09/04/04 today is the day when I finally get to meet the meerkats that Helen has been working with
We continued early, leaving well before breakfast which we picked up on the way at Kuruman which is one of the nearest towns to the reserve where the meerkat project is located. Soon after Kuruman we switched to dirt roads. We arrived at the project around 11:30. Everyone was out when we arrived so Andy left me there to go down to where he was staying just down the road. People were very friendly and interested in this new person who had turned up. Apparently they were expecting the arrival of some kind of snake expert so I got asked many times if I was “the snake guy”.
The accommodation at the meerkat project is usually referred to as “the farm” and consists of one main building which is single storey and contains 5 or so rooms. There is a large living room with lots of sofas and books, a kitchen, a computer room and a bathroom. I think there was also a tv room and some bedrooms. Out back there are a number of caravans where some of the volunteers live and where I would be spending the night. There are also a couple of rondavels, traditional round African houses with thatched roofs. Out front there is a garage which also has some sleeping quarters in it. The buildings are sound but deteriorating and appear a bit shabby and dirty (imagine a student house that has seen continuous occupation by a dozen or more students for as many years). The researchers and volunteers who work here seem very comfortable and happy.
Surrounding the farm there are some spaces for games, a basketball hoop and a volleyball court and there is also a kind of swimming pool which appears to be a water tank of some kind. There is also an area with logs for seats for communal eating, braais and bonfires. Beyond that the surrounding area is dessert of rolling dunes with loads of little spiky bushes with yellow flowers and occasional small trees. All in all, more green than I had expected of the desert. The weather was uncharacteristically cold and wet. The spiky plants are called devils thorns and have pretty yellow flowers and incredibly sharp spiky furits/seeds. You have to be very careful not to step on them as they can really hurt your feet. I was still finding the seeds embedded in my shoes years later and thousands of miles away!
After a while Helen returned and I was introduced to lots of people most of whose names I couldn’t tell you. I’ve met lots of them since though and all seem to be really lovely people. Finally I got to go out with Helen on her afternoon visit to her meerkat group and got some lovely pictures.
Later, Andy came back and we had a braai with most of the volunteers followed by a large bonfire which everyone sat around drinking for a while. I spent the night in one of the caravans round the back of the main house which was surprisingly comfortable but also got very cold during the desert night.