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Published: August 22nd 2006
Sitting here in Luanda watching the fiasco that is the fourth day of the England -v- Pakistan test match (how I came to be here will be revealed in a later blog), I’m struggling to work out how to write up what have undoubtedly been a couple of the most interesting weeks of this year. Where to start? The beginning? Well, I suppose this’d be a reasonable - if slightly old-fashioned - option…
When I took a year out in 1993-94, I looked into doing voluntary work abroad, but ran into a brick wall with VSO, the only option I believed was open to me, on the basis that they wanted at least a couple of years’ commitment, and someone with more useful skills than an ability to list the top ten cases on recoverable financial loss in the law of tort (at least, I think I could do this once upon a time…). Now, with the age of the internet, I could look further afield. First up was www.voluntaryworkabroad.com, a website that I tripped over thanks to Google, which came up with a customised list of volunteer opportunities, taking into account my background, the amount of time I wanted
to commit, the countries where I was prepared to work and the kind of work that I wanted to do: a great starting point, but, basically, a database. Taking any of those opportunities further would be entirely up to me, and the list was, in any event, caveated that it might not be absolutely up-to-date. Sounded a bit like Hard Work: I relegated this to the Too-Difficult-For-The-Time-Being pile.
The best source of info popped up purely fortuitously. Idly flicking through the pages of the BBC’s “Nature” magazine at my sister-in-law’s kitchen table one day, I found myself reading the small ads (yes, spot the Lady of Leisure!). There I found a series of “volunteers wanted” notices which I then researched further on the internet. To cut a long story short (OK, well, it’s already a little on the long side - sorry!), I discovered Earthwatch, a somewhat road-to-Damascus experience for me. Essentially, for those who are not aware, Earthwatch offers funding and volunteers - via a structured programme drawn up with the lead scientist in question - for research projects that meet Earthwatch’s conservation-oriented goals. And, if you have even a passing interest in this, I’d highly recommend scanning
their website (www.earthwatch.org) as the sheer number (over 140) and variety of projects on offer are staggering. OK, so they’re not cheap, and you have to make your own way to the project’s meeting point (which can be an interesting exercise in itself - I’m eyeing up a project in Mongolia where the meeting point is Xian in China….), but the potential experiences on offer are just stunning. And, from my point-of-view, it looked to be a good introduction to voluntary work: you join a project on the same day as x other people so you’re expected and looked after (aaaahhhh…), you’re not expected to have any relevant prior experience or knowledge, and you only stay for 2-3 weeks which would be useful if the project didn’t live up to expectations.
But which projects to chose? As many of you are aware, I have a love affair with southern Africa (it’s OK, folks, Colin knows about it - indeed, he introduced us, so to speak) and, as I’ve written elsewhere, Namibia was a country that I’d wanted to visit for ages, so looking for projects here was a natural starting point. Having agonised over the options and feared that,
it then being April, I might be applying too late for this year’s projects, I spent 12 minutes on the telephone to Earthwatch and, with some juggling, found myself booked onto two projects in Namibia in August/September - the Desert-Dwelling Elephant and Giraffe Research Project and the Cheetah Conservation Foundation. I was ecstatic: elephants have fascinated me since my first sighting of one in the wild in Botswana (even though I was 28 at the time, I still shrieked and gibbered with excitement like a 5-year old!), and who could resist the chance to work with cheetah?
Come July 31, I found myself on a flight from a cold and wet Cape Town (staying up in the hills behind Noordhoek with the clouds down in the middle of an SA winter was more than a little reminiscent of the West Highlands of Scotland!) back to the now-familiarity of Windhoek and the Chameleon Backpackers. There I made contact with Keith Leggett, the lead scientist (or “principal investigator” (“PI”) in Earthwatch-speak) and arranged to be collected the following morning.
Whatever I was expecting from a conservation project, my fellow volunteers, learned scientists, working in the desert of Kaokoland, etc., etc.,
I really can’t remember, but the whole experience was tremendous in every way and almost certainly nothing like I was anticipating. My co-volunteers were, apparently, representative of the standard demographic of volunteer groups for this project (I was enchanted to find that I was the baby of the group!) - which makes them sound like a boring collection of statistics but this could not be further from the truth: they were heaps of fun. If we were not initially obviously a bunch of soul-mates, we nevertheless quickly became a good team and got on extremely well. There was Gill, a former biochemist who had decided, to my huge admiration, to follow her dream to work in the theatre and now runs the theatre and concert buildings at Wycombe Abbey School; Rosalind, a Character (with a very capital “C”!), who had spent the 1980s teaching in Zimbabwe and had some fascinating insights to southern Africa and its politics, but who was also a complete hoot (I wish I could explain the riotous “half-warm tea” conversation, but I’m afraid you really had to be there: I haven’t giggled so much in ages!); and Susan from Kansas who gave the impression of being
quiet and unassuming until one encountered her over a card table...
