Monday, March 30, 2020

Mombo Camp – To heaven and back

My wake-up call was a powerful roar of a male lion that seemed to be thundering right on my door step. 

The king of the jungle was belting out a chorus of deep bellowing outbursts that breached the quite stillness of the wilderness dawn before receding back into the palpable silence. 

A short while later, a troop of barking baboons joined the refrain. The choreographed alternation between the lion’s baritone, the baboons’ tenor and the silence that kept swallowing the organised rumpus was a soothing break from my dreamy-headed morning routine of groping for my cell phone alarm snooze button before drifting off again.

By the time I heaved my broke [email protected] from the Mombo Camp’s seventy thousand pula a night bed, a colony of chirping birds and a cote of cooing doves had rounded off a meditative and calming medley of baritones, tenors and sopranos.

I turned off all the whirring ceiling fans which were such a jarring discord, opened all the wood sliding louvre shutters for an uninterrupted view of the Mombo Camp floodplains, poured myself a shot of Singleton whisky, slumped onto the light brown Winchester couch, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and soaked it all in.

I opened my eyes, took a sip of the expensive 12-year-old single malt usquebaugh, surveyed my spacious tented suite and busked in the tonal colour palette used throughout the interior décor that seemed to sooth my drink lobes.

Having loosed up into the cushy embrace of the tented suite’s opulence, complete with an expansive entrance, a sitting room with a bar unit, a separate bedroom and bathroom with a dressing area, indoor and outdoor showers and copper bathtub, against the background of the drying floodplains and a medley of calls from the wild, I was convinced not even Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg were enjoying a more delightful morning.

Artichoke, the lead interior design company for the newly rebuilt Mombo, Wilderness Safaris’ flagship camp set in the heart of the Okavango Delta was two years ago  awarded the SBID (Society of British International Design) Awards in the Hotel Bedroom and Suites Design category. 

The SBID Awards are regarded as one of the most prestigious accolades in the interior design industry, representing talent and design excellence across all corners of the industry. Each entry undergoes an exclusive two-tier judging process by panels of leading industry experts for both technical content and aesthetic creativity, as well as evaluating brief compliance, budget, health and safety, and fit-for-purpose design.

According to lead interior designer and owner of Artichoke, Caline Williams-Wynn, “Mombo is the ‘Rolls Royce of the Delta’ with its interior design rooted in its rich history and traditions stretching back nearly 30 years. The design of the tented suites combine traditional and vintage elements with a modern elegance that truly embraces the real essence of Mombo”.  

World-renowned as “the Place of Plenty”, boasting enormous concentrations of plains game and predators, Mombo is arguably one of the best areas for game-viewing in Africa. “It was therefore a vital component of our brief to ensure that the design of the suites complemented Mombo’s pristine wilderness surroundings, offering guests the ultimate in sustainable luxury whilst remaining rooted in an authentic bush-camp offering”. 

Mombo Camp, was a fitting climax to an enchanting safari of the Okavango Delta.

A quarter past seven chartered plane flew me and a number of local journalists from Sir Seretse Khama airport to the delta. A thirty minutes jeep drive from the airstrip through roadblocks mounted by elephants and a few stop overs to marvel at frolicking bucks or for a peekaboo through the thicket of bushed to try and locate a chirping bird took us to Kings Pool camp.

We had a light breakfast on a wooden decked terrace of the King’s Pool open-sided, sprawling minimalist structure overlooking a picturesque lagoon on the Linyanti River, which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia. According to the camp’s webpage, the Kings pool which is also operated by Wilderness Safaris “ is classed by its owners as a “premier” camp, implying – among other things – relatively grand and luxurious accommodation, high levels of personal service, and a standard of food (and the size of its price tag) that is well above average.”

Then the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng, unveiled the plague of the refurbished camp, delivered a short speech, put on her dancing shoes and joined the Kings Pool Camp choir for a colorful setapa dance routine.

