There are so many wealthy people who can afford the most expensive lodges and hotels, and yet they prefer to camp. Camping is real. The fresh air, the closeness to nature, the feeling of being alive… That is why we do it, says Johan.
Camping addresses all of your senses. The campfire is essential. It offers atmosphere. You can smell it. You can feel the grain of the wood as you throw another log on the fire.
Then there is the cooking. Somehow having a braai in the veld, cooking a proper potjie or dishing up any of a variety of meals, just taste better. So do the wine and other beverages. Then there is the night sky – the stars, the moonlight.
Campfire stories are the best. This is where you don’t even think of music or television. Camping is what we South Africans know best.
But every night there comes a point when you have to go to bed. Where do you sleep at night?
Over the past 14 years on the Voetspore expeditions, we have downscaled our sleeping arrangements rather drastically. At first we were in off-road trailers, roof-top tents and dome tents. Later we even took an off-road caravan in tow. It lasted for a little more than a week on the roads we were travelling on.
Most recently we have slept for the duration of the journey only under the Fox Wing Awning, attached to the Amarok. The three Oz Tents on the roof rack of Francois’ vehicle came back from the Congo unopened.
So what do we recommend?
Where there are lions and hyenas around it would be silly to sleep outside. Lions, but especially hyenas, are prone to enter a campsite, and there are horror tales of victims being taken alive by these predators. Don’t be silly. Don’t tempt fate.
Even though the canvas of a tent is only a few millimetres thick, and will in no way withstand the claws of a lion or the immense power of a hyena’s jaws, these animals will not attack humans inside a tent. The only known case that I am aware of in which lions took humans from their tents and killed them involved the Man-eaters of Tsavo. This happened towards the end of the 19th century in Kenya, and those lions were a very special breed.
Animals are also scared of the unknown. As they do not know what is behind the canvas, inside the tent, they will not attempt an attack.
We gave up towing a trailer or caravan many years ago. Off-road trailers and caravans have their place in the safari industry. They are ideal for a two-week stint at Mabibi or the coast of Mozambique. But when you travel constantly, and when the road conditions are tough, no one needs to have two more bearings that can seize up, two more tyres that can puncture, one more vehicle that can break down… This is when you go solo.
Which tent or shelter works best? At first we believed in the roof-top tent. On Voetspore One, in 2000, I slept in an Eezi Awn roof-top tent, and I did the same on the second expedition.
On the third one, both Francois and I had Conqueror roof-top tents fitted to the Nissans. By the time we got to Lusaka we’d decided to sell them both. They got wet inside, and setting up and breaking down the tent every day became a serious schlep.
Yet, we didn’t learn. During the Casablanca to the Cape journey, Francois once more had a roof-top tent. While the rest of team erected their stretchers at night and slept either under the awning or in a dome tent, he was confronted by his roof-top tent every night and every morning. Eventually he gave up. Just outside Timbuktu he spent one night sleeping on the bonnet of his Cruiser, just to avoid the demands of the tent!
On the Agulhas-Alexandria trip, Streicher was the last one to take a roof-top tent. He is still young. He doesn’t have the problem of missing a step at three in the morning when nature calls. He also has enough energy to set up and break down his tent daily. Not that it went without moaning and groaning.
Streicher had one serious problem with his roof-top – when it rained, it got wet inside. When it didn’t rain, the moisture on the inside of the tent from condensation also made it wet. In fact, his mattress and sleeping bag were always wet.
One night in Ethiopia, while we were making dinner, Streicher took his mattress out to dry. Later that evening, when he prepared for bed, the mattress was gone. An Ethiopian had used the cover of darkness to relieve Streicher of his mattress. That was the end of him sleeping in a roof-top tent.
Do I have a serious dislike of roof-top tents? Perhaps so. They are not as convenient as they are said to be, and they are not much safer than a dome or Oz tent. Any lion or leopard could easily leap up the vehicle to attack you in your roof top tent, should they so wish. There is no difference in the safety aspect.
For many years I believed that the biggest value of a roof-top tent was that it prevented you from overloading the roof rack. Put on a roof-top and it takes care of 70kg. Without the tent, the tendency is to load way more than 100 kg onto the roof, which makes the vehicle unsafe, top heavy and unstable.
Is it possible to address the problems with the roof-top? Are there any alternatives to the problems of erecting and especially folding the tent, putting on its cover and closing it with a zip that always seems to get clogged with mud and dust? Can one prevent the tent (and therefore your mattress, sleeping bed and clothes) from getting wet?
I believe there is an answer. The hard shell roof-top tent addresses all these questions. To erect one, merely unclip the top section and the gas struts open the tent. You can close the tent by simply pulling down the top and securing it with the clips. The tent seals properly, and no moisture gets inside. It looks like the perfect answer.
There is a new future for roof-top tents. They are making a serious comeback. Yet one problem remains: how do I ensure that I don’t miss the steps at 3 o’clock in the morning? There are problems that cannot be addressed once you get past 50!