If you are considering going on an overland Africa tour, I share my experience of camping in Africa on a 5-week budget trip from South Africa to Zanzibar with Africa Travel Co
My Experience of Camping in Africa – Day One
I am now officially a backpacker! I have left the luxury and comfort of my king size bed to sleep on a top bunk and have waved goodbye to the single, alone tourist and embraced my ‘look at me travelling by myself' backpacker ego.
But there are a few lessons I have realised on the way to my new status…
Lesson 1 – Stop looking scruffy. Just because you're a backpacker doesn't mean you have to wear tatty, tramp like clothes. (memo to myself to buy new clothes and dump the hideous brown t-shirt).
Lesson 2 – Keep the safari wear for the safari and don't wear around town (not a good look).
Lesson 3 – Don't forget to put sunblock on your hands.
p.s husband number 2 is definitely not on this tour: just a group of Chinese, too many couples and a bloke called Andy.
Tomorrow, wine tasting and my first night in a tent on my African camping adventure…
It's crazy how quickly you can make friends when you are travelling. There were more people on our trip than I had initially thought (only half had come to the pre-departure meeting in Cape Town).
We were now 28, two to be replaced in Namibia by the Russians. Everyone was dreading the new dymanics of the group and it was now split in two with myself being torn between the groups (having a Russian doctor as a tent mate meant I had one foot in the Russian camp).
Armed with cameras like bazookers, they were on a mission; to photograph everything that moved, including me putting up the tent and me actually in the tent. I could see the flash of light in through my window and heard the Russian laughter. This was going to be fun…
Thanks goodness for the crazy Swiss guy who would give Jackass a run for their money, the Danish couple who drink until they drop and a fellow Brit who cracks me up from dawn to dusk. The only way I can keep sane…
Insects in Namibia
I awoke to a huge thud. Then a small scratching sound.
I lay there still, rigid with fear, my ears on full alert wondering where the source of the noise was coming from. It was pitch black and my eyes couldn't adjust to the darkness around me.
My instinct was to reach for my torch but my arms were cocooned in my sleeping bag. I wanted to wake my Russian roomie but I couldn't make a sound. Frozen in the thought that a Crocroach had just landed in our tent. (A crocroach is the daddy of all cockroaches; half crab/half crokcroach, it flies like a ball and would do Some serious damage if it hit you.)
But the tent was like Fort Knox and nothing was getting past the barracaded door – I was taking no chances. I slipped deeper into my bag so only my face was exposed.
‘Whatever it was, it definately was not getting in here,' I thought to myself as I tried to switch of the sound and get some well needed sleep.
This was my first night within the Nambia Desert. We had waved goodbye to the civilisation of South Africa and welcomed the scenic landscape of Namibia. The only downside to this spectacular country were the creatures that inhabited this dry desert – amptly named Namib, meaning empty.
And empty it was, just desert, a few shrubs and then, even more desert. We had sampled the crisp fruity wines of the Capelands; swam in the Orange River which borders South Africa and neighbouring Namibia; and had witnessed our first sunset over Fish River Canyon (the world's second largest canyon.) Now, we had set up camp by the lights of the milky way and were miles from anywhere with just creeply crawlies for company.
I had congratulated myself for taking a shower, dodging flying beetles and felt a sense of relief when I closed the door on my flying foes, only to be greeted by a half scorpion/half spider (what is it with these mutants?) leisurely roaming around the shower block.
I never knew such insects even existed.
This was real Africa.
I was now on their territory and I have never tread so carefully in my life; jumping at everything that moved or landed on me. Now I know, just how Sunita felt in the jungle. But at least, I can zip up my tent at night and keep the monsterous bugs at bay (if only just for a few hours).
So, one night down. Only 30 more to go!
‘Don't look it in the eye' my mind was saying. But I was mesmerised by the beauty of the biggest chocolate brown eyes I had ever seen.
I knew I should look away but I was transfixed; rooted to the spot by the enormity of its reindeer-like antlers towering about its head.
It blinked and the spell was broken.
I swung my head around to look at the others, all staring at me with their mouths open in shock. Then it ran, galloping off past the swimming pool where I had been happily laying, blissfully listening to my Ipod when I had heard one of my group shout ‘LISA'. Then I had seen it – a giant Onyx galloping (if they do gallop – or maybe just run?) through the bushes until it stopped dead in its tracks at the swimming pool and chose me to linger its spell on.
