First off you should know this is written by a grade one wimp. I’m not a natural fly camper, and my preferred method of getting a good night’s sleep on safari is a large glass of Rioja before bed. For those of us with an over-active imagination, the thought of sleeping out with only a mozzie net between bed and the bush comes with a side-order of sheer terror. Unfortunately, it’s a core part of the Extraordinary Africa ethos that we’ve been there and done that, so we can give you the best possible advice, even when terrified. And it turns out that for each Extraordinary Africa traveller who’s tried it, fly-camping seems to be one of the best bits of their safari.
Frankly, I knew it was high time I toughened up and headed out into the wilds.
Most fly camps operate as part of a stay in a permanent camp, walking out to into the wilderness for a night or two under the stars. We’d made our base at Sand Rivers in the Selous Game Reserve, and if I was going to trust anyone with my nerves, the Sand Rivers guides seemed like a decent bet. So, nobly, your condemned reviewer ate a hearty tea. And afterwards tramped off into the bush, full of Victoria sponge, water bottle slung over her shoulder. And although it did not escape my notice that a steel bottle full of water might make an efficient weapon, it was not needed. Instead, we wandered gently through the Selous between the grasses and the trees in a strict line behind our guide, Ernest. We followed snake trails through the sand, photographed white hyena poo for my six-year-old godson, (obviously), and stepped carefully over armies of angry siafu. Please note- that unless you choose to fully explore the meaning of ants in the pants, this final tip is essential.
A few hours later we arrived in camp to what every traveller needs- a damp flannel for dusty faces, and a cold drink for dry throats. Lusekelo had slung a bucket shower over the branches of the nearest tree, and he’d dug a fresh short-drop loo (complete with a very smart seat) nearby. We were extremely grateful that our crew had built a canvas screen around both to stop the hippos being too startled by bottoms that hadn’t seen the sun in a very long time.
Showers smelt of warm water hitting dry dust, and our bedrooms were mozzie net cubes. It’d be fair to say these are spacious for one, cosy for two. They all had bedrolls to sleep on, but anything larger than a medium-sized elephant would have struggled to fit. Fortunately, when there’s a shooting star every 7 minutes, this didn’t cause too much of a problem. Behind each room was a dressing table with a mirror, bug spray and a safari sink and, further back, a dome tent in case it rained. Or you could sleep in it if you were nervous. But I wasn’t nervous. Obviously.
Instead, caught up in the magic, I rushed my shower to make drinks around the campfire. Dinner was equally splendid. From a small safari kitchen Sallum produced a magnificent feast. And if you have, as I did, a serious foodie as a travelling companion, a tour of a bush kitchen is quite something. No blender, no microwave, no sous vide- just a hot metal box and a bucket of coals.
Afterwards, as (perhaps) not the bravest of souls, it’s fair to say I was tired. My day of dicing with imagined deaths had been fairly exhausting. No longer fearful, but still cautious (what kind of naïve fool do you take me for?), I retired to an early bed planning exactly how I would bop each invading hippo or intrusive lion on the nose. (Public Service Announcement: for those of you who are as nervous as I was, I was delighted to note our tent was at the far end of a peninsula guarded by two Landrovers, the guide and our magnificent crew. An invasion was possible, but on balance, unlikely). So, I looked my fears in the eye, looked up at billion stars, and wondered if there was anywhere in the world I’d rather be. I think you know the answer to that.
We gave our experience at fly camp 9/10 (minus one point for the self-induced terror factor). Your reviewer was accompanied by Mr Extraordinary Africa. He would like it to be noted that he was especially impressed by Max’s splendid fly-camp bar, not to mention its white tablecloth, and the excellent dinner which seemed to come from nowhere. So impressed in fact, that when he returned to the fly net that night, under a sky of Scorpio and a million other stars, he found a Tanzanite ring in the bottom of his rucksack and proposed. And what Africa-lover could say no?