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Running with the Elephants

Thursday, February 13, 2014
From Steph Hart, UK
 
Namibia is a stunning country. I was a bit scared at first about traveling alone, but as soon as I landed, I knew I had nothing to worry about. At the hostel, our very friendly group of six volunteers had an initial meeting in the bar with our incredibly passionate and knowledgeable guide, Chris. After soaking up some of his vast knowledge, we all went out for pizza and beer to get to know each other before we left for base camp.
 
ÒBuild week" was hard work, but we still enjoyed ourselves and had a fun time whilst working. We definitely needed to heed our guides' advice regarding re-hydration sachets; I had one per day and did not suffer in the heat. We also brought cards and games for the 2-hour lunch breaks, as it was often too hot to sleep.
 
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ÒPatrol week" was indescribable. Seeing a fully grown 40-year-old bull walk up to the car, takes your breath away. We were lucky enough to see elephants every day on patrol. Each time was a special moment, whether watching them eat, drink, or play as a family. It brought home why we had spent the previous week working so hard—to help those animals! The highlight of the trip was to be coming back to base camp after build week and finding not one, but two herds of elephants in the riverbed. They walked right past base camp as if to sayÒthank you."
 
Two weeks wasn't enough, and I wasn't ready to go home. My advice to anyone thinking about volunteering for this trip is to listen to the guides, pack light (as you rarely change clothes during build week), and baby wipes and a head lamp are your best friends. Also, keep an open mind, don't be shy to do the hard work as the rewards are worth every cut, sweat, ache and pain. Money doesn't make you rich—experiences like this make you far richer.
 
Thanks to Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) for an incredible experience and thanks to Chris for teaching us about the star (the rest of you will just have to take the trip to find out about that)!
 
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From Melanie, Germany
 
After finishing our first build week a bit early on Friday morning (Chris estimated it might take us a bit more time to use all the 15-pound cement bags) we re-entered base camp about early afternoon. We were all a bit exhausted and a heavy rain storm descended upon us on our way back. But when Chris told us about fresh elephant footprints in camp, we all got our easy spirits back! We quickly unloaded the car to investigate.
 
There, about 200 meters from the camp, were the elephants in the bush. We climbed the platform for a closer inspection when suddenly they started to move -- toward us! Chris had us climb onto the stone dome house/storeroom to see the whole Mama Africa herd and Ugab Small herd pass very close by. Almost every elephant walked to the water pit to dip their trunks, and the littlest one even climbed the pit. Unfortunately it was empty—the drought in Namibia is also effecting the EHRA camp—so they moved on.
 
Then, when just two little ones were running to the water pit, a loud thunder clap happened and the babies hurried to get back to their mum -- so cute! We hadn't even had time to recover from this spectacular sight when all the elephants came back and walked in the opposite direction along the riverbed. I didn't know that elephants were afraid of thunder and lightning!
 
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This was our incredible first contact with these amazing creatures and we couldn't help but celebrating with our first beer in a week. We had many more delightful moments with the elephants. Thanks to EHRA for having made this experience possible, and thanks especially to Chris and Matthias, our passionate and good-humored guides. Keep on doing it!
 
 
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