After a few days at Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, I set out for the Botswana border post. I walked west from the town until I came to the cross roads of Livingston Way and Kazungula Road, then hitched a ride to the border. When I passed through into Botswana, which was a hell of a lot easier than getting into Zimbabwe, I found I couldn’t go anywhere. I’d planned to walk to Kazungula and then, depending on what I found there, either hitch-hike into Kasane or head south towards my ultimate destination – Maun. Unfortunately, though, there was a girl working at the border who told me I couldn’t walk to Kazungula.
“You can’t walk,” she told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s too far.”
“It’s ok. I walk a lot. Besides, it’s only a few kilometers.”
“There are wild animals there.”
“I’m not afraid of wild animals.”
“Well, you can’t go.”
“Is it illegal?”
So she called me a taxi and rode with me. Later, I realized she might have just tried to score a free taxi ride, which she got. In any case, soon I was in Kasane, waiting for a bus to a town called Nata. I was told that from Nata it would be possible to hitch-hike west to Maun.
At the bus depot, I got into an awkward conversation with a few workers. They were arguing over why white people travel more than black people. Two men said that their country’s government had failed them by not providing a higher income level for its population, while the other said that black people (specifically Africans) prefer to spend their money immediately, and are inherently bad at saving. They were friendly but very intensely arguing, trying to win me over to their respective sides. I agreed with the two guys about their lack of income, but didn’t want to take sides, so I just nodded and listened for a while. They were, like almost everyone I met in Africa, incredibly friendly and helpful.
Soon I was on the bus to Nata. From the window I could see giraffes and elephants walking along the road. We had to stop to go through various checkpoints, and stamp on some wet mat. I never did see the purpose of all this.
At Nata I got off the bus at a service station. Soon the bus left, and I was waiting for another to take me to Maun. But it never arrived. I waited about forty-five minutes, and still nothing.
There was a Swedish girl, too, waiting for this phantom bus. Eventually we gave up and looked around for a hotel. I had Maps.Me working on my phone, and it led us to a little guesthouse near the Nata River. There wasn’t much to see in Nata. Only a few houses, a few tin shacks from which people sold food or drinks or haircuts. There were cows and donkeys roaming the streets. It was just a dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere.
We found a “Zambian Liquor Restaurant” and had dinner – beef and cabbage and maize – and a lot of beers. After a month in Africa, I finally got stupidly drunk. I would wake up the next morning with a brutal hangover.
The next morning I set out to find an ATM, because I didn’t have enough money to pay for my room, and they didn’t accept cards (despite a sign outside claiming the contrary). Luckily I was able to withdraw a small amount for a large fee.
We went back to the cross roads and gave up on the idea of ever finding a bus to Maun. “Let’s hitch-hike,” I said. Johanna said she’d never hitch-hiked before, but I told her I’d hitch-hiked many times in many countries, and said that we should definitely do it.
We sat at the side of the road to Maun, talking. She said that it would be two hours before we go a ride on account of the fact that there were absolutely no cars travelling along this road. I said I bet it would be twenty minutes.
Twenty minutes later, exactly, a beat-up old Toyota Corolla pulled up beside us. I’d written “MAUN” on a piece of paper and stuck my hand out. The car was more or less full but we managed to squeeze in. Roaring off into the great barren expanses of central Botswana, I was filled with enthusiasm, thinking, “I’m the greatest hitch-hiker in the world!” What luck to have found a ride so quickly on a desolate road.
After Johanna commented on my luck, I told her that I wasn’t always lucky in travel. In my life I’ve been in a plane crash, numerous car crashes, several motorbike crashes, two bus crashes, on a train whose engine exploded, and on a boat which sunk.
Shortly after saying this, the car’s back right tire exploded and we veered off the road.
After standing by the side of the road in the brutal African sun for half an hour, hoping a lion wouldn’t come out from the bush and eat us, a car finally passed. It stopped and they tried to help us replace the burst tire. Then another car passed, and another. Soon everyone was laughing and joking by the side of the road. This is what I loved most about Africa – the people. Such warm, friendly, decent people.
We got back on the road, now driving in a convoy. The radio blared and people sang and danced in their seats. But after twenty more minutes, the back left tire burst. The convoy stopped and we replaced another tire.
Soon we had to stop again and the driver turfed us out. We weren’t entirely abandoned because another car in the convoy took us, and we set out once again. I regretted having mentioned my awful luck with transportation…
This car broke down four times on the way to Maun, each time due to the engine overheating. I wouldn’t say it was entirely my bad luck – the driver seemed intent on pushing the car to and beyond its limits, driving at breakneck speed through the Makgadikgadi. The road and the heat were unforgiving, and the cars hardly built to withstand such punishment.
Eventually we arrived in Maun. Through all my travels in Africa I’d learned that “just” going a few hundred kilometers would take a long time, and this was another fine example. It had taken almost a full day to get from Nata to Maun, and two full days to get there from Victoria Falls. I’d been naive to think it could’ve been done in a day.
From town we had to take a taxi out to The Old Bridge Backpackers, which sits at the northern end of Maun, on the edge of the Okavango Delta. This was one of my goals in Africa – to see the Okavango. I’d grown up watching BBC documentaries and its name was burned into my consciousness. I had planned out a camping trip, sleeping under the stars amidst the greatest collection of wildlife on the planet.
First we checked into the Old Bridge and I booked a mokoro (a small dug out canoe) to venture off into the wild the next day. It would prove to be one of the greatest and wildest experiences of my life.
Photos coming later this week. Follow this blog for updates.