It was good to be back at the Karoo National Park and the familiar road led us to the reception area where we booked in. Again we were impressed and gratified by the friendliness of the staff, and as we drove of to the campsite, we concluded that the park still appears to be well run. Having selected our camp site, we set to getting the tent up.
To most people, a tent is a benign lump of fabric (canvas or nylon) and ropes which, together with a few poles and pegs, provide shelter and sleeping space. Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the greater lies that have ever been imposed on human kind.
All the tents of my acquaintance have been malevolent living things which generally spend about 50 weeks of the year lying in the shed, plotting evil acts on their owners. To make matters worse they conspire with the poles and pegs to inflict as much pain and suffering upon their humans as possible.
Have you ever watched a couple of inexperienced campers erect a tent? As an afternoon’s jolly good gratis entertainment, it is highly recommended. They might be naive newlyweds or simply a couple whose only desire is to experience the innocent pleasure of the Great Outdoors. Watch them as they arrive at the campsite. She will gaze adoringly into her hero’s eyes as he, in an assured, competent fashion, strides off to unload the tent.
The first strike at his self-confidence occurs when he opens the trailer expecting to simply transfer the tent from trailer to ground. Despite painstaking attention to correct packing at home, the tent has maliciously, and in collusion with the rest of the trailer’s contents, turned itself all around and inside out, and is now a chaotic melee of canvas, ropes, poles and packets of food. Undeterred, our brave new camper enlists the help of his better half, and it’s downhill from there.
Once freed from the confines of the trailer, the tent extends its ropes tentacle-like around an ankle of the beloved wife who ends up in a most undignified position on the ground. An ill-concealed giggle from our man starts to erode the damsel’s esteem of her beau and she begins to feel that perhaps they should have put the tent up at home first.
The next thing is that the tent has apparently done away with the door flap. No matter how the two campers have wrestled with the confounded thing, the door flap continues to elude them. Standing on opposite sides of the heap, our man has changed from cooing gentle suggestions to his darling, to barking out staccato instructions: “Turn it round to your left. No! Not YOUR left, MY left! What’s the matter with you?” To which she acerbically points out. “The door flap is actually on MY side. Now if you will be quiet for two seconds and turn the dashed thing around 180 degrees it will be in the right place.” By now the Dear Wife is wondering from which side of the family he inherited his brutish behaviour, and decides that her mother was right; he IS an idiot and she always thought this camping lark was utter foolishness from the very beginning.
Whether by lucky guess or ingenuity, the door flap is indeed discovered where Mrs. Camper said it would be; and it is now her turn to smirk. Our man cannot see anything remotely amusing in all of this and he is wishing he’d booked in at a local hotel. The tent now gives the appearance of being finally subdued, and the rest of the process occurs in sullen silence. In a final act of defiance, the tent causes the man to momentarily lose concentration while hammering in the tent pegs, striking his thumb with the mallet. His subsequent howls and gymnastics cause his wife to cheer up considerably; and onlookers to wonder if the new arrivals belong to a strange religious order.
But we are made of wiser and sterner stuff. Experience has taught us to show the bally tent who’s boss right from the start. At home, the tent is tied up ‘vas’ with ratchet straps. Upon arrival at the camp ground, in a highly coordinated attack, the tent is grabbed out of the bakkie, manhandled into the correct position and the thing erected before it has time to adjust to the sunlight….Except today.
Today, the tent came out, meek as you please. It lay on the ground in mute submission. It was as we were inserting the poles that the thing attacked me. A section of tent pole, seeing its opportunity to cause mischief, sprang from its socket and struck me sharply on the forehead – right between the eyes. Seeing a trickle of blood meandering towards the tip of my nose, and hearing my muttered expletives (observers attest that my degree of eloquence is directly proportional to the level of pain) the tent became all contrite and permitted itself to be pitched to completion. But even then our years of experience held us back from blaming each other.
We stood for a moment, panting and perspiring; looking a little worse for wear while the tent sullenly stood against the bush. A mental image of a nice cool drink shimmered into focus in the mind’s eye and with another spurt of energy we set up the rest of the kit and had a braai (BBQ) fire going in short order.
Din dins consisted of a couple of those mouth watering Karoo Lamb chops, salad and a roosterkoeke (griddle cakes) we’d bought at the farm stall. As soon as the fire lost its heat, we moved inside out of the cold and listened to the unique sounds of an African night from the warmth of our sleeping bags. After a while, the silences between our conversations became longer as sleep overtook us. At about 21:30 a pair of Jackals, quite close to the camp, began their hysterical howling, telling those within earshot that a hunt was underway.
I remembered nothing more until about 2:30am when I awoke freezing and as nature dictates at these temperatures, needing the loo. Bleary eyed and ‘deur die mis’ with sleep (a most apt Afrikaans expression literally translated as “through the mist” or more crudely, “through the manure”) I shoved my feet into my boots, fumbled with far too many zips in the tent and made for the ablution block – in a pair of shorts and a T shirt.
About three paces away from the tent, the cold got its claws into me forcing me to run for the gents. My increased pace must have been hilarious to any onlooker as it made me look like a demented Pink Panther stalking his arch enemy. After far too long in the draughty ablution block, I hot footed it back to the tent – although I can assure you that hot footing is entirely the wrong phrase in these circumstances. The cold was so intense that I checked the thermometer we bring along for these purposes. At minus 6 degrees Celcius (and a wind chill factor that made it feel like 2Kelvin), I realised that any reports of this temperature of a solely verbal nature would label me as a shameful liar – so I photographed it – just for you.
It took ages to get back to sleep and it felt like I’d just closed my eyes when the early morning silence was split by the thunderous roar of two male lions. Yes folks. The Karoo National Park is now home to a pride of ten lions. The original number was eight, but two cubs were recently born in the park bringing the number to ten and giving the game wardens hope of increasing numbers in the near future. Now, on a clear night, a lion’s roar can be heard 10kms away and we later found spoor telling us they were a mere 1.5km from the tent, so you can imagine that the sound reverberated into one’s body precipitating a state of instant wakefulness. My watch said it was just before 5am – and it didn’t say it very kindly either – most indignant at having such an interrupted night. We didn’t complain though –we just renewed our feelings of gratitude at the privilege of hearing such magnificent sounds of Wildest Africa.