I chose to volunteer with EHRA because it was rugged and not as “pampered “ as some of the other organisations I researched to volunteer at. I was looking for an environmentally based Elephant volunteer organisation in Africa. EHRA fit perfectly with my personality, interest and dreams. I was really gravitated towards the team spirit feel and camaraderie that would be gained while volunteering there.
What was build week like?
Build week was wonderful, challenging and growth inducing all in one. It was very nice to know that we were building infrastructure in the village where elephants had done damage. Building a wall that would protect one of the villager’s water sources gave me a good feeling. It is clear to see that the people could use an extra hand regarding certain aspects of their livelihood. I understand the human/elephant conflict here is a complex one and I wanted to be respectful of them while lending a hand as well. The work was good hard work, but doing it all together as a group created a bond that only we can share!
What will you remember most about your time with EHRA?
I will remember so many things about my time with EHRA. As I write this entry I have only been here 4 days but I have already gained a treasure trove worth of memories! To me, these are invaluable when we first got here, the very first day, the very first hour, an elephant came casually walking down the river bed towards the direction of the campsite. It was absolutely magnificent. The sun was beginning to set and so he was illuminated beautifully in the evening light. It was almost as though I was dreaming. But, there have been so many memories that I have experienced. Getting to know all of the guides and their playful spirit and banter back and forth, sharing stories and laughter over dinner with a mouth-watering meal, I think most of all I will remember the friends I’ve made and the special connection I share with them and no one else in my life.
This morning we encountered Voortrekker and another bull and even a giraffe!
Then we drove North and then west towards Doros Crater. The landscape is amazing a cross between Monument Valley USA and the Moon! We had lunch then a siesta in a small canyon which was part of an old tin mine.
Ready for the afternoon jumped in the Olifant but unfortunately we have run out of electricity! Doh! A bit of bush mechanics and swapping of batteries got us on the road again!
The following day we headed towards Hyena Camp, across the moonscape, seeing several zebra and some rhino tracks. Hyena camp, what is there to say, simply magnificent, truly awesome sunset and sunrise. A quick wake up from Chris at 0130h had myself and him making night shots of the Milky Way!
Stephen, Australia (Third time volunteering for EHRA)
It surely was a blue Monday, we were packed and ready for patrol then oops we forgot the cups! Not so far from camp going west Levi spots the first elephants. We had lunch under a beautiful big Ana Tree. We saw Bellatrix and Tatiana and I have to admit I fell in love with Tatiana!
We stop at the Brandberg White Lady Lodge, we had a swim, played monopoly and yippee ate an ice cream! We then moved on and collected wood.
As a Namibian I always sang our national anthem which talks of, ‘beautiful Namibia’, but I had never seen it growing up in the towns, but going up the Brandberg I could not stop admiring the beautiful Namibia. We set camp and then prepared Thai Curry which was delicious, it’s become my favourite dish!
Well! Let me not start with how it went early in the morning, let me start from the previous night when I woke up in the middle of the night because of a cold breeze hitting my head from the west coast, the moment I snapped open my eyes I could see green and red flashing lights on tripods and realised that Chris and Stephen were up to something, taking photos of the Milky Way!!! I looked up and down, the sky was beautiful, full of stars and the most brightest. I am not sure if they saw the shooting start but yeah my eyes gazed at it as it faded away. The next thing I knew I was gone, sleeping.
Ok now back to what I should be wiring about on the morning of the 7th! It was chilled, the cold breeze still moving in Hyena Camp. Everything started smooth with Stephen and I waking Wilma up because she was on duty together with Kristy. We finished up with breakfast packed up and jumped on Olifant for the adventure. This time around we were heading north of the camp and made a little stop to see something huge – The Petrified Forest. Along the way further north we would see the astonishing landscapes, mountains that appeared in black and red colours and one filled with sand, looked like a dune mountain. Wildlife got more (not that much) first zebra, ostrich, springbok, kudu and some black rhino dung.
Landed in the Huab River and headed east upstream with Chris doing what he does best – tracking elephants. Not that long but a little further from where we entered the river we witnessed the almighty species, the ones that we actually came to see – THE ELEPHANTS! It was a beautiful sight. Even National Geographic would have been jealous of it. A couple of minutes passed by with all the camera snapping and we had to leave the elephants alone to go look for a big shady tree for lunch.
We ate lunch, had a chat and the rest of the group joined forces to play cards while I found myself on Olifant with a black pen and a book – writing a blog.
Up until around 1998 desert dwelling elephants only sporadically visited the Ugab river from the north, likely following ancient migrating routes. When we did find tracks it was mostly of a big bull in his prime, he got the name Voortrekker, meaning pioneer. The Matriarchal herds however, had still not followed.
