Christina Bohle, September 2013(Germany)
If you don’t have much experience with mixing cement, building a wall and working in a team-you will be an expert in these things after the building week J
The first day of my building week started near a little farm. Our task was to repair a broken wall around a water tank. After we took all the stuff out of the car (wheelbarrows, shovels, spades, buckets, gloves and so on…) we were beginning to get sand, collect stones and mix cement. Chris and Matthias gave us the necessary instructions and helped us where they could. I was surprised about the good community spirit and the teamwork. During the morning donkeys, cows and goats came to visit us and drank water near the wall. One farmer told us that a big snake is living in the wall. Unfortunately we didn’t see it. The time during the building week went so fast. At 12h00 we went back in our little camp to have a siesta. We ate something, talked about our activities and enjoyed the desert life. After siesta we worked for another2/3 hours at the wall. When it was evening we prepared food, ate at the fire, drunk a beer (better a warm beer than no beer) and talked Chris’s experience and Mattias life with 15 childrenJ The most important experience in the building week was for me to build a wall with a group in a short time with so much fun and to stay so close to the Damaras and learn a little bit about their culture and habits.
I am writing this in my second week sitting in my sleeping bag sipping a coffee and watching the sunrise over a beautiful desert landscape. Meals are prepared by two persons from the group, rotating every day. Of course, Chris helps a lot with the actual cooking on open fire as most participants don’t have any experience with this.
Building week was really good, the group very quickly worked hand in hand, moving rocks, mixing cement, repairing a broken wall surrounding a water tank.
When we arrived at the farm, we were surrounded by a whole group of children, who also came back the following day to watch us with great interest. All day, long lines of goats came and went to get water from the troughs on the other side of the water tank.
Yesterday was the first day of tracking week. We left base camp with two jeeps and had our lunch break in a dry river bed. Just after lunch, we found some elephant tracks and dung which was rather dry and mixed with sand, not smelly. Excitement rose as we followed the tracks, and all of a sudden, turning around a bend in the dry river bed, we saw a herd of 3 adult and 3 baby elephants! When they became aware of us, they withdraw into the trees behind them. We climbed a small hill right next to the jeeps and tried to spot them in between the trees. It’s amazing how quietly elephants can move, but we heard some branches cracking every now and then. We waited patiently for about half an hour and were rewarded in so many ways, when first two adults with a baby came out into the open again, drinking from a water whole right in front of the rocks we had climbed, and shortly after, the other elephant with a one-year old baby and a three –year old came out as well. They took water from the hole and squired it out before they drank the fresh water that filled the hole again (Chris explained to us later that they don’t like stagnant water, they are quite fussy about it). It was a fascinating, breathtaking spectacle that nature delivered to us here, as we were watching in awe. I can strongly recommend participation in the EHRA volunteering project as it is a great way to come a little closer to the country, people and animals, and will give you a unique experience. Our guides, Chris and Matthias are very experienced, careful and absolutely professional in how they organized the trip. Thank you so much! :)
I’m sitting in a dried out riverbed, fending off a swarm of flies as I try to write this. After working and trekking for days in the hot desert sun with very limited shower possibilities, I don’t blame them for being so attracted to us. About 5 minutes ago, our lunch break was interrupted by a curious bull elephant stopping by to check us out. As we swiftly walked to the trucks, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are. For the umpteenth time today, I stand still at the fact that we were lucky enough to witness a group of elephants in their natural environment; feeding, drinking, playing and growling. We are here while, as Chris has reminded us multiple times, our friends and families are most likely sitting on a school bench or behind an office desk. This morning we were observing a herd on the sun-warmed rocks of a koppie overlooking the riverbed. As I listened to breaking branches and the uprooting of entire trees, I thought of the sheer power that these mammals possess. I thought back to a conversation I had with a local man in broken English and Afrikaans during building week. While he may have been slightly exaggerating about the viciousness and rampages of the elephants, the bent over windmill and broken gate hinges spoke for themselves. It did not take me long to realize that EHRA isn’t just building a couple of walls, but it’s protecting the locals and elephants from one another, ensuring that these giants of the desert and Damaraland people can live together harmoniously.
If you are hesitant about going on this project, don’t be. Do it and, at the risk of sounding cliché, you may embark on a life changing experience.
I have no idea what day it is and I roughly know what time it is, because the sun is high and hot. And this just suits me fine. This whole trip hasn’t just been about the elephants and connecting with people around me, it’s been about reconnecting with nature. The simple and pure way you get to live whilst with EHRA fills your soul. I feel so rich and warm for the time here. I recommend this trip for animal lovers, adventure seekers and for those who don’t know what they are looking for, because you will find it here.
I can’t add much to what people have already been putting down here. Still, knowing it’s a repetition; these two weeks belong to the most touching experience in my life. During patrol week, off course, it’s the animals and the amazing landscape; during build week it was knowing that our wall will contribute to harmony between farmers and elephants. However, it was also the children of the village, also-in contrast to the adults!-helped us a bit, e.g. shoveling sand onto the jeep is hard work. Also, I was glad to have some small boys with me, little things to play soccer. Shouting goal and beaming all over their faces, they made my day. I’d be great if they could continue with what EHRA is doing here, one day.
Thanks to EHRA and to the best guides ever, Chris and Mattias
Sleeping mild both weeks is fantastic. Buy a warm blanket in Swakop to keep you warm whilst you stargaze from bed! I’ve been here 2 weeks and going home shortly, but have had little idea what day, date or time it is since we set off from Swakopmund. A true antidote to the hectic – style of “normal” life. Build week makes a great change to deskwork! And you soon get used to being covered in cement and sand with no way to really get clean! It’s also a fab way to get to know your workmates, and have a laugh together. In patrol week, the sense of open space is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The first sight of an elephant, truly in the wild is exhilarating and the chance to stand up on rocks, out in the desert just watching the herd is so peaceful and quieting. Completely different from a ‘safari’ experience, and a million times better.
What’s useful to know? You can wash clothes at camp after build week, buying the powder between you in Swakop, warm beer is better than no beer, bring fewer things than you think, cooking is shared on a ‘duty’-2 people each day, bring snacks, don’t bother with dry shampoo – it doesn’t work in the desert and you won’t care anyway…..and finally, if you are thinking of booking, then do it, you will really love it.
Rachel – watching the fire at camp on patrol week with a beer (actually a cold one!)