Saturday, March 2, 2024

Moon-lit treks through the Makgadikgadi Pans

On August 8, we set off by bus to the Makgadikgadi Pans for a 100km midnight walk across the pans.

Alongside the Debswana and Standard Chartered employees, we set out to embark the 100 km trek through the heartland of the makgadikgadi salt pans. Having recently walked over 300km for cancer, I was revved up again up for another physically demanding challenge.

The Y-Care charity trust fund, started from an inspiring dream to walk across the Makgadikgadi Pans to raise funds for charity. The funds raised are distributed to various charitable organizations.

The first Makgadikgadi Pans walk took place in 2003. Apart from corporate social responsibilities, corporate institutions engage in these walks not only to donate to charity but also for team building exercises.

Thanks to Stellan Bengtsonn of Y-Care charity trust, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the Pans in the night under the full moon and during the day! Walkers enjoyed a light supper and the sunset over the Pans.

After supper, the full moon lit up our path on the Pans for our 45 km walk to Kubu Island. We started at Mosu village, at the south end edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans at around 6pm.

We had also packed a midnight lunch for the way. Walking to camp at Kubu throughout the night was an intense exercise, especially under the moonlight. The walk through the pans symbolized the eternal life cycle of night and day ÔÇô a thin line between life and death you could say. It deprived us of sleep because as you know, sleep is regarded as the being the cousin of death. Apart from going in pursuit of elephant treks, it felt like we were on another planet all together.

A midnight walk in the pans is like a walk on the moon, or on another planet. No matter how many sunrises and sunsets you see, there is still something radically epic about walking in the salt pans.

During the day, they looked like salt. At night, as the luminous light energy from the moon hits the salt pans, the huge salt deposits give off a crystal-like sparkle, which lights up the vast empty, lonely looking landscape.

When I looked back, the head lamps which people were wearing looked like cars in midnight traffic or a row of street lights on a busy highway. But that was the psychological effects of the walk.

Walkers often got different mirages and could see visions and oases. The walk was indeed physically and mentally challenging.

Many people during the walks experienced hallucinations. On the way to Kubu Island, walkers felt a lump of pride swell in their throat. We were walking ahead of everyone until we got lost on the way, towards the end.

We walked around in circles until sunrise, when the support crew managed to locate us and direct us to the camp.

“That was intense,” said Nelson Letshwene, who was tired of going around in circles. Pako Lesejane the photographer said it wasn’t the first time he had embarked on the midnight walk.

“I’ve been doing it every year for the past four years or so,” he said, padding his feet with bandages in order to protect his sensitive feet from bruising.

We arrived at Kubu Island well after 6am the following morning. The island is famous for its beauty, its rich history and many baobab trees.

The walking distance was approximately 45km for the night walk from Mosu to Kubu Island at around 6km per hour. On the Saturday we relaxed, and had foot massages. Some used the time to sleep and stroll around the island.

A museum guide told us about the history of the island and how the area became the pans. In the evening we spent time at the camp around a huge bon fire as we prepared to get ready for the start of the walk to Mosu at midnight.

The First half of the walk back was done during the night (to avoid too much heat) and we had our “night lunch” out on the pans, later enjoying an amazing sun rise on Sunday morning. We walked during the morning and arrived at Mosu at around 2pm.

Richard Vaka, an employee at Debswana, said he felt proud that not only was he walking ahead but he managed to complete the journey without getting a lift from the support bikes.

“I look forward to doing it again hopefully next year,” he said.

After arriving at Mosu, something extra ordinary happened whilst we were having some evening drinks after spending the afternoon in the scorching heat of the sun. Just as I casually asked a herds man where Ian Khamas’ controversial Mosu residence is located, a helicopter came flying from that direction.

It was him! Coincidentally he had just come back from a Kgotla meeting around Letlhakane. He made 360 turns, hovering low over our camp thrice. Then he flew off. About an hour later, just before sunset, about 12 quad bikes from the same direction came and surrounded our camp site. One was ridden by a young boy, who was said to be Tawana Moremi’s son, who resides with Ian Khama.

By and by, three power chutes came through and made 360-degree turns in mid air around our camp. He was back again!

People started making this huge bonfire with the hope that he was going to land, but to all trekkers’ disappointment, he didn’t manage to land because of the time and windy conditions.
After sometime, once again, he flew off in to the sunset.


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