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Accidentally Setting a Gas Canister Alight & Having a Mental Breakdown in Luxurious Onguma

Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
How does one even get sunburn lines as patchy as this? I’m a person of mystery.

I know what you’re thinking – what the heck could this article possibly be about? Explosive and luxurious are two adjectives that you wouldn’t really put in the same sentence as they are so different. Well, we rocked up at the Tamboti Luxury campsite at Onguma Fort late on a Sunday evening. I can see why it was advertised as a ‘luxurious campsite’. We had the largest site that I’d encountered so far with beautiful trees surrounding it, making it very private. But best of all we had our own private ablution block! That’s right – we had a private toilet, shower and 3 sinks. The sinks had a wonderful view of the wilderness.

It felt like the ‘wildest’ campsite we’d been to so far and it said something that the whole campsite area had to have a large fence surrounding it. Wild lions, leopards and hyenas live on the Onguma reserve and clearly safety is very important to the campsite.

As well as the camping sites, we could also go to the restaurant which was a short walk away and a swimming pool. As soon as we arrived, I was eyeing up the restaurant. I was starving after driving for over 6 hours with virtually nothing in my belly. I’d felt too sick at lunchtime to even take a bite out of my pasty.

But before we were going to indulge in our dinner, we decided to get everything set up and ready for the night before the last rays of sunlight slipped away. After 2 nights of sleeping uncomfortably in the car, lying across the seats, it was time to try out the roof-top tent again. The tent popped-up easily and I went up to see how I could make the tent feel a lot bigger. The tent had several windows you could open which could still provide much-needed protection from insects as they had built-in mosquito nets. I opened these as far as I could and as light began to filter through the tent, I began to feel hopeful that we could enjoy sleeping up here. Satisfied, I hauled up the sleeping bag and pillows, ready for the night.

Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
I clearly didn’t have high hopes for the tent initially. I look hella moody!
Ella with Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
My celebratory dance after concluding that the roof-top tent was habitual after all

Now that the tent was sorted, it was time to get some dinner! After becoming acquainted with the menu, one item jumped out at me. A biltong pizza! I didn’t know such a thing existed and I could barely hold back the tears of excitement. 2 beautiful things were coming together – biltong and pizza. I must say, it was a match made in heaven! Unfortunately, my poor appetite seemed to be persisting and I could only eat 2 slices – which was better than I’d done so far on this trip. No pizza was going to waste and we took back what wasn’t eaten to have as lunch the next day.

Biltong pizza in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
Ella with Biltong pizza in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
Me with my love <3

Bellies full, we retreated back to our campsite for the night. Everything was almost perfect except for the creepy-looking spider that seemed to live in the shower. I’m not familiar with African spider species so who knows if it was poisonous or not? I decided to let it be and just try to keep out of its way which seemed to work alright. I had a very speedy shower that night.

But the day wasn’t quite over yet. As I lay in my sleeping bag within our roof-top tent, the sounds of Africa began around us. Concealed by darkness, the animals began to sing. Crickets and frogs seemed to take the lime-light, lulling me off to a peaceful sleep. I awoke in the night to hear the eerie call of a hyena. In case you don’t know what a hyena sounds like, look it up now on Youtube or something. It’s a creepy yet strangely beautiful sound. I knew the cry was a rallying cry that hyenas make to summon the rest of the clan. I heard an answering call which sounded uncomfortably close to our tent. If I hadn’t known about the fence, I would have thought it was only a few metres away. The two hyenas called to each other for a while. Then I heard something even more spectacular. It was the call of a lion. This was definitely my favourite campsite so far! Nothing can beat listening to lions and hyenas at night.

If only I didn’t need to pee super bad! I trusted that the animals I’d been hearing weren’t really around the car so quickly scuttled off to the toilet. Some bushes beside the ablution block rustled but based on the sound, it probably was only a small animal – I hoped anyway. Fortunately, I returned to the tent unscathed, just in time to hear the hyena calls start up again.

Onguma Reserve campsite near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
Little deer beside our ablution block

We were awoken by some crazy birds that were squawking energetically in the tree above us. I guess there are worse ways to be woken. Unfortunately, breakfast at the restaurant for that day had already finished so we had to cook breakfast ourselves. That is where the explosive part happened.

