I am not a camper, nor I do I claim to be. I don’t get along with the outdoors, I hate bugs, and I am not exactly one for roughing it. The last times I camped were back in elementary and high school, for girl scouts and music festivals, and after those experiences, I retired from sleeping in a tent.
In fact, last year, when my travel doctor asked me if I would be camping during my time in South East Asia, I almost laughed in her face, and said, Lady, I don’t even camp around here, what makes you think I’m camping in another country?
Fast forward to six months later, after my excursion to South East Asia. I began looking up trips to Africa, finally deciding I was ready to visit the magical continent of my dreams. I booked a tour with Gecko’s Adventures, not entirely realizing I’d be camping for sixteen out of twenty-one days. This came as quite a shock when I read over my trip itinerary one last time, after I had already paid for it.
I considered backing out, but, I figured I’d be fine. Having camped in the past, how different could this really be?
This was camping in Africa.
Yes, the Africa I had spent years dreaming about, a place I was fascinated with. The number one place I had desired to visit since the beginning of my existence. The place of vast landscapes, rich culture, tribal people, big smiles, wildlife safaris, wide-open savannas, sunsets over the African plains…I could go on for days.
But, in speaking with friends, family members, and even strangers, I began to hear all kinds of opinions as I explained my dream trip to them. Immediately, their faces began to turn. You’re going to Africa? Alone? And, camping? Ugh, why would you want to do that?
To a lot of people, this was Africa, the continent of rebel soldiers, civil war, mosquitoes, blood diamonds, tsetse flies, malaria, terrorist attacks, Ebola, political instability, famine, poverty, the HIV & AIDS epidemic, Somalian pirates, genocide, and dangerous animals, to name a few. Let’s be honest, Africa, doesn’t have a great rep.
Sure, prior to booking my trip, and visiting the travel doctor, these were the exact opposite of my African thoughts. However, after listening to the worries of some of the people around me, who thought I was crazy for going to Africa, and going alone, I have to admit that some of their opinions began to stir around in my mind.
What if I did pick up a deadly disease?
What if I got attacked by a wild animal?
What if I was captured by rebels, like that episode on Locked Up Abroad?
I’m not proud of these thoughts and moments; they are not my own. But, after hearing multiple people, who feel this way, speak their mind and make faces about your decisions, it’s almost impossible not to begin having fears.
Instead of completely panicking, which I almost did once or twice, okay maybe more than that, I tried to ignore what others had to say. This was easy to do since the most important people in my life were the ones who reminded me why I was taking this trip in the first place.
Then, while getting ready for my trip, I prepared for the worst, and hoped for the best. And, the best is exactly what I got. To start, I thought I’d be bush camping the entire trip, and when I arrived at our camp in Vic Falls, I found quite the opposite.
Sure, it wasn’t the Four Seasons, but I didn’t want it to be, and more importantly, it didn’t have to be. It was simple, and there were showers and toilets, and even though the water was ice cold and time in the shower was spent swatting away mosquitoes, I was happy to at least have these facilities.
In fact, aside from one night in the Delta and a night in the mountains of Namibia, we had facilities such as these in every camp site.
The further down the continent we moved, the better the facilities got. But, no matter what the conditions of the bathroom, I could take a shower every day, and even though the dirt would just stick back on my wet feet as I made my way back to my tent, at least I was somewhat clean.
To be honest, we weren’t all that clean the entire trip. The bus was dirty, our tents were dirty, and our clothes were dirty. Towards the end, we didn’t even bother to care. The samples of dirt collected from each campsite seemed to grow in our tent, clothes, truck, and shoes. Even now, the shoes I took with me occasionally pour out dirt and sand from somewhere in Africa, not that I mind.
But, it was moments like these, that I actually felt more in touch with Africa. Those and the nights where jackals would gather outside the tents and howl at each other; the lions growling in the background. Not knowing what would be outside the tents in the morning when we’d wake up. The general feeling of not knowing what to expect with each new day.
Sure, sleeping on the ground each night wasn’t my cup of tea. Especially when the mats were thin, and the ground was often hard and rocky. The nights we were in the desert and the temperatures dropped weren’t too fun either. Even three pairs of pants and six shirts (including thermals), a sleeping bag liner, and a down sleeping bag weren’t enough to keep me warm.
Sure, not leaving the tent in the middle of the night to use the bathroom for fear of what was waiting outside the tent is not something I miss. That and actually taking down and putting up the heavy canvas tents. To be honest, the only day that Jade and I were successfully able to do this completely on our own, was the very last day of camping before we headed to Cape Town.
It was on that morning, that I vowed never to camp again, cursing the muddy canvas of the tent we were forced to pack into its tiny canvas bag. Yet, now that I’m home, not watching everyone eat breakfast while I struggle to take down my tent, I find myself missing sleeping outside close to nature. I miss the simple routines of each day.
There’s something about fully immersing yourself in the outdoors and sleeping under the stars that draws you closer to the earth. I miss eating dinner huddled around a campfire each night, then lying out looking at the great African sky full of stars, more than I’ve ever seen. Then the simplicity of zippering myself into my tent, crawling into my sleeping bag, and falling asleep to the sounds of the African night, which often included the unwanted, but somehow comforting, sounds of snoring from those on my tour.
While my experience camping may have taken me completely out of my comfort zone, and was probably one of the more difficult activities I’ve chosen to do in my life, I truly believe that it was the best way to see Africa. Even when my group-mates and I were jealous of the luxurious rooms set on the waterhole at our campsite in Etosha National Park. Yes, it would be nice to see Africa that way, but I don’t think we would have fully experienced what Africa is.
By camping, we were able to fully experience the beauty of each country we visited, and by driving through each country, we were able to truly appreciate everything that is Africa. For that, I am truly grateful.
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*Special thanks to Rae, who took the picture of our Victoria Falls camp, since I neglected to take one…opps!