Around 1998/99 I was guiding a group from the British group Raleigh International on a two week walk down the Ugab to the coast. They were rough expeditions in those days, no tents, a couple of large pots to cook horrible stodgy pasta in, and otherwise surviving on a seemingly endless stream of cream cracker rations, divided down to the last quarter to stave off starvation.
Camping wild in the open far down the winding canyons, the last thing we expected was to bump into elephants.
Under a large Anna tree, one evening round the fire, a breathless group leader, Jade, came running into camp with her shorts halfway up her knees. With eyes like saucers she shouted in a hushed whisper. “I was having a pee behind the bush an something large fell behind me! Like a dup, dup, dup, and then a rush of water! “
Jade was sharing her evening ablutions with an elephant.
Not good. Pitch black night. In the open. Nowhere to run. A campfire under one large tree. 15 kids and me. God knows how many elephants.
Silently I got them huddled around the base of the tree and stoked the fire in front of them. The sounds where all round, soft rumbles, branches snapping. Unmistakably from of a herd of elephants moving and feeding around us in the dark. And we are crapping ourselves.
As it is in theory my job, I place myself between the closest sounds and the group, brandishing the two lids of our large pots. Ready to be the cymbal player to my own death-march.
To hear an elephant at night is kind of reassuring. You know they are going about their business. When it goes suddenly quite it’s time to panic. That eternal silence when every sense strains to find clues, and my death cymbals tremble out of control in stable hands.
The cow charged in complete silence. Low, trunk tucked in under her chest. The charge you only want to read about. Everything slows down to the pace of those ancient black and white movies, frame by frame.
Frame one, five meters. Que cymbal. Frame two, four meters. Que cymbal accompanied by loud screams. Frames three and four, large object somewhere in obscuring dust. Cymbals and scream reach a crescendo. Somehow the brain decides that it’s a good thing that I cannot see her anymore, and makes some time to reflect on it. And somewhere in that obscuring cloud she managed to pirouette herself back into the darkness. A very, very long three seconds all of that took from start to finish.
The second charge was not that quiet. Somewhere in the background the brain was running a comparison to come up with an accurate description of the sound she was making. How it decided on a walrus having its throat slit with a blunt hacksaw, I have no idea. But that’s what she sounded like. Accompanied by cymbals of course. And the mandatory screaming, that was by my own admittance becoming quite profound.
The pirouette this time however, was accompanied by a dramatic upsweep of the trunk. Or that’s how the brain translated the sudden rush of air past my head. But the brain had time to smile as it realised she is impairing her own accuracy with all the dust created by these dramatic stops and pirouettes.
As I bore quickly, all I can say about charge three and four is: Same old same old. The badly animated black and white movie with glimpses of something large coming and going in a cloud of dust. The suffering walrus accompanied by the cacophony of my cymbals and voiced terms of endearments.
And then, as I was thinking we were starting to get the hang of this pantomime, without making any excuses, she left. In a hurry. In her wake followed the silent grey ghosts that formed the rest of our audience for that evening’s performance. Leaving me with a vague feeling that I somehow missed my calling in life.
Thankfully before I could make any compulsive career changing decisions, i looked down to investigate the warm sticky feeling between my toes. Seeing the blood from my shredded knuckles drip, dripping on my bare feet a meter away from the marks of her last stop, I realised. No, I might be too aggressive to play the cymbals. And my performance clearly did not appeal to such a sensitive audience.
And that, my friends, is how I met the first desert elephants to move into the Ugab River Valley. Mama Afrika’s herd, and the murderous pirouetting cow called Medusa.
Today was a day to travel. We left base camp and drove four hours to the farm where our first project would be. On our way we passed many small shacks with women and children selling crafts on the side of the road. We set up camp and then cooked dinner. For lunch, we stopped on the side of the road where we had sandwiches.
Madison Williams 18/10/2016
After lunch we continued driving for about an hour until we arrived at the farm where we wanted to build a wall around a water well which was already damaged by the elephants. We first set up the tents and then started working for about one hour, and then we had dinner. The dinner was cooked above an open fire and was a South African recipe with chicken in it. We all sat around the fire and talked until we went to sleep tired and very happy.
18/10/2016 Ilka from Germany
Waking up in the morning was spectacular: The red sun rose on the sandy African earth, combined with campfire made for our coffee and tea….and porridge J
Rehannon and I were on duty and making breakfast. Sitting around the campfire having breakfast is like being in a film scene, unreal! After cleaning up and washing the dishes we were off to build our wall. Lots of stones, cement, sand, water and a good spirit helped us to make a good beginning.
When Jelina and I made breakfast we didn’t make enough. Whoopsie! Its day three and still no elephants on building week.