Then there was the “learned scientist”. The phrase conjures up an Einstein-esque figure - though I must say, I can’t quite imagine Einstein in the African bush. But I knew that this was not going to be what we would encounter here as I’d read an Earthwatch article on this project’s PI, Keith Leggett, that described him as “a charming and brash Aussie”. If those two adjectives seem to be mutually contradictory, you have to meet this guy: within minutes of picking us up from our various accommodation in Windhoek, he was already cracking jokes and beginning to tease us in a particularly Aussie fashion and we each began to warm to him and to each other on the 400 km of long straight road from Windhoek to base camp in Outjo. By the end of that first day, however, my brain was reeling with all the more serious discussions we’d had, even though we hadn’t actually started work yet. Whether he is brash and/or charming, Keith certainly knows his stuff. He’s been working on various projects in southern Africa for the last 15 years or so and
is not shy about coming forward with his well-informed views on conservation in Africa and worldwide. This, coupled with Susan’s previous Earthwatch adventures, Rosalind’s stories of Zimbabwe and Gill’s biochemistry background, I found myself in the midst of some fascinating conversations over the braai: a world away from service credit regimes and outsourcing pricing structures!
Day two opened gently with breakfast at the coffee shop attached to the backpackers’ hostel on Outjo main street. Then it was time to do some work. First was a video presentation on the project which had been put together by a previous Earthwatch volunteer two years’ ago and gave us a lively introduction to the life we were to going to lead for the next two weeks, dung analysis and all (yes, you read correctly: more of that anon). Next on the agenda were “lectures”, but such formality is anathema to our new pet Aussie, so we simply sat outside around last night’s dinner table and chatted through life, the universe and everything - or at least as much as we could on the subjects of desert-dwelling elephants, our forthcoming trip into the bush and related conservation issues in a couple of hours.
For a while, it was believed that these elephants, living in the grim and unforgiving environment of the desert, were a separate subspecies. Even “The Bible” on this trip, Footprint’s guide to Namibia, talks about these elephants having extra long legs, a common misconception (it’s not exactly clear what biological advantage longer legs would give elephants in the desert); the truth is that these elephants are significantly thinner than their savannah counterparts and therefore only give the appearance of having longer legs. Their tusks also tend to be weaker and break more easily thanks to a lack of the right nutrients. But they are increasing in number in the harshly impressive landscape of Kaokoland where, only ten years ago, they had been virtually poached to extinction.
Our remit was to check on who was where in the Hoarusib and Huanib rivers, west of Sesfontein. Keith has identified the animals in this area by reference to nicks and cuts on ears (I particularly enjoyed meeting WKF-4 after reading about her “Africa-shaped” right ear), tusks and tail hair, and he hasn’t seen a “new” animal, other than the next generation, for a couple of years. And one really gets the
impression that these animals are almost like friends to him. If I was expecting a scientist to be coldly analytical towards his subjects, Keith certainly wasn’t. He described many animals, not by reference to ear shapes, tusks or tails, but to their characters, and he had some delightful stories to tell about a number of the elephants we met, including any run-ins he had had with them in the past (one young male had inquisitively explored the inside of one of the vehicles last month: fortunately that group of Earthwatch volunteers had maintained their cool as his trunk sniffed around them). That said, there is a formal system of nomenclature: “WK” (western Kunene, the new name for the political region which includes Kaokoland), “M” or “F” (male or female), a number (indicating how early on in his study he met them) and then, for offspring, “a1”, “a2”, etc., after the mother’s name to indicate the first, second child, etc., before the young progresses to adulthood (around 10 years or so) and “earns” his or her own name.
