Saturday, July 4, 2020

Y’ Care Makgadikgadi Pans Day Walk not for sissies

BY THOBO MOTLHOKA

What could be difficult about merely throwing one foot in front of the other from point A to B? That was my initial reaction to an invitation for the Y’ Care Charitable Trust 112 km Makgadikgadi Day Walk. A marathon would have sounded like a real challenge. Not walking.

I smiled at the opportunity. Even fought for it. Sounded like just the perfect Presidential Holiday. Camping out with total strangers in the middle of nowhere, watching stars, and drinking the night away. Perfect outing.

All I had to do was fulfil their endless packing list that ranged from  tent , Sleeping bag , blanket , Camping chair , Backpack (small, to carry your water bottle, snacks (for the daily walk) ,Sunscreen , well walked in (and they mean it)  walking shoes , sun hat ,woolly hat ,sun glasses ,personal snacks & power food, walking stick, water bottle, etc.

Departure time from Gaborone to Mosu village where we would commence our ‘holiday’ was 0600 hours, Friday July 12. The Motswana in me assumed they meant the bus would leave at 0600 hours ‘Botswana Time’ until I had to chase the bus down the Western Bypass at approximately 0603 hours. Imagine-Only three minutes late.

I would later revisit my invitation letter to see the boldly written post script “Kindly note that we are always on time. If you come late, you will have to follow the bus and catch up.” And catch up I did, to the warm welcome of some members of the First National Bank (FNB) staff. As I would later find out, they also had no idea what was in store. Also part of the journey were Botswana Oil, Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB), Maru TV, and self-sponsored individuals Jacquiline Wambura (Kenya), Tsholofelo Mothwagae (SA), and Boitumelo Lesaso.  We arrived late afternoon at the Mosu settlement, famous for being former President, Ian Khama’s hideaway.

The bus docked at the village kgotla where the over 60 participants would take a walk down to the camp site right on the verge of the pans. The 2km walk was only a warm up of what was to come.

Following welcoming remarks by the deputy chief, a brief orientation by Y’ Care Charitable Trust’s Sheila Camm, and dinner, the ‘holiday’ commenced as we drank the night away. Totally ignorant of the fact we had to be up early morning by 0430 hours.

“Walkers,” Sheila shouted the morning alarm at precisely 0430 hours. The word ‘walkers’ would become a traumatic cue to get back on the road at every refreshment stop.

By 0600 hours we were on our way through the vast Makgakgadikgadi pans. Destination-Kubu Island, some 48 km deeper into the pans.

The first 12 km were just a walk in the park. It came as a shock that we already had the first casualty in the form of Weekend Post reporter Lilly Washington. She barely made the first six kilometers.

For the rest of us, it was still a harmless outing as we enjoyed the breathtaking views of the vast salt pans against clear, blue skies. Truly a sight to behold.

 

My good friend Phazha Molebatsi had joined the rest of the group late evening together with his two lady friends Sarah Mulwa and Kaone Tsimanyane (from Now for Them Trust). God works in mysterious ways. The two ladies would become my inspiration throughout what would become the most taxing, excruciatingly painful and challenging physical and… mental activity I had ever undertaken in my entire life.

By the time we reached the 18 km mark, the fatigue had begun to kick in. Prior to this walk, I had never done any form of exercise in two years save for my usual morning routine of a yawn, a stretch, and a walk to the bathroom. 

 

Sarah and Kaone had done the (Midnight) walk here a year earlier so their experience came in handy. Sheila’s orientation advice for men not to wear boxer shorts and women not to rock thongs began to make sense by the 24 km mark (we made refreshment stops every six kilometers after the first 12).

The chub rub began to take its toll on me as my inner thighs began to burn. “Keep applying some Vaseline to the affected area every now and then,” was Sarah’s life changing advice. Luckily I had a small bottle of Vaseline in my backpack. It worked wonders.  I can never thank you enough Sarah.

Lunch was to be served in the middle of the Pans at the 30 km mark. That was the bit of inspiration we needed as Sheila shouted “Walkers” for us to get back on the road. Temperatures were already hovering well above 30 degrees Celsius by the time we made lunch. The number of casualties had increased by now. Mostly ‘First Walkers’ (FNB) ladies.

Many had begun to take refuge on the quadbikes. My knees had begun to feel the strain. My calf muscles were also crying for help. Blisters under my feet (had to line sanitary pads inside my shoes). The body needed to refuel.  Nausea kicked in. Everything at once.

But following an hour’s rest at 30 km, it I felt better again.

The 36 km mark was calling. I needed a picture every next stop to prove to my detractors Loretta Mekgwe, Phazha Molebatsi, Phillimon Mmeso, Tsosi Magang, Rossah Ditirwa, Thabo Ntirang, and others that I made it. Phazha, and Y’ Care Charitable Trust Coordinator Sarona Moabi were in the midst of the walking group waiting to share the news in case I slipped. But I was never gonna give them the satisfaction. Not with Kaone and Sarah by my side.

My brother Norman Legwale was also part of the walkers. After being denied recruitment into the Botswana Defense Force by now retired Brigadier Iphemele Kgokgothwane some 20 years ago for being ‘too fat’, he was eager to prove him wrong.

Meanwhile, Phazha could not move a muscle beyond the 42 km mark. His body gave up just six kilometers to the day one destination. “You have won,” he said to me as he waived for a rescue quadbike. It was dark by the time we arrived at Kubu Island.

Everyone was eager to soak their blistered feet in hot salty water. My Presidential Holiday had turned into a nightmare. But the medical team were there to provide all the necessary care.

My brother Norman, having felt too nauseas to eat lunch, had to be admitted into the medical tent where he was fed and discharged. All I wanted to do was shower and sleep. Totally exhausted.  Day two involved a shorter 16 km walk to the nearby Little Kubu Island and back.

Day three began like Day one. Early morning 48 km walk back to Mosu camp. Many fell along the way. Quadbikes worked overtime.  But I was never going to ride one. Not with the two ladies by my side. Conversations, jokes worked as a distraction from the miles ahead. It helps to concentrate only on your next step. Our chief walker for the day, Y’ Care’s Khumo Mogomotsi, did a splendid job keeping us entertained.

Chief Medic Monty Ntumisang and his team did a great job to ensure we were strong enough to finish the Walk. And when you finally reach that FINISH LINE, you know you have made it in life. The relief is priceless. A gigantic THANK YOU to the entire Y’ Care Charitable Trust support team : Sheila Camm, Khumo Mogomotsi, Ragga Camm, Loretta Mekgwe, Mosimanekgosi Boychief Kootshotse, Ngakaemang Bisector Marumo,  Letlhogonolo Makaja, Kadimo Galeboe, George Phuduhutswana, Tshepiso Ramaribana, Thomas Tlhaselo, ERIC Molope, Nelson Letshwene, Enock Nyambe, Mompoloki Raymond, Ndangi Kariko, and Kagiso Molosiwa.

And who can forget the catering company, Zao Zao Investments. They provided all the necessary nutrition to make the journey possible. Top class culinary services. Kudos to Medswana, Babcock Botswana, Imara, Kolobeng Spring Water for their support.

“Y’ Care is a charitable organization which looks forward to supporting charities and communities who are supporting those less fortunate than us,” says Y’ Care Coordinator , Moabi. “An idea ‘to walk and raise funds for charity’ was started by a few friends who have passion for nature, walking and caring for the needy,” he says. He says the idea has grown year after year to be what it is today, hosting their famous walks around the country. “It is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to support those who are less fortunate than them.”

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.