30th June – 11th July
Camilla Burrow, 28, UK, 4 weeks
7 Bewildered faces stand looking at the foundations of a wall to protect a water pump. It takes no more than 30seconds for the realization of what we’d signed up to do to hit home. 3 Volunteers had already done a couple of weeks and they quickly showed us fresh faced 7 what to do. Thank goodness they were here!
Sat at home in London and between jobs I was looking for something to do which would preferably take me back to Namibia. Having been before, I’d fallen in love with the country and a chance Google search led me to EHRA. After a brief look on the website i quickly sent an email to Rachel to book a place. A month later and the London city girl was in khakis, boots and working gloves (with a feminine touch of purple of course) about to do her first rock run. The team quickly bonded over rock running, sand collecting and cement mixing by hand. The work was harder than anticipated, but mainly due to us all overestimating our fitness. I found muscles that haven’t been used in 28 years. It was fantastic though and we settled into a routine of duties, building, snoozing and eating.
Camping outside is magical. We’d watch the stars and the growing moon, sit around the fire with a drink and help the cooks for the night. There is something so satisfying about ending a day physically tired, full from great food and with such interesting people. Our two guides Ernest and Christine kept us entertained too. Ernest taught us Damara (or at least he tried) and Christine prevented some of the cook novices from poisoning the group (mainly me-thanks Christine).
During the days, Ernest and Christine showed us the local wild life such as different types of scorpions, centipedes, soldier ants and spiders. The hope had been to get the wall finished but unfortunately we ran out of cement before that happened. At first we were a little down beat but when we stopped for team pictures it became evident what we’d achieved in 4 days.
Overall it was such a pleasure to go from suits, offices, meetings and metaphorically getting my hands dirty to working as a team outside all day, covered in dust and cement and building something tangible. I loved it so much, I’m back next Monday to repeat it all over again. Final thought: To the inventor of wet wipes, we salute you!
So if we’re honest, this is why we’re all really here. The opportunity to see wild elephants up close and personal is the EHRA “thank you for the building week.” It also plays a vital role in tracking 3 separate herds. This week also promises more sleeping under the stars and the chance for us to perfect our “wet wipe shower” technique.
Something that instantly strikes me is how I really don’t miss my phone and communication devices. It’s so liberating spending the days outside, climbing kopies and following elephant tracks.
Day 1 wasn’t our day. We saw lots of tracks including those of the baby calf, but the elephants had decided to play hide and seek. We did see some of the downside to the desert though. There were a lot of wire snares laid across the river to trap and kill birds. Chris, who was joined by Matthias in guiding us, cut them up to try to discourage the people behind it. It was rather alarming to see how common place they were. Whilst elephants were hiding, we did see a lot of beautiful birds, ostriches and “Australian elephants”(known as cows by everyone else). We drove through picturesque scenery before setting up camp for the night.
Day 2 and the rest of the week were more successful. We saw 2 bulls which EHRA were concerned had been killed and an as yet unidentified bull. We climbed lots more koppies in our hunt for these beautiful and majestic animals and also collected a couple of fresh dung samples. There is something truly mesmerising about been so close to the “gentle giants”.
Our last night of patrol was spent at base camp reflecting on 2 incredible weeks. We have so many stories, jokes and memories to take home with us. For 3 of us, we are already chomping at the bit to return on Monday. Oh and I can’t resist but to Jeff, next time you want to prove a point, listen to Laura and I first!
Final thought: To the incredibly hard working team behind EHRA, we salute you all for an unforgettable experience.
Jeff, 25, USA, 11/07/14
What have I learned in two weeks? The desert can’t be transcribed. Catalog it’s indigenous fauna, map its crystalline skies, but you won’t document the essence of interaction. You won’t define the effect this world unto its own brings to bear.
Cast ten strangers onto its sun-bronzed shores, unite them in purpose and observe the swift and redeeming nature by which they interact with one another by which they build their quantized piece of this world. Note the tools they use to cast rock and sand into minutiae of legacy. Plot the points at which they transition from many to one.
Identify the experience, and then experience it for yourself. The desert can only be interpreted through interaction. EHRA defines that interaction!
