Thought I’d post this article that I wrote a year ago for the Weekly Telegraph ‘Expat World’ page, re: my feelings about camping in Kenya. Although our successful camping trip last weekend has made me feel a bit more positive about venturing off into the wilderness, I must admit that what I wrote then still rings true for me, (though the children all being a year older this time did make things easier):
‘The concept of camping in Kenya never fails to tie my stomach in nervous knots. The lure of wide open spaces and the smell of frying bacon in the great outdoors do nothing for me. Whilst planning and packing, I find myself darting around the house like a woman possessed in search of bars of soap, toys, nappies, buckets, boxes of cereal, matches, clothes, hats and shoes. There are also multiple trips to the local shop to restock supplies of sun cream, bread and packets of biscuits. A well stocked first aid kit is essential, standing by in case of scorpion bites, burns, deep wounds (my husband did lodge a machete into his shin once, whilst cutting wood). Goodness knows what we would do in the event of a snake bite. To add to this, I am not a ‘lists’ kind of person.
It’s understandable to feel nostalgic for smooth British motorways dotted with roadside shops and restaurants, whilst travelling for hours through vast landscapes, lurching over potholes. Five hours is viewed as a comparatively ‘easy’ journey here. Our personal best was eleven hours in one stretch with minimal loo stops. Armed with juice, colouring pens, a thermos of coffee and sweets, we set off for a days driving. Loo stops in service stations are generally not recommended. You will commonly find a smelly long drop (difficult to dangle a child over), in a ramshackle outbuilding with no running water. A low point was when one daughter’s foot slipped into an open drain whilst wearing sandals. To squat behind a bush by the side of the road is a better option, though spectators do always seem to magically appear even in the remotest lay-bys.
Those with enough disposable cash will prefer to pay for an ‘organised camp’. The professional ‘mobile safari’ company will provide tents, beds and bedding, food, showers and loos and there is a team who are responsible for heating shower water over fires, cooking and cleaning exclusively for you whilst in camp. The more swanky companies will hang a white towelling dressing gown in your tent and offer massage, sundowners and ball games whilst in camp. The tents are as comfortable as the best hotels suites and your every need is met by a small army of staff. All you need to bring is a good selection of khaki clothing and sensible footwear.
Another reason why the call of the wild does not appeal to me is that our camping trips are often worked around a motor sport event. This means my ‘team mate’ will be totally distracted by cars for the duration and is generally unavailable when it comes to lending a hand to camp life, or with our three children (1,3 and 6 years old). On one such occasion a team of us decided to organise our own camp. On arrival I felt a strong compulsion to stay put in the car with the air conditioning turned up full blast and not to set foot in the hostile brown and yellow stony desert that surrounded us. After some time I pulled myself together and got out in order to set to work with the rest of our friends levelling ground for the tents and clearing thorns using large pangas and jembis (scythes and hoes). Meanwhile, my husband and his competition car were needed at ‘scrutineering’. Another pressing chore was to rig up some canvas to create desperately needed shade. I threw down a masai blanket under an acacia tree and told the children to stay on it, but they soon got bored and began toddling about in the dust getting increasingly red in the face as, thankfully, their ayah (nanny) watched over them.
Along with food, clothes and tents, water should also be packed, sometimes both for drinking and for washing. We put together a makeshift shower, comprising an old bucket with hose attachment, winched up on a rope over a tree branch and the children were bathed in a large bucket. It was here that I managed to pick up a mango worm. It is an egg that attaches itself to your clothes from bushes or trees, then buries itself into your flesh, mutating later into some kind of maggot under your skin in the form of a giant boil.
We once took a family break to a national park. When the car was packed it looked like we were orchestrating a house move. A large wood and canvas umbrella (plus concrete base) and safari chairs were shoehorned around the large cool box on wheels. The campsite in the park was pleasant with an open area of cut grass and evidence of a camp fire in the centre. There was even a tap with running water. Whilst setting up, we became vaguely aware of many eyes watching us from the surrounding trees. By the time the tent was up, baboons were drawing closer. When we began preparing a meal the baboons were upon us, one shoving me out of the car as it hurtled inside in search of biscuits. A bread roll was snatched from my daughter’s hand and at sundown we were dismayed to see our baked potatoes wrapped in foil, being plucked from the campfire and disappearing into the woods. During the night the chomping noises of buffalo by our heads explained why the campsite grass looked like a recently mown lawn and when emerging from our slumber, passers by on a dawn game drive and safe in their land rover, asked if we had spotted the leopard just behind our tent minutes earlier?! After spending over an hour pinning down anything that could be pilfered by baboons, we made our way to the nearest park lodge and willingly paid a daily rate to use their swimming pool and restaurant until dusk.
I am sure that ‘only a fool can be uncomfortable’ when camping but in my opinion employing the help of professionals is always money well spent.