Thabo was waiting for us when we walked out of the hotel at 6:45 am. We left for the short 15 minute ride to the border with Zambia. As I have mentioned before, central 'bus stations' do not really exist in most of Botswana. It even seemed stranger that we were going to be left to get a bus at the immigration point at the border. When we arrived we saw a bus waiting, although it was "pointed" in the wrong direction. I walked over and found Lao and introduced myself. He said we were waiting for the bus to come across the (Zambezi) river from Zambia. We then learned that the river crossing is on "pontoons" (ferry) and depending on traffic and the breaking down of the "pontoons", timing for the arrival of the bus was difficult.
The worst border crossing ever!!!!? .
We had been to this border twice and each time there were perhaps miles and miles of trucks lined up. So to 'kill time" and to see what was happening, I left Louis with our bags and walked down the highway to chat with the first truck driver I came across. It was hard to believe. The driver said he would be thrilled if he only had to wait 1 day to get across the border. Usually it might take 4 days, sometimes a week. Seems the "pontoons" break down and don't have the capacity for the trucks. The drivers "creep forward" from 6am to 6pm, when the border is open, and then they shut down for the night and start all over at 6am the next morning.
The bus from Zambia arrived about 30 minutes late and then we had the "haunting" feeling that the passengers from that bus would be first on to "our" bus. It was so true. Louis got in the lineup of passengers and when he got up to Lao, Lao refused him entry. He told him he was going to have to wait 'till last. My heart sank, there might be no living with Louis today either&.
Then Lao indicated it was our turn and low and behold&seat assignments and we were in the front seats of the bus. Louis could stretch out&.we both laughed but felt somewhat guilty. To me it was shades of the past. The two white guys sitting up front&
Arriving in Gaborone, with Stella waving! .
It felt so good to see our friend Stella. She had become our "Botswana mother". She had insisted that I take a "prepay" cell phone and she called us every evening to be sure we were okay. I suggest if you do travel in Africa, get a "prepay sim card" for your phone or buy a "prepay" phone. I don't know how we would have done what we did without the phone Stella gave us.
It was time to get ready to put the SGN online again. And it was time to meet Monica (Pilot's "boss") from LEGABIDO and attorney in Gaborone. We called Monica and decided to meet for lunch at Linga Longa at the Riverwalk shopping centre. We had a wonderful lunch and chatted about being gay in Bots, her experiences living for sometime in New York and then her experiences living in Seattle just after 911. It was fun and most informative (may write about our conversation at a later date). We talked about dating, going out, sex, the government in Botswana, what is legal (it's okay to be "gay", just illegal to have "sex"). Immediately I really liked Monica and wanted her to go with us to "The Grand West" which Pilot had mentioned two weeks ago. She initially seemed quite reluctant. Although she was the head of LEGABIDO and very much the activist for LGBT rights in Bots, it also seemed she would rather not really be seen in a "gay environment". She also told us that younger women loved to "come on to her" and that it never really worked out. Our "1 hour" lunch stretched out to 2 1/2 hours.
On Friday I went out in search of a netcafe to "do the SGN" and bought myself a new pair of sandals. Lebo, Stella's daughter and our "roommate in Joburg" had come to "Gabs" for the weekend. We checked out the location of "The Grand West" in the back of a somewhat "dodgy" nightclub not far from where we were staying. Rick emailed me from the SGN about 3pm Bots time, letting me know that the files to build the website had been uploaded. I went off to the netcafe and freaked. Web access was so slow, I couldn't even get the 1st page of the SGN to load in 15 minutes. I tried another netcafe&the same! I called Lebo to come get me and we went back to Stella's. I decided to work again on the older notebook that Stella had and after doing some tweeks with memory, I got the paper online! Albeit taking about an extra 4 hours more that I usually take.
As I was working on the SGN, Pilot was calling me to help us meet some "new friends" who would take us to "The Grand West". He was just getting off the plane in Francistown (about halfway between Gabs and Kasane in the north of the country). I had just finished the SGN, it was about 9pm, it was time to go off to meet Monica, Lorraine and Shamane. And we had no water at the house! There was a break someplace in the water main. I put on some clean clothes, brushed my teeth (using bottled water) and off we went to meet the "women".
Well they had been partying since the afternoon and not so sure they could drive. After some confusion and discussion, Lebo said she would drive us to the bar and they would meet us out front probably arriving by taxi.
