It has that laidback ‘chill factor’ found only in villages and smaller towns. But then it also has hotels, shopping centres, dozens of bush lodges and tour operators. And an international airport (which offers links to South Africa and Namibia and charter flights over the Okavango Delta).
I can well imagine that if you need something out here in the Botswana bushveld, you go to Maun. Of course, we did not know this on this, our first visit (ill-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 are walking in the streets but also luxury hotels. Little shacks and lean-to’s scattered about, but also larger shops and even a premier soccer team.
You will not notice any of this at first glance, however. But spend some time (as we were 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. Amongst other things, we found a Midas car parts store, various engineering firms, an array of shops (for supplies) and a petrol station.
Among all of this was 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…
Okavango River Lodge
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 signposted, so we missed the indicated location and spent some time backtracking and searching. Finally, we found an unassuming entrance gate that had a small sign next to it…
What lay inside this property was pretty cool though. A lodge with a 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. It is 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 is typically African with a large wooden bar and seating overlooking the dry riverbed. There had 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 is 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 completely solo camping in a campground. A luxury in itself.
The night passed by peacefully, although we could hear the road traffic 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 a very reasonable ZAR 400 (which was what we were charged by SA4x4Rentals). However, this is twice 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 and there are refreshing beers at the bar. A restaurant, chalets as well as a pool. What more do you want? Its proximity to Maun is very handy – if you need some repairs made, of course. 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.