The Voetspore team has experienced everything from the roughest camping to the most luxurious lodges. It’s about striking a balance, says Johan Badenhorst.
When we started Voetspore in 2000, the main focus was on camping. The first night was somewhere in a dry riverbed in Damaraland, and the next in Kaokoland. The facilities at the Kaudom and Sikereti camp sites were very limited. We once spent a night at a ruin on the banks of the Limpopo. On that first adventure we often had a so-called dry camp, without facilities, but every now and then we stayed in a lodge.
We need freshening up facilities on a weekly basis. Most are quite straightforward, but sometimes we get smart.
On that first trip, I can remember our first “facility” stop was on Piet Heimsteadt’s farm, Transvaal, just outside Outjo in Namibia. We managed to do some maintenance on the vehicles, Piet’s wife did our washing and the guys all had a decent shower.
A week later we had our first lodge experience at Mushara Lodge just outside Etosha.
In the Okavango Delta, we spent some time in tented camps, and in the Tuli block we were treated at the wonderful Mashatu Lodge. So from the outset, our accommodation was a mix of camping and lodging.
Over the years we have become less and less dependent on lodges. Occasionally, as on the Gansbaai to Gabon expedition, we’ve had no option but to stay in lodges in places like Loango National Park and on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. There were just no camping options available.
Yet, when travelling from Casablanca to the Cape, from Agulhas to Alexandria and along the Equator in our previous expedition, we camped most of the time. Opportunities for lodging were limited, and those that were available made serious demands on our budget.
Two lodge visits stand out as exceptional – Wild Waters on the Nile in Uganda and Nyungwe Forest Lodge in Rwanda. We were invited guests at both places, and we were treated like royalty.
But if there is a choice, the guys prefer to camp. Some of our best overnight stops have been out in the open. The campsite at Pedras Negras in Angola is a spot none of us will ever forget. An evening under the stars in the White Desert in Egypt was also exceptional. Even a night in a quarry in northern Mozambique was not too bad at all. It is about striking a balance.
On Voetspore in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the 2014 expedition, we made a conscious effort to get the mix right. We had a few wild camps, but we often made use of camping facilities that are becoming increasingly available at between US$5 and $15 per person per night. Camps with a “long drop” toilet and cold shower would be $5 while those offering hot and cold showers, flush toilets and Wi-Fi would be $15. And we called in at a few lodges.
The facilities at Norman Carr Cottages and Blue Zebra Lodge in Malawi were outstanding. So, too, were those at Lakeshore Lodge on Lake Tanganyika, Bohuma Lodge at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Wilderness Camp at Ishasha.
In Africa, you are treated and spoiled at safari lodges. The facilities are often innovative. It is amazing to see how the lodge managers have to make plans to cater for visitors’ needs. When you pay a few hundred dollars a night, you expect to have a hot shower. But in Ishasha there is no electricity, and it would be sacrilege to start up a generator. Solar power normally is the answer, but filling up a container with hot water when you want to shower, especially when there is no lack of staff that can warm it up on an open fire, gives a personal touch to bathing at a lodge in the wilds.
Long drop toilets are the most basic of facilities. Many clients feel uncomfortable with them so flush toilets, or some kind of chemical variety, are essential. Great care is taken with these facilities to ensure a feeling of cleanliness, with no foul odours hanging around.
Cooking a Voetspore meal is often one of the highlights of our day, but at the lodges, one is exposed to what the bush chefs can cook up. Often you will be surprised. The variety is not very big. There is usually a choice between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Still, having a five-course meal somewhere in the wilderness is not unheard of.
On a basic menu there will be fresh salad as a first course, French onion soup as a second course, a main course of steak with sautéed potatoes, with fruit and ice cream for dessert and coffee, cheese and biscuits to round off the meal.
Laundry is something that will always be an issue. After a week, the washing bag is full and the luggage bag empty. Once a week we take a day off. That implies hanging around and doing the washing – except when you happen to be at a lodge. Sometimes the washing of clothes is a complimentary service. Mostly it is done by hand in cold water. Seldom will the clothes be ironed. This is something to bear in mind when you pack for your safari.
Is staying at a lodge an option because most of the Voetspore team have now passed their 50-year mark? Absolutely not! The older we get the less we are worried about appearances, fancy comforts and unnecessary luxuries. Priorities have shifted. These days, sitting next to a camp fire hearing the hippos snort, drinking a glass of Rust en Vrede or Beyerskloof, sharing the day’s experiences of tree-climbing lions, gorilla trekking and catching a big one on Lake Victoria, is much more important than having a hot shower or sleeping on white linen. But being on the road for more than three months requires a little comfort, just now and then.
Camping and lodging are part of every Voetspore expedition, and so should they be a part of every African safari.