You don’t expect to find a tennis court in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, especially one made of crushed termite mounds, but there is one such specimen at The Lodge at Feline Fields, which officially opened following the completion of its six suites in January. As the owners, the French-Dutch couple Marjan Blom and Raphael Real del Sarte, Chairman/CEO of Global Equities Capital Markets, explain, they wanted to create a different kind of lodge than the classic safari variety, something that they were looking for but never found. This type of lodge is for guests after they’re done the safari experience, the daybreak/sundowner game drives and want a place to relax without having to fly back to Johannesburg and then out to an island/beach. After returning to the Maun Airport, the pathway to light plane excursions to safari camps in the Okavango Delta, it’s less than an hour by helicopter to this lodge.
What you do there is see the other side of Africa, the cultural side, as Raphael explains. Drive half an hour on tracks through thick grass and San Bushmen from the nearest village will take you on a walk through the dense foliage, showing off medicinal herbs and how to trap an animal for dinner. (Not necessary for guests, of course, since local chef Pauline Tjetjoo turns out solid renditions of international dishes including cheese souffles and perfect omelettes for breakfast.) The Bushmen, ranging in age from 87 to seven, will also demonstrate their ritual Trance Dance after Pauline’s copious barbecue bush dinner. If you also want to sleep out in a tent, they’ll provide tents with excellent mattresses and duvets and an outdoor shower for waking up to the sounds of the bush.
Some will definitely want to try that. I preferred one of the three 1000 square foot Chalets decorated with African fabrics and including an upper relaxation deck and its own pool. (There are also three smaller tented suites.) There’s also an 82 foot long pool at the main house for serious laps or lazing alongside. Guests can also go horseback riding or hit some golf balls on their makeshift driving range. Clubs and distance markers provided.
What the couple intended when they first fell for the country and property and decided to build a lodge was to provide a sanctuary for big cats, hence the name. Botswana regulations, however, are so far standing in the way of importing some cats to augment the lions, cheetahs and leopards prowling the area now. But other wildlife conservation, education and community projects through their Feline Fields Trust are in development; current projects include the Bokamoso Volunteer Programme in which volunteers around the world are invited to help in conservation efforts and their funding of transportation for 60 local students who would otherwise have to walk 10 km. to school.
As a break from their work, volunteers will also spend some time enjoying themselves at the lodge. Some might even try the tennis court. And it’s not impossible that in the middle of the game, they could get some big cat interaction as one of those felines walks by.