When Nature Calls…

The first time that you camp out in the wild in Africa will probably freak you out.

You wake in the middle of the night and you’re lying in your tent. It’s dark. Somewhere outside you can hear a sound. A rustling maybe, or the breaking of tree branches. Something is nearby. You just don’t know where, or what. But you know, it’s out there.

And you need a wee.

It was my second night on my Absolute Africa overland trip. A journey of two and a half months that would take me to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. We’d been picked up the previous morning by our guide Moses and driver Moogs at the Heron Hotel in Nairobi. I’d been in Africa for over two months now, doing some volunteering in Zambia and Tanzania and I’d just finished climbing Kilimanjaro.

I’d met Nathan, Denise (you know the one who later told me to put a bag on my head) and Charlotte (of the gorilla and the spoon fame) in the bar the night before and we agreed to meet up for an early breakfast, spending most of it trying to work out who else in the room was on our truck. As it turns out, most of them were. I counted 21 of us waiting in the lobby.

After a quick briefing from Moses, he introduced us to our truck ‘Pumba’ (which you probably know from The Lion King – means warthog in Swahili). We loaded our stuff into the under compartments and climbed in and Denise, Nathan, Charlotte and I sat together. As we drove through the city, the truck was quiet as most people were staring out of the windows, trying to take in all of the sights and sounds, having only flown in the night before. For the majority of people it was their first time visiting Africa.

Absolute Africa Pumba

Nairobi is a buzzing city – colourful, sweaty, grimy, vibrant and loud! Horns honk as music blasts out from market stalls with unseen speakers. There are people everywhere and they glare, stare or wave as you drive past. Not surprising, as bunch a of tourists on a big yellow truck are quite the spectacle. We stopped at a petrol station and immediately caught the attention of a few local women who came over to the truck, wanting to sell us something and a couple of men who asked for money. No-one was in any way threatening, but they were quite vocal and Charlotte, the youngest of the group at 20, was a little freaked out at first, but I told her she had nothing to worry about.

Nairobi with Absolute Africa

Back on the road, it was Bec, an Aussie who finally broke the ice by suggesting that we go round the truck and say who we were and were we were from.

  • The Couples: Caz & Andy (Australia), Sarah & Damian (Australia), Csilla & Kaarel (Hungary/Ukraine), Birte & Thys (Germany/Natherlands) and Chris & Farnaz (Belgium/Netherlands)
  • The Girls: Me, Kate, Charlotte & Siobhan (UK), Lucia, Sarah, Ali & Bec (Australia) and Denise & Carrie (New Zealand)
  • The Guys Guy: Nathan (Australia)
  • The Guides: Moses & Moogs (Kenya)

All of the ladies had come alone, except for Bec, Ali and Sarah. Bec had met both of them separately and when she’d said she was going to Africa, they decided to go too! I was quite surprised by the female to male ratio to be honest! We stopped to stock up on supplies at the supermarket… something everyone was excited about. Moses had divided us into teams and we would rotate truck chores: cooking, washing up, security, cleaning the truck and my favourite – our day off. Our team was Fisi (Swahili for hyena) and we were on cooking duty the following night. We set off in a mad dash to try and figure out what and how we were going to cook for 23 people.

Moses and Moogs Absolute Africa

We continued on to our first destination, Mountain Rock Camp (Bantu Lodge) in-between Nyeri and Nanyuki, next to Thomson’s Falls. After pairing up with a tent buddy (mine was Charlotte) Moses and Moogs showed us how to put them up. Some people were better at this than others – Charlotte and I fell into the ‘others’ category. But, after putting up and taking down a tent every day, you soon get the hang of it.

Thomson's Falls Absolute Africa

The following day it was on to the Samburu National Reserve, a few hours to the north east, where we camped at Umoja Camp alongside the Ewaso Ng’iro River. Our first afternoon was spent visiting the Umoja Women’s Village. A female only village and women’s co-operative and social enterprise.

