Beautiful Botswana: Exploring the Okavango Delta

Beautiful Botswana: Exploring the Okavango Delta
Nearby is one of Botswana’s most famous lodges: Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 May 2021

Beautiful Botswana: Exploring the Okavango Delta

Beautiful Botswana: Exploring the Okavango Delta
  • With the pandemic decimating the tourist industry, locals are delighted to welcome visitors back to this magnificent wildlife haven

OKAVANGO DELTA: Reclining in the middle of a dug-out canoe, slicing through a clump of reeds that gives way to a large open pond covered in lily pads, the wonder of the Okavango Delta truly becomes clear.

A mokoro ride is a staple of a visit to Botswana’s tourism crown jewel — the place where the mighty Okavango River flows in from the Angolan highlands, splintering off across 15,000 square kilometers of African plains towards the Kalahari Desert. 

Being punted along by a wiry villager from a neighboring village, who stands sentinel at the back of the canoe with a large pole, reminiscent of a Venetian gondolier, is a favored experience for international tourists, and the waterways are often full with foreign faces taking in the country’s famed wildlife. But not this year, of course.




A mokoro ride is a staple of a visit to Botswana’s tourism crown jewel — the place where the mighty Okavango River flows in from the Angolan highlands, splintering off across 15,000 square kilometers of African plains towards the Kalahari Desert. (Shitterstock)

The serenity of floating through one of the Delta’s famed papyrus-lined channels is the hard-earned pay off for the assault course you have to conquer to arrive here.  The two-hour speedboat ride to your mokoro involves papyrus reeds, branches and large insects whipping your face while a strangled boat engine threatens to cut out as your guide deftly navigates the overgrown channels. 

There are no tourists around this year, our guide explained, and therefore less boats puttering through the channels to keep the fast-growing papyrus that dominates the Okavango back. Some channels are at risk of being swallowed forever. 




It was at Mopiri Camp that we took to the water on a mokoro ride. (Shutterstock)

Botswana — like so many other tourism-reliant countries — is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on international travel. It closed its borders on March 24, 2020, and reopened eight months later, in a bid to lure back travellers. It hasn’t yet been successful. During our trip to three camps in the Delta in January, we were only the second international guests to have arrived since the reopening. The vast majority of lodges across Botswana remain closed.

But there is a flip side to this. Botswana — which has long marketed itself as a luxury tourism destination (Prince Harry got engaged to Meghan Markle here) — offering opulent all-inclusive lodges that routinely run up to $4,000 per night, has had to bring down its nightly rates to incentivize locals to travel. The country has traditionaly favored a sustainable travel model similar to Rwanda and Bhutan — keeping prices high to ensure no mass tourism. Until now, most lodges in Botswana did not have “international” and “local” prices. But introducing the dual rates, sometimes a quarter of the international price, has worked to some extent. During December and the first week of January, Roots and Journeys, which operates water-based lodge Mopiri and land-based lodge Nokanyana, reported full houses. 




We spot lions crossing a tar-sealed road, gazelle aplenty and — the highlight — a pack of wild dogs reclining on a roadside. (Shutterstock)

The company adamantly believes there is a mid-range market just waiting to be catered for in Botswana. Their $500 all-inclusive offering is a fraction of the cost of other camps in the area, and though it’s a more rustic experience, you do get to see the same wildlife. 

It was at Mopiri Camp that we took to the water on a mokoro ride.

While it can seem like a gimmick, the half-day excursion in a mokoro also demonstrates just how entwined many of the lodges are with their local communities. Food is purchased from the tiny nearby village of Etsha 6. Our mokoro guide, Alco, is from the neighboring village of Tsau.




Botswana has long marketed itself as a luxury tourism destination. (Shutterstock)

“Corona was an eye-opener,” our camp guide Sediq says. “The locals poured in because it was cheap. We survived because of them.”

The 5-star experiences are finding it just as hard. Nearby is one of Botswana’s most famous lodges: Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. Located right in the middle of Chobe National Park, on the edge of a watering hole frequented by giant elephants, we are its only visitors. The camp has stayed open regardless — a commitment to keeping its staff in jobs. 

