For those of you who prefer to remain in city over the holidays to take advantage of the buzzing social scene, I would like to put it to you that the social scene in the bush rivals rubbing shoulders with the beautiful people on the Camps Bay promenade (although, perhaps a little lighter on the beautiful – the lack of showers and designer swimwear leaves bush folk somewhat rough around the edges).
Tried and tested during my recent Kgalagadi trip, here are three sure-fire ways of turning your basic bush trip into a social safari:
1. Vehicle vernacular (aka: car talk)
When it comes to bush socialising, vehicles are the best kindling for a conversation. Whether the dialogue is about off-road gear, fuel consumption or age-old banter between Toyota and Land Rover owners, your vehicle is to a fellow bush-goer what a cute puppy is to someone looking for company in a city park.
My social experience on this trip started the day before I left. I went to the petrol station to do the usual fill-up, tyres, oil and water check and struck up a conversation with a guy at the adjacent tank. As fate would have it, the Fortuner fan was also heading to the Kgalagadi the next day and we left with a promise of meeting up for a cold one in the park. When it comes to bush socialising vehicles are the best kindling for a conversation.
This strategy worked yet again as I pulled into the guesthouse in Clavinia, an en-route over-night stop. My neighbors had a well kitted out Hilux rental that got us chatting. This couple, from a small island off the coast of the UK, let’s call them the “Facebook Socialites”, were on a first-time camping trip and on their way to the Kgalagadi to meet up with South African friends they had met online. This took me by surprise as the couple was almost 30 years my senior. However, from the many stories they shared with us, it seemed that they were no strangers to traveling the world to meet up with online friends.
2. Stopping for the LBJ (Little Brown Job) on game drives
The second thing likely to get tongues wagging is an inconspicuous sighting during a game drive. Crawling along a dusty track in a dry riverbed, looking under every tree in an attempt to spot an animal shading itself from the midday sun, the bush feels like the farthest thing from a social mixer! However, when you spot a vehicle stopped in the road 50 meters ahead, excitement grips you.
When I encountered this situation during my recent trip, I sprung into action and pulled up to the other vehicle’s window to establish exactly we were looking at. A Dutch accent replied that there was a large bird walking along the dune – a kori bustard (I suppose in this story I stopped for a BBJ – a Big Brown Job). This sparked a discussion on the significance of this interesting bird with my new friend, who I dubbed the “Flying Dutchman” due to the speed and distances he travelled during each game drive. Flying Dutchman had been in the country for nine months, volunteering, and was intending to move here for a couple of years. This provided subject matter for many a conversation around the camp swimming pool, where we contemplated the merits of living in this gorgeous country and recounted our game sightings for the day.
3. The age-old social lubricant
The last icebreaker you are likely to use whilst on safari is the combination of a campfire and an ice-cold beverage. After dinner, there is nothing like popping over to the neighbouring campsite for a nightcap, armed with a spare G&T, purely for mosquito repelling purposes, of course.
This method has never failed me, and has seen myself sharing an authentic cheese fondue with Swiss guys at Mata Mata, listening to a search and rescue hero from Yosemite National Park recount some of his hair-raising adventures and just enjoying a “tjop en dop” with some good old Safas.
Four days and six new friends later my trip came to an end. Not only did I have an amazing safari, but I also had a great time, sharing stories with some very interesting people I met along the way.