24 Sep A Drinking Town with a Tourist Problem
My last few days in Botswana were spent in the north western town of Maun, known affectionately to some as the quote above. Maun is a small outpost community and self-proclaimed gateway to the vast expanse of the Okavango Delta. For anyone travelling or visiting southern Africa, the Delta is a spot not to be missed and Maun is where you go to get there. Simply put, the Delta is a 16,000 sq km expansion and expulsion of the Okavango River. Supporting an amazing array of wildlife, the area is a hot spot for big industry tourism and Maun has grown (quickly) to support this industry, purely based on its location. The residents are of somewhat a rare and interesting breed. The town seems to attract a mix of professional game hunters, environmental conservationists and researchers, young bush pilots looking to make quick flight hours, and a whole bunch of kaki coated Delta tour guides. With this kind of local crew, you get consistently reliable mad characters with some awesome stories to share, and almost inevitably these characters can be found while drinking, every night, in the small town with a “tourist problem”.
Just before I left the farm in Francistown, Mike Ives presented the idea that I get in touch with his two nieces living and working in Maun. Maybe I could use their contacts and knowledge to figure out the best way to visit the Delta on a backpacker budget. This is exactly what I did, and two days later I was picked up by Mia at the local Maun bus terminal. Mia and Sara Lee are two sisters who have both been living in Maun for a number of years. Mia works as an operations manager for a local tour company which offers a range of different trips into the vast expanse of the Delta. Sara Lee works as a nurse in the government hospital’s maternity ward. Both girls are incredibly intelligent and it was amazing to learn of Maun and its history from them.
Sara Lee opened her home to me the day I arrived and was incredibly hospitable for the short time I spent there. On day one I got the whirlwind tour of the area before booking onto an overnight Mokoro camping trip leaving the next day. A Mokoro is a small flatbed canoe usually cut from the trunk of a tree. It is a similar style to whatever other small river vessels you’ve seen used all over the world. That night in Maun we took it easy with a few drinks at the local backpackers chilling with some the sister’s friends, including Sara Lee’s boyfriend Keith, an awesome dude working as a bush pilot in the Delta. Keith had some great stories and has seriously convinced me that I need to get my private flying license at some point in my life. Once settled in it was time to move again (as always) and an early start found me racing in a speed boat up river and into the massive.
My two days and one night in the Delta were great. It was the perfect introduction and at a good price. I was joined on the trip by five others, one of whom I knew from previous travelling. Sophie is a young backpacker from Germany I had met in Zanzibar just before leaving. It was amazing to see her again and we decided to join the Mokoro trip together. The others were Kira (Irish), Dan and Anna (Hungry and Austria), Joel (UK). It was a nice international mix and I enjoyed the conversation. We went on two nature walks within the Delta and all tried our hand at steering one of the incredibly difficult to keep straight Mokoros. We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife; some elephants, wildebeest, zebra, kudu, birds, etc. Maybe I am just becoming that jaded African tourist, after I see hundreds of elephants the novelty wears off. Sounds terrible, I know. Ha. Shit, whatever, it was cool just being within the Delta and the night spent camping under the stars was an unexpected highlight of my time in Botswana. And… the stars were incredible, check this.
Anyway, the next day we headed back to Maun for some much needed cold beers. I was greeted by Mia back at the hostel and off we went to join her father for dinner at another one of the local Maun dive bars. Russell Ives has lived in Botswana his entire life. He is an electrical and mechanical engineer working on a copper mine in fuck nowhere Botswana (100km from Maun). He is a jack of all trades, a doer of all things, a fixer, a tinkerer, and an incredible wealth of information. Mia and I joined Russell and three of his work colleauges for dinner that night. I gotta say it was a nice change in conversation for me. Listening to these guys talk of different mining equipment used all over the world, changing technologies, local laws and regulation in comparison to other places, life cycles of mineral deposits once they’ve been “discovered” etc. etc. was amazing. It was similar to my experience on the farm, different conversational contexts is a nice change from the general backpacker talk and a good test on my general knowledge. I was trying to explain this thought to Mia later that night, how the backpacker conversation can get old fast. You know, the where have you been, where are you going, your future trip plans, favourite places, stories etc. etc. over and over. Talking to Russell and these mining guys, and even Mia, Sara Lee and Keith, was a much needed change of pace that at the time, I didn’t even realize I needed. Our conversations were of local matters and past histories, of African beliefs and education, of politics and ever changing cast systems, of things that mattered to the people living in Maun. It was stimulating and inspiring.
I can’t express enough how awesome it was to meet Mia, Sara Lee, Russell, and Keith. They were all super accommodating with me literally just dropping into their lives for a few days and their kindness was amazing. I am truly grateful. If you guys are reading this, thank you!
From Maun I took a stupid long bus journey into Namibia and its capital Windhoek. 15 hours and three different modes of transport later I arrived. Another long day on the road… and well worth it. Namibia has blown me away so far and I am stoked to be here. It is super clean and very modern. The weather has been great and as of right now, I’ve got jumping out of a plane on my mind. I am heading to Swakopmund, the adventure capital, for the next few days before renting a car and road tripping it around the country. But, I will save this info for the next post.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and cheers from the Kalahari Desert!!