In May 2019, our Africa expert, Winnie, returned to the Okavango Delta after a few years of exploring other parts of Africa.
My very first encounter with Africa 15 years ago was a 14-day camping safari in Botswana.
I slept in a tiny tent in the middle of the wilderness, changing camp site almost every night, and the toilet was a hole in the ground! One night, a hyena peed on my tent, and in the evenings around the campfire, we were regularly visited by curious four-legged creatures.
I loved it! I was floating around in an Africa bubble for months after returning home, and I have loved Africa ever since.
Over the past 15 years, I have been lucky enough to stay at a lot of great hotels and lodges around the world. Now 15 years older, the idea of a small tent without a toilet in the middle of an elephant path is perhaps not as appealing as it was back then.
Nevertheless, I have agreed to go on a three-day camping safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
It’s dark when I arrive at my camp on the first night. Lanterns are glowing, and the staff welcome me with happy smiles and a lit bonfire. I am shown to my tent. Things have certainly come on a lot in those 15 years! The tent is already up, and hanging lanterns illuminate the way.
I guess the tent is about 12 m2, and my camp bed has been made up for me with a proper duvet and pillow. The tent is standing height, with a small clothes stand and a bedside table. Quite a contrast to the mattress on the ground and the sleeping bag 15 years ago. A solar lamp provides light, but I am also given my own torch. On one side of the tent, there is a small “canvas door”. The guide shows me in to my “bathroom”. Above me, the stars shine brightly. Suspended from a strong branch is a big bucket with a shower head underneath it – that’s my shower. On the other side of the tent-bathroom is a toilet over a hole in the ground – my very own bush toilet no less! The entire bathroom is surrounded by canvas, and I am completely shielded and closed in, so I can safely enjoy a glass of wine for dinner, even though I know that means I will have to get up to pee in the night.
I am offered a chair by the fire, given a glass of chilled white wine (also an improvement on 15 years ago!) and I lean back. The starry sky is just as I remember it. Without artificial light, it is vast, and I lose my heart to Botswana again.
The food back then was good, and it still is today. Tasty and filling – just as it should be when you’re on safari. Tired and full, I go back to my tent, where in true Karen Blixen-style, I wash the travel dust off my face in a small basin with hot water outside my tent before crawling into the fresh-smelling bed and falling straight to sleep.
At 4.00 am, the peace is over.
An elephant is making a terrible din. It’s trumpeting, snorting and stomping as if its life depends on it. I know that I’m totally safe in the tent, so with a smile like a Cheshire cat, I snuggle back down and try to figure out what’s going on out there. Perhaps it’s angry with another elephant or maybe a pride of lions is trying to attack? Sometimes, the sounds of the impala mix with the elephant sounds – and I also think I recognise the sound of hyenas. After a while, it goes quiet again, and I fall back to sleep.
The days in the delta have a rhythm of their own. I am woken before sunrise. My little basin is filled with hot water so I can wash myself, and I eat breakfast and then set off on a game drive. At lunchtime, I am back at the camp, where I eat lunch and then conk out after this morning’s cacophony. When I wake up, my shower has been filled with hot water, and I enjoy a nice shower with the sky above me. Outside my tent is a chair and a small table where I sit to let my hair dry. Suddenly, there’s a noise behind my tent. I look back, and there’s a giant elephant shaking a tree. I get eye contact with the staff, and they give me the thumbs up that everything is OK and I should just enjoy the sight. So I do, and I remember – like 15 years ago – just why it is that you should sleep in a tent in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Want to read more from Winnie’s tour to Botswana? Then take a look at her encounter with Okavango.