Umoja Women's Village Absolute Africa

Back at camp, we did the thing we always did first – put up our tents. The area we were sleeping was a little bit away from where we had parked the truck, past the very basic shower block and toilet, down a bush-lined trail, and in a clearing. The floor beneath us was hard and dusty. The area was only small, so our tents were much closer together than they had been the night before.

Cooking Dinner Absolute Africa

At dinner (cooked by Fisi’s fair hands), Moses gave us our nightly briefing. He told us the history of the area and gave us instructions on sleeping in a national park – things – like, there may be animals around so don’t wander off, stay away from the river, shine your torch outside your tent before you get out to check for eyes reflecting back at you etc. Smiles and nerves glances flashed around the circle. This was exciting.

Umoja Camp Aabsolute Africa

Afterwards we sat around chatting, getting to know each other and drinking the boxes of wine (yes, I’m ashamed to admit I bought a box of wine) from the supermarket. I was one of the last to go to bed. I’d bonded with Lucia, one of the Aussies and we’d stayed up chatting late into the night.

A Wise Box of Wine

Only when I crawled into my tent did I realise I’d made my first mistake of the trip. My bag was there. But my sleeping bag and roll mat were where I’d left them. On the truck. The locked truck. I’d like to say I never made this mistake again after that. But I did. A few times. Always having too much fun to think about silly little things… like my sleeping equipment.!?!

I piled on as many layers as I could manage and settled down for a cold, uncomfortable evening. I drifted off to the sound of the wild and some snoring from a tent nearby.

I woke up. It was still dark. I thought I could hear something. Was I imagining it?

I lay there for a moment hoping to go back to sleep. But then I realised I needed a wee, real bad. Damn! I didn’t want to go on my own. We were in the middle of a load of bushes, in a national park on a campsite that had nothing separating us from the wildlife. A situation I’d never been in before.

I lay there a little longer trying to build up the courage. Right ok, I really needed to go now. I took a chance.

“Charlotte? Are you awake?”

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Yeah. I need a wee.”

“Me too, but I’m scared. I’ve been lying here for ages.”

All of a sudden, Charlotte bolted upright. “Helen I swear to God something… just… touched… my… head… and I think it’s a hippo.”

“No, don’t be silly it couldn’t be a hippo. But let’s go, quickly.”

We grabbed our head torches and shone them outside of the tent, looking for eyes reflecting back at us. The moonlight cast eerie shadows on the sand, and it felt like the bushes were alive. Charlotte and I clung on to each other for safety, frantically shining our torches left and right. The distance between the tents and the toilet seemed so much longer now than it did before.

After peeing at the speed of light, we walked quickly back to our tent giggling quietly and dived in. That had been fun, and we’d survived. Our friendship was sealed.

Samburu National Reserve

Have you camped in a National Park? Were you scared?

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About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!


  • Stephanie
    January 15, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I travelled through Eastern and Southern Africa with a friend of mine, using local transportation. Best experience of my life! We did a five-day camping trip in Kenya, and amazingly enough we were the only 2 people booked that week – it turned out to be a surprise private tour. The animals wandering around camp were absolute wild! Sneaking past hippos and buffalo on the way to the drop toilets made my heart pound every single time.

    Every time you post about Africa, you make me wish that I were back there again!

    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      I bet it was!! I love it when animals come into camp. So much fun – if a little scary at times! Yeah I’ve had to sneak past hippo and buffaloes a few times. They’re the scariest.

      I love travelling by local transport, but I love overlanding too! Can’t wait to explore some more!

  • Arianwen
    January 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Hahahaha. I love that she thought it was a hippo! Imagine that waking you up. I don’t think you’d ever camp again! I also love that you crossed out guys and put guy. What is it about travel that means you rarely ever meet single guys??! I mean, seriously, where are they all hiding?!

    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Ha ha, the tricks the mind plays on you. To be fair, we were that close together, a hippo would probably get stuck! 🙂

      I know, poor Nathan had to put up with all us women. He loved it! 3 more single guys joined later in the trip.

