The new trend in the bush harks back to the classic, old-school style of safari; mobile camping in the wild, for example, with Ralph Bousfield – one of the finest safari guides in Africa.
How does one make an unforgettable, Out of Africa-esque entrance somewhere deep in the bush of the Okavango Delta in Botswana? By arriving in your own vintage plane, aptly named A2-San (referring to the San bushmen). You fly it yourself, of course, and park it dextrously next to the dusty runway where it will stay for four days – depending on the mercy of the baboons – until you get back from your mobile safari adventure.
No, we are not on a date at the Xakanaxa airstrip with Robert Redford, alas, but witnessing the aerial arrival of Mr. Ralph Bousfield, one of the finest and most sought-after safari guides and Africa experts on the continent. While Redford and Bousfield share the same intense blue eyes and ability to command one’s complete attention, the comparisons stop there. Ralph Bousfield is the real deal, no acting or Oscars needed.
He closes up his plane, secures it against any curious wild beast and walks up to us with striking natural flair. Tall and tanned with long, curly, sun-kissed hair, dressed in a stylish safari outfit (no Gore-Tex for this modern Tarzan, no sir!), protective talisman bracelets on his right arm, Rolex on his left wrist and lightly packed for exciting days ahead in the bush.
Our group of nine arrives on several small planes, hailing from different corners of the world. A handful of different nationalities and ages, all looking for the same kick: a transformative experience in the wild, guided by Ralph Bousfield himself. Our playground is the vast and endless Okavango Delta, one of the most diverse and rich safari destinations in Africa. In a quiet corner of the Moremi Game Reserve, a 5,000-square-kilometre wildlife park, we will spend three nights mobile camping.
“Safari how it used to be; true safari in its purest form”, says Ralph when we start our trip by hopping into one of two new Toyota Landcruisers for the three-hour drive to the mobile tented camp. Most travellers who go on safari stay in comfortable, luxurious camps and lodges, fixed to one location. But in the old days, going on safari meant travelling from faraway lands to Africa – and once here, moving from one place to another, discovering and enjoying slow travel, setting up camps in different locations.
What Ralph wanted to do with his safari company, Uncharted Africa, is to bring back that magical nostalgia. He’s already applied the same philosophy to his other camps in the Kalahari, such as the legendary Jack’s Camp and the über-stylish San Camp. His well-run mobile camping operation makes it possible to set up camps everywhere – even here in the Okavango Delta wetlands, which are 70 per cent covered by pools, waterways and swampland.
The sturdy Uncharted Africa truck and two safari vehicles, together with a team of around 10 staff, drove from home base in the Magkadikhadi Pans in de Kalahari to the Okavango Delta, taking with them everything needed for a luxurious, mobile safari expedition – one that evokes that special Out Of Africa feeling from the second you arrive. Tents with ensuite bucket showers (with steaming hot water from the open fire) and proper bush toilets, plus comfy, iron-cast beds. Also in the truck is a complete tented lounge with Moroccan carpets, plush cushions and a huge table that’s dressed with fine linen and antique silverware. Who needs cold LED lamps when you have warm, glowing paraffin lanterns to emphasise the intensely dark African nights?
The next four days is a series of memorable and powerful experiences: from swimming in the shallow and pure water of the Delta, to fly camping and falling asleep while watching shooting stars zip through the night sky, reminiscent of a veil of diamond dust. Of course, there are animals too: from the big five to small wonders, always spotted immediately by Ralph, who tells animal and plant stories with the same voice of passion and genuine dedication as Sir David Attenborough. A precious lilac-breasted roller, a pack of side-stripped jackals, an eagle catching a snake and then flying off…
After four days in the bush I quickly realise that experiencing Africa is more intense and real while mobile camping. And it goes without saying that having a gentleman guide at your side and refreshing G&Ts waiting at the end of a game drive do give the safari experience that extra je ne sais quoi…
Debbie Pappyn and David De Vleeschauwer are a freelance travel writer and photographer duo working as partners in crime for several newspapers and magazines worldwide. Read more about them on classetouriste.be.