You don’t get much more socially distant than when you put up your tent under the twisted bent thorn tree in the campsite in the Kuiseb River in the Namib Desert.
Some years ago, as my wife, kids and I sat around the fire, I mused: “You know guys, if you go 80km in any direction from here, you will probably not encounter another human being …”
One could sense the shivers down spines as the realisation of aloneness sank in. Then I told them about my mate John, who used to work as a geophysicist doing research in the canyon – and how the resident brown hyenas used to stalk them while they worked. That did it – everybody piled into the main tent and hurriedly zipped up the door.
Because I still had to finish my red wine and because, in the words of my daughter, “Dad you snore!” I was banished to the second, “supply” tent for the night.
Okaukuejo Camp in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Picture: iStock
That is the sort of camping I used to love. Being in a place beautiful while at the same time faintly inhospitable and dangerous yet light years away from other people … that is the essence of the tented life.
I’ve done it alone – and woken up to an Indian Ocean sunrise in Port St Johns as the sole occupant of the then Second Beach campsite; and fallen asleep to the sound of waves crashing on rocks at the Tsitsikamma National Park.
We’ve done it as a couple – in the desert in Namibia, the bush in Botswana and the Chimanimani Mountains in Zimbabwe. When family arrived, we took them to Kruger National Park and lived in a tent for a few days at Malelane camp, pushed right up against the perimeter fence by the selfish caravanners who illegally hogged the grassed sites for tents.
In the end, that cloud had a silver lining because we got a ringside seat to an evening appearance of a massive porcupine, which the caravanners missed as they braaied and dipped …
Camping is a cheap way for young families to get out and explore the country, and the cost factor alone is going to see a growth in camping in the months and years after this pandemic is over.
However, it is also a great way to introduce children to the outdoors and to get them involved in looking after themselves. Kids can be taught to help with setting up camp and, if they are old enough, can also be entrusted with cooking … although cleaning up is everyone’s task.
Because campsites are often located in or near wildlife reserves, it is a good way to expose youngsters to our natural flora and fauna.
Camping is a good way to teach kids to think logically – especially if you start early with getting them to help you pack the car. They will learn about what they want (like to take a large quantity of toys) is always subject to reality (there are four people in the car and food and camping kit in the boot).
It will help with spatial awareness, too, as they see that rearranging a cooler box and squeezing the duvets or sleeping bags on top or around it helps to leave very little unused space.
Sadly, in our family at least, we grew out of camping when the offspring hit their teens. It’s not so cool by that stage. Also, having ourselves spent hundreds of nights in tents, sharing campsite ablution blocks, we started gravitating towards self-catering accommodation.
Some people never lose their love of sleeping outdoors. My parents-in-law – who spent some of the first years of their married life in a tented road construction camp – were still going to Kruger into their late 70s and early 80s.
Camping will fit perfectly into the new society people are predicting, post-coronavirus. Life will be simpler, it will be cheaper and, perhaps because of that, we will appreciate it more.
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