Sunday 6 July 2008 - Monday 7 July 2008
Maun was our next destination. We had a relatively uneventful drive from Gweta after our night on the pans. Luckily there were very few potholes and our only delay was stopping at a sanitation checkpoint on our way into Maun. I learned from our South African friends that beef is actually the largest export in Botswana, which is why there are sanitation checkpoints to prevent hoof and mouth disease when entering and leaving certain agricultural districts. At each of these points all passengers must get out of the car and place the soles of their shoes on a mat soaked in disinfectant. The car was driven through a pool of disinfectant to sanitize the tires and bottom. Generally these stops only took a few minutes, but in an around Chobe National Park we came across them every 100 km or so.
We arrived in Maun around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Maun is a bustling little town that used to be characterized as the sort of "wild west" because it is in a fairly remote location (the vast majority of the population in Botswana lives in the eastern part of the country, near Gabarone). Now it is used by the locals as a place to by petrol, supplies, and to sell goods in the markets. To tourists it is a place to stop over for a few nights to visit the Moremi National Park and the Okavango Delta, which is what we were planning to do during the next few days. For this reason, there are lots of lodges and backpacker accommodations, and a few restaurants and shopping centers. It felt very modern. If I had been dropped there with no knowledge of where I was I would have guessed I was in any number of small nondescript American or Canadian towns. But, of course, the donkey carts, goats grazing the highways and impala crossing signs would be a clue that you were somewhere else.
We headed directly to our lodge, the Old Bridge Backpackers which was set a few km outside of town off a dirt path. The place seemed very nice and chill. It was set on the bank of the Thamakalane River and we were greeted by a number of interesting people relaxing in the outdoor bar or hanging around on the hammocks and picnic tables overlooking the river. The accommodations were large Meru tents holding a double bed and a couple of small tables, as well as communal outdoor toilets and showers enclosed with reed walls. We met the lodge-owner David, who I had corresponded with over e-mail, and then Corrie and Crystal went to return the car to the airport while Steve and I stayed behind to have a few drinks at the bar. It became pretty obvious after the first five minutes that the bar hosted a rather interesting cross-section of people. Most of the crowd were local whites whose families had settled in Botswana when it was a British colony. And they had no pretensions. In fact, the first conversation we struck up with David and the guy sitting next to us was regarding the mens urinals in a local bar and the various contortions that were required to use it. This was followed by a series of obscenities shouted at the television to challenge Roger Federer's manhood (The Wimbledon was playing while we were there). It didn't take long to realize that everyone around us was hammered. It was 3pm. Corrie and Crystal got a dose of this as well when Martin, co-owner of the lodge, picked them up at the airport with a full glass of whiskey on the rocks. Apparently that wasn't enough, as he made stopover at another bar on the way home to buy everyone another round of drinks. A friendly people, the Botswanan.
After a much needed shower to wash off the film of salt that had accumulated during the previous days, we managed to grab dinner in the lodge bar. This was despite being interrupted multiple times by dogs, drunk men, and one rather protracted fight over the custody of a child. Their charm was beginning to wear off. At that point we snuk away to a different picnic table shaded by trees to find a little privacy. They eventually found us again, but we managed to enjoy most of our meal in peace. I was pretty bummed. Out of all the places we were staying, for some reason, I was most excited about this one. When I was making the arrangements it was the cheapest, friendliest and least discovered place I had found. I thought I had found a jewel. Apparently there is a reason it wasn't listed in guide books and websites. We went to bed early that night to prepare for a two day trip into the Okavango Delta. For the last week we had fallen asleep to the sounds of birds, hippos, and rushing water. This time we fell asleep to the sound of David having a fist fight with a customer. I think I prefer hippos.