  • Bekah
    January 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I love this post. I also travelled from Nairobi to Cape Town with Absolute Africa and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Of all the places I have travelled I feel the biggest pull back to Africa so this brings back great memories.

    Funnily enough very early on in our trip Hippo’s did wander into our camp, I slept through the whole thing and was none the wiser until the morning when we were shown how one couples tent had been trampled and the poles bent during the night. Thankfully they were not hurt during all of this but they definitely had a scary night!

    The Bec on your trip didn’t go back to be a tour guide afterwards did she? That would be a weird coincidence!

    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      OMG that is scary! We didn’t have any trampled tents. But I’ve had lots of animal encounters at camp. I love it.

      Yes Africa is my favourite place out of everywhere I’ve travelled!

      No, she didn’t become a tour guide so not the same girl, but that would have been weird. She would have made a good tour guide though!

  • Donny
    January 15, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Great post! We did an overland with Absolute in 2008. It was from Livingstone down to Cape Town. This is one of our favorite travel experiences to this day. We’ve kept in touch with several people that we met on the journey, I think the participation part really made the experience. Ever since we’ve talked about doing to top part of the overland but sadly haven’t gotten back to that part of the world. Also, we met Moses in Livingstone while camping at Grubby’s. He was leading another truck, super nice guy. Our guides were awesome too. We keep in touch with them as well, they’ve moved to NZ. Cheers and safe travels!

    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      Hey Donny!

      Ah I loved it too! I’m going to stay with Moses in October. He owns his own camp in the Mara now! And Grubby is a mate of mine. I lived at The Grotto for a couple of months! It’s a small world!!! I still keep in touch with most of our group too! Such a great bunch!!! Happy travels to you too! Go back to AFRICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  • Charlotte
    January 15, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Haha yes our friendship was well and truly sealed by a pee in the night 🙂 You have taken me right back to that camp site – I was trying to remember what you made us for dinner?! Another amazing post! And what’s this bout you seeing Moses in October?! Xxx

    • Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Thank you Charlotte!

      I’ve no idea what we made for dinner… most likely some kind of stir fry/chilli… something with a lot of tomatoes, peppers and carrots… sure it was delicious if I made it. I always remember that time we made that meal in Naivasha… when it took about a year to cook and Nathan brought us Sambucas for whilst we cooked. The night of ‘The Quiz’. I made a marinade… think it consisted of wine, honey, soy sauce, tomato sauce and mustard… it was strangely good.

      Yeah, I am going to Kenya baby!!!!!!!!!!! Come join!

  • Matt
    January 17, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Great story! This is why it’s so easy to make friends on the road. You go through such intense experiences, like not getting eaten by wild animals, that it’s difficult to not be friends.

    Man, I can’t wait to go to Africa some day. Your posts about it keep me determined to go there at some point. Cheers!

    • Helen
      January 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Thanks Matt. That’s it isn’t it? Those shared experiences are what make it so special. In Africa you definitely bond with your fellow travellers. More than anywhere else I’ve been in general!

      I hope you do go! It’s the most amazing place!!

  • Claire
    January 17, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I also did a camping tour but it was just in Namibia. Loved it.
    One night I had the same problem and needed to wee but I was alone in my tent, with the noises of animal. I waited something like 1h and when I thought I had not heard animals for a long time, I made it out of my tent. The next morning the guide told me that there were hyenas… happy I waited to get out 🙂

    • Helen
      January 17, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Oh Claire, it’s worse when you’re on your own in a tent! I’ve had that too! In Malawi, there was an elephant right by my tent munching away. I was sooo desperate. After it had gone I pulled down my tent zip, looked around, pulled it back up. Then I heard someone else do the same. And then we both did it and poked our heads out! So funny! All an experience! But WHY is the only time you ever need a wee in the night whilst you are camping? Sod’s Law!

