I’ve been waiting to share this blog with you for a little over a year. No, really. The author, Louise, regaled me with tales of her Tanzanian camping experiences as a rival our adventures and promised me she’d write about it.
Having read it, there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and I’m delighted to introduce you to her blog, “Camping on the wild side”.
One of the great appeals of camping is that feeling that we’re ‘roughing it’ and getting closer to nature. I’ve been holidaying under canvas since I was about 5 years old and always thought I was a hardened camper – then I moved to Tanzania with a (now ex) boyfriend and realised that my experiences of camping had actually been quite luxurious. As regular readers of this blog will know, the writer’s husband struggles a little with the whole camping experience; I wonder what he’d make of camping on the wild side?
Camping in the west generally involves a trudge up the motorway, a few B roads and then maybe a half mile drive on a slightly bumpy farm track to deposit you on your site of choice. Not so in Africa. Yes, you may start off on Tarmac, but you’ll soon find yourself traversing mountains and gently encouraging your 4×4 to climb boulders and navigate through rivers. Progress is slow and you often have rather dramatic drops off the side of an escarpment. In the rainy seasons, you’ll often move forward, only to slide back again – ever closer to the edge. Not for the faint hearted.
We went to camp with some Maasai once for a weekend of camel trekking and our Tanzanian guide literally gave us directions in the vein of “turn left at that rock”, “go right at that baobab tree” and “just put your foot down and we should be able to get through that river!” – all delivered in a mixture of Swahili and broken English. Exciting!
Having lost signal some hours prior to arriving for our aforementioned adventure, we were literally miles away from civilisation (bar the local Maasai village) and had to drive down a frighteningly steep hill to get to our pitch. It was so frightening that we decided we’d worry about how we’d get the Land Rover back up again when it was time to leave – it took me running in front of the vehicle placing rocks on the floor to give the driver enough traction. I didn’t enjoy that at all.
We had to clear the ground of dropped acacia thorns and shift massive rocks around to give us space to pitch. Our Maasai hosts arrived and watched in wonder as we built our home in about 5 minutes. They’d never seen a tent before, so after some chin scratching and puzzled faces, they walked around hitting it with their sticks, muttering about witchcraft. This soon led to pointing and laughing at us – but you get used to that in Tanzania.
Cooking and supplies
Let’s make no bones about it: if you leave home without something, then you just go without. There’s no local convenience store, no quaint country pub, no handy taps and no option to call out for a takeaway. You need to take gallons of water, fuel for the car, lots of matches, all your food and you have to build your own cooker. No camping stove, no buying a bag of wood from your hosts for £5 – you’re on your own.
Luckily, I’m fairly happy to collect wood and kindling, build a fire and cook on it, but I’m sure not every camper would feel the same. It was nice to cook jacket potatoes in the embers for our hosts too – they spent hours smoothing out the tin foil to take home so they could introduce this ‘food from the gods’ to their clan.
We’ve been in several positions where we arrived at our destination only to wonder if we’d miscalculated our petrol supplies. We never did, but quite frankly, had this ever turned out to be that case, we would have been up a rather smelly creek with not so much as a broken paddle to get us home. We also worried quite a lot about the flash point of petrol, as it was stored in metal containers, sat in a very hot metal box.
You will face two types of weather when camping in Africa; scorching sunshine that makes you sweat off approximately a stone in body weight as soon as the sun comes up, or monsoon type rain that will have your tent floating off if not pegged down securely. It’s not like British rain either, really, believe me, you’ve never known anything like it. It hurts.
Next time you’re at a fairly basic campsite and you turn your nose up at the slightly grimy toilets and showers, consider this…
If you have a closed cubicle, long drop toilet in Africa, you’re extremely fortunate. If you want to wash, a bowl and cold water or water boiled on an open fire is your only option – or a festival wash with wet wipes provides a handy alternative. When we camped with the Maasai our toilet was a long drop, albeit with the luxury of a handcrafted wooden seat, sat in a ramshackle shed – with NO FRONT WALL. That’s right folks, a bathroom with a view. The view was of Kilimanjaro, which was lovely, but the regular stream of local kids herding the family cattle about 20 metres in front of me while trying to go about my business took a bit of getting used to. They would wave and say hi. Not for the shy…
The most exotic wildlife our UK camping expeditions has presented to us thus far was 2 turkeys who were rather intent in disrupting our tent pitching (visit Bobby Bee’s campsite near Scarborough if you want to meet Frank and friend). I found them a bit scary, but that was nothing compared to camping in the sub-Saharan bush.
We’ve witnessed swarms of fireflies which were beautiful, been almost eaten alive by killer ants, shaken scorpions out of our boots and grabbed hold of tree branches only to realise seconds later that very poisonous snakes had also taken a fancy to that natural feature.
On one particular trip to the Usumbara Mountains, I was woken in the night by footsteps around the tent. I gently shook the ex awake and asked if he could hear it too. Bandits are rare but equally a very real possibility in such areas and I didn’t fancy a gun pointing at my head. The ex mumbled in a sleepy fashion that it had been going on for ages, was nothing to worry about and that I should settle back down and get some shut eye. I tried. Really I did. Then I heard a creaking sound and the side of the tent suddenly got a lot closer to my head. I raised my hand and touched the encroaching material, but that wasn’t all I could feel. I felt a big belly, a rib cage and the soft rise and fall of breathing. I nearly had to hunt out the wet wipes.
The next morning we were reliably informed that it would have been a warthog snuffling around. This made me feel a bit better. Then we were told about the cheetah that also liked to prowl the area. This didn’t.
So as you can see, there’s another, more exciting and challenging way to camp than that presented to us by our trusty English version. I highly recommend it, but as the Boy Scouts say: be prepared!