They let it slip into the conversation this afternoon that our campground tonight doesn’t have toilets. I am kind of freaking out. I mean, I knew this was a month-long camping trip, but I thought we were staying in campgrounds with showers and toilets! You know, basic human needs! It was already a huge stretch for me, camping every night. I don’t handle this kind of stress well, these unexpected changes. I need to be prepared for these kinds of adventures. I asked Tom, our leader, did he have enough toilet paper for us? I mean, we didn’t plan ahead for this, so I don’t have a spare roll handy! And without a campground providing the essentials, and 12 of us here using the “facilities” (loose term!) we are going to need toilet paper! I am way too overwrought, this shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is. I insist he buy us enough to get us through the rest of the trip.
For god’s sake, it was only on the way here today that I finally went “bushy bushy” for the first time (peed outside in the bush.) We were on this long dry stretch of desert road in Namibia. It reached for miles and miles, nothing in front of us, nothing behind us but a long dirt highway. Large open fields of scraggly bush like trees growing out of the amazing red earth occasionally dotted the landscape. Majestic mountain vistas splayed out on both sides of the road, so far-away we could barely make out the shadows. It was amazing to see. But we had been on the road since early morning, and now I really had to pee.
With my knees being as bad as they are, squatting down to pee outside is a real struggle and I had not yet been brave enough to attempt it, always waiting and waiting until we found a traditional bathroom somewhere along the road. But this time, I really had to go, and there wouldn’t be a real bathroom for a long time yet. I was talking to the only two other two ladies on the trip about the situation, I was visibly upset.
Tom walks over and makes a very casual remark about “…just go then!” and the poor guy quickly learns how truly stressed I am. I yell at him, “I can’t bend my knees like that Tom! I would if I could, but I can’t, so I’m standing here suffering!” Looking at his face right then was both a priceless thing, and so embarrassing! I really let my emotions get the best of me. I start to cry as he hurries off to get away from all my feels.
Thank goodness for the other women. They comfort me and give me some tips, while we wait for the men. Why is it always so much easier for them? Most days they barely leave the safety of the truck’s shadows, usually just choosing to turn their backs to us and do their business. But now, they are back inside, affording us a little more privacy, and we go behind the truck. I hold onto the back bumper to support myself without keeling over and squat. Lisa has already run out to the bushes, but she stays with us for “moral support,” and Nadine squats down beside me. We actually start laughing at the absurdity of it all. Here we are two professional women, squatting behind a safari truck, in Namibia, to go “bushy bushy”! Who could have imagined this?
The hilarity climbs to a new level when in the distance, we see a huge dust cloud crest the hill. It’s another safari truck headed our way at top speed! I’m laughing almost too hard to finish, but the other truck is bearing down on us and it will be close enough to identify our actions soon! We hurry and assemble ourselves just as the other truck passes, passengers waving a friendly hello, and exchanging a few knowing glances. We weren’t the only ladies peeing outside that day, I am sure.
Back on the truck we still have hours to drive. Listening to music, dozing, talking to one another quietly. The hours and miles in the truck can be boring, but every time you look out the window there is the amazing Namibian landscape, ever changing, always amazing. Stan would often remark, “Wait?! What? There’s more beauty? I can’t take it!”
We arrive late that afternoon at Spitzkoppe National park. The Spitzoppe is a group of bald granite peaks, between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert. (The oldest desert in the world.) This area was also the filming location for 2001: A Space Odyssey in the “Dawn of Man” sequences. So, you can imagine how absolutely gorgeous it is. No bathrooms and long drop toilets aside, this place is a slice of African desert paradise.
I am still feeling stressed about the toilet situation, so I go over and check things out more fully. Off to the far side of our campsite are two 6”X6” squared off areas, marked by bamboo like fencing around each one. They are connected side-by-side, which means you can actually see the person next to you through the small branches of the fence, and you can most certainly hear them. The toilet itself is a relief, it actually looks like a “normal toilet.” My fear of having to squat to do my business dissipates, but when I bravely look down into the bowl, some of that fear squirms back up. It’s a long metal pipe, leading to a pit deep in the ground. That’s it. (These types of toilets are called long-drop toilet for a reason!) What if there’s a creature of some type hiding in there? Or worse, one of the giant black beetles with long spindly pinchers? What if, just as I sit there, one decides it’s time to escape and be free of the smelly confines of the pipes? This is going to be a long night!
The sun is about to set, so I take one of our old green canvas camp chairs, a bottle of wine, a small metal cup, and my phone, to go sit in the field a little way from the campground. It has two advantages, the view of the sunset over our tents will be lovely, and this spot has data service. I need my occasional data fixes like crack. Before long, Lisa and Nadine wander over with their own chairs, cups, and phones and we settle in for some girl talk, watching the incredible colors of the sunset paint the sky over the huge red rocks surrounding us.
While we chat dinner is being prepared, and the delicious smells waft out towards us. But this is no ordinary dinner! Tonight, while we were out exploring the rocks and dunes, or sitting in camp chairs drinking red wine, the cave at the side of our campsite was being transformed into a magical place. We sit around the long rectangular camp table, like we always do, but tonight, 24 large white candles burn on the high walls of the cave. It feels almost reverent, eating together like this. Our own sacred circle, in the center of a rock, in the center of Africa. After more than two-weeks of camping together, riding in the safari truck together, and eating every meal together, we’re past the storming phase of new group dynamics, and finally we are settled into companionship, chatting, and just being at peace with one another in this amazing place.
We finish our meal, but reluctant to leave the charmed ambience of the cave we move our chairs to a circle near the small fire set up in the corner, drinking beer and wine and laughing at inside jokes. We can’t make ourselves break up this moment of peace, soft light, and fairy tale feels. Then Stan turns the night into something even more incredible, if this is even possible. He brings out his guitar and starts to strum and hum along to a beautiful melody. Stan’s a quiet guy, but he’s actually the shining star on this trip. He has the ability to get along with all of us and his unassuming manner is a perfect contrast to his biting wit.
Tonight, he single-handedly brings our evening to the next level with his guitar and his openness. He tells us a story about himself, opening up his heart by candlelight. We listen, feeling closer to one another than ever, and start to sing along to the bluesy rock songs he plays for us, breaking into occasional harmony or simple side conversations. An easy peace falls over us, a sense of time standing still, holding us suspended above reality.
Eventually silence descends on the cozy cave while we consider how blessed we are. One-by-one, we slowly head back into the dark night, to our individual tents, to sleep away the exhaustion of the day. Tomorrow we’ll wake refreshed for sunrise explorations of incredible rock formations, ancient cave drawings, and the desert sunrise, before climbing back onto the truck and heading to our next destination.
**Hopefully this piece will eventually make it into my not-yet-finished memoir. You can read more of my stories at www.elbyrnewriter.com