Maun, Botswana, the place I’m in right now, is next to the Okavango Delta. It’s a nice little town that locals call a village, although it has an airport. Not only does it have an airport, but most probably it also has the highest rate of pilots per square meter.
I’m being hosted by one of them. “The main reasons why I’ve decided to become a pilot”, he jokes, “are money, women and travelling. In Maun, I get none of these.” Everyone laughs hard. The way he tells the joke, the amused look in his eyes and the honest tone of his voice hide very well the fact that he lost count of how many times he used this joke.
“There are so many pilots in Maun”, he continues, ”that if you want to get a girl, you’re better off telling her that you’re part of a research team working on the introduction of panda bears in Okavango Delta.” Laughter all around. Panda bears? In Okavango Delta? “Sure. I once almost got away with it. I’ve told the girl that it’s a long-term project, but we were all very optimistic. Our latest achievement was almost figuring out a way to grow bamboo in the delta, since panda bears eat around 100kg of bamboo every day.” Laughter and astonishment around the table. Seriously? 100kg of bamboo per day? “How would I know? I have no idea. It’s not easy to impress a girl!”
He’s a tall and handsome 26 years old with a good sense a humor. His curiosity and kindness give him good communication skills. He doesn’t drink. Whenever his clumsiness starts showing or whenever he ends up telling an inappropriate joke, his friends excuse him: “He had too much sparkling water and lemon.”
He cooks for himself all the time. He’s very cautious with his diet: he doesn’t eat too much sugar, nor drink milk because he read some articles about animal hormones in milk. He only eats egg yolk sometimes because he knows they’re high in cholesterol. He loves his job and doesn’t see himself doing anything else in life, but flying. “The only way I’d give up flying would be if I lost my medical license.” Having heard him say this, made me realize how much sense his healthy lifestyle makes.
Why does he love his job so much? “The feeling of being up there, in control of that big machine, seeing all the beautiful landscapes from above is very special, difficult to describe. Every take off and every landing is different. It’s just a great feeling to fly.”
In his free time, he goes out with his friends (mostly other pilots or people working in the tourism industry), he goes to the gym twice a week and he rides his motorbike on the many dirt roads around Maun.
It’s his third and last year in Maun. He works six days a week, flying between 4 and 7 hours per day, but sometimes there’s also some office hours he needs to do. Every evening, around 5pm he finds out his schedule for the next day. His working time depends on the scheduled flights. Sometimes, when he’s lucky, he gets to overnight in one of the fancy lodges in the heart of the delta, the ones people would have to pay thousands of dollars per night. He’s currently licensed to fly with maximum 12 passengers.
At the end of the year, in low season, he gets one full month off, the only opportunity for him to actually travel. But this year he took two month off so that he could go on a motorbike tour around Botswana, Namibia and South Africa by himself. He posted some cool video about his trip on youtube.
The first time he crossed the border into Botswana was on April Fools’ Day, back in 2015, but he didn’t expect he would stay here. He first looked for jobs in Tanzania and Zambia. He only came to Botswana because he didn’t get any offers in those countries. Once in Botswana, however, he got an offer within two weeks. Bush pilots, people call them. He likes that. But next year he will land in another destination. Maybe somewhere in Asia, maybe in Canada, he has no idea yet. It all depends on how things work out for him.
It’s been now one week and a half since I’ve been in Maun, but it’s the second time I meet him and some of his friends (he also hosted me for a few days back in December). “Oh, you’re back?” the other pilots I met in December greeted me.”We thought that couchsurfers only go into one direction.” Truth be told, so did I. But I guess that sometimes things don’t work out the way you think they will. “I’m one of those parasites you can’t really get rid of.” I joked while hugging them.
Spending more time in Maun was definitely a good opportunity to get a better glimpse into the life of a bush pilot in Botswana. It’s great to talk to someone who loves his job and has the certainty that it’s the one thing he wants to do his entire life. The job is not a “having to earn a living” kind of thing, but rather a “part of what makes him happy/complete” kind of thing. And that’s a great thing to have. Along with the opportunity of seeing loads of elephants.