  • Arianwen
    January 25, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Oops! Linked through and then realised I’ve already read this post! Haha. Your link reminded me of having to wander into a scary corn field to pee in the middle of the night when I was visiting a Maasai tribe. There were about 5 of us sharing one flashlight. It was an experience I’ll never forget!

    • Helen
      January 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Ha ha, it’s always a fun experience eh? 🙂

  • Monica
    March 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    This sounds so incredible. I’m taking a TrekAmerica camping tour next month and you’ve just made me EVEN MORE excited. I didn’t know that was possible. I’m surprised by the male to female ratio too. Do you know if that’s normal?
    I took a tour through India with my guy and he was the only man then so I think he’s hoping for some male companionship this time!

    • Helen
      March 2, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      It was Monica! More guys joined later in the trip but the ratio was highly in the female favour. Whether women travelled alone more, or most guys travelled completely solo I don’t know. There were lots of guys on our trip, but only one on his own to start, the others were in couples.

      You will have a great time with Trek America. I love a group tour, I don’t care what anyone says. I made some of my best friends in the whole world on this trip!

      Can’t wait to hear about your America trip! x

  • Claire
    March 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    This sounds amazing! I’d love to do a trip like this :).

    • Helen
      March 6, 2014 at 11:39 pm

      It was really great Claire – I’d highly recommend it!

  • Ali
    March 11, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Helen, your blog came to my attention at just the right time. I am motivated to make an African trek in 2015. Can you tell me if there is a reason why one company (Absolute Africa) would seem so cheap as compared to high end companies such as Micato. It’s not just a little bit of a difference but a difference of thousands. Any help is appreciated! Love your blog and adventures.

    • Helen
      March 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Hi Ali, I’ve had a quick look at Micato (I’m just on my phone so it’s not amazingly clear) but basically I think it’s down to a few things. With Absolute, you camp, cook your own meals as a group, clean the truck, all that sort of stuff. Camping is only usually a few dollars a night. With a company like Micato, you’ll have everything done for you and stay in lovely safari lodges that probably cost a few hundred dollars a night. With Absolute you can also choose to take part in certain things and not in others which allows them to leep costs down. somethings are included and some are extras. I guess it depends on what you want and can afford. I wouldn’t say no to a nice little trip to a lovely lodge, but I love camping and the teamwork aspect of an overland. Absolute we’re great value for money and I was really happy with the trip. Hope that gives a bit more insight and please give me a shout if you want any more info, happy to help!

  • Anneke
    April 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Woah, just checked out the website for these overland tours and they look awesome! And surprisingly affordable (although I’m sure the plane ticket might cost a chunk of change as well). Thanks for writing, this is so on my list now 🙂

    • Helen
      April 24, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      No worries at all Anneke! Overlands are fab. A great way to see Africa, especially for first timers! I haven’t been with any other companies, but I loved Absolute Africa. They were really reasonable and so much fun!! Plane tickets from Europe are quite reasonable, more expensive from elsewhere!

      Hope you get to go soon!

  • Ian
    June 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    I’m sold, I’m definitely going to Africa and go with Absolute Africa. I’m pretty much a solo traveler, but I’ve never considered traveling to Africa by myself because I just don’t know anything about this continent. After reading your blogs, I’m inspired to do Kilimanjaro and do the overland 70+ days with this company. I was initially planning on going to South America this September for 5 months, but the plan has been scrapped since I am having surgery in August to fix my groin hernia, and with a recovery time of 6 weeks , and during that time I can’t lift anything greater than 10 pounds. My question, I’m wondering with the overland Africa tour and Kilimanjaro, do I have to do any heaving lifting or is it pretty easy? That’s why I am abandoning going to South america because I’ll be carrying my travel backpack which will probably weigh 25 pounds. they say it takes 6 weeks to fully recover before I am able to lift normally again. That’s why I’m opting for joining a a guided tour group so I don’t have to push my body too much and heal at the same time. I’m going this december to africa, haven’t booked it yet, but Im thinking I’ll be fully recovered by then to the point where I can easily carry 40+ pounds. anyways your blog has been helpful and now I’m really excited about going to Africa. South America will have to wait 1 more year.

