Monday, December 14, 2009


On my last week in Namibia I wanted to take a road trip so 3 other volunteers who were around for the week and I decided to visit Sossusvlei.
We rented a 4x4, stocked up on food that we could cook on the fire and hit the road. We actually passed by the tropic of Capricorn so of course there was a photo shoot in front of the sign.

We found a camp right beside the gates (Sossusvlei is part of a national park) and settled in for an early evening after dinner. We tried to ignore the jackal that was circling our camp while we're just on the ground in our sleeping bags. We don't do tents :)

We got up at 4.15am to have some breakfast and make our way to Dune 45 which supposedly is the best place for sunrise. And we made it in time! We were on the dune as the sun was coming up. The colors were so vibrant and there weren't many people there so it was lovely and serene. Then we headed to the the big Daddy dune and we were the first there! We had some great views again after climbing up the dune.

Finally we stopped at the dead vlei on the way out of the park. This place was mind blowing, I couldn't stop taking photos of the trees. Again, the photos will probably never do it justice. We had one more night out in the desert before heading back to Swakopmund so we stayed at a place called Solataire in the middle of absolutely flipping nowhere. It was just a camp rest stop with a lodge beside it and bakery. Since we checked into the camp site we were allowed to use the pool. It was heaven lazing around for the afternoon in the sun, knowing in a few days I'd be back to full winter in Ireland.

By Wednesday afternoon we had made it back to Swakopmund and I started to pack up my stuff. I can't believe the 3 months has gone by already. It was over a year ago that I dreamed up this idea of helping EHRA with their website and spending a few months out here and now its over. It was really tough saying bye to Dave and Rachel, and all the dogs.
Tsaurab, the big ridgeback likes to rest his head on laps for a snooze, and as I was waiting for my taxi to the airport, he was practically pinning me down with his head, lying right across my stomach. I didn't want to leave him either. I had high expectations for this experience and they were all exceeded. My heart felt so heavy saying goodbye and I definitely shed a few tears stepping off the tarmac onto the plane. I've no idea what 2010 holds for me yet which is scary and liberating at the same time. I can only hope whatever it is, that it'll be even half the adventure this has been. I'll definitely be back to Africa.

Thanks for reading!

You can check out all the photos here.

Happy Christmas/Holidays/New Year!

Building and Elephant Patrol with Darci

Darci arrived to base camp on November 23rd for 2 weeks of volunteering with me. For those who don't know Darci, I worked with her in NY, we sat about 3 feet away from one another and I missed her lots, she's such a good friend. It was really weird to see her out of context and in the camp. Our building week project was to finish building a wall around a water tank on a farm. The farmers have 2 tanks, one for the animals and one for themselves. They wanted to protect their drinking water tank. It was really hot the first day of building week and some people had trouble with the heat but we knew we'd finish the wall in a couple of days so we were able to take our time. It rained twice during the week so a couple of nights we had to sleep like sardines under a tarpaulin. I usually try to sleep a little further out from the masses but the close quarters were fine for a couple of nights. I've found since I brought my own pillow out, I can sleep anywhere outdoors, the whole night through!

The night before we finished the wall, the local farmers and family (6 people in all) came over to our camp on the build site for a sing song under the tarp. It was fantastic! They sang some local songs and we sang some songs back. I joined into a fine rendition of Wild Rover. The next day we cleaned up the site, and the whole family came out again including the kids for a photo session. I've never seen this happen with all the walls I've built here so it was really special to see how appreciative they were of the work we did.

We headed back to camp a day early since we had finished the wall, it was nice to have an extra day to laze around base camp and go for hikes. Also we had the EHRA end of year party and I was to help Rachel with a slideshow we were going to show on a projector. We all got dolled up, as much as you can in the desert and quite a few friends of EHRA came out to camp for the evening. We even roasted a sheep on the fire. Poor Dave had to do the preparation of the sheep. I've never seen this man turn away food but at lunch that day, after he prepped the sheep, he looked too nauseous for his sandwich. It was a delicious feast though and we all sat around under the stars with drinks looking at the best EHRA photos of the year on the projector. Pretty cool to be a part of that and you really see all the work they've done over the last 6 years.

On Monday we set out for elephant patrol. We'd heard there was a sighting of a bull in the area so we set out to find some tracks. The last 2 patrols I've been on we hadn't seen elephants the first day, we just spent the time looking for fresh poo and tracks. But this time we spotted the guy by 10.30am! It was great. And it was in the wetlands, an area I'd never been to before. We found another younger bull there as well so we spent most of the day checking them out. Then we decided to go look for some herds in the Huab River, also a place I'd never been on patrol. It was a long but scenic drive and we spotted 3 giraffe along the way which is kind of unusual on patrol. We also saw a lot springbok, oryx and steenbok which are all antelopes and all delicious!

