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Camping: African style

Ask anyone who loves the great outdoors and they'll tell you camping is a fantastic way to relax and become one with nature. Having never camped before (the closest I came was sleeping in a tent one New Years Eve with a group of friends in a caravan park) I decided to throw myself into the deep end. After all, I had no expectations. I was prepared for whatever came my way....or so I thought.

The Okavango Delta is a large area in Botswana covered by swamps. It is here that the Okavango River comes to a lull and does not continue to flow into a larger body of water. It is home to elephants, hippos, zebras, bison and crocodiles to name just a few. Over recent years it has become a popular camping spot for tour companies. To get out to the camping site is a ninety minute boat ride from dry land. The boats are canoe like structures that are manoeuvred with a large wooden pole by a local Delta guide standing at the back. The guides effortlessly transport their visitors through the reeds and water lilies.

To say the campsite has no facilities is an understatement. There are no showers or basins. The toilet is a hole in the ground dug by the guides with the seat placed over the top. There is no flushing water, so a patch of dirt is needed to be placed into the hole after each use. This comical yet effective routine involves a shovel and a roll of toilet paper being placed against a nearby tree. The camper must take the shovel and paper with them to the toilet and return it back to the tree once they are finished. Providing the procedure is followed correctly (which thankfully it was during my stay) everyone is aware of whether the toilet is occupied or vacant.No electricity meant campfire cooked meals and sitting around the flames in the evening for warmth and light. The conversation flowed freely for a group of adventure lovers that were complete strangers just a few days earlier. Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, we had to be mindful of our volume so as not to scare away the animals from the nearby watering hole. As I sat by the campfire I could hear the splashing of a zebra coming down to have a drink.

I woke around 5 am the next morning. I could hear loud grunting noises nearby. For a moment I sat up and tried to peer outside my tent. It was still dark. I couldn't see a thing. Then a wave of calm engulfed me. The grunting I could hear was hippos. I was in Africa. I laid back down on my mattress on the floor and fell asleep.

There was a glorious section of water within a few metres of the camp. It was cool and refreshing, especially considering it was our only method of bathing. I spent hours in the water being thankful for the opportunity to swim in one of the most tranquil places on Earth.

The sounds of the Delta are a true indication of being in Africa. On the final night, our guides entertained us with their beautiful choral renditions of some traditional songs of Botswana. Their native tongue entwined with some English words as they rhythmically clapped and danced by the fire. And, as if it had been ordered, there was lightning in the distance to make this an unforgettable experience.

So now when I'm asked if I've ever been camping, I don't have to be embarrassed. I can say that I have roughed it with the best of them. I have camped in the Okavango Delta.

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