I had found out later that it was a sick Onyx and known to charge the quests (and I'm not talking about money either). Maybe it had known my guilty secret, that I had sampled its close cousin the day before, drenched in a creamy mushroom sauce; it had been the juicy steak I had ever tasted. Either way, it was the most surreal moment I have had in Africa so far…
Why O Why?
Drip, drip, drip' was the sound coming from inside my abode. Then a huge clap of thunder rumbled the ground beneath my tent, followed by another, then another. Each closer than the last.
I had always been scared of thunder and now I found myself alone in a tent in the early hours, surrounded by the worst storm I had ever heard.
Rain was pounding at the sides of my tent and dripping it's way through. Lightning was flashing against the dark sky and illuminating my tent for milli-seconds. I grabbed my torch to examine the damage and asked myself the question I probably should have asked myself before:
Why did I decide to go camping in the rainy season?…
East Africa is wet.
Gone is the dry heat of Namibia, the humidity of Botswana and the coolness of Zimbabwe from the Falls.
Welcome to Zambia… where you get the worst storms ever.
We had parted company with the majority of our group at Victoria Falls and picked up 2 more couples. Our group of 28 was now a modest 10. Travelling through Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania to my final destination: Zanzibar.
And it was going to be a wet drive…
It's a Kind of Magic
I could feel the rhythm as I wiggled my hips and danced to the sound of the drums, avoiding eye contact with the long-haired man shaking his touche in front of me; the local children clapping in joy. Finally, my part was over and I could rejoin the audience and watch the witchdoctor grind his body to the beat.
I had got more than I bargained for during my visit to the local witchdoctor in Malawi.
“If he asks you to dance, you must dance,” said Black Rhino, my local guide.
So I danced, and then he showed me his potions. I was told to be nice to him as I had heard stories of bad spells being cast on those he took a dislike too.
“You're a good dancer,” I said, smiling sweetly. There was no way he was going to turn me into a toad! As my eyes lit in glee at the love potion, he couldn't resist the opportunity to make a sale.
“Would you like to buy it?'
Although the lure of finding my true love was difficult to resist, the thought of a dodgy tummy was enough to put me off.
“We can send home for you?” he pursued.
I must have looked desperate, especially when he told me my fortune.
“You will meet your second husband in 2 years.”
“Will it be forever?” I asked, in hope.
“Yes,” he said. “And you will have two children.”
He had said everything I wanted to hear and as I parted with my Malawi currency, I felt a warm glow at the prospect of falling in love again.
Later that night, I asked our Kenyan tour guide if he had ever visited the witchdoctor.
“Yes,” he said. “He told me I would get married in two years and have two children.”
“When was that?” I asked
“Seven years ago.”
And yes, he is still single! whoever said I was gullible…
It had started off as an innocent game between friends but now I had found myself yet again, on the floor. Dusting myself off, I reached out for my opponent's hand as he hauled me out of the sand. We shook and nodded at each other in respect. This was war and I was not going down without a fight…
Ten minutes later. I admitted defeat and collapsed on the beach, red-faced and gasping for breath. Maybe playing sand football in my bikini against the local Malawi boys had not been my best move.
But at least I had got to show off my tackling skills.
This is Lake Malawi, the most amazing place I have encountered on my African tour (apart from the red desert of Namibia).
With a lake the size of an ocean, sandy beaches, amazing stars and the most wicked thunderstorms you can imagine.
The people are so friendly (okay, so they may be constantly trying to sell you their goods),
The kids are cute (except when they are asking you for money or pens)
And the scenery is so lush, with thatched huts, sugarcane fields and waterfalls.
It has such a relaxed vibe that I could stay here for a month.
“Be very careful in the long grass' said Hesbon, our tour guide from Kenya. I stumbled out the grass which was nearly as tall as me, to a truck full of laughing travellers. Covered in what I hoped was mud, I hauled myself back onto the truck, my dignity still intact.
This was Zambia;
Long distances and bush toilets. The only problem was that each time nature called, the only place to stop was sugar cane fields or local villages. I had run off the truck straight through the long grass, only to fall within a huge ditch, hidden by the foliage. To make matters worse, after I had found a less than perfect spot, I had emerged to a shocked local Zambian man, walking his herd of cows along the roadside. In my panic, I had found yet another ditch on my escape back to the truck.
Now known as ‘dufus' to the rest of the group, I was delighted to be the centre of their entertainment. To be honest, I hadn't done myself any favours. From asking if the zebra steak would be stripey to nearly having a wrestling match with a monkey on my afternoon jog, I had definitely lost my cool.
