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March 2015 travel news 25
We pull a few metres off-road and quickly unload the pickup of our camping paraphernalia.
The tent goes up in no time, the awning, constructed I notice now of a hijacked UNICEF
tarpaulin and several long sticks with nails, takes a little longer. It’s like making a double
bed with a single sheet. Every time husband pulls it into place at one end of the tent,
it leaves my fingers, when I pull, I yank it out of his hands. I know better than to say
anything. “Bit small isn’t it”, he observes. I keep quiet; it’s not a question. Our bedrolls
are flung inside and hastily made up, a vast duck down duvet thrown cozily over them
and before long we have a fire burning merrily and a cup of tea looks comfortingly close.
But then the rain does begin to fall. Not softly but hard. Hard enough to collect in great
puddles on top of the awning so that it begins to cave in and sag. Husband prods it
upwards and a deluge falls on top of the campfire, which hisses its last.
Oh dear we both say looking at each other. But husband is not one to be beaten,
especially when vigorously trying to make a point. He scrambles to garner as much of
the still faintly glowing embers as possible and relocates our campfire so that it’s a foot
from the tent’s door, given the narrowness of that awning. Soon it’s roaring again and
mugs of tea in hand it looks like we’re in for a constrained but comfortably, dry evening.
We watch the storm roll around us and hear the thunder rip the sky and hurl bolts of
lightening down so that the whole plateau is strobe-lit intermittently.
I don’t have the what-if-we’re-struck-by-lightening conversation. But I do keep my
wellies on. Just in case. I’d be happier sitting in the car; you’re always safest in a storm
in your car, my dad used to say. He told me to count the seconds between lightening
strike and thunderclap and that’s how far away the lightening struck, he said. He was
wrong; it’s always much closer than you think. I’m no sissy; this is killer-storm country; I
have a lightening detector rod on my roof at home. Not here though; here I am a sitting
duck, in a puddle with sticks with nails on the top to guide the lightning neatly in.
We manage some semblance of a rather damp supper; the salt won’t shake it’s got so
wet as have I, prowling around the campfire stirring the pot.
As one storm rolls off and takes its son et lumiere show with it, away and over the
horizon, so another rolls in off the lake and over the mountains. The next one that
comes, makes its debut with a 30-second gust of wind and that, alas, is the final straw
as far as the awning is concerned.
It whips itself clean off the tent in a single puff so that rain streams in onto us, and the
tent sags like a drunk. We dash about with just those unattractive little head lamps to
guide us – and the occasional electrifying bolt of celestial light to illuminate this sodden
tableau, trying to right the tent and fold UNICEF’s tarpaulin and weight it with a cool box
so it won’t dash off into the night.
“I think we’d better get into the tent”, shouts husband above the storm. I don’t need
We scramble around inside, coughing and spluttering for the smoke that has been
sucked into our tent as the campfire expired for the second time that night. As the fire
breathes its last, I worry I might be about to as well as I battle for clean air.
We pull our bedrolls into the centre of the tent, away for the seeping sides and out of
the channels of water that have dripped in and collected on the floor so that everything
is sopping. The edges of the duvet are soaking. Mercifully the middle’s still dry. We end
up sleeping on half a mattress each, our legs curled up and out of the puddle around
our bags and shoes. In no time at all husband is sound asleep and snoring. I doze
fretfully as the storm rages and the lightning continues to pitch forks all around us.
I must have fallen asleep eventually for when I wake the sky is pearl grey and absolutely
silent. Somehow we manage to coax life out of the fire that the rain put out the previous
evening so that at least we can have coffee and I can dry something to wear. I don’t’ want
to ask husband if one night was enough. I’m terrified his adventurous spirit will prove
more resilient than mine and he’ll just urge a drying off of all our kit and a resurrection
of that awning.
But he doesn’t because there isn’t anywhere to go. Access to the park is limited. The few
flowers that there were are limp and deadheaded after the storm onslaught. Everything
looks a bit miserable. And then it begins to rain again.
We are home in time for lunch and a hot bath and telly in front of a roaring fire and I
don’t care that I live in splendid isolation anymore because I am warm and dry.
A week later and I am in the metropolis of Iringa for my monthly shop. I run into a friend
and we enjoy a cappuccino together at the single place in town that you can and I
regale her with tales of our dirty, wet weekend in Kitulo. “What the hell were you doing
going in the middle of the rains?” she asks. We were told this was the best time of year
for the flowers. Oh no, she says, that’s November.
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