Life in Camp

I’m not a stranger to some time spent in isolation from civilization. We as westerners often take our readily accessible luxuries for granted. Groceries are a ten minute drive down the road and gasoline is available at the nearest pump. Drinking water? Merely turn on the tap in your kitchen. It’s now a habit for me to question the potability of water anywhere I’m traveling, after spending two and a half months in Southeast Asia. But my time in these bush camp reminded me of family vacations in a one room beach shack on Cape Cod. The house was tucked into the undulating dunes of Nauset Beach and sheltered from the violent gales and surf that pound the coastline. The seafront was devoid of power lines and our light was provided by kerosene lamps, or powered by Duracell. The water needed to drink, shower, and clean our dishes was collected via drums attached to the roof. I still have nightmares about the crescent shaped symbol on the sun-stained, wooden door of the wooden outhouse and ghastly smells that ruminated from below. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to truly appreciate those rustic vacations. Creased and forgotten paperback maps have been neglected in favor of a moving blue dot on our iPhone, wifi is ubiquitous, and more people were killed taking selfies than by shark attacks in 2015. As our dependance upon technology continues to exponentially grow, it gets harder and harder to disconnect. After two months of seclusion in the game reserves of the Mpumalanga province, that feeling of isolation from summer vacations over a decade ago, once returned. On that long and narrow strip of beach we were surrounded by sand dunes and the swirling currents of the Atlantic. In the bushveld, it’s an impenetrable thicket of vegetation encompassed by a broad range of mountains that provide our personal buffer to the outside world.
The Loskop Dam Nature Reserve provides a home to over 79 different species of mammals, a litany of birdlife, and is even frequented by the occasional band of poachers. Towering mountains composed of brick colored sandstone negate any sort of cellular or internet connection. The closest town (by town, I mean a roadhouse biker bar, a gas station with an adjoining garage, and a miniature market where shoppers read the expiration date at their own peril) is just under two hours away and is only accessible via 4X4 vehicular transportation or an hours boat ride. Our weekly food drop included fruits and vegetables, boxed milk, and any other form of food that wouldn’t require constant refrigeration. Jugs of potable, chemically-treated water were included in these weekly supply drops. If you tried taking a drink out of the tap, you could almost guarantee a two day date with one of our prestigious outdoor toilets. Starbucks? That would be a wooden table equipped with chicory-infused powdered coffee, a plastic container of sugar, and an array of atypical steel camping mugs. It was much more a cup of mud than a cup of joe. Needless to say, I came better prepared for my second phase with two massive containers of Woolworth’s finest instant coffee, bananas greener than a newly minted dollar bill, and more protein bars that could even fit in my bag.    
Coexistence with the animals in our camp was an everyday fact of life. I’m no stranger to domestic pets after growing up on a wannabe farm with chickens, horses, cats, dogs, and the occasional rabbit. But the keyword in that sentence is “pets” and sometimes people in our camp would momentarily forget that. Each and every animal in the reserve is wild, not domesticated. The word “domesticated” has never, and will ever, be uttered in accordance with any of these creatures. I heard a story about a “pet” warthog from a friend. Yes, a warthog, tusks included. It was no doubt a highly entertaining party favor on a Friday or Saturday night. Until that “pet” bit a friend of theirs and reminded them that it’s just never a good idea to domesticate an animal with razor sharp tusks that can reach ten inches long. For those curious about the creatures frequenting our camp, we had quite a few visitors. There’s nothing like the comfort of knowing that a Mozambique Spitting Cobra took up residence in the tree a mere five feet from your tent. Anyone with a propensity to visit the toilet in the early hours of the morning were strongly recommended that they hold it. A rather ornery bull Hippo had established his personal feeding highway directly through the camp. Hippos graze at night and don’t take kindly to the interruption of their dinner in the pitch dark. You do the math. I’ll never forget the gutteral roar he uttered outside of our tent on the first night. I jumped up from my sleeping bag, half expecting him to be in the very room of our tent. Another nocturnal visitor was the leopard. Our camp manager once walked out of his tent and found him sitting on the couch of the lodge. As much as I love animals, I’d much rather wait for the reunion with my Golden Retriever than a close encounter with any of these animals. 
It’s not until you jump in the Land Rover for an afternoon of game-viewing that one realized the actuality of our seclusion. The sun would set over the red-stained clifftops and you would overlook a valley peppered with trees and a rolling plain full of grazing antelope. Its a view that will forever be imprinted upon my memory and I can only hope to gaze upon it’s beauty once again. Patches of grass sprout up like the whitecaps of waves in the ocean along the seldomly used dirt roads. The only sounds that were audibly present were the faint whine of the engine and the distant cry of a Fish Eagle soaring above the river banks. As you headed back to camp, the skyline was silhouetted by dozens of seringa trees that were illuminated by the fiery skyline. It was then that I realized that I was one of the few who could boast of the opportunity to live in such a remote and breathtaking area in a small pocket of Southern Africa. I’ll forever remember the rides past the guard shack and right by the sand covered vehicles of the beach goers as we made our way down the winding road of Nauset Beach, just as I’ll remember that first afternoon drive in Southern Africa.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you soo much bunny. I feel like I’m there! I’m fascinated by the wildlife stories! Such a memorable adventure. Please continue to keep us updated. Hippos & snakes & lepords….. wow! Such a perfect opportunity to draw nearer to God, as you endure his handy work. I may use part of your blog at my next speaking engagement. Thank you! A Beautifully painted portrait, your a gifted writer! I continue to pray for fun & safety! Love you!

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