Saturday, 30 April 2011

Camping in Africa

Camping in Africa is a unique experience.  There is a common saying around here: TIA – “This is Africa”.  Expectation is everything and that is often the key to the enjoyment of a particular campsite.  If you are not expecting a shower and there is one, suddenly, it’s a fab campsite.  If you were expecting hot showers and flushing toilets but if there is no water, the campsite plummets in the popularity stakes even if it has the best bar.  Patience is a critical virtue.

The purpose of overlanding is to travel great distances through countries and regions and allow you to traverse areas that are normally difficult to reach.  Everything is stored on the truck (don’t upset the driver by calling it a bus…) and so it becomes your home from home.  Our truck has a tour leader, driver and cook.  Many of the cheaper overlanding trips skip out the cook and rely on the passengers but I highly recommend having a cook as your meals will end up far more interesting and varied.  I’m not sure your fellow passengers are going to get up early to make you pancakes or eggs to order.

Hygiene is of big concern in this part of the world and so very strict rules are in place in regards to food and its preparation.  A three bowl washing system is in place for hands – dettol soap wash, dettol rinse followed by normal rinse.  The washing of dishes also goes through a similar process and ends with a boil rinse which requires the use of tongs to protect the hands.  “Tonging” is one of my favourite jobs.  For me it ranks above “flapping” – the art of shaking dishes to dry them.  Although, if planned correctly “flapping” can include a full upper body work out.  Don’t forget to bring plenty of hand moisturiser.

With an $8 pp per day budget for food, the cook (Emmanuel for the first two weeks and now Simon) requires ingenuity.  Our favourites have been the many avocado salads for lunch, the African goat stew and the regular fresh passion fruit and pineapple for dessert.  The cook uses local markets and supermarkets as we travel along.  We are hoping to take over the kitchen for a day in Malawi or Zimbabwe and go shopping and put together a feast of our own.

The tents on this trip are unexpectedly large (a pleasant surprise).  As they are all two man tents, one of the most important decisions for the solo traveller to make is that of a tent companion.  Helen and I made a beeline for each after the introductory meeting – we both recognised that we were the sanest solo travellers on the trip.  This partnership is proving to be a great success. We have a hitting policy in place for snoring and, excluding week one’s 53 year old Taiwanese lady, are the fastest at getting our tent up and down.  Our tent is also the best equipped with double layer mattresses, bug spray and air freshener.

The best campsites have warm showers, sit down toilets and a bar with wireless internet.  Preferably we also arrive before dark and can shower without battling the mosquitoes.  As much as it sometimes feels irritating to be constantly putting the tents up and down, I have had my best sleeps in the familiarity of the tent rather than some of the basic hotels.  That would exclude the beach bungalow in Zanzibar as Helen and I appeared to have been upgraded – yippee!

Camping is a great way to reduce one’s alcohol intake.  You have to consider whether or not you fancy a middle of the night excursion or two… bad enough on your average campsite but a little more concerning when you are camping in hippo territory, or in the middle of the Serengeti…, or on the one night in every couple of months when the river flies come out to play.

One aspect where I do not excel is hand washing clothes.  However, I have seen the future and it is not garlic bread – it is laundry service!  There are often locals who will happily do your washing for a few bob and this saves spending your free afternoon elbow deep in dirty clothes.

All in all, camping in Africa requires a sense of humour, patience and willingness to adapt and get involved.  You can also make life easier for yourself by buying the crew a round of drinks every couple of days.  Goodwill goes a long way… all the way in fact, to a beach bungalow.

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