A 12-year-old’s guide to camping by the River

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My name is Christina and I am 12 years old. This year my grandpa turned 70, but I’m going to start this story with him still being 69. Since 70 is a big number, my grandma wanted our whole family to go travelling for his birthday.

Text Christina Hugo Photographs Chrisna Greeff

All the adults started talking about where we could go, and someone suggested an island. I thought it was a great idea! I imagined sitting on the beach, swimming, diving. Staying in a great hotel with a jacuzzi and WiFi. Sadly, what I found out soon enough was that a fancy hotel and jacuzzi are not my grandma’s idea of fun. So going to a tropical island was out of the question.

Then someone suggested camping in the Zambezi. The word camping meant that my grandma was already in from the beginning. I thought it could be fun, but if I got malaria they owed me a hundred bucks.

So the Zambezi idea stuck, and that was that. We all looked forward to it and apparently I could drink a pill for malaria so it was sounding even better. Our lives went on until the week before the trip. Then everything got hectic!

The adults were apparently under a lot of pressure. Preparing to go camping can be a bit chaotic, but the time you put into preparing pays off. It works out even better if you have the right equipment. Anyway, all the kids missed a day of school which was a bonus.

Finally we were all stuffed into the car with a packet of snacks each, ready to go. Soon enough we were on our way to our first campsite, about five hours out of Windhoek. My mum is going all healthy so our snacks included the following: apples, bananas, oatmeal cookies, biltong and droëwors and only two tiny packets of sweets.

We got to the first campsite before dark. I thought: “Yay, now we can relax!” How wrong I was. Just as I was about to sit down my dad said, “Come on girls, time to put up your tent”. I know what my fellow children are thinking – you have got to be kidding me!

So we had to put up our tent, which is not as easy as it sounds. My dad was giving me instructions while my sister (who was supposed to be helping me) yelled about her socks that she couldn’t find.

We were all done and sitting by the fire when my mom’s youngest sister and husband arrived with my three cousins. They are always late. Luckily they had a camper van so they didn’t have to set up camp in the dark.

We ate cupcakes before dinner because my grandpa was 70 years old.

If I could suggest something to whoever is reading this and likes to shower when camping, it is this: do it early while it’s still light. Having to scratch around for your things in the dark and then shower in the cold wind, because the showers aren’t totally closed, sucks! Luckily I took my own advice from the beginning.

The next day I woke up quite early, while the sun was just coming up. At least I think it was coming up, there was a huge wall made of stone next to our campsite so I couldn’t be sure. This campsite was just a stopover (luckily) because we went to sleep with the sound of traffic zooming past. Delightful. But I survived.

The first morning of the trip is like the first night: not the best. We only had time to drink one cup of hot chocolate before we had to start taking down our tents and pack the car (I can’t say my sister was much help that morning, either).

Our next campsite was Rainbow River Lodge on the bank of the Okavango River. It was another five-hour drive and we listened to the audio book The Witches by Roald Dahl. Outside were a lot of beautiful trees and a forest that looked like the Hundred Acre Wood of Winnie the Pooh.

We stopped for lunch and played a bit of cricket and talked about my one-year-old cousin Hendrik and how he was making his family’s roadtrip a little unpleasant.

Back on the road we drove past a lot of small villages and more beautiful trees. We arrived at Rainbow River Lodge late in the afternoon. We drove down to see the prettiest campsite ever! It was right by the river, with huge trees and green grass. The best part was that there were zero mosquitoes! Nothing!

After we got out of the cars my cousins and I obviously did what normal kids under the age of fourteen do, we went to explore. I’m going to be honest, the only reason I actually went was so I could stall setting up camp.

In the end I had to go back though. My sister and I chose a perfect spot for our tent, where we could wake up and see the river right outside our door. I then went to sit at a spot with a wonderful view of the sun going down over the river.

The water turned pink, orange and a dark red with patches of blue here and there and we could hear the Popa Falls far away in the distance. Afterwards, back home, I think everyone missed that feeling of peace we had watching that sunset and hearing those sounds.

We went to bed to the sound of water and hippos grunting.

Now you must understand that the men in my family – most of them anyway – love fishing. The next day we did a boat trip with the whole family for the entire day, so the boys could fish.

After a lovely shower (Rainbow’s campsite had the biggest shower heads I have ever seen), I packed my bag for the boat – a book, nail polish and a warm jacket. The boat was big and flat, with a large table and chairs from where we could watch wildlife – elephants, hippos, crocodiles, birds – and catch some fish. The boat was steady and I could paint my nails in peace. We heard a lot of stories about the animals from the owner and the boys had all their fishing things in order and their rods in the water. They caught a fish called a Squeaker, which is apparently the sound it makes. It was a yellow colour with black dots all over. On our way back we stopped at a sand bank and played in the shallow water, 36 hippos staring at us from across the riverbank. We went back to the campsite wet and happy.

The next day we went for a game drive in the Buffalo Game Reserve and saw very cute monkeys and lots of other animals.

Our next camp was at Makolo. The campsite was beautiful, but I was in a bad mood. The only bad thing was actually the dust, because otherwise it really was pretty. An overgrown passage led from one campsite to the next. I put up my tent irritated with all the dust coming up my nose and into my ears, and with my sister who was doing everything wrong.

The following evening we all went on a boat trip together, slowly moving through the paths that hippos had made between the river reeds.

The next stop was Livingstone Camp. We arrived at the campsite to find it occupied by a herd of elephants! I turned my head and there was an elephant literally looking right at me. I got a huge fright, but got over it quickly enough (if you go camping you have to expect elephants to stare at you for no reason).

Livingstone was lovely. Since there was no fence around the site the animals roamed freely and we could hear them walking through the camp at night.

It was great and I didn’t get eaten by anything, so that was a bonus. I also didn’t get Malaria!

From there we turned around to make our way back home. We enjoyed the last night together on our family farm and ended our trip on a happy and awesome note. I never thought I would say this but I would DEFINITELY go on another trip with my weird and wonderful family.

This article was first published in the Summer 2019/20 issue of Travel News Namibia.

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