Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back from Africa 1: Botswana

I haven't done any painting for three months as I have spent six weeks of the last eleven in Africa and two in Cowes. The rest of the time was spent preparing for those trips, writing reports afterwards and getting Guy off to university for the first time.  I have been following lots of wargames blogs and Facebook pages and noting, in particular, the buzz around Congo and some mixed reviews for The Men Who Would Be Kings.  

This used to be under water

Although I have been to Zambia once on business, all my other African visits have been to North Africa (Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) which is a very different prospect from sub-Saharan Africa.  Botswana is in Southern Africa, and is a different environment again. They haven't had any proper rain for three years and water is becoming a problem.  Botswana is the success story of Africa with low corruption, good government and a strong economy.  However it's economy is built almost exclusively on diamond mining and really the country is funded directly by De Beers who have the mining concessions there.

The capital, Gaborone has a lot of modern buildings, excellent roads and a feeling of prosperity about it although the country is starting to suffer as a result of the drought and the recession has hit diamond sales.  Ten per cent of the two million population live in the capital and it is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with much of the centre of it being taken up by the Kalahari desert.

You can't fly direct from the UK so I flew to Johannesburg (over ten hours) for an overnight stop and a meeting and then the short hop back to Gaborone.  It was my first trip on an A380 Airbus and I think it was noticeably quieter in the cabin but I did worry about the number of people on board.   I was supposed to get an aisle seat but I ended up in the middle which is no fun on an overnight flight.  Fortunately, I had time to decompress at the other end.

The trip up from Johannesburg was short and the airport at Gaborone is bright and modern (unlike Johannesburg which was old fashioned and dingy).

St Louis beer in the pool bar

On my way from the airport I passed the St Louis brewery and, as I like to support the local brewing industry, I drank quite a lot of it, although, I have to confess, it wasn't very exciting and I found that the Namibian equivalent was much better.

Namibia's Windhoek lager

The South African beer was even better and I tried a few but felt I should be supporting the other countries more.  Service in the hotel varied from indifference to genuinely friendly and helpful although we noticed things improved when they discovered we weren't South African, which nearly all the white people in the hotel were.  I did see one or two unpleasant old style Afrikaans examples of behaviour towards the staff (calling someone 'boy' is never going to sound respectful) which took me back to the days of Spitting Image's classic song "I've never met a nice South African" which I would then happily whistle whenever I saw something unpleasant.

Still, I met a nice South African lady in my last few days, when my colleague had departed for Namibia.  He doesn't drink alcohol and talks about politics (something I have no interest in whatsoever) all the time, so after two weeks with him I was glad to replace him with a friendly blonde and bottles of South African wine (even if I had to drink girls' wine). Two weeks without wine was making me twitchy.  Beer is a soft drink.

The office

My hotel was very nice indeed, with gardens and a pool with a nice outdoor covered bar which served as our office for most of the visit.  The temperature was cold in the mornings (7 degrees) but rose to 22 or 23 by the afternoon.  Perfect for working outside!

I didn't swim in the pool but it was unheated and two American girls who tried it immediately shot out of the water like Orcas chasing a seal.

Still, I made friends with Pool Bar Cat who did quite well on scraps from people's tables.  He was a very polite cat and would just sit at your feet and look hopeful rather than jumping up on your table like next door's cat, Harry, has a habit of doing.  Amusingly, he was a grey version of Harry; he looked like a black and white photograph of him!

Talking of feline; after we had been there a day or two the environment was considerably enlivened by the arrival of a dozen tall, skinny women who were, it turned out, the finalists for the Miss Botswana competition.  Annoyingly this was due to take place the day after I had to leave otherwise I would have gone.  One of the girls even had a free ticket for me!  They were all, very, very young!

The ladies tottered about on their five inch heels wearing skin tight trousers (African ladies -goodness me!) attending a number of promotional events but they had breakfast and dinner in the hotel.  I saw one at breakfast having a meal of a glass of water and five olives!  They all looked friendly enough in press shots but in reality, although they all 'ate' together they seemed very aware that they were all competitors and did not seem the best of friends.

The view from my room

.I had a nice room which had a lovely view of the main part of the hotel but was in a quiet annex.  This was just as well as the walk from my room to the hotel was about the limit of my exercise for over two and half weeks.

Two and a half weeks of hotel food started to take their toll and I put on half a stone.  The issue, primarily was a cooked breakfast buffet.  I justified this because on most days we were too busy to have lunch.

