“It’s no use all of us getting wet” (until a River Runs Through It)

The setting is Okaukeujo campsite in Etosha National Park, Namibia; the timing is night-time a few years ago in 2011 during a strong La Niña season with above-average rainfall even well into autumn in that summer-rainfall area; the scene is two four-wheel drive vehicles with two rooftop tents each and our family fast asleep in two of those tents until Child No 2, who shared a tent with me, woke me up and said: “There’s water dripping in my face!” and indeed there was water dripping into our tent, and not just a little bit of water either, it was a steady little stream. It quickly started dripping in my face as well and the rain storm wasn’t showing any signs of abating and I realised that something had to be done as the rain wasn’t going to stop coming into our tent by itself.

A bit of background information may be necessary at this point to fully appreciate the scenario. Earlier that afternoon when we drove into the park we drove through a hail storm, which cleared after a while but there were still some threatening clouds about and it was quite clear that the weather had not yet relented and there was some more rain to come. It was just a matter of whether it was going to come our way and if it did, how much of it we’d have to endure. The campsite was so wet (with puddles of water everywhere as the water doesn’t recede quickly in that limy soil) that the park management was struggling to find suitable spots for campers as some sites were uninhabitable and in fact the entire park measuring just over 20 000km² had puddles of water all through it, some roads were impassable and the actual 130km long and up to 50km wide Etosha pan looked like an ocean with only water visible as far as the eye could see. I’ve never before or since seen the pan filled with water like that year.

The hail storm we drove through before entering the park

The hail storm we drove through before entering the park

Etosha pan in April 2011

Etosha pan at our visit in April 2011

Etosha pan at our next visit

Etosha pan at our next visit

That evening after dinner we were sitting around the campfire with our friends all feeling slightly apprehensive over the weather when the wind picked up and the cover of our (mine and Child No 2’s) tent was flapping quite wildly in the breeze so I asked my husband why that was since he and Child No 1 had put up our tents for the night and none of the other tent covers were flapping and they all seemed secure but he just dismissed it and said that it was fine so I trusted him and left it at that. Not long after it started raining though and we all ran for cover thinking the rain would soon pass but when it didn’t we decided we might as well call it a day and went to bed. Next thing, Child No 2 woke me up when the water was dripping in her face and my immediate reaction was to call my dear husband to come and help because there was clearly something wrong with our tent cover (after he’d assured me that it was fine) and in reply he sent Child No 1 to help me; I got out the tent, climbed down the ladder in the pouring rain and went around to the side of the vehicle where the water was running into our tent but since it was dark and there was a deluge of rain and I had no idea how the tent covers were supposed to be secured I wasn’t able to fix it. Child No 1 stood next to me half asleep and looking at the tent in dismay with no idea what to do either. By the time we were both wet through like drowned rats and my calls for my husband’s help were becoming more and more urgent his reply came back from the depths of their (dry) tent: “It’s no use all of us getting wet.” Oh my.

I exploded to such an extent that I probably added a fair amount of electricity to the stormy weather which didn’t seem to move him either but he finally decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest (including his own wellbeing) to come and sort out the problem. It didn’t take him long (and I think it would have taken even less time had he done it earlier in the evening before it started raining) and we could all get back to bed albeit in a wet tent for some of us. Thankfully that was the last rain we had whilst camping on that trip and the sun did come out nicely the next morning so we could get all our bedding dry but for a while the air around me was like a minefield that couldn’t be defused, especially not by the teasing banter which only seemed to charge the air even more!

The clouds that dropped so much water on us

The clouds that dropped so much water on us later in the evening

Funnily enough our very first camping trip together many years ago we also had to deal with a cloudburst after I’d said to my husband many a time that I didn’t want to camp in the rain with the tent we had at the time (it had two sleeping compartments on either side of a communal area that had no groundsheet and you couldn’t stand up straight anywhere in the tent, so there was nowhere to keep anything dry except in your bed). We’d driven all day watching dark ominous clouds, reached Upington where we were camping for the night, put up the tent, I went for a shower and it was at that point that the heavens opened. Everyone in the ablution block was trapped there for about half an hour because the rain was torrential. When it finally let up a bit and I made it back to our tent there was literally a river running through it. My husband thought it all quite funny because he hadn’t realised that there was water in the middle of the tent – it was dark and in our early camping days we hadn’t yet invested in the luxury that is camping lights  – until Child No 1 (a little boy of two at the time) started kicking at something on the ground which turned out to be an attempt to stop the river! In some strange way my sense of humour failure only added to my husband’s amusement.

We’ve had a few other camping mishaps over the years such as forgetting to pack the tent pegs, but one that I’ll remember for a long time was the first time we went camping with our current tent. Note to all campers: never put your tent up for the first time after dark on a camping trip, always do it at home or at the very least in daylight hours for the first time. I realised very quickly that my input was best kept to myself and proceeded by just following instructions, but it still took us a few hours with Ironman in desperation resorting to reading the instructions by the light of a torch and one of the tent poles falling on my head twice at which point I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself but we managed in the end. At least it didn’t rain so there was no question about who was going to get wet and neither was there a river running through it. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Just give me my Coffee

I’ve jokingly been called a coffee snob many times, but I’m actually quite proud of it and see it as a compliment. Have done so for many years, and at least I can say it’s not a recent band-wagon that I’ve jumped on.

