why EHRA?

Time to kick off the Africa posts!  The first one is pretty simple…most people ask me why I decided to head to Africa and work with elephants, so we’ll start there.



So a mini-background on what EHRA is…it stands for Elephants-Human Relations Aid, and it helps to promote positive relationships between elephants and humans in Namibia.  Namibia is a desert, so as the elephants wander and look for water, they sometimes come across the water tanks that the farmers have for clean water, and then they destroy them with their tusks in order to get water.

P1040136 Oops?

This doesn’t make the humans very happy, and they then want to shoot an elephant to help solve the problem.  Of course, these elephants usually have tusks (ivory=$$$) and meat (=food), so that helps the cause as well.  Elephants have their own troubles as a result of poaching, so killing them isn’t exactly the best answer.  EHRA came around to help solve the problem, by building walls around the water tanks so elephants couldn’t reach them, making everyone just a little bit happier.

P1040133 The progress on the wall when we got there.

So, back to the point.  After heading to Costa Rica two years ago for surf camp (which one blog reader emailed me about and attended this summer, hi Jessica!), I realized that I liked to be doing something on vacation versus just touring museums and seeing the sites or laying on a beach.  That’s always fun too, but I like to say that a vacation isn’t necessarily a vacation unless I come back with bruises/scars.  (Please see Colorado and New Hampshire for proof…)

In case you haven’t been around long enough to realize that I love elephants…I do.  At almost all times, I carry a small stuffed elephant named Gatsby around with me.  I can’t necessarily say why I love elephants, but they’ve been my favorite animal ever since I can remember.

One day I started googling trips with elephants, volunteer with elephants, etc, etc.  At the same time, I was looking at the Discover Outdoors website, a company that runs hikes, bike rides, etc around NYC.  They have an “adventure causes” section of their website, which is where I found this.  I think we have a winner.

But why did I pick this one?

Well…I liked that it wasn’t just seeing the elephants, but helping them too.  You can do other projects in Africa that involve volunteering at elephant sanctuaries, but EHRA is helping the wild desert elephants, which I think is a little more important that just preserving elephants because they’re elephants.

I get a little nervous traveling by myself, especially to new countries.  Heading to Costa Rica for surf camp taught me that traveling with a group of people, even if you don’t know a single thing about any of them before you show up, is a great way to travel.  The people who do these things are fairly like-minded and easy to get along with, so it’s a great way to travel.

Nick, one of my friends from college, is currently living and working in Nairobi, and ever since he’s been in Africa (about two years now), he’s been mentioning coming to visit to see elephants.  Fun fact, friends:  Don’t mention that I could come visit because I eventually will.  If you don’t live as far as Africa, it will probably take less than two years.  (This is the time where you all invite me to visit…ha.)  Anyway, I figured if I was going to buy a plane ticket to Africa ($$, let me tell you), I might as well stay a bit longer and visit Nick.  Newsflash:  Africa is a big place…a REALLY big place, but so is flying over the Atlantic Ocean, so while you’re there, you might as well stay awhile.

It was something completely different than being in Manhattan.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living in NYC,  but most people who live here will probably tell you that it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship.  When I left, I was leaning a little bit more towards the hate spectrum, and work was definitely getting to me…a welcome  break that was nothing like life here.

So, add those all up, and you get a fun little (long?) trip to Africa.

What’s that?  You want more pictures?  Okay, fine…

P1040151 Desert sunset.

P1040170 Rock collecting.

P1040761 Elephants.

P1040583 New friends.

P1040484 Did I mention elephants?

Now what about running??

Clearly this is a running blog, and most people in the running world know that the elite of the elite in our sport come from Africa.  (I love you, Kara, Shalene, Dathan, Galen, etc…but it’s often true…)  Before I left (and when I got back), many people asked if I was going to head to any of the major running communities in Africa or if I was going to do any running in Africa.

Believe it or not, although I absolutely love running more than anything else (even elephants…), not all my traveling has to revolve around it.  My travels usually involve heading to a new place for marathons (Big Sur, Twin Cities), and although I think it’s a great way to travel, this year hasn’t exactly been going my way in the running world.  I’ve actually been thinking about doing this trip for a long time, but taking three weeks out of marathon training would really place a toll on a race.  After six months of back problems when I wasn’t sure when/if I’d ever be running again, I decided that it was time to stop putting off this trip.  I wasn’t going to salvage any marathon this year, so it was time to go.

