I’ve never really been a ‘camping’ person. Sure, as a child I went on the requisite soggy Keycamp holidays to uninspiring parts of middle France with my family; and paid my dues in bulbous, muggy festival tents in my teens (where it’s not the sunrise you wake up to but a pool of stranger’s urine festering just centimetres from your pillow). But that was really quite enough for me. I’m certainly partial to the outdoors, but when it comes to resting my head I’d much rather be beneath a sound architectural structure than staring up at the stars. That said, we’ve been sleeping under canvas, in a roof tent for two, on the top of our trusty 4×4, for almost a month now – first in the mesmerising and parched Fish River Canyon (second largest canyon in the world, FYI) in the south of Namibia, then amidst the colossal and imposing saffron-coloured sand dunes of Sossusvlei, and finally within the lush and wild national parks of Botswana. And I kind of like it. I also kind of hate it.
The bad things:
Putting up a roof tent – This is an unwieldy contraption made from wood, aluminium, a bit of canvas and some poles that fit in somewhere. It’s a faff, it’s boring, and I don’t like doing it. The fact that you have to pack it all back up if you want to move your car two metres reduces the margin of fun by a further 60%.
Sleeping in a roof tent with a big man – Sharing a confined space with a 6ft 4 bulk who has decided not to brush his teeth or have a shower as he’s being a free spirit that day? Testing.
Travel towels – I presume all bathrooms in hell are furnished with travel towels. They are unyielding, mocking items, made from what can only be described as ‘suedette’ material. They also have a habit of sticking to your body like spiders’ webs, meaning you have to drag them stubbornly along your damp, sorry skin until it’s angry and red. Mine doesn’t even fit all the way round me, flapping open at the front like Bubbles from Little Britain as I inch apologetically around the communal shower facilities.
Weeing in the pitch black, on the ground, every night without fail – I have a bladder the size of a brazil nut, which means I need to use the Ladies’ at least once in the middle of the night, but usually twice. Of course, there is no ‘Ladies’’ in a roof tent that’s roughly the size of a picnic table. My boyfriend helpfully suggested weeing in a bottle and then discarding the contents out the front of the tent, but I can only assume he slept through the women’s biology bit at school. Instead I have to go through the 3am rigmarole of feeling around the tent for the head torch, feeling around the tent for the tissues, feeling around the tent for the zip, climbing down the ladder and then weighing up whether to make the trek to the ‘ablution block’ (perceived dangers = lions, leopards, snakes, murderers, perverts, large holes) or dropping my pyjama bottoms and relieving myself next to the wheels of our Toyota truck (this of course means the by-proxy urination on feet, pyjamas and fingers). It’s usually the latter, and I’m starting to feel degraded.
Getting changed in the car – Sometimes logistics dictate that, before bed, it’s just easier to get changed into your pyjamas in the front seat of the car (you are sleeping on top of the vehicle, after all.) This is fine, until you get down to your pants and realise that in order to put your pyjama bottoms on you must remove current pants and briefly sit your bare nether-regions on the passenger seat of your rental car. I’m remaining positive that no previous renters have had the good foresight to get changed this way.
Inflatable camping pillows – nope
The good things:
It’s exciting – It genuinely is. There’s an element of Girl Guides about it, of checking your boots for creepy-crawlies before embarking on gallant adventures into the wilderness. And notwithstanding the medium levels of peril – there’s always the chance that a baboon will hurl itself onto the top of your tent like a flying squirrel, or that the hyenas that you can hear roaming around in the middle of the night will miraculously learn to climb ladders – there’s something pleasing about cooking your dinner over a fire by lantern-light, before scuttling into the tiny bedroom that you quite literally constructed earlier.
The stars – Remember the scene in The Lion King where Mufasa appears to Simba in the constellations of the African night sky? It totally looks like that. Every night.
It makes you feel hard – If you’re staying, like we have been on occasion, in the campground area of a larger resort, you’ll see couples who have checked into ‘real’ rooms sitting blissfuly on their balconies, toasting with wine as the sun goes down. You will not be toasting with wine; you will be toasting with warm 5% lager and eating ‘oriental’ flavour instant noodles. But that’s fine, because you are harder than them. You are camping.
No wifi – While this (obviously) comes with its own frustrations, there’s also something joyous about having a complete inability to know what’s going on with the world. It’s the sort of technological version of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, ‘La la la, can’t hear you’. Once you’ve got over the anxiety of being unreachable, and of not having access to the important emails that are idling unread in your inbox (like the one that’s telling me I’ve just won thousands of pounds – I seem to miss that every week?) it’s actually very freeing. You’ll have fewer headaches, feel more creative, be less stressed and more rested. Honest.
Location, Location, Location – There is no unreachable location when you’re camping. If you like the look of a funny tree, you can bloody well go and camp next to the funny tree. If you want some solitude, you can camp slap bang in the middle of a massive field with nothing but sorry-looking cows for company. If it’s more of a sense of community you’re after, you can pitch up five metres from someone else’s tent (it happens). Just choose your location carefully – we’ve witnessed baboons ransacking one family’s poorly-chosen site (feverishly licking their breakfast bowls and tossing around their cutlery) and just the other evening we ourselves made the (incorrect) decision to camp under a tree which shed hundreds of leaves every time the wind blew. My boyfriend, growing more irate with every gust, spent our whole dinner acting as a human shield over his plate to protect his sad sausages and beans. But even with its challenges, its inconveniences and its less-than-desirable WC options, ultimately, camping as an adult is the closest you’ll get to building a sofa fort and getting away with it. Embrace it.