It has that laidback ‘chill factor’ found only in villages and smaller towns. But then it also has shopping centres, dozens of bush lodges and tour operators and an airport (which offers links to South Africa and Namibia and charter flights over the Okavango Delta).
I imagine that, if you need something out here in the bushveld, you go to Maun. Of course, we did not know this on this, our first, visit (prepared as we were for this trip – letting it all just unfold before us). I mistakenly assumed it to be just another town like any other we had driven through. A kind of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ experience. But it has a whole lot more to offer and has that hybrid thing going – cattle walking in the streets but also luxury hotels, little shacks and lean-to’s scattered about, but also larger the larger chains and even a premier soccer team.
You will not notice any of this at first glance. However, spend some time (as we were in fact forced to do – with our car troubles) and there is a depth to the place. A fascinating mix of rural, basic living and the trappings of first world commerce. Perhaps a postcard for what Africa is in essence – a mix of cultures, heritage, traditions and varied history.
It was into this that we were deposited. A stark contrast from our previous evening spent on the extremely remote Makgadigadi Salt Pans. A hint of ‘civilisation’, if you will – among other things we had found a Midas car parts store, various engineering firms, an array of shops (for supplies) and a petrol station. In contrast to this, a rickety carport with a young guy armed with a high pressure washer. A big bull strolled unconcernedly past the open gate where a sign said : ‘Carwash’.
‘How much ?’, we asked.
‘One hundred’, he replied.
And he set about trying to remove the caked-on mud from underneath the car. We later found out this was more than double the going rate! But we had no reference point and not many options. He did spend quite a long time and seemed to do his best…
Our destination for the evening was the Okavango River Lodge. This is on the other (northern) side of town, in the direction of Moremi and Chobe. It is not particularly well sign posted, so we missed the indicated location and spent some time backtracking and searching. Finally we found it, situated straight off the main road, an unassuming entrance gate that had a small sign next to it…
What lay inside this property was pretty cool though. A lodge with bar and restaurant, chalets to rent and camp pitches. We, naturally, opted for a camp pitch – which was an area, shaded by trees, with room for about twenty vehicles. A dusty area with no grass, but with (charcoal) barbecue areas scattered around. There are two ablution blocks, well appointed and clean with hot showers available to wash the sweaty dust away.
The bar, and restaurant, area was typically Africa with a large wooden bar and seating overlooking the river. Which was completely dry at this time of year, there having been a drought and the rain season was still to come. The bar was pleasant, with friendly staff and a well-stocked fridge for a sundowner. There was a pool as well, which is open to campsite guests. We chose to have a beer at the bar and then headed for our encampment to fire up the braai for our evening meal.
There weren’t many people in the bar, perhaps ten or so, but it did look to be a local haunt for a quick drink after work. The campsite itself was deserted and remained that way for our stay. This would be our third night of camping in a campground being completely solo. A luxury in itself.
The night passed by peacefully, although we could hear the road trafic passing by, and disappointingly we couldn’t see the stars because of all the tree cover. Go figure – shade or night sky ?
The cost for the camp pitch was very reasonable ZAR 400 (which was what we were charged by SA4x4Rentals. This is double the actual going rate (once again), so plenty of ‘school-fees’ on this trip! However, when looking at it from a EUR point of view it is about €20, so you can’t really complain…
All-in-all it is very pleasant. The staff is friendly and helpful, there are refreshing beers at the bar. A restaurant, chalets as well as a pool. Its proximity to Maun is very handy – if you need repairs made… I can recommend it. However, having said that, it is probably on the itinerary already of many a traveller due to its location in the Gateway to the Okavango.