The last time we used our 5-man dome tent was at Lake Malawi, in blistering hot tropical heat, pitched on a concrete platform under a thatched shelter. This time, it was different.
It was our first camping trip in South Africa and in KwaZulu-Natal. More precisely, in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains during a very wet Spring. We left our home in drizzle and drove for approximately 3 hours in more drizzle. We kept our real thoughts to ourselves, pumped up the tunes and focused our conversation on things like, “Wow kids, isn’t it great to go camping again?!” They peered out the window, unconvinced. In the back of my mind, my thoughts were running wild. I should have packed gumboots. More blankets. A rain jacket. And maybe even those second hand snow suits I found in a Malawi market? And the tent. How waterproof is the tent?
“We live in a world that is beyond our control, and life is in a constant flux of change. So we have a decision to make: keep trying to control a storm that is not going to go away or start learning how to live within the rain.”
― Glenn Pemberton
We arrived at Highmoor just as the sun was setting. The mist and drizzle had mostly cleared and was left behind to hover in the Natal Midlands. The single track tarred road followed the Little Mooi river and wove upwards, meandering through a lush valley with cliffs on either side and giant sandstone boulders, strewn like marbles, wet and glistening in golden sunlight.
We were the last to arrive. Our friends had already pitched and pegged their tents. The makeshift kitchen and dining area had been laid out and the camp chairs had been perfectly positioned, with spectacular views of the Highmoor valley and of the Kamberg. The children ran wild atop the campsite hill, while the parents sat back, looking organized and relaxed with a cold beer in hand.
The Ashtons on the other hand, were scrambling to set up camp in the last hour of sunlight. The wind was picking up and in the distance, an ominous black cloud seemed to erupt from no-where, powering forward in our direction.
We got our tent up just in time. The sun was sent home early and the wind died down. The trees, birds and flapping tents became deathly still. As the night emerged and the storm brewed, the sky transformed into a cauldron of green gas with fat black bubbling clouds, bulging above us.
A bolt of lightning smashed into the nearby hills, followed by a deafening collision of clouds. And the heavens opened. The black clouds emptied their contents, pummeling us with small rocks of hail and sending a torrent of water and ice down the slope towards our badly positioned tent. Water began to seep through the flimsy tent material and bubble beneath our mattresses, collecting in all four corners of our tent!
“The storm ate up September’s cry of despair, delighted at its mischief, as all storms are.”
― Catherynne M. Valente
I have to say, we didn’t sleep very well that night!
But when we woke up early the next morning and unzipped our tent, a warm shaft of sunlight lit our damp surroundings and in a flash, we forgot all about the storm! We brewed a strong pot of coffee, played a game of cricket and boiled some water for our instant porridge, then prepared for a hike in the rolling hills of Highmoor – stashing our backpacks with water, biscuits, beer and biltong!
The kids set off with adults in tow, following one of the ‘Dam Trails’ to an elusive cave and waterfall. We happily trekked over grassy hills, admired and restrained ourselves from picking wild pink flowers and stopped many times for ‘biscuit and water’ breaks. We changed direction a few times, second guessing the hand drawn map that supposedly would lead us to a cave. An hour and half later, we ended exactly where we started, having done a full circle!
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
I learned a new word this weekend which describes our day perfectly. ‘Coddiwomple.’ It means ‘to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.’ We’d ‘coddiwompled’ all morning in the sun. The storm was already a distant memory and our skin was quickly shedding its winter white glow, turning us into pink beacons, bobbing across hilly daisy-dotted landscapes. When the blue sparkling trout dam came into our view, we ditched the ‘coddiwompling,’ and moved with purpose to a definite destination. Kids and adults dived into the cool water; with water and weed fights ensuing.
“We usually find that it is the simplest things – not the great occasions – that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness.” – Bob Hope
Later we returned to our campsite for an alfresco lunch that would outshine most Master chef spreads!
Once again, the camp chairs were lined up and positioned for us to look out towards the golden sandstone cliffs and the Kamberg valley. Once again, the wind began to blow. And once again, a black ominous cloud erupted from nowhere…
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapour is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” – John Muir