About four months ago, I decided to quit my corporate job and move over to South Africa to live in the bush. I can’t believe it’s already been that long, and that I have survived… relatively unscathed. No malaria, no scorpion stings or snake bites. I haven’t been trampled by an elephant or stalked by a lion (that I know of)… although I was terrorised by a buffalo all night, which was actually pretty fun (in hindsight). I haven’t even really gotten very sick – even after we discovered small worms in our drinking water in Botswana! Plus so far after spending basically 24/7 together for a full three months there hasn’t been any divorce proceedings between Van and I (yet)! Overall pretty good I think?
I can’t help but be reminded about back when I was in high school when a few friends and I started a group called ‘the bush gals’ – we used to walk to the station from school through this bush area that had little creeks.
It was all very cool and serious at the time, but mucking around in tiny creeks and suburban bushland really didn’t prepare me for spending three summer months in the African bush, in unfenced and relatively rudimentary camps (albeit not completely rudimentary – all had proper showers and toilets so it definitely isn’t the most ambitious camping I have done in Africa… we didn’t always have hot water though, so it counts!). I think I have graduated to a bush ‘woman’ now. Almost.
So, has it been easy?
No. No matter what anyone tells you, camping in summer in Africa is never going to be easy, particularly for prolonged periods. It was a rocky start for me, on top of hating the oppressive heat, I suffered from hay fever – something that I haven’t ever had much of an issue with previously – as well as itchy red rashes on my legs thanks to bush walks in long grass. Oh and tick bites. Oh yeah and nettle stings. It’s true I’ve done my fair share of complaining to Van and family. The times I had to lie on a picnic bench with three wet towels covering me, just to get a bit of respite from the heat. The time a gecko laid eggs IN my bed the ONE DAY I had a terrible headache and needed to lie down. Getting absolutely eaten alive by potentially malaria-ridden mosquitos day and night at Mashatu. When someone used almost all of my nice shower gel that I left IN MY CUBBYHOLE in the shared bathroom. My possibly irrational (but possibly not so irrational) fear of scorpions and their ability to FIND ME in every camp I visit. Getting soaked in the pouring rain, trying to get the tent flaps secured… then having almost everything I own damp for days. Living in close quarters with numerous other people – all with different (and sometimes competing) personalities.
It has certainly been a journey with ups and downs. The good news is there have been many ‘ups’ that make it all worthwhile. Like when I saved a baby acacia rat and reunited it with its mum. Or when we found lion cubs and stayed with them until their mother came and called them, then we followed them to a fresh kill she had made. Or just the pure joy of watching lion cubs play and pounce all over each other. Finding wild dogs in Mashatu two days after they had been released into the reserve. Watching EcoTraining students see a wild elephant for the first time. Getting stuck between an angry elephant bull in musth and a male lion lazily scent marking on the road in the rain at night. Watching elephants go about their business just metres away while on foot. Just watching the joy of professional field guide students learning about insects, birds, trees and the like. And listening to their dreams for the future (oh to be young again ;)). Even being terrorised by a buffalo all night – yes we were sleep deprived, but what an experience (even though I pretty much thought I was going to die). Cooking and enjoying an awesome roast dinner and cake for Christmas in the bush (OK Van cooked the lunch, but I can claim the cake at least). And just being part of and helping EcoTraining’s conservation mission. We need more people and businesses focusing on doing good things for our wilderness rather than contributing to its destruction.
So what have I learnt?
So much about the bush, as you could expect. I probably could identify over 100 birds now… maybe that’s an ambitious claim but I am becoming a bit of a closet birder (who knew it was possible)! Animal behaviour, ecology and how things fit together and rely on each other in a very harsh world. What to do if you encounter big game on foot, and what to expect from them. The sad reality of rhino (and other wildlife) poaching, and just what a toll it is taking on animals and people alike. Too many more things about bush life to list here, but perhaps even more importantly, I have learnt a lot about myself. These are too personal (and boring) to go into publicly, but it’s very true that sometimes you need to put yourself in a foreign world outside your comfort zone in order to find yourself. OK, full disclosure – I didn’t ‘find myself’, but that just sounded so good (and clichéd). I really hope you made internal (or external?) vomit noises as you read it. I am not sure what it means to find yourself, but I definitely did learn some stuff about myself.
So have I changed?
Probably. I don’t know if it’s for the better, but let’s hope so. What I do know, is that I am becoming much more adept at living in the bush. I no longer always wash my feet with wet wipes after walking back to my tent after having a shower at night. I know, it’s TOTALLY CRAZY. The last bush walk I went on, I didn’t even wear gators. Sometimes I don’t even put any insect repellent on even though I’m not taking any anti-malaria pills. I drank the tap and bore hole water… well until we found a tiny worm in it. I swam in the river where we had seen a 4m crocodile about 500m upstream… and later saw hippo tracks nearby. I walked down the river bed by myself for over an hour… even though lions had been roaring near camp for the previous four days. I walked through camp with no shoes on at night in the pouring rain (there was no choice really as the pathways were flooded… but still). I walked back to our tent by myself at night even though it was on the very outskirts of camp and the lions were roaring somewhere VERY, VERY CLOSE. I didn’t even bother killing or removing a cockroach I found in our tent, or a spider that took up residence next to my mattress (almost next to my face). I don’t know about you, but these things are all PRETTY F*^%NG CRAZY if you ask me. I mean, not wet wiping your feet after walking back to your tent after a shower (wearing flip flops)… I could have had some dirt or sand on them!! LIVING DANGEROUSLY or what?!
Ok so maybe I’m still not the world’s most natural camper, but I think I’ve come a long way. I survived three months living in the African bush. Somebody get me a damn t-shirt made. And then let’s see if I survive for the next three months…
We will be visiting the Kgalagadi next and I hear the scorpions are quite bad there…………