Lessons I Learnt in Africa: Part One
Head torch: Check
Washing line: Check
Universal sink plug: Check
Mosquito net: Check
Silk sleep sheet: Check
First aid kit: Check
… the list went on
“Africa, I’m coming in prepared!” I thought smugly. Having spent hour upon hour trawling the internet for packing lists that would have all eventualities covered, I thought I was set. Oh dear. Africa certainly taught me a lesson or two about being prepared (and how naive I was to think I could possibly be so). There are some things you just have to learn the hard way.
Lesson #1: Always, ALWAYS check the ground
Sometimes the ground bears friendly moving objects, like these amazing jumping beans I came across in Botswana:
Unfortunately, things that scuttle about on the ground are more often than not of the non-friendly persuasion. If you listen to the conversation going on in the background of that video (pure coincidence!), you’ll understand what I mean. In case you can’t hear it: “Well the camel spider has ten legs and I swear he runs faster because of it. Did you see the speed two of them ran across the camp last night?” That’s right, kids: camel spiders. We came across these hideous arachnids (which only have eight legs, by the way) a couple of times while in Africa and they are the perfect example why you need to keep an eye on the ground. Trust me, having one of those run across your foot is going to give you nightmares for weeks.
Other occasions it would have paid to be more aware of where we were putting out feet:
- Walking home from a late-night hunt for a bar in Botswana (unsuccessful 🙁 ), truck-mate Jane was inches away from stepping on a scorpion. All she had on was a pair of flip-flops, so if it hadn’t been for the shout of an eagle-eyed friend, that could have ended rather painfully!
- Fire ants in Rwanda. My poor tent buddy must have stood on a nest or line of them, as they crawled up her trousers and made her well aware of their presence. Hilarious for me, painful for her.
Always make sure to check the ground before pitching your tent. Holes in the ground are potential spider/snake hideouts. Luckily, the ickiest thing I slept over was a termite nest.
Lesson #2: When not to wear a head torch
A head torch really and truly is your best friend when travelling. In places where electricity is not always a given, it will be godsent after dark and first thing in the morning. In places where life is a little more luxurious, it is still handy to have when sharing a room with someone, or when there is a power cut. Sometimes, however, there is a very good reason not to use your head torch.
If cicadas are around, you will know about it. They are incredibly noisy, particularly at dawn and dusk. At a bush camp in Botswana (I learnt a lot in this country, it would seem), the trees were full of these disgusting bugs and the noise they made as the sun set was absolutely deafening. This cacophony was annoying but bearable. Cicadas dive-bombing my head, however, was where I drew the line. Unlike most insects, which bob around a light source in a relatively peaceful manner, these creepy-crawlies are at least as big as your index finger, make horrible whirr-y noises with their wings and fly at a head torch with substantial force. They tend to have poor aim too, often hitting you square between the eyes or … and the very thought of this makes me nauseous … falling down your top. As if that wasn’t bad enough, once they land somewhere they tend to stay put. We uncovered rogue cicadas in the truck for days afterward. Ugh.
Lesson learnt: When in the vicinity of cicadas, pull out the night-vision goggles or be content with stumbling about in the dark. Or, I suppose, leave the washing up till the morning.