July 25, 2016

Charlotte & Rob: the epic Botswana bushman wedding in Okavango Delta

We booked this destination wedding in Botswana with Charlotte and Rob just few weeks before Botswana was announced as the number 1 country to visit in 2016 by world renown and our personal favourite travel guide Lonely Planet in their traditional annual “Best in Travel”, list of best countries, cities and regions to visit every year.

It’s impossible to describe our excitement about that… It was the first sign of how seriously incredible this whole experience might be. The country we didn’t know much of, not even where exactly in Africa it was (we just knew it was Southern Africa), turned out to be a gem in the middle of Kalahari Desert which is actually 84% of this stunning country. Another interesting fact was the one about Okavango Delta at the northern end of the country, which is a miraculous river delta housing numerous animal and plant species and being one of the most elite places for a safari* in the world that’s been named as 1000th World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We got to know the latter much more in depth after meeting these two incredible people, two endless nature lovers and owners of a high-quality mobile safari company Golden Africa that they run along with their local partners out of Maun, Botswana.

You’d think excitement would have ended there? They had their beautiful destination wedding in Botswana, we photographed it and that’s about it? Well, we though so too, but it turned out to be… one of the best weeks of our lives so far.

The next thing we learned was that the wedding would actually take place in the real wilderness of Okavango Delta. And instantly, for the first time since we’ve been traveling (and that’s since 2010), we realised we had no idea what to expect, what to think, how to prepare for all of that… It’s probably easier when you’re a guest at a wedding or a tourist going into the wild. But we were their – wedding photographers. In wilderness. Without electricity, running water or internet connection. Everything was just on us and our cameras, with all kinds of batteries fully charged, flashes, double back up cameras, everything prepared for 4 days of camping. So after learning it’s Botswana and what actually Botswana was, the new excitement to restrain and handle was photographing in the wild.

Now you think it ended there? They had their beautiful destination wedding, only in the wild? Well… no. And I admit we could’ve known before it wouldn’t just end there, after meeting these two, and how much people love them.

Charlotte and Rob didn’t have a destination wedding in wilderness. They had an amazing once-in-a-lifetime feast of unique connection with a real African culture and nature, and all of that so spontaneous and honest, that it was more than obvious that these two people belonged to the real Africa and that real Africa belonged to them.

We arrived to Maun few days before the wedding and Rob picked us up from the airport. While driving us to the place we were staying at the first night, he broke an incredible news to us. He started a story about meeting an amazing group of seven Khoisan bushmen of Western Kalahari 12 years earlier when he moved to Botswana, and bonding with them instantly so much that one of them decided to make him his grandson during their ritual of trance dance and give him his name, Kgum Xo or Xoma(meaning “grandson”). Once when they learned Rob was getting married and they’re invited to the wedding, they decided not only to travel few hundred kilometres to come but also to hold – the wedding ceremony.

Can you imagine the excitement now? Well, mine was at the level of not being able to believe it till not seeing it with my own eyes (or through the cameras). And boy, did they have it… The most amazing, unusual, intimate and surprising wedding ceremony by Rob’s Khoisan grandpa and grandma in the wilderness of Khwai in Okavango Delta.

Days around the wedding, starting at the mobile camp in Khwai, were reserved for the game drives for friends and family, guided by Charlotte and Rob themselves. So, we spent the morning of the wedding day at a game drive with our bride, who was not interested in the standard bridal preparations as much as in following a pride of lions and photographing them. After seeing so many other animals too, the wedding adventure could start.
Another brilliant moment was Charlotte arriving at the ceremony in mokoro, a traditional canoe made of a single piece of wood that’s been commonly used in Okavango Delta for river safaris. Once when she arrived, a loud celebratory greeting shout by local guests stormed the air and gave goosebumps to everybody.
The ceremony itself was a kind of union of these two people in love with traditional Africa that they love and respect so much. It was held by Kgum Xo and his wife (Rob’s grandma) Nxuka who applied a specific sticky sweet red colour on both arms and faces of Charlotte and Rob and gave them the special wedding presents – beaded jewellery and wooden walking stick. Surprised and emotional probably like never before, Charlotte and Rob walked out of the ceremony site while their guests sprayed them with birds seed confetti. I felt like crying this whole time and all I was trying to think of was how to stay focused and just take photos while trying to believe that all of this was happening in front of me.
Countless emotional hugs later, Nikola went for a booked helicopter ride to grab a group photo of the crowd and the location – another first for us and a great memory of the event.
A new emotional whirlwind started right after the dinner and speeches when the whole wedding party was invited to watch the trance dance by Khoisan bushmen guests including Rob’s grandma and grandpa. The group was doing this traditional dance every evening for themselves while in camp for the wedding, and they wanted everyone to join in during wedding reception. A special part was a healing ritual done to everyone at the scene by the oldest bushman Kgao Kgum while he was in the state of trance. The whole evening continued perfectly into a dance party next to the campfire and the day after gave as a final afternoon for the creative photo shoot with Charlotte and Rob who were not as much into photo shoot as into looking for leopards… Do I have to say that they successfully found leopards and couldn’t stop talking about them while sharing their endless knowledge with everyone in awe…

There is no way that’s good enough to express the feelings about this whole week we had in Botswana. Expectations? Whichever we might had in some tiny dark corners of our brains, all of them were surpassed starting right after arriving at the Maun Airport. And we are so happy about that. It was an ultimate learning, a huge challenge and an unbelievable story that stuck after and that now looks like some wild dream.

There is no good enough way to end this post with words, so we invite you to move on to our selection of photos hoping that they’ll let you feel at least a tiny bit of what we felt in this magnificent country and with these magnificent people.

Wedding location: The Khwai Concession, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Wedding planning, decor and stationery design: Golden Africa Safaris with a help and assistance of a dear friend Kate Bostelmann
Charlotte getting ready: Machaba Camp

*Though in the past safari was often seen as big-game hunt, nowadays it refers to trip to observe and photograph wildlife, especially in Botswana whose government enacted the hunting ban in 2014.