The locals came to help build the wall. Mark asked if they find it odd people from all over come to volunteer. The local said that he was very appreciated, because the community benefits from it. It’s nice to know our work is valued. After/during and before dinner, we all talked about certain things from our home countries. Also Adolf got stung by a scorpion! (a small one!)
19/10/2016 Rehannon Kramer
We got rocks and sand to build more wall. Had a break, built more wall. Had lunch, built more, then we stopped for the day. For dinner we had chicken and mash, which was made on the campfire of course. In the evening I bought an elephant painting for a mere 250NAD, the elephant presented is supposedly called Thomas.
20/10/2016 Max Murray
We woke up later then usually and ate toast for breakfast. After that we worked until lunch. The wall is now looking really good. We drove back to base camp, which was long but actually it was quite fun, because we were listening to great music. We arrived at base camp around 16h30. We thought we could finally take a shower after the past hot days, but we couldn’t and that wasn’t a problem at all, because it already cooled down and we can jump in the pool tomorrow, so it was fine. Now we are having a nice evening!
21/10/2016 Pauline Beckmann
Today we went into town, Uis, to the Rest camp. We showered! To get all the sand off of our bodies was so nice. We also got in contact with our friends and family back home which was really nice. For lunch we were spoiled with burgers (which were so yummy) and milk shakes, ALSO yummy. Tonight we are having springbok for dinner which I think is new to all of us. We also stopped on the way back to base camp and looked at the shops from locals. We also met Adolf’s son, he’s so cute, very shy, but I got a high five out of him, so that was nice! Chris is making fun of everyone especially the Germs. But it’s all in good fun.
And by the way we visited on the way back some local stalls along the road. Really colourful, the Herero women had beautiful clothes on and were sewing little dolls and bags, surrounded by a lot of beautiful children. We bought some bracelets and other local souvenirs. Again it was a great day!
22/10/2016 Jelina Staarman
Today was a great day. We were driving in weeds and bush as high as or higher than a truck when all of the sudden we came to a complete stop. We were head on with two female elephants. ‘Do not talk, do not move’, Chris said in the most serious tone I’ve heard him use ever. The elephants wandered along the side of the car like we were no big deal (because we aren’t compared to them) but it was amazing to see the elephants in such close quarters.
We continued to track until we had found the others in the herd. There was probably 10-15 in the herd, maybe more. We stopped by a waterhole and also saw lion tracks. Chris thought they were 3 days old.
After lunch we climbed a hill/mountain to get an aerial view of the elephants. It was really special because not only did we get to see elephants, wild might I add, just moving along like they’ve done for 1000’s of years, but we also got to see the rugged beauty of some of Namibia’s landscapes. Something’s that lot of people will never see in a lifetime.
October 26, 2016
We saw shooting stars and the moon on the last night and slept well, waking to a slight dew on our bags. Breakfast of porridge and hot drinks and set off on patrol at 8am. We saw our first elephant at 08h30am. Following a lesson on elephant tracking and footprints ID with Chris. We then saw elephants heading east in the riverbed – 13 in total. We drove west and saw a large kudu and lion in the green bush! We continued west and saw another group of elephants including a baby born in Jan 2016. The baby elephant was very “frisky” and inquisitive and we took lots of great photos. The elephants were reaching high in the tree for green food. LUNCH. Not as hot today (28°c) and much less flies!!! After a sleep we saw the baby again and the adults were stripping tree bark for nutrients – not good for trees. Chris collected a poo sample for DNA tests.
This wonderful group of volunteers was from all over the world, Canada, Australia, Germany, Spain and France to mention a few, worked hard and almost finished an alternative water point for elephants near the A. Gariseb Primary School. Elephants have been frequent visitors at the school, so water point was much needed. Among others, in this group we had Elsie, our oldest volunteer to date, who at 87 years of age was doing better than most of us! On Patrol week the volunteers saw many herds of elephants, like Mama Afrika’s herd (who also came to greet the volunteers on Base Camp!). They were also privileged to see lions on a zebra kill.
Monday 19th of September
As Olivia and I have been the only experienced volunteers yet we obviously had to be on duty for the evening. So we were asked to cook the spaghetti Bolognese on the evening after sitting in a dusty car for about 1½ hours and leaving back our just-met-friend Tobi from Germany who we will definitely miss the following weeks. Base camp seems to be the luxurious home again as we were used to it after spending the whole weekend in a car heading to Etosha.
The people of the new group are nice of course they are, I wouldn’t expect anything else. The Bolognese was fine, the first shower since 2 days was awesome and Chris’ briefing was interesting of course with referring to the “so called” popular Belgian word “shwaffel”. Because Liv’ and me haven’t slept well the last days we went to bed “early” at 10 o’clock after I washed the dishes with Giles, a cool guy from New Zealand who I will share duty with tomorrow .
