When I was a young teenager living in Zambia, we went camping in the bush with my uncle. It was amazing! We packed up the Land Rovers with all our camping gear, food, clothes, games and cards, and bush-stuff (cameras, binoculars, bird and animal books, oh and guns!). The rifles and ammunition all went in a big chest, with a BIG lock, onto my uncle’s Landy. Another of the Landys towed Dad’s boat, a Hamilton Jet V8, which was packed with petrol, water skis and life-jackets. We youngsters chose which Landy to travel in, depending on ages, and friendships. It was far to go, so we left very early in the morning after an excited and sleepless night.
Setting up camp was huge fun. The Landys parked to form a laager, or circle. The campfires were readied in the middle, one for cooking, and one for sitting around. Actually one big pit, but the smaller cooking fire was at the edge, on one side. Beds for the women and us youngsters were made up in the Landys. The men slept around the fire, while one or two took guard shifts. We were in Big 5 territory after all, and close to a river. Predators and hippos go walkabout at night as they hunt or forage. The culled carcasses were hung high up in a tree, some distance from camp for our safety. There were hungry predators and scavengers that sometimes managed to enjoy a free meal! A lion left large, scary paw prints and no carcass tied in the branches the first night!
The adults and older youngsters water skied on the croc and hippo infested river! But you had to be good, and not scared! The boat was driven up and down the river a few times, to encourage the submerged “dears” to vacate the area. Then you strapped on the skis and stood on the edge of the riverbank. The boat roared off and as the ski rope started to tighten, you took a flying leap into the water, hoping your timing was right and balance was good! It was beyond thrilling or exhilarating as you went for a relatively short ski on the river. Landing was done as close to the bank as possible, some clever ones could leap out of the ski’s and run wildly up the bank with arms wheeling, screaming and yelling, as their legs pumped! It usually ended badly with thorns in feet, skinned knees and bruises from falling; due to acceleration winning out! But it was hysterical to watch! The rest of us prayed as we dropped the rope and skied in, “Don’t hit the bank! Don’t hit a hiding croc! Don’t do the splits in the reeds!” It was the best skiing ever! There wasn’t an accident, but I honestly don’t understand why!
One day a bunch of moms and us youngsters went for a slow boat ride upriver to spot game. They don’t seem to mind a boat, and are as curious as we are. It was great seeing what was there. We were almost back at the campsite when the inboard engine caught fire! We had some towels, so used them to try to smother the flames. One caught fire and was thrown into the water. We managed to fish it out and threw it on top of the ones doing the smothering, and smoldering! The fire wouldn’t go out fast enough! It was crazy! Hippos and crocs watched with fascination, and we paddled like mad! The only man aboard, my dad, had decided to jump overboard and try to swim for help when we got the fire under control. All caution had been thrown to the wind and water was being poured onto the engine. A smallish branch came serendipitously floating by, and was grabbed and used to try to paddle to shore. Our shouts and the smoke had alerted the rest of the group and they brought a Landy, fortunately one with a winch, to investigate. We were winched to shore and the boat dragged out of the water. Nobody was hurt and we were all hugely excited at our adventure! It made for great campfire stories that night!
During the day the youngsters were taken game viewing in the Landys. It was fantastic. We saw everything from aardvarks to zebras! We saw births, hunting, kills, and babies learning and playing. Insects doing the busy thing, birds building nests and learning to fly. We learnt behavioural patterns, territorial displays, courtship and mating rituals, identified tracks and calls, and had the most incredible experiences. Nothing was left out, or not investigated or watched avidly. Pure magic!
Wild, exciting days and beautiful, shared nights made for some incredibly wonderful memories.