Many years ago, we spent a few nights at Ithala Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. We were late getting to Doornkraal Camp Site. Heavy clouds were gathering, a squally wind was blowing, and to top it off, we had a new tent to deal with. We’d finally got our hands on a dome tent – charcoal grey with bright red guy ropes – and couldn’t wait to get it pitched.
The dome went up fairly easily, but the fly sheet just didn’t seem to fit. It pulled the front of the tent downwards and sideways so the door and some parts of the dome were pulled tight and straining, whereas other bits were all baggy and wrinkly. We faffed about for ages but we couldn’t get it right. Eventually we just gave up and started on the braai.
I do most of the planning and preparation for the domestic parts of our trips, and I like to take all the glory when things go well. If things go wrong I like to be more democratic and spread the blame around. Larry couldn’t find any firelighters and things were getting ugly. I’d checked the braai kit before packing and seen two boxes. Unfortunately, as Larry was quick to point out, rather sarcastically I felt, both boxes, both empty. I got all grumpy back and snapped at him for never throwing empty packets away.
Before matters deteriorated too much, Larry found a box of Strikers. He put them on his chair, went to get the charcoal and, when he came back a monkey had stolen the Strikers and hot footed it up a tree.
‘Put it down!’ Larry cried, shaking his fist at the primate which completely ignored him and calmly shredded our Strikers into tiny, useless shreds which rained down upon us like snow. Eventually we found some paraffin and had our braai at about eleven o’clock.
The next morning I awoke with a migraine and feeling really nauseous. I couldn’t get out of the misshapen door, and promptly was sick in a corner of the tent. At that time I was particularly prone to migraines, so Larry knew the drill. He made me a warm cup of tea, found my tablets, helped me clear up the mess and then left me to sleep whilst he wandered off to the ablution block.
‘There’s only one other family in camp,’ Larry ventured when he returned, ‘I’ve met them, they’re very nice. They’ve come all the way from Pretoria. You should see their set up, it’s perfect.’
I risked getting up and squinting in the bright sunlight had a look at the other site. Larry was right, it was perfect. Two beautiful, khaki, dome tents, a sturdy gazebo and a gleaming 4×4. Even the sand around the tents had been swept.
‘Very nice,’ I agreed sulkily, ‘I’m surprised they don’t have a water feature and some window boxes.’ I’m not a very nice person when I have a headache.
‘From over there this tent looks like a *!%#*! elephant’s bum. What a *!%#*! bugger up.’ Poor Larry moaned, looking completely woebegone.
‘It’s not that bad. We can always take it back.’ I snapped and was promptly sick again. We name all our vehicles and tents, and this tent was immediately christened ‘The Bum’.
We had booked to do the Bivane Trail, but we agreed I wasn’t up to it. Instead we decided to take a gentle drive to the Main Camp to get some firelighters. I fished around in the glove compartment to find some sunglasses. Larry used to buy expensive ones, but after breaking two pairs and losing one he’s resorted to buying the cheap stuff. He’s got loads in all different colours and styles. I grabbed the first pair that came to hand and stuck them on. They didn’t seem to make much difference, so still groggy from the migraine and the tablets, I closed my eyes and assumed my dramatic ‘I have a migraine, leave me alone’ pose.
I did perk up when we spotted a black rhino. We sat there for ages and Larry got some really good photos. When another car approached, Larry hailed them over and, leaning over me, pointed out the animal, which had moved into some thick bush. The couple were Americans and Larry chatted to them for ages. I did notice them giving me some strange looks, but I know I look weird with a migraine, my face goes all puffy and my eyes retreat into the depths of their sockets. So, I adopted a sickly smile and tried to look interested, whilst I was actually just hoping I wouldn’t throw up all over them.
At the Lodge, Larry parked in the shade and went off to do the chores. By the time he came back I was feeling much better, and when he came back the second time, because he’d forgotten the firelighters, I was really on the mend.
Then I glanced in the wing mirror… Bugger! I wasn’t wearing sunglasses, I was wearing clear, plastic safety glasses! No wonder I’d thought they weren’t making any difference. And what about the Americans? Larry had chatted to them for ages while I sat there squinting, smirking and looking all preoccupied, like some maniac let out of the attic for the weekend. What on earth would they have thought? Worse, what did they think I was thinking?
‘Oh yes, when viewing rhino I insist on eye protection. It’s common knowledge they always go for the eyes.’
I gave Larry a horrified, plastic stare. ‘I’m wearing safety glasses!’
‘I know,’ he replied, ‘Those are the ones I have to wear when I go on site.’
‘But why didn’t you tell me?’
He looked nonplussed, ‘Well you were wearing them, I thought you knew, and you British ex-pats do have some weird ideas about being in the bush. I thought maybe it was a travel tip from one of those books you brought out from England with you.’
He stuck his nose in the air and did one of his brilliant (he thinks) posh British accents.
‘On safaray, whailst travelling with the windows in the open position, one may deem it waize to don safety glasses. This should prevent insects and other foreign mattah from straiking in and around the sensitive aiye ahrea.’ Glancing in the mirror again I saw that I had my T-shirt on inside out. Something else Larry had failed to notice and/or mention.
When we got back to camp our neighbour came hurrying over. He did a double take when he saw me, still cross eyed from the migraine, and wearing slightly vomit stained and inside out clothing. He explained that the monkeys had been around our tent and that he had tried to scare them off, but they’d done a lot of damage.
We thanked him, he nodded, gave me one last curious glance, and hastened off to his immaculate site. We turned to survey our nylon elephant’s a##e, now even more wrinkly, and sporting a monkey pooh and a halo of flies. The monkeys had raided our store; chips and packets of biscuits had been ripped open and strewn everywhere, and the larder was a soggy mess of wine and custard.
After clearing up the carnage, we had a very subdued braai and gratefully climbed into ‘The Bum’ for a much needed early night.
The next morning dawned bright and sparkly. We had a leisurely breakfast down by the river, even spotting some leopard spoor. Doornkraal really is an incredibly beautiful camp site.
After Brekkie we set off on the Bivane Trail. We had a fantastic leopard sighting and were beginning to think our luck had changed – when our vehicle broke down. I can’t remember what the problem was, by then it was irrelevant, just one more thing in a long line of disasters. The problems were soon fixed, but for about twenty minutes a small herd of zebra and some of the oldest rocks in Africa were witness to a bitter drama involving a broken down vehicle and a tense domestic stand-off.
That evening we decided we needed a break from our break, and we both got plastered. Larry relieved himself in the bucket I use to soak tea towels overnight and walked confidently into a tree, which he addressed firmly but politely. ‘Shorry mate, but I wonder if you wouldn’t mind shetting up somewhere else. This spot is already taken.’ He then fell asleep in his chair with his head-lamp blazing and his mouth open. Surely Africa’s answer to the Venus Fly Trap.
I woke up in the night and tiddled in my shoes because I couldn’t get out of that darn door in time. When I finally escaped I tripped on a guy rope, grabbed wildly at the fly sheet to save myself, tore it and fell flat on my face in the dirt anyway.
So, in the space of a long weekend, our brand new tent had been torn, puked in and doodled on by a monkey. Neither of us had the nerve to take it back and demand our money back. Larry, who’s very handy with things like that, modified it, and it wasn’t a bad tent in the end. ‘The Bum’ was eventually retired and replaced by Philip, one of those fantastic, turbo-quick, pop-up tents.