SUM­MER IN THE KALA­HARI

Small planes are the taxis of Botswana. And like taxis in Africa ev­ery­where, a trip on them is not for the faint of heart. Luck­ily we have an ex­cel­lent pi­lot in the per­son of Ri­cardo from South Africa.

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Gal­li­vant | Kil­ifi - Words + Pho­to­graphs by: JO KROMBERG

we land at Maun – also known as the gate­way to the Oka­vango Delta - in the mid­day heat. The trans­fer to our tented camp, Meno A Kwena, takes about two hours from Maun, but the time flies be­cause of our witty guide Max. He has us in stitches all the way there with hi­lar­i­ous anec­dotes. As we take the un­marked turn-off to the camp, I spec­u­late as to the rea­son for the lack of sign postage, only to be told in no uncer­tain terms by Max that “we don’t like sur­prises.”

I was soon to find out why. This place, dear reader, presents a co­nun­drum to any travel writer. An in­ner strug­gle, if you will. I want to shout out to all the world to go to this place of won­der post haste and at the same time I want to keep it a se­cret – all to my­self to jeal­ously guard and trea­sure. Si­t­u­ated mid­way be­tween the Botswana’s ex­tra­or­di­nary Oka­vango Delta and the spec­tac­u­lar Cen­tral Kala­hari Game Re­serve, the camp un­folds it­self be­fore you like a rid­dle, a puzzle in dusty, heat­soaked Africa. A light goes on the most jaded and cyn­i­cal of minds as you stand on the edge of the 100-foot cliff on which the camp lies, over­look­ing the Boteti River which is in flow for the first time in al­most twenty years. Dur­ing pe­ri­ods of above av­er­age rain­fall, the Boteti River, is one of the few drainage sys­tems that carry the Oka­vango flood­wa­ters out of this, the largest in­land delta in the world, to flow into the deep­est mantle of sand on the planet, the Kala­hari Desert. The Boteti River lies right in the mid­dle of th­ese great vast thirst­lands, where wa­ter is price­less and so at­tract­ing some of Africa's last re­main­ing great wildlife pop­u­la­tions. The camp is pris­tine in sur­rounds and per­fect in de­sign – strong words I know, but it makes Out of Africa look like a gar­ish com­mer­cial for sa­fari fash­ions. As we are es­corted into the lounge and din­ing ar­eas, our host and camp owner, David Dug­more, ex­plains to us the set-up and ac­tiv­i­ties, but I only lis­ten with half an ear. I’m mes­merised by the myr­iad of pho­to­graphs that line the tented walls; the silk parachute that forms the roof; the beau­ti­ful dark wooden chests ev­ery­where, the kukois, the ar­moires, the chez lounge, the cop­per wash­ing bowls…every­thing is eclec­tic, yet per­fectly in bal­ance like a fine piece of jazz mu­sic.

Meno Kwena means “teeth of the croc­o­dile” and the every last de­tail about the place ad­heres to na­ture. In terms of con­ser­va­tion, Meno A Kwena Tented Camp has ini­ti­ated the Wa­ter for Life Trust to co­or­di­nate their sus­tain­able tourism de­vel­op­ments, com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and wildlife con­ser­va­tion projects.

David Dug­more is a born and bred African, hav­ing grown up in Kenya, and is pas­sion­ate about pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment he re­spect­fully calls home.

In fact, God may be won­der­ing, where he is since Meno A Kwena’s car­bon foot­print is nigh in­vis­i­ble. So­lar power is used for heat­ing and the rest is pretty much left up to na­ture.

But don’t think for a mo­ment this is a bach­e­lor’s boot camp! The nine tents are stun­ningly ap­pointed with views of the river and the camp has been com­pletely re­fur­bished with all of the modern com­forts and ameni­ties, in­clud­ing en suite fa­cil­i­ties and pri­vate ve­ran­dahs over­look­ing

the river. Kukoi bathrobes, lux­ury toi­letries and fine linen cater for the spoilt he­do­nist in us all.

Din­ner is a fab­u­lous af­fair. Guests are all seated at one long ta­ble and, un­like at some other, grander es­tab­lish­ments, there is lively con­ver­sa­tion and much laugh­ter. Starters are served in the form of the most de­li­cious and un­usual cheese and tomato soup. Veni­son steak, stew, fish, whole­some veggies and a de­lec­ta­ble ar­ray of sal­ads see the masses jostling for more.

Af­ter din­ner, we sit by the fire side, red wine in hand, lis­ten­ing to the lions roar in the dis­tance.

The next morn­ing, I wake at dawn to a cho­rus of frogs in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the com­ing rains. The day softly and slowly pro­gresses lan­guidly as I lie in my tent af­ter break­fast, book in hand with that view of the river. In the af­ter­noon, we take a mokoro – or dug-out ca­noe – ride on the river. The si­lence is only bro­ken by the in­ter­mit­tent calls of one of the var­i­ous bird species and the gen­tle pad­dling sound of the oars. Other ac­tiv­i­ties at Meno a Kwena in­clude day trips into Mak­gadik­gadi and Nxai Pans Na­tional Parks, San Bush­men guided walk­ing ex­cur­sions, a float­ing hide and sleep outs on the pans dur­ing the dry win­ter months. We see an en­dan­gered African wild cat, perched in­side his cave – a very rare sight in­deed. As the light slowly begins to fade, a big heard of ze­bra shyly comes to drink, a few me­tres from us. We sit watch­ing them for the long­est time, lost in the mo­ment…

Cumbersome and an­noy­ing clichés fall over them­selves for space in my head as I sit in front of my tent later that night, lis­ten­ing to the sounds of ele­phants play­ing in the river be­low me. But all I know is that one day, when I re­call this breath-tak­ing place, it will be mo­ments I will re­mem­ber – the sun­set, the aroma of the camp, the roar­ing sound of the hoofs of the an­te­lope run­ning, the laugh­ter of the guests by fire light, the serene smile on David’s face…. Dam­mit! Just go there.

The next day, we catch a 15-minute flight from Maun to the Sankuyo Bush Camp. The camp is si­t­u­ated on the south­ern bound­ary of the Moremi Game Re­serve on ex­clu­sive pri­vate land. It is a small, in­ti­mate hide­away with spec­tac­u­lar sur­round­ings un­der an­cient trees, ca­ter­ing for only 12 guests.

The tents are gor­geous with huge dou­ble beds and en-suite bucket shower and toi­let. Our hosts are Doc­tor and Joghaan and they cater to our every need; not in a servile fash­ion, but with the gen­uine friend­li­ness and open­ness that I see ev­ery­where in this beau­ti­ful peo­ple.

Af­ter an un­event­ful game drive we get back af­ter dark, ex­hausted and hun­gry and af­ter a de­li­cious bush din­ner I head off to bed. Deep into the night, a loud crash sud­denly wakes me. My first sen­sa­tion – af­ter re­cov­er­ing and re­al­is­ing I’m not be­ing bur­gled in my home in Johannesburg – is the an­cient aroma of rain. I sit up and be­hold the most ex­tra­or­di­nary sight through the tent flaps. It is rain­ing hard and light­ning bathes the bush in sil­ver lu­mi­nes­cence every few sec­onds.

I watch this chaotic dis­play of na­ture for a long time, feel­ing like the luck­i­est per­son on Earth.

The next day is spent read­ing, recharg­ing and just laz­ing about un­der the thatched roof of the lounge area. The peace here is some­thing I wish I could bot­tle and take home with me.

That evening’s game drive proves to be a whole dif­fer­ent story to the pre­vi­ous day. It is just my­self and my part­ner and we see eland, kudu, im­pala and lit­er­ally tons of ele­phants. We slowly drive through a herd that must be numbered in the dozens, in­clud­ing ba­bies.

We stop for sun­set drinks near a big herd of gnus as we watch the last rays of the sun say good­bye to an­other per­fect day in Africa. On the drive back, our guide shines the search light both ways and my mind is else­where, when sud­denly we stop. “There she is,” he whis­pers. Sure enough, about five me­tres from the ve­hi­cle, a leop­ard glances at us furtively as she car­ries on walk­ing near the road. We fol­low this stun­ning grace­ful lady for about the next kilo­me­ter. I can­not re­mem­ber when last I saw this elu­sive, mag­nif­i­cent cat and chills go up and down my spine.

It was the most won­der­ful sur­prise and a most cher­ished fi­nale to this trip. It was my sec­ond trip to Botswana. Now all that re­mains is for me to fig­ure out how many times I can fea­si­bly go back, con­sid­er­ing that I have a life­span of about an­other 40 years…

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