HER EX­PE­RI­ENCE CAMP­ING IN AFRICA

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - MAIL -

I have been mar­ried to Martin Slab­bert from Ex­plore Africa Ad­ven­tures for the past 30 years. Be­cause he ad­ver­tises in Leisure Wheels, we get a free copy of the mag­a­zine ev­ery month. Dur­ing his ab­sence from home, I usu­ally page through it and am sorry to say, but there are very few, if any, con­tri­bu­tions from women.

I do not want to get in­volved in a bat­tle of the sexes, but I am tired of let­ters and ar­ti­cles from men. Most of the ar­ti­cles are ex­pe­ri­ences through the eyes of men or the sto­ries of the ‘manne’ trav­el­ling with Jo­han Baden­horst. I some­times won­der what their ex­pe­di­tions would be like if women trav­elled with them.

So I have de­cided to make a small con­tri­bu­tion by shar­ing how (some) women ex­pe­ri­ence a sa­fari in Africa.

I had the priv­i­lege of join­ing Ex­plore Africa on their way to the Serengeti this year. I only trav­elled with the group through Zim­babwe, Zam­bia and Malawi (fly­ing back from Li­longwe) as one of us has to work!

We met the 2017 Serengeti group in Musina. The men im­me­di­ately com­pared their dif­fer­ent vehicles and the gad­gets they’d added. Women take longer to bond.

Cross­ing into Zim­babwe at Beit Bridge was not bad as we had a run­ner and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Zim’s tourism de­part­ment to as­sist us. On our way to the camp­site, we were stopped nine times by traf­fic po­lice. We never felt in­tim­i­dated but to pull over seven vehicles can be time con­sum­ing.

Martin knows the drill. When stopped by the po­lice, you pull over slowly, open your win­dow, switch off the mu­sic, take off your glasses and show re­spect. If you’ve done some­thing wrong, or if there is some­thing wrong with your ve­hi­cle, apol­o­gise pro­fusely. If you are for­given, you may pro­ceed, if not, well that is a dif­fer­ent story. Then you ne­go­ti­ate or rely on the num­bers in the con­voy.

We slept at Norma Jean’s camp­site close to the Zim­babwe Ru­ins (the ru­ins are def­i­nitely worth vis­it­ing). The camp­site is beau­ti­ful, the re­cep­tion area colo­nial and the gar­den has lus­cious plants. The ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties were ex­cep­tional: this is a huge is­sue for any woman.

TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE?

The real Africa hit us women the fol­low­ing day: there are no high­way rest stops along the main road. Af­ter drink­ing too much cof­fee you be­come des­per­ate for the toi­let and the open veld is the only op­tion. All the men went over the road to the right, the women stayed on the left. What a pic­ture: all the men neatly lined up along the road­side (I am sure they were fart­ing, too). Men have no is­sue with pri­vacy, they might even have been show­ing off, for all we know.

The women searched for the big­gest bush avail­able. No one should see you squat­ting and de­spite ev­ery pos­si­ble ef­fort, your pants or shoes al­ways get a lit­tle wet.

At Kamba Car­a­van Park, just out­side Harare, the only politi­cian to ever join one of Martin’s trips gave ev­ery woman some wool and nee­dles to knit squares for blan­kets as a wel­fare project. This gave rise to the fol­low­ing scene in our Hilux once we were en route again: I started knit­ting. Martin got ir­ri­tated. How could I come to Africa and knit? What he didn’t un­der­stand is that he’s busy the whole day. Busy driving. I just sit.

If a woman just sits, she eats. If she eats too much, she feels fat. If she feels fat, she is not nice. If she is not nice, who suf­fers? Him. So, to al­low a woman to knit, a man is ac­tu­ally look­ing af­ter him­self! Any­way, a woman can multi-task: she can knit, change the mu­sic and en­joy the scenery all at the same time.

The state-owned ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties at Mana Pools were typ­i­cally ba­sic. There are no lights so you need to shower while the sun is still up, oth­er­wise it be­comes a strug­gle with a torch and it is dif­fi­cult look­ing af­ter your skin and hair by torch­light alone.

Speak­ing of hair, men will never un­der­stand the ab­so­lute heart-break­ing feel­ing when you have just sham­pooed your long hair and the shower stops – no more wa­ter! For­tu­nately, it will hap­pen to you maybe only once, be­cause af­ter such an ex­pe­ri­ence you will em­brace real camp­ing. As some­one once said: “If your hair does not smell of smoke and your an­kles of urine, you are not camp­ing.”

MONKEYING AROUND

A priv­i­lege of be­ing mar­ried to the tour leader is that he knows Africa. One ve­hi­cle de­cided to set up camp un­der a huge tree at Mana Pools. It seemed to make sense, as their ve­hi­cle would be in the shade when the sun rose. Martin stopped in the open. When I ques­tioned our po­si­tion, he said ῾you will see’. And I saw.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, the lady of the ve­hi­cle (with curlers in her hair) laid out a beau­ti­ful ta­ble. Chaos en­sued when she brought out the rusks. Mon­keys came from nowhere, filled the tree and a coura­geous one jumped on the ta­ble and grabbed the rusks. He lurched back into the tree where a fight broke out. The end re­sult was rusks rain­ing down on the poor woman, pieces even got stuck be­tween the curlers – a real YouTube moment.

