The whole bar stopped silent and eighty pairs of eyes fell onto us. It’s an overused saying but you could actually hear a pin drop. I turned to my three friends and said, “we’ve made a big mistake.”
Tension was in the air. Who were these four white outsiders venturing into this bar? Why where they here? As I began to plan our exit route a voice from a tall man leaning against the bar cried out “my friends come and have a beer!” And with that everyone let out a cheer and we were welcome with open arms into a small local bar in Kasane village in Botswana.
World Cup – South Africa
We had come to South Africa for the World Cup and had planned a brief sojourn into Botswana- more specifically the Chobe National Park- one of the worlds best places to view animals. The atmosphere in South Africa had been amazing, all the locals seemed right behind this event, the first major sporting event in Africa, and the festivities had been in full swing. We had seen games in the beach town of Durban a great mix of sun, sand and soccer. From there we ventured to Cape Town -perhaps the most beautiful city I had visited. We had seen a lot of soccer but wanted a brief break from the World Cup and decided on a safari in Botswana.
And so, halfway through the World Cup, we found ourselves at a lodge within Chobe National Park. Enjoying a relaxing few days of safaris. A day in safari always seems to follow a set formula. Up before sunrise for an early morning safari. Back to the lodge in time for a late breakfast.. Most of the day is spent relaxing/sleeping (both by humans and animals) before a safari around dusk. The evening safari is always accompanied by a Sundowner – literally a beverage consumed as the sun sets on the African savanna. This became our favorite part of the day and we enjoyed several Sundowners whilst talking to the local staff- inevitably the conversation always turned to the World Cup and the upcoming matches.
On our last night at the lodge there was a big game featuring the World Cup Host, South Africa and the staff were keen to leave to get back to their village to watch the game. They had all adopted South Africa as their team in this tournament and were hoping for their first win. Always keen to meet some locals, I asked if we could join them to watch the big game together.
And so the four of us found ourselves squeezed in a small car with three of the staff from the lodge. The drive was just thirty minutes, but I felt like I was involved in a game of human Tetris as we were wedged into a car that wasn’t designed for 5 passengers let alone 7. Despite the comfort, this was the type of travel I loved, heading off the beaten path and mixing with the locals. Our drive took us out of tourist country, through small villages giving us a rare glimpse of non-safari life. We got to talk with our new friends in a more relaxed (albeit squished) environment away from their work. Soon we had arrived at the small village of Kasane and the local bar- Chillers.
A true local
Once inside the bar and once we had overcome our initial hesitation, we were warmly welcomed. Everyone was keen to talk to us and find out why we were in Kasane. I felt like a celebrity as people lined up to talk to us. As the beers flowed and the game started the atmosphere matched that of the 50,000 seat stadiums we had been in the week before. (And the beer was 10% of the cost!). There were cheers and celebrations and over enthusiastic use of the vuvuzela (the instrument of choice at this World Cup). Someone got a fire going outside and soon there was food being cooked and shared. We truly felt like we were part of the community.
I was wearing a Bafana Bafana jersey (the jersey of the South African football team) and there were a few people interested in a jersey swap. I soon negotiated a swap and was the proud owner of a slightly sweaty and oversized Chobe National Park staff shirt. A priceless souvenir. The theme song of the World Cup (Waka Waka by Shakira) came on and we were dancing in the streets. The joy of everyone was infectious. I couldn’t have imagined when I planned my World Cup trip that I’d be watching a game in a small village in Botswana, wearing a staff members shirt and dancing around a fire. I thought of all the tourists who had paid exorbitant prices to stay in fancy luxury hotels away from the locals and behind lots of security and barbed wire fences and felt glad we had ventured away from that.
This night felt like what the World Cup is about. People from around the world coming together. Yes- we were terribly hungover and tired for our final sunrise safari the next day but the memories of the night before were priceless and I still wear that Chobe Staff t- shirt and think of my World Cup experience- Botswana style.