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.

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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.

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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.

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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.