Rosie and Morgan had a most excellent adventure in Southern Africa in 2016. Their main criticism of this trip was the toilet facilities were just too damn good! There were clean sit down toilets available at Victoria Falls, both on the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides. Toilet paper was always provided. The toilets in Cape Town yielded no unpleasant surprises.
“We’ll have nothing to write about!” we muttered, as we encountered yet another excellent toilet.
Then we spent 7 days overland travelling and wild camping in Botswana.
We were essentially living in a big jeep, towing a trailer full of tents and food. Starting in Kasane (North East Botswana), we cut an epic route through the Chobe national park down to the Okavango Delta, pitching our tents and lighting a campfire wherever we landed each night. For the most part, there was no access to plumbing or electricity.
The camping set up
Our first night, we left the road and parked in a seemingly random spot, identifiable as a camp site only by a small sign nailed to a tree stating “private campsite”. We were surrounded by wrecked tree trunks, which the guide explained was the result of elephants pulling down the trees to reach the best leaves. This did not fill us with confidence. As we pitched our simple two man tents, our guide busied himself digging a hole a few metres outside the main camp:
Yep, this was our toilet for the night.
It got better:
They even provided toilet roll. And there were hand washing facilities:
The ground was very sandy and loose in most places we camped, so after you’d used the makeshift toilet you simply had to kick some dirt into the hole to cover things over. There were only 5 guests in our group, and we asked if they did anything different for the bigger groups.
“It’s the same setup”, our guide told us.
“But if there are more people we dig a deeper hole.”
One night, we even set up a makeshift shower, using the same canvas and poles system as the toilet tent.
The dangling bucket was filled with water, which flowed out of small holes when you turned the tap. This created a low water pressure but overall genius bush shower.
Every morning we were up at 5.30, ready to dismantle the entire camp before heading off on an early morning game drive. The canvas and metal frame came down from around the toilet tent, the seat was packed up, and the hole was filled in. When we left it was as if we were never there.
In the evenings we set up our makeshift toilet again… and again and again. It came with us throughout Botswana, even ending up in the Makgadikgadi salt pans:
Without the tent, privacy would have been extremely limited…
We were very impressed with this makeshift toilet, which served us well all week. But that’s not to say going to the toilet was always easy…
Wild cries and glowing eyes
The thing with wild camping in Botswana is you are full-on wild camping. You’re still in the safari parks. The exact same safari parks you saw those lions in a few hours ago, except now it’s pitch black and the night is full of noises. Botswana doesn’t agree with fencing in safari parks, and there really was nothing between us and the wild animals at night. Our guide assured us we were totally safe when we were in our tents:
“To a lion, a tent is the same as a house. You’re as safe as if you were indoors. Animals will respect the tents and walk around them.”
We were dubious, but willing to trust him. Going to the toilet however, was a different story. Waking up for a wee at 3am in the middle of the African bush is frankly, terrifying. Our guide assured us we could wake him up if we needed to leave the tent at night, but being English I was more concerned about being a nuisance than I was about being eaten by a lion on my way to the toilet tent.
We were given a safety briefing our first night, and it mainly centred around what to do when you visited the toilet tent after dark.
“Before you step out of the main camp area, shine your torch all around. You need to look out for glowing eyes. If you see blue or green eyes it might be a deer or a hyena. Animals are much more active at night, and also more fearless. If you see orange eyes it’s a big cat and you should NOT proceed”.
We didn’t see any glowing eyes that first night, but the sounds were incredible.
A herd of elephants walked right through our camp. As the guide had promised, they were very respectful of the tents and didn’t trample anything. Thankfully, neither of us needed to leave our tent, so we lay awake in silent awe at the multitude of noises around us. Elephants trampling, branches cracking, insects buzzing, fruit bats chirping and an indistinct haze of distant roars and cackles filled the dark night.
The strange cry at 4 seconds is a hippo, which strolled past our tent on its way to find some tasty grass. The beeping type noise is a fruit bat using its sonar.
The second night I woke up in the dark and I really had to pee. As I made to scramble out of my sleeping bag and put on my head torch, Morgan stopped me:
“You can’t go out there! Didn’t you hear the hyenas?!”
I had not heard the hyenas.
We listened in silence for a few minutes, and sure enough, the sounds of whooping and cackling carried across the dark night. I had heard the calls, but I hadn’t recognised the strange noises as hyenas.
We opened the tent flap a crack and shined our torches out into the night. A pair of green eyes was staring right back at us. We even saw the hyena’s distinctive sloped back as it strolled through our camp, followed by another one a few minutes later. They proceeded to drink noisily out of our washing up bowl.
We stayed like that for a long time, silently listening to the African night and peering out into the unfamiliar darkness. Eventually, we decided it was safe (ish) and I crept out the tent and squatted to pee, whilst Morgan shined his torch all around in search of glowing eyes. There was no way I was doing the dark trek to the toilet tent! Leaping back into the tent and zipping it closed fast, I felt like I’d achieved something huge.
The third night lions circled our camp.
Another camper had headed out to use the toilet fairly early in the evening. We were still washing up the dinner plates when a hesitant voice floated out the darkness:
“Umm guys? Lion….”
Everyone else moved towards her voice in a tight-knit group, shining our torches all around. When we reached her we saw not one but two pairs of glowing orange eyes, watching us curiously in the darkness. The guide shined his powerful torch towards the eyes, revealing two lionesses, staring at us.
“We’ll be fine as long as no one leaves the group”, instructed the guide.
“No one is to visit the toilet tent, it’s too dangerous.”
We were the impala herd, huddled together in a state of high alert. The lions watched us. We crowded closer together, no one wanting to appear a solitary target. Shit had just got real.
We crept away from the lions as one, relinquishing control of the toilet tent over to them.
Cleaning our teeth meant going over to the jeep, to use the integrated water tank. Taking it in turns to stand guard while the other rinsed their toothbrush, we saw yet another pair of glowing orange eyes behind us, watching.
“I don’t like this”, muttered our cook.
“It’s not good when lions come to the camp like this.”
You don’t say.
“So the tents are totally lion proof?” we doubled checked, as we rushed to zip ourselves away for the night.
“you’ll be fine as long as you don’t leave the tent” we were assured.
Of course I needed to pee before I could sleep. Groaning, I got out of my sleeping bag and shone my torch out through a crack in the tent door, half excepting a lion to be standing right in front of me. The guide was still up, so this time, we got his attention and he swept the area before I stepped out. Like the night before, I squatted right by the tent whilst Morgan stood guard. I leapt inside as soon as I finished, my heart pounding in my chest. Morgan then confessed that he’d been needing to poop for a while, but since the lions still had control of our toilet, he had no option but to hold it until morning.
I didn’t wake up at all that night, staying firmly inside our lion-proof tent until dawn. That was definitely enough excitement for one night.
There’s nothing like the African bush to make you feel small, and between the milky way glowing above our heads and the lions prowling around us, it felt very insignificant to be a human in a tent.
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