Saturday, November 7, 2009

Camp Terror

After Christmas just outside Montreal with Vince's family (at last!), we will head south of the equator once again, to the southern tip of Africa.

Thing is, we haven't a trip planned. Aside from enjoying the parental home, many hikes in the mountains, and hopefully some horse riding, there is no Trip. Last year I had been angling for the Kruger Park, but Vince had his heart set on the dunes - a childhood dream - and now the memories of the Namib and Kgalagadi are very, very dear. We wouldn't mind going back.

With the popular Kruger, I am worried about traffic jams. That's when ten or more cars swoop onto a siting of something Interesting, like lions, or leopard, and just park their fat rear ends haphazardly in the middle of the road with telephotos pointing up each others' bottoms. It's horrible. In the middle of beauty you get...road hogs.

It only happened once in the Kgalgadi because we were there in the hot season, so there were not many people about. But how about Kruger in late January or early February?

The parts I liked, loved, about camping were the beauty, the fire, the cooking, the utter self- sufficiency, the feeling of being iconic within an icon. Hard to describe. I am camping. Look at me camping. My espresso pot, my braai, my glass of red wine, my man, the camel thorn trees.

This gave me great pleasure.

But what I discovered was that my night terrors have stayed the same since the age of 7, when I tried to camp on the lawn in my parents' garden: what's that?? and that? footsteps! creeping nearer! man with an axe! hyenas!! a mad, frothing dog!!!!!!

Unless I feel quite safe - and we did in deserted Namibia, especially at Sesriem and Klein Aus, where only tourists and park workers were nearby, I am a nervous camper. I spurned the cliff-ringed, huge-treed site at Koedoesrus, because it was totally deserted. Not another tent in site. Only one road in. It was the set of a horror movie. Beautiful, remote, inaccessible. House nearby for the ranger lady and man. Murder in the making. Silent leopard sneaking to the zipper of the tent at night. Pouncing on human going to pee in the, er, wee hours. It happens!


And at Paternoster, a few hours from Cape Town, where my night terrors caused Vince to take up all night watch outside the tent. I couldn't reconcile it: not a mile away, in the seaside village, people were sleeping in their tidy, picturesque, whitewashed houses with triple locks, artful burglar bars and alarms, and here we were sleeping inside a nylon tent. Huh? Not 150 miles away my brother and wife had robbers sneaking up their stairs in the middle of the night.

An engine idling on the road above us for about ten minutes froze my blood. It was past midnight. Why would they do that? I remembered the lone bakkie with the lone man patrolling the road in the late afternoon, what did they want? Was the 4 x 4 a hot hijack item? We had chosen a spectacular camp site, away from all the others. Hidden by granite boulders. Great. Hidden. Out of site. We're making it easy for the pouncers.

Can anyone answer these questions? A seasoned South African camper? Do campers get pounced on? Is it all in my fevered imagination?

I wish I weren't like this. But in this context I am a wuss. I will step, and have stepped, into the middle of a brawl, if I see a way to stop it, or go on the offensive if I see someone being hurt; the call to action in these cases is automatic. But it's the fear of being snuck up on unawares that does me in.

To clarify. I think I would feel the same camping anywhere. It's in my head. It's the movie myth. The camp fire spook story. The couple in Bainskloof hacked by the escaped convict. The innocents by the roadside. The brother who taught me about werewolves under the bed and sharks in the swimming pool.

In the South African context, though, there is that larger mental mantle of violent crime so feared and so ingrained.

I would like to take the equivalent of a barium meal and highlight all those amygdalic fear pockets and have them removed, so I that may sleep in peace, and allow my husband to sleep in peace, under the stars.

So: Kgalagadi again? We never went as far as the Botswanan side last time. Karoo National Park? Kruger? Wild Coast (I can see I would have camping issues there...)?

And for a cursory look at crime in SA, click here.
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