What I did on my holidays - 2005/6 travel blog

So what is African camping like so far?

Well, it's weird - not at all what I expected. Most countries don't let you set up your own camp in the wilderness anymore, so everyone stays at big, organised campsites. That means that each one can contain several overland trucks at any one time. I expect that we will bump into the same people time and time again, although groups do travel at different paces and in different directions, and this hasn't really happened so far.

Every campsite is different, but generally they are of a very high standard. There is always a clean, 1970s style toilet block with toilet paper and hot showers. Some of these "ablutions blocks" are spotless; others need a lot of maintenance. There are generally soft lawns or sand to pitch the tents on. There are secure gates to keep the riff raff, but not always the animals, out. There is nearly always a bar with Windhoek beer and drinking games going on among the larger of the groups. There is almost invariably a shop selling Walls ice creams (especially limited edition Magnums (Magna?)) and chilled drinks. There is often a small, murky swimming pool. There is sometimes a laundry service. Most importantly, there is usually some shade, although caterpillars do have a tendency to fall out of the trees on you. It would be luxurious if you didn't have to camp.

But in fact you don't have to camp. Subject to availability, one can sometimes upgrade to a room or hut and get a good night's sleep and a power point from which to charge one's iPod. I haven't done it yet, but it won't be long before I do, I'm sure.

The group comprises nine people, and I'm the odd one out, with a tent to myself (if you don't count the insect life). Very nice - on some trips you'd have to pay extra for such a luxury. The tents are easy to put up, and hole-free. The only problems come from rocky campgrounds and high winds, or if there has been rain. Camping in mud is no fun.

One of the oddest things about this part of Africa is that you have to book everything in advance, from camp sites to boat trips to local guides. So Kara is always on the phone, arranging things days if not weeks ahead. I guess it makes sense if you think about it: you can't afford to drive through hundreds of miles of wilderness to find that the only campsite is full, or that another overland truck has got there before you and nabbed your local bush guide.

And the campsites are very often in the middle of nowhere: little enclaves of civilisation far removed from the Africa outside them. You might think that this is cheating, and that it isolates you from the real Africa. It is, and it does, but life on the road is tough-going and it's only the campsites that keep you sane.

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