Friday, July 1, 2011

Safely in Maun

Picking up plenty of hitchhikers in Namibia definitely paid off. Our hitching karma was high enough to ensure an easy ride all the way from Windhoek to Maun, some 600+ kilometers, in one day. Apparently that’s a rather rare event.

Getting from Windhoek to Maun is not a straightforward task. We initially planned on taking a shuttle that would drop us at an intersection halfway, but we decided to leave two days earlier than it was scheduled. Also, it turns out waiting at that intersection is very dangerous because of the animals. I wonder if they ever tell their passengers that…

After much asking around and some good luck, it turned out we could get a lift to the border for half that price from a petrol station 50 meters from where we said our tearful good-bye to Good Sport. We hopped into a shared taxi with two other passengers, an old man tried to propose to me but I ignored him, and we were off! Of course, once we reached the next town our taxi had an engine problem. But, never fear! He found us a lift in the cab of a massive car-carrying semi. That driver left us at the border where within 15 minutes we managed to go through both border posts, exchange money from some random people traveling through (pula and Namibian dollars are 1:1 more or less), and secure a ride in the cab of a semi that wasn’t pulling any trailers all the way to Maun. We passed another group of tourists who looked like they had been waiting for hours. Suckers.

Our lift to Maun was very, very long. For the most part, cars and trucks can’t go faster than 80 km/h because of all the animals. Cows and donkeys just wander on the road without a care in the world. What makes it worse is that some donkeys are the same color as the tar road making them virtually invisible at night. As we cruised along in our low budget safari ride, we saw plenty of livestock, jackals, some impala, and I’m pretty sure I saw an aardvark. We also learned many, many things about Zimbabwe from the other passenger. His company bought the two trucks from England and picked them up in Namibia and will use them to transport explosives from South Africa to Zambia for mining. After talking to him about Zimbabwe, it sounds like a wonderful place to visit. We even talked politics, economics, and geography.

The only flaw in our hitching plan was arrival time. We didn’t realize how long it would take to get here, and we arrived after 10 pm. The backpackers was closed, the nearby hotel only had one very expensive room available, and no one was answering the phone at any place listed in the Lonely Planet. A group of men at the gas station tried to help us, but eventually we went to the nearby place to ask for the expensive room. The receptionist was a godsend. Instead of renting us the expensive room, she called around to all of the other nearby guesthouses to find us a cheap place to stay. Who in the States would do that?

The next morning Jeanette awoke with stomach problems, but we successfully made it to the backpackers. It’s filled with a great crowd of people, so it was very nice to socialize. And tomorrow, we’re off on a three-day dugout canoe ride through the Okavanga Delta.

I like being back on the public transport/hitchhiking circuit. You meet way more interesting people and learn much more about the places you are traveling. But we’ll see what I say when our hitching karma wears off….      

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