Christmas at Karongwe

I was equal parts excited about and dreading Christmas in the South African bush. I have never had a Christmas away from my family before and it's pretty much the only holiday in the year I really care about.

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Christmas to me is decorations, champagne, opening presents under a Christmas tree, spending quality time with family, dressing my cat Oli in an embarrassing Christmas suit, going to the beach and having a relaxing day. Out here in the bush we had no Christmas tree, no presents, no Oli, no (wider) family and definitely no beach. We did get some tinsel and decorated Ross’s room for his return (which I’m sure he loved) and so we used that to make our little camp feel a bit more festive… but it wasn’t the same.

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On the lead up to Christmas we enjoyed (sarcasm) three days of 40+ degree weather, so my main Christmas wish was simply to have a cool, cloudy day. Well, the fairies delivered in exaggerated style! The temperatures started cooling on Christmas eve, as we were chatting with Ross, who had just returned to camp. It started getting pretty windy, and that wind felt like Christmas (literally) had come early! Even though we didn’t get a visit from Santa out here in the bush, we did get a different (some would argue cooler) visitor – our friendly neighbourhood buffalo popped around the corner in camp as we were chatting in the evening. It was nice to see him, though he clearly didn’t feel the same way as he ambled back around the corner once he spotted us.

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Be careful what you wish for became our motto as we struggled to get ANY sleep on Christmas eve due to the wind picking up, and whipping our tent into all sorts. We tried different combinations of flaps up and flaps down but unfortunately nothing seemed to help too much and we didn’t get much sleep. We dragged ourselves up at about 5am ready for our Christmas morning game drive. At this point I was still enjoying the cooler weather… but that didn’t last long as after about half an hour out on drive my body felt like it had started developing hypothermia! Worse still, we didn’t see any great sightings before trudging back feeling quite cold and decidedly ‘un-Christmas-y’. It’s a very strange feeling covering yourselves in wet towels to escape 40+ weather one day and then freezing in 17 degrees the next.

What saved Christmas for me though was Van’s amazing cooking abilities! Even though it’s also hot at Christmas in Australia, our tradition has always been to have a roast lunch (usually turkey and pork). Van cooked up a lovely roast leg of lamb accompanied by crispy potatoes, perfectly cooked beans and carrots and sweet potato mash! Another tradition for me is Christmas pudding, and I had expertly baked up a banana cake the previous day for our Christmas dessert using seriously over-ripe bananas from the cupboard.

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We even managed to have some Christmas crackers and my favourite South African JC Le Roux champagne! It was an awesome lunch, that even managed to stave off my hypothermia (I had by that time also layered up). Christmas was saved! My last Christmas present was a skype session with my family, which surprisingly worked (even the video) on the bush wifi here, and I got to see my gorgeous cat Oli, although he didn’t look all that interested in Skyping with his mum. Thankfully my sister kept up tradition by dressing him in his Christmas suit and sending me photos.

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he one thing I had always said was that I could live with Christmas away from my family so long as I saw an elephant or a lion. So off we went on our afternoon Christmas game drive, to see if we could make this particular Christmas wish come true. Unfortunately we didn’t get any cats or elephants, but we did have a lovely rhino sighting. An older and younger rhino bull were playing together and it was really nice to see!

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We came home early and pretty much went straight to bed, without even eating anything for dinner as we were still so full from our Christmas lunch! And that was Christmas in the bush. No lions, but at least I did get that cool, cloudy day and an awesome roast lunch.