This year, Keith wanted to look at the pros and cons of the different methodologies for recording animal behaviour: the 2-minute study,
the 5-minute study, and the “changes” study. For the first two, behaviour is recorded after the relevant interval of time for as long as the animals remain in sight (ideally, for at least half an hour and/or multiples of half-hours); for the 2-minute study, behaviour is recorded at headline level for the whole group (how many are feeding, walking, resting, interacting, indulging in water activities, etc.); for the 5-minute study, we were to focus on one animal but record behaviour in more detail (e.g., if feeding, what was the animal eating and at what level was s/he feeding; if drinking, how many trunk-fuls were taken; if resting, was this in the shade or the sun; who were the animal’s nearest neighbours and what were they doing). The “changes” study is a more complex as only changes in behaviour are recorded, together with the time at which the change occurred; but defining a “change” as opposed to a continuation of the previous behaviour is a little subjective and depends on the context and the length of time that the changed activity is pursued, so it made sense for Keith to continue doing this one in the way that he had done
After a lengthy siesta on day two (siestas were to become a feature of our lives: if the animals are doing zippetty doo-daa in the middle of the day, why should we not follow suit?!), we had a short briefing on bush behaviour (what to do if the subject-matter turns nasty, for example: the Earthwatch briefing warns, reassuringly, that these animals are pre-programmed to hate humans - after decades of poaching, who can blame them?) and camping do’s and don’ts (including the contentious question of burning toilet paper in the bush - does it or doesn’t it actually burn?).
Next morning, after a couple of technical hitches (one vehicle’s second tank, the refrigerator - nothing serious…!), we finally hit the road. First destination: a campsite about 60 km east of Sesfontein. Sesfontein had been mentioned sufficiently often in the previous couple of days that I thought it might actually be Somewhere. It isn’t. It’s a petrol station, a scruffy mini-warehouse-style shop with a truly random collection of things for sale (including more varieties of soap than I would have thought strictly necessary for a city-centre Boots, let alone a retail outlet in the middle of nowhere),
a characterless campsite right next to the road, a few huts and a large number of hopeful locals hanging around, all too aware that this is the Last Stop for many an adventurous off-road expedition heading further north and/or west. But the wee shop let us down. We’d discovered after leaving Outjo that the fresh veg had been left behind, but were able to remedy this an hour up the road at Kamanjab; the toilet roll omission hadn’t been discovered until the next morning. No matter: we could get some in Sesfontein, we were assured…. or not. For the first time in the experts´ memory, the Sesfontein shop was out of toilet roll. Cue a detour to the local lodge where we innocently ordered morning coffee, and less innocently visited its “facilities” emerging with a couple of ill-secreted spare toilet rolls. These were then augmented by those that Keith had been able to negotiate from the staff: at N$3 each (as opposed to the usual N$0.95), we thought that this was a price worth paying in the circumstances!
On to Puros, the “metropolis” on the Hoarusib River that was our next destination. When this project began in the mid-1990s,
Puros comprised a couple of huts. Now it has increased dramatically, partly because of the increased tourist trade to the area resulting from the elephants thriving here, but also this year because of the increase in grazing triggered by the record rains that Namibia experienced in the last wet season. Although the area seems almost as remote as is possible to get in this day and age, we hardly ever lost sight of the Himba settlements and/or their herds of cattle, goats and donkeys during our week here.
We quickly got into a routine. We’d wake up to the sound of Athe (the Afrikaans driver of the second vehicle) dismounting from his “bedroom” (for want of a better phrase!) on top of one of the vehicles, re-stoking the fire and putting the kettle on. Rosalind would head off to check up on the sun - or so we teased her after the first day when she spent most of an hour waiting for the ultimate sunrise photo opportunity, only to have the sun eventually show its face when she’d come back to the campfire to replenish her tea mug (we did assure her that it had been rising for
2.5 billion years without her, but we nevertheless appreciated her attempts to ensure that it continued to do so!) - while the rest of us gradually emerged from our tents to stoke up on rusks, tea and coffee around the fire. Then, around 7.30 am, we’d head off in the larger of the two vehicles, leaving Athe to mind the fort, gather more firewood (an occupation that he couldn’t be dissuaded from pursuing, even we were homeward-bound) and, probably, catch a few more zzzz´s, while we went in search of elephant. Around midday or so, depending on whether we could still see elephant to monitor their behaviour (it’s remarkable how 3-5 tons of pachyderm can disappear behind the smallest of bushes or slightest of tree-trunks to avoid the hottest part of the day), we’d come back to camp for a lunch that usually comprised cheese, cold meats, salad and bread (amazingly, almost all of these ingredients stayed fresh enough to last us through ten days in the bush) before veg-ing out in whatever way we pleased: sleeping, reading, bird-watching (we had a lovely variety of birdlife around the camp, including two varieties of hornbill, iridescently-coloured starlings, bulbuls and francolin), laundry
(sooo.. domestic, even in the bush!), etc. If we’d collected any dung that morning or the previous evening, we would start analysing it around 3 pm and then head out for a late afternoon elephant search around 4 pm until the light began to disappear around 5.45 pm. Then we would head back to camp where Keith would compile supper, usually from the pre-made sauces and meats supplied by his contact in Outjo (she had labelled the sauces and meats so that it would be clear which one went with which, but this was too sophisticated for us and we opted for the pick´n´mix approach instead!), together with rice or pasta, while the rest of us prepared for the cooler evening temperature and/or indulged in a shower which I was amazed to find produced hot water if the nice guy that runs the camp had been round to light the donkey while we were out! After dinner, the cards came out, one of Keith’s camping rules being that no-one was allowed to go to bed before 9 pm - a target that we increasingly failed to meet as time went on! Early in the trip we’d learnt/taught a couple of
games, Hearts and Sevens, but soon decided that two was our limit! Besides, games of Hearts could run over into a second day once we started scoring. And they could get nasty: Hearts particularly lent itself to malicious actions, though retribution was usually swiftly handed out - it was certainly a great way to get to know each other!