The staff member showing us to our rooms laughs as I suggest she must be annoyed at our interruption of a rare time of quiet.




Botswana — like so many other tourism-reliant countries — is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on international travel. (Shutterstock)

“No way,” she says. “We are so bored. We miss our guests. We get excited when people come.”

The elephants seem to agree. They’re out in force over the next few days, perhaps reveling in the lack of tourists. We spot lions crossing a tar-sealed road, gazelle aplenty and — the highlight — a pack of wild dogs reclining on a roadside. 

Our guide tells us we’re “very lucky”. But perhaps it’s just the animals reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs.


THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
Updated 32 min 45 sec ago

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
  • From a Palestinian violinist to Lebanese dream-pop, via Saudi shoe stylings and Syrian artworks

Postcards

The Lebanese dream-pop trio released a new track “Home is so Sad,” from their upcoming album “After The Fire, Before The End,” due out later this year. The song is apparently inspired by the eponymous Philip Larkin song. It’s a typically atmospheric track — Julia Sabra’s melancholy lyrics floating over a distorted guitar line built over a pounding drum beat. As Sabra sings of “Blood from your nostrils/Blood from your ears” and “There’s a hole where you knee should be/But I am not afraid” it’s not hard to imagine where the Beirut-based band found the inspiration for this song. The accompanying video, by Nadim Tabet, is the first of a series to go with the album, the band explained on social media: “The idea is to have some sort of visual archive of our shared experiences over the last couple of years.”

Lulu Al-Hassan

The Saudi shoe designer has teamed up with regional retailer Shoemart for a limited-edition capsule collection called “Lule Loves Celeste,” which is exclusive to the Middle East. With 28 satin styles — including peep-toe mules, stilettos, slingbacks and platform heels — in a color palette ranging from classic blacks to bright yellows and reds, the collection will be released just ahead of Eid. “Your shoes are your statement, and this collection will translate that into confidence,” Al-Hassan said in a press release.

OVIID

This exciting Lebanese trio are currently in the process of recording their first EP, and gave us a taste of what to expect recently with a live performance of their song “Statues” for Light FM’s online concert series “Videos in our Studios.” The band describe their sound as “rhythmic prose infused with electronic influences rebirthing heritage, folklore and nostalgia” and “inspired by Kraut, Oriental and Electronica.” “Statues” has something of an Eighties’ vibe, with bassist and vocalist Antonio Hajj’s baritone delivery over layers of looped guitar lines, delivered with subtle skill by guitarist Tony Dauo. Hajj told Arab News, “The track, like the EP, is made up of many rooms; each one is a feeling or a state of mind. It has tension — the ride and the feeling of being suspended in mid-air.” That feeling is mirrored lyrically, he explained: “We talk about how we are taught to internalize and keep to ourselves. The setting we’re in doesn’t help and suffers from an identity crisis itself, so the only way is to keep your ‘light’ and keep going forward.”

Thaier Helal

The UAE-based Syrian artist’s latest solo show, “Abyss,” runs at Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery until May 10. A statement from the gallery says that while the artist’s new work “differs in texture, stepping away from his structural and sculptural approach,” Helal “continues to pose radical questions, (addressing) many subjects concerning our existence, meaning, and current state of bitterness that drains the mind and soul.” His artwork, one example of which — “Behind The Line” — is seen here, falls somewhere between figurative and abstract. “The artist’s technique plays with composition and vantage point,” the gallery continues. “The aim is for each viewer to see something personal that references past experiences, to take the viewer to extremes of imagination.” 

Akram Abdulfattah

The Palestinian violinist, composer and producer recently released his second album, “Monologue.” The blend of traditional Arabic music with pop, jazz, and Indian sounds reflects Abdulfattah’s multi-cultural background: He moved to the US from Palestine aged seven. The album is intended to reflect his life’s journey, as well as the politics of Palestinian life. “The album’s sense of collaboration could be seen as a metaphor for long-standing peace in the region,” according to a press release. According to Abdulfattah, the album “can be imagined as a dialogue with the inner self. It’s about finding unity in the self and discovering similarities in the richness of different music languages and culture.”

