Immigration and Customs – Maun Airport, Botswana

It took two hours to fly across the dry and scrubby landscape from Johannesburg to Maun. The airline gave us quite a tasty sandwich and as much Sprite as we wanted. This turned out to be a slightly bad plan for my youngest child, who found himself waiting in the Immigration line with a very full bladder.

Landing in Maun was exciting – we peered eagerly out of the windows, half expecting to see gazelles and giraffes. This is, after all, the Gateway to the renown Okavango Delta with is vast herds of wildlife. We saw small human villages with round thatched huts and tiny rectangular cement houses with corrugated metal roofs. We saw low growing trees and as we got lower, we saw a donkey.  But no water and no wildlife.

The plane doors opened to a rush of hot dry air. Welcome to 104 degrees F. It was mid-afternoon and the heat of the day. We crossed the scorching tarmac to the relative cool of a covered walkway into the airport, pausing only to take a sweaty photo of the “Welcome to Maun” sign. I am resigned to being a tourist from now on – taking photos of all things – both mundane and exotic.

We were last in a short line for Immigration in a sunny room with lots of fans. Posters of wildlife papered the walls. Everyone except us wore shorts, sandals, and hats. We sweltered in our blue jeans and long sleeves, donned the day before in rainy England. My full-bladdered six-year old crossed his legs and hopped about with a pained look on his face. The immigration lady took pity and let him cross the line to the bathroom before she stamped our passports.

Next time I go through immigration, I will ask for a 90 day visitor’s visa right away. She gave me 30 days, but my children have 90 days (we had the conversation late – and she said she couldn’t change mine – I have to go to the office in town!) The rest was easy. We picked up our bags, availed ourselves of the nearby restroom – equipped with the scratchy toilet paper I remember from childhood – and headed to Customs, 5 steps away.

I had nothing to declare, but was reasonably stopped by the Customs guy who wanted to know about the two large, interesting looking pelican cases in my possession. I was quite happy about this as an opportunity to produce my hard-won research permit, which he read carefully (the whole thing) and then waved me through the broken set of doors that lead to the main airport entrance.

We picked up our rental car – Budget had better prices. It’s a VW Golf Polo. A cute little car with amazing gas mileage. The gas mileage is so good that, after a week, I wondered if the gas gauge was broken because it hadn’t moved. It’s not broken – the mileage is just that good.

Cramming all our 12 pieces of luggage and 4 people into the car was a feat made of sweat, cursing, pure faith, and the most welcome help of a hotel shuttle driver. The kids’ knees were under their chins, but we made it. Off we drove, on the left hand side of the road (I usually drive on the right), following vague, hand-gestured directions to the Okavango River Lodge – a poor choice in this heat, as we were about to discover.