There is something tremendously exciting about twilight hours in the bush. As darkness sneaks in, leadwood trees become works of art against a red-purple canvas, owls and nightjars replace the cheerful chirps of daytime passerines, predators prowl from their afternoon resting spots and lanterns are lit and hung – one by one – from the sky.
At Abu Camp in the Okavango Delta, there is a once-a-week surprise bush tapas dinner that really lets guests experience the delight of an African night. Though I’m not a stranger to evenings under the stars, this was something completely different! Replacing rickety camping chairs and fingers burnt from unwrapping tin-foil hot potatoes was a scene out of a movie! There were Aladdin’s Persian carpets, stylish Out-of-Africa canvas chairs, elegant lantern stands, and even a loo with a view tucked discreetly behind a termite mound. Seriously? Was this even real?!
When guests arrive here at the end of their game drive they have no clue where they’re going. The staff gathers to welcome them in true African style with beautiful Setswana songs. “We once had two guests who were completely shocked when they arrived!” said Gao, Abu’s activities manager. “After I greeted them the lady suddenly started crying and said ‘how did you guys do this? This is magic.’” The fairytale setting, however, is not created with a simple wave of a wand. It takes a lot of preparation and hard work which I found out first-hand when I joined Gao and his team in their preparations.
Packing and transporting all the equipment began at 2pm – chairs, tables, lanterns, blankets, a mobile cooking setup, and even a kitchen sink! Gao and a team of five men loaded it all into a Land Rover and we drove to a beautiful secluded bush clearing. The set up took nearly an hour and we returned to camp.
Later, at around 6pm (an hour before the guests arrived), Gao, the waitresses, barman (or should I say barlady) and I returned to arrange the final touches including lighting the campfire before the evening’s showdown.
“It’s a wonderful job, but you cannot afford to do it alone. It’s a job that needs passion, consistency and most of all teamwork.” (Gao)
Guests loved every moment! There were gasps of surprise, chinking of drinks, warm conversation and the amazing nostalgic smell of the flickering fire.
As it grew dark, we all settled close to the fire and an endless stream of delicious tapas dishes came floating in, carried by Abu’s smiling waitresses: sweetcorn and sweet potato soup, homemade samosas, pumpkin fritters with herbed cream cheese, grilled red pepper and goats cheese on bruschetta, beef and chicken kebabs with tzatziki and other tasty finger foods.
When everyone had eaten too much, the guides began telling stories. After the hustle of the day, it was wonderful to just sit back and listen. It was a night of indulgent luxury with the same raw fireside magic that I have come to love and treasure in my life.
After the guests had left for their cosy beds, the staff remained behind to tidy everything up.
Novel dining experiences are a big part of life at Abu Camp, “something that guests really love and look forward to” says Gao. And so does he! “Interacting with guests is great because I am always learning something new. The guests teach me about their culture and they also ask a lot of questions so that I can teach them about mine.”