Breakfast was very good indeed with rye bread toast available, delicious eggs, first class bacon and good sausages (meat in Botswana is excellent).

Added to this was the fact that they had good tea, proper milk and those two key indicators of world civilisation HP sauce and Colman's mustard.  These two enhanced breakfast nearly as much as the Miss Botswana contestants!

In the second week I was good and had porridge instead, though (except for the last day when I had everything and added a steak as well!).  The pool bar food tended to be quite high calorie but I did have one or two wraps with salad on the rare lunchtimes I was in the hotel.  There was an a la carte restaurant in the hotel but it was expensive and had terrible reviews on Trip Advisor.  It also didn't have any windows, unlike the main restaurant, so I didn't bother with that.  The problem was that the food in the evenings was a buffet too, which is never  a good thing.  They had Indian chefs so the curry bar was particularly splendid.

One evening, while walking from my room to the restaurant a whole load of monkeys appeared outside my room.  There were date plalms in the grounds and they come after the dates, it seems.   I was, for some reason, absolutely delighted by this!

At the weekend we got out to see some animals in the bush. The landscape here is really more Zulu Wars than Congo but I had Michael Small's soundtrack to Mountains of the Moon on my iPod which is perfect African explorer music.  However, the submerged hippo was a nice Congo moment and made me think about my diet too as I was reminded of my brother in law, who is derided by the Old Bat's (genetically skinny) family as he is even heavier than me (well, the wrong side of 25 stone which is a lot more than me!)

Actually,  I have eaten that!

 Now usually my view of animals is that the only good one is a cooked one but I enjoyed seeing some of the creatures and it got me thinking that I need to paint some of the African animals I have for Congo, as the game actually requires some creatures.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of the African animals in 28mm are a bit cartoon-like (Foundry Lions) and very few are as nice as the old Copplestone rhinos and elephants,  No one seems to make nice zebra ,which is a shame as I would love to paint a herd of zebra.

North Star do some warthogs (along with quite a lot of other African animals) so I will certainly have to get a couple, given I saw some!  I have a giraffe, some elephants some gorillas, some lions and some African cattle, somewhere.

So Botswana was a very nice country to visit and I may have to go back there again next month or after Christmas when it will be rather warmer!

Botswana used to known as Bechuanaland which was British protectorate, administered from Mafeking, until Botswana's independence in 1966.  It was one of three High Commission Territories, along with Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland.  The local inhabitants resisted incursion by the Boers and the British South African Company.  The story of the first President, who married, controversially at the time, a white woman is told in the new film A United Kingdom which had its premier last week.  The current president is his son and was born in Chertsey, Surrey (as was my daughter!)

From a wargaming piont of view the local  Bechuana (now known as the Tswana) provided a force of their warriors to fight with the British against the Matabele, their traditional enemy.  They had very distinctive H-shaped shields and employed throwing spears extensively.  I may have to try and convert a few once I work out how to model their distinctive cloaks.

The next post looks at the Africa country I visited last month, Liberia, a very different experience indeed. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this travelogue with your blog readers. It was very interesting and I look forward to reading the next part.

    All the best,


  2. Replies
    1. Only because I left out all the meetings with ministries that took up most of my time!

  3. Love the pictures, and sounds like an excellent trip.

  4. It is very nice to have you back. I enjoyed your post very much indeed.

    1. Hopefully I can do wargames one at some point in the future!

  5. Another interesting travel report. I’d imagine greenstuff would be ideal for modelling both the shields and cloaks (rolled out flat on greaseproof paper, allow to harden slightly then cut to shape).

    1. I'll try! I also wondered whether I might be able to cut down some plastic Zulu shields.

  6. Enjoyable travelogue. Looking forward to the installment.

  7. Welcome back from your trip and thanks for the travelogue :)

    For animals, don't forget the DeeZee range from Arcane Scenery & Models - I know they have hippos and rhinos.

  8. Wonderful pictures and a fab job you have that you can explore the world a little as well as work.

  9. Welcome back - you've been missed. I think Botswana is probably the nicest country in Sub-Saharan Africa. I enjoy South Africa (mainly the history, the food and the wine) but it's getting more problematic. Liberia is NOT on my list of places to visit!

  10. welcome back - hope to see you in the shed soon - before winter sets in !

  11. The RAFM , sometimes refered to as ral partha range of African animals is exceptional .