If there is one thing any experienced camper will tell you, it is to expect the unexpected, especially where the weather is concerned. In the last 10 years, we have faced 40-degree temperatures at the end of August, and 12-degree temperatures at the end of December. When all is between you and the elements is a thin layer of nylon or two, how you have packed for these unexpected extremes makes a huge difference to how well you sleep that night, and how cheerful you are the next morning.
We now know to keep spare blankets in the camping kit, to pack at least one (but preferably two) warm outfits, the extra one in case you get wet, as well as at least two hot weather outfits. Swimming costumes also go in, as there are sometimes opportunities in unexpected places, and it is horrible sitting watching everyone else having a good time and you cannot join in.
We have also learned to expect the unexpected around food and restaurants. We ate the best fish and chips in the country in a little restaurant (sadly, no longer in operation) in Ficksburg, of all places. Discovered amazing trout and dill pasta in Wakkerstroom, in a restaurant with a beautiful table high fireplace, that kept us toasty warm as well as fed like kings. We were served really great lamb stew at Mountain Zebra National Park outside Cradock, and bought delicious koeksisters and ginger beer from a farmstall outside Britstown in the Northern Cape.
Then you have the unexpected sightings – after asking about bush pigs at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg, and being assured by the officials that there were none, we happened across 10 of them crossing the road outside the office, two nights later when we returned from dinner. We came across 4 beautiful grey crowned cranes in a small hamlet outside Winterton – not normally something you would expect in a town. One morning in Marakele National Park, we were entertained in the campsite by two female warthogs and about ten piglets – we couldn’t quite agree on how many there were as they were so busy with their own game. They seemed to be playing tag, and then the tagged one had to spin in circles on the spot, until it fell over, which started all the others spinning on the spot, until the first one got up and gave chase again – hectic, amusing, beautiful to watch.
We have also had some unexpected comments while camping. With Malcolm being a horticulturist, we as often look at plants in the nature reserves as at animals or birds. One morning in Kruger, we were parked on the wrong side of the road, very close to a bush, so Malcolm could take some photographs of the leaves, bark and flowers. A car pulled up next to me and the gentlemen, with a heavy English accent, asked what we were looking at. When I replied that Malcolm was looking at the plant, he said: “Now you are telling pork pies!” To this day he must believe that we had spotted something and just did not want to share.
When we took my daughters on one of their first camping trips, we arrived at the campsite quite late and first helped them set up their tent and get their beds sorted out – they were about 14 and 16 at the time. They were already in bed when we returned from washing up and started getting the inside of our tent organised. Suddenly this voice from their tent broke the silence, clearly unaware that tent walls are not soundproof: “Do you think they are bonking over there?” We were in stitches for the rest of the holiday, every time we went to bed!
If you expect to be surprised, around every twist and turn of life, and learn to just roll with the flow and take the giggles, the beauty, the amazing people and food and scenery where you find them, you will find so much in our country to delight. You will find so much in camping to entertain you, amuse you, to slow down your pace from the normal daily rush. You will be, like me, hooked for life.
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