Go to Mahalapye on Sunday and experience a different kind of travel
One could argue that Batswana are not keen on taking on the traditional role of ‘tourist’ while travelling in Botswana.
However, this does not mean that we do not venture out to different towns and villages in Botswana. Every so often we travel to funerals, weddings, the cattle post, lands or visit the old folks in the villages.
Some people in Gaborone even drive out to surrounding villages on weekends “just to get away” from the fast paced monotony of city life.
Or vice versa, people come to the city to experience and enjoy what the big city has to offer. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a tourist is “a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.”
One may argue that our trips to the cattle post are for work and not necessarily a pleasurable touristy excursion. What would happen if, for a moment or two, a tourist-like experience is arbitrarily planned?
The Sunday Standard took this to the test…
We had guests visiting Gaborone from Francistown this past weekend. After Sunday morning coffee, our guests were preparing to drive back to Francistown. Blessed with a travel bug that drops in unannounced, the sight of suitcases being packed does something to our minds.
We started scheming, what if we joined our guests and went to Francistown for no reason at all? With a huge appetite for travel and risk, our minds went into a euphoric state.
We were soon on the phone calling Botswana railways trying to find out when the last train out of Francistown was. Would we make it back in Gaborone in time for Monday morning work?
After much contemplation, we decided that we could put together enough petrol money to get as far as Mahalapye. We selfishly convinced our selves that having a convoy would be even more fun.
The rationale behind it meant that we would be taking our friends halfway home. That way, we could feed our greed and do something sombrely nice.
After all, there is the huge Matsieng foot at Rasesa, there is the Mosaditshwene Tswana chicken, a picnic spot at the Tropic of Capricorn, an ostrich farm and a Baobab tree to see and experience along the way.
How can you not want to go to Mahalapye on a Sunday and experience a different kind of travel? Why can’t we come undone and be tourists in our own country?
We are at the last filling station out of Gaborone proudly looking back at our city skyline. We are leaving her behind and heading out to the sounds of the country, of distant cowbell rings and the drone of daylight crickets.
About 30 km away, we will have our first jaunt at Rasesa and visit what some people refer to as Matsieng’s Foot Prints while some call it Matsieng’s Hole.
The legend surrounding the Heritage site claims that the place or hole is where our first Tswana ancestors surfaced. The evidence of the tale is ancient animal paw prints and human footprints on a rock surface.
As we pass Bokaa Damn on the left, we remembered that the fishing season is on. If we ventured just a couple of kilometres to the damn, maybe we could meet up with a couple of people doing some fishing.
Meeting new people is always a refreshing experience. One never knows what the lesson for the day would be. Disappointingly, Bokaa damn was not on the itinerary and we were following our guests in the convoy.
This time around our guests are following us as we turn into Rasesa and negotiate the familiar sandy road to one of our National Heritage sites.
It has been years since this path was taken and there is unspoken anxiety as we near the site. On the right there is apparently a huge tomato hydro phonic farm that does not welcome visitors.
Wishing we had a 4×4 sports utility vehicle, we use our best bush driving techniques through the sand. It is a Sunday and the National Museum administers the Matsieng site. Will it be open? Will the caretaker be somewhere nearby and fall susceptible to our pleas to open the gate for our guests and us?
We leave our ancestors footprints without seeing them and head out back onto the northbound Francistown road. The site was closed and there was no caretaker to corrupt.
Soon we will be at Mosaditshwene takeaway where we will pack our make shift ‘picnic basket’ and head out for a late lunch somewhere near the Tropic of Capricorn.
Sure enough, we found delectable Tswana chicken. P4.00 gets you a chicken wing and a thigh and drumstick combo is P9.00. Life does not get any better than that.
The finest Tswana cuisine is available in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, Mosaditshwene takeaway is more than just a fast food joint; it also serves as a bar.
Judging by the amount of patrons calling on the place, we figured that if you hung out there long enough, you were bound to meet someone you know. Botswana is a small country with a small population and the N1 Francistown road is the busiest highway in the country.
We park under a tree on a road construction site near a place that used to have a nice picnic and parking area that is now cordoned off by a fence. This will be our makeshift picknic spot somewhere near the Tropic of Capricorn.
Under the tree we find a man, against the tree is his bicycle with a 20 litre container tied to its back. It turns out that he has to ride to a well somewhere to fetch saline water for his goats every so often. The reality of our water crises sets in. Our people still need to go through awful lengths to get water.
For some of us living in the city, we take some of our most basic needs for granted. All we have to do is, walk to the kitchen and open a tap. We share our food and move on to our next destination, the Baobab tree.
It occurs to us as we slow down somewhere where there should be a turn to the left that we may not even be able to get road access to the Baobab tree from the main road.
Time had not been on our side, our last minute site seeing was taking a toll on our guests who may have not had the same zeal as we had. They wanted to push on and get to Mahalapye.
So we decided to skip the tree and save it for another day. We disappointingly pushed on through and got to Mahalapye. There is a cheap butchery there that sells well cut steaks, at least we could do something on the productive side and do some grocery shopping.
Outside Kay tee’s Restaurant we bid our farewells to our guests who by now may have changed their minds about letting us take them halfway next time around.
Their faces registered disappointment. They would have been nearing their beloved Francistown by this time. But instead, they never got to see the footprints, or the ‘line’ at the Tropic of Capricorn, or the Baobab tree.
Was the trip all in vain? In a time where clich├®s such as ‘time is money’, one gets tied up in a lifestyle that makes us forget to appreciate our natural environment.
Social scientists may have a way to qualify the need to take time to loosen up and appreciate our history, our environment, our culture and the people we live with.
For some of us, the connection we feel when we are out and about intrinsically inspires our work and the way we view life. For instance, how would we appreciate tap water if we had never had the opportunity to meet the man at the Tropic of Capricorn?
There is always a lesson to be learnt and travelling offers a type of education that no scholarly book could ever accomplish.