I started drinking strong black filter coffee from an Alladin flask visiting my sister and brother-in-law and being out for the day going around their farm some 25 years ago. From that point on there was just no going back to instant coffee and it quickly reached the point where I saved up and bought my first filter coffee machine and took it to my university residence room so I could have a decent cup of coffee first thing in the morning. After I got used to that, instant coffee just never cut it anymore.

What started out as something I really enjoyed, slowly but surely turned to something I love and over the years started to depend on, as caffeine tends to do to you. Especially since I’ve never really been much of a tea drinker, which basically meant that having filter ground coffee in the house was just as important as the other daily staples of milk and bread. Years later whenever we go camping, I still take a plastic filter cone and filter papers along so I can have my decent coffee first thing in the morning. The day just won’t be right if I haven’t had it, it doesn’t matter where I am. My brain just won’t wake up and I will not be a happy camper at all. Some of my friends thought it quite funny, this quirky little habit of mine. My family just quietly went along with it – anything to keep mum sane! It’s a bit like that bumper sticker – Just give me my coffee and no-one gets hurt.

A few years ago we went camping over a long weekend and low and behold, I forgot my plastic filter cone at home. As a compulsive writer of lists who has a list for camping gear, a list for food to be packed (and sub-lists for food to be bought from different shops and markets), and other little lists of last-minute things to be remembered, I hate forgetting or leaving something behind that I imagine I can’t do without.  I’d remembered the actual coffee as well as the filter papers, but left the cone at home. This was a disaster. I was devastated! (Such first world problems.) The filter papers without the plastic cone are useless!! I made such a miserable, pathetic sight waking up the first morning there and not being able to have my usual, dependable morning-caffeine-perk-up-fix that Ironman decided that intervention was required and he fashioned me a filter cone from aluminium foil (which I had thankfully not left at home). I loved that cup of coffee so much, thanks to my husband who claims he’s no good with DIY (which makes me think I should find myself in a miserable and pathetic state more often). It saved me and my (and his) camping trip as order (and my sense of humour) was once again restored.

As time went by I realised that my favourite coffee is still that first one in the morning. Coffee pods never really held much appeal to me, I just love my espresso strength filter coffee, and equally my filter coffee machine that has a timer so I can prepare and set the machine every evening for the following morning’s coffee. What a treat! Great is my disappointment when I have, for some reason or another, messed up the process and put water in the machine and no coffee, only to wake up to a brew of hot water waiting for me, or the timer is out and the perculator is still counting down the time to start, while I’m standing in front of it having stumbled out of bed and unable to do anything else until I’ve had my first cup, or if (after careful calculation the previous night of how many cups will be needed in the morning, taking the other coffee drinkers in the house into account) I get to the coffee machine in the morning and Ironman has had more than his fair share. Instant sense of humour failure! He clearly hasn’t read that bumper sticker…

And then I lost my precious plastic filter cone (the camping solution). This was very concerning and with a camping trip in Namibia coming up (with no freshly brewed morning coffee available unless you made your own), there was really only one solution, and that was to get hold of another one before the trip. I searched the shops, from grocery store to grocery store to homeware store; my sister searched in shops in Namibia and I finally tried Google (of course), and found a lovely shop in Perth that had one in stock, and would keep it for me. I made sure I went in on my first day off work and got it and was so relieved! Surprised also, that this particular form of coffee making is not popular enough for stores to sell this filter.

Morning coffee in the making at our campsite at Brandberg, Namibia, April 2014

Morning coffee in the making at our campsite at Brandberg, Namibia, April 2014

The filter cone has gone along on every camping (and other overnight road) trip we’ve done since, until we did our first interstate Australian trip to Tasmania with the kids last year by plane, and there was no space to take it along! I wasn’t too worried as I thought I’d be able to get a fresh coffee every morning, but we drove around a fair bit and I never got that first cup in the morning, until my dear son bought me a one-cup plunger in Hobart for mother’s day (probably by that time in desperation to reverse my caffeine-withdrawal symptoms), which once again saved me. That little plunger has since been forgotten to be taken to Broome – horror! – (yes, I was told by my youngest in no uncertain terms that she was very disappointed in me for forgetting it, to which my reply was that I was even more disappointed in myself), but been to Melbourne, Canberra and Orange and made me very, very happy!

I didn’t think my dependence  had gotten any worse until a coffee van stopped outside work a couple of weeks ago, and my first reaction was: YES, thank you! I got myself a cappuccino and walked back inside, announcing that I cannot afford to buy one every day, and I should most definitely not get used to this. The only problem is that that cappuccino was perfectly to my taste, and the next time the van came around I got another one, and the next day, and the next day, up to the point where I now find myself sitting at my desk every day agitatedly wondering when the coffee van is going to come around as I really, really need that coffee, and the thought of a cup of instant coffee is about as appealing as some coffee-flavoured dishwater, and when it arrives I just about skip out the door I’m so excited! And then the coffee van didn’t come around the other day, and I was at a complete loose end feeling quite sombre and sorry for myself without my dependable cappuccino but at no point did I waiver and even contemplate having an instant coffee because it would just not suffice.  So I have to admit that I’m definitely a coffee snob, and a very dependent one at that and can’t see it changing any time soon! I’d better go and prepare the machine for tomorrow morning’s coffee…