It seemed a slightly strange request from our soon-to-be eight-year-old; to take her ‘proper’ camping for her birthday when she had spent most of her life growing up in a tent, writes Samantha du Toit. However, missing ‘proper’ camping themselves, the family happily obliged.
Preparation started with digging out old tin trunks full of slightly rusty pots and pans, dusting out camping tents, relocating the grill, deciding on bedding options and, of course, creating campfire-friendly food menus. At last, with the car heaving under the weight of our outdoor equipment, we set off to our new campsite; a short journey of a mere kilometre or so from camp but, nonetheless, a different world. Located right on the river, and a few feet from a small sandy valley which we knew from past experience was a key drinking point for many wild animals, our new campsite was just the right size. Nestled in the bushes, we had enough space for our cooking area and two tents; one for us and one for Auntie and Uncle, who were joining our birthday fun.
As the camp came to life with a washing up station in place, tents and beds made up and tables and chairs put around the campfire, preparations for dinner started. The children rose to the occasion, delighted to help with all the chores and preparations as it all seemed novel and fun. As the light was fading, we almost could not believe our eyes as, in the distance, a small family of elephants made their way carefully down to the river to drink. They could not see us, and dinner preparations on hold, we watched them until the light faded. Later, we sat with a delicious meal on the plates on our laps, tasting all the better for the time and campfire smoke it had taken to get it there.
The night noises seemed closer than usual. As we fell asleep we could hear the distant bark of baboons, the closer whoop of the hyenas and perhaps some more elephants splashing in the cool river.
In the morning we started our day by reading the ‘morning news’ or in other words, looking for who had come to drink in the night. A plethora of tracks greeted us including leopard, hyena, various gazelles and a porcupine. Seyia shrieked with surprise when she noticed our washing up sponge in the bushes with a few chunks missing from it. A hungry genet had done that, we all assumed. As we stood and turned around from the river to walk back to the campsite, we gasped to see a lioness with her four small cubs looking at us, very surprised to see us on their way to drink. She stared at us for what seemed like a long time, but in reality was probably a split second, before heading off at a fast trot in the opposite direction. Her cubs followed, and we could track their progress away from us by the warning calls of the baboons and vervet monkeys.
We spent the rest of the day by the river, relaxing, swimming, cooking and bird watching. We returned to main camp the following day, tired and dirty but with blissful memories of our ‘proper’ camping trip and with a family pact not to leave it so long until the next time.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.