    • Helen
      June 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Hi Ian,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I hope you get better quickly!!!! Africa is a wonderful place to travel. I love travelling solo there, through many countries.

      With an overland, I’d say you’d need to be relatively fit. You won’t be carrying your backpack as often as you would travelling solo, but you’ll need to lift it to and from the truck. You could get a backpack that also doubles as a wheelie case. That will keep the heavy lifting to a minimum. I wouldn’t advise taking a full on case, as they won’t fit in your tent, but a wheelie backpack is ok. You can always keep your backpack on the truck, and decant into a smaller daypack as you go. The only other things I would say is about climbing on and off the truck. The steps can be quite high, and the roads can be really bumpy. Kilimanjaro is strenuous too. You won’t do any heavy lifting, but you will need to carry a day pack which is likely to be less than 10 pounds. But you’ll be walking for hours a day up and downhill. It takes its toll on the body. If your surgery is in August, you should be ok by December shouldn’t you? But I would advise you to speak to Absolute Africa and your doctor.

      Hope that helps. Please give me a shout with any more questions you have, love to help! Absolute Africa were a great company to go with and I highly recommend them!


  • Hannah @Getting Stamped
    April 6, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    We did a 43 day overland safari last year in Africa and are heading back again in 3 weeks for another 70 day safari!

    • Helen
      April 6, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      Hey Hannah,

      Amazing! 🙂 I did a 70 day safari back in 2009, would love to do it again! 🙂 I don’t even care that I’ve already done it!

      Hope you have an amazing time!

      I was just reading your camel riding in Morocco post! I am going to Morocco in a month, and I can’t wait to do this!


  • Kelli
    June 5, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Helen,

    I love reading your blog. I am not sure if you will have an answer to this but do you have any idea why Absolute Africa is considerable cheaper then Acacia or similar tour operators?

    I ask a lady from Absolute Africa and she said they sell trips directly so they don’t pay agent commission and they aim to make it an affordable trip. However, there still seems to be a HUGE difference in cost based on tours that look fairly similar.

    Just wondering if you have any insight about this? Did you notice anything significantly different with Absolute Africa then other tour operators during your trip?

    Any advice is appreciated!!

    Thank you!! 🙂

    • Helen
      June 5, 2015 at 10:33 pm

      Hi Kelli,

      Thanks for your message!

      So, I had a look at the longest Acacia trip (58 days Nairobi to Cape Town – £2895 + $2170 local payment) and a same length one on Absolute (58 days Kigali – Cape Town – £1215 + $900 local payment). They included a lot of the same stuff. However the Acacia one did include gorilla trekking and Zanzibar, but the Absolute one didn’t. To add on Zanzibar it would be £175 extra, and to add on gorillas it would be between £450 and £600 (depending on the season).

      Costs may vary due to group size. The Acacia tours I looked at said max 16 people, but Absolute could be up to 28. Our truck started with 22, went up to 28 at one point, but then we ended with 12. As people get on and off at different points.

      Accommodation may vary slightly between companies, so may include more hotel/guesthouse stays. But most of them stay at the same campsites so most of the overland companies are similar in that sense.

      Some companies have a cook, but with Absolute you don’t. But trust me, some of the funnest times I had on my trip was ‘trying’ to cook dinner. I think all my mates would back me up on that! I also noticed Acacia includes lunch on the trip, Absolute doesn’t, but lunches are pretty cheap.

      It’s a bit of a pain, but what I would do if I were you, is look at the trips you want to do with the different companies, and then work out what’s included and what’s not and compare how much it would be to add on the things you do want to do. Most of the companies list the costs of the optional extras on their websites (Absolute and Acacia both have really good lists you can download), so you can work out the overall cost.You could use those as a guide for all the other companies too if they don’t include specifics. The cost of the activities is generally the same, as those costs are all paid on the ground and the overland companies mostly use the same local companies.

