Riding through Botswana
Country: Botswana by Lisette
After our fantastic time in Victoria Falls, we now face the travel back to Maputo. If it is anything like our trip coming to Zimbabwe, we’re going to have a hell of a time (especially given the fact that we barely had time to recover)!
We leave on time in the morning to go to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana. It’s an easy ride in the taxi, with lots of baboons that are sitting and lying on the road for some warmth. Regularly we have to stop and wait till one of them is finally willing to move a few steps to the side to let us by. As soon as we’ve passed, the baboon will go back to its original spot.
We pass the border in about ten seconds, and go to the bus station – oh no… The bus to Francistown has just left! We’re told to try to catch it at another spot where it’s uploading passengers. The taxi driver is kind and brings us there for no additional fee and we’re lucky.
Just on time we hop on the bus, realizing it is time for breakfast but with no means (we could not exchange dollars for pula’s in Zimbabwe). During the next break, we hope the shop will take the dollars or rands, but no – the lady kindly waves us away.
One member of the bus crew takes pity and buys us what we need (water!, cookies) and we promise to pay him back as soon as we find a banking machine. Honestly, we’re impressed; this kind of nice behaviour is unknown to us in Mozambique.
It’s a long haul to Francistown but we saw a herd of elephants right beside the road! If it weren’t for Tim, we never would’ve seen them. Not much else happened on the road, so I read up a little about the country.
Botswana is independent since 1966 and is huge (that is, considered from a Dutch perspective), landlocked and empty. Its size is over 600,000 kilometers, the Netherlands being 41 and a half thousand square kilometers vs. Canada’s roughly 9 million km².
While the Netherlands has nearly 17 million people, Canada 35 million, Botswana has not even two million people! This translates to less than 3 people per km². With most of the country being the Kalahari Desert, this should be unsurprising.
It is considered one of the few ‘real democracies’ in Southern Africa. As a consequence, the country has had a stable history with a stable increase in standard of living. Botswana’s largest sector is mining (hello diamonds!) including copper and minerals. The second largest sector is tourism, especially in the Okavango Delta up north, due to its wildlife.
The short stopover in Francistown told us that most people speak English (we thought it might be a fluke that people spoke English on the bus). Turns out, it is the official language in business with the other official language being Setswana. Both languages are used as a “national unifier”.
Francistown has 120,000 people and is the second largest city (the biggest being Gaborone). This old gold mining town is named after Daniel Francis in 1867. From here we take the (slightly less comfortable) bus to Gabs. We were totally in for a shock – such a modern city with fantastic health care and wonderful infrastructure.
We realize 36 hours in the city doesn’t count for much and is not representative of the poverty in the rest of the country, yet we fell in love with Gaborone and Botswana. Though not fond of South Africa, we appreciate the capital being close to the border for a comfortable start of traveling.
Gaborone became the capital after independence because it has no tribal affiliation and is close to fresh water. The city centre is “The Mall”, a strip of commercial venue with government and international development offices nearby.