It isn’t every day that your toilet looks out on, and is open to, a game reserve. No door, walls made of thin sticks clumped together – a lovely white porcelain throne overlooking the tranquil wilds of Africa. Perfect for when you’re alone on the bowl and pondering life; not so perfect when there are other people around who can hear every little splash. It’s humbling on multiple fronts, and the concept of ‘getting back to nature’ takes on new meaning. When nothing but some skinny strands of metal separate you, in your (quite literally) vulnerable position, from multiple possible death-inducing scenarios, and there is nothing to shield others from the less savory of your bodily functions, ego gets flushed down the pipes with the rest of the toilet’s contents.
The toilet I speak of (and there IS only a single toilet) sits quite literally at the edge of the fenced-in area in our campsite, about three feet (or around a meter for our metrically-obsessed) from a wire fence that doesn’t look like it could keep out a chicken, let alone lion and elephant. I’m not even sure if it’s electrified, and am not volunteering to test it out regardless. If the opportunity arises, I’ll just have to leave it to fate and put my survival skills to the test. Would be kind of interesting to see how well, or not so well, I fared without a gun or other man-made defense accoutrement against true apex predators, but again, not going to make the effort unless I have no other choice. Again, not volunteering.
I learned what I was made of on a recent sleep-out in Tembe Elephant Park, where I parked my vanity on the back of the Land Cruiser and embraced the rustic little village of pre-fab houses that made up our camp. Solid walls? Check. Bed? Check. Sheets? Nope. Curtains? Nope. Privacy? Zilch. I was glad I brought plenty of layers of clothing. They might at the very least deter some of the vast array of insects inside the house from snuggling up in my armpits or in other areas I’d prefer not to think about.
While the accommodations were spartan, the campsite itself was full of life, courtesy of seven very happy people celebrating being able to let loose for an evening in a place where letting loose often means the possibility of losing limbs. Letting loose here doesn’t happen often, and when it does, you cherish it. You do what any self-respecting South African does. You buy a whole bunch of meat and throw it on a grid set over a mass of burning coals, crack a beer or a cider, and braai.
Braaing is the SA equivalent to bbq-ing. Sometimes lion, leopard and hyena come to the party, though, giving it a uniquely African element you simply cannot recreate anywhere else. A pit is dug, filled with the appropriate type of wood – appropriate because the wrong wood being burned could land you in the hospital here because of the toxins it releases – and a small fire is lit. Over a few hours, you sit around this ember-inducing circle, drinking, sharing stories, and waiting for the coals to heat up enough for the big event.
Once enough suitable coals are available, any remaining wood is pushed out of the way and a large metal grid goes over the coals, followed by multiple types of meat – steak, boerewoers (literally translates from Afrikaans to ‘farmer sausage’), burgers, whatever your fancy. Meat comes from cows, ostrich, warthog, and just about every type of local antelope large enough to provide a decent cut. A braai master is declared who is responsible for ensuring the meat is properly cooked.
Veggies aren’t really necessary. Meat and alcohol are the only important elements here, but since we had a vegetarian with us, we needed at least one veggie option. We opted for ever-popular corn (‘on the cob’ to Americans). South Africans call corn mieles (pronounced ‘meelies’). Why, I have no idea, and neither does any South African I’ve asked.
At any rate, corn is never a good thing for open bathrooms. The first night wasn’t an issue, but the next morning, mieles were making waves. Thankfully, we all ate the corn, so everyone was on the same embarrassing level. It’s amazing how strongly you bond with people when you don’t have the luxury of shame or ego…
After a relatively early rise and a thorough clean-up of the camp, we packed up every last morsel, bit of rubbish and ounce of pride, and headed back to main camp. We all observed each other’s need for silence on the trip back, hangover etiquette intact in reaction to the combined result of too many drinks, a bumpy drive on an open vehicle in very cold temperatures, and the need to pay attention because of the possibility of running into wildlife at any point. Once we disembarked, we all fell into couches, chairs and beds, miserably clinging to pillows and covering our heads in an attempt to make the day-after pain subside. By noon, we were all human again.
All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo