I believe in time travel. At home, in your everyday life you have a routine – going to work, getting the children to school – and are always looking at your watch (or phone) to see when your next appointment or deadline is. In the bush, on safari, time seems to stand still. You become immersed in the moment — watching an elephant feeding on a marula tree or meerkat surveying the landscape as it emerges from its burrow.
Whilst travelling in Botswana recently, this became ever more apparent to me. I had the good fortune to meet people who have transcended the divide between these parallel worlds. Those who have taken their dreams and built new lives and homes in Africa around safari.
I spent time with Ralph Bousfield, a tousled Botswanan from Francistown and super guide best known for being the custodian of a piece of land in the Makgadikgadi Pans, in central Botswana. His father, Jack, created Jack’s Camp in the 1960s, in what was then and is still now one of the world’s most hostile environments.
He had a dream that at some stage this would be the place that people would travel to. And he was right because today people make Jack’s Camp a focus of their holidays. Jack was eccentric (something Ralph has inherited) and Ralph is curious, so to this day the camp is littered with interesting things picked up in the deserts of Africa. The Bousfield family tree is wide and it seems everyone in the family likes to collect things. Ralph is hoping to create a museum at Jack’s Camp — not only to reflect the past but also to help contribute to conservation in the present, with resident researchers continually collecting and cataloguing using the latest technology.
When you travel to one of Ralph’s camps, be it the quirky Jack’s, uber-cool San or funky Camp Kalahari, you will have a personal insight into an interesting family. There is also some great wildlife to be seen, from helicopters, horseback, fat-bikes, foot and vehicles. I particularly enjoyed watching the endemic brown hyena emerge from their burrows at dusk, perform the greeting ritual and then make their solitary ways into the night. At home, I would have been making my way to the gym, maybe walking the dog – a world away.
Knowing how demanding it can be, the passion of the person who builds a home in Africa fascinates me. Marjan and Raphael did just this in Botswana’s western Kalahari — an area so remote and vast that you wonder how they ever got the idea. Here, they built Feline Fields Lodge.
Raphael travelled to Africa and found that nothing was as he wanted it to be – when he visited his first safari lodge, he was appalled that he should be expected to share his safari experience with another guest, making compromises on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He didn’t like the scheduling and lack of flexibility. He decided to realise his vision of what constituted the perfect lodge.
Therefore, Raphael and Marjan started to look for the perfect location, in which to build the perfect lodge. They were directed to the site of Feline Fields, a concession in the western Kalahari, where they loved the fact that it was a fresh canvas. There was no competition and no comparison, so they embellished it with all their passions.
Neither are builders, but they have a sense of style and – importantly – know exactly what they don’t want. Raphael was tired of the postage-size plunge pool at most lodges. He wanted to swim, so the main pool is a full-size lap pool, tended to thrice daily so it is immaculate.
My favourite part of this lodge (and I had many) was the tennis court. Set away from the lodge and made from the mud of abandoned termite mounds, it is a unique clay surface. I could have almost been in southern Spain, had it not been for the gigantic cricket making its way slowly across the court. It was midday; lunchtime in the office – now in a parallel world.
I loved the single-mindedness of both, the glint in their eyes when they spoke of their lodge and the way it has benefited the community and conservation.
Throughout Africa, I can pinpoint lodges which accurately reflect the people who created them. Many truly mirror the owners, the managers and the architects. Each has a story and a sense of place because they were imagined and built with great care, love and passion. Nicky and Steve’s Angama Mara, Alex Walker’s Serian, Clive Stockil’s Chilo Gorge, Dave Varty’s Londolozi and Mark Butcher’s Imvelo to name but a few.
At all these lodges, you will have the chance to hear a story — your experience will be heightened by the additions to the day, the nuances of that place. And when you get home you will be loading the dishwasher, thinking about what they are doing at that same time in your favourite lodge in Africa. You will still be thinking about that parallel world.