The concept of picnics and camping have always sent chills down Claire’s spine since moving to Africa, however, deeply shocked by the cost of living and safari lodges, Claire realises that her reluctance to pack up a tent makes family holiday options in the country limited.
Fortunately Claire, her husband Keith and their three boys have been invited to join a camping adventure with seasoned experts, Bruce and Jenny, whose high standards when it comes to camping can easily be measured alongside those of professional white-Kenyan safari guides. The fact that Bruce owns a camping ‘trailer’ that he designed himself and has promised hot showers for all, was enough to convince Claire after a moment of weakness down at the members’ bar at the Country Club.
The trip does not augur well, when a shoeless five year old Ben steps on a thorn in the garden, emitting blood curdling screams just as Claire is frantically mixing tuna mayonnaise, boiling eggs and frying sausages for the picnic as Keith packs the car outside in a light drizzle. Keith’s sense of humour deserted him upon the dawning realisation that, with the best will in the world, the Prado was not going to accommodate x5 foam mattresses, a 6 man tent, 5 suitcases, two twenty litre drinking water containers, a gas stove, a box of firewood and three cool boxes, without a serious fight. He wonders if there is anything left in the house at all. Meanwhile, all the packing items as listed above are fanned out over the drive and getting wet.
It is over an hour after their hoped for departure time, but at finally all five family members are finally strapped into the car. Claire mutters something about the gas stove looking rather precariously balanced in the boot, hovering as it is over Ben’s car seat. Unspeaking, Keith reverses, narrowly missing the dog, using side mirrors only.
No sooner than the family drive out of their compound, pleas for Maryland cookies and Haribo sweets pipe up from the back seat. When calls for food are denied, the boys switch to requests to put on a dvd, even before they reach the bottom of their road. Claire’s position in the front seat is contorted because her leg room is entirely taken up by the last minute additions of wash bags, in-car snacks, water bottles and a hefty first aid kit. Keith seems distracted as he fiddles with dashboard controls to demist the windows, as Claire grips the door with white knuckles.
After four hours, six wee stops, two packets of Pringles and Haribo stripes, a near miss with a goat and three random traffic-police speed checks, plus a spilt thermos of coffee; the boys are bouncing off the walls. There was a long negotiation at the park gate when Keith realised that he had not loaded his Kenya Wildlife Service entrance card, so It is with near hysterical relief that the family falls out of the car at the national park ‘camping spot’.
Thankfully Bruce and Jenny are already in situ. The camping trailer is unpacked. Bruce stands over his Weber, expertly frying sausages, while Jenny has set up a couple of camp chairs and out of her Sandstorm wine cooler she pulls two glasses, a bottle of chilled white wine and a two cold Tuskers.
Claire watches Bruce turn his attention to instructing Keith on how to erect his own tent. Keith bristles. The long-drop loos are a horror to behold and there’s no running water but as the boys run wild in the long grass with their friends and she takes her first sip of wine, Claire has a feeling that she’s going to survive this; just as long as she is able to match Jenny’s almost constant semi-inebriated state.
(Published in honour of the very kind families who took my 11 year old daughter to the Masai Mara last weekend).
Illustration by: Harriet Stanes
Also appeared in the Telegraph online (Expat Life)