At the beginning of my two-week adventure in the Namibian desert me and the other German volunteers felt almost like home. Our travel started in Swakopmund which can be considered as the most southern German city: the famous Café Anton sells German cheese cake, in the supermarket people speak German and the atmosphere appears more like the one in a health resort in northern Germany. From here we travelled north; after two hours we left the highway and entered a sandy road, where the new “Mad Max”-movie which was released in 2014, starring Charlize Theron, was shot. No matter if you know the movie or not, you cannot resist taking a picture at this point. Far away we could see the Brandberg which shined redly in the afternoon-sun. The closer we got to the mountain the more it reflected the sunlight and appeared glowing.
On the weekend all volunteers could refill their candy stock in the supermarket or go swimming in the pool of Brandberg Rest Camp. At this point I should mention that I confuse the chronology a little bit, since the weekend activities were supposed to be the reward for a week full of hard work – so better let us start at this point: When we arrived to the base-camp for the first time we were quite surprised about the coziness of this place. It is located at the edge of the dry river bed of Ugabs River. A kitchen, bedrooms and a car repair station were set up on the hot desert sand and there were even some showers (outdoors of course). For many of us it was the first Africa experience, that is why it took some time until all corners of the camp were explored and all questions asked. Many of us were curious about the question how safe the camp is since we were going to spend each night under the open sky. Our camp manager Chris in his professional but funny way stilled all fears and doubts we had; strange noises at night might be probably caused by some cows or goats. To experience real wildlife the camp is not the right place. Damaraland is not a national park, most of wild animals have migrated to more remote places, far away from human settlements and farmlands. For some reason wild elephants are not that shy and still present in this area.
On the next morning we packed our stuff and went by van to one of the surrounding farms, where our project waited for us: We started building a wall around the water reservoir to keep the wild elephants away and reduce possible human-wildlife-conflicts. The project started as a petition with the aim to save the African elephants, which returned to this area a couple of years ago and frightened the local people. Most of the local people, especially the farmers have never seen a wild elephant so far!
Ever since EHRA is committed to the protection of the grey giants not only by constructing walls but also by visiting schools and teaching children how to deal with elephants in order to improve the coexistence between humans and animals.
Next to the farm we set up our camp, where we slept in simple tents, cooked over open campfires and exchanged our experiences and stories under the beautiful starry sky. It is a simple life over here and that is why it was so great! Day by day I could feel how all of us slightly changed: We became more relaxed, less anxious, just felt better and better. Even though it is quite exhausting work to carry stones and mix cement all day long, but the result was good and meaningful. We used our hands and spent the day outside which made us feel alive. The fact that we became dirty sometimes and just had face tissues to clean ourselves could not spoil our mood.
Every one of us looked forward to the hot shower on Friday afternoon in the base-camp as well as the barbecue in the night, which was an awesome reward for our efforts during the week. The next morning we left for Uis village, where we spent on day in civilization (actually none of us felt like leaving the camp). My favourite adventure during the week took place on Sundays morning. We packed our stuff and started a trip right into the wild to track wild elephants and collect data about their habitats, numbers, behavior and potential offspring. This hands-on experience was a unique chance to learn more about these fascinating animals and observe them closely without binoculars. In my opinion it is important to get a deeper understanding about elephants to make their protection a personal issue. Only in this way the volunteers can become convinced by this idea and take it with them back to their home countries.
In total there are three elephant herds living between the two rivers Ugab and Uhab. Unexpectedly we met one called “Mama Africa” in the outback. The family seemed to be used to us and our vans which led us to the conclusion that they have already accepted our presence. Interestingly the elephants stepped right into our direction and touched our van’s hood like they wanted to say hello. One young bull elephant even stretched his trunk through the opened window and touched Chris’ face. It was a remarkable feeling and each one of us was so grateful since most of us have never seen an elephant before. In the evening at the campfire we shared our experiences and feelings of the day.
At the latest from this time on nobody really missed his/her home anymore. It is interesting how quickly we became used to the wild, maybe because it is the place where our ancestors have their origin and subconsciously we are still connected to it by our instincts.
Our trip led us to the deepest depth of the African outback. Over days we did not see a single car or any other people but therefore the other two elephant herds as well as different animals like zebras, giraffes, hyenas and chamois bucks. The landscape here resembles the surface of the moon and it feels like being in a different world, which helped us finding ourselves.
On Thursday we went back to the base-camp and on the last evening we were in agreement about one thing: Nobody of us wanted to go back home. Reluctantly we said goodbye to our camp in the desert. How funny it was, that we only spent three nights here but it felt like weeks.
After two weeks of desert and wilderness the small city Swakopmund appeared quite noisy and busy. In the evening we met in Kückis Pub to have some French fries and German Schnitzel. One last time we recalled the last two weeks and gave a promise to each other: One day we will come back! What we have learned during our time in Namibia was the awareness about what it means to dedicate yourself to a meaningful project and make lots of personal enriching experiences. At the end of the day we did not only learn a lot about the African elephants but also about ourselves.