Dear staff at Orpen Camp,
Please accept this letter of apology.
If you’re asking, ‘For what?’ I won’t let you puzzle too much. You don’t know, and technically no apology is needed. But there is a lesson here. And, if I’ve taken anything away from my somewhat overbearing, morally correctional upbringing it’s this: if something can be learned from an experience, then it must be shared.
So, let me start by saying this: just because one has travelled a bit that doesn’t automatically make one a good traveller. It should, but sometimes it doesn’t. Good travellers, seasoned travellers, possess a quality called ‘foresight’. On my last trip to Orpen Camp in the Kruger National Park I joined photojournalist Dylan Kotze to write a story on your camp (now in the December issue of Getaway Magazine) … and neither of us had packed any of this ‘foresight’.
We rolled into Orpen quite late on a Friday, early enough to beat the gate, but far too late to set up our caravan with any hope of getting it right. We bundled in for the night and I eventually manufactured a sort of swiss-roll canvas sleeping bag and a foot blanket made from a skiing jacket.
The following morning we went on a fascinating walk with two of your rangers, Thomas and Mishak. We learned about plants that could be used to brush one’s teeth, edible trees, natural tools, tracking techniques and all those interesting things that make wandering through bushes worthwhile. We set up our trailer in the early afternoon, which, as it turns out, is dead easy when you have light. After taking a drive around the Talamati Loop we picked up two of the fattest steaks from your incredibly well-stocked Parks Shop. The plan was to tan the rare out of them, have a few beers and the sit around talking (photo)shop as the sun went down. And this is where I realised we had a problem:
We hadn’t packed anything. We hadn’t packed a table, crockery, cutlery (we had a teaspoon), a caravan adapter, torches, tongs or warm clothes. Sure, it’s not the biggest tragedy, and there are ways around it. Cellphones became torches, sticks became tongs, fingers became forks and I even sliced a roll open with my two blunt thumbs. Things were working out and I began to feel that we were passing some universal bush test to make use of all the things we had learned in bush school that morning (see, there’s that thing called learning again). But then I realised that we had no chairs.
Now, there’s only so much time you can spend standing around a braai. At some point, no matter how toit your glutes are, you’re going to need to sit. While using ‘bush skills’ to make a set of tongs (which, let’s face it, is just a stick with a piece of meat on the end) is one thing, whittling two chairs out of a knob-thorn acacia with a teaspoon is something entirely different.
We decided that the best thing to do would be to get an all-in-one solution, a solution that has been helping campers and caravanners get through long, cold nights since the invention of canvas: a bottle of Sedgwick’s Old Brown Sherry. Armed with a R50 note I jumped into the Land Rover and made my way back to your main camp in search of ‘the solution’. I parked.
And that’s when I saw them: two iron-framed, wooden-slatted, bum-loving chairs. They were just sitting there, all alone, against the wall adjacent to the shop. They were literally begging to be sat on. I don’t speak chair, but I swear I heard one of them say, ‘We’re so cold, we’d love to have your bum on us.’ Before I knew what I was doing, I had bundled both chairs into the back of the Land Rover, not in dissimilar fashion to a kidnapping. I sped off (at exactly the park’s speed limit) back to our caravan at Maroela Camp. No sooner had I pulled them out of the car, than we were sitting around the fire eating tanned fillets on rested rumps. Dylan turn around at one point and said, ‘But where’s the sherry?’
I returned the chairs the following day. You were none the wiser, but that’s not the point. The point is that because we were underprepared I turned to crime. I’m sorry I took your chairs. And, like I said, if we can look past the ‘chair-borrowing’ incident, there’s a moral lurking here that I’d like to share with everyone who has ever been, or plans to go camping: be prepared, use foresight, bring chairs … or at the very least, a bottle of Old Brown Sherry.
Read the full article on Orpen Camp in the December issue of Getaway Magazine.