Allexa Bash 

Bash, a Dubai-based Ukranian singer-songwriter, released a new single, “Heartbeat,” in late April. It’s a pop track with downbeat, piano-led verses leading to big choruses dominated by dubstep-style synths. Bash is a former contestant on the Ukrainian version of “The Voice” and her vocals are certainly powerful. Lyrically, according to a press release, the song is about “being real, about showing yourself, about listening to thoughts and embracing them. And, finally, letting your heartbeat act as a lighthouse, leading you in the dark, showing you the way.”


REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions
Updated 46 min 48 sec ago

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions
  • New drama puts its impressive cast to the test – then lets them off the hook

DUBAI: Ever since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” swept the Oscars in 2013, there’s been a rise in so-called ‘hard sci-fi’ movies looking to recapture that sense of gritty survival in the face of insurmountable (not to mention, extra-terrestrial) odds. 

Netflix’s “Stowaway” certainly has the right team in place. Brazilian director Joe Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison won a lot of admirers with 2018’s “Arctic” — a survival thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen as a stranded pilot in the Arctic Circle who just can’t catch a break. Not content with having their protagonists put through the wringer from a survival point of view, in “Stowaway,” Penna and Morrison decide to throw a nasty moral quandary into the mix as well.

“Stowaway” is on Netflix. (YouTube)

Marina (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim) make up a three-man crew headed to Mars. Shortly after leaving Earth, they discover Michael (Shamier Anderson) has inadvertently gotten trapped onboard during takeoff, and the carefully calculated life-support capacity of their ship is thrown into jeopardy. With their resources now stretched past breaking point, the trio are faced with a horrifying decision: ask Michael to remove himself from the equation, or risk all their lives in a bid to find a workaround.

The cast throw themselves into the roles with aplomb. Collette is excellent as the tortured mission commander with the weight of the decision on her shoulders, while Kendrick and Kim enjoy squaring off on opposite sides of the film’s central debate. Anderson brings an everyman quality to his hapless stowaway that lends emotional weight to the shifting attitudes of his fellow travelers. At the film’s helm, Penna shows an eye for combining breath-taking exterior visuals with cramped and atmospheric interiors, all the while throwing one calamity after another at his beleaguered cast of characters. 

The movie’s final third slightly gives up on the moral debate (the crew’s decisions are usually superseded by whatever catastrophe hits them next) in favor of tugging at the emotional heartstrings, which is a bit of shame. Penna’s film is an entertaining watch, but ultimately ducks out of answering its own challenging questions.


Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 
Updated 05 May 2021

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

DUBAI: Leading global e-tailer Net-a-porter is collaborating with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa to present a livestream styling video on Wednesday.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

Al-Eisa, who is based in Riyadh, will be taking the regional customers through key pieces from the website’s Ramadan and Spring/Summer 2021 collections, which are ideal for Eid gifting.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

Al-Eisa started her career in fashion as a fashion editor, then dabbled in historical costume design before going on to style some of the biggest fashion and fine jewelry campaigns in Saudi Arabia. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

The influencer also regularly shares her fashion knowledge and styling tips on social media, on her Instagram account @norahaleisa. 


British-Moroccan model Nora Attal stars in Chanel’s Cruise 2022 show

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal stars in Chanel’s Cruise 2022 show
Nora Attal walks down the Chanel Cruise 2022 runway in France. Supplied
Updated 05 May 2021

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal stars in Chanel’s Cruise 2022 show

British-Moroccan model Nora Attal stars in Chanel’s Cruise 2022 show

DUBAI:  British-Moroccan model Nora Attal strutted her stuff on a runway in the south of France for Chanel’s resort 2022 show on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old walked down the catwalk, staged in Carrières de Lumières – a series of vast chambers – in the sunny Les Baux-de-Provence, wearing two looks from the Parisian luxury maison’s latest offering.

