Not knowing where to sleep at night can be a stressful experience when it starts to get dark and you’re out on the road. The suitably discreet spots for camping you saw earlier in the day have now gone and you have no idea how far it is until the next village or town because your map is rubbish. Do you keep looking in the dying light for somewhere to secretly pitch the tent, or continue to the next inhabited place where there might be a guest house or someone to safeguard your security in camping? It’s an all too familiar scenario these days.
South of the Sahara I’ve camped wild very rarely on this journey. By camping wild I mean pitching the tent in the open without anyone knowing. The last time was in a palm plantation in Cote d’Ivoire and before that the dry Senegalese sahel. I have on the other hand sought permission and pitched my tent numerous times within the compound of someone’s property, or inside/beside police stations, immigration offices, schools, churches and occasionally within mosquito-infested hotel rooms lacking bed-nets or fans. People rarely have a problem with it and are usually just shocked, amused and entertained to see a white man set up his small mobile home for the night. Do I leave money? Sometimes, but not always. It depends where I sleep and whether I share someone’s food. I sometimes think how a landowner in my own country might react if a foreign stranger were to suddenly appear on his property and ask to pitch a tent.
My Long Ride Home from Japan was different. I think I was a little more afraid to ask people for a place to pitch my tent and occasionally sought comfort from the solitude of sleeping in some of the dramatic locations I found myself in. And there were days, thinking back to India in particular, where I just wanted to shut myself away from the intensity of it all. India is possibly one of the hardest countries to camp wild in.
I anticipated pitching my tent in the grounds of the Sheraton hotel when I arrived here in Abuja earlier this week, which believe it or not allows trans-continental travellers with their own vehicles to camp for free, but I’ve ended up somewhere a bit different. More on that and Abuja itself in the next post.
I occasionally take photos of some of the places I’ve slept in over the years. Here is a selection starting right back from Seoul in 2005, where I ended up swimming out of my tent at 3am in the morning, to more recently in a Nigerian church last week.
For those who wonder how I go about finding safe places to camp wild, here are a few guidelines. If you feel like adding to it from your own experience, comments would be much appreciated.
1) Look for paths/tracks which deviate from the road and ensure you can leave the road quickly without having to push/lift the bike.
2) Make sure no-one sees you leaving the road. This is perhaps the most important guideline. If you are seen you run the chance of being visited later.
3) Make sure your tent is invisible from the road or any other human-habited place. Behind/within thick vegetation or small mounds of land are obvious places.
4) Ensure you have enough water and food to see you through the evening, night and morning.
5) Start looking with an hour left of light left in the day. Finding good spots becomes very hard when there is no light.
6) Lock the bike close to the tent. If there is no tree and you’re worried about security lock the bike around a tent pole. If the bicycle happens to be moved at night, so will you.
7) Unless you’re really wild (ie you know with certainty there is no-one around for many kilometres) don’t start a fire.
8) Don’t camp close to large towns/cities where there is evidence of people recently using the land.
9) If someone sees you camping and they are close by, make contact rather than ignore them. Trying to remain invisible may arouse more suspicion.
10) Try to avoid pitching the tent in low-lying areas if you think it might rain. Camping in wadis in the desert for example