Waiting in Maun, part 2

Posted by Arlo on May 2, 2012 under Postcard Valet, Travel

This is a continuation of the story told in the previous blog entry: Learning to use the bus rank in Botswana.

We spent a week in Maun, passing most of our time in a chalet at the Okavango River Lodge.  The lodge itself was nothing special, but it suited us just fine.  This far from the actual river, we expected the delta to be mostly dried up, but Maun was seeing the highest water levels in 15 years.  Our chalet was a two-room cement bunker set back in the landscaped grounds.  It was quiet, but not so far from the open-air bar and restaurant on the water’s edge that we couldn’t hear the more social travelers watching the hippos grazing at sunset.

Our room was a concrete box with a curtain hanging over a doorway into a small bathroom.  I set up my laptop on a narrow desk and claimed the only chair in the room.  Oksana spent a lot of time reading in bed, underneath the mosquito net.  After dark I joined her there.  That close to the river, the mosquitoes began to swarm just after sunset.  We learned to shake out our clothing and shoes in the morning, too.  There was a gap under the door that let in all manner of little crawly things.

We didn’t see much of the delta while in Maun because we were caught between jobs.  I spent most of the week diligently editing a video of our four-day safari with African Big 5 Safaris.  They had treated us to a fantastic time and I was set on giving them the best promotional video I could manage.  In the meantime, Oksana was coordinating our next assignment.  There was a tour operator up near the Okavango Panhandle that had expressed an interest in taking us out on their riverboat in exchange for some professional photos of their renovations.

Problem was, we didn’t have internet access.  There was a laptop at the bar we could use to check our email, but at $6 per hour, it was actually cheaper for both of us to drive into town and get online at an internet café.  We fell into a routine where we’d catch a combi to the city center every other day, buy some donuts for breakfast and check our email at a place called “Tech Times.” We’d load up on groceries before heading back out to the River Lodge – it was cheaper to eat PBJs and soup than to buy all our meals from the restaurant.

Eventually, I finished the safari video and, because it was impossible to upload it to Youtube with Botswana’s poor internet infrastructure, we planned one more trip into town to mail a DVD back to our friends in South Africa.  Oksana checked her email and discovered that our riverboat contact had just arrived in Maun the day before!  We’d already made plans to ride out on a bus the following day, but she was offering us a ride instead.

We were kicking ourselves for not checking our email the day before and for not going to the effort to get a cell phone while we were in Botswana.  If we’d done either, getting in touch with them would have been easy.  As it was, all we could do was reply to her email and hope they got in touch with us through the Okavango River Lodge.  Just in case, I printed off all the contact information and directions to the riverboat from their website.

We hadn’t heard anything by the next morning, and the bus was scheduled to leave before the internet café would open.  We debated whether we should pay for internet access at the lodge’s bar, but ultimately decided against it.  We figured we had missed our window of opportunity and that our contacts would already be heading back to their riverboat.  We took a taxi back to the bus rank.

Knowing how the bus rank worked this time, we found the bus to our destination, Sepupa, quickly.  Sepupa wasn’t our final destination, but it was the closest point to a village called Seronga on our map.  Seronga was where the website said the riverboat was anchored, but it was on the other side of the river.  We would have to find the ferry.

The bus was identical to the one we took from Gaborone except that this time we were able to put our big packs down below.  Oksana and I snatched up a three-chair span again – giving us some room for our day packs – at least until we passed though a few more towns and the bus filled up.

I put my earphones in and watched the countryside pass by.  Goats, donkeys, and cows were corralled in waist-high pens made up of tangled of sticks and braches.  The occasional mongoose scampering through the sparse dry grass.  Beige termite mounds, taller than I am, climbed up out of the brush; I must have seen thousands before the four and a half hour trip was over.

We only stopped for one military inspection.  One by one, we took our hand bags up to table set up on the side of the road and opened them up.  A bored solider gave each a cursory look before waving us back on the bus.

As we neared our destination, I opened up a digital copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook on my iPhone and studied the region to make sure we got off at the correct stop.  Just before reaching Sepupa, we started to see the 13 Etshas listed on the map.  I didn’t know what an Etsha was, but it was obvious that they were different than the settlements I’d seen in Botswana so far.  Rather than houses made of wood or concrete, large communities were constructed entirely out of reeds.  Circular huts, tall fences, animal pens; everything was made up of those dry, thin stalks.  Asking around, we learned that these settlements along the river were originally refugee camps for those fleeing from the Angola Civil War, decades past.

It was early afternoon when we arrived in Sepupa.  The bus was full, but not many people stepped off with us.  We collected our bags from underneath and hauled them over to the shoulder as the bus pulled away in a cloud of dust.  When it cleared, we looked around.

There wasn’t much to see.  A tiny store, not much bigger than shed, stood a few paces off to the side.  Three or four people sat on its cement foundation, staring at us with blank expressions.  The landscape was mostly barren dirt; there was nothing blocking our view of the other dwellings scattered around the countryside.  Even so, what we could see was barley a step up from the Etshas.

The river was nowhere to be seen and there were no vehicles – parked or otherwise – anywhere in sight.  The few people who got off the bus with us were already walking away, leaving us alone on the side of the road.  Oksana and I looked at each other.  We didn’t have to say it; we were both thinking the same thing.

What the hell do we do now?

Okay, so I just realized this needs to be a three-part story…