It’s a long, boring haul north from the border at Martin’s Drift into the golden grassy milds of Botswana. You couldn’t really dub this part of Botswana, “˜wild’, could you? I mean, it’s all so safe, so monotonously uneventful, isn’t it”¦?
And if there were an award for “˜African town where anything terrible (or exciting) is least likely to happen’ then surely Francistown, roughly midway between the South African and Zambian borders would make it into the top three, right”¦?
It was Sunday when we crossed, not a good day for shopping, but our convoy of five vehicles straggled into Francistown and a few of us stopped off what used to be the Makro (it’s changed hands and is now something equally huge, like “˜Mega’, or “˜Hyper’, or something like that) near the Marang Hotel.
If Francistown’s normally sleepy, it’s positively comatose on a Sunday. There was no security in the car park – why should there be? And only a couple of other vehicles; one of which, a battered old bakkie, was parked next to us.
None of us stayed with the vehicles – why should we? It’s Botswana for God’s sake. And, look, there was a woman sitting in the bakkie, along with a couple of young guys (why I thought a woman might not keep company with criminals I’ll never know, but anyway”¦).
So, we all wander off into the Hyper or Gargantuan, or Very Large, or whatever the shop was called, with a few of the party in optimistic search mode for the bits and bobs they’d realised they’d forgotten, or that their hired 4x4s didn’t come with.
Outside, the trio was still sitting in the bakkie, and we all got into our vehicles and headed off, this time in search of fuel. The nearest station was, in fact, just up the road. We refuelled, and I was just about to get back in the Landy when Mrs Blog said:
“What’s that hissing noise?”
“Um, air,” I said.
“Where’s it coming from?” she persisted.
“I dunno. Compressor, I suppose.”
Mrs Blog shook her head and pointed. “There’s no compressor down there.”
“There, by our tire.”
I looked down and, sure enough, there was air hissing”¦ from our tire. In fact, it was coming from the side wall of the tire, via a very neat little slit. And you didn’t have to be a CSI super snooper to work out that it had been made by a small penknife.
As my friend Riaan and I unbolted the high lift jack from the roof rack I looked around. Parked across the road from us was the beat-up little bakkie with the two men and the woman in it. They tried not to look at me, as I took a few paces towards them, trying to get a very good look at them. The driver cranked the engine to life and they took off.
Crime? In Botswana? In Francistown, no less?
I know from my past travels in Zimbabwe over the years that sticking a tire, usually with a small knife or even a bicycle spoke, is a common modus operandi for opportunistic thieves. The idea is that you get a slow leak and when you stop, somewhere out of town on the side of an empty road, to change the flat, the thieves arrive. Often they show up on the pretext of wanting to help, but then tart helping themselves to your stuff while you’re stranded.
As I stripped off my shirt and took out my anger on the high lift jack I had time to think about the lessons I’d just re-learned (I had a tire stuck a few years ago, in Zim, but fortunately the ever-alert Mrs Blog spotted that leak as well, before we came unstuck).
Lesson 1: If I wouldn’t leave a vehicle full of several thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, computers, binoculars, GPS etc unattended in a car park in Australia (and I wouldn’t) then why would I in Africa?
Lesson 2: Just because it’s Botswana doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t happen there.
Lesson 3: I don’t call Mrs Blog the Security Officer for nothing.
Lesson 4: Crime is an equal opportunity employer.
Travel tip: Make sure a trusted friend or family member knows where to locate your will and other valuable documents. The same applies to spare keys and security codes. If you’re leaving the country, ensure you have adequate travel insurance. Check out www.glacier.co.za for all your financial planning needs before your next trip.