Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Namibia - 7th time lucky

Here's the latest blog after a really fun 6 weeks with EHRA in Namibia. It was my 7th trip out there so you might say I have a little obsession with the place. The purpose of this trip was to work with Rachel and update the website I had created for them 4 years ago (which we're hoping to relaunch in the next few days). I also got to spend a few much-needed weeks living out in the bush, sleeping under the stars and cooking over the fire.

In early November after a 22 hour journey, I reunited with Chris (the project manager) and spend my first 2 weeks with the volunteers - 3 lovely ladies from the UK and one from the US. After a few tough and hot days (38C), we got pretty close to finishing a wall around a water pump at a farm near Khorixas during the first week. We even had elephants come to drink from the dam right beside the pump one night, as if to prove a point that a wall was needed to protect the pump while still allowing the elephants to drink. The second week we headed up to the Huab river (one of my favourite areas) and we tracked a couple of herds up there. We even heard lions roaring one night quite close to camp, a little unnerving but also very exciting.

I spent the next few weeks back in Swakopmund working on the website with Rachel at EHRA's head office and helping a little with the slideshows for the end of year party in the desert. If you want to know more about what attracts me there, check these out!

EHRA the beginning -

The last year 2013 -

While I was in the office the new batch volunteers finished off the wall in Khorixas. The volunteers included Robby from Zimbabwe. She was out volunteering 2 years ago when I was last there. The rest of the volunteers (3 girls and a guy) were from the UK, Switzerland, Germany and Brazil. Matheus, the Brazilian even gave us girls samba lessons one night around the fire. Following the end of year party (which was almost rained out), I stayed out in the bush with the volunteers and joined them for their 2nd week which was for elephant patrol. This time we drove to the Ugab river first to check out the herds there, and then headed back towards the Huab river. We saw 4 different herds in total and I'm happy to say I can recognise some of the elephants now :) 

We had a fantastic patrol, as well as elephants we saw a lot of game such as oryx, kudu, springbok, steenbok, ostrich, zebra, giraffe and a couple of black rhino. I even got to drive in the sandy riverbed, my first proper 4x4 experience. At the end of the week, on the Thursday night before we headed back to town, I noticed there were a lot more shooting stars than normal, about 2-3 every min. Turns out it was the beginning of a meteor shower. What a lovely way to end the trip. As always it all went too quick so no doubt there'll be a 8th, 9th, 10th trip out there in the future. And if any of you ever want to join  me, let me know!

Things I'll miss about Namibia:
- waking up to birds (as loud as they can be sometimes, its so much better than an alarm)
- sleeping under the stars and not closing my eyes till I see at least one shooting star or satellite passing overhead, I'm not usually waiting long
- cooking over the fire and my hair and clothes smelling like campfire
- feeling low maintenance and not worrying about what we all look (or smell) like, although some smell more than others :)
- watching animals in their natural habitat
- learning something new from Chris or Mattius every day
- sunsets and sunrises
- meeting new like-minded people
- Willy the one eyed camp dog who I totally fell in love with and I like to think he did with me too. So nice after losing sweet Tobes in August
- the whole EHRA family - Rachel, Joe, Chris, Mattius, Victro, Adolf. And all the dogs of course - Kiki, Zanzi, Zulu and Tsaurab who liked to nap on my bed.

Another wonderful set of memories to get me through the winter. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!


Sunday, April 14, 2013


For the last 2 years Iceland has been on my travel radar, not just to see the country but also the Northern Lights. I decided that this Easter the time had come. Not only is March/April the best time of the year to see them, supposedly this year they are the most active they've been in 50 years. Let me cut to the chase right now though. Despite all this, we didn't get to see them once in the 6 days we were there. However, Iceland more than made up for it.

D and I headed off on Good Friday from London to Reykjavik with WOW Air. I was a little skeptical at first when I booked the tickets but they were actually a really good airline and had the funniest safety commentary I've heard yet, very clever because it made everyone listen. 3 hours and our first Icelandic beer later, we landed in Reykjavik. We got the bus to our hotel (Hotel Reykjavik Centrum) which was in the centre of the old part of town and I would highly recommend it. They have a new and old part of the hotel, the old part was built in 1754 but designed around the style found in Reykjavík around 1900. We got to stay in the old part, I loved our room.

We were really lucky with the weather for the whole trip, it was between 7 and 10C most days and sunny. A little cloudy at night but sadly enough clouds to cover up the Northern Lights and their low activity that week.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights of our trip:
- Going to the Blue Lagoon which is a geothermal spa just outside Reykjavik. Its like getting into a hot outdoor bath. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon it wasn't too busy so we just strolled in and didn't even have to queue for a beer which is sold from a kiosk in the middle of the lagoon! A blissful sunny afternoon.

- Since we were only there for a few days, it was easier to jump on tours as opposed to driving ourselves. The first one we did was a day tour called the Golden Circle Tour which brings you to some beautiful waterfalls, geysers and to where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet, a place which is also of historical importance in Iceland. It was a full on day but we saw tons and there was running commentary from Swan our guide, although I'll admit we did have a few power naps along the way.

- We did a tour specifically for hunting for the Northern Lights one evening. They're very careful to emphasize that its a 'hunt' for the lights, not a viewing. We were picked up at 730 with another 40 people and driven out into the countryside. We waited till it got dark but by 1030, they decided we should move so we hopped on the bus to try another location. Just after midnight, it was declared the hunt was over but we could use our tickets again for free if we wanted to try again. They're valid for 2 years, so maybe we'll have to go back to redeem.

- We did a 2 day, 1 night tour with Extreme Iceland. There were more waterfalls on this trip as we drove 450Km east of Reykjavik along the south coast. We also saw lava fields, black beaches, did a glacier hike, visited a glacial lagoon, saw Iceland's highest peak (which I want to go back and climb) and passed through some very cool rural little towns along the way. We spent the 2 nights of the tour also hunting for the Northern Lights but we were out of luck again. It was still a great tour, our guide Berglind was a cool chick, great fun and very knowledgeable.

- On our last day in Reykjavik, we rented bikes since it was another beautiful day and cycled for 3 1/2 hours around the peninsula. I felt we got to see parts of the city we probably wouldn't have on foot. After a post cycle lunch at Babalú cafe (Thanks Sarah for the recommendation) we wandered around the city before heading for some final happy hour drink at our favourite spot Stofan Cafe.

- Some of the other restaurants we went to and really enjoyed were (in case you're ever going):
Geysir Bistro and Bar
Icelandic Fish and Chips
Cafe Paris
Buddha Cafe
And finally Fish Market which was quite pricey (even by Iceland standards) but one of the best meals I've had in a really long time.

We had lovely fresh fish every day and all the portions are quite big in every place we went to.

We both said we'd love to go back but during the summer next time when the hiking trails are open. It would be a lot of fun to rent a car for a couple of weeks, drive around the island and do some camping and hiking. So Iceland remains on the travel wish list. Maybe another time I'll get to see the Northern Lights!

As usual, here are some pics from the trip.