Maun and the Okavango Swamps

Back in the mid ‘80s the town of Maun boasted one kilometre of tar road, but either side of this, everything was the same brown; the houses, the ground, even the dogs. I think it epitomised my vision of Africa at that time.

But we arrived on a Sunday when the earth tones were spiced up with the bright orange and red colours of the ladies’ dresses as they waked to church.

At Maun we were able to shower, make tea with water that wasn’t salty and use real flushing toilets. Not that I was fully able to appreciate this latter luxury, as the habitual holiday condition of constipation had set in.

We camped beside the Nhabe river and watched the African children poling themselves along in their dugout canoes called Mekoro. They took our children for a ride, while Fiona and I stood anxiously on the banks scanning the water for crocodiles.


A pretty bird hopped close by, brownish back, pinkish underneath, blueish wing tips. Then he opened his wings to fly away and displayed the striking turquoise beauty of the lilac-breasted roller.

Lilac-breasted Roller, 11-26-2013-8033

A grey lourie told us to go away. Michael and Rodney fixed their vehicles and Terry, the Orapa resident, went to visit friends.

On the Tuesday we drove to Moremi. It seemed a very long way, but the journey was livened with impala around every corner. After about three or four hours driving, we saw that Terry had stopped and was standing at the back of his truck, a picture of dejection. It could possibly have been the biggest disaster of the trip. The fridge had broken down. No more cold beers.

Fiona and I tried to think how we could cook up all the meat before it went off. The men discussed keep nets to store their beer in the river. But practicality and ingenuity prevailed once more, and the men managed to fix the fridge.

We made camp at Third Bridge, where the water was crystal clear and icy cold. There were no fences or ablution blocks, just one lone long drop toilet, buzzing with flies. The children went down to the water to wash, but some conservationists told them that soap and shampoo would pollute the delta, so they wiped their dust on to the towels we had just washed at Maun.

During the night, Abi needed the toilet, and instead of using the bucket, she unzipped the tent and sprinted up to the long drop loo without waking any of the adults. The next morning we found both lion and leopard spore right beside our camp, and I vowed to tie all of the children’s legs to mine the next night in case any of them fancied a midnight adventure.

So after breakfast we set off in the trucks to follow the footprints. We couldn’t find the cats, but we saw giraffe, impala, buffalo, impala, kudu, impala, waterbuck, impala, elephant, impala, crocodile and – impala, all in sleek condition.


When we came back to camp we found we had had visitors. Baboons had ripped a tent apart, even though we dropped the poles and put chairs on top. They had prised open an aluminium trunk and taken all our biscuits, cheese and dried fruit. Shredded toilet paper littered the ground like confetti after a wedding. They had even pulled the fridge over, and defecated on everything.

We cleared up and mended the tent with pink wool I had brought to knit a jumper in case I got bored, using a needle I’d put in the first aid box in case of splinters. The needle was well used, but the knitting was never even started.


Safari – Day 1

Michael bought a Landrover which became the answer to our sanity. Much of Michael’s work took him to Botswana, a country he fell in love with. Every spare opportunity he would gather a group of guys together and take off on safari. Most of his annual leave was spent in two separate trips to the bush with other people.

One year we managed to save enough money to make a family trip. We went with another family plus Terry, a colleague of Michael’s based in Orapa, one of the Anglo mines.

landie copy

We set off on a cold July morning, leaving at two a.m. so that the children could sleep for a while. I climbed into my sleeping bag as if I were going to run in a sack race, because the old ‘landie’ didn’t have a heater. Except in summer, when so much heat came through the floor from the engine, I had to sit with my feet in the air.

We drove and we drove. Michael drove, I dozed and the children all slept. The sun rose to remind us we were hungry, so we stopped for coffee and toilets. To add to my fears of tse-tse flies and terrorists, Michael told me we were in land-mine zone. We noticed the ‘boerebakkies, a cross between a tank and a truck, used by the local farmers. The boss sat in the tank cab with his dog and the labourers sat in the open back.

I searched with dry dust-rimmed eyes for beauty in this Africa, the Africa of my husband and children. Far behind were the suburbs, the comfort zone for me with my parochial mind. Always on the periphery. Excited by the magic of a city, the busy ferment, yet never part of it. Aroused by its sensuality, yet a voyeuse. Then, looking across the sandy veldt grass, part of me wanted to run through it, to feel it scratching my legs; to roll over and over and claw at the earth until I understood it and was at one with it. But I remained within the safe haven of the car, keeping my foolish thoughts to myself.

We reached the border safely contending with three police roadblocks, but they were only checking indicators and horn, so we were quickly on our way. There was no sign of the Botswana Defence Force, who, rumour had it, would make one unpack every last item, down to the contents of the toilet bags.

The sand road from Serowe to Orapa seemed endless. A new road was in the process of development, but was not yet in use. The constant bumping over ruts damaged the exhaust of our fellow traveller Rod’s Landcruiser, and by the time we finally reached Orapa we were all covered in dust, starving hungry, and tired, tired, tired. Rod’s wife, Fiona, had a splitting headache. But after a cup of salty-flavoured tea and a shower we were ready to hit the restaurant for our last civilised meal.

The next morning, Rod was up bright and early fixing his exhaust. It was mid-morning before we were finally off, with Terry leading the convoy. About twenty kilometres along the sand road, acrid fumes started pouring out of our dashboard. I leapt out, grabbing my knitting and the passports, whilst Michael dived under the bonnet. Everything appeared to be fixed, so we set off again. Five minutes later, naked flames licked through the cracks in the dashboard. I jumped out again, grabbing knitting and passports, nearly dislocating Abigail’s arm as I hauled her out. Flames from a wiring fault were a bit of a worry with eighty litres of petrol on the roof rack. The children and I ran from the vehicle, but the flames soon subsided.

The weather had turned hot, so Fiona and I took off our jumpers to sun ourselves. That was when I noticed the red streaks up my arm from a three-day-old burn. Blood poisoning was starting. Meanwhile the children had kicked over a rock to see if there was a scorpion underneath, and there was…