      To be honest, I looked at most of the companies, weighed it up and picked Absolute Africa as I thought they were the most reasonable. Then when I went, I thought they were a great company and was happy with it, so I returned a second time. I’ve never tried another company, so can’t directly compare, but I had a great time on the tours I went on! I think it would be interesting for me to travel with another company to compare, but I suppose, if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it! 😉 Whoever you go with though, I’m sure it will be great!!!

      Hope that helps! 🙂

      Have a great time, and let me know who you eventually decide to go with!

      Helen x

  • Carolyn
    June 19, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I loved reading this post, I have travelled all over Africa and love reading about other people’s experiences. Blogs on Africa are always so much more interesting than someone writing about travelling to New York or Western Europe

    • Helen
      June 21, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks Carolyn! I’m a massive Africa fan, as you can tell! Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed reading! 🙂

  • monique duijker
    February 2, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Helen, you got me inspired and ready to go to Africa! After traveling in around 60 countries Africa was never on my bucketlist and now it is. I will do the full trip with Absolute Africa, starting in december this year. If anyone is joining that tour too, please get in touch with me. Happy travels Helen! Big smile from Amsterdam, Monique

    • Helen
      February 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm

      Hi Monique!

      That makes me soooo happy, thank you for telling me!!!

      You will love the trip and Africa is such an amazing place. Absolute Africa will look after you well!

      Please let me know how you like the trip!

      Give me a shout if you have any questions!

      Happy travels!


  • Marguerite Quinlan
    February 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Helen, just discovered your blog & am loving it. Am planning a gap year and am 47!! Would you recommend Absolute Africa for someone a (tiny) bit older (but very young at heart) btw I’ll be a solo woman traveller). Thanks.

    • Helen
      February 16, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      47 is the new 20 don’t ya know! 🙂

      My friend Denise did the Absolute trip at 42, she loved it! I was 29. I loved it! It is generally a young crowd, but if you don’t mind that, you’ll be just fine! It’s fun!!! Plus it’s great for solo travellers!

      Have an amazing time and let me know how you get on! 🙂

  • Brittany
    March 29, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Hi Helen,

    Love your blogs and your Insta stories. I’m booked on the Absolute safari in July, would love some advice about carrying cash, I know I’ll need my LP in cash when I arrive but did you carry lots of other cash? or was a debit card/ travel card sufficient to take cash out along the way. Carrying all my cash for 73 days seems risky.


    • Helen
      March 31, 2017 at 8:43 am

      Hi Brittany!

      I carried quite a bit of cash with me and took my cards.

      They have a safe on the truck, so you should be able to store it in there! When you arrive, you’ll at least need your visa dollars and your local payment all ready, as they will be hard to get in Africa. Then maybe take a few hundred in your own currency, whatever that may be :). Then take your cards, preferably visa as it’s easier to use! Hope that helps!!! I have this post that goes into a bit of detail:


  • Sameer Dhakal
    April 11, 2017 at 5:55 am

    Thank You very much for the wonderful articles . Please Keep posting such a wonderful articles.

  • Dmitry Pavlenko
    December 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks, Helen, for your post about African journey.

    • Helen
      December 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you Dmitry!

  • Karen Schaffer
    December 24, 2017 at 3:09 am

    Hi Helen, google search brought me to your site and I am enjoying reading it. At 25 I did a lot of solo travelling around the world, but now I am a middle aged 56 year old with children, a mortgage and a full time job. I still love to travel but the body just isn’t quite the same anymore. I have been looking at the different tour companies for my first tour to Africa. I have heard wonderful things about Absolute Africa but wonder if at my age I would feel a bit too old with all the younger people. I probably would prefer a bit more luxury some nights, and have heard that you can get lodges at some places if you pay extra. Just wondered what you thought about this trip for someone very much in the ‘older’ category. Thanks Karen


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