It has been a long hot drive across Zimbabwe. Arriving at our camp in the Matobo National Park, attendants handed us warm damp flannels to refresh ourselves.
The safari tents were perfect, just the kind of thing you see on Facebook: beautiful white linen, lion-print scatter cushions, an al fresco shower and loo round the back of the tent. We went to bed dreaming of dusty game drives, rhino-spotting and picnics by the Maleme Dam.
When we woke up it was raining.
It rained solidly that day, that night, the next day, the next night and the next morning. The water pooled in threatening bulges directly above where our suitcases cowered inside. On the third night, we woke to the sound of an ominous dripping...
With southern Africa now in the middle of the rainy season, a wet safari isn't as unlikely as you'd think. So how do you (and the kids) survive?
Here are my top 10 tips, born of a damp experience:
1) Take a she-wee.
Take it from me, that romantic loo-under-the-stars won't seem quite as romantic at midnight when you're cowering by the back tent flap waiting for the rain to let up so you can dash outside. Eventually my husband took pity and fetched a bucket. But a she-wee might have preserved the mystique a tiny bit longer.
2) Take extra loo-rolls.
Camp management had thoughtfully provided us with two loo rolls, more than enough for a family of four on a four-night stay. But those rolls got left outside in the rain. So on the first morning of our stay, we were greeted by two sodden white tissue sausages. Wet loo rolls never return to their original shape.
3) Opt for a hot bucket bath.
Accept that the cunning outdoor shower thingy just isn't going to work for you in this weather. We were caught in Zimbabwe's early rains at the end of winter. The nights were not warm. The thought of a lukewarm evening shower in the rain was enough to bring me to tears (and try telling a soap-shy 11-year-old he's going to have to shower outside in the cold). A bucket of hot water big enough for you to sit in will make life seem bearable again. The camp attendants should heat the water for you if you ask (and they will also sort out any tent leaks).
4) Pack raincoats
Otherwise you're heading for black bin-bag fashion. Of course, bin bags do the job. But they won't tone in with that khaki-and-white safari kit you packed so carefully for yourself. And why make yourself feel worse than you already do?
5) Pack the bin-bags anyway
You'll need them to protect your clothes inside your cases. Just in case a leak develops. Truss up your clothes inside your bags as soon as it starts to rain.
6) Ask for hot-water bottles
Our camp provided fake-fur covered ones. Somehow snuggling up with a hot water bottle can make the rain-thundering-down-on-your-tent experience seem more like an adventure than an endurance test.
7) Pre-pack something for the kids to do
A safari tent can seem like a cage with a bored child or two. Chances are there'll be no wifi. In the rain, the cell coverage will flicker down to a measly half a bar (and you won't feel like wandering around outside to get a better connection either). Electricity supplies are shaky wherever you are in the bush, so that ancient Nintendo DS somebody slipped into a bag without parental approval isn't going to be much help (though you could try the battery charger in your car). I had a couple of magazines that kept my kids occupied for some of the time.
8) Adjust your expectations
If you're not enamoured of non-stop rain, don't expect the game to be either. Realising that our chances of seeing anything apart from other rain-soaked safari-guests were pretty limited, we headed into the Khumalo communal lands outside the Matobo National Park. There we were able to see some of the intricately-decorated houses that the area is famous for. The Amagugu International Heritage Center runs a My Beautiful Home competition each year to celebrate this rich tradition.
9) Forget the open game-drive vehicle
We met a brave family from the UK who were taking a trip of a lifetime through southern Africa after a year homeschooling their kids. On their second rain-lashed morning, seeing their dreams of game-watching dissolve slowly but surely away, they opted for a bin-bag-clad drive. We watched them go... and then return, half an hour later, defeated by the downpour. We took our own closed-in bakkie, flasks of coffee and sandwiches, stopping whenever there was a slight break in the rain to let the kids climb the kopjes (rocky outcrops). One glorious moment when the sun broke through (the afternoon before we were leaving), we saw not one but two white rhinos. Presumably they too had been feeling pretty cooped up...
10) Keep smiling
You'll laugh about your safari-in-the-rain in years to come. And next time, you'll pack a whole lot better.
Staying in the Matobo National Park:
We stayed at the stunning Rowallan Camp run by Forever African Safaris.
- International rack rates in 2015 were quoted as US 183/pppn (full board) or US 128/pppn (bed & breakfast). Children were half-price.
- We were warned the prices were likely to rise.