The next day we found the Huab herds pretty easily too. We saw Misty the bull first. Years ago part of his trunk was cut off (or truncated!) in a trap so he's developed a new way of picking up branches to eat, really impressive to see how he's adapted. We watched the herds for the rest of the day and camped in an area where we thought they might pass by. We were hoping they'd walk past our camp at night but sadly they went in a different direction. We picked them up the next day and again, parked and watched as they all strolled by. Misty was in musth though which can make him unpredictable. At one point I was sitting on top of the truck facing him and he almost charged me. You're never supposed to move suddenly around elephants but he came at me and got so close I had to scoot back, otherwise he would have brushed me with his trunk or tusks. No thanks! Since these are wild elephants, it wouldn't be a good thing if they started touching us. Dave was sitting in the truck right below me when this happened and even he was a little freaked out. Cool experience though, I felt very small and insignificant which is always a good thing every now and then. It puts us in our place.

We decided after 3 days of solid elephant watching, we'd take the long way back to base camp and drive through the real desert. Dave describes this area as a 'geological wonderland' and it includes the petrified forest. We even thought we might look out for a black rhino which is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack but we were passing through that territory anyway. We stayed at one of my favorite areas to camp when I did the fund raising trek, and again there was a stunning sunset and boulder craters to sleep in. On Thursday we got up early as usual and started to make our way back to base camp. Hendrick who is an unbelievable tracker spotted a black rhino on the horizon. Even for us with binoculars it was tough to see. We tracked him by foot a little bit but he could either smell or hear us, even though we were so far away. Very exciting to see in the wild. Dave had never seen one in the 3 years he's been with EHRA and Hendrick hadn't seen one in 2 years.

I have to admit it was my favorite patrol to date, so much wildlife, interaction with the local community and elephants, new scenery and having Darci there was the icing on the cake. So fun to have someone I know around and I got filled in on all the NYC gossip!

Here are all the photos from the trip


Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Brandberg climb

The website launch went well, we sent out a newsletter to all previous volunteers, set up a facebook fan page which got lots of hits and publicized that the new site was up wherever we could.

With that out of the way, the next challenge was climbing the Brandberg mountain which is 2,573 m (8,440 ft). It's the highest point in Namibia and I've wanted to climb it since I saw it for the first time over a year and a half ago. Luckily there was another volunteer Rob who was out here for 8 weeks and he wanted to climb it also. Its a 3 day climb but its really hot this time of year and there was only one water stop along the way. We'd have to carry all our own food for 3 days so we decided we'd eat a lot of noodles since they were easy to pack. No offense to Rob's fabulous cooking of the noodles but I never want to see one again :)

The adventure began on Thursday 19th Nov. While the rest of the volunteers were finishing up their elephant patrol and heading back to town, I drove out to the base camp to pick up Rob and our guide Johnny, a local guy we found through one of the ellie trackers at EHRA. Dave from EHRA was very kind to lend us his car for the weekend and I learned out to remove a thingy from the car which prevents it from starting in case anyone tried to steal it from the base of the mountain. Considering we saw no other humans for 4 days, it was pretty safe.

We got to the base of the mountain Thursday evening in time for sunset and our first noodle-feast. We were up at 5am the next morning so it was an early night. I woke up feeling pretty crap and tired on Friday morning. I was recovering from a cold and my lungs were complaining. But I tried to put the brave face on and off we went. I like to think I've hiked quite a bit before, but hiking with a cold, a full backpack and fairly uphill was a whole new thing for me, I was gasping. Thankfully Rob kept stuffing me with sugary treats to keep me going. We made it to the first rest stop and our one-and-only water stop by 10.30am. Then we found a nice cave where we could enjoy a siesta from the sun till 3.30pm or so. The rocks in the cave were really cold so we both found ourselves placing various body parts on the walls of the cave to cool down.

I was feeling a teeny bit better in the afternoon and we made it to our camp for the night on the plateau of the mountain. We had to hug a lot of boulders along the way and sometimes it felt like one-false-move away from bye bye Jen. Johnny was tiny, about 5"2 but could take bigger leaps than either of us. Rob is 6'5" by the way! The plateau was really cool though and it was full of crater like holes in which we could sleep. The sunset was stunning and it was another fantastic night under the stars.

Again we woke up at 5am and left our main backpacks in the craters while we hiked to the summit with our daypacks. It was a 2 1/2 hr hike to the summit. We passed by some rock paintings along the way which are supposedly 2500-5000 years old. We reached the summit at 8.45am on Saturday morning and had celebratory hugs and apples. The 360 degree views were stunning and my photos will never do it justice. We could almost see to the ocean over 100km away since the land is so flat around the mountain. There's a book at the summit you can sign so we both wrote a little piece and sat for an hour almost in silence just taking it in.

The trip down was easier on the lungs but tough on the knees. It took us the rest of Saturday and a few hours on Sunday to descend. We got to a mining town called Uis where Johnny lives around 10am on Sunday, dropped him off and went to a lodge where we knew the owner. We were both pretty stinking after sweating tons and having no water except to drink for 3 days so we dived into the pool in all our clothes and ordered the best toasted sandwich and cokes we'd ever tasted! We'd started talking about them on Saturday on the way down the mountain so you can only imagine how exciting it was to finally get them into us.

We headed back to base camp Sunday afternoon and celebrated Rob's last day as a 33 year old with a fine dinner of bangers and mash over the fire and some good red wine. The rest of the volunteers were arriving on the Monday (including Darci!!) so it was really nice to chill out in an empty base camp for the evening. It was tougher climb than I thought it would be since there was no trail and lots boulders to climb with a heavy pack in crazy heat, but all totally worth it!

Here are all the photos from the trip