YES, BLACKS DO OWN CARAVANS
Blacks Do Caravan by Fikile Hlatshwayo Jacana Media 240 pages R225
In 2014, I was at a point where I had lots of money but little happiness. I had become exhausted – physically, emotionally and mentally. So it wasn’t a surprise when I was diagnosed with excessive ‘burnout’, a condition that has become prevalent in our country.
I had worked so hard throughout my life to accumulate as much money as I could at the expense of my family, my health and my social life. I had become a victim of the constant demands of my work, to a point that I had to leave my job. I became the opposite of Superwoman and was lost in my own world of severe depression. Enough was enough, and I needed to escape by leaving home to seek fulfilment and healing elsewhere.
I come from a culture where camping is purely for white people. Even if black people were to camp, they would not enjoy it because it is reminiscent of how many of us used to live. In fact, a lot of black people still live like that today – cooking on a fire, using communal toilets, having access to little or no technology. I thought there was no way I would agree to this camping expedition. I am, after all, a sophisticated and highly successful black woman, comfortable in my high heels and suits. I love my comfort!
But I had no choice – either I stayed miserable and severely depressed in my secure home, or I joined my family to enjoy the beauty of our country in the most affordable way. I gave in, but it did take a lot of convincing!
What really interested me was that this trip unfolded so naturally. I needed comfort, so my only condition was that I would not sleep in a tent. We decided to buy a caravan that came with a fridge, microwave, comfortable beds and, of course, a little outside kitchenette. As firsttime buyers, all we wanted was a caravan that was reliable, affordable and able to accommodate a family of four.
Luckily, we met Glenda Fourie, a friendly and extremely knowledgeable salesperson. She listened to all our needs and sold us a good used caravan. Once we had our caravan, I became so excited that I took over as the lead planner of the trip. We learnt a few important things, such as the need for a special licence to tow a caravan that was over a certain weight. We also had to consider security, although, once on the road, we learnt about the closeness of the camping community and how people look out for one another.
The journey began on September 15 2014 and we kept postponing our return date because we didn’t want it all to end. We visited more than 25 caravan parks, covered more than 10 000km and traversed all nine provinces. Subsequent to this trip, we had several other trips partly sponsored. At the end of these trips, we had been to more than 60 camping/caravan parks and had driven more than 25 000km. We also travelled to Swaziland to see if they faced similar challenges to South Africa’s.
I have travelled a lot within South Africa and beyond, for both leisure and work purposes. But these three months were something different: out of this world, incredible. I can’t sufficiently express the value of taking three months out of our so-called normal lives and making this dream trip.
This trip was simply priceless and rewarding on so many levels. Having first-hand experience in the African wild, I can stand tall and proudly say we have a beautiful country. South Africa is very rich in natural scenery: beaches, vineyards, countryside and mountain ranges. It is also endowed with diverse cultures in each province, so much so that you feel like you are in a different country as you drive from one province to the other, and yet there is a distinct sense of connectivity; of being in one country.
The only sad story is that this wealth of nature is only enjoyed by a few South Africans and international tourists.
The reality is, we black South Africans strongly believe that because many of us come from rural areas, there is no need for us to pay money and go and see elephants or lions. In any case, we can go to the zoo and see them. However, we do not realise the benefits of being in the wild, the benefits of outdoor life, the effect nature has on our children and us as a family. On the other hand, many white South Africans have mastered the art of travelling and appreciating our country. Through my interactions with fellow campers, I have come to understand why they camp and how it all started.
Life in the wild is nothing like life in the suburbs. We have a huge house, but it feels like a prison with high walls, an electric fence, top-of-the-range alarm system, cameras on the street and a 24-hour security guard walking up and down the street. However, in a caravan park, there is no sense of fear, no walls, no alarms and no security cameras, but there is a fence to keep the hippos out! There is a sense of belonging, connecting with your inner self and, of course, the liberation nature has to offer.
As I sat with my family around the fire, roasting vegetables, smelling the aroma of lamb chops, spicy chicken wings and boerewors on the fire, and enjoying chilled drinks under the full moon with the sounds of jackals in the distance, I felt emancipation, I felt enrichment and I felt I was living life to the fullest.
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