We cook with gas canisters. How it worked was that you had to screw on a metal burner-thingy (like my terminology?), turn the gas on and light the burner which then came on and acted as a hob. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was confused. But that morning I didn’t screw the burner-thingy on tight enough. Do you see where this is going? My partner turned the gas on and tried to light the burner. Instead of the burner turning on in a visible flame, the whole top of the gas canister suddenly became engulfed by bright orange flames.

“Oh my god!”

We both leapt up watching as the fire danced menacingly. I think I am just a bit clueless sometimes as I didn’t immediately recognise the dangers of a gas canister being on fire. Fortunately, my partner is able to think quickly on his feet and very bravely put his hand through the flames to turn the gas off. The fire died down and by some way of a miracle, he didn’t get burnt. I guess that’s what you call skill.

“That could have exploded!” He yelled, clearly shaken.

Of course. Now that the panic was over, I was able to think more clearly. A fire by a gas canister could well lead to an explosion. Had that happened, we’d have both been killed – no doubt about that. I felt lucky to be alive and stupid for not checking the burner was properly attached. I hate meddling with gas or fire for this very reason – I’m too ditsy. I decided that I’d leave the handling of the gas canisters to my partner from that moment on.

You’ll be pleased to know that once we’d tightened the burner, it turned on fine and we were able to enjoy our breakfast.

Ella drinking tea in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
A happy me, enjoying tea whilst being blissfully unaware of the carnage that was about to unfold with the gas canister
Ella in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
Reflecting on life and probably thinking, “Damn, I’m lucky to be alive.”
Ella in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
To celebrate being alive, I’m going to sit on this window-ledge which I know I’m not supposed to do but YOLO!

I wish I could say that was the end of our traumas but the truth is there was still one last issue that we needed to face. Let’s look at yesterday. Between us we drove for over 6 hours without really stopping. We had 2 activities planned for that day as well and were only able to complete 1. Whilst driving, we couldn’t really stop for photos or drone flying as we had such a tight schedule. Sighing, I realised that most of our days on this road-trip would be like that which didn’t make much sense. I knew that we were going to have to scale back the road-trip slightly but doing that felt so daunting because I’d already paid for so many of the campsites.

We had 1 more night in Onguma but before that we had a game-drive scheduled in for that afternoon. Did either of us fancy a game-drive that afternoon? Honestly, no. We were so exhausted, we just wanted a chance to recuperate. But I hate cancelling things last minute and I’d already moved the game-drive from that morning to that afternoon. Honestly, I was a little scared to tell the guy at the desk that we were going to cancel as he had been so reluctant to change it to begin with.

I decided to give the game-drive a go and went over to ask what time it was. I then discovered the game-drive wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought I was going on a game-drive in Etosha but apparently only the morning drives do that (which I’d originally booked) and the afternoon one was in Onguma.

My disappointment must have been evident as he said to me, “You look unhappy.”

I told him truthfully that I thought it would be in Etosha but I could see him getting exasperated with me and quickly apologised. “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I thought it would be in Etosha but it doesn’t matter.”

I was now completely unsure what to do. I didn’t really want to go on a game-drive in Onguma as I wanted to explore Etosha. Plus game-drives sure aren’t free, let me tell you! I knew my partner didn’t want to go on a game-drive anyway so breaking this news to him couldn’t really go down well. I started getting worked-up.

Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa

To begin with, my partner took it surprisingly well. I was amazed he didn’t pull me up on my error of not checking yesterday that it would definitely be in Etosha. But hey, I didn’t know!

Then, life stung me in the finger, literally! I was sat by the pool, trying to cool off from the scorching afternoon sun. An insect kept flying at me and I lashed out, trying to batt it away. I guess it was my anger and confusion about the game-drive that made me do this and boy was it a mistake. As soon as my hand collided with the insect, I felt a terrible pain. I recoiled quickly as my finger began to throb profusely and almost instantly come out in a sore, red lump. Yep, I had been stung. By what? I had no idea. I just hoped that it was nothing deadly.

We both started to feel stressed and tired and my partner concluded that we shouldn’t go on the game-drive. The thought of telling the guy at the desk about this was too much and unfortunately, I burst into tears in front of several happy couples. Everything just hit me. All the issues we’d faced over the last few days coupled with all the rearranging I’d have to do. I felt the weight of it all come crashing down on me and broke down.

