Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to Camp in South Africa

There may be campgrounds in South Africa where people bring their own tents and pitch them on the edges of streams like we do in upstate New York and New Jersey, but that is not the type of camping we did at Shongweni Dam. The dam was originally built in 1927 and went under the name of the Vernon Hooper Dam. I don't know the history of why it was created, only that it was mostly the Brits who were involved. Kwa-Zulu Natal was a British area back in the colonial days, so this is not unusual. It's not a huge dam, but it's sizable spanning about 200 meters or so and creating a good sized lake. If you canoe around the perimeter of the lake, which we did, it's probably about 5 km.

The Shongweni Dam area is also a nature reserve. There is a game drive one can take, but the game is strictly ungulates (hoofed critters), including rhino and giraffe, and some reptiles (no predators). We didn't have time for the game drive, but we did see animals. We had a pleasantly close encounter with a small group of zebra who are tame from years of grazing in the camp areas. They like to graze at the edge of the lake. We were able to get out of the vehicle and stand only feet away from them for photos. Zebra, like most animals with an instinct for self-preservation, tend to run away if you get too close. And there were monkeys...vervets. Vervets are small to medium sized monkeys that live in fairly large troops. They are capable of being pretty omnivorous, much like baboons. So it's no surprise that they have taken on a somewhat commensal role in South Africa. In other words, they will steal any food you leave outside your tent and they will rummage through your trash. They'll take just about anything you leave lying about because they are, after all, primates and therefore curious little buggers.

We got into camp around 5pm and settled in. The four of us stayed in a tented cabin on a raised wooden platform. The tents are large, heavy canvas that provide a lovely camping space. There was even a refrigerator in the tent and a microwave-hotplate contraption. We grilled meat outside and ate our dinner on the deck looking over the lake and drank a cheap liquor called Old Brown's. It's a sherry of some sort. Dinner was excellent and we all slept well. The next morning the monkeys arrived. I stood guard out on the deck to make sure they didn't snag anything. They are smart and have a system where one or two individuals divert your attention while the other sneaks in and takes stuff from you. Clever, but luckily I am not that gullible. I did manage to get some video of the monkeys. I'll try to put it online when I get back. I doubt I'll manage to do it while I'm here.

After we got packed we rented canoes so we could take a row around the lake. We rented two canoes at only ZAR 120 (maybe $16) each. Neither Ciprian nor I have much experience with rowing. I have a bit of rowboat experience from when I was a kid, but precious little. Luckily they were flat-bottomed canoes and not too hard to control. Still, Ciprian and I managed to splash around a lot and lag behind the considerably more experienced Justin and Daniela.

Our last full day in Durban was spent accompanying Daniela to her job at Hillcrest AIDS Centre. It is an impressive operation. They have a respite unit, a shop to sell the goods made by the beaders and other craftspeople, a plant nursery, and a used clothing shop. The grounds are beautiful and everyone we met was warm and welcoming. Ciprian helped Daniela with some work while I took care of some business of my own. It was a relaxing day and I drove home. I got a fair amount of driving experience and now that I'm in Botswana I've gotten even more.

The next blog will be about a few days. There is a lot to say!

No comments: