Last weekend we went camping on our sister Island "Sindabezi," two kilometers downstream from our Safari Lodge Tongabezi. Camping has always been a favorite adventure of mine: throw all your fears to the wind and prepare to rough it for a few nights with sand on your feet and grass in your hair. It can be a welcome break from the homely luxuries we have become accustomed to and take for granted.
Here on the Island we find a safe spot to pitch our tents. We must be cautious with our location as this is the place where we often find our resident Hippo Horace who can be heard scuffling around the Island in the early hours of the morning. He is now more than 10 years old and we have become used to his presence, but at the same time we have to respect that this is his teritory and we are the visitors!
We choose a shady spot raised and hilly, well away from the water's edge and a good distance from where Horace likes to rest his head after cooling off in the Zambezi. More caution must be taken not to be on low level ground, as Bismark our twelve foot croc is never too far, and frequently loves to bask in the sun during the afternoon. Only last year we lost our beloved dog Tota when he went sniffing around near the banks...it all happened so quickly--we were celebrating a family birthday and heard a loud yelp and splash. We ran towards the noise only to find poor Tota between the jaws of old Bismark and we were helpless as the jaws closed and disappeared into the dark water, leaving us staring in disbelief at some muddy bubbles. Then it went quiet, very quiet.
This time, I was camping with four very good friends who moved from the United Kingdom to settle in Zambia several years ago. Camping was a great way to catch up with friends and simply relax and switch off from the daily routine. Our tents were pitched and our sleeping bags and blankets were unpacked and placed in our tents.
As always, it was my duty to set up the camp's kitchen. I normally start with making a good fire, which when established creates not only our central gathering point but as it's now slipping into winter it becomes our source of heat and of course more importantly our fuel on which we can cook supper.
My camping kitchen is quick and easy to assemble with the fire now going on a healthy supply of good dry wood. I can now unpack and organise my utensils and prepare a small area suitable for washing up!
I beleive food when camping should be in essence simple (no frills)--nothing really beats a proper jacket potato baked in the coals with its thick crisp skin and soft piping hot centre, filled with salty garlic butter, and a fresh buffalo mozzarella and vine tomato salad with balsamic dressing.
I always cut and marinate my beef and chicken before a trip. This saves on time and avoids having to cut and chop at the last minute. I do this the night before we travel, allowing the marinate to work on the meat.
During this trip we have already been lucky on our first day; within a few hours fishing I struck and caught two large fresh talapia (bream) and a tiger fish. Bismark can also be spotted sunning himself on Makolo Island, the Island opposite Sindabezi.
I will filet the fish and serve it as sashimi snacks around the fire before dinner with wasabi and pickled ginger already packed in my mobile larder. Now, I did say camping should be a simple affair but what could be a better way to serve fresh fish on a desert Island?
And now on to main course, we have a potential disaster already as I realize we haven't packed the frying pan!!! How on earth are we going to grill our beef?
There is a simple and easy solution here which you will love to try and also use to impress your friends--but it really should only be done when you are camping away from home.
How many people do you know who have cooked on a stone? It's an ingenious solution and once you have found the perfect boulder for this purpose, you can use it again and again and won't ever have to bother with your frying pan again! It's perfect for cooking over an open fire in the bush--no mess and quick and easy to clean. First, find the right stone: it should be large and smooth with no cracks, the size of a large frying pan. Scrub and clean the stone and rub it with vegetable oil, then place the smooth part of the large stone face down in the fire for 30-45 minutes to get very hot. When you are ready to cook your meat, simply turn the stone over with a heavy stick and dust off the ash. Carefully wipe it down with a damp cloth and pour a little olive oil onto the hot stone. Now for the exciting part--choose the meat you wish to grill (this method works very well with beef and your favorite steak), place the meat on the hot stone and cook on both sides until it is done to your liking!
The great thing about this method of cooking is that the stone stays hot for a long time and can be turned back onto the coals to reheat should you require to use it again later.
We had success and fun cooking over the old camp fire. We finished off with fresh fruit salad and thick cream, Amarulla Coffee, a liqueur made from the fermented elephant fruit and somewhat potent.
It was time to hit the sack as they say, so off to our little dome tents we went. I was almost settled and ready to doze off when I could hear a loud snoring noise coming from the other side of the Island...apparently our resident hippo was already in bed and sound asleep too. Good night, Horace.