Pretty darn cool, and very different from to Maun, where we have just come from, and a lot greener than Moremi, I can assure you. As you drive up there is a small parking area at the reception, which is also where the showers and toilets are. All straightforward, but the green canvas adds a level of charm and everything is open – no fences. All around is Mopani bush, quite thick and difficult to see further than a couple of metres. Our campsite is about one hundred metres away, and a bit of a walk through the bush.

The camp itself is an open bit of ground under some very tall trees, with no facilities at all. You will need to walk that one hundred metres to get anything done in the form of ablutions or the dreaded washing up of dishes (although our 4x4s had the facilities to do so)! It looks rather simple and untouched, and if there wasn’t a sign indicating a camp number, we wouldn’t have thought we were in the right place at all.

There isn’t anything here, really. But that’s the point of coming here, right? Strip back the nonessentials and lean into the environment. And it doesn’t disappoint. There are water lilies(!) right in front of us in the wide waterway. The last thing I would have expected out here in a country that is considered to be a semi-desert, and the harsh, hot sand of the Kalahari is still very fresh in our minds.

Water!

Another indication of nautical proximity is the ‘laughter’ of the hippos. Somehow they have a far better sense of humour than us. Subtle, yet prevalent. And also rather injudiciously loud at the same time! Slightly mesmerised by the watercourse and loud exclamations from the hippos, a thunderstorm sneaks up on us.

And we are treated to a real African shower, with remote rumbles of thunder and those thick, pelting raindrops. A welcome reprieve from the consistent heat. But it only lasts an hour before moving on to shower some other regions with its short-lived precipitation.

The results of this precipitation are something we had to contend with on the way here, with dozens of deep, muddy, water pools in the road. The road from Third Bridge Camp, via Fourth Bridge (and the exit to Moremi Game Reserve) can be quite a challenge, especially in the rainy season. I estimated around one hundred of these pools of muddy water, half a metre deep, that we had to traverse to get here. Part of the fun!

The Khwai concession is also a rather good deal for the local community. The area is a private game reserve bordering the Moremi Game Reserve and is run by the Khwai village. This would indicate, to me, that the local population benefits directly from the lodges and campsites along the Khwai River.

Mokoro

While we were busying ourselves in camp we were approached by an individual offering Mokoro trips right from the embankment next to us. He was very animated and instilled enough enthusiasm in us that we parted with some money and he promised to be back in the morning (as it is too hot in the afternoon for such activities). You might be thinking, there goes your money and you’ll never hear from him again. And in some parts of Africa, you might be right.

But not this time. The next day, about half an hour later than planned (exact times are not really a big thing around here) he sauntered over and introduced his two sons. We will be taking three mokoros today, which are basically dug-out tree stumps (although in this modern world, these were made of polyester) in which two passengers sit at water level while the guide stands at the back using a pole to push you along. I guess you could compare it to a gondola in Venice.

And these guys were great! Very knowledgeable and hugely experienced in the ways of the water. And wouldn’t you know it the water lilies looked really out of place in this normally dry environment (at least the parts we had travelled through so far) and indicate that the water is permanent, and doesn’t fluctuate or dry up in the dry months. A strange thing to see indeed, and also very charming to be presented with a ‘necklace’ made out of a water lily flower and its stem, rather nice.

We pass a couple of elephants on the bank. Very close to the water and relaxed, you can tell by them eating grass. There’s a lot of birdlife around here as well, with many kingfishers hovering and diving to try and score some lunch. It is amazingly calm and relaxed on the water, with hardly a sound as you glide along. And very interesting to see the wildlife from a different vantage point.

An elephant blocks our path, and there is no way around it, so the guys tap on the mokoros with their sticks and start whistling softly to get it to move a little so we can pass. It shakes its head in frustration, or maybe recognition, and eventually moves into the tree line. A good lesson in coexisting with wildlife where you don’t necessarily need to use force but gentle persuasion goes a long way.

And it highlights how each community, or tribe, is an expert in their area. These guys wouldn’t manage in the Kalahari’s harsh environment, and equally, the Khoisan would be hard-pressed to make an existence out here without the specialised knowledge these people have.

It is certainly worth spending a couple of hours on the water. The tranquillity, the silence and the ease with which you glide along are quite mesmerising and a good antidote to the stresses and pace of modern life (and a wonderful way to spend one’s 23rd wedding anniversary xx).

Lucky Lion Sighting

A different kind of exhilarating stress presents itself when another group of tourists are dropped off next to our campsite for a mokoro ride. Their game rangers are left waiting in their game viewer vehicles, and with the rumour of lions, we approach them and ask if they would be willing to take us to see them. This they very kindly agree to, and we jump aboard and travel a distance of a couple of hundred metres!

There we find three lionesses resting in the grass. They are impossible to see if you don’t know they were there, and the higher vehicle makes it easier as well. Talk about some luck here! The prey, which was a waterbuck, is not far away, half-eaten next to a termite mound. The next day it was gone, and so were the lions, except for their footprints in camp. You take your chances out here.

Chill out

We spent the afternoon watching the water. The hippos were laughing and a dozen elephants spent over an hour grazing their way along the opposite bank, just eighty metres away. Waterbuck splashed through the water right next to the camp in the early morning light, and we found the lion ‘spoor’ (tracks) right next to our camp. It was an absolute delight to have been in Mbudi and the contrast to the dry regions (not very far from here) is rather big indeed.

The campsites are spread out quite far from each other, and I don’t think there could have been more than ten in total. We didn’t see another soul, apart from the mokoro tourists. Hugely relaxing, very basic and a hidden gem out here. When you assume the whole of Botswana is very much the same, it throws you a curve ball. Come here to relax, read a bit, sit back, watch and let Africa weave its subtle magic.