Since when is it May?
By Allie Cerretani (University of Vermont ’15)
The end of data collection in Ehirovipuka Conservancy brought us one of Namibia’s hidden gems. After dropping off the game guards at their homes, Vehi lead us to Okoto, a huge water hole against a cliff face in Orupupa Conservancy. We swam around and floated in this little paradise and watched hundreds of Rosy-faced Lovebirds fly in and out of their nests in the side of the cliff. We had discussion against the backdrop of the cliff and with the chattering of the Lovebirds in the background.
We left for Omatendeka refreshed and ready to crush our last conservancy of data collection. We arrived at the campsite at Omuramba a little tentatively: the last time we were here our tents nearly floated away in the rainstorm. But we figured we could take whatever Omatendeka could dish out.
Unfortunately, Omatendeka had yet another challenge for us. The game drive the next morning started off great: Kim, Bekah, the game guard Gerson and I saw our first African Wild Cat! But then, at the very end of the route, after briefly getting stuck in a river bed and having to push the truck out of sand, our truck Hardy Sue started making an odd noise. We stepped out of the truck to see what was wrong and discovered that the wheel on the front right side was seriously angled towards the truck – a connecting piece on the axle had completely snapped off. Hardy Sue was immovable, and we weren’t in network range, so we waited while Gerson worked to fix the tire. After about four hours, he figured out how to tie up the axle with rope so it would not fall off. It was some impressive work, and we set off at a snail’s pace back to camp.
After driving about 20 meters, Vehi appeared to save the day, and took Hardy Sue off to a bush mechanic to get fixed. This was the end of Omatendeka, we thought; we were sure of it. We drove back to camp in our other truck with a heavy heart, sad that our data collection had to end on such a sour note. But, hours later, Vehi arrived back with good news! He had found a bush mechanic in a nearby village who welded the part and saved Hardy Sue. We were ecstatic! We crushed a game drive the next morning. During the drive, we saw two small, unknown carnivores dart across the road… perhaps Aardwolves, according to Bekah.
We headed to our next campsite at the Omatendeka Hunting Camp that afternoon. Hardy Sue was still having some small issues with her 4×4, so we had to push her out of a riverbed when she got stuck, but otherwise the journey was a success. We saw a large diversity of wildlife the next day on our game drive, including giraffe, black-backed jackals, springbok, oryx, steenbok, ostrich, zebra, and a ton of birds. That afternoon, while watching swarms of crickets scurrying around on the ground, we thought about how funny it would be to line them up like they were us. We had visions of crickets in a water basin with a big rock next to it, with the caption “we went swimming at the Okoto water hole!” and crickets sitting around a burning matchstick: “We cooked dinner around the fire.” We couldn’t resist the opportunity, so we decided to round up eight of them, one for each of us, and take a picture. This was easier said than done – we spent half an hour putting them into a pile while they ran away from each other. Apparently these crickets hate each other, and we forgot to take that into account. We were unsuccessful, but we all had a good laugh.
The next day was our last day in Omatendeka Conservancy and our last day of data collection. We crushed a half game drive, half point count with all of us and no game guards. We fought our way through sticky grass to reach the most awesome point count ever with the most phenomenal view. We counted klipspringer, zebra, giraffe, oryx, kudu, and eland. After launching some pesky crickets off the mountain that were trying to get into our snacks and taking a commemorative picture, we headed back to camp to pack up and drive back to Wereldsend. We said good-bye to Cliff, who Bekah took back to Warmquelle, and the rest of us piled into Vehi’s truck.
On the drive back, we encountered a big, stoic male kudu right next to the road, as well as a herd of elephants! We ate giraffe (a gift from the conservancy) and dumplings for dinner, glad to be back at our home-away-from-home. The next day we made crepes for breakfast and spent the day banging out our Grinnell Journal assignments. We walked the 25 minutes to Wereldsend spring in the late afternoon to retrieve the camera trap, while Bekah and Vehi went and got the camera at Collin’s Spring. We captured pictures of a brown hyena and a rhino at Collin’s (before said rhino knocked over the camera), and a herd of elephants at Wereldsend. The next day, Gail came by with the puppy she’s currently taking care of, and we watched the puppy while Gail went to Palmwag. She’s a sad, pathetic little thing: she was on the edge of death when Gail found her, and now all she does is sleep. But we got our puppy fix, and Vehi ended up taking her home. And now we head into finals week, and the last stretch of our Namibian adventure.
When I first arrived in Namibia, I thought about how long three months would feel, and how, come May, I would be ready to see my family and friends from home after having only minimal contact with them. Yet now it’s May, and I would give anything to stay in this country even longer. I’m not prepared to go back to nights when I can’t see the Milky Way and to leave behind days when we don’t see another soul, just fields of springbok, oryx and zebra. Molly, Kim, Emma and I have come to the conclusion that over these past three months, we have been the most consistently happy we have ever been. No drama, minimal stress, and the beauty of this place make it hard to be unhappy, quite frankly. I have learned more about conservation, people, culture, and myself during this experience than I have learned throughout my entire life, and I’m not quite ready to leave that behind.