If this all sounds as if each day was the same, this is far from the truth. Each trip out was very different, governed largely by which elephant we found and what they were doing, but also the particular routes up and down river that we took and the other wildlife that we encountered.
There was the first afternoon when we didn’t see any elephant, but found the recent huge footprints of WKM-21, measuring more than 60 cm in length (cue brief lecture on footprint analysis: aging the print, aging the animal that made it, and working out in what direction and how fast the elephant was travelling).
The next morning we located a sub-adult male and started monitoring his behaviour when he disappeared further down-river and Keith had to move the vehicle for us to be able
to continue working…. when, round a corner, the subject-matter appeared with his pal, ears splayed, trunks up, charging the vehicle completely without warning (cue some pretty nifty driving!).
Later that morning we had our first sighting of the gorgeous “top dog” of this stretch of the Hoarusib, WKM-10, a handsome bull in his early 40s who undeniably rules the roost here and who was still in musth (not that any of the females took any interest while we were watching him!). He is one of the dozen or so animals in this area that have been collared by Keith, and the bulge of the battery pack between his ears and the length of collar hanging down below his chin created distinctive outlines by which we could identify him before we’d become better acquainted. On the morning of the second day, we followed him down from the Gumatun River, a tributary of the Hoarusib, to the main river where he indulged in a lengthy session of drinking, mud-bathing and dusting. We were so engrossed in him that it wasn’t until they were nearly upon us that we noticed the female herd comprising adults, sub-adults and juveniles, approaching from behind us.
(Scarcity of food in this area means that herds are usually small, frequently comprising only single family units. However, from time to time - and without much pattern to it - family units combine for a few days. This is presumed to be for purely social purposes.)
On the Monday morning (day 3) - since giving up work, I really enjoy recording activities that happened on Mondays, particularly at commuting-to-work-time! - we drove a long way upriver to look for other families and bulls. The scenery was spectacular: the blue sky, the golden grasses, the multiple-shades of green vegetation, the red rock of the hills on either side of the valley, the odd flash of water in the riverbed… and only the occasional cattle to remind us that we weren’t the only people on the planet.
That afternoon we encountered the inevitable flip-side of what we were doing: a dead elephant. Keith had been told by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism that there was a dead elephant on this stretch of the river, but it was the first time he had seen it. Although he removed the animal’s lower jaw to be sure (elephant go through
up to five sets of teeth in their lifetime, the newer ones coming in from the back of the jaw and pushing out the worn ones, so analysing the lower jaw is the best way of aging an elephant), he was pretty sure who it was: a sub-adult male whose sibling was one of those who had charged our vehicle earlier on the trip. Yes, it wasn’t the most pleasant sight, but the animal had been dead long enough that most of the flesh (and therefore the awful smell) had gone, leaving the skin hanging loose over the remaining bones, and it was interesting to be able to examine an elephant close up: to look at those huge feet and ears, to learn where in its skull an elephant’s brain is located, and so on. And death is, of course, an inevitable part of nature and conservation work.