Hendrik and Liv
Tuesday 20th September
Woke up for duty at 6 o’clock and forgot again that we don’t have to make fire – Kaylee was shouting (or loudly whispering if you would ask her) to me again in the middle of the night and we were supposed to cook the porridge and prepare everything else for breakfast.
Breakfast was …of a hurry for the breakfast-duty-people because we had to eat a little bit later when everybody else already had their porridge and weetbix. So there wasn’t much time left for us packing our stuff and rolling up our comfortable bedrolls which was why we started to help Chris and Adolf preparing the car for the building week little bit later compared to everyone else.
I was impressed that we had some space left in the upper part of the Bushmen’s car even there had been 12 people and a tent for 2 persons each. After 45 minutes of driving we eventually arrived at the place where we will start building the next wall.
Tuesday 20th September
At last my watch has ended and Hendrik and I are enjoying being waited upon by Poppy and Liv. We are greeted on our way to the riverbed by three elephants. Our first sighting! Two younglings and another one.
After the hottest day in the history of EHRA (Tuesday) on which we dug out our water point the work is easier and the weather is breezier. By day’s end we have completed the bottom and the beginning of one side of the wall. We are happy with our progress and enjoying ourselves 🙂
Today we woke up at 6. It was earlier than normal but not too bad. Poppy and I were on duty together and got everyone’s breakfast ready. I still couldn’t remember everyone’s names but I’m getting there. We started building early to avoid the exhausting heat. It went really well. We saw elephants on the way to the build site. The wall went up really fast. We had our lunch back at camp and played some monopoly go cards. The break went super fast and before long we had to get back to work. The rest of the building went fast and I was surprised by how much we got done. The day went fast and before I knew it we were back at camp cooking dinner and had an early night.
The early bird catches the worm. This early bird also sings show tunes while delivering cups of caffeine to numerous tent occupants. Reactions were mixed.
Once tummies were full we hit the road and ran smack-bang into our first elephants! This was the first time I have ever seen elephants in real life. Such an amazing experience I can’t wait to see more!
When we started to build early it is cool and we get a lot of work done. This level of accomplishment steadily declines as we get hotter and tired but we still progress! Once young Matheus arrives we really get the ball rolling. He may not be able to drive, but boy, can he build a wall!
The rest of the day goes super quickly. Liv, Kaylee and I made a wicked Lamb Tagine for dinner. A few people play games of monopoly cards, but seem to lose heart when I win on my first try. At night I dream of my budding career as a real estate mogul….
Woke up at 06:00am for the water point project for the elephant. We saw 2 elephants on our way before working and we visited the school near the water point. The children were very happy to see us and wanted to touch us because we have not the same skin. They were so cute and very proud to show us their school books!
Today was a really busy day. We woke up in the dark at 06 o’clock. Than we prepared a nice breakfast with toast and cheese and avocado. After the breakfast we went to work. It was a successful day, because we built very much of the wall. I went with the others several times for rockrun, because the dust from the cement was very strong. In the lunchtime we went to the school, that was very exciting for us and for the children. Thank you, Aippi for organizing this 🙂
Woke up again at 6:00 am! Making fire, breakfast, coffee. I was on duty with Mireia, it went really easy. I enjoyed to take care of the people in the morning. Everything went fast. Making fire was easier than I thought.!
It was the last day of building. And we’ve got a present: Elephants walked by the building place! I had bad luck, I was getting stones for the wall. We got a signal in the radio that there where elephants on the building place! When we went back everyone of the group was high on the rocks looking for the elephants, they already went into the bush! But I could see just one getting out of the bush. Then we finished our wall! Wow, great feeling, we did it!
As we had finished we danced on the wall for a funny movie for EHRA! That was fun. After building we cleaned and broke up the camp place. A hard job in the heat! Breaking up all the tents, kitchen stuff……then we drove home, to the base camp, looking forward to having a shower!!
We made springbok! I learned a lot while cooking, thanks Kaylee!
After dinner we got a present again: ELEPHANTS WALKED BY THE CAMP!!!! That was the perfect ending of my duty day! Sleep well everyone!!!
Friday 23rd September 2016
This night I had slept quite badly. I was nervous. It was my first duty day. The first hour was not so great. Coffee, tea, with sugar, with milk? Where is everyone? But then the day was full of gifts. We finished the water point for the elephants ! And we made a real warrior dance to celebrate. Elephants came to celebrate too. We returned to base camp. Home sweet home. We could take a short but marvelous shower. Happiness! I was quite worried about the dinner. I felt well because I was on duty with Ellen, but was afraid my poor English wasn’t enough to understand how to cook the biggest piece of meat I have ever seen (springbok). But everybody helped happily. Aippi helped me to read the instructions again and again and Kaylee showed me how to prepare strange vegetables called gem squash. All was ok and finally the meal was delicious. We are a great team.