For her first turn down the punk-inspired runway, Attal wore an all-black look that consisted of a fringed top, skirt and cape secured around her neck. 

She later changed into loose grey trousers, paired with a striped bodysuit and a graphic shirt. 

Nora Attal walks down the Chanel Cruise 2022 runway in France. Supplied

In a press release, Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard listed some of the elements of the collection: “Lots of fringes, in leather, beads and sequins, t-shirts bearing the face of the model Lola Nicon like a rock star, worn with tweed suits trimmed with wide braids and pointed silver Mary-Janes. ”

The monochromatic collection drew inspiration from Jean Cocteau’s play “Orpheus,” which deals with themes of morality, sacrifice and artistry. In fact, Cocteau was a friend of Coco Chanel and his 1960 film version, titled “Testament of Orpheus,” was shot at Carrières de Lumières.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by CHANEL (@chanelofficial)

Attal is a Chanel house favorite, having appeared on the catwalk for the French label on a number of occasions. She made her debut for Chanel in 2017 and went on to become a runway fixture and house muse, walking for the brand’s 2018 pre-Fall Metier’s d’Art show in Hamburg and most recently in the Spring 2021 runway presentation.

She also served as the face of the brand a number of times, starring in Chanel’s Spring 2019 campaign and Chanel Beauty holiday adverts.

Attal was first discovered by Jonathan Anderson, founder of the J.W. Anderson label, and shot a campaign for the British fashion house in 2014 before she had even taken her first steps down a runway.

Based in London and signed to Viva Model Management, she has worked with a number of renowned designers and photographers and has walked the runway for major fashion houses, including Fendi, Burberry and Valentino.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Nora (@noraattal)

She recently starred in the new campaign for high-street retailer Zara’s not-yet-launched beauty line. 


Review: Michael B. Jordan-starring ‘Without Remorse’ is a slick, if uninspiring, thriller

Review: Michael B. Jordan-starring ‘Without Remorse’ is a slick, if uninspiring, thriller
Updated 05 May 2021

Review: Michael B. Jordan-starring ‘Without Remorse’ is a slick, if uninspiring, thriller

Review: Michael B. Jordan-starring ‘Without Remorse’ is a slick, if uninspiring, thriller

LONDON: John Clark, the frighteningly efficient former Navy Seal who forms an integral part of Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” series, has been portrayed by no less than three different actors before getting his own headline gig in 2021’s “Without Remorse.” Michael B. Jordan picks up where Willem Defoe (“Clear and Present Danger”), Liev Schreiber (“The Sum of All Fears”) and John Hoogenakker (Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan” series) left off — although “Without Remorse” is something of a reboot of Clancy’s character, giving Clark a new, tweaked backstory and planting the seed for a Jordan-fronted series of movies.

“Without Remorse” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. (Supplied)

“Without Remorse,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, drops Clancy’s original Vietnam War-set backstory, updating the action to modern day Syria. Jordan begins the movie as John Kelly, leader of a Seal team tasked with recovering an operative for CIA man Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell). As members of the team return to the US, their families are targeted by persons unknown and Kelly deploys his considerable skillset to track down whomever is responsible.

Italian director Stefano Sollima (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”) keeps the action tight and the movie (relatively) short. There are some visceral set pieces, claustrophobic gunfights and convoluted special ops in abundance and Jordan brings some humanity to Clancy’s often very dark character. He’s backed by an able supporting cast — Bell is a creepy company man, Jodie Turner-Smith is a kick-ass Navy Seal, and Guy Pearce seems to enjoy himself as Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay. In all honesty, “Without Remorse” is a decent, serviceable action movie — albeit one with a literary connection that doesn’t do much for it. The movie seems torn between a desire to stay true to elements of Clancy’s universe and a need to act as a springboard for a new, modern thriller franchise. The plot is predictable, the story beats are telegraphed and the performances (while decent) are uninspiringly familiar. With the aforementioned sequel seemingly inevitable, “Without Remorse” has succeeded in laying the groundwork. Let’s hope that, in the next installment, there’s something more to say.