The locals of Maun

In October 2015 we were in Maun for a trip into Moremi and Chobe NP. We had a great stay at Old Bridge Backpackers, which is a lodge, restaurant with bar and campsite in one. You will find a good mix of overlanders, backpackers, people on holiday and locals. This time again we chose the Bridge (as it is called by locals) to unwind after camping on the pans for a couple of days.

It can be a risk to come back to the same place and expect the same vibe. The bridge on the other hand was still as vibrant and charming as it was 3 years ago. The layout still the same with a big bar set between old, weathered wooden logs, pool table if you wanted to challenge the local youth for a game, nice sitting tables under a big tree while watching over the Thamalakane river. Sometimes you would hear a splash from the river. Probably a hippo, crocodile or whatever was in the river that wanted to make sure you know something was there and not attempt to jump into the water.

While Inge was working, I was busy going all over town to find some extra equipment and to have somebody have a look at the car. When I came back, old man where already harassing Inge to have a drink with them, but Inge refused as work came first. Me on the other hand was in search of information, especially for my car. Luckily everybody had a Land Cruiser and after a small talk, beer was passed around and conversations became more lively after every beer (drinking is the town’s best activity as these old timers told me).

Meet the local

We had a soldier of fortune, who was born in Rhodesia, an unrecognised state in Southern Africa from 1965 to 1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe (they like to call it Zim). He was a soldier and later on a hired soldier for many years. He fought in Guatemala for the CIA for a cause he doubted many time, but this was his work and living. He was also there when elite soldiers of South-Africa and Rhodesia where attempting a coup in the ‘80s. A man you wouldn’t want to have as your enemy, even though his age.

Rodney, also a Rhodesian citizen, who was a bit younger than the rest, had different kind of businesses going around in Africa, from training guides in Zambia to a logistic company in Botswana and even selling pork chips, which was the delicacy for many people at the bar. Rodney was the funniest person of the group and was a lively talker with his long slim posture, big nose and sparkling eyes. He was the perfect impression of someone who was up to no good but with a good heart. We have had the privilege of meeting up with Rodney a couple of times. Rodney was a man with many stories and one of the stories, which was so funny, is the story how he stole soil of the Chinese Embassy in Zim. 

Rodney just bought an apartment in Lusaka, the capital of Zim and he was in need of soil/sand to finish his garden. In search for soil with his trusted garden man (a big, strong, tall man who served the Rhodesian Army) he found what he was looking for just in front of the Chinese Embassy, but on the other side of the road. The soil/sand was red and would be perfect for his garden. After getting his trailer and shovels he came back and loaded the soil. Ten minutes later an employee of the embassy, with its guardsmen, came and was asking what he was doing. Rodney moved towards the Chinese, who was coming up chest level as Rodney wasn’t small at the slightest, told him that he was getting soil for his garden. The Chinese unhappy with the event told him to move away as this was his soil. Rodney, born and raised here, knew the rules that applied in Zim and told the Chinese politely that it wasn’t Chinese soil anymore. Rodney continued loading the soil, which made the Chinese furious. The Chinese pointed his finger to Rodney and told him to stop now or else (Pointing fingers is a no go in Africa). Rodney a bit agitated, told the Chinese a bit firmer that if the soil was on the Embassies side of the road it would be Chinese soil, but the soil was now on the other side of the road, so it was his. Maybe he said it more like:

youl soil, my soil”

but he tried to be polite. The guardsmen of the Chinese where coming up close and where showing their guns to pressure Rodney to stop with what he was doing. Rodney on the other hand was already a step ahead and called the chief of police to do him a favour and pass by the Chinese Embassy. Hearing the story of Rodney, he grabbed his car and was there within 15 minutes. The Chinese, happy to see a policeman, held his plea, not knowing that it was Rodney’s doing. And as Rondey knew the rules better than the Chinese, the chief of police told him that Rodney was in the clear as this soil wasn’t Chinese soil anymore. The Chinese frustrated told his guard to move away, back into the Embassy. The next day Rodney was ready for a second round, but the Chinese now had 8 guardsmen surrounding the soil. Rodney had enough soil already and left to his home.

Next to Rodney was the art collector and teacher, Jaap (half Dutch/half American) who has been all over Africa with stories you can’t even imagine. Jaap looked like a typical adventurous bookworm with his glasses and kaki shirt with a notebook and pen in his front pocket. Jaap has been travelling through Africa since the early 80’s in search of tribes and their local arts.  

And lastly you had a Norwegian, Lars, who fled Norway when he was 18 years. Later in his years he found a good job in Botswana in road and water constructions. With different estates in the country he invited us for a weekend to come and see Botswana from a local point of view.

On Saturday morning Jaap picked us up and together we drove to Lars. Lars lived just 15 minutes’ drive up the river from where we were. Lars was waiting for us in his house together with an old friend he once met on the road in a deserted part of Botswana. His name was Gabor, a Hungarian, who has been living in Botswana for 30 years. Unfortunately, he had such a hearing problem that he couldn’t hear what you had to say, so Lars told us just to let Gabor do the talking.

From Lars’s estates it was still 2 hours drive to get to his farm, which was situated in the middle of nowhere and could only be reached through small sand tracks, 25 km inland from the main tar road. On the way we needed to take care of provision. Not the type you normally take with you, like food and such….no this time the most important thing was beer and liquor. And I like to quote Lars on this, “food is sometimes hard to find, but beer and liquor you will find everywhere, even in the most remote places”. At 12 o’clock we were drinking our first beer with the locals at the bar. They on the other hand were already completely wasted.

Lars’s farm is around 5 ha and envelopes much barren land, but Lars found a way to collect enough water to life here through the dry season. He even has sheep, pigs, gooses and other animals living here with occasionally a leopard who kills his livestock.

A second round of beer was passed around while we were sitting on the porch of his farm. In the meantime, lunch was being served by Lars’s his wife. After lunch it was every (wo)men for him/herself and while Inge was helping with cleaning the cages, I was collecting wood for the campfire.

The next day, Lars brought us to his game estate, which was another 1-hour drive from where we were. The road took us more inland towards the Kalahari. Gravel road made way for sandy road and when we entered the park we needed to climb up a steep hill with nothing but loose rocks to drive over. This was the real test for your Land Cruiser, Lars said. Marty again, with no problem at all, took us up the hill and when we arrived we were treated on a beautiful view which stretched for maybe 100 km’s away.

After making many hikes the last few years with his wife on this game farm he finally found this place and build a house on the top of a mountain. The place has a beautiful view over the Kalahari Desert and is surrounded by many baobab trees which one of them has still signs of San people. We found 2 trees where wooden sticks have been struck in the tree, which must be used as a ladder searching for honey.

Night was falling in and with no power, we lit the house with candles. But we didn’t want too much light as, in so many places in Botswana, the night would be lit by thousands and thousands of stars. Lars, knowledgeable of the stars, taught us how to find the south by searching for the Southern Cross. If you measure the length of the most northern and southern star of this cross and multiply it with 4, all the way from the most southern star, you know where South is.

On the morning of the 5th of June, it was time to say goodbye. Lars had to go back to his farm, Jaap was in the middle of moving and we needed to continue towards the Khalaghadi where we will be on the hunt to find one of our favourite animals,

the lion.  

Hug, Chris & Inge

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