Let me start out this post by saying, I am not an expert on normal cooking, so surround me with wild animals and fire and it becomes comical. What I am an expert at is making it work, figuring it out and knowing if nothing else we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep me full.
So with that, let’s learn how to cook in the wild…Traveling 9 to 5 style.
Our adventures with cooking over a fire in Africa were hit and miss.
Step 1: Get good firewood
Since this was our first time driving ourselves into the wild we did what most normal people would do, asked A LOT of questions. While in Maun we asked a lot of other campers, campsite owners and locals about heading north into Savuti, Moremi and Chobe. Their first recommendation was to get good firewood. We were cautioned that you weren’t allowed by law to cut down or use any wood in the game parks, most of the camp stores didn’t sell firewood, so make sure you pick up enough to last you the full amount of time until you get through to Chobe.
Easy answer would have been go to the closest grocery store and load up.
Instead they told us “No worries you can stop anywhere along the road out of Maun, every 5-10 minutes there will be someone selling firewood”.
So we didn’t worry, we got in the car and started driving. Sure enough there was a lady and her kids selling firewood for a cheap price. we basically cleared them out of everything they had. Later to find out the reason it was so cheap was it was all water logged. For the next 7-8 days we struggled to get a fire going at all because the wood was wet, and we didn’t have even a hatchet to cut them down to size.
Learn from our mistake: If you don’t know how to determine between good and bad wood, buy your wood at the grocery store. It’s a fair price and good firewood.
Tip: Get good fire starters… you’ll need them!
Step 2. Plan your meals
When you find a good grocery, you want to load up, especially if you are camping for multiple days and won’t see a city for awhile. We went into our first grocery trip with a list of foods we loved: Yogurt, eggs, mac and cheese, chicken, rice, hot sauce, and veggies. Sounds delicious but in hindsight was not the best plan of attack.
Over the course of the month we learned to plan much better so we weren’t down to just oatmeal, yogurt and hot sauce by the last few days. Instead of buying all of our favorite foods, we thought about what would keep in the heat, and how big our fridge was, how the foods would go together and what each meal would look like.
For example, we bought wine, with no wine opener. We bought veggies to cook but no olive oil. We bought our fill of food but no salt and pepper to flavor them.
Learn from our mistake: Plan your meals. Think through what condiments and extras you will need to use to cook and show up at the grocery store prepared.
Step 3: Keep your meals simple.
Unless you are veteran campers, don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Keep your meals simple. Especially breakfast, you will most likely be getting up before the sunrise to go on your game drives. Plan to have easy breakfasts that don’t need a lot of preparation, or fruit that you can eat to hold you over until you take a coffee break in the morning.
We rotated 5 – 6 different meals at lunch and dinner time. Nothing fancy, mostly pasta, chicken, veggies, rice, grilled cheese, potatoes, etc.
Step 3: Let the animals eat before you do
I say this because of a personal experience we had.
We were given a campsite that was infested with elephants, which was pretty cool, but left us eating in our car most nights. Every night at 4 PM a herd of elephants would come and feed at the trees around our campsite. I’m not talking trees in the far distance, the trees literally feet from our car.
The first night we thought, OK, we can make this work and possibly share the space. So Josh and I crept around the car firing up the burner and starting to cook dinner. The elephants didn’t like that. They would visibly make noises and wave their trunks at us letting us know that this was their dinner time and we can wait.
It didn’t help when Josh accidentally hit the car alarm which sent the head male elephant sprinting at the car. We immediately jumped in the closest door to us and didn’t move. We sat in the car… not moving… for about 15 minutes. As the male elephant walked around the car, waving his trunk, I pictured his huge tusks piercing through our windows and tossing the car aside.
Learn from our mistake: Don’t set off the car alarm when you are feet away from 8 huge African elephants. #badidea
Step 4: Don’t leave your food out
Once you’ve cooked everything, stuffed your face and enjoyed your meal, clean it up! You are in the middle of the bush with real wild animals. THIS IS NOT A ZOO. If you leave it out they will come for it and don’t expect them to stop at the few droppings you left around the camp, they will want more!
Step 5: Enjoy!
You are in the middle of the wild. Our favorite memories were sitting outside as the sun was setting, fire burning and listening to the complete silence that we were surrounded with. The sun would set and with no outside lights to obstruct the view, the Botswana sky shone so bright, with more stars than I could ever imagine. Remember when you were little going to the planetarium and sitting in those reclining seats and looking up at the screens projecting millions of stars. That is what this felt like… but so much better!
Phoebe (Short Road To Happy) says
Good advice for camping anywhere really.. except the details about elephants! Hehe.. Thanks for these, esp the tips on planning before the grocery store – we will definitely remember that as we begin our big RTW trip!
Caroline Eaton says
If I could count how many times we didn’t prepare before going to the grocery store and walked out with $80 of food – none of it we could combine to make meals 🙂 Just a pile of our favorite foods!
Great post Caroline – this brought back so many memories of my time in Africa around a campfire and staring up at the starts; thank you! 🙂
Caroline Eaton says
Yes! The stars at night, in Botswana, are by far my favorite memory from the trip!
Sounds wonderful. Love the idea of self-driving and making your own meals. Was it easy and affordable renting a car?
Caroline Eaton says
it was easy to rent a car – we went with Bushtrackers, a really great family company out of JoBurg. The cost was similar to a really cheap group tour, but we loved having our own freedom and time schedule.
Hi Caroline – How did you arrange the campsites? Did you book in advance or just find a clearing to stop for the night? Thanks!
Caroline Eaton says
We arranged most of them ahead of time. Especially the popular campsites book out a few months in advance. There were some smaller sites we simply showed up at, but for ease of stress we booked ahead of time!