There was once a small camping shop near the Sanlam Centre in Randburg called Camping Africa. I miss the legendary owner, and the days of the boutique fitment and outdoors centre.
Camping Africa was owned by Charlotte du Toit – a diminutive, Camel-smoking outdoors enthusiast who had an insatiable desire to develop products and services and to share her knowledge.
She taught me how to sort and pack my kit in a fashion that protected everything. There was a place for each item and that was the way you packed, trip after trip.
Charlotte was economical with space. She even cut the legs of her cast-iron potjie pot. The flatter version took up less space!
Yet nothing was Spartan or utilitarian. Charlotte had specially-made aluminium cases for everything, even the lead crystal decanters and glasses for sundowners! Her recipes and packing lists were a mine of information, and even in those days they were printed on biodegradable paper. She also encouraged the use of environmentally friendly soaps and cleaning materials.
When I prepared a manual for publication, Charlotte checked all the packing guides and helped me develop the all-important travel folder – an indispensable item when you travel across borders for long periods.
Although Charlotte did not have children, she would give clients amazing advice on keeping the little ones entertained in the car. She produced a small kit for each child (paper, crayons, books, toys, a small CD player and CDs, as well as stories for all to listen to from Listeners’ Library). She would provide a list of healthy treats and snacks, opting for natural goodies rather than sweets and crisps.
I once discussed tents with Charlotte with a view to buying a new one as I had just gone through a disastrous purchase. She gave me a long list of advice, after recounting that the first tents more than likely originated in China. She was quite sure that China would soon be the dominant international supplier, and she was probably right, judging by the source of products these days.
In a (big) nutshell, this was Charlotte’s advice:
- Do your homework and establish your current and future needs.
- Establish a budget and buy quality. There is no sense in having to replace a tent shortly after buying it, should it turn out to be inferior or unsuitable.
- Judge the quality of the tent and its attributes; test these against similar makes and talk to friends who own tents.
- Check the fabric and the fit of the layers if you are buying a tent with an outer layer. If it touches the tent itself you are likely to experience condensation.
- Ensure that the groundsheet fits well and rises slightly up the sidewalls, to make the tent is waterproof at ground level.
- Given the temperature extremes we experience, check that there is adequate ventilation. Windows should be airy, with netting to keep out bugs and mosquitoes.
- A good supplier will be happy to erect the tent for you, or should even have a range of erected tents on display.
- Is there sufficient space for you and the family? Can you stand up to change? Most importantly, will you get bags and stretchers or mattresses into the tent and still be able to move around?
- Check the zips. Are they robust, with double pulls enabling you to close and open the tent from inside?
Charlotte suggested that you practise erecting your tent at home before going on a trip, and even recommended doing this in the dark, as one often runs late and arrives at the campsite long after sunset.
The next problem would arise on later trips when you’ve got comfortable with the equipment and developed a “pack and go” style. This, she said, was not a good thing. She suggested:
- Unfold the tent and lay it out, to check whether it needs cleaning or repairs.
- Check seams, zips and fastenings.
- Does the tent possibly need re-waterproofing?
- Check and clean poles (wipe with silicone)
- Check pegs.
- Lubricate zips.
And then there’s the kitchen equipment:
- Wash all crockery and cutlery.
- Check all gas cylinders, hoses and cooking rings.
- Check all gas and paraffin lights.
- Clean and run fridges.
- Pack away dish towels, dishcloths and washing-up liquid.
- Check washbasin and tables.
- Check chairs, awnings and umbrellas.
Her lists were endless, and to those who knew her she was a legend.
Here’s to you, Charlotte, and the memories!