Clearly many people run while traveling…but honestly, this trip wasn’t about that.  I don’t think I would have been able to run while in Namibia.  For the first week, we were working hard to build a wall with long days.  For the second week, we were out on patrol in the wild.  Wild animals (such as elephants…) don’t like when things go running past them.  I never asked, but I don’t think I would have been allowed to run.  As for being in Kenya and Ethiopia, I didn’t see a single person out running.  I did see an ad featuring Haile in the Addis Ababa airport, but that was about it.  Despite being where the elites come from, it seemed as though people don’t run.  And as a white female, I wasn’t about to put on my short shorts and run around the streets…so there’s that.

did i miss it?

It was a little odd going into a group of brand new people who didn’t know that I run.  I identify much more as a runner than I do as a nurse, but when you meet people, they ask what you do for work and not what you do for fun.  It was strange going from talking about running every single day with all my runner friends…to not.  And not even running.

That being said, for the first two weeks, I didn’t miss running at all.  We were busy most of the time, and I went into the trip thinking I wouldn’t be running, so I had that mindset from the beginning.  Running is usually my time to myself to think (or social time with a friend), and since I journal all my trips, I spent my time with my thoughts in paper form versus using my legs.  The only time I really missed it was when the elephant trip was over and we were driving back to Swakopmund, where the hostel was for the beginning/end of the trip.  It’s a three hour-ish drive back to Swakop, and I wanted a run to think about the trip as a whole.

As I said above, Kenya and Ethiopia weren’t outwardly the most welcome places to run.  Plus, I was attempting to travel light for this trip (thanks for majorly helping with that, Jocelyn!) and bringing running clothes/shoes for only a day or two would have been a bit much.  (I know, I know, who am I???)

Needless to say, I’m back and ready, ready, READY to run.  But more on my plan for that later…

What’s that?  You want more elephant pictures?  You got it.

P1040505 Baby.

P1040509 Trunk action shot.

P1040515 Are you my family??

P1040748 View from the trucks.

Have you been to Africa?  Tell me you like elephants.  Or other animals.  Do you always run on vacation?  Want more elephant pictures?

Stayed tuned for the next edition! 

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  1. says

    How awesome! Never been to Africa, though my dad worked in several African countries when I was growing up. (Though it was Nigeria, Libya, etc…not the safest.)

    Come visit. 😀 But not in the summer. Because then you might be like my sister and half-seriously pledge to never come back.

  2. says

    so, so awesome. I want to do something like this so badly, but for now I will live vicariously. Keep the editions coming! :)

  3. Jessica says

    Susan! This is so amazing! This sounds like an incredibly rewarding trip – how COOL! Maybe I’ll just follow you everywhere and end up doing a trip like this as well :) Thanks for the shout out – I dream about Pura Vida daily!!

  4. says

    The baby elephants seriously make me squeal with delight. I love elephants. Please give us MORE elephant pictures.

  5. says

    Wow, that sounds like such an amazing experience!! I went to Tanzania and Kenya this summer and was completely blown away. I volunteered at an orphanage for a week, went on safari, climbed kili and finished off with a week kitesurfing in Zanzibar. The entire trip felt like one big highlight but seeing so many elephants, from 2 week old bubbas to the grand old matriarchs in their natural habitat was unbelievable. I LOVE THEM! Normally I will always try and do a little running sightseeing but I didn’t run either (apart from on the way down from kili; so relieved and hyped up to have completed the climb, and desperate to finally have a hot shower); you just can’t guarantee your safety. Plus I was completely exhausted most of the time – so much to take in!

  6. says

    awesome pictures-and honestly, i think, good for you for checking out of running for a few weeks. i’ve yet to do that on vacation. I usually have great intentions to run most of the time i’m gone, but usually end up running only 1 day. but sadly, most of my trips are running trips. my 2 non running trips were to NYC. both times, i only ran once. walking around that much is exhausting enough :) so glad you had a good time too. can’t wait to see more!

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