That evening, as the moon headed towards the peak of its cycle, the camp fell silent. There were no cricket chirps, the pearl-spotted owl had ceased its distinctive call, and even the noisy francolin had stopped their angry-sounding chattering. Keith was nervous: nothing in the bush happens by accident, there is
always a reason, and we were infected by his anxiety. On the way back to camp that evening, we’d seen WKM-10 sniffing around a water pump in Puros so it was possible that he - with or without the female herd - were in the vicinity, but, if so, they were not close enough for us to hear the giveaway sounds of branches breaking or large stomachs rumbling. The cause still unresolved, we headed off to bed. The next morning, Athe reported seeing a small cat in the branches above his head which Keith thought was probably a genet. Although only small, its presence in the area was probably sufficient to have triggered the eerie silence of the previous night.
On our last full day in the Hoarusib, WKM-10 made an appearance in the camp. I was brushing my teeth by the campfire when I chanced to look up and there, barely 15 feet away was a distinctive outline striding majestically past the edge of our campsite. Out came the behaviour recording sheets without our even having to start up the vehicle, and we followed him across the camp to a large acacia tree under which an Australian/Dutch family
were camping. The parents and younger girl had already made it safely and wisely into their vehicle, but the older girl was marooned on the other side of the camp, unable to get back for her breakfast by the appetite of a vast pachyderm! We eventually took pity on her and sent her back to our campsite with Athe to get some food. In the meantime, WKM-10 was here to stay: the acacia tree still had a large number of pods which, every so often, he would shake to the ground by leaning his head against the tree. We were engrossed. Keith, mindful of the odd things that the ignorant tourist can do in such a situation, used the cover of some bushes away from the elephant and ran to the vehicle to check on its contents, all of whom were, as it happened, enchanted by what they were watching. In due course, WKM-10 moved off, but only to a neighbouring tree where he continued to feed and, usefully, to defecate. After a couple of hours, he finally decided that he was sated for the time being and moved back in the direction of the river, whence we followed him
in the vehicle until he moved out of sight. Then it was dung-collection time and WKM-10 had done us proud. With a second defecation about ten minutes after the first, he had produced a total of 28 kg: talk about getting a load off your mind! This was a record, but meant quite a lot of work for us that afternoon.
Dung analysis. The bit you’ve been waiting for, and the best bit of the trip - well, sort of! If we witnessed an elephant defecating and were able to locate the results, so to speak, we would collect it for analysis. The whole output would be weighed, and two boli (technical term here!) would be taken back to the camp, one for seed analysis and one for moisture evaporation analysis. The latter involved weighing the bolus in its net bag on the day it was collected and at various intervals up to a month later. In the meantime, it was hung up from the branches of a tree to dry out. With a large number of boli drying out, the effect was a bizarre pastiche on a Christmas tree! Seed analysis was where the rubber gloves came out
and was the really fun bit: pulling apart the dung to extract all of the seeds that had passed intact through the elephant’s digestive system in order to work out elephants´ impact on the wider ecological environment in the way that seeds´ germination is expedited by their scenic trip through the elephant’s digestive tract. Actually, it was quite satisfying and not nearly as whiffy as I’d have expected! But I guess you had to be there, and it’s not a skill that I’m going to be adding to my CV!
After nearly a week at the Hoarusib, it was time to move on, though all of us volunteers were sad to leave. It is a stunning, wild, harsh part of the world, but we had got our bearings and were beginning to learn a little bit about its peculiarities. Next stop was the Huanib River, 90 km away - but it is misleading in this part of the world to refer to distance: the driving time involved is more than four hours. We had left tarred roads long behind - at Kamanjab, an hour up the road from Outjo. Although many of the gravel roads were very good, by
the welwitschia gorge
(the ancient plant is visible at the right-hand side of the picture)
this stage we were onto sand and dust, and “grading” wasn’t something that these tracks had ever experienced. Still, it was, once again, a beautifully scenic drive with regular sightings of gemsbok (Namibia’s national animal) and springbok, and, when we got to the Huanib, an almost indecent number of giraffe looking imperiously down on us as they browsed the upper reaches of the trees on the river banks.
En route, we took a brief detour along a canyon where, about 30 feet above us grows the northern-most welwitschia plant of which Keith is aware. I had a lovely time scrambling up there, but my co-volunteers opted to ask for copies of my pictures rather than join me. I discovered there what I was to experience multiple-fold when I clambered up the hill behind our camp in the Huanib: the rock in this part of the world is very deceptive. You have to test every hand- and foot-hold before transferring your weight because more often than not the rock you were about to trust is loose to a greater or lesser degree. Keith’s exhortions from below “three points of contact before you move” were valuable, but needed the clarification that
the three points of contact must be with SOLID rock!!
