Upon arrival at our first camp, Tubu Tree, we were given a brief orientation to the camp and allowed to drop our gear in our tents and then we were off on the first of our many “game drives”. This term requires some explanation: with few exceptions the routine for every day at every camp revolved around the game drives. After all, that’s why we were there. The vehicles were Land Rovers with elevated seating in three rows behind the driver.
I suppose, including the driver, their capacity was 11, but we never had more than 6 guests, two in each row, plus the driver (who acted as spotter and guide). Everyone had an outside seat. We would meet at the appointed time, climb into our chosen seats and get the cameras out. The driver might give us a rough plan for the drive but it was always subject to change depending on what we as a group wanted to do, what reports he heard from other vehicles and what game we happened to see. Each drive could last from 3 to 6 hours or even more. Each camp has its own environment and each driver his own ideas on what to do, so they were unique.
These vehicles are amazing things. Although one of the guides told us that, at least in some areas, we are not allowed to go “off-road”, there were many times we did so. When desirable we could drive off the path, through the brush and even over small trees. He told us that, if anyone asked, we were “lost”. I don’t know how anyone would know, though; we rarely saw another vehicle unless it was one from our camp. Even then, they put a limit of two or three vehicles in any one area. I think this is a significant difference between the Botswana Wilderness camps and some of the other parts of Africa (I have seen the YouTube videos that look like rush hour traffic surrounding a couple of lions).
The guides tried to keep to the roads, although that’s not really the right term. “Road” implies paving, maybe, or at least smooth dry land. Not always the case.
No paved roads, often just a pair of tracks through the brush, sometimes deep sand that threatened to engulf us.
Especially at Tubu Tree the tracks sometimes took us through water.
The vehicle has a snorkel for air intake that, evidently, allows it to go through water as deep as the top of the front door. We were never in water that deep but it was cool to think we could. Sue and I liked sitting in the top/back row. We felt we had a better vantage point that made up for the bumpier ride. Meals
The food served was incredible, both in quality and quantity. With few exceptions there was nothing completely unfamiliar. Each morning, after our wake-up call around 6:00 followed by an escort to the dining area around 6:30 (we quickly learned to pre-pack our camera bags as 30 minutes isn’t much time to dress, etc.) we had breakfast. I guess you could call this a deluxe continental breakfast: cold or hot cereal, muffins, yogurt, coffee, etc. Very pleasant but there was no time to linger as “the bus leaves at 7:00 and the wildlife won’t wait”.
Midway through the morning drive we would stop for “tea”. The driver selected a suitable spot: safe from animals, dry and level, and he then broke out a Thermos of coffee and/or tea, plus a few snacks such as cookies and nuts. Some of the vehicles had built-in shelves that served as a table and sometimes there was a small table and a couple of stools stored under the rear seats. During morning tea we could rest, talk about what we’d seen, gaze out onto the landscape and warm ourselves in the sun. The driver would scout out a safe place to walk behind a tree, for those who needed to do so.
Ordinarily we returned to camp by 11:00. Sometimes, if I paid attention I noticed the driver call base camp on the radio to say we were “5 out”, so that the staff would greet us with a cool bottle of water and a cool damp cloth to wash off the morning dust. When we arrived, brunch was waiting (yes, that’s the third meal of the day and it’s not even noon). A typical American breakfast with eggs, bacon, pancakes or waffles, fruit, plus lunch items such as ribs or lasagna. After brunch we had a few hours to relax. Shower, backup photo cards, nap, socialize, swim (each of the camps had a small pool but I never saw anyone use one).
Around 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon we all met in the common lounge for “high tea”.
A wonderful spread of snacks and hors d’oeuvres, beverages of all kinds. I am sure tea was available but with an open bar, most of us chose wine or a cocktail. An hour of socializing with camp staff and fellow campers and then it was time for the second game drive.
Midway through the afternoon drive, around sunset, we would stop for “sundown”. More light snacks with emphasis on adult beverages. It was on one of these stops we discovered our new favorite liqueur, Amarula. This is a cream liqueur made in South Africa with the fruit of the marula tree. It has a bit of a chocolate or caramel taste. We sipped it slowly as we watched the gorgeous sunset. As the air chilled, it also tasted good in coffee.
By the time we were greeted, back at camp, with a warm damp cloth to wipe off the day’s dust, it was time for dinner. That’s six meals, if you’re counting. At our first two camps all the meals were served in a dining tent, at a communal table. All the campers, guides and camp managers ate together, to get to know one another and talk about what we’d seen. We enjoyed those meals tremendously.
Dinners at Mombo were different: small tables for two or four, more like at a restaurant. Granted, a very fine restaurant under the stars and overlooking the Okavango Delta… Despite the elegance we missed the socializing that took place at the other camps.
One particularly interesting touch was the recitation of the menu at each dinner. Someone from the kitchen would describe, in heavily accented English, the items to be served and then another would describe the wines. Charming.
I’ve described the “usual” routine but on several occasions a special lunch or dinner was planned. These will be mentioned later.