The little camping customs adopted by each family or group of friends are what make camping trips so special.

I have been camping since a young age. One of my earliest memories is of the entire family crammed into one tent, the only tent if I may add, where we sheltered and slept for three days while the Garden Route’s notorious rain teased the thin plastic of our hide-out.

By default, the family tradition of card games was born. It was all we could do to stop from losing our sense of humour or killing one another. Years, and much experience later, we are still sharing memorable campsite moments together (although these days we each have our own tents) and have built a plethora of traditions that make these holidays just that extra bit more special.

Morning coffee-&-rusks (in bed)

I’m sure many campers will agree that the day cannot start without a good ‘ol cuppa,met beskuit! Rusks are on the top of the family’s priority list (in fact, we don’t leave home without them) and they are one of the reasons we are so proudly South African. Some like them dunked and soggy; others prefer them crunchy, in between warming sips.

But there is really only one rule regarding this morning tradition … whoever is first to awaken must stoke the fire or light the gas and get that kettle singing. The early-riser inevitably ends up making the snoring sleeping-bag cocoons their morning cuppa. So it pays to sleep late in our camp; coffee-and-rusks in bed is a real treat.

This tradition does not only apply in the morning, though. There is always a kettle boiling when we are in camp, accompanied by chatting, reading, napping and lots more rusks.

CampFire-Aug2012

Exercise

Unlike most of our traditions which revolve around some kind of eating, my family does have the odd healthy one. Exercise generally takes place between the morning coffee-and-rusks session and brunch.

Now this may seem very impressive, but even if you’ve put on your takkies and walked around the campsite you can say that you’ve exercised. Some may step it up a notch and go for a full blown walk, extending beyond the mental comfort of the tent lager. And others, of which there are few, actually jog! Whichever the form of exercise, it is then undoubtedly used as an excuse to do very little the rest of the day.

Sundowners

Watching the day end and the night begin has become somewhat of a ritual in our camp. It may take a good half an hour to get ready for the short trek to the nearest rock, koppie or open space. Clad in warm clothes and armed with snacks, cups and a bottle of bubbly, we gaze in silence night after night at the sinking yolk. Nobody dares even whisper until the last of the golden orb has been swallowed up by the hungry horizon. Eventually we pluck up the courage to pierce the silence with a hearty “Cheers”!

Bush TV and Marshmallows

Ah, the crackling of the wood as it catches alight, the flames that dance this way and that, the glow of the embers as they fall in love – our favourite television programme has begun. And then … the action scene! The piece of burning wood balancing precariously atop another dynamically disintegrating piece topples to the ground. Legs fly into the air. Arms reach out for a secure phantom. Exclamations of surprise and warning awaken those entranced by the flames. And every now and then, from the sudden excitement of it all, a chair with person in tact goes over backwards.

The campfire television, or simply just ‘bush TV’, has kept many a camper entertained for hours on end. The tradition is completed with toasting marshmallows at the end of a stick (which, in the end, is stickier than the sugar-coated fingertips from handling one marshmallow after another). It is a tradition all campers know and are fond of. Because what is a campsite without a fire and some sweetness at its heart?

The Kuierstomp

We must be one of the few nations in the world that understand the concept of a kuierstomp. When the sun goes down, much time is spent keeping the fire going – until the kuierstomp arrives, that is. It has such dramatic presence to my family that I’m surprised we don’t salute to it in honour or bow down when it is ceremoniously placed onto the fire. It is the ultimate piece of firewood, and often the last to be added … not out of lack of wood, but out of its grandeur and ability to outlast the tired eyes that slowly close around it.

The kuierstomp is NOT just a piece of wood! It is chosen specifically for its size as well as for its purpose of sustaining the fire for optimum socialising or kuiering, as its name suggests. Many a kuierstomp has been known to be so magnificent that it is used for a second night’s fire too.

Star school

Yes, we are that nerdy family you see with bird identification books by day and

star-guides by night. In between the braai, the kuierstomp and the sleeping bag, there is much discussion on constellations and mythology. We have even taken it to the next level and each of us has a specifically chosen star name.

Other camp Traditions

  • Toasted cheese-and-tomato sandwiches (braaibroodjies)
  • Fighting over where to park the cars and pitch the tents on arrival
  • Getting sunburnt after falling asleep in a camp chair
  • Having leftover braai for breakfast
  • Sleeping under the stars if the weather allows
  • Winter camping must-have: hot water bottle

There is, however, one tradition that overrides all others. It is a tradition shared by all of us … a tradition chosen by the campfire, and one that cannot be escaped. I’m sure all campers will agree that it is the smell of your clothes, hair, vehicle, tent and other accessories that is the essence of camping. And even though this smoky smell might be a bit embarrassing on return to civilisation, it is a tradition that we as campers wouldn’t have any other way!