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African night-time adventures

24 February 2012

Camping in the wild

As part of our Africa Ultimate Overlander with Acacia, we had a number of safaris throughout Africa.  In both the Masai Mara and the Serengeti we camped “in the wild”.  In the Mara we had a fence around us (although the gate looked a little decrepit) and permanent tents that had en suite toilet and shower and we were greeted by monkeys so locking the tents was a real must.  Both trips took place in little trucks that actually took us on Safari (they had roofs that lifted up so that we could stand up and see out).  We stayed in the same camp in the Mara for two nights and used that as a base for two afternoon and two morning drives whereas in the Serengeti we stayed one night in the wild in the middle of the Serengeti and another night in wild on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater. 

The first campsite (apologies for the low exposure at night...)

The campsites in the Serengeti and on the crater were much more open and as a consequence we had more opportunity to experience the wildlife.  Jay (the guide who had left the truck to take us on the smaller trips) warned us not to camp to close to the cooking huts (those and the shower/toilet block were the only permanent structures) but not to get too isolated from the group.  As a result Anna and I pitched our tents right next to Jay’s tent and we have at least lived to tell the tale… 

Ngorongoro crater

Reported in the vicinity

The second night was a different story.  The drive to the camp had been about 3-4 hours but this had been slightly rushed due to problems with the trucks, although we did take the time to stop and take pictures of a pride of lions we whizzed past what would have been an amazing picture of a lion on one of the quintessential rock outcrops.  We got the first inkling that the second campsite was going to be more lively when we excitedly spotted 4 elephants on the right hand side of the road and then promptly turned into the track to the campsite, the elephants being less than a mile from where we slept. 

Guards

Wherever we have been camping in Kenya (and now Tanzania) the perimeters of the campsite have been guarded by Masai warriors.  They generally seemed to be over 50 and quite scrawny but they do have Masai spears (despite their best attempts to sell them to us) and we should really be grateful for someone who may provide a first course to our tent.  The Masai circumcise their children (boys and girls) and boys are not allowed to cry (no anaesthetic) or they will be shamed for life and not allowed to take a wife.  As the Masai are polygamous and one man will generally take 10-15 wives (our white water rafting guide said that you should never ask an African whether he is married but ask rather “how many wives do you have?”) I don’t know whether this actually means more boys cry out than they let on.  Either that or the bride price of ten cows (apparently a standard price that doesn’t vary with the quality of wife) is a bit steep for most young men.  The Masai are nomadic and do not apparently believe in money, roaming their herds of cows or sheep (not, apparently, interchangeable with cows for a bride price) for grazing and living a subsistence life but unsurprisingly they seem more interested in money when you go to take a photo of one of them.

But anyway, my point is that most of the campsites have had Masai guards with spears.  On the rim of the crater, one of the guards had an AK47.  These had been carried by our rangers for the Gorilla trek because apparently they occasionally had to scare forest elephants off the narrow tracks (by shooting into the air) but I didn’t much fancy being woken to the sound of gunfire. 

We arrived late due to the problems with the truck and had quick showers (I had been playing a mixture of football and ultimate Frisbee when waiting for the truck and had worked up a bit of a sweat).  The shower block with the proper toilets were quite a (dark) long walk from the tents but there were drop toilets closer in.  Quite frankly I don’t mind watering the grass late at night but don’t really understand the campsite builders’ logic. 

As we were late, we had dinner outside, as the dining hut was full, and settled down by a roaring campfire for some chat and a couple of beers before bed.  I had been tempted by some red wine earlier but at $20 for the bottle Anna had snapped the purse strings shut (she likes to look after the money and I occasionally get given some pocket money for a beer but most of the campsites run on a tab system so I manage to survive). 

A more satisfying night

The second campsite

We warned the guard that there was a bush pig because I had heard they could be quite dangerous and thought he may want to warn other guests.  He seemed more inclined to believe that it was actually a Warthog and asked us to show it to him.  As we led him up he realised that it actually was a bush pig, said “very big” and I have never seen anyone back up so quickly!  We took the longer route back to the fire. 

Later that evening, at around 9:30 (we go to bed early in Africa as it gets very dark about 6ish) Paul and Belinda (an Australian couple on their honeymoon here) announced that they were going to bed.  We were surprised to see them only a few minutes later but it turned out that a buffalo was outside of their tent.  We went to inspect and Jay recommended that they stayed up a little longer to allow the buffalo time to move away.  We started playing a bit of Uno by firelight to pass the time.

After a while, Paul and Belinda wanted to go to bed so we decided to check on the Buffalo situation.  It was still there as we could see by shining our torches into the distant bushes.  As we were watching, another camper walked yards in front of the buffalo without seeing it because his torch was trained forwards.  We shone our torches to check it was still there and the Buffalo gave a snort.  I had thought the guard had moved quickly earlier that evening, but with an exclamation of “let’s get out of here”, Jay was back at the fire before we had time to think. 

Eventually one of the Masai guards shooed the buffalo away and we all decided to take the opportunity to head for bed, wondering what else we would come across if we stayed up much longer.  Jay assured us that there were only two buffalo and they would not charge a tent but may continue to graze in the area.

During the night

Also reported in the vicinity

It had been an early start so going to sleep was not a problem.  However, I awoke about 4:00 am after a funny dream.  We had started off using the self-inflating roll mats in addition to the provided mats but it hadn’t taken long for us to give up on those in exchange for the valuable extra minutes saved on the early morning starts.  My Dad always reckons that hard beds are good for your back anyway…  My cheap travel pillow has been the biggest problem but I inherited a larger pillow from Richard and Sarah when they went back to England and have slept soundly since then. 

Anyway, I was rolling over to go back to sleep, when I heard a low thud, some snuffling and a strange, repetitive tearing sound.  I lay there, listening to the rhythmic repetition of thud and tear, with the occasional low grunting.  The sound was too consistent for it to be Jay playing a prank (and I have to confess to having scraped outside of Ben and Emma’s tent before we went to bed) and I concluded that there was either a buffalo or a bush pig grazing by our tent.

Was this sniffing around outside...?

 As I lay there, contemplating my options, I saw a light shine on from Jay’s neighbouring tent, which quickly disappeared.  After a little while during which more lions roared in the distance, more lights came on and I heard the sound of the animals moving hastily away.  In the morning, Jay told me that he had awoken and thought that he heard jackals scratching at our tent and so had popped his head out to shoo them away, before realising that they were buffalo and which point he lay back and hoped that no-one in his group would be silly enough to open their tents.  There had been a large herd of buffalo grazing amongst the tents and eventually the guards had shooed them away, which I confirmed by the fresh extra dung amongst the tents.

From → Travel

One Comment
  1. Oh my gosh! What a wild night!

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