There are a few things that define the Afrikaans culture: koeksisters (a too-sweet dessert), melktert (more dessert), biltong, the art of braai, following rugby religiously, and my favourite – camping.
I grew up camping at the seaside every holiday, something we still do. My husband’s family also loves camping, and that is actually how we met: with his little tent pitched only a few feet from mine (lucky him).
My parents-in-law and their oldest friends organised a long-in-the-making camping trip, a kind of reunion with all the offsprings and their plus-ones. On Friday 10 February we trekked to Greyton, high on excitement and happy with the warm weather predicted for the whole weekend.
Since this trip was going to be very low key, we packed only the minimum. That includes our tent – very small and very green, but it was surprisingly comfortable. This brings us to the issue of sleeping in a tent: it is cold and clammy when you get in, and hot and humid when you wake up. And crawling in and out on all fours is never a pretty sight. I imagine this was what it felt like being born.
When we got to the campsite (a beautiful farm where we stayed on the river banks surrounded by fruit orchids, lush greenery and blue-grey mountains) we honoured our proud tradition: The first thing you do when you get to the campsite is not to start unpacking or assembling the tents. No, it is to open a cold drink and enjoy it sitting under the African sun. And this, surrounded by good company, is one of the simplest but greatest gifts of life. To top it all off we got fresh apples from the farmer as a welcome gift.
As the rest of our group, we were about 20 people, started to arrive and settle in, we lit the campfire and ensured that the beer and wine were kept cold. The tongues loosened thanks to the flow of drinks and the freedom that comes with spending time with life-long friends. Old stories from those infamous university years were shared, as well as embarrassing tales of when the “kids” (now adults in their twenties) were young. And the parents beamed with pride, happy that all of us, mostly newly married or in serious relationships, made the effort to join them. The campfire cooking was mainly left to the men, because no woman needs to cook in a squatting position. Off course, all the wives gave wise instructions from the safety of a fold-up chair.
Saturday was gloriously warm and swatting away flies and mosquitos was probably the main activity. The day unfolded leisurely: Cilliers and I did some yoga, sat under the trees drinking coffee, I read my book and we swam in the river. The beauty of camping really is the fact that it is enforced inactivity. My niece is only 15 months old, so she was the centre of attention – a cuteness overload on busy toddler legs and the apple of everyone’s eye. I even took her for a swim and her little bursts of laughter had us all in stitches. Doing the bare minimum and eating too much can be rather exhausting, so everyone enjoyed a long nap in the afternoon sun. After that, it was back to more eating and drinking and even playing a round of cricket (with my niece on my hip, as she wanted to play too). We finished the perfect day with more campfire stories, and listening to one of our friends playing guitar and singing folksy songs. It is true that nature and beer/wine/whatever your preferred poison have a powerful effect on the human spirit. It was a perfect day.
Sunday was unexpectedly cold and before we know it, it was raining cats and dogs. Under strict supervision of the women, the men finally gave in and put up another gazebo for shelter. We huddled up, trying to keep warm while making endless amounts of coffee. After lunch it was still drizzling a bit, so we packed up rather quickly (not caring how dirty and wet everything was).With our hands still dirty, but our hearts (and stomachs) full we headed back home.
There is something magical about camping. Maybe because it is tradition, or maybe because it takes you away from your busy routine and forces you to settle and quiet down in the beauty of nature. Or is it because there is something really satisfying about not relying on infrastructure that it turns the most boring task into an adventure? Suddenly boiling water is interesting, just because it is hard. Either way, I cannot wait to unpack that green tent and do it all over again!
Love and light,