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.
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."
Closely guarded secret
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 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, heat-soaked 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 20 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, out host and camp owner, David Dugmore, explains to us the set-up and activities but I only listen with half an ear. I'm mesmerized 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.
Sustainable tourism development
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 fireside, red wine in hand, listening to the lions roar in the distance.
Floating down the river
The next morning I wake at dawn to a chorus of frogs in anticipation of the coming rains. The days 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 meters 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.
Sankuyo Bush Camp
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.
Air China outbound flights to Johannesburg in South Africa operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with return services from Johannesburg offered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Flights will departs from Beijing at 23:15 Beijing time, and arrive in Johannesburg at 7:35 local time on the following day. The inbound flight departs from Johannesburg at 11:50 local time and arrives in Beijing at 7:30 Beijing time.
From Johannesburg, Airlink operates flights to and from Maun on a daily basis and from Cape Town five days a week. Maun is the gateway to the world famous Okavango Delta in Botswana, a truly breathtaking inland water system teeming with wildlife and a dream getaway.
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