Day 17 of the blog post a day in May attempt and back to overlanding and an unexpected highlight.
THERE were several things which concerned me heading out on a 10-month overland adventure around Africa.
Most were personal concerns, largely revolving around my fitness and ability to cope with such a long time on the road away from home comforts.
But probably top of that list was dealing with camping for the majority of the trip. And bush camping at that.
Have written before about the ridiculous argument about whether people are really travellers or tourists (do it your way folks, it’s your trip), but must admit we had a running gag on the Trans Africa along similar lines.
We were bush camping overlanders on a truck, the people we met on more cossetted, shorter trips were – pardon the language – bus wankers. Not that we said that to their faces. Much.
Whatever those initial fears, bush camping became something to relish (most of the time) and given a choice for my next long trip, the extra bush camping helped sway me towards South America.
Was not always such a fan of camping, even the more conventional type with flushing toilets, shower blocks and some farmer coming round to collect your money.
Tolerated a few childhood camps and always returned to the more secure surroundings of the family caravan after moving out to a ropy old tent or the awning.
Even my first foray into overlanding travel failed to grab me. After hostels, trains, four to an indoor cabin on a cruise ship and even the odd hotel, sleeping on our crossing of North America from Alaska to New York was on a mixture of a converted bus or camping in National Parks.
Of which the first was Denali in Alaska.
Even in early summer, the temperature plunged as the sun disappeared around midnight and it was a couple of long, cold nights which made up my mind for the rest of the trip – the comfort of the bus was a much better option.
That was not an option in Africa (bar the nights when given refuge on the track due to illness).
And this came with the added challenge of absolutely no facilities. Bar a couple of shovels.
We had a crash course on the first couple of nights in Spain at a campsite – firm ground, toilets and shower facilities easing us in as we got used to putting the tents up and down while adjusting to sharing with our new roomies.
Which took a while, struggling to sleep for much of the first week or so as got accustomed to life under canvas – which at least spared me much of the blame having been exiled to the snorers’ tent.
But as we headed into Morocco, my airbed and sleeping bag were supplemented by a pillow (which only made it halfway round) and a rug, helping to complete a comfortable little nest on my side of the tent.
And that just left adjusting to camping away from any facilities not supplied by the truck itself.
Not completely, we did stop at campsites (or anywhere with a bit of room for us to throw up a few tents) when available, but there are precious few of those in West Africa and wandering off with a shovel was preferable to some of the facilities presented to us.
Get your head around what you are doing and why and bush camping becomes the obvious option – overlanding is all about the journey rather than the destination, partly because there often isn’t one for days on end.
So stop where you can and enjoy the freedom.
Bush camps developed their own rhythm, collect any firewood available, get the fires going and kitchen started, set up your tents and after completing any jobs that needed doing, pull up a camp stool round the fire, grab a drink and enjoy the surroundings and the company of your fellow travellers.
Occasionally somebody might break out a laptop and show a film or there would be a game of cards on the truck, but most often it would involve a lot of helping out in the kitchen and sitting around reliving the events of the last day or what was coming up.
Sometimes long into the night, many times not. Bush camping tends to fall into natural rhythms dictated by the sun – get up with the sun, go to bed when it vanishes (or when the beer runs outs). We even had an agreed bush camp bedtime when it was acceptable to head to your tent.
We camped in quarries, rainforests, on beaches,, just off (or sometimes on) tracks hidden by grass or trees, next to reservoirs, in olive groves, on clifftops (loo with a view), under rock formations, amid crops with fires raging just over the road, on the side of the road at a border, in the paddock of a police station, on dried up rivers or the only bit of rocky ground we could find. And in the shadow of a sand dune.
And by the time the occasional bed and overnight stop with showers, toilets and even, whisper it carefully, a bar and WiFi became more regular on the second half of the trip, the return of bush camping was met like an old friend. At least by most us.
It will be again in South America in a few months when the split is roughly even.
But there’s one nagging question, isn’t there? The one that everybody asks when you try to explain it.
How do you cope with no toilets and no showers, sometimes for days on end?
Put simply, you get on with it. If that’s the cost of seeing some amazing places then so be it.
Yes, you can start to smell but everybody on the truck is in the same boat – the one thing guaranteed to make it obvious is somebody trying to disguise it with smellies and it is amazing what you can do with a bit of water and a quick rub.
The truck also finds its own rules for how many days in a row it is acceptable to wear the same T-shirt (several, you wouldn’t want to sully a clean one if you haven’t showered for a few days).
As for the lack of toilets… you get used to it. It’s never totally comfortable, but you will discover the pitfalls and how to avoid them (balance and some spatial awareness are key or it can be a risky task).
And you will become to appreciate things to hide behind and soft ground.
Just don’t lose the shovel.