The last gift was elephants coming to say hello when we were having dinner. To hear them walking on the sand was amazing.
Really all is amazing. People, views, elephants, showers, no showers…I am almost starting to love sand. I am enjoying this a lot. And this is only the first week!!!
Sun 25 September 2016
Today was our sleeping shortened by the “howling of baboons”. Breakfast of fried ham, eggs and toast by Jack. It was delicious! An unbelievable past week, picked rocks – mixed cement, much hot sun and cool nights. One unscheduled break when we scrambled up rocks to escape and wait the passage of mom and junior elephant to pass our construction site. Another highlight was our visit to the children’s school where one observant student excitedly brought her classmates to feel and trace the aged enlarged blue veins in my lower arms. A lesson in anatomy!!!
If not for the Namib sun that sucked and spat out my marrow, how could I have rejoiced being tucked in by the stars and rocked to sleep by her gentle breeze.
Jane Leach 9/24/16
First day on patrol!!! 10 minutes down the road – elephants. I really enjoyed watching the elephants very relaxing!
Monday 26 September 2016
Saturday me and Liz were on duty and we made 4 different meals. Macaroni cheese, braai, vegetable patties and beef sausages. A lot of food but we ate it all and finished the leftovers.
Today, we saw the 3 main herds: Mama Afrika. G6, Ugab Small. We all took a lot of photos and I filled up the rest of my 4 gb memory card. On occasions they came very close and we could see every detail of their bodies. After lunch and a siesta we were back on their trails and caught up with them again. We also were joined by a film crew from the UK making a documentary about the elephants. They’re camping with us and earlier on had interviewed a woman who’d had her livestock feed raided by hungry elephants. She was using chilli to deter them.
Really we hope we see some new animals tomorrow otherwise I’ll have to take fewer pictures to conserve memory card space. I’d love to see a massive bull elephant and have it come very close to the car. We’ll see. In the meantime we’re having Thai curry tonight.
Tuesday 27th September 2016
Yesterday was an amazing day because we saw many elephants in a very short time. Mathilda and John are very beautiful, I love them. Today, it is cloudy and a little cold. We are following the camera crew. They went to film elephants to make a documentary. We saw 3 men, digging a hole to find more water. They are brave because the hole is already deep.
In conclusion our guides – Matthias and Hendrick are very kind and know a lot of things about elephants of course! The Canadian girls are very funny too. They are my drug dealers 🙂 (Margareth was sick and the Canadian ladies provided her with some medication) .
Today, I was on duty with Jack. We were glad to make spaghetti carbonara for dinner, this was very delicious. The next morning we saw some elephants, but the day was a little bit boring because the whole afternoon we sat in the car and saw no animals. Only two vultures were in the sky. Unfortunately I had not had a chance to see them, because that was when we prepared the dinner.
The team was building the elephant protection wall at Farm Okongwe, where elephants are frequent visitors and the wall is much needed. On Patrol week something very exciting happened, as the team came a cross a new, unseen herd at Huab, and interestingly some of the females don’t have tusks! According to EHRA’s Chris it seems they never grew for them!
“Exhausted, hot, covered in flies, dirty like never before but couldn’t be more satisfied! We were on duty today so a slightly earlier wake up time was needed in order to prepare breakfast and tea and coffee, which is served in bed to the other volunteers. After a quick, enjoyable breakfast we walked the short trek to the building site to continue our hard work from yesterday. We’ve managed to drag some of the locals, especially the kids, to help with some rock moving and so on. It’s incredible how hungry you can get from building a wall and how sweet an orange or apple can taste.”
24th August 2016
“The first morning after the first night is over! “Labour camp” at Okongue. We had some dogs circling the sleeping quarters at night, which looked a little bit scary in the light of a head torch, but turned out they are perfectly friendly and social in daytime – really just looking out for a friendly pat and some scraps from the food-waste pit.
Several people woke up with mysterious bites on their legs or arms – Johannes found the perpetrator (in his cone) still enjoying the warmth of the sleeping bag in the morning. After deciding the creature was not a tick, but a spider, we found many others just “hanging out” on the floor tarpaulin. We shook it out and it was declared safe for another night.
It was our “kitchen duty” day, so in between sourcing the local sand and natural stone on the barren slopes near camp, we did coffee and tea rounds, apple and orange break and later learned to cook on an open fire!
