Notes on Camp
I wanted to camp out on this trip because it’s a chance to get really close to the animals; I wanted to experience sleeping under the wide African sky, awash with stars. I wanted to eat breakfast in the cool, thin air and spend the evening around a campfire with water buffalo snorting and tearing at the grass just beyond the campsite. One night I sat up just in time to see a jackal trot by the front of my tent in the light of the full moon. You won’t see those kinds of things when you stay in a lodge.
And it was cheaper.
Of course there’s a downside to all this “nature.” Because I wasn’t accustomed to camping, I was slightly unprepared for nighttime. I saw “flashlight” on the list of things to bring, but couldn’t imagine what I would use it for so didn’t bring one. When night fell, I understood what it was for, but I didn’t let it cramp my style. Going to the bathroom in the dark required tagging along with one of my more prepared campmates (which was recommended anyway, in case of an animal encounter, presumably so if one person was brutally mauled the other could go for help). That wasn’t bad. Also, there happened to be a full moon, so I could just leave the door open and do my business, then nonchalantly buddy up for the way back.
I noticed but did not imitate all the other campers taking their shoes off before stepping into their tent, and so ended up with some mud next to my sleeping bag. I didn’t want to get my socks dirty, so since I wasn’t sharing with anyone, I just used my shoe to brush it to the other side of the tent. Problem solved. Look how resilient and resourceful I am!
There was one couple who were really smug. They were poo-pooing my concern over the method of washing vegetables in tap water at the campsite and grousing over the price of a slice of cheese on a hamburger (“it’s a dollar!”). They had all the camping equipment anyone could need, water filters, fast-drying towels, high-tech, wicking clothes, and those goofy-headlamp things that make you look like a miner. They left their towels behind at the very first campsite we stayed at and had to use dirty clothes to dry themselves off until we swung back by the campsite and picked up the towels at the END of the safari. She glared at me the one day we could do laundry when I whipped out my Tide-To-Go while she sat there trying to get her bio-degradable detergent to suds (she was washing the clothes they had used for “towels). Ha! Let’s see them find and apply eye cream, lip balm and moisturizer in a pitch black tent like I did! Oh, and my cotton towel that I rooked from NYSC stayed with me the entire trip, and always dried by the next morning, thanks very much. Oh, yeah and my Gap khakis that were hung on a tree branch overnight looked crisp and fresh the next day. At least one day they did.
I’m sure everyone was snickering over my suitcase with wheels, which was useless in the campsites, but I was able to carry my bag to the equipment truck myself. In fact, our driver, Mike, always put my bags in last because he said they were the lightest. Ha!
By the third day I was able to squat and poop in the latrines (and hit the hole!), and could take a cold shower without gasping and actually feel clean and refreshed afterward.
Everyone else was getting eaten up by mosquitos and flies. We were warned repeatedly not to wear blue or black on the game drives in the Serengeti, as tsetse flies are very attracted to blue and black. There are large swatches of blue and black fabric doused with poison hanging from trees all over, the tsetse flies go straight to them and are killed. I forgot and wore a blue tank top with a black fleece and applied insect repellant only sparingly and did NOT get stung once by anything. The entire trip.
Yes, I can camp. Part of me just wanted to see if I could do it, if I could survive in a tent with no flashlight or fast-drying towel. If I could sleep on the hard ground with only a sleeping bag and thin foam pad beneath me and bounce around all day in a safari truck with no seatbelts. I’m pleased to report my back and neck did not hurt until the return trip when I started using the computers in the AirFrance business-class lounge (ergonomics, anyone?).
And the best thing I learned? Now that I know I can do it, I never, EVER have to do it again.