Just before we reached our new campsite, we encountered the two “lads” of this part of the world, WKM-13 and the collared WKM-14. Although about the same age, WKM-13 is significantly larger and seriously resented his friend’s efforts to steal his food, emitting the occasional rumble and displaying passive aggressive behaviour in his posture. For all the world, they were like petulant children and we wondered why they hung out together. On our last afternoon, we had the chance to watch them for longer and, this time, from the top of a little kopje. It was very amusing watching WKM-13 slowly waking after his midday snooze… and then deciding that it was too much like hard work and going back to sleep again.
That afternoon we headed upriver to see who we could find and to check on the status of the bore holes that keep the animals here supplied with water. We had passed one on our way to camp earlier that day which was not working, but the second appeared to be in a better state of repair. In fact, we took advantage of it ourselves
the next day. There is no permanent campsite in the Huanib and therefore no “facilities”. Everything was “au naturel” and washing was something that could only be done to a very limited extent. Still, it’s amazing how effective splashing bore water from the input pipe to the waterhole over yourself can be, even when done through clothing, when it’s been a day or two since you last encountered water in such profligate quantities!
On the way back to camp that evening, we encountered a lively family group that we were to watch at greater length the next day: WKF-4 and her first and youngest offspring, WKF-4/a1 and /a5, the latter only a month or two old. It was too late to start formally recording their activities, but we watched them, engrossed, nevertheless. Suddenly we realised that WKF-4´s middle child, a notoriously bolshie teenager, was striding towards the back of the vehicle, trunk up and ears splayed, in a show of aggression. Fortunately, it was one of the few occasions when Athe had not joined us for an evening outing, his usual perch being on the roof, so Keith told us not to move and kept the vehicle’s engine switched
off while we waited, breaths held, to see what the young bull would do. He continued striding towards us and, when he reached the vehicle, thumped the spare tyre hard with his trunk. As this triggered no response from us, he continued past the vehicle before giving up on us and venting his aggression on a group of bushes in a truculent manner. Keith’s decision not to move the vehicle had been deliberate: WKF-4/a3 had to learn that he wasn’t going to win every battle.
Given the lack of water, this was not an area where we could stay for long. Reluctantly again - for we had discovered the Huanib to be even more spectacular and far more remote than the Hoarusib - we packed up after our second night and headed slowly back in the direction of civilisation. But first, our reward: an overnight stop at Ongongo, just east of Sesfontein. This is a stunning spot: a natural spring tumbles over a cliff creating a plunge-pool below, and then flows away down the valley. Putting on swimwear was an unnecessary delay: most of us simply jumped into the cool waters of the pool with our clothing on -
after all, it was at least as dusty and dirty as we were! It was truly idyllic. Rocky overhangs provided shelter from the sun, while being sufficiently above water level that banged heads weren’t likely. Gorgeous scarlet dragonflies danced over the water surface and, in the depths below, a small terrapin lurked waiting ruefully for the next tourist to spot him and pull him out into the open air for a few minutes. Of course, we couldn’t expect to have the place to ourselves, but, after the remoteness of the Huanib, it was a bit of a shock to encounter a busload of noisy Spaniards later that day! Still, Rosalind and I managed a second swim in the late afternoon while our European friends were still finding their designer swimwear!
That evening it was sufficiently warm and the area known to be free of the more dangerous type of animals that I was allowed to sleep out (not something that Earthwatch´s insurance would have countenanced in our last camps!). We’d just had a full moon and the moon was now rising after midnight, so the starscape was simply stunning and, as I’d found in the Karoo in March, distractingly
beautiful. I can’t say that I slept that well, but it was wonderful to be outside.
For anyone who’s made it this far, my profuse congratulations and, I guess, another beer is in order. As I’ve said to several people, I’m enjoying writing these blogs so, if anyone actually reads them, that’s just a bonus. Anyway, that’s about all on this project (you may be glad to hear!). The next day we returned to Outjo where we could relax, our only remaining tasks being to wash out all the camping equipment (lots of fun with the hose, but Keith’s dog kept well clear) and to input the data gathered on the 2- and 5-minute studies into the spreadsheets for this year. When the time came to say our goodbyes on Tuesday, it felt like the break-up of a long-established team. It had been a blast, and a truly multi-dimensional experience. Fingers crossed, I’m hoping to go back in October but, if that happens, I’ll try not to repeat myself when it comes to writing up that trip!
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