There was a group of local children who were fascinated by what we were doing and they edged closer and closer – friendly picking up trowels and spades and helping us build the wall. Their help was very much appreciated! They worked hard piling up suitable rocks and placing them on the wall and helping to cement them in place. It was great fun for us and for them too!
At the end of the day, the question of how to cool thorough heated and shaken through beer cans arose. The answer lay in the melted ice from the giant cooler boxes. Drained into a bucket, they freshened up our stock of Windhoek and Tafel Lager in no time!”
Debbie and Johannes
26th August 2016
“Today’s day is packing day, so what that basically means is working hard from 8 till 11 and then searching for your stuff in the camp. As Tobi and I have been on duty, we had to get up at 05:45 and prepare the coffee and tea and set up a new fire. Although there were 5 cups still missing from the evening before we managed to “deliver” the brown gold in time. After breakfast everybody packed their stuff and almost everyone started to work at 8’ o’clock. Because there were only 5 sacks of cement left, our task was to go on rock run’s for about 2 hours when the other half of people were asked to keep on using the cement for building the wall around the water tank. This time we had a break in the camp for about “10 African minutes” and after working for an hour again we finally started to load the cars and trailers. It took about 1 hour to pack the entire camp back up and prepare the 4×4’s for the following 3.5h drive. We arrived at about 4 o’clock and we were on duty, we had to load everything off and unpack it in the base camp. This unfortunately included washing all the boxes, but luckily some other volunteers helped us. As soon as we were done we started preparing dinner for everyone. This was quite some work to do but apart from being the only one who could not immediately take the long awaited shower, it wasn’t that bad. When dinner was served duty ended with a relating evening.
Saturday 27th August
“Today, me and Karen were on duty, which means we had to get up early and make coffee and tea for everyone. After breakfast we started our trip to the next “city” called Uis. Even though there is a drought and we are in the middle of a huge desert they had a pool in Uis, and we had a refreshing swim. After that we bought a ton of snacks at the local supermarket to survive the upcoming week. Furthermore we had a nice drink at the cactus garden coffee shop where they even had wi-fi, so we could have some contact with the outside world again.
On our way back we stopped at a Himba people souvenir shop. The Himba women have very interesting hairstyles and are incredibly good at making necklaces and carving wooden souvenirs. When we came home everyone just had a calm afternoon and Karen and I cooked stir-fry for dinner. Like every night we headed to bed early and fell asleep in out tree house under the bright stars.”
Sunday 28 August 2016
I am writing this on Tuesday, August 30, but am relegated to Sunday. Today was very fun and exciting- with many changes in geography – rocks, soil, and the many animals and plants we saw. Sunday was a base camp day. I woke up early before the alarm, as usual, and went to the ablutions, changed and when I got back to the tree house, Fabi was also up. Since it was Sunday, we had a reprieve from oatmeal or toast and were treated to scrambled eggs and back bacon. I broke the eggs- all 36 of them, with only one piece of shell in the mix. With Kaylee’s and Mathien von Matheu’s (i.e the young one) help we fixed breakfast, after doing the coffee/tea to sleeping-bag-side routine. At this point, many more folks are awake or up before we bring the hot drinks. After our yummy brunch, Fabi and I cleaned up – he did an amazing job setting the fat off the fry pan we used for bacon. While we clean up, everyone else went off to camp chores – making fence, including moving some heavy equipment – resulting in something falling on Martin’s foot, luckily nothing broken. Also breaking up elephant dung for the compost for the garden, turning the compost – which I helped with after the kitchen cleaning, cutting back overgrown bushes along paths around camp – I cleaned up the trimmings, most of them, before quitting at 11 to rest before our lunch hour. Probably several other chores I don’t know about, the only other one I saw was rocks being hauled to the greenhouse/garden.
After lunch we were free to enjoy the afternoon. I just read part of my book – a novel set during the bush war in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia. Late afternoon Jane, Martin and I hiked up to the spring – an amazing site in the desert, but chock-full of animal dung. We went on beyond the spring through the river, then found elephant track and followed them on up to the top of the rocks, amazed that elephants can climb up there. I had to leave early to go back to prepare dinner, and luckily found the route to come back down. Dinner was a braai – lamb steak, sausage and Greek salad; also veggie patties for the vegetarians, but they fell apart. I was sous-chef to Mathien von Mathieu – master of the grill. Rachel had driven up with her dogs and had dinner with us, bringing dessert, which I didn’t eat. After dinner elephant tracking briefing.
Monday 29th August
“After build week, Base camp came to represent all the luxuries of “home” – not just showers (bliss!) but also a comfortable upstairs bedroom with a much-loved view. Last night’s home environment was established by the presence of Rachel plus Zulu and Zanzi, her instantly-popular dogs. Our evening was of course marred by a mound of very filthy braai washing-up.
Very pleasant night’s sleep – because the incredible noisy baboons had opted to sleep elsewhere. So rising early to make the morning drinks was just in fact a joy. It was a lovely morning. Over breakfast we talked more to Rachel about EHRA’s funding, whether there might be some common ground between Jane’s extensive fundraising/philanthropic networking the USA and EHRA’s more expansive ambitions on the ground. The Americans have gone crazy over elephants, so genuine fundraising efforts for pachyderm project have a very receptive audience. The conversation began, and will doubtless continue.
For us it was a frantic scramble to get everything sorted and enter onto the vehicle for our safari, or into the white box. We headed out along the riverbed and soon found ellies- an unnamed male B2 and then a herd. As we stooped for lunch beneath a rock face in the valley, a herd of 7 walked past us with great grace. Lunch was the same as ever: “only one piece of cheese and one piece of ham each”. We trundled on – saw a male, Cheeky, plus a jackal (black backed).
Camped in an attractive spot where we made a rather successful Thai curry of beef. Why does a day of driving tire everyone out? They were in bed early – and we were delighted to hand the washing up on to others!”
The volunteers were building a wall at the White Lady monument, which is a famous tourist site, a rock painting deep in the Brandberg mountain. Elephants also like to visit the place often, so the wall was needed. They managed to finish the wall, great work! On Patrol week the team observed that Mama Afrika’s herd is still split, and there is no sign of a real Matriarch yet.
Build week- Day one
Tuesday 9th August
We woke up at Base camp, having been eyed up by a troop of baboons the night before, and we were served with a delicious selection of tea, coffee and possibly not hot chocolate.
As soon as we were packed up, it was off to the build camp near White lady rock. We were welcomed to our new home by a bull elephant walking past, followed by two more soon after.
Once lunch had been served, with some expertly cut cucumber (thanks Simon), it was back to work on the wall around the soon-to-be water tank.
It’s safe to say that, at about 4:30pm, neither Simon, Chris or Nicole covered themselves in glory when faced with their first close(ish) elephant encounter of the trip. Two bulls wandered to the entrance of White Lady Rock so the fearsome threesome decided to take a closer look armed with cameras. This is what they had come for. This is what they had been trained for.
Everything was going well. The two bulls were munching happily on some shrubbery and the three intrepid EHRA volunteers crept even closer to get that perfect photo, all three secure in the knowledge that they know exactly what to do if things turned south/went Pete Tong.
Sadly, all that training went at the window when one of the bulls flapped his ears, trumpeted and charged at us! All three thought of no one but themselves, turned and ran for their lives. Simon decided the best course of action was to hide under a coffee table. Chris weighed up his choices of outpacing the elephant and ran straight up the car parked. Nicole? Well “I was thinking about climbing up this little hill”. Sadly, this thought did not lead to any other action other than running and screaming wildly for her mother. What her mother was going to do to help her avoid a rampaging elephant is anyone’s guess.
The duty team came back to find that another bull had given our camp the once over.
Dinner of chicken and bloody butternuts was served. Took bloody ages! Worth the wait though. Plus, we finally got through Marie’s sweet sweet sweet wine. On to the proper stuff now……
Slance! “Looking good…..tasting good”.
Simon (Ireland), Nicole (Swiss), Renate(Germany)
P.S. The elephant had given us a mock charge and had only taken two steps before watching us “stupid bloody tourist” run around like headless chickens.
Wednesday 10th August
Build week day two
After the best breakfast ever, we headed to the White lady. When we arrived the elephants drank all our water. We now know how the natives (local Namibian farmers, the residents) feel. Work was delayed while we obtained more sand and water. Now work begins. The group has divided into two, the hunter gatherers and the builders. Things are going much faster today.
Rumour is Matheus has a bet going with Hamish and Nathan that our project will be done, tomorrow by five o’clock. This means that rock team was energetic and spirited after lunch.
At the build site, Mario became a master miscen, Nathan became a master stone lifter and Matheus outworked all the volunteers. All fifteen of us were working to keep up with Matheus.
To and from the rock runs many world problems were solved. Last but not least Simon gets to learn about the luxury products.
After dinner we had a fantastic comedy night. Nina was the main act and told us the “best” jokes ever.
Tessa from Belgium
Mari from Nothern Norway
Craig from St Louis, USA
A day off – Friday 12 August 2016
Today we are at Base camp, which is located between 2 rock paintings. There are 2 troops of baboons, and this morning, we were awakened before daybreak by the baboons hooting and calling between the two troops. Then calls and exchanging of rocks.
We’re a diverse and compatible group, representing many countries: Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Great Britain, Portugal and The US. Surprisingly, everyone is here solo, except for Craig and Lois (from the US). We’re assigned, in groups of 3. To “duty”, this means cooking and cleaning. The common language is English, though several in the group speak German, there’s a little of that also.
One of the pleasures of this adventure so far is that we’ve seen elephants every day. Yesterday 2 came to the base camp and drank out of our tank. Craig and Lois were in this same part of Namibia 7 years ago and saw no elephants. The difference is that several water dams have been built and the elephants know they can get water nowadays – makes a huge difference.
Evenings: Lots of good chats plus some wine and beer. This created a term: “chrissing” because Chris up-chucked all over Lois sleeping bag. Not to worry, he cleaned up! Dan had his first beer, which he was bullied into drinking.
Chris(Netherland), Dan (UK) and Lois(US)
P.S. After we finished building the entrance for the water tank, we hiked up (8km round trip) to see the White Lady rock painting. On the way, we saw four elephants browsing on the vegetation.
Saturday 13 August 2016, Uis
On Saturday we went to the small town Uis to fill up our food storage and to cool down in the swimming pool from Brandberg restcamp.
At 6 o’clock we had to get up and we left the base camp at 8. In Uis we went to the supermarket and everyone got a pack of wet wipes and snacks. In the rest camp some of us (the bravest) went swimming in the pool, some even went 3 times in the pool (“hust” Simon “hust”). For lunch we ate in the restaurant of the Brandberg rest camp.
As we came back to the basecamp our laundry was nearly done and our clean cloth were hanging all over . I went to have a little rest, because in the night I woke up because Chris was not feeling that good and threw up on Lois sleeping bag. Poor Chris.
Others were fitter than me and hiked up the hill next to the Base camp. I was on duty together with Sidonie and Mario. We cooked potatoes,pumpkins, filled peppers and springbok meat. After and while the dinner we drank wine and beers we bought from Uis. After dinner we had a little party and we said goodbye to Hamish and danced with old and young Mathias. Also we played a game with two bottles which made people look like they are completely drunk. I didn’t like the game and so I went to bed.
Nina from Switzerland
P.S. Dan’s entry into the pool was “special”. It resembled a shy gazelle approaching the pool only to turn into a hippo as it hit the water. He did much better second time.
P.P.S. We lost a couple of adorable “star gazers” (Nina and David) and they were awfully cosy the next morning ( I don’t know how to write in English).
On Thursday we were straight in the building week. Matthias the small one tried to finish the wall. He wasn’t able to finish though, due to water problems. We got very far though. Nathan was pretty strong. Mario mixed cement and Nathan was building while the others were busy doing rock-and sand runs. In-between we needed refreshments but the small shop was out of drinks. So we just had to stick to warm disgusting calcium less still water..lol! By the way cement is pretty sticky, but it was all good. It was hot as hell! I wish we would have had a pool there. We did a break at 11 o’clock with apples and oranges. We all wore gloves for protection. Just Matthias lived dangerously and was backhanded! He kept saying it was freezing but hell no it was boiling hot and sunny. Going solo is a pretty decent tune though. Dinner was 10/10 because we did it. Feeling very self confident. We had a lot of black labels and rum so the bees were even more annoying. Nathan and me didn’t climb the mountain this time due to a lack of time. In the night Mario woke Hamish up because he thought donkeys nearby were ellies, hehe giggles. So the “elephants” were donkeys so we were all good. I like Nathan by the way. Dan is pretty decent as well. I think I need to shave my beard though. I am looking forward to using a toilet with a flush. I need to pee now so peace out.
David (Swiss) and Nathan(Swiss)
Sunday 14th August
A lazy day for team “luxury items”. After a late night sending Hamish off in style, we had a whole hour to lay in.
Breakfast was amazing, David’s eggs. . as was the bacon, once David had realized he needed to add cooking oil. The rest of the morning was relaxed. Except for Simon to pack very long.
Yet another “highlight” in Simon’s already elegant life happened in front of Nicole “The Giggle” Zwahlen. Distracted by a hole in Nicole’s shorts, Simon wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was treading. Nicole remembers seeing a hairy sweaty man bouncing twice off rocks before setting in an embarrassed pile of pain.
They promptly sought help from qualified nurse, Mari, and he was told in not so many words to “stop being such a jerk”. Turns out nurse Mari graduated from the school of tough love and has a family history of torture.
While Simon was bouncing his fat ass of rocks, apparently 6 elephants came down the river bed to drink. But who cares about that?
Chris is still being ridiculed for ‘chrissing’ over Lois’s sleeping bag.