Jack (rewritten), UK (4 weeks, ca. 15th June – 15th July 2014)
I have LOVED my time here. I’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream by coming to Africa and seeing elephants and I’m glad I’ve seen a whole host of other wildlife. I loved seeing Oscar and he was the best elephant I have seen, just because he was the biggest. I was lucky to see both herds and bulls and it was exhilarating for them to come so close to the cars. The calf was cute and I hope a suitable name is chosen for her and some of her dung can be collected as part of the research.
I loved meeting and working with new people and I’m glad I got on with everyone. I have learned to slow down with my speech and make sure I am clear in what I say. I thought Chis and Christin were great and everyone’s cooking was excellent. Now I feel like I can do a lot more after this experience and I would love to come and do this again.
14th -27th.07.14, Sandy Willmann, 2 weeks
After a chaotic building week with injured fingers, the loss of a tooth and only two half days of building we went back to base camp where we were so lucky to see the herd of G6 passing the camp. This was my first time to see wild elephants and it was amazing! They were so close that I had the feeling I could touch them when i moved my arm. Only one day later when we started patrol week we discovered the herd of Mamma Afrika. It was amazing to watch these beautiful animals taking a bath in a waterhole. As it was quite late we moved to the most stunning place where we installed our camp for the night and had a “lekka braai” under the stars. Coming back to the waterhole the next day the elephants were still there, so we climbed a kopie and watched them for 2-3 hours bathing, playing and eating. It was breath taking! But the most memorable moment was when Mathilda and her 6 week old baby joy crossed the riverbed and let us watch them for a few minutes. The little one is so cute and gives hope for the future of the Namibian desert elephants. I will never forget this trip and the experience with the elephants. Special thanks to Mattias who is probably the best elephant tracker in the world! And also a big thank you to the rest of the EHRA team, you created an unforgettable life experience for us.
Sandy and Stephan
27.7.14, Ben, UK
According to everyone, a chaotic building week, yet one enjoyed by all. Amazing group cohesion. Despite being hampered by injuries, hospital visits and a change of project managers, it has been an amazing two weeks. Never before have I seen a group of strangers gel together so quickly and so well. Personally I felt at home immediately. It has been a unique and once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. The fulfillment and jokes of build week allowed for an amazing patrol week. We were very lucky in the elephant sightings we got. Not often do they come to you. A beautiful sight to witness nature in its simplest and truest form. To get to see the elephants up close and get to know their character is remarkable. I can’t express my thanks enough. Not only to the group but to our two project managers, Hendrick and Christine for their outstanding work, As well as both big and small Mattias’s for their expertise and Collin for his support on patrol week. A big thank you to EHRA, I am certain to return!
25.08.14 – Eline – Switzerland
I don’t have the right words in English to share my feeling….but I can say THANK YOU! I had 2 unforgettable weeks with EHRA!
We had difficult moments on build week, but the group was incredible. Everyone made his best to make the experience as funny and nice as possible, taking care of each other. And the wheel turned on patrol week, we were lucky, lucky, and lucky! We saw elephants each day! Elephants near to the camp, elephants plying in the water and elephants near the car.
THANK YOU to everyone who made these weeks awesome, marvelous and fun!
Patrol review, 20-24 July 2014
Patrol started on Sunday, but the elephants of the herd G6 decided to pay a visit in camp already on Saturday evening. The group of volunteers stayed quietly behind the wooden fence and watched the herd as they moved past, feeding peacefully, cowing close to eat from the Anatree the tree house is in.
On Sunday afternoon Mattias found the herd Mamma Africa playing in the water at Aruxas 1ST SPRING. The next day we returned to Aruxas, climbed a kopie and the volunteers watched the herd playing and feeding at the spring for 2½ hours, which was absolutely beautiful and exciting. On Tuesday Mattias tracked a bull, starting in the morning. That bull walked very fast , but in the late afternoon we found him feeding in the riverbed. It was Tsaurab. He came very close to the car, very peacefully, as if just to say hi.
On Wednesday Mattias tried to track Voortrekker, but we ended up finding G6 in the afternoon. The last day of patrol EHRA went to the Sorris Sorris conservancy to check up on farms who have problems with the an elephant bull. That bull is unknown so far. There is also a herd around lately, coming from Khorixas. At least Mattias could identify the problem causing bull not being Voortrekker, as thought so by the farmers.