At the bor­der post be­tween Zim­babwe and Zam­bia, the women went through im­mi­gra­tion and then waited for hours for the men to fin­ish the doc­u­men­ta­tion for the vehicles. While we waited, we made small talk and this was where I heard the fol­low­ing:

A 38-day camp­ing trip from Musina to the Serengeti is not a cheap hol­i­day but Man wanted to go. Her brain cal­cu­lated costs only to re­alise Venice, the Greek Is­lands or Paris are cheaper hol­i­days, but Man’s mind was made up. Man con­tacted the tour guide and then the spend­ing be­gan. She thought the 4×4 came with ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary but Man said no, the tour guide sug­gested a few ex­tras. The phone beeped con­tin­u­ally as he spent. She thought of the need for an ex­tra fridge, es­pe­cially in sum­mer when the grand­chil­dren visit, or for paint­ing the lounge, but those ideas van­ished with the pur­chase of spot lights, an ex­tra bat­tery, a roof tent and, and, and...

The trip was only in July but Man started pack­ing in May. She had to work out a menu and buy the food, while keep­ing in mind that space is a prob­lem; yet, they “would be on hol­i­day and must spoil them­selves”.

A week be­fore the trip there were two crates in the bed­room: one for Man’s clothes (al­though he wears the same shorts for days and may change his T-shirt on oc­ca­sion), the other for her. How on earth does a woman fit clothes for 38 days in one crate, never mind her van­ity case and hair dryer? She com­plained about the lack of space and so Man changed the orig­i­nal crate to one with a raised lid.

A woman can­not wear the same clothes for more than one day, as she does not feel the same ev­ery day. When she wakes up, she will de­cide how she feels and there­fore what to wear. Some of the men on that trip even­tu­ally al­lowed the women to use half of their crates, too.

I could iden­tify with all the women’s sto­ries as Martin al­lowed my hair dryer in his crate. The women fi­nally bonded at the bor­der post as sis­ters in op­pres­sion.

SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP

Time is an is­sue when trav­el­ling in Africa. It is a con­tin­u­ous strug­gle for the tour guide as he knows the roads ahead. He usu­ally ex­plains to the group that we will not be trav­el­ling far, but it is quite a dis­tance, then we know it’s go­ing to be a hard day sit­ting in the car. To pass all the mar­kets in the lit­tle vil­lages is close to a crime against hu­man­ity (women’s hu­man­ity). A woman needs to shop – not nec­es­sar­ily to buy, but she must feel the prod­ucts, smell them and touch them – oth­er­wise she might get with­drawal symp­toms. Even­tu­ally we stopped at only one big mar­ket just be­fore some of us hy­per­ven­ti­lated.

Pioneer Camp out­side Lusaka had an ex­cep­tional chal­lenge in store. We shared the camp­site with a group of in­ter­na­tional cy­clists. These Ger­mans had no shame and walked around in the small­est of un­der­pants, leav­ing al­most noth­ing to the imag­i­na­tion. The show­ers were also uni­sex and couldn’t lock.

We did a spot of shop­ping at Tribal tex­tiles (on our way to the Wildlife Camp near the South Luagwa Na­tional Park) and when we heard our money was go­ing to com­mu­nity up­lift­ment projects, we bought even more. It was great fun!

We stayed three nights at Wildlife Camp. There was time to clean the ve­hi­cle, do the wash­ing

and re­lax. The women didn’t mind do­ing the wash­ing as it gave us time to bond even fur­ther, there’s noth­ing like a lekker skinder around the basins. What I couldn’t be­lieve was that one woman packed an iron and ironed her hus­band’s clothes. Un­be­liev­able!

At Senga Bay, we camped on the beach next to Lake Malawi. It is one of the most beau­ti­ful spots in Africa. A fe­male se­cu­rity guard was hav­ing a shower, wash­ing her­self with the door open, singing and en­joy­ing ev­ery moment. Af­ter the shower she rubbed her whole body with oils un­til she shined, still cher­ish­ing each sec­ond. We, with our pale skins, could not be­lieve her con­fi­dence. I en­vied her and thought we as women should live more freely; we should leave the hang-ups at home and ex­pe­ri­ence life to its fullest.

The fol­low­ing day I said good­bye to the group. Would I ever join Martin again? Ev­ery time, if pos­si­ble. Africa has many di­men­sions and there is noth­ing more spe­cial than crawl­ing into the tent at night af­ter wit­ness­ing the most beau­ti­ful sun­set, and know­ing your man will pro­tect you against lion, hippo or even spi­ders.

More peo­ple should travel into Africa, even if it is more ex­pen­sive than a visit to Paris or Lon­don. The ex­pe­ri­ence is lifechang­ing. I was sad to fly back, but as Mary Oliver, an Amer­i­can poet, said: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and pre­cious life?” She then gave in­struc­tions: Pay at­ten­tion (I did). Be as­ton­ished (I was). Tell about it (I am). I don’t want to end up sim­ply hav­ing vis­ited this world (nor me). Magda Slab­bert via email

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