Khaki fever tends to strike an overseas visitor on his or her first trip to Africa. Women swoon over the safari guides who “bravely” drive through thick sand and mud and point out leopards behind bushes as if it’s nothing. Men dream of becoming one of those safari guides, so they too can wear khaki and drive a Land Rover.
In 1982, Marc Baar from Germany was 21 years old and he got a serious case of khaki fever. “When you arrive in Botswana from Europe for the first time, it’s overwhelming,” he recalls.
“All I’d seen of Africa until then had been romantic photos of Land Rovers in the bush.”
Those photos prompted Marc to set out and experience the continent first-hand.
“All your senses are stimulated when you arrive here, which either excites or terrifies you. I was instantly crazy about Botswana, and Maun in particular. To me, the Okavango Delta feels like the heartbeat of Botswana. Living in Maun means I’m part of it all the time.”
So Marc bought the khaki clothes and started a tour company, taking people mainly to Moremi and Savuti. “In those days Botswana was much wilder than it is now. There were no tar roads!”
Marc worked as a chef in France in his youth and for a long time he trained cooks at lodges in Botswana. At the end of 2017, he opened his own restaurant, Marc’s Eatery, in Maun.
“We try to prepare all the food ourselves and maintain a high standard, but minus the stuffy atmosphere. I want people to feel as if they’re walking into their own living room.”
Marc has no plans to return to Europe. “I don’t feel at home in Europe any more. Life here feels authentic. We experience freedom here.”
Yes, he is also still “madly in love” with his Land Rover.
Another man who chose Maun over the country of his birth is Jowan GreenwoodPenny. He tells me in faultless Afrikaans how his family moved to Botswana from Wales when he was a child. “The surname is unusual,” he says. “There are only 13 of us in the world. We settled in the Tuli Block, where my father managed farms belonging to President Seretse Khama.”
Jowan attended school in South Africa. “I failed Afrikaans in matric, but returned to Tuli after I’d finished high school in Pietersburg [Polokwane]. I spent time with the farmers in Tuli and eventually learnt to speak the language.”
At the age of 21, Jowan had to choose between Botswanan and British citizenship. He travelled to the UK to see whether he could live there. He chose Botswana.
“I like adventure and I get a lot of that here. I enjoy Maun’s laid-back feel,” he says.
One of his most interesting jobs was helping to erect the veterinary fence on the western boundary of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, in the Boteti River.
“At the time the riverbed was bone dry and no one thought the water would ever come down again. Well, a few years ago that changed, and now long stretches of the fence are underwater. In places, the fence has also been trampled by elephants that have returned to the area.”
Kalahari Kanvas was started by John and Elaine Dugmore in 1986 when they identified a future need for a tent-repair business near the delta.
“They were spot on,” says William Whiteman, one of the managers. “Tourism in the delta has since grown exponentially and Kalahari Kanvas has designed, made and built virtually all the tents for the many lodges and camps.”
Incidentally, William and his wife came to Botswana from South Africa to manage one such luxury camp. “We enjoyed it so much that we decided we wanted to live here,” William says.
“Now that we have a young son, we thought it would be better to be in Maun. It still feels like a village; part of the delta.”
Kalahari Kanvas, which the locals refer to as KK, manufactures anything you can think of out of canvas. William says they’ve had some interesting requests: “The funniest was a covering for an elephant’s foot, which was in a plaster cast.” IN OTHER WORDS
Chris and Estie Myburgh
The Myburghs moved to Maun from Upington five years ago, to assist their son with his tour company. Chris services and repairs the company’s safari vehicles and Estie is responsible for food logistics. Chris: “Driving in Botswana is murder on cars. Moremi is the worst. I constantly have to go there to fix something. It’s because of all the water and mud. No vehicle lasts very long.” Estie: “It takes meticulous planning and perseverance to keep our tour menus running as they should. Sometimes I struggle to find fresh produce in town and then I have to make a new plan.”
READ ABOUT MAUN
Django: The small dog with the big heart, published by Jonathan Ball in 2013, is a book by safari guide Peter Comley about his beloved dog. He also tells stories of the people of Maun, and recent events of historical interest. Anecdotes about the wilder years will have you shaking your head in disbelief. R168 at loot.co.za (also sold at Riley’s in Maun and the Spar in Kasane)