Day 1 – Maun

Day 1 –  Maun

After nearly 24 hours of being on the road I was finally in the Republic of Botswana, the land of the Batswana people, brought to European attention as a result of the work and explorations in the 19th Century of Dr. David Livingstone. Our journey had taken us via Johannesburg with British Airways and then to Maun in Botswana with Air Botswana. Flying over the village of Maun is disconcerting after you have flown over an hour and a half of bleached wilderness to arrive at a collection of mud and straw buildings with no tar roads that you can see.

Maun airport is tiny, about the size of a village hall, so don’t expect to have to wait long. We’d anticipated having to wait for luggage but we were out of the airport within twenty minutes of landing, as the plane is very small and this isn’t Heathrow.

I waddled, dazed and blinking, into the sunlight and was met by our first Batswana, Ronald, the representative from Safari Drive. He took me to the lovely mature Riley’s Hotel, where I was introduced to home for the next two weeks, a camping-equipped Landrover Discovery.

Ronald was great and very reassuring. He immediately set about giving an excellent vehicle briefing. The vehicle was brilliantly equipped with everything one would need for the entire trip. When they say ‘camping equipped’ it really is, for every possible eventuality, which is a marvellous thing when you are a chocolate teapot from Wiltshire about to head off into the African bush alone.
 
The vehicle itself was like a magnificent white Rhino, a Landrover Defender, it was built like it was prepared for anything, high up off the ground, with enormous wheels and tyres, it gave me a really nice reassuring feeling, it was a haven.

  • The equipment that came with the vehicle was very impressive – table, chairs, water canister, two cool boxes, pots, pans, FANTASTIC cast iron stew pots, towels, tea-towels and dish cloths, a whole set of cooking tools, picnic bag full of plates, wine glasses, cups, mugs, thermos flask, cutlery etc. It was a gadget-lovers dream. I was in my element. 
  • The tent, which is an origami canvas stroke of genius, is hinged like a book and sits on the roof of the Landrover. When closed it takes up half the space of the roof of the Landrover like a box. You pull one side and it fans open like a book, popping up the tent across the ‘double page spread’ and down onto a hard base which hangs out. The ladder drops down from this, propping up the tent on top of the vehicle. Climb up the ladder, unzip the ‘door’ and inside is your bed with your bedding all installed. The walls of this little canvass igloo are covered in many pockets, which prove brilliantly useful for all the things you’ll be wanting to take up there for evenings/ night time. This isn’t just a tent. It is a mobile tree-house, cave, safe bolt-hole, luxury bush bedroom, and game viewing hide all in one amazing, neat little canvas structure.
  • A ‘food starter kit’ was more like a well stocked larder to feed a hungry family of four for a month, it included everything you may expect including tinned fruit, tinned fish, tinned veg, pasta, rice but also included crisps, butterscotch sweets and salad dressing – we were not going to go hungry. Moreover, this store cupboard came in a handy pull-out drawer which also proved useful for propping the very heavy rear door open when trying to maneuver items in and out.

Emergency Equipment

The Landrover came fully equipped with the necessities to help you get yourself through every Bush eventuality and difficulty, such as a tyre pressure gauge, pumps, inner tubes, a very impressive looking hydraulic jack for getting the vehicle out of mud or deep sand, a ladder for the same, two spare tyres, etc. I looked at all of those items warily, grateful for their presence but also aware if I had to use them it would be because I was in some kind of as yet unimaginable doo-doo. I hoped very much that would be the last time I’d really need to look at them. Ronald explained them all, but to be honest most of it went over my head with a view that if I had to I’d try and work out how to use these things if it ever came to it.

For real emergencies there was a satellite phone. This offered mixed feelings of reassurance and foreboding:

  1. Scenario 1: an elephant decides to charge the vehicle – ‘phone a friend’ – who is several hundred kilometers across the African wilderness and a day’s drive….
  2. Scenario 2:  you are outside of the vehicle and confronted by a lone buffalo bull or a hippo armed with maybe a potato if you’re lucky – the satellite phone is in the vehicle – again, ‘phone a friend’, who is still several hundred kilometers across the African wilderness and a day’s drive …

This felt a bit like the life jacket they give you on an aeroplane – in the event of plummeting to earth to your impending death you have a whistle and a flashing light. Brilliant. In other words, it felt reassuring to have the ‘phone a friend’ emergency hotline facility without there being an actual emergency, but I doubted very much that if there were any real life threatening problems a telephone was really going to be of much use in the immediate crisis. Something deep down also made me wonder if it acted like the Black Box in an aeroplane cockpit, so in the event of something completely disastrous happening where they just find the vehicle in bits and nothing of us, it acts as a voice recorder of our final moments. I wasn’t sure why at the time but thoughts of the Blair Witch video also sprang to mind.

