The last time I slept under canvas was as a girl guide and I don’t like to think about how many years ago that was! I remember that it rained so hard during the night that our tent, which was pitched at the bottom of a hill, was in danger of being washed away. We ended up spending the rest of the night on the floor of the scout hut! This time, though, we were in Ethiopia in the dry season so there was no danger of history repeating itself. Despite this, the thought of sleeping on hard ground and having to use unsanitary drop toilets filled me with a sense of dread. It was certainly not a part of the trip I was looking forward to! In the event, however, I really enjoyed it. Yes, it was cold. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, I was dirtier than I’d ever been in my life by the end of it. BUT, it was fun!!
|Christie and our tents|
I explained about overlanding in an earlier post, but it was in the mountains that our truck, Christie, really came into her own. We had everything on board that we needed to survive a few days away from civilisation. We just had to learn how everything worked! Only one of our party had done this before. The rest of us were rookies, so we needed to be shown how to do everything. Luckily, we were quick learners and got into the routine straight away.
The tents were stowed under a tarpaulin on Christie’s roof, so they had to be got down and each one had to be matched with its tent poles which were kept in a side locker. The tents had built-in ground sheets and were straightforward to put up and take down. We all made the mistake on the first night of not pegging down our fly sheets. As the temperature dropped and the wind got up, they offered us no protection and kept us awake with the noise they made banging on the sides of the tent. We made sure they were pegged down on all subsequent nights!
That first night under canvas was incredibly cold. We had been advised in our pre-trip information about possible sub-zero temperatures in the mountains, but concerns about having to carry heavy packs had outweighed common sense and we had left our all-weather sleeping bags and fleece jackets at home. Also, I have to admit to a certain scepticism at the warnings. I mean, when you think of Ethiopia, you think of sweltering heat, don’t you? Any such disbelief was banished, though, when we opened our tent flaps on that first morning to find a thick frost on the ground! This sent us all running to the National Park office, where we had no hesitation in paying exorbitant prices to hire warm blankets for the remainder of our stay!
|Mark and Nick on cooking duty|
When it came to feeding ourselves whilst we were camping, we followed tried and tested methods laid down by previous overlanding groups. We were split into ‘cook teams’ of three people, each team being responsible for producing breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire group on a given day. Before embarking on our camping trip, we had to plan our menus and we were then taken to a local market to buy what we needed, as I described in a previous post. Christie was well-equipped with cooking utensils, pans, and a selection of dried goods, including a variety of herbs and spices to add flavour to our culinary masterpieces, so we just had to buy fresh ingredients, bearing in mind that it would be several days before some of us got to cook and refrigeration space was severely limited!
In camp, the cooking itself was done on two large gas burners which, at altitude (3760m), took an age to boil a kettle. This meant that, on the day they were on duty, the cook team had to get up an extra hour early just to make sure the coffee was ready!
Washing up was carried out following a strict protocol. With water at a premium, three half-filled bowls were arranged in a line; the first had washing-up liquid in it, the second was clear for rinsing, and the third had added disinfectant to kill any germs. We were shown the correct techniques to ensure that the water remained clean for as long as possible. When items had been through all three processes, they had to be ‘flapped dry’, which involved us all, a wet plate or dish in each hand, swinging our arms around like dervishes – a great way to get warm on a cold morning!!
|Flapping the dishes dry|
Camping in the Ethiopian mountains meant that we had no access to any kind of plumbed-in washing facilities and our only toilets were of the long drop ‘hole-in-the-ground’ variety. Despite these hardships, we soon got used to the ‘Wet Wipe Washes’ and the liberal use of hand sanitiser. Mark even managed to remain clean-shaven, using a disposable razor and half a cupful of water!
|Meal time in camp|
|Telling stories round the campfire|
In the evenings, we had lovely campfires which served not only to give us some welcome warmth, but which also encouraged us to share stories and, hence, bring us closer together as a group. With no light pollution, the night skies were amazing – millions of stars and dazzling meteor showers.
All in all, the camping experience was nothing but positive and perhaps I won’t leave it so many years before I do it again!