I found GoEco’s Desert Wildlife Program, while searching for different wildlife volunteer opportunities, as I love animals and love to be close to nature as much as possible. I also wanted to not only travel and see a foreign culture from the outside as a tourist would most of the time, but to get involved and to do something meaningful while traveling. GoEco’s program offered everything that I was looking for and even more. I was in the program during the last 2 weeks of December 2016.
It was well organized, the pre-departure information that I received had every detail that I needed, and everything went smooth.
On the day of the orientation in Jerusalem, our coordinator Yan – who was very helpful – spoke to us extensively about Israeli culture, customs and what to expect in general. Although at that time, some of the information he was sharing seemed like I would not need it, I have to admit that later on I needed every bit so it proved to be extremely useful. It helped me to understand easily some situations and people’s behavior and to deal better with cultural differences.
After orientation, he has shown us around in the old city of Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda Market and also took us to one of the best places to have falafel. The next day we took the bus all the way down to the wildlife reserve, a 4 and half hour ride.
After getting to the reserve we were taken to our house, where we cleaned and unpacked. Everyone was a bit tired from the bus ride and we were focused on getting accustomed to the place that was going to be our home for the next two weeks. As we stepped out of the house we saw the mountains in the background, the sunset, and right next to us ostriches and addaxes were roaming or just lying peacefully in the last rays of the desert sun.
The next day was a regular workday, so we started at 7 am. Meeting the rangers was a whole new experience. They seemed very tough and coarse at first sight, but I soon realized that they all have good hearts. After spending some time with them, they showed us what truly kind and amazing people they are.
On a regular workday we worked from 7 am to 2 pm, with several breaks. We cleaned the cages, prepared food and fed the animals, checked if they were healthy and if everything was ok with them and their living conditions. We also cleaned the facilities, bathrooms, BBQ area and freezers. Sometimes we did a little gardening work or maintenance work. The physical activity was not overly strenuous, it was just enough to give us a sense of a good open air workout.
The weather was awesome (this was in December) and I even got a little tan. In the afternoons we were free to do what we wanted. Some of us chose to stay with the rangers and helped with the night feeding of the predators. Others were taken back to the house, where we could relax, cook, listen to music, sunbathe, have tea, coffee or catch up with friends and family. The house was fully furnished and had everything we needed. We could go any time to Eilat, taking the local bus, where we could go to the beach, shopping or eat at restaurants.
On Fridays and Saturdays we had free time. I took the opportunity to experience what the area had to offer, so I went on a camel trek in the desert, had dinner in a Bedouin tent, went to the Marine Observatory and the coral reef beach and also went on a jeep tour to see the sunset in the desert and take some great photos. I also learned about Jewish customs such as Hanukah and tried some of the best fresh Medjool dates ever.
Since we were there for New Years Eve, we decided to celebrate it as usual, so we went out to a great restaurant for dinner in the Eilat Marina and then ended up in a sports bar that had live music. We even saw fireworks at midnight.
When the time came to say goodbye, I realized that 2 weeks were definitely not enough to explore everything that this place has to offer. I loved every minute of it – the warmness of the sun, the peacefulness of the desert and of the animals, the kindness of the people I have met, the wonderful mix of sights, tastes and sounds and all kinds of experiences that were sometimes challenging and sometimes comforting. I would like to thank Go Eco, my fellow volunteers and everyone at the reserve for making this a one in a lifetime experience for me.