Wednesday 21 November 2007

EHRA - Building Week Video

EHRA - Building Week

So, after all those "on my way to the elephants" and "on my way home again from the elephants" posts, here is the first post to tell you how I actually spent my vacation - working for two weeks as a volunteer for the EHRA (Elephant Human Relations Aid) project in Damaraland, Namibia.

The volunteers work in two week cycles - the first week is building week, and the second week is spent on patrol (more about that in a later post). Normally speaking, the building week is spent on location at one of the Damaraland communities, and the time is spent building a stone wall to protect windmills or water pumps from the elephants, who have a tendency to knock things down in their search for water.

Originally, it was planned that we should complete a wall for which the foundation had already been created. However, due to a lack of water (this is the rainy season, but no rain had yet arrived), it wasn't possible to mix the cement, so wall building had to be put on hold.

Instead, we were put to work on a different task - building a 3 fences at EHRA Base Camp, which has also been suffering from elephant visitors.

We gathered logs from dead trees in the surrounding area - a tough task given that the wood we used was extremely hard, and didn't much like to be sawn through, loaded them up in the landcruiser and brought them back to camp. As well as being hard, the logs were very heavy, and we needed all the strong guys we could find to help carry them.

We painted the bottom of the logs with diesel, to protect them from termites, planted them about 3 feet deep and stabilized them with rocks, sand and water, which we beat down with a "stomper" (i.e. a heavy lump of metal on the end of a stick). By the end of the week, the stomper was feeling the strain, and about half of its stomping end was stomped away. The photo shows me having a go at stomping - it didn't last long, it took all my strength just to lift the wretched thing a couple times.

Once we had the main posts in we found smaller logs to build up the fences with, and fastened them together with bolts and wire.

Since we didn't really want to put our fences to the test, we finished our creation with 6 feet of "elephant cobblestones" (another fun job - gathering rocks) in front of each fence, to dissuade the elephants from approaching the fences and trying to break them down.

The work took us four days, although we had to leave the job unfinished because we ran out of bolts. Of course, we weren't in an area where you can just nip down to the local hardware shop, so everytime something broke (we broke a few tools along the way, that wood is seriously hard!) we had to find an alternate solution or fix it ourselves.

Recent EHRA tradition has been assigning a name for each group of volunteers - our group earned itself the name "The injury group" for reasons which are pretty obvious. My own personal contribution to these injuries included the stomper falling on my foot, right across the toes, and two days later, the side of the LandCruiser falling on both feet - hitting my toes for the second time. Ouch, and ouch again! We also had a couple head meets log incidents...

Sunday 18 November 2007

On my way home...

... here I am back at Jo'burg airport, where I've been sitting for the last 2 and a half hours. I left my hostel at 12.00 today and Namibia at 15.00. There's still over three hours until my flight leaves for Paris, and about 18 hours before I can expect to arrive back home.

Travelling through Walvis Bay airport was a nice reminder of how travelling ought to be - a small building, but enought to house 4 check-in chounters, a small tourist shop and a coffee shop. Passing through immigration to leave the country took less than a minute (with accompanying stamps - how I miss that "stamp, stamp, stamp" sound when I travel in Europe, and passing through the single X-ray machine was hassle-free (no removing of laptop from the bag, no separate bag of liquids, no taking off shoes, no taking off belts..... wonderful and fast!).

Arriving in Jo'burg though has plunged me straight back into my normal existence - the airport is packed with people, even the business lounge where I'm sitting is pretty much wall-to-wall, and full of noise and wheely-bags to trip over. I'm already missing my uncomplicated life out in the desert where I never even had to consider whether I was carrying any money or keys. I loved sleeping out under the stars and I missed it the last two nights back in the hostel. My group-mates who are staying out at EHRA for the next two weeks will have already had their briefing and will be getting ready to set out again tomorrow morning. My other companions are mostly staying in Africa and travelling further. I envy them!

Friday 16 November 2007

Back in Swakopmund

So, here I am back in Swakopmund after an amazingly short two weeks in the desert. We had a great group of people, bonded over 45C temperatures, annoying mopani bees, a lot of dust and not so many showers!

We saw plenty of elephants whilst we were out on patrol, including 3 very cute calves, and were mock-charged by a couple adult males... All in all an incredible experience and I wish I could stay for longer.

Watch this space for photos and stories.

Sunday 4 November 2007


Sat in Johannesburg airport and I was going to quickly post a couple photos from the plane, but my external hard drive/card reader seems to have died on me.... annoying as it was my only back up mechanism whilst in the desert so now I'll have to rely on not running out of Compact Flash cards.

Well, think I'm going to call it a day with the internet since gmail is also not responding and head back to the electronics shop before catching my flight to Walvis Bay.

Had a quiet day yesterday in Johannesburg - bit of last minute shopping at the mall, swam in the pool and had a light dinner at the lodge with an Argentinian hunter/conservationalist (strange sounding combination, I know!).

Friday 2 November 2007

Sitting comfortably in Paris Charles de Gaulle

I'm not yet on the plane, but I can already say that First Class is pretty cool! Arrived at Paris and disembarked the plane to find an escort holding a "Mrs Hadfield" sign. Followed like a little sheep through the maze of Charles de Gaulle and was fast-tracked through passport and security checks (still had to take my shoes off and empty the contents of my bag, mind you).

I'm now sitting in the lounge, with my own personal assistent who gave me a little welcome speech and a cup of coffee. WiFi access of course here - they even scratch the scratch card to get the user id and password ready for you.

Just investigated the breakfast bar... didn't really fancy KLM's offering of "omlette and roast chicken sandwich" on the flight to Paris.

Well, when in Paris, eat a pain au chocolat and a mini brioche. A bit of parma ham and some chorizo. Think I'll pass on the strawberry juice though.

Thursday 1 November 2007

En route to the elephants

Afters weeks of anticipation, I'm finally on my way. There's still another 9 hours until my flight to Paris leaves, but I'm settled into the airport hotel, and waiting for my dinner (steak, mushrooms & fries, no tomato!) to appear miraculously at my door.

Fortunately, given the weight of my bag, I received many offers of help to the airport from my collegues, and ended up with a willing slave to carry my bag all the way from the office to Schiphol. Thanks Ian! and Alex, Dan and Leen also for your offers of assistance!

Aha! A knock at the door! So this, below, is what room service looks like.... and if you could see the laptop screen more closely, this is what you'd be reading!