My partner ushered me back to our private campsite so we could talk it through. There was no doubting that we’d have to rearrange a lot. Our plans were way too ambitious and cramming so much stuff into a 14-day schedule was evidently not working out for us. I mea, just look at all the mishaps we’d already experienced! Would the gas canister have burst into flames had I been rested and relaxed? I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t have happened. Would I have been stung by a wasp had I been calm? Nope! Would my partner be feeling ill and exhausted had he been rested? Hell no!

Toyota Hilux 4x4 with roof-top tent in Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa

Just as I was starting to see the light, I spotted movement from the corner of my eye. The guy from the front-desk was making his way purposefully towards us. Oh, no. Was he about to take us to our game-drive which we no longer wanted? How was I going to break the news? I’m such an awkward turtle and I hate letting people down.

“You don’t have to go on the Onguma drive if you won’t want to.” He started, sympathetically.

Oh dear god, had he witnessed my meltdown by the pool? I felt self-conscious. It wasn’t really about the fact that the game-drive was an Onguma drive and not an Etosha drive. I would have cancelled the drive even if it had been in Etosha.

“It’s not that it’s in Onguma.” I began, trying to conceal the fact I’d been crying. “We’re just not feeling well. We feel sick.” That was the truth of it. We were way overstretched and were trying to do too much, making ourselves feel utterly drained.

“Do you want to cancel?” He pressed.

“Yes, please.” I responded. “But I’m happy to pay for it anyway as I know this is so last-minute.”

He turned down my offer politely and turned to leave. I could only imagine what he was thinking. Damn, she’s hard-work. That’s the most likely thing. But I’m not hard-work – I’m just a bit silly when it comes to planning.

Lizard in sink at Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
We found a gecko just chilling in our sink
Lizard in sink at Onguma Reserve near Etosha National Park in Namibia, Africa
We gave him a helping hand in getting out and then he was off!

I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. But only a small one. There was still a lot more ‘fixing’ to do to our schedule and I wasn’t quite sure where to begin. We started sifting through my plans for the rest of the trip. Yikes! There was meant to be another 6 hour drive tomorrow and we wanted to spend that day finally exploring Etosha. There was no chance that was going to work.

I started ringing around to see if there was any campsite availability on the other side of Etosha (reducing a 6 hour drive to a 2 hour drive) and yes, there was! Great! Now I just needed to move the campsite for the next day to the day after. I would think about the campsite after that at a later date – I can only focus on one thing at a time or I get way too overwhelmed. Fortunately, our next campsite was happy to postpone the date by a night. So it was sorted! We only had a 2 hour drive the next day which meant we could drive through and enjoy Etosha at our own leisurely rate.

At last, it felt like things were starting to look up for our road-trip.

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Saturday 9th of December 2017

Wow the tent on top of the rooftop is a dream. What a brilliant plan to give it a go. I'm so adding this to my list now. And a big compliment on the photography, absolutely stunning.


Monday 11th of December 2017

Thank you! ☺️ It's such a great thing to do - camping on a roof. The tent literally just pops up in a few seconds to it's minimal effort.


Friday 8th of December 2017

I didn’t even know about these places and now they’re officially on my list! That site looks amazing and I hope the rest went a lot smoother!


Monday 11th of December 2017

Definitely a good addition to your list ;) Fortunately, the trip did run a lot smoother from then on


Friday 8th of December 2017

Wow, that sounds like a real adventure! I would have been too scared to leave the tent in the middle of the night while hearing a lion and some hyenas. Brave girl :)


Monday 11th of December 2017

It is quite scary but I just can't sleep when I need the loo so badly. Maybe I'm foolish! I've certainly run into some pretty creepy animals before (hippos) whilst going to the toilet ????


Friday 8th of December 2017

What an interesting turn of events! I thoroughly enjoy your writing style. I empathized with you when you said you planned a very tight schedule for your trip and realized later it wouldn’t work. Been there and it was tough :(


Monday 11th of December 2017

Thank you - great you enjoyed reading it! Glad to hear I'm not the only one. It was really difficult and we lost quite a bit of money in re-organising. At least I've learnt an important lesson now for future that it's not always good to plan things - strange as that sounds. Nothing is ever as you expect when travelling and it's so easy to change your mind on what you want to do.


Friday 8th of December 2017

So cool! I would like to try it too. It gives a possibility to visit places that are hard to reach. Just I'm not sure if I would feel comfortable in almost handing tent :D

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