On Thursday afternoon, we all met at Heathrow airport ready to start our expedition to Namibia. After our 11 hour journey, we reached our first stop: Johannesburg. We got to know each other better over breakfast at an airport cafe, and we were then joined by Jöelle, Pedro and Dorus for our connecting flight to Upington. On arrival we were met by the leaders. We thought our long journey was over, but we still had a 6 hour drive to the reserve ahead of us - luckily there were lots of snacks available! Once we had crossed the Namibian border, the terrain changed from road to dirt tracks, and we swapped the mini bus for two jeeps. By the time we got to camp, the sun had completely set, but we were greeted by a lovely meal, before we settled down for our first night in the desert.
After a surprisingly cold night, we spent the morning getting to know each other with some bonding games and volleyball. We learnt a bit more about health and safety in the camp, before heading out on a "short" hike after lunch. We walked up a dry waterfall and spotted a Quiver tree - identified by Felix. Back at the camp we enjoyed some hot showers, and watched the sun set.
Today we had an early start to the day, and set out to remove fences around the reserve, to allow animals to roam freely. It was hot, tough work, but it was really rewarding to see our contribution to the reserve. Louisa, Thea and Mads M spotted a stone backed grasshopper camouflaged among the rocks, and our first scorpion was spotted by Maddy A. For lunch we started our daily intake of Rusks - a hard, dry South African biscuit/shortbread that was surprisingly good. After spending the afternoon carrying the steel poles, rolls of wire and wooden stakes, it was a real treat to enjoy a cold cider whilst watching the beautiful sunset back at camp. Jöelle was overjoyed when her bag had finally made its way to Namibia.
On Monday we headed out for our first experience of peak counting - which entailed driving from mountain to mountain, climbing them, and trying to spot animals through our binoculars. Despite a less successful first stop, we saw many more animals on our way to the second peak. Our success rolled on as on the second peak we spotted two large herds of Oryx, spotted by eagle eyed Gen and Mads M. For lunch we enjoyed some dumpling soup, before driving round the mountain range to our last peak of the day. Back at camp in the evening, Dorus and Felix built a great fire, which we enjoyed with some music- the only thing that could have possibly made it better would be toasting some marshmallows.
On Tuesday morning, Red explained more about the reserve, and their plan to eventually introduce Cheetahs and Black Rhino. The bumpy, windy ride on the back of the trucks acted as a triple espresso, certainly waking us up for our day of Invasive Tree Removal. We split into pairs, each tackling the trees with machetes, saws and axes. When we had chopped them to the ground we set them alight, which was both invigorating and tiring. After returning to base, Mads M, Louisa, and Sophia painted some rocks to use as 'engaged' signs for the open air toilets, and we had our first laundry session. When it got dark, decided to watch a movie, and on George's recommendation we we watched Mean Girls, 'so fetch'. Unfortunately, halfway through the movie, our solar power went out, so couldn't finish the movie.
We left camp slightly later on Wednesday, after a presentation on how to use Camera Traps, and their function in the reserve. Over the day we set up camera traps in four different locations. While setting up the first one we were joined by a herd of horses, and at the next site Rob spotted an eagle- a trait he continued for the rest of the week. Maddy A and Nico both took turns carrying the heavy sledgehammer and metal poles to the third site - which was a 15 minute walk into a canyon. Having returned to camp at lunchtime, before we set out again we looked at the pictures taken by the camera trap that we collected at the second stop. We saw pictures taken of wildcats, mongoose, brown hyena, honey badgers and a cape fox!
Our last camera trap of the day was on the other side of camp, in another canyon. Throughout our walk, we were surrounded by pink granite, expertly climbed by Sophia- who our leader, Roley, likened to a klipspringer. We saw the cage that will hopefully be used to catch and collar leopards, whilst Pedro set up the final camera trap. At dinner time we were joined by some PHD students - Viktor and two other university students- who gave a talk of the work they were doing on the reserve. Viktor showed us the footage he had captured of leopards, and awed us all by the videos and his knowledge on the species.
Felix enjoyed an early start as he left for Karasburg with Zoey and Roley to do the weekly shop. Meanwhile the rest of us worked fairly close to the base camp to build a hide which can be used to spot wildlife from. We started by hammering steel poles into the ground for the foundation: this was harder than it sounds as we needed to accurately bang the heavy sledgehammer against the pole. This is a skill that Rob and Gen mastered rapidly. The spaces between the metal poles were filled in by wooden stakes and wire, and Thea worked hard ensuring there were no gaps in the hide by filling them all in.
After a much needed lunch break, the music- provided by Maddy A- fuelled our energy for the rest of the afternoon. Whilst most of us were working on our suntans, Nico was being cautious Of the Namibian sun- covering himself up in long sleeves, a bandana and even two hats! Although we didn't completely finish the hide, the work we did, captured on Louisa's timelapse, was unbelievable.
Joëlle, Rob and George spent the afternoon setting up the final three camera traps with Evie. That evening, we got back relatively early, and started to pack for our trek taking place the following two days.