The parking lot of the bars was like a bus terminal, jam packed with people. The cars trying to park in the parking lot were hardly moving. Vendors were selling food and "illegal" liquor. It was noisy. It was dark. I could tell that Lebo was somewhat nervous and was looking forward to letting us out and going back to visit her friends. She had decided the whole place was too "dodgy" and was not going to come with us. Here Louis and I were, in the very darkness of night, all these people, and not so much of a factor any more, except that we stand out - the only white people we ever saw all evening. I was thankful that we found Monica, Lorraine and Shamane quite easily. The lineup into the bar was long, but we followed Monica right up and through the doorman, to pay admission and we were inside. It was packed. I guess it was true&gay people get to crash the lineup.
Perhaps the best night out I have ever had since I was 23 years old!!! .
The whole "place" was dancing&.everywhere, everyone! I walked up to the bar to buy some beer. The energy and excitement I felt was quite unreal. (I have been going out for 40 years and have owned a couple of nightclubs so I am usually pretty jaded). I started talking and joking with a guy at the bar and before I knew it he had bought 8 beers for us. I walked back to my friends with the beers and proceeded to dance for the next 2 ½ hours. It was better than any fantasy or dream I have ever had!
First you must be aware that the bar is one big "communal" dance floor. Everyone is dancing, playing, drink and flirting with everyone else. The music is incredible. The feeling of camaraderie is unbelievable. All these very hot and hunky young men (and some beautiful women) spontaneously dancing over to you, then dancing with you, they hug you, welcome you to the bar and it's all incredible fun. The flirting and sexual energy was amazing. I have never experienced anything like it in all my life. I have been to gay bars all over Europe, in Asia, the US and Canada and to some of the best in South America. And all of this was happening in Botswana where "Gay is in the closet and gay sex is illegal". Some of it felt like Castro Street in the 70's mixed with the energy and fun of New York's Fire Island of the 80's.
Time to leave and go "camping" in the "bush" with some friends from Joburg. .
The next day we caught the bus back to South Africa and to a small rural town in Northwest Province called Groot Marico. It was a huge change. Groot Marico is Afrikaans, very white, "the old apartheid". Its farming, ranching, blond haired kids and the Dutch Reformed Church. We were an eclectic bunch, an English/South African woman, a coloured South African woman, an Afrikaans man, a Croatian now South African man, a Hispanic American (Louis) and yes me, a white (but more tanned) Canadian/American.
Our friends from Joburg met us at the bus and it was off to the old pub in Groot Marico. We met the owner of the pub whose name was Mayor. He was actually the mayor of the town and had the name Mayor too. We had a few drinks. The pub is much the same as it was in the apartheid days. We were in a smaller room in the pub which was all "white". Louis and I could hear the music coming from the "black" part of the pub. As we left we walked out into the street and in another door to see what was happening. I will never forget the big smile on Louis's face as he watched the people in the bar, all dancing together to the incredible music.
It was then time for the very bumpy, very dusty drive, over rocks (we cracked the oil pan on Chris's car on some of the rocks) and the red African dirt to an old "farmhouse". We were going to spend the next couple of days and nights, watching the most incredible stars and eating and drinking ourselves into oblivion. I had mentioned to Louis a couple of days before that I had missed my red wine. Well the next couple of days more that made up for it along with Mampoer (local moonshine and oh so smooth and good) made out of peaches.
The first night we had steak and boerewors (sausages) cooked on the braai (BBQ) fire outside of the house. The next night we had potjie which was lamb knuckles, potatoes, squash, carrots all cooked over the fire in a big cast iron pot.
It was all very "lekker" or "great" as we might say or "brilliant" as the English might say.
The locals around Groot Marico are all very concerned that the massive mining company Rio Tinto is moving in looking for nickel and diamonds. This has been their home for generations and now they are all getting together so see what they can do to stop the mining operation from destroying their way of life, their land and their livelihoods.
We left the farm about noon on Monday and had a tour of downtown Groot Marico. It is about 3 blocks long, some art stores, the pub, a food store, butcher, furniture store and a great looking restaurant. We bought some cloth from the local "arts" store and a bottle of Mampoer to take back for Sharon (our friend in Joburg). The store's owner actually did a little tasting of the Mampoer with us and we tried a different a very sweet version of if.
Our incredible two weeks traveling through "Bots" was over and we found ourselves happy and a little tired back at Sharon's in Joburg.
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