Overlooking and named for the oxbow-shaped King’s Pool Lagoon, the camp’s refreshed look and feel will ensure that guests are able to experience a life-changing journey whilst contributing to the biodiversity conservation of the Linyanti at the same time.  

“By rebuilding King’s Pool, we are showcasing our commitment to driving sustainable ecotourism in the Linyanti – a truly remarkable wildlife destination”, commented Kim Nixon, Wilderness Safaris Botswana MD.

In keeping with Wilderness Safaris’ commitment to operating with a light eco-footprint, the new camp will be 100% solar powered. As much existing material from walkways and flooring from the previous camp will also be reused to create screens and decorative wall detail, such as the substructure, thatch roof, carved front doors and salvaged timber doors. These earthy, rough textures are punctuated by warm copper – in handles and other details – adding richness and depth to the architectural mood. Accents of teal will also be used throughout to enhance the neutral bronze and copper colour palette.  

A thatch roof structure is therefore consistent throughout the camp to blend in with the surrounds, and the ancient Batswana craft of weaving is expressed in a number of architectural details – the imprint design applied to the camp’s screen walls, woven rope detail on vertical supports, as well as on the balustrades. “We’ve also carried the basket theme throughout the interiors, and will be embroidering abstract images of baskets on the scatter cushions, hand-painting basket murals on the walls, and using various design elements on the curtains, as well as installing impressive woven chandeliers in the dining room”, Caline noted. 

Special care has also been taken to balance privacy, safety and comfort whilst still “inviting the outside in”, to create a signature immersive Wilderness Safaris experience. Thus, the main area, deck and bar offer uninterrupted views, with closer proximity to the water, while parts of the roof extend down to ensure privacy. 

Activities at King’s Pool include day and night game drives, walks and barging, all ideal for photographing birds and wildlife.  In the dry season, guests can spend their siesta watching game come down to drink at the unique underground hide, where the view is at eye level. Seeing elephant feet and trunks almost within touching distance while safely inside is an experience that transcends an ordinary safari. 

“Luxury, in Wilderness Safaris terms, is defined as being immersed in the natural environment of the camp. Our new King’s Pool will be just that and more, celebrating the Linyanti’s incredible wilderness setting. We are looking forward to welcoming our guests to King’s Pool to not only experience a life-changing journey, but one that gives back to the conservation of Linyanti’s rich and diverse wildlife at the same time”, Kim concluded.

The minister then proceeded to tour the Kings Pool solar power plant and staff quarters. With the official formalities now out of the way. We took another jarring jeep drive back to the airstrip for a plane flight to Mombo Camp. Our pilot flew the plane low to give us the best view of the best “bird’s eye view’ of the delta. As my gaze wandered curiously down the enchanting dance of patterns and colours from my lofty perch up in the cosy flying machine, I couldn’t help but sigh contentedly at the thought that while most people know “flying colours” as a concept, I finally experienced it as a feeling. From the vintage point of a low flying plane the Okavango Delta deluged us – no pun intended – with a bewitching kaleidoscope of patterns and colours. Peering down at one of the seven natural wonders of Africa through my cellphone camera was like watching a slide show of real life imitating art. It is an exuberant mix of threes and serpentine channels cutting through emerald carpets of marsh, spilling into lagoons. Animal tracks criss-cross through dry wooded areas, and continue through shallow waters where black and orange silt marble the sand. Winding streams twist and loop, diverging into lazy pools and vast plains scattered with islands. When the plane finally screeched to a halt at an airstrip not far from Mombo Camp, all faces were strained to cellphone cameras as we all tried to get as much of the succession of Kodak moments as we could.

And as our jeep turned a corner and went up a wooden bridge a parade of elephants lazying outside the Mombo camp structure came into focus, and all jaws dropped.

The writer, OUTSA MOKONE’s Okavango safari was sponsored by Wilderness Safaris

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