Karoo Trip – Episode I

Mountain Zebra Park

“Right – a break in the bush it is then,” I exclaimed with relief as we folded the last of the maps, and swept up the shattered remnants of the piggy bank. With the imminent World Cup event, some hotels and resorts were already adding several zeros to their daily tariff and rubbing their hands in eager anticipation of early retirement. We thus concluded that a holiday of pampered luxury was definitely out of the question for us.

Such conclusions make me inestimably grateful for Mrs. Chips’ enjoyment of the outdoor life, as she is not one who needs to be within an arm’s length of the nail varnish or a curler’s throw from a salon. I remembered Robert Mac Gregor’s (Liam Neeson) words in Rob Roy, ‘Ah, Mary, how fine you are to me’, as we began to pack the tent and other essentials.

The plan was to leave promptly at 6:30am and make our leisurely way to the Mountain Zebra National Park and spend several days basking like dassies in the sun. But, like all brilliantly planned operations we left promptly at the crack of 9:30am – with the autumnal rain making its leisurely way down the back of my collar.

With the bakkie filled with accoutrements, we stopped on the way out of East London for a Mac Cholesterol with coffee, and munched on that while the windows fogged up and the rain poured down even harder. With unsurpassed dexterity I also managed to pour a sufficient quantity of coffee into my lap to make me rather grateful that they don’t superheat their beverages like some burger joints. The holiday was getting off to a fine start.

Route:

From East London, one takes the N2 through Kingwilliams Town, and then turning onto the R63 past Dimbaza, Alice, Fort Beaufort to just past Bedford. Then, using the N10 to get to Cradock. The entire journey took just over 3.5 hours of driving well below the speed limit in the rain.

Attempts at quashing unpleasant thoughts of putting up the tent in the pouring rain, were not made any better by thinking that at least I’d be able to get the coffee out of my trousers.  Fortunately the rain stopped near Fort Beaufort, and although the sky remained heavily overcast, it held of until after we’d set up camp. The staff members at the Mountain Zebra Park were all excellent and we received a warm, friendly welcome.

A pretty – but unknown roadside flower in the Park

A Blesbok in poor light – relieved that we’re using a Canon not a rifle.

I know, you’re hoping I’m going to tell you how putting the tent up was an absolute nightmare, with unfolding canvas and trailing ropes causing havoc and mayhem and eventually, having threatened each other with grievous bodily harm, we enlisted the help of the Park staff. But the whole operation went without incident and within an hour and a half, the tent was up, the beds were made and we had supper on the go.

After turning in early… What kind of phrase is that exactly? I’d like to find out its etymological origins, because I’m at a loss as to what precisely one turns, or in what direction one turns… But we’re straying off the subject here.

Getting to sleep was horrendous. The bloody pillow* (which was either under or over inflated) was either sliding off the top of the stretcher, or my blanket was somehow trying to sneak off to fraternise with the bedding of someone else in the camp; or my hips ached as if I were trying to sleep on an ice rink.

Consumer advice – a word or two on camping gear:

*Inflatable pillows: There might be people out there who can sleep on these things, and even enjoy pleasant dreams while slumbering thereon. I’m not one of them. We purchased one each from Outdoor Warehouse at R150 each – and I ended up getting only approximately 27.5 winks instead of the customary 40. I therefore planned to use folded towels as a pillow if no better option presented itself the following night.

Stretchers: We’d purchased two stretchers, one at Checkers Supermarket (18 months prior to this trip – R299) and the other at Outdoor Warehouse (R699 in April 2010). In favour of the R299 stretcher is that it’s light… And that’s it. It was difficult to put up, narrow for an adult never felt very sturdy. The R699 stretcher, while a good couple of kg’s heavier, popped open quickly and easily. It was wide enough for a well upholstered adult and had a robust frame and design.

Pop back for the next rollicking episode…

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About Freud Fission Chips

Despite the banality of the name, FFC has led an intensely varied life. Grateful for surviving almost three years as a 'troepie' (soldier for non-South African Readers) in the Angolan war, he determined to wring as much out of life as possible. Currently providing Business Analysis services, trading on the stock market and developing web pages to pay the bills, FFC also dabbles in wildlife, landscape and people photography, writing, and far too many interests for his own good. He has also travelled extensively in southern Africa (working on the sound theory that a moving target is more dificult to hit). These peregrinations also include over 1500kms on foot through some of the worlds most spectacular scenery. It hasn't all been plain sailing, beer and skittles, and endless beds of roses... Chief amongst the prerequisites for surviving Africa, with its mind-bending characteristics, is an appropriate sense of humour.... So, for now, he will be recounting the amusing among the annoying, the frustrating wrapped in the funny and extracting the mirth from the melancholy... Oh yes, there might be some alliteration too.
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