heard twigs breaking. And there he came, down the koppie. Later on we found the herd again and Kambonde came closer and closer! This was the best goodbye we could ask for. At this moment we write this on the swing in base camp and realise that we leave this camp for real. We are blessed and keep these moments we had in our hearts. Thanks guys for having good foods, camp fires, good (warm) wines, a lot of laughs, special evenings always sleeping outdoors with the stars and different places. And especially Chris thanks a lot!!
Lena from Sweden
My two weeks at EHRA went so quickly. The first week was building and it was hot, heavy and fun. The most important thing to bring is baby wipes! But the satisfaction of building, and finally see the wall finish is a great feeling. And the wonderful feeling of sleeping under the African sky is unbeatable. The second week is amazing. To be so close to the elephants is fantastic, but be aware, don’t bring a flowering scarf, the elephants might want it :)
Thanks for a wonderful 2 weeks. I would love to come back, hopefully with my son.
Ps: Thanks a lot Chris for being such a spice, master and Mattias for being just Mattias
Thursday 23rd Jan 2014 – Steph Hart, UK
I was a bit scared at first traveling alone, but as soon as I landed, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Namibia is a stunning country. At the hostel we had the 6h30 meeting in the bar, Chris our guide is so incredibly passionate and knowledgeable. He has a lot to share if you want to learn. The other volunteers were incredibly friendly. The 6 of us went for pizza and beer to get to know each other before we left for base camp. Build week was hard work, but we still enjoyed ourselves and had a fun time whilst working, definitely listening to the advice regarding re-hydration sachets! I had one a day and didn’t suffer in the heat. Bring cards or a game for the lunch breaks as it’s a long time (2 hours) and often too hot to sleep. Patrol week too was indescribable. Seeing a fully grown 40 year old bull walk up to the car, takes your breath away! We were lucky enough to see elephants everyday on patrol. Each time was a special moment watching them eat, drink and play as a family. It brought home why we had spent the previous week working so hard. To help those animals! The highlight was to be coming back to base camp after build week and finding not one, but two herds of elephants in the riverbed, who then walked by base camp as if to say “thank you”. Two weeks wasn’t enough, I’m not ready to go home! My advice to anyone thinking about volunteering with EHRA is to listen to what the guides have to say. Pack light as you rarely change clothes during build week, baby wipes and a head torch are your best friends. Keep an open mind. Don’t be shy to do the hard work as the rewards are worth every cut, sweat, ache and pain. Thanks EHRA for an incredible experience and thanks Chris for teaching us about the star!
Money doesn’t make you rich, experiences like this make you richer
17th January 2014, Melanie, Germany
After finishing our first build week already a bit early on Friday morning (Chris might have thought it might take us more time to use all the 15 plus cement bags) we re-entered base camp about early afternoon. We were all a bit exhausted and a heavy rain storm caught us on our way back as well. But when Chris mentioned the fresh elephant footprints in camp, we all got our easy spirits back!. After hearing this news, we quickly unloaded the car, had a inspection on the footprints, and about 200 metres from the camp there were the elephants in the bush. We climbed the platform for a closer inspection when suddenly they started to move! Towards us! Chris made us walk into and climb onto the stone dome house/storeroom and wow! The whole Mama Africa herd and Ugab Small herd were passing very close by. Almost every elephant walked to the water pit to put their trunk into the pit, the little one even climbed the pit. Unfortunately it was empty, (the drought in Namibia is also effecting the EHRA camp) so they quickly went on walking away. Then, when just 2 little ones were running to the water pit, a loud thunder clap happened and the 2 babies hurried to get back to their mum. So cute! But then, we didn’t even recover from having all the elephants walking by so close when all the elephants came back and walked in the opposite direction along the riverbed. Wow. I didn’t know that elephants were afraid of thunder and lightning! So this was our incredible first contact with these amazing creatures and we should have many more delightful moments with them. But already this afternoon in base camp we found a great experience. We couldn’t help but celebrating this with our first beer since 1 weekJ!
Thanks EHRA, for having made this experience possible, and thanks especially to Chris & Matthias, our passionate and good humoured guides. Keep on doing it!
14th November 2013
Chris made me eat dung. I am not lying!!!
I had an amazing time. Loved the stars, elephants (of course!), the amazing landscape, the heat, the sweat, the elephants (did I mention that before?)-the list goes on and on….
Build week was hard. Not having a shower was harder than I imagined, but we laughed through it. And believe me you get used to the smell. You really do! Though beware of suicidal caterpillars (they climbed into Lisa’s mouth in the middle of the night!!!)
Patrol was AMAZING (apart from eating dung). We saw loads of wildlife. Too many Ostriches in this country…the landscape is beautiful…we were in the Huab River.
I feel sad it is over (though I won’t miss porridge), but have some great memories to day dream about when I am in front of the computer.
Well, where do I start? What an amazing experience!!! Build week was very hard, but it makes or breaks you –literally. Working near 40⁰ heat is unbelievable. Lots of sweat and dust but I now know how to make cement and build a wall. I feel we have made a difference. We built a wall to protect a pump that is visited at night by the elephants for water. The local people are frightened by elephants, so by educating and helping them, hopefully the elephants will be protected and not prosecuted. Although we all moaned, I really did enjoy shoveling sand, collecting rocks, mixing cement and trying to make a jigsaw out of rocks and finding the rocks for the space is evading you. How frustrating.
The worst thing I found was the cooking. I just found I was scared that I may have poisoned someone, but we all survived. Even myself after I inadvertently ate a caterpillar that had crawled in my mouth. Tasty???
Patrol week-hard working? What can I say again: Just as we were packing the truck up 2 bulls walked passed camp. Now it only got better. We tracked 2 herds of elephants. We have learned the basics of tracks and surviving in the wild. The camp on the second night of patrol week was very exciting. Chris starring at you and flashing his head torch at you when you leave the campsite for pee is so funny, just because there was a lion…….away was fun. I don’t think we will be camping there again!!
To sum up-we survived elephants, scorpions, lions, caterpillars and cooking.
A fantastic experience. What an honour and a privilege to work on such a worthy cause and to see such wonderful, beautiful creatures.
Love It, Lisa (England)
Amazing, incredible, unbelievable etc…. none of these words do this experience justice at all.
5:45-6:30 wake up calls everyday are pretty easy to adjust to, when your tea or coffee are brought to you by the crew/volunteers on duty. The porridge may make you want to head back to your sleeping bag to hide. The first day of building is brutal but Chris doesn’t lie when he says, you get used to it knowing that the river of sweat running down your face while you go on sand/rock runs and mix cement is actually benefiting an elephant makes it more than worth it. We were lucky enough to have elephants walk by our camp at the farm on our first night!!! All the short naps between wild-life sounds, potty-break, sleeping bags openings, and bright skies under beautiful stars weren’t that bad either. Light sleepers beware-bring ear plugs.
Patrol week is an experience out of this world. I haven’t quite figured out how to put those feelings into words. All I can say is that I’m thankful: For the people I met, the wildlife/game that I saw, Chris and Mattias’s knowledge that made me feel safe, fun camp fire, chats, tasty, improvised meals(thanks, Chris!), and the life changing moment where I saw my first elephant.
Thank you for this chance, EHRA.
“Insert goat call”nnette, USA