Over a very welcome cold drink in the lovely Riley’s hotel Ronald gave me the Safari Drive Trip Book. This included telephone contact numbers, all the National Park vouchers and campsite bookings and permits. This green voucher was crucial. Without it I would not have been allowed in the National Parks. You MUST get this and you must not lose it. You won’t be able to travel around without it.

At this point we were also given ‘driving directions’ – African style. I had been promised by Safari Drive that I would get detailed driving directions on arrival in Botswana, but my definition of detailed can often be more than other people’s, so I wasn’t going to leave it until it was too late to get this critical information that would be crucial to a relaxing trip, so I did detailed route planning and worked out directions before I left the UK. I was very relieved I did, as the directions we were given by Safari Drive did not even cover a side of A4, and had entire places missing, including our first and final destinations. This was a poor show on behalf of Safari Drive. I was OK because I had already planned the routes very carefully in considerable detail, but otherwise I would have had no clue on how to find the first destination, the Motsentsela Tree Lodge.

Within an hour I had said goodbye to Ronald and was stocking up on supplies to last for the next 10 days. I chose to stock up then, rather than leave it to the next morning when I knew I would be keen to get going on the road to Moremi.

The centre of Maun offers a lot more than the view from the air had suggested. It is actually quite a lovely town, with great shops for stocking up on your supplies for the trip ahead. 

Supplies

I recommend a good place to shop for groceries is Shoprite, the supermarket just down the road to the left from Riley’s Hotel. I bought our fuel and spare metal jerry can from Riley’s garage, bought firewood from the bundles on the roadside, and bought fresh meat and veggies from Ron’s Groceries, who were excellent. If you go there take a peak around the back of the counter, you’ll see the butchery – it is fantastic. I took away ostrich steaks, south African sausages, pork chops, and really good veggies. In theory you can pre-order and pick up on the day, but I had emailed two weeks before leaving and sent multiple messages, and didn’t get any reply, so in the end I just turned up and they were well-stocked so this was fine. You can contact Ron’s Fresh Produce on Tel  (09267) 6860633  or  6863780 or Email info@safarisupplies.co.bw or visit website http://www.safarisupplies.co.bw/default.cfm

Water

The government website says to carry at least 50-100 litres of water per person if traveling in the national parks, so I did. And was glad of it, I can’t believe how much water I got through. Don’t under-estimate.

Fuel

All the websites all say: “Visitors should note that there are no fuel supplies available, the nearest fuel and garage facilities being in Maun. Similarly, no food supplies are available in the Reserves.” And they mean it. And don’t think you can rely on going to a lodge to ask for help if you run out, as my story tells later. Take this advice very seriously. There was only opportunity to buy food and fuel in Maun and Kasane with nowhere inbetween and I knew game drives and sand driving eat the fuel – and I’d be spending the best part of two weeks doing game driving on sand tracks – so I took this very seriously and despite having long range tanks and a metal jerry can full of fuel we bought another can and filled that as well. I was given a full tank of gas, which in long-range tanks was enough, plus a jerry can of fuel as back-up. But given there are no gas stations between Maun and Kasane, and sand driving drinks fuel, we were not taking any risks, and bought a second jerry can and filled that with fuel as well.

Do not under-estimate and do not go out into the Bush thinking someone will help you if you run out of gas – as our story goes on to explain.

Petrol stations are known to run out, and there are none in any of the national parks.

So, we were not going to run out of fuel.

Firewood

A lot of the national parks don’t have any, and you’ll need it for all camping and for use to get out of sand. I paid about 8 Pula for a bundle of firewood. Firewood is for cooking, for light, for heat. It is not for safety – a fire will not stop an animal, please don’t light a fire and think you are safe because it will keep the animals away, it won’t.

Alcohol

Hey I’m a Brit so the day wouldn’t be complete without G&T-Time, Sundowners, Pims O’Clock, a nice cold beer at midday and lashings of red wine after dark. However the supermarkets here are like Utah in the USA – they don’t sell alcohol, you have to go to a separate Bottle Store.

Health warnings

Everything about undertaking a trip like this seems to come with substantial ‘you have been warned’ warnings, which did seem daunting. In this day and age of Health and Safety craziness you can read a lot of this and think ‘oh it can’t be that bad’, and dismiss it. However just imagine being in any one of the situations where you run out of food, fuel, firewood, water, or you get lost. There really is NOTHING between Maun and Kasane and the lodges that exist really offer no help at all to those in trouble – as my experience went on to prove. You go there thinking the culture is one of helping your fellow bushman – when it seemed to be more about being self-sufficient and sorting your own problems out. Help is not freely offered, and is not readily at hand. You are on your own out there. And running out of any of the things like fuel, water etc in the Botswana bush isn’t just a hassle, it really could be life-threatening. Remember Blair Witch Project or The Hills Have Eyes? Take the warnings, listen to them, and don’t be daft. Stock up with spares and spare spares. You’ll never be sorry if you have too many but you’ll be very sorry if you have none.

2 Responses to “Day 1 – Maun”

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