This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Namibia with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) where I acted as a Trainee Leader. Over a six-week period I was responsible for the welfare and instruction of a team of 16-18 year olds.
I arrived at London Heathrow airport on the 15 July at 4pm where I met the rest of the Trainee Leader (TL) team. The journey took two days including a transfer from Johannesburg airport to Windhoek, a night in Okahandja and a quick stop in Uis where we collected the six and a half tonnes of rations for the duration of the expedition. We arrived at the site allocated to be base camp (BC), which was at the base of the Brandberg Massif. On approaching, BC we became more and more isolated, with the quality of the roads deteriorating to dirt tracks. As a result 50 metres away from the site the truck got stuck in the sand, and we had to release air from the tyres in order to recover the vehicle. The week prior to the young explorers (YE’s) arrival we carried out an inventory of the rations, prepared various menus for each phase, built the ‘ops room’ and established BC before working on our individual leadership styles. The highlight of the week was scrambling a peak, 800m above sea level, where we were being followed by a pack of curious baboons.
We were very excited by the time our YE’s arrived and spent the first week in BC teaching various lessons such as how to use the communications kit, refresher stove lessons and predator deconfliction. Time flew by and before we knew it my team, Ratel, was away on the Canyons to Coast trek. We had seven days to walk 120km across the Namibian desert. Our first day on the trek went a little awry as the walk was supposed to be a short 16km to ease us into the walking; by the end of the day though we’d managed 25km! The route chosen was thought to be relatively flat but 10km in, we realised the maps weren’t read correctly and discovered the only features 50 metres and higher were included on the map. This was slightly disheartening for the YE’s as we were faced with what seemed to be never ending ascents and descents. Nevertheless we made it and happily collapsed into our tents that night.
During the week we climbed a 949m peak, visited part of the Ugab River, to see some wildlife, and made it to the coast. It was a challenging yet rewarding week in which I learnt a great deal about leadership, and how big a part morale is in keeping the team together. There was also plenty of wildlife seen throughout the expedition including ostriches, chameleons, scorpions, snakes, springbok, desert hares and zebra. It was a fantastic week that had us all very excited to start the next phase of the expedition in the Brandberg.
Initial research previously stated that there were one to four pieces of rock art in the area we were going to be searching in. On our first day however, we found over 10 drawings. It was very exciting to be finding brand new pieces to document and feed back to the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) for their future use. Our time spent in the Brandberg varied from surveying areas of rock looking for new art and documenting pieces we had found to generally exploring our new environment. Our original advanced BC had elevation of 780m but then we started to find the rock art was mostly lower down and actually closer to BC than we had thought. It was a shame we realised this after we had taken 450 litres of water up there- all part of being on a new expedition though! As a result we created more advanced BCs which were amongst the drawings. Lots of wildlife was seen here too. Before we knew it, our time was over. This was the end of my YE’s expedition as they were only here for three weeks. Although it was sad to see them go it meant I could relax a bit more knowing I had nine less people to worry about. I was privileged with a 3 litre wash after they left and was back in the stores tent sorting rations and doing an inventory of the remaining food.
My last two weeks were spent going back over the found rock art so far and sorting out the duplicate forms, checking missing information and double-checking the GPS co-ordinates recorded. Once all these tasks were completed we were given the opportunity to go on a three-day trek to the wetlands area north of BC. Some good wildlife had been seen there too, such as four rhinos and so on the 19 August, we left. In our first afternoon we saw cows, kudus and warthogs, which was amazing. In addition we also spotted a bat eared fox rummaging through our rubbish bag at night. We had high hopes for the next day, and we were right to; we had twenty kudu and thirty-three elephant sightings! It was incredible. We recorded all the information from the two herds of elephants to go towards the research project and it was a great experience watching them all day. The following day the elephants had moved on and so we spent the morning looking at their tracks and exploring the perimeter of the wetlands. The destruction the elephants had caused was impressive. This was a great ending to the expedition and we returned to a delicious feast prepared for us by the Namibian support party.
All in all it was an excellent expedition in which I was able to develop my leadership style yet still had the time to relax and explore. I really enjoyed being a TL as it gave me a group which I was responsible for, and was very rewarding hearing how much they enjoyed their time and wanted to return as a TL in the future.
Words by Sasha Kirkham
23 October 2012