I have just finished three months with EHRA and cannot imagine going home and leaving this place. I was also here for a month last year as a volunteer, and was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to come back as EHRA’s volunteer assistant, something I highly recommend to all past volunteers.
The two weeks just gone was my last trip, so I felt a bittersweet mix of emotions—excitement to be back out in the bush and grim preparation to leave base camp and say my goodbyes. Still, it was an amazing trip. On build week we made fantastic progress finishing a monster wall that we had started on the trip before, and even having a whole extra day spare to begin the next one. I won’t lie, build week is hard, dirty work but always fun and highly enjoyable. Basic living and manual labour must do something for the soul, enhanced further by working alongside some truly great, diverse and interesting people. I love the fact that a single common passion can bring together such different people from such different worlds, and build week is where discovery of peoples’ stories, strengths and senses of humour really happens.
Cooking and eating around a campfire each night never loses its charm, nor does lying in a sleeping bag under a blanket of African stars that need to be seen to be believed. Shooting stars are no rarity here either, and you’re likely to lose count as you drift off to sleep. Being woken up the next morning with a hot cup of tea in bed, brought to you by fellow volunteers on breakfast duty bookends a perfect sleep—and is undoubtedly now my favourite way to wake up.
The weekend is spent at EHRA’s beautiful and nothing short of amazing base camp. And as if that is not reward enough for back-breaking build week efforts (a shower in the stunning clay-walled showers set in the side of a rocky hill at base camp is all the reward I need!) Monday morning sees us setting off to track elephants and camp in the wild for four days.
We were lucky this past patrol week to have both EHRA’s genius trackers with us and we were soaked with information about the bush, plants and wildlife and the techniques used to track the giants we are all here for. After a morning following a trail of fresh dung (demonstration of which is always a laugh!) and impressively massive fresh tracks we found the bravely small ‘Ugab small’ herd, just three adult cows strong with a two-year-old juvenile in tow, with Cheeky the bull never far away this week either. On our final day of patrol we were treated to the sight of Mama Afrika herd—14 adults strong, with three tiny babies all born in past 12 weeks— heading down the dry Ugab River bed towards us.
There are so many unforgettable moments to experience on an EHRA trip; combine them all and it is easy to see why so many volunteers, me included, will say without hesitation that volunteering with EHRA is life-changing. The bush, the people, the elephants and the sense of self that I have discovered here will remain with me for life. And I know that while I may have had to say my goodbyes this time, I will definitely be back.