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Behind the scenes at a luxury bush camp

Every little detail is taken care of at these camps, even the 11.00 coffee break during the morning game drive.

You’ve most likely paid a hefty sum of money to stay at a super-exclusive, eco-friendly and unforgettable lodge in the middle of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. On the surface everything may seem to run like clockwork, but, behind the scenes, the staff work hard to make sure the guests’ stay is as pleasant as possible.

The hyenas favorite area: the kitchen.

All the staff at Tubu Tree Camp, like the other camps in the Okavango Delta, work a seven-day shift, doing three months on, one month off. Most of the staff are Botswanans, coming from the local communities around the Delta, but there are expats here and there, like Canadian-born Justin and South African Jacky at Tubu Tree, who have spent two years at the camp, pretty long by camp manager standards. Like in many camps in the Delta they are a couple. Many camps in the delta prefer to hire couples as it means the managers will find it less lonely, and, hopefully, stay longer.

The alarm clocks for the managers go off at 4.20 every day. They need to get up and make sure all is in order before the guests get up at 5.30 for their morning game drives. Some of us reading this blog probably moan every morning about rush hour traffic or an overflowing email inbox, but, for the staff at Tubu, they’re getting up during the predators’ “hunting time” and it’s not uncommon for them to have hyenas sniffing at their door or elephants trying to stick their trunk into the shower, at this time of morning.

South African Jacky admits it was a bit nerve-wracking in the beginning and took a bit of getting used to. Justin, who grew up in Canada and was used to seeing grizzly bears rummaging through the thrash in backyards, takes it a bit lighter. Before being hired, they were put through an intensive one-week test period at the camp. Of course, as per Murphy’s Law, they said they didn’t see a single animal come into the camp during this time.

“Our families don’t really understand what we are doing. They think we see leopards at camp every day,” say Jacky and Justin, “but we don’t really. It can happen, but it doesn’t happen every day.”

The biggest challenges of working in the bush, according to the two managers, are the logistics, and not knowing what’s going to happen each day. “But that’s also part of the fun,” says Jacky. “There’s never a dull moment. For example, you never know what the guests are going to be like, who to pair with who on the vehicles. We have to think about all these things.”

Besides looking after the guests’ best interests, the local wildlife occasionally adds some challenges. “One time last year, at 4 a.m. some elephants burst our water pipes, we have had hyenas breaking into our kitchen …there are lots of challenges every day,” she adds.

The camp’s kitchen is a favorite hang-out spot for the local hyenas. If they are really hungry and there is nobody in the kitchen, they might try to break in. Hence the large steel locks on the door and the teeth marks on the side of the chest freezer which bear witness to this.  The baboons also visit the kitchen daily but, unlike the hyenas who are less subtle, they try to “sneak” in.

Garbage is separated and stowed safely away.

With wild animals loitering in the neighborhood, the staff have to be very careful not to leave any food or garbage lying around. “This would encourage the animals to start ‘begging’ or scavenging for food leftovers,” explains Justin, something that the camps want to avoid at all costs to preserve the natural habitat.

Garbage is also carefully handled. It is separated – for example, food waste is burned – and then taken out of the camp, either by plane or truck. Every effort is made to keep the camps as natural and environmentally friendly as possible so as not to interfere with the natural ecosystem and to spoil the animals.

Oil and gas supplies ... not part of the elephants' tree and shrub eating plan, luckily.

Every Friday, the camp gets fresh supplies; the provisions are ordered in advance. The staff try to keep stocks up and never let a plane come or leave empty handed, as, it’s good to stock up on supplies before the rainy season, just in case… The camp also has a supply of gas and oil drums for petrol which luckily the elephants don’t touch. “It’s not wood and they can’t eat it,” we are told.

Far away from towns and other camps, Tubu Tree is self-sufficient in water and energy supplies. It uses water from its own springs and runs its own generator eight hours a day which provides enough electricity to power the camp. Great care is taken to use resources efficiently and guests are encouraged to avoid recharging batteries and leaving lights on which gobbles up the energy supply.

Laundry is done by hand in the camp’s two-basin laundry room and hung out in the sun to dry (or indoors during rainy season). A small hut with metal gauze around it and a cold tap flowing over it, is used as a natural “cold room”.

Jacky checks out the camp's "refrigerator".

Each staff member has his/her own tent and they share a communal kitchen and bathroom area. Guides, however, have an ensuite toilet and shower. The tents are quite basic – a bed and place to store your stuff but many staff bring some personal belongings to make it more homely. In the evenings, they hang out together, huddle around the fire in the winter, or weave the colorful baskets which are sold in the camp’s shop. There are no TVs or internet so the only news they get from the outside world, during their three-month work stint, comes from the guests or through the radio contact with the Delta’s “capital” Maun, a 30-minute flight away.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. True it must be hard to be away from family and friends for three months, but on the other hand, they get perks from working for larger travel companies like Wilderness Safaris. For every month they work, they earn a bed night which they can use for family and friends to visit them or they can use it themselves to visit another camp. There also seem to be a lot of opportunities to grow up the ranks and to transfer between camps, making it an interesting career path. It’s a funny lifestyle and setup but in one way, those of us sitting at a desk 9-5, five days a week, must in some way we tempted by it!

Only the best for the guests: great service, food and a smile.

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