Home > Africa > “Camping” in the Okavango Delta

“Camping” in the Okavango Delta

Can you spot Tubu Tree Camp?

There are small intimate camps and then there are really small intimate camps. Tubu Tree, built in 2002, with just five tents fits into the latter category. Each tent is slightly raised off the ground but there are no fences around the camp, no guard standing at the gate with a gun to ward off unwelcome guests … it’s simply a camp right bang in the middle of the bush. Just like we have the right to visit their land, the animals also have full rights to enter our camp. It’s exciting but also a bit nerve-wracking … at least it is still daylight.

Nicki, the lady who recently came face to face with a leopard in the camp’s main toilet, leads us to our tent which is just 20 meters from the restaurant. We get a different kind of welcome reception from a troop of baboons which are having fun bouncing on our rooftop,  Unlike the aggressive, non-people-shy apes we met in Cape Town and Victoria Falls, these guys are scared of us and run away when we clap our hands. Try doing that to their African neighbors and you’d probably end up with a black eye or nasty bite.

We have a few hours to admire our tent before meeting Jacky Collett-Stevens and Justin Stevens, the husband and wife camp management team, at 4 pm for snacks and heading out on our first game drive in the Okavango Delta. “Being on safari in Okavango, means more than just spotting animals, it’s also a food safari,” says Justin, referring to the never-ending supply of delicious home-made food we are treated to over the coming days.

There's no need to leave the camp to see animals, they'll come to you in the camp, like this pair.

Our first game drive with our private guide Johnny Mowanji, is one to remember. We’re just 50 meters down the camp’s driveway when we meet a herd of elephants on their way into the camp.

Family ties. A "resident" brother and sister less than 15 minutes from the camp.

After that, we are treated to a close-up of one of Africa’s most elusive animals – two leopards, a brother and sister, on the ground and later follow them up into a tree. Johnny knows both of them personally. “They’re almost two years old and soon the brother will head off leaving the sister alone with the mother to share the territory while he must find his own one,” he tells us. Even though he’s seen them hundreds of times, he’s still eager to get the best shots on his camera to show his kids back home.

And here's Mamma leopard, not far away...

Twenty minutes later we spot the mother, walking stealthily along the airstrip eyeing up a few impalas. “She’s on her way towards the camp,” Johnny says matter-of-factly. I wonder if she will be waiting for us on the large tree outside our tent.

Happy Hour. Time for a sundowner in the bush.

The sun’s starting to set and Johnny asks if we are ready for a sundowner. We assume he means back at the camp but he stops the jeep in the middle of the bush close to the airstrip, hops out, sets up a portable table complete with tablecloth on the bonnet of the Land Rover and pours us a Gin & Tonic. At first I am reluctant to climb out of the jeep– warnings from South Africa and Kenya “Do not climb out of the jeep, these are wild animals not pets” – ring in my ears. In the end, lured by the Gin & Tonic, I scamper down, keeping a wary eye out for “non-pets” but after a few minutes relax, feeling safe in the company of our confident guide.

We head back to Tubu Tree and enjoy an Amarula at the camp’s simple but stunning bar – which is a sausage tree trunk under a Marula tree. The other three guests – a Russian family – join us for dinner which is excellent – a soup for starters, followed by beef and local veggies and chocolate cake and custard to finish up with. There’s no a la carte menu, but if you don’t like what’s being served they will do their best to find you something else. They’ve had some “interesting” guests over the years, including a guest who wanted 100 grams of walnuts with her breakfast every morning; which they managed to organize. The customer, or guest, really is king in this camp.

Tonight, there is a thunderstorm hovering overhead and the humidity is high. There are a crazy amount of kamikaze bugs flying around my head and skydiving into my soup. “Add some pepper so you don’t see them,” jokes Jacky. To this day, I’m still not sure how many I swallowed but for sure it added some extra protein to my soup.

View of the bar at nightfall ... "regulars" can include hyenas, leopards and baboons.

After dinner, we light the campfire. I get nervous … I am sitting on the ground level with no fence whatsoever between me and the local wildlife. The camp staff have a “bear banger” – a pen-like gadget which lets off a bang if released to scare off animals (we’re told they have never used them) – but no AK47 or pistol. To make matters even better, even if the animals can’t smell us, we’re nicely illuminated by the flames from the fire so they can’t really miss us. Johnny flashes his torch into the bush and we realize we’re not alone – a herd of 50 wildebeest are right next to us, quietly grazing. Then there is a sudden pounding of feet and two massive hyenas run past us, not more than 10 meters away. They don’t pay any attention to us – they’re out hunting and we’re not part of their dinner menu. They’re more interested in the wildebeest close by. Still I can’t help but think of the stories the Maasai told us in Kenya – of hyenas stealing babies and young children at night from their huts. According to Jacky and Justin, the hyenas are “shy”. “They’re probably headed for the kitchen,” Jacky says. “We have to keep the door locked as they tried to chew their way in once or twice, but only when there’s nobody there as they’re shy.” Hmm, try telling that to the Maasai guys in Kenya!

In the company of the calm staff, I feel brave and relaxed and enjoy the “bush” stories. “The animals here at Tubu are more scared of you than you are of them,” says Justin.

But when we are back alone in our tent, the mind starts to race, paranoia starts to kick in and you imagine you see things lurking in the shadows. Apparently, the large tree right in front of our tree is a favorite perch for leopards. Once the guide has led you to your tent at night time, you need to stay there until they come back to pick you up at 5.30 am. And there is no phone to call reception, just a horn which is strictly only to be used for medical emergencies. “It’s not to use in case you see a gecko, spider or snake or if you have a lion or leopard outside your door,” we were warned. I wonder what happens if there is a medical emergency. Both camp managers are certified in first-aid and if need be they can organize a plane. In such a far-flung place where wild animals lurk around every corner, I am curious what was the worst emergency they had during their two years at the camp. “One tall guest walked into a tree and knocked himself out,” says Jacky.

The first night I hardly slept at all, not because there was a lot of activity outside our tent, but due to the sheer excitement of the whole experience. The second night, however, was a much busier one – a male lion roared not far away, most likely marking his territory, leopards called to each other and three hyenas “camped” under our floorboards.

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