Gone is the independent cool chick to be replaced by a ditsy blonde. Or maybe she was just there all along…
“Giraffe,” he said in a slow stoned-like drawl.
“Fresh?” asked my Korean friend.
“No,” he replied, gently rolling the balls of dung between his fingers like glass marbles. His eyes boring into him like lazers.
This was Cucoo, our Botswana guide and cuckoo he was indeed. The wierdest guide I have come across. I was actually more afraid of him than elephants or hyenas coming into the camp and that was saying something.
We continued our walking safari on our island in the Okavango Delta, Cucoo picking up the dung of each animal as we watched giraffes pose for our cameras and zebras galloping off into the sunset. This was the way to see the animals – just man on foot; up close and personal, with the local wildlife, swimming in the same river as hippos and snakes.
My fear factor was definately increasing.
Walking safaris in the Okavango Delta offer a great way to explore this swamp land. The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is in Botswana’s dry season – June to August or September to October when many animals migrate to the Delta. But if you don’t fancy walking, you can take a canoe safari in the Okavanago Delta where you get even closer to the hippos and enjoy the Delta at sunset.
Things Are Getting a Bit Fishy – Zanzibar
You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. My heart was starting to race and I felt fear, but this time it wasn't from a giant insect or a wild animal. It was fear from this man standing in front of us, staring straight at my Aussie friend.
He had followed us from the night market in Stone Town, a place that had been buzzing with hungry people. An array of smells drifting from every corner, tantalising your taste buds. Away from the maze of lanes that lined the streets of Stone Town, next to the harbour was every kind of seafood you would expect to find on a tropical island; lobster, crab, prawns and many more fishy delights. There was also pizza (otherwise known as a pancake) for those who couldn't steer themselves away from their western comforts but as it was Africa, you even had to barter for your food.
It had been whilst we were tucking into our island delights, that a local had decided to join us. Well, not really join us; just stand and stare out the American in our group. Not wanting to challenge this ‘worse for wear looking‘ African man, we had moved away, only to be followed and joined again.
His aura filled me with an uneasy feeling. Why was he just staring at us? After what felt like an uncomfortable age, he spoke.
‘Where are you from?' he asked in a stoned drawl, pointing his spiny finger at my friend.
‘Australia,' he answered.
‘And you?‘ he turned to my right hand side.
Everyone answered in turn, except me.
He didn't ask me and if he had I would have said England. Not knowing at that point that he hated Americans and the British. Not knowing, that anyone from those countries caused his blood to boil with rage as he wanted revenge. Revenge for his family in Nigeria who had been tortured and killed by Americans. (God knows, where England came into it).
With each word of his story, his voice was filled with more bitterness until he was practically hissing with hatred.
‘How dare they come over here, after what they have done.'
He edged closer to my friend, his hand twitching inside his pocket that could've been concealing a knife or even a gun.
This wasn't the Zanzibar I had imagined.
I wanted sandy beaches, lovely people and a chilled out vibe; the pristine beaches that beckoned you with their pure white innocence but here I was, frozen with fear at the hands of a local nutter, carrying a bible and sprouting off his hatred. I wanted to say something, wanted to say that it wasn't our fault what had happened to his family but as I looked around at the group's distressed faces, all I could see was fear and pity.
‘We're sorry for your loss,' said one of the group and beckoned for us all to stand up. We walked slowly past this man and then picked up the pace as we turned the corner.
He was still following us and as we darted into the safety of our hotel's entrance, we all agreed that we couldn't wait to head north tomorrow to the Zanzibar that we had all been dreaming of.
The Zanzibar I Had Been Waiting For
I have arrived in the most amazing place ever.
I have literally been transported to the pages of a holiday brochure to a tropical paradise. Where the sea is so warm and the sand is so soft and everyone is so mellow, (although sometimes the waiters are a little too mellow and forget your order!)
Zanzibar; otherwise known as the spice island is a mecca for sun worshippers and anyone in need of desperate chill out time.
I have swopped my tent for a Sunset bungalow for the bargain price of US$50 a night (for 2 sharing), which comes with hot water, air conditioning and a balcony to dry my much needed travelling clothes on.
The Indian Ocean is only metres away and I can hear the gentle lapping of the waves as I sit gazing out to the sea, my legs still aching from dancing barefoot the night before. I've lost my flip flops but I don't care. Here in paradise, nothing really matters.
This is the life…