I’ve never done much camping, except for at music festivals, which is less like camping and more like moving half the contents of my house into a field for a short period of time. So doing the relatively rough and ready camping that we’ve done with Dragoman has been an interesting experience.
The tents we’re using are super heavy canvas dome tents that have metal poles and a heavy waterproof fly – a far cry from the cheap $80 tents that I used to buy and which would last maybe two weekends if I didn’t forget to unpack them before they went mouldy. In some ways they’re great – more waterproof, windproof and heat-retaining than any other tent I’ve ever used. On the other hand they’re heavy, hard to roll up small enough and have no awning so when it’s raining they’re not much fun.
Most mornings we’re up between 5 and 6:30am, although this morning (we’ve got two nights in one place) we slept in til 8am. It was magnificent.
We have a cook with our group – the cook for the first leg was Charles, a 50 year old man from Kenya. His catch cry was ‘Please guys, don’t wait!’ when the food was ready. Always smiling, helpful and relaxed, Charles was great fun to be with and we were all sorry to see him go. Now we have Mash, who is younger but also super laid back, makes amazing food and is teaching me some Swahili too.
Every day for breakfast the cook makes toast and eggs, sometimes bacon, and we have a range of fruit and cereal. When we’ve finished eating we have to wash our plates and then flap them dry – this means standing around waving them like we’re signalling to aircraft. Everything gets air-dried to avoid unhygenic tea towels and is a good chance to stand around chatting with people. Everyone pitches in to help with meals and cleaning, although two or three people are rostered on to turn up early and help with preparation and then finishing clean up.
Lunches are usually sandwiches, sometimes pasta salad. If we’re on a game drive during the day we pack our own lunches at breakfast. I bought Luke and I plastic lidded containers at the supermarket the other day to keep salads or sandwiches in as I’d rather not be throwing away cling wrap every day. Plus then our food doesn’t get squashed in our bags.
If we stop for lunch on the road we get out our little camp chairs and get food ready. We’re so quick now that everything can be made, eaten and packed up in 40 minutes. Not a bad effort for about 25 people!
At lunch yesterday we’d stopped at a petrol station that had a nice shady tree and some grass for us to sit on and we’d just about got everything ready when we heard music booming down the road. A small truck came into view with a banner across the front and lots of people standing in the back.
They pulled over, possibly because of the big group of muzungu staring at them, and disgorged a man with a megaphone who told everyone about Breast Feeding Awareness Week. Then a group of guys in matching outfits got off the truck and performed a dance routine Beyonce would’ve been proud of. Then they got back into the truck, to much clapping and cheering, and drove off down the road. Don’t worry, we got footage.
Dinner on the trip is usually served in whatever campsite we’re staying at and most have an area set aside for groups like ours to use – some benches or tables and, if we’re lucky, a sink and tap. We’ve had something different for dinner almost every night of the trip and there’s almost always enough for seconds. The dishes and the style of cooking are very reminiscent of the New Year’s holidays my friends go on – there’s about 40 of us who go away for a week and self cater in school-camp-style accommodation. Having run a kitchen like that, and also worked in festival camp kitchens where we fed over 100 people but have no running water, I really appreciate the way Dragoman cooks run a pretty tight ship and get everything done so quickly.
About half the time we’ve camped we’ve had upgrades available. These range from quite dingy rooms to whole houses for quite reasonable prices. The other night it was raining so 6 of us chipped in for a house that was $12 each. Not bad when you get a four poster bed, lounge and equipped kitchen to yourselves. We’ve upgraded a few times and did so last night, with Kat, Lucas, Luke and I sharing a four bed dorm. When we woke up to the sound a rain on the roof we were glad we did!
Some of the upgrades have been tented campsites, where the tents are set up permanently under thatched roofs. Although there’s no ensuite there’s lots more room, proper beds (well, foam mattresses, I’m yet to encounter a sprung mattress in Africa) and sometimes even a powerpoint.
The biggest frustration of our traveling and the way we move around so much has been getting laundry done. We can’t dry stuff on the truck and at night it’s not enough time. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to come across a native African Laundry Tree, which helps.
If anyone has heard about the Nairobi airport fire and wondered whether we’re affected, well – yes, we’re supposed to be flying out of there in about 10 day’s time, but hopefully everything will be ok, as they seem to have already started reorganising the terminals so that people can arrive and leave. Fingers crossed! If you don’t know what I’m talking about google it – the flames are visible above the roof